Different is tiring

One of the things we’re told about Bloem is that everyone disappears in the holidays – more on this another day. When our first school holiday rolled around in March we were therefore really grateful to be given somewhere to go for free – especially as we were camping out at the time so it gave us a break from all that craziness. The holiday house was by the seaside – yippee! You might have seen some bits of it in a post called Fresh Air

We were told to take lots of food for the week. “Nahhhh, we’ll pick some stuff up on the way” we thought. WRONG. The towns we drove through were literally hours apart and if you blink you’d miss them ‘cos they were so tiny!! (How do people live in the middle of nowhere?? It baffles me.) We stayed at a place called Mountain Shadows Hotel, 4 hours from Bloem, and it had TV so Isaac stayed up late to watch England beat Germany 3-2 (deep joy). We sat in a row in bed as we watched because it was disconcertingly cold – apparently we were up high, in the shadows of mountains as the name suggests, so no need to panic, it would be warm by the coast…. only 5 more hours to get there…

The food thing caught us out at the end too, when we mis-timed asking somebody to fetch us things from the big town. I have a mental picture of that day – Fin surviving on marmite from a spoon and the rest eating seeds and tomatoes whilst we watched a reality show about traffic cops in Sussex. Talk about bizarre – seeing the A24 from the Eastern Cape of SA, with seeds for sustenance (all Nichols juniors hate tomatoes – even when desperate). There was also a program about a friendship group of heavily made-up wives with dwarfism in America called “Little Women” – you get the picture.

IMG_2389The bulk of our stay was right down by the beach though, so no such telly madness. The journey involved roads that were a bit treacherous, with potholes and steep slopes along mountains. I learnt that the area is called “The Wild Coast”. Oh.

I felt scared on that first day. I was scared of the very large waves that crashed into the rock pools. I didn’t know how far the tide would come in and I knew my kids wouldn’t be able to save themselves if they got swept out. I felt scared that we couldn’t lock our house up – I didn’t know who was around and what they would think of us. I was scared that we seemed so far from everything, so if someone gashed their feet on the rocks or whatever we couldn’t get help.

IMG_2317I was scared of the enormous COWS on the beach, and even though everyone told me they were harmless they just seemed too big to be there, and I’m sorry but they had massive HORNS which looked menacing – I was sure they would HORN me, if there is such a thing. I envisaged the headline,“British idiot horned by local cow”.


Look, they were bigger in real life OK?

IMG_2195I was scared of somehow offending Zandile who was working in our house – she made us feasts, like crayfish stew, served with potatoes and rice and pumpkin. Carbs galore. We had eggs for breakfast every day – with a pile of white bread. She caught the crayfish herself – diving in the ocean! I was scared we’d be sick or allergic to some of the seafood. I know, I know: I’m a wimpy English townie.

Sometimes you have to work out what’s going on in your own head and heart, then have a word with yourself. I went for a walk and had a weepy kind of pray. I realised I was weary from the last few months. And I realised this: different is tiring. I was missing the soft sea, the mellowness, the rolling hills, it all feels much gentler in England. The unfamiliar exacerbates the feeling of being far from home.. tears came. ‘Where’s the ice cream van?’ I wondered to myself…. then giggled out loud.

IMG_2373But you know what? After my ‘moment’ everything quickly felt more normal, and that holiday is now a happy blur of fantastic memories. The place was an artists’ dream – the waves offering up a myriad of seaweed, coral, shells, driftwood, crabs legs..textures, colours, patterns. There were constant sounds too – bleached shells squeaking and jostling as the waves dragged them out, rolling over and over each other. And all the time the waves crashed – they were unrelenting. “All creation displays his glory”* I thought. Yes, the sea wasn’t like Sussex sea – it was noisy and fierce but it was beautiful, just in a different way. I loved the remoteness, the power, the big empty skies.

Ronnie adored the beach eating sushi or drinking sea water. He would peak too early with excitement or bad choices, then throw up or crash out. He had a boat made of a frisbee and coke bottles. He tried to make friends with the cows. Ahhh Ronnie…

IMG_2266In the mornings we could sit up in bed and watch the quietness of dawn streaking a yellow strip over the sea as far as you could see. It slashed the darkness into two – just awesome. The kids spent hours snorkelling, and I even snorkelling myself, provoked by their enthusiasm. Such clear waters couldn’t be wasted and the sights were like a nature documentary (although I was still fretting about banging my knees on the spiky sea urchin by accident)! We went out in a boat with our friend Kurt who even took the boys fishing later – they loved it! “You’ve never fished??” people often ask here, incredulous. Well now our boys have fished – they’ve had a chance to stand in silence, waiting for a bite, thinking big thoughts. Or maybe they just gazed into space, I don’t know.

That holiday was fab. Even as I’m writing about it I’m longing to go back because next time I’ll know what’s coming and I’ll be able to look forward to it. It was hard to worry there. The sea does that to you: it’s big and you’re small. And I learnt this: different is beautiful.


(*”All creation displays his glory” – I remembered it in the vaguest sense. The actual thing says “Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” Romans 1 v20)