Stellenbosch and forever
A day out wine tasting…expectations were relatively low as when is winery anything more than a winery. Having been to a few, I know how it works. I taste wine… I like wine… I buy wine… then wonder why I spent quite so much which I could have got cheaper in the local supermarket.
My first trip to Cape Town afforded me this opportunity to explore. On the approach, the town reveals itself slowly. Green and leafy on a glorious clear day, it feels like a classic French landscape until white houses appear. The consistent white architecture reveals the colonial origins of the settlers who built the town. Dismissing a casual thought for the local history become less easy when parking in the street. A local black man approaches asking if he can mind the car.
Looking around the empty surburban street for a reason my hire car might need minding, troubles me. This kind of cynical protection scheme is more akin to an inner city night club than what seems a peaceful empty street in 30 degree sunshine. I could be in the middle of an English Country park, it didn’t feel like the territory for car crime. But then this is South Africa and I don’t really know the risks. Deciding a confrontation and damaged car were not what I was looking for, plus the guy minding my car probably didn’t have much else in the way of income, I hand over a few rand.
Walking into the central area, I approach a village green with market stalls. The atmosphere is lively as stalls sell clothes and various local trinkets. Again the contrast of black and white is prevalent as the stalls are 100% black. I challenge myself for seeing colour like a label but it is wholly apparent even in a wealthy small town like this that people are in groups. Beyond that, the clothes, the style the charisma of the individuals is contrasting. The stalls are bursting with music and chatter. Without this activity the place would be soulless as most other locals are in cars.
I check out a few stalls to see what’s on sale but I’m not looking for the tourist stuff today so move on to the heart of the town. The white buildings are still prevalent but more akin to a typical town centre. The clean pavements and shady verandas, dotted with a few shoppers like myself give it a relaxed feel. Maybe lunch time in the hot sun is not the busiest time, but seems a bit quiet for some of the elaborate tourist shops to survive.
I purchase a map with a coffee and work out which wines places to go to. It’s a bit like a lucky dip but I decide on two to focus. The first is Beyerskloof as I recognise it from the harbour restaurants. I figure this as good value for money if everyone is buying it. The second is Hidden Valley as the name seems to lend it some intrigue.
Returning to the car, the minder is nowhere to be seen. Maybe he’s taken enough from the likes of me today.
The drive to Beyerskloof reveals the Stellenbosch region for what it is. A stunning natural landscape, with open green pastures lined with wineries, framed all around by steep craggy mountains. It is picturesque beyond imagination. Leaving behind the quirky oddities of the town centre, the landscape writes its own story.
Beyerskloof is an appetiser, soon quenched. As a wine, it is not outstanding but the blends are fuller bodied and rich in flavour. The place is busy so I don’t linger. I then drive the 20km or so to Hidden Valley, very quickly living up to its name as the road rises. Along the road, I pass wineries owned by famous South African golfers, none I felt necessary to visit. I remember once going to winery in Portugal owned by Cliff Richard which was memorable for two things. One for the officious Home Counties woman trying to flog the wine at rip off prices and second was the disappointing quality of the wine. Portuguese wine, a tenth of the price was far better. For that reason I was happy to ignore the celebrity endorsement, heading further up the narrowing road.
At a junction the road heads down steeply and the winery reveals itself. Getting out of the car, on one side is a small lake. A terrace is alongside with some food tables and a café. The winery is on the opposite side slightly higher on the hill. I decide to get some food before going for the wine so wonder onto the deck area. At this point I am a little overwhelmed. The lake itself is postcard perfect, especially with the clear blue sky, the still water and the green landscape. The steep rocky mountain ridges provide a stark backdrop as a perfect contrast to the lush vineyards. But then dragging my eyes from one vista, I look down the valley, realising that I can see all the way down to sea at Cape Town miles away. It is a magical spot and whatever the wine is going to taste like, it is easy to see why this place was chosen to make wine. After a bite to eat, struggling to take my eye off the view, I walk up to the winery. Outside the entrance is a bronze sculpture, half leopard, half log. It’s striking in its look and lends an elegance to the place. This is a step up in class. The winery is quieter than those down in the valley but still has a fair trade. It has its own terrace and I’m happy to sit and take in the view once more from a higher position whilst various wines are offered.
I don’t want to leave. There are many places I’ve been to where for various reasons of occasion and people that I’ve felt ultimately content. This is one of the best of them. Truly unforgettable. I order a few bottles because the wine is good. The red, Hidden Secret, has the body of a full French wine, but the rich fruit depth feels unique to the wine. It’s expensive but it feels special enough to buy and buy again.
Even after long leaving the place, I still place an order despite the price. Others will may struggle to match the price to the quality but that misses the point. For me, with each mouthful and each bottle I return to that very special place.
Stellenbosch finds its historical cont
The first thing I had to do was look it up and see what it meant. For a handle it is far better than most I come across. Makes a definite change from big busted Brenda from Barnstaple who has a great sense of humour and some BBW thing I hadn’t quite worked out the abbreviation for. That’s a bit of a caricature, but the dating app is full of less well enabled social communicators and it’s depressing.
I am desperate for someone with a little originality. I am never sure what I am looking for on these apps. I never had a type. Most of my mates fix on the obvious type but that seems like setting limitations on choice which assumes that every luscious big chested blonde is immediately going to grateful for my affections. Most men take little time for consideration of their inadequacies assuming we are happy to admit we have inadequacies. Of course, debating with the guys about a girls assets rarely considers the colour of hair unless it is in the cause of matching head hair with more natural areas of the body. I would like to say that level of immature conversation went out of fashion when I last saw a black and white TV. But I can testify, if I step into the CrossKeys at the end of my street, any time, we can restart the same conversation about Sam behind the bar. That and her dubious piercings.
So even a forty something divorcee of claimed professional status, with an income decently north of average, can slip easily into the potty mouth obsessions of youth. But which is the real me? When I go into these dates am I seriously considering the opinion of Terry and Keith as to the size of chest or the real colour of hair or am I seeking out the intellectual soul mate to debate the short history of Brexit and the real colour of the Taj Mahal?
But then Insolita pops up. The photograph isn’t the best. Small brunette lady, hair falling over too much of her face probably as a bit of mask rather than showing off what might be her best features. I find that with a few women on here. By looking too pretty, too standout, it attracts the wrong type of attention apparently. Good pictures only come with more conversation.
I am always wary of asking for better pics anyway. It indicates the quality of photo is going to be a judgement of the future of the engagement, which hardly works when you’ve been trying to plug the line about looks not being your primary factor or that you don’t have a type as such.
Insolita is Tracey. Yeah I know. How did that happen?
Though she will always be insolita in my mind, whether this flies or not. Unusual, exceptional and probably very different from Tracey. I will want to wonder in years to come about the possibilities a fling with Insolita could bring. Adventure, sensuality, travel and a good trip round the karma sutra will keep my imagination in business for years to come.
Given she’s due to turn up for a pizza any moment I feel the need to downplay the possibilities as I might be setting the bar a little too high for Tracey and definitely for me.
Immediately, I know it’s her, though she is shorter than anticipated. The long brunette hair gives her away but also the slight rise in the corner of her mouth as she smiles, lifting her cheekbones. The photo online with her hair shading some of her face had given a glimpse of this. A snarl or a hint of sarcasm to state, in this mood, it’s all you are going to get.
I stand politely and lean over to kiss her lightly on both cheeks. Seems rough etiquette for these occasions. And yes I did use the opportunity to scan down her body just to check out the nooks and crannies as she took off her black jacket. She is wearing a black pinafore dress with a white blouse underneath with the buttons opened enough for decency but sufficient to attract the gaze of a post-pubescent 46 year old.
‘Hi,’ she says, ‘how are you?’
The ‘u’ in the ‘you’ lingers like a test from a vocal coach. She told me she was Scottish in her chat messages but her accent sings like a highland jig. My attention is peaked if it isn’t already by that half smile. In her profile I figured it represented a modesty, but seeing it in full combination with her wide brown eyes, it’s a route to a wider smile. It is a childlike naivety in a first greeting. Her hair pulled back from a face is more like a curtain raiser to a performance than it is to hide a sadness.
‘I’m ok,’ I reply, trying to match my urban demeanour to her vocal symphony. I mutter some triviality about the day in the life of an insurance broker, but stop after two sentences. This night is definitely not going to be won by me twittering on about my inane life. This is going to be James from Dulwich, living up to exuberance of the dashing Insolita.
Red wine, white wine combination for her and I. We discussed this before in our pre-date exchanges and agreed that it was an unsatisfactory combination for compatibility on an economic basis as we couldn’t share a bottle, but it did mean a bottle each would not be an unreasonable suggestion either. These are the small things that tease out whether there is a puritanical limit to certain people or whether they really will go with the flow. Insolita, damn Tracey, was quite rightly and predictably, the latter.
‘So why Insolita?’ I have to ask. ‘Though every bloke must ask you the same, maybe it’s the worst question.’
She smiles with her glass close to her lips. She takes a sip whilst she thinks of her response. Maybe after being asked a hundred times the same question she has to consider a new and more interesting way to respond without sounding bored.
‘Ah fuck, I love being Tracey right,’ she says, ‘I’ve been Tracey with an ‘e’ all my life and I’m not going to stop. But I saw the word when I was reading some Italian fantasy book and I thought what the hell, that’s the word for me.’
I was about to ask about the Italian reference…
‘No, to hell with that,’ she laughs. ‘I googled some words to make me sound interesting without being some pretentious name like Valeria, Contessa. Soon as I spoke with my Aberdeen granite voice I’d be laughed out the place. No, this kind of sounded right for me. Did you look it up? Tell me you did right?’
‘See, I knew it. And is it me? Is it me; beautiful, exceptional, and unusual? Tell me now. Be brave!’
‘I don’t remember beautiful being in the dictionary definition anywhere.’
‘I might have slipped that one in,’ she says, with another drink. I’m liking the fun she’s having. Makes me think that we are progressing.
‘Well yes all of those things, from what I have seen of you.’
She puts her glass down and pauses.
‘We have a saying where I come from for crap like that… but it’s a first meeting so I will hold back on the full range of my vocabulary for the moment. If you get truly lucky, I might introduce it phrase by phrase. There is an education waiting to happen. Now get to f…. Ok tell me properly. None of your crap. What are the things you decided about me that may or may not live up to me being Insolita?
Pizza arriving at the table usefully delays my response giving me a little time to form words which sound neither patronising, over flattering or that don’t give away how stone cold in love I am at this moment and still impress her. A gulp of wine and scoff of spicy pepperoni is not perhaps the best precursor to this verbal tightrope.
I decide a question is a good further delaying tactic
‘So is this a test you throw out to all potential suitors? Bit of litmus test for a further date.’
‘I tell you what, since you’re a being a bit cowardly and all that. I’ll spell it out for you. I can see you buying the time. But clock’s ticking until the end of this pizza. Now I’m as hungry as a Scotman’s dog begging for scraps from a clean plate, so this is going to be finished quick. The question is not so much getting to a second date dear James but getting to a second glass.’
‘Ok ok,’ I say, wondering now whether her visceral response to my dithering was serious or all part of her banter. Maybe that was on the list of things to play back. Tricky as I was still trying to work out whether that was one of her good traits or one I was likely going to fear in the future. This was beginning to feel a little more of a Tracey trait than Insolita.
‘You look amazing,’ I started with. Was that too much as a start? It’s a bold one and the gulp of wine she takes whilst leaning back means that my statement will need a lot more qualifying before she will speak again.
‘I mean, your profile picture was a bit limiting. Didn’t offer much. Not saying it was a bad picture but let’s say it doesn’t live up to meeting you.’ Phew! Got that out. She leans forward and takes another bite of food. More work for me to do, I feel.
Gosh this was hard. I haven’t even checked out her top again in the last few minutes, I am that focussed. And now I have looked … damn, I will need to refocus on where I was.
‘I love your voice, your accent. It is compelling. In a room full people, everyone would know it’s you, I’m sure of it.’
‘Hey, I like that one,’ she says, ’good work, but have to say that might work in a south London place like this, but take me down Aberbeen market and I’m like a squeeking mouse compared with the folk round there. But we are getting somewhere. I’m going to take another bite and you can squeeze more words of that tortured mind working overtime over there.’
‘You spotted my pain then?’
‘Oh yes, and be sure. I am enjoying every second of it. Best date I’ve had in ages.’
And with that one reveal, the mood changes. She is enjoying it. I felt she was pushing and pushing me because she was enjoying it but it could easily just have been her pushing for me to state how little I understood her.
‘I love the idea of the name. So many women… and men, lack imagination in the way they describe themselves and it absolutely got me. You remember the old radio tuners… swiping is a bit like that, you are listening or looking at least for some tune or noise that stops you. Instantly different but right. That was you.’
She chinked my glass and stood a little, rather awkwardly across the table. She kissed me quickly and sat back down.
‘Sorry,’ she says, ‘that was a little bit instinctive. I can be like that. You might notice that. But thank you. I suppose the name is nothing right, it’s me but it’s not. But the world is so full of drudgery there has to be a little imagination. And you, James from Dulwich have just about the right dose of it. Plus you have the eyes of my sister’s wee puppy and I have to say, I wanted to kiss you since the moment I stepped in the door.’
I can’t deny, in this moment words are not possible. I am smiling, probably like a child on his birthday but if I could bottle the lift in my heart at this moment, it would be capped and never opened for fear of losing it and never finding it again.
‘You can speak you know?’
I decide eating is better for the moment and tuck away a few more mouthfuls.
‘James from Dulwich,’ she says, saving me from thinking too much. ‘I was never going to land on that myself was I? Do you know how many I look at and think… well I’m not sure I can say again without that vocabulary thing. Best I don’t’ but you know what I mean.’
‘Yeah, but it’s always the boys going after the girls on these sites isn’t. I mean women must get loads more attention than the blokes. Have you ever messaged someone off the profile?’
‘Oh yeah. I’ve got ten waiting on a date. Two after you Jimmy. I told you I was hungry, will be another pizza and a curry date after you.’
I laugh as I know she’s joking now and it’s great.
The end of the meal comes too soon. Even after the second glass.
‘So you going to take me out again?’ she asks, as I pull the bill away from her.
‘Bit presumptuous,’ I say, ‘I haven’t worked out how much you cost me yet?’ After an hour of her company and more wine, it’s good to feel I can be the joker.
‘A girl likes to know where she stands, but maybe I know the answer already.’
She does and she’s right.
‘See. Next time though I’m going to where a roll neck jumper and then you might focus a little more on the eyes instead of my cleavage, right.’
She’s laughs at my blushes and it’s good to know my boyish indulgences are not met with too much disdain.
She’s fun, she pretty. She’s Tracey. Most of all she is most definitely Insolita.