Sunday morning, my belly-button birthday, and the wind is tearing across the fields, shaking the trees and blowing up for rain this afternoon. I was woken by a neighbour’s burglar alarm at some unearthly hour. Dozed off again and then struggled out of sleep to get hugs and a kiss for my birthday, a large mug of coffee.
In a while we are going out for another birthday lunch at a local restaurant, no ambience but a new young chef who cooks lamb very well, with roast Mediterranean vegetables and a portion of sticky toffee pudding to follow. The place will be crowded with young famers and their wives having lunch after attending the Dutch Reformed Church, locals entertaining visitors from Cape Town. If it is cold or draughty in the dining area there will be a small fire. Tables with old-fashioned check tablecloths and probably paper napkins, no paintings on the walls, a heavily varnished bar counter in one corner. As I said, no ambience and only a view through French doors of cows trampling down young vines near a wire fence on the far side of a stream. But this is the reality of ungentrified country life here in the Cape and we shall all enjoy ourselves. The local grape juice is not bad, not too sweet or fizzy.
Friends call to wish me a happy birthday — Trish tells me she is happy in a new townhouse near Stellenbosch and I promise to visit. Gradually my friends are forgiving me for leaving them and running off to Wales, now that I am back and penitent. This kind of attitude is hard to explain, that any long stay overseas is regarded as defection. In part it dates back to the days when the Cape was on a trading route to India and at the far corner of the known world. Those who live here still feel we left Holland and Europe and the fog-shrouded shores of England behind centuries ago and we are now a different breed of person, with Africa in the blood. Our problems are our own, our solutions homegrown, we are a pioneering generation on a misunderstood continent. We are the post-apartheid rainbow nation, we are realists and dreamers and half-cracked optimists content to sit in the strong African sunshine and feel the red earth under our feet, listen to the cries of the go-away bird and think thoughts coloured by guava and hibiscus. We are all Ubuntu, essence of humanity, made human by one another.
So I sigh happily and get ready to go out and celebrate another year of life, another milestone sober and surviving.