You’ll never walk alone

A tribute to my family and friends who walked beside me on my journey through single-parenting.

When I arrived back in the country with my 4.4 children, I hadn’t planned very far ahead.

Other than get back to Cape Town; find a place to stay; and see an obstetrician, I didn’t have too much on my calendar. It was just so good to be home again though. And looking at my mountain. There is no other like it.  I had begun to fear that I would die in the American mid-west and never see the spectacular sight of God’s granite masterpiece again. I still breathe in deeply and gratefully when I look at Table Mountain and thank the Lord for bringing me home.

The most beautiful view in the World

The first few nights we squeezed into my sister’s tiny two-bedroom apartment in Blouberg. I don’t think she had quite anticipated the chaos of our 4.4-person-four-suitcase home invasion. But there, camping in her sophisticated home, we started a new family of two moms and five youngsters.

Brigid selflessly gave up her bed for me and the toddlasaurus, while she and four-year-old Michael shared the lounge and I think we were able to just fit ‘the big kids’ into her spare room, around all our worldly possessions in the five pieces of luggage we’d hauled across the Atlantic.

Hero, Heroine, Superhero, Super Sister" Canvas Print by ...

We had never been very close as children, Brigid and I, but she became my fiercest defender and closest ally from that time on. It has been as if she stepped out of the shadows as my guardian angel and ever since has been a phone call away when the children’s ward at home became overcrowded, or when someone needed fetching from school, and I couldn’t make it. If Super Sister were a Marvel hero, she’d be her, swooping in with her capes (and second-hand ones for sharing), not mention little treats for the gannets who flocked to greet her at the door every time she appeared.

She was in the operating theatre when Liam was born and at every important awards evening through the years and sometimes even at sports matches, although she was not too keen about the rainy ones – bad weather minces her hair.

I didn’t know at the time that before we arrived, back in Cape Town my uncle had rallied the family together and decided on how they would look after us, who could provide shelter, and who would feed us for the first while.

My cousin Grant had recently moved into a small semi-detached cottage in the area and was due to go away on business so we were able to move into his home for a couple of weeks, and to our delight there was a patchwork garden out back where the children could let off steam.

It was a beautiful little home: everything was new with stylish cushions and photographs artfully curated around the living room. There was glass everywhere.

So, the first thing I did was re-curate things in frames that might break out of the reach of the junior wrestlers and we set about unpacking our bags for a while (after a lengthy lecture about this not being our home, so please play outside and take care of Grant’s things) Then I cast my eye over the ingredients I had at my disposal (delivered in boxes by my aunts to see us through the week) in order to make a birthday cake for Sean who turned nine the day we arrived back in the country.

While I was hunting around in the bachelor’s kitchen for something to bake the cake in, I heard a loud crash and, racing into the lounge, I found my two sons’ guilty faces raised in abject remorse (and not a little fear), a soccer ball and a broken photo frame… I had forgotten that balls bounce.

I suppose I yelled and ranted a bit – I can’t remember, but what I do remember is how sad I felt for them – they had been cooped up for days, first in planes; then in an apartment and now in the confines of this ultra-mod pad. That was when I knew we’d need a big garden if we were going to survive… and a glass repair shop.

My cousin Gail arrived with a car for me which she had had in her garage for a time, and which had been driven by a friend who’d borrowed it before leaving for overseas, and Gail hadn’t got around to selling it. It had been in an accident previously and the driver’s seat was angled slightly down to the left, but it was for us a luxury we hadn’t expected (even though anyone spotting me wriggling my pregnant belly around the steering wheel like a sumo wrestler, would have had a good laugh).

We drove that car for several years before I was finally able to purchase Le Moto, the family bus, which served nearly 15 more years hard time with the Mongies. Although, I very nearly killed my whole family in it once:

Back when Parklands Main Road only extended as far as the circle at the Woolworths Centre (and long before the Centre was built) I wanted to see the new school that was being built down that road and spotting that the road past the circle had just been tarred, I drove on round and onto the new road, to the delight of the boys (who cheered at the jolt) and the horror of the workmen there, because it had not actually been finished properly and the car bounced down a good 15 centimetres onto the new road.

The car seemed to be alright and I turned around and drove gingerly and shamefacedly past the roadworkers who shook their heads patronizingly.

That afternoon we took a drive through to the Southern suburbs to a Spur birthday party for one of another cousin’s sons. As we came down the Blue Route towards Constantia, Caitlin, perched in the middle of the back seat between her brothers, to keep the peace, called out primly, ‘Mommy, there is smoke in the car. Should there be?’

And indeed there was: the car’s ramping of the roadway earlier must have damaged the exhaust pipe and I was slowly asphyxiating my beloved children on carbon monoxide fumes. We decamped quickly to the edge of the freeway, a rather risky exercise with all the nippers, but we needed to clear the smoke. And all I could think was: ‘What will Gail say when I tell her, I broke her car even more?! And how will I find the money to fix it?!’

My beloved cousin Susan and her husband, Sean came to the rescue and while they looked after the children at the party, I took the car to be repaired. And Sean insisted on paying for it. They like Gail, will never know how their generosity was appreciated and how much I still think of these acts of kindness that saw me through the tough times.

There were so many people who pitched in to help, to listen and to boost my drooping spirits in those early days. People say to me ‘How did you manage? Well I had help!

And when I failed to realise that I was being carried on angel’s wings, The Good Lord sent me a cuff-to-the-head reminder that I was not alone. I vividly remember weeping in the garage one night after finally getting the last ill child to sleep, in the middle of a virulent family stomach bug that tore through the nippers like a stampede of shoppers through a bottle store after lockdown ends. Every sheet was fouled and every child had been crying for me. And then the washing machine broke down mid-cycle.

That was when the camel’s spinal cord snapped. I shouted at God, demanding to know where He was when I was so alone in my struggles. Just then I heard the phone ring in the kitchen: my friend Bernie was on the line. “I just called to see how you are, because I was thinking of you,’ she said.

I have never dared question God again.

And that is why, notwithstanding their winning form pre-lockdown, I support Liverpool FC. (That my son writes a football blog https://www.anfieldcentral.co.uk may have something to do with it. Their anthem is a constant reminder to the lonely:

You’ll never walk alone.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gerry and the Pacemakers

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll…

Never walk alone

Strangers in the blight

I miss News Café. I miss Mugg & Bean. These are local hangouts for the Maestro and me, although he is also crazy about La Forneria, which he refers to as La Fornicatoria(!) I think about the staff of our neighbourhood bistros quite a bit, not only because I am dying for a cappuccino, but because I miss the ambiance and the ‘outing.’ And I wonder how they are surviving during this shutdown period.
Mugg &Bean, Table Bay Mall
Mugg and Bean is our go-to breakfast, tea or lunch venue. If we’re meeting there, I try to arrive first so I can grab a people-watching possie, and if Andrew beats me to it, he can be found in a dark corner somewhere as far away from sight (and other people) as possible – and therein lies the difference between us. Jean-Paul Sartre and Andrew believe that ‘Hell is other people’ and I am fascinated by humans and energized by being among the throngs. Of course, this fact about me drives my children to despair because no trip to the shops is ever quick. We are bound to bump (in a socially distant way, post-COVID) into acquaintances, fellow parishioners, past pupils, or their parents, or former colleagues. Liam believes this is no excuse for stopping to speak to them all, which is a cheek coming from a chap who makes a point of striking up a conversation with every cashier as if he has been starved for human contact. But my children’s reluctance to join their loquacious maman allows me to sneak off and date my husband. And if he is not chatty, I can always watch the crowds. Not in a creepy way of course. I am fascinated by observing and imagining what their back-stories might be. You can’t people-watch nowadays of course, because the genteel art of coffee-sipping, while stalking-shoppers-with-your-eyes, is denied us thanks to the virus. Which is such a pity. I mean I have developed my sartorial style over the years from watching my fellow humans wear things well and well, … not well. How will I know what is in if I can’t watch? And how can I be in, if I can’t be watched. Mind you, I am looking forward to our first visit when they reopen because I can ‘window shop’ for funky masks while I drink my latte. Then there is our evening haunt: News Café. You cannot beat the view from this establishment and the waiters greet us like old friends, so it feels a bit like a Cheers set and you don’t have to start googling Trip Advisor to get good service. The waiters are charming and good fun. Andrew always goes for the happy hour cocktails – ‘James Bond lifestyle,’ he says. We have good laughs over the various football matches we watch there and debate politics and philosophy, sometimes even with each other. Because we occasionally meet up there after work, I wonder whether the staff think we are having an affair. It’s fun to pretend we are.
News Cafe, Table View
Before I met Andrew, I could never have walked into a bar on my own (oh what an admission for a feminist!) but at News Café, it is so welcoming it’s easy. Although we never venture upstairs when the techno beat vibrates at night – that’s where the view, especially at sunset, is magnificent. And the people-watching there is spectacular. All the beautiful people going upstairs to see and be seen have to walk past where we sit (yes, we have ‘our table’) so it is like watching a fashion show. Scratch the thought that the waitstaff think we’re dating. We have ‘our table,’ for goodness sake! We must have ‘old fogey’ written across our faces. But still, a girl can pretend. We have watched many a sunset from this restaurant and I hope they survive the lockdown period to open their doors again to us. I’m getting bored with my husband. It’s time to meet my lover again. At least we’ll change out of our pyjamas then.
News Cafe, Table Bay