African Vanielje on Nov 27 2007 at 12:01 am | Filed under: Uncategorized
On Saturday it was my great Aunt’s 70th Birthday. Her choice of celebration was for all the girls in the family, with an age range from her 3 score year and ten down to Ella who is a tiny blond pixie-like six, to go to the famous Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town for afternoon tea.
Now the ‘Nellie’ is the grande dame of Cape Town Hotels, harking back to the colonial days of my great aunt’s childhood. And they still serve a truly decadent High Tea. In fact, Michael Winner (Times critic) voted it the best tea in the world.
It’s become the tradition in our family for the girls to find an excuse to go there every year or two. Birthdays, engagements, baby announcements have all been celebrated within the hallowed walls of the Pink Lady.
Children are warned to be on their best behaviour, and no bare bellies, shoulders or feet is the general unspoken dress rule. Refined is the word that springs to mind.
My mom had informed me of their intentions, and promised to raise a glass of Cap Classique (our local methode champenoise) to me and the handful of other ‘girls’ who were not there. And I was left with my visions of them all wafting around in colonial splendour, complete with white glove, pearls and little Queen Elizabeth handbags. Well this was how it was when I was a child.
On Saturday evening, my slightly unrealistic (I admit) image was shattered when I had the report back on the day from my mom.
She arrived at her sister’s house to collect her, her daughter and granddaughter.Â Only to find that the calm serenity she had expected, with maybe a little suppressed excitement from Ella had been usurped by, well by a snake.Â A 1.5m yellow Cape Cobra, to be exact.
Snakes are to be expected in Africa, and in Cape Town, anyone who lives on or near the mountain has the number of the local ‘snake man’.Â In False Bay this happens to be Sean, who is on speed dial, or whose number is at the very least taped next to the phone, in a large proportion of houses.Â Sean was duly called, but could not get there in under an hour.Â Â As a general rule, Sean likes to capture and relocate snakes, which is great because most people don’t actually want to kill them, but they definitely do not want to just wait for them to go away, because you can’t beÂ sure they have.Â
The last thing you want to do is wander out into your garden, not knowing ifÂ one of Africa’s deadliest snakes is lurking under a log.Â Or in this case not lurking, but actively patrolling the garden.Â This snake was actually after one of theÂ seven guinea-fowl chicks who had hatched in my aunt’s garden.Â Birds and rodents are it’s natural prey but they will still strike at a human if pushed.Â The sensible thing to do would be to wait for Sean to arrive, but then they risked ‘losing’ the snake, to make matters worse, nobody has ever accused my family of being sensible.Â Â
There ensued a Fawlty Towers like hour with Misty, their fluff ball Persian cat tailing the snake, literally stepping on it’s tail, causing the cobra to rear and hood up.Â Cue screams from everyone watching and sobs from Ella.Â My uncle, meanwhileÂ was contemplating trying to catch it in a bucket.Â Cue more screams.Â Now my uncle is no fool but is rather fond of the women in his house, who are rather fond of the cat, and who are still near hysterical.Â My uncle, who I have never heard raise his voice, is now yelling: ‘Will you just all go away so I can catch this snake.’Â Things are getting a little fraught and my mom calls my dad.Â He hotfoots it down to my aunt’s houseÂ with our housekeeper (who hates snakes but still insisted on coming) , my nephew and his friend, and their next door neighbour who keeps snakes and has a pole and hook for catching snakes.Â Sometime during the journey to my uncles house the neighbour admits that he’s not actually very good at catching snakes.Â Great.Â Are you all still with me?
My dad arrives with his entourage, the cat is still faced off with the snake, and another one has been spotted.Â They think it is a black cobra.Â
They are now very late for the birthday tea, and as the cavalry has arrived, the womenfolk decamp for the Nellie, where they allow the sumptuous repast to calm their shattered nerves.Â Ella is soon soothed by the stuff of childhood fantasies when she is confronted by the staggering table, laden with every kind of tea and cake imaginable.Â She thinks the tea has all been laid on for my Aunt’s birthday and all the guests are there for her.Â She proceeds to make close to 20 trips to the tea table (my mom was counting) swanning back and forth with plates piled high with berries, bite sized chocolate eclairs, lemon meringue tarts, coconut ices, chocolate hazelnut scones and the list goes on.Â Her mother is not oblivious.Â “Kassie,”Â Ella leans over and whispers to my mom, “I’m very disappointed in my mother, she keeps telling me to sit still and not to eat anymore!”
Â My Great Aunt?Â She’s not phased in the least.Â In 70 years of African living she has seen it all, and she thoroughly enjoys her birthday feast.
The ‘boys’ never caught the snakes, and my aunt is now threatening to move into a flat on the 7th floor of some hermetically sealed high rise.Â My mom reminded her of the father of a teenage friend who was bitten by a scorpion on the 7th floor of the ultra exclusive Johannesburg Carlton Hotel, back in the day.Â My aunt remains unconvinced.
And my mom hasn’t even told me about the floods yet.Â Another day in Africa…
Happy Birthday Val, these mini GrapefruitÂ Meringue Tarts are my ‘Nellie’ inspired contributions to your birthday tea.Â With love.
They are also my entry to this month’s WTSIM…topless tart.Â Now, I’m not sure if Cooksister is going to accept this as topless tart, but I maintain that the meringue is not a top, but an integral part ofÂ the filling.Â Â