I often find it interesting how the things camparigirl and I experience have a common theme. Yesterday she wrote about helping her father-in-law (Alan – an avid reader and commenter on C&S) to find somewhere happy to live and this weekend I got to meet a number of people who were willing to give their family homes up to me for cash.
No – that sounds wrong. I am looking, rather optimistically, for an affordable holiday home – a search and budget that is taking me to various small villages/towns in striking distance of Cape Town. Yesterday I went to Riviersonderend (Riverwithoutend) – a small town that straddles SA’s N2 – the national highway that follows the coast from Cape Town to the Mozambique border. At some point I am going to make that drive (a long 2 000km/1 300miles); but yesterday I was only interested in pushing the ‘must be reachable in 90mins’ rule that apparently governs the purchase of a holiday home.
I don’t want to be next to the coast – the upkeep on properties is much higher, plus the winters are harsh and wet. I want a spot in the country, nestling next to a mountain or a river, a walk or quick drive from a coffee shop and local pub/hotel. Self-contained, without too much needing to be done to it, and safe (an unfortunate pre-requisite in my country). There also needed to be ‘something to do’ if I want family to want to visit.
Riviersonderend has all of that – but no charm, which is a shame, because I saw two beautiful old homes I knew I could love.
My friend Eddie once told me he could tell how I felt about a house by the back of my neck. It was 15 or so years ago and we were scouring Clapham for a place to buy. I was absolutely floored by the state of some of the homes – filthy, unkempt, roiling with beasts in the carpet, reeking of unwash and cooking. The owner smiling: “That will be a half a million pounds please”. We used to slouch back to our flat needing a cocktail or two to get us past the gagging.
I knew everything I needed to about the inhabitants as I hit the hallway. The state of their relationships, budgets, what work they did, where they were from. How often they had sex. And, as all of that info hit my cerebral cortex – I would either reverse out or walk gingerly through the mess. The house we eventually bought was pristine – we got rid of the dark green wall paint, and the previous owners got rid of each other.
Riviersonderend has an “old side” and a “new”. The new proved dismal and 70s … but the old held some treasures. Two big houses, beautifully cared for by their owners – who had lived in them for 25 and 35 years respectively. Both couples were still vital and full of vim. Both couples, in their 80s, were moving to be ‘closer to family’. Both couples were hoping I would be the one to help make that happen.
As I looked at their belongings, I wondered if they knew what ‘closer to family’ really meant? That they would be letting go of so much of their independence and moving into an infinitely smaller space – a granny flat in one case and a ‘assist home’ as that husband (an 84 year old who still repairs his own roof) put it. Those china plates, and doilies, and photos, the careful lace draped curtains and crocheted cushions, the tool shed and sewing room – witness to so much of their lives: would not find place in the new surroundings. And family would find time for them, when they could.
I told these good people I would gladly live in their homes – knowing I was passing review on their lives. And I realised that negotiating price with them would be tough for me. Whatever I paid would be the money they would have to live on.
A few houses later I met Edwin, a retired architect – living in a damp, uncared for house with his dog. Post stroke – he knew he “had to go”: but he didn’t know where as that would depend on “what I get and whether they would take Jack, because I will never give him up”. I said I seconded that emotion. Edwin had horrible flu, his dressing gown was grubby and the sadness coming off him drenched me. Jack and Jack eyed each other – but didn’t act up – I think they could feel it too. I almost ran to get out. Praying to all gods “let that never be me”.
Over the road, Mrs Anderson sat mutely on her porch. We said “hello” and she nodded. I asked her if I could take my Jack into the house, and she nodded. Then she looked slowly back out over the mountains. Her house had the largest rooms I have ever seen in a family home. And pristine. But they were sparse and hard – like love had left. Something had given way.
I felt my neck prickle and knew this would be Ed’s cue to tell the estate agent: “We’ll have a think about it and give you a call.” But he wasn’t there so I had to keep walking. Room after empty room. When we were back in the car I told Adri, the town estate agent, what I had felt. She looked at me for a while, then she said: “Beatrice has brain cancer. She has to find somewhere to die.”
As I drove back to Cape Town I felt shell-shocked. What I had hoped would be a day of gain felt like so much loss. I resolved to give up my search. To reinvest that little matured annuity, put it somewhere safe for the future. Because: you just never know how it is going to turn out. And next to being sick, being poor is my biggest fear.
Jack was agitated and wouldn’t settle so I pulled over at Blossom Country Kitchen to give him a break from the car. We sat by the fire, getting the warmth back in our bones, and suddenly I was starving hungry. I shared my roast pork belly and polenta with my dog, and told him my decision over a glass of chenin blanc. He looked at me cocking his head quizzically. Then licked my hand. Ed might not have been there. But Jack got it.
As we walked out into the afternoon the sun came cruising over the mountain and hit us square on. I looked out over the rows of vines, so many shades of autumn, and decided to take my dog for a walk among them. He scampered off, my mood lifted and I understood then I had been looking all wrong. This was what I wanted – a small cottage on a farm. Not a town with things to do. Not the renovation of someone else’s yesterday.
“Maybe you should buy some land”, suggested sofabrother. “And, build on it”. Something modular perhaps, that came in a flatpack. “Something your style, that you love.”
So the search continues. But with a beady eye to the future. I might need to sell that house one day to afford a shared spot with camparigirl if ever we need to pool our meagre resources. A communal home that she, insanely and completely misguidedly, thinks will be in Cornwall. Obviously there is a conversation to be had.
Until then – there is a whole lot of living to be done.
(Images copyright campari&sofa, or in the public domain)