Woke early and when I went into the kitchen the back lawn was silver with dew, birds flying from the tree to tree, the sun not yet over the mountaintops.
My neighbour came by and asked me to come and admire his massed plantings of clivias (apricot-red trumpet flowering perennials named after Lady Clive of India) at precisely 3pm this afternoon. He was going up the road to send a seedless young pomegranate and a Turkish fig through to a friend who is a botanist at Kirstenbosch.
This is the annual clivia visit — each spring we sit together in the wood-panelled dining room and have tea out of his Limoges china (dreadful stewed tea) and then we walk up and down the rows of clivias. The naturalist William Burchell was the first explorer to find clivias growing wild near the Great Fish River of the Eastern Cape in 1815. The seeds were sent to Kew. Now clivias are hybridised all over the world and pots of the red or pale yellow Clivia miniata surround Chairman Mao’s embalmed body in Tianenmen Square in China.
I hope I don’t give my fussy bachelor of a neighbour my lingering flu. He is one of those bachelors who takes excessively good care of himself and his life is organised around his hobbies and comforts. His eating habits have not changed since the 1940s and he cooks the food his mother made for him as a small boy in the Vyeboom Valley: pumpkin purees sweetened with sugar, spinach bredies or casseroles flavoured with the wild suring or sorrel, potatoes boiled with green beans, sweet potato done in the oven with cinnamon, butternut or sweetcorn fritters, melktert and koeksusters. The country cooking of Afrikaner families in the 19th century. He has a small transistor radio next to his bed and the age of the Internet has not impinged on him.
Other neighbours arrive in the early morning sunshine to take rooted cuttings from my mauve-flowering verbena and a small white-flowering pelargonium. My plants are unusual and over the years I have collected them from all around the Karoo and the foothillls of the Swartberg mountains.
I’m flattened and tired from the flu and the struggle of recent months, wish the joie de vivre would come back, some of the pleasure I used to take in my life. But the main thing is to stay sober and keep going. The depression will pass and then I can take stock. The gratitude is there but muted. I wish I could get to meetings or even sit over coffee face-to-face with an AA member.
Now I shall go out and cut bunches of purple French lavender for the bathroom, make myself another cup of coffee and email a woman in Hereford who ‘sort of’ wants to get sober and doesn’t understand why she ‘sort of’ can’t manage it. Ready to go to any lengths….