Thursday, January 21, 2016


The donkey on the last quarter of Christmas cake looks comfortably cool with his hooves plunged in snowy icing, isolated under the cake dome in another world… the very opposite of the rest of us, sweltering in South Africa’s current heatwave. There’s something not quite right about the conjunction of Christmas cake and forty degrees of sunshine, to me at least with childhood memories of Christmas cake gobbled up beside a roaring fire.

We still eat it, trundling in from the school run, dumping heavy bags and getting out homework (school has started for real now, despite the heat) because it’s delicious and we can’t resist, but a rich, heady fruit cake isn’t the ideal teatime treat, when the only comfortable place after about nine in the morning is in the swimming pool. What we should be eating are luscious, chilled  slices of juicy watermelon, or home-made ice-cream, smoothies thick with frozen berries from the garden... (we do have those too, but we're stubbornly diligent about making our way through the last of the cake.

Our straw bale walls keep the worst of the heat at bay for at least half of the day, but by late afternoon we are desperate to fling open doors and windows, and only the still fierce heat outside makes us wait just a bit longer for the promise of a cooler evening breeze. On days like this the only thing to do is get most of the work done in the morning, so that when the heat overwhelms the brain with sluggishness you feel justified in collapsing with a book beside a fan, or seek relief in car air-conditioning by heading out on the school run.

Everything's dry, dry, dry, the moles looking for moisture by the sprinkler. Can you feel the wall of heat?

We scan the weather forecast several times a day, elated when heavy rain is forecast for Saturday, frustrated and disappointed when the forecast shifts and offers a measly light drizzle as an alternative, then later loses any hope of rain at all. Two degrees lower is cause for celebration, not concerned that 38C is still darn hot… it’s a reprieve from the horror of 40C and upwards and we cling to faint hopes.

On the bright side it’s still cooling down at night most nights. In the small hours before dawn cooler air flows from somewhere magical and trickles in through an open window, so that we pull a thin sheet over ourselves with the luxury of snuggling under something. When we wake properly at 5.30 or 6 the first thing to do is run around the house opening every single window at its widest to fill the house with that coolness before it dissipates over the next two hours.

The best place to lie in the middle of the day

The toughest thing to judge is exactly what point to run around shutting them all again – is that breeze still cool, or is it getting warmer than inside now? Get it wrong, sit at the computer too long and forget to close the windows, and the house fills up with hot dryness again and there is no getting away from it. Then, once the sun has dipped below the hill and I can bear to cook supper, we eat outside lingering at the table until it’s dark, long after the kids have cleared their plates and disappeared off, because finally we’re cool and the house is still too hot inside for the sofa to hold any appeal.

Most summers we have a period like this, but in recent memory it has been only a few days, here and there, perhaps a short spell in November and again in February and March. This is the first year that we’ve been here that the heat has been something to endure over a long period of time.

With the whole country groaning under drought conditions, we are luckier than many. We have water. Though our vegetable garden is drying out and producing very little, we are able to keep our trees alive.

The gleanings of a dried out veggie garden

There are almonds to harvest, tomatoes to pick up off dried out plants and make sauce with, the last few mielies (corn) to pick. The leeks have gone to flower and make weird and wonderful summer flower arrangements. .And when I head to school to fetch the kids and nip into the local town for the bank or shops, it’s right on the beach and the temperature drops to a blessed 28C, pleasant summer hot, beach weather.

All we can do is pray for enough rain to fill depleted dams, for it to fall where farmers need it most, and where firefighters need its help. (Scary fires are raging in the wine farm area of Simonsberg, there was a bad one up near Elgin and another in the Cedarberg, the list goes on, the land is so dry that bush fires start at the merest spark)

Here’s hoping for temperatures to ease off to more bearable levels, so that we can grumble about something else for a change, like the free-falling rand, for instance!


  1. We had a summer like that last year. It was miserable. Weather is so weird these days! California, just to the south of us, is in the middle of severe drought and has been for 7 years, so I was really worried it was starting here but we're having a lovely wet winter as is our norm. Hope it keeps up! Hope you get a break from the heat soon.

  2. Hard to imagine what you describe, as we sit here waiting for another snow storm...


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