Roughing it

When the land we live on was subdivided, our portion amounted to about eight hectares, much of which falls in a deep gorge through which the Buffels river runs. We moved onto the property in 1996. Most of it was covered in bluegums, wattle, pine and blackwood. The rest was fynbos and in the gorge there is a belt of beautiful indigenous forest. All but the last are serious fire hazards and we had some massive blazes, some of which came really close to the house.

On one occasion I was on the beach waiting for the boat to come in (as one does!) and the skipper radioed in to say that he’d picked up a call on the emergency services channel saying that there was a fire in The Crags. I had seen the smoke in the distance but it hadn’t looked like the fire was close to our farm. Apparently it was. I jumped into my truck and drove home. When I got into The Crags I had to drive through smoke so thick that I had to keep my door open and navigate by the middle line on the N2. This particular fire came within two meters of our shack but thankfully we did not lose the house. The only casualty was Pamela, a Jack Russel who was killed by a panicked neighbour driving through the smoke.

Looking back, it was a pretty rough life. We didn’t get electricity for almost a year and to bath we had to make fires in a little donkey that produced very little warm water. Our “house” was (and still is!) a wood and iron shack and the ceiling of the bedroom was so low that I’d bump my head. We made use of paraffin and gas lamps and wax candles which made reading difficult so we tended to go to sleep early and get up at dawn. We ate a lot of fish and our fridge was (for a long time) a Styrofoam carton of chipped ice. When we got an ancient paraffin fridge we really felt we were moving up in the world. Over the years we added a kitchen, extended the bathroom, and put a cement floor into the adjacent tractor shed and turned it into a bedroom (with a higher ceiling!). Today it doesn’t look any posher than it did in the early years but it is a bit bigger and much more comfortable.