What a year this has been, and there is still no end to it. COVID-19 is still dominating every conversation, every news report. I have paid my deposit to for the Flock to Marion 2022 trip, already postponed twice, and can’t even decide whether I should bother to renew my passport. The ability to travel freely seems almost fantastical. Last year (2020) when we came out of a hard lockdown, I remember being riveted by the sound of a plane flying overhead. But life goes on.
I still work sporadically in coffee shops, but not as much as I used to. In a way I miss that uncomplicated pleasure of spending a morning in my favourite corner sipping away at a cappuccino and feeling so productive on a caffeine buzz. And of course meeting familiar faces. The pandemic has of course created a whole new batch of remote workers. People who used to work in offices, then at home, and now in coffee-shops to see other members of the species. A small windfall for coffee-shop owners, but for the regulars, this office away from home has become a little too crowded. The type of remote worker who is always talking at their laptop screen with an earpiece dangling from one ear.
I have now worked as a freelance writer for almost three decades. I suppose that would put me in the category of ‘fairly experienced’, but really, one is only as good as your last job. Although experience does count. Like many, I started my career working as a reporter at a newspaper, then at a trade magazine, before deciding to work for myself. I have also researched and written the copy for a number of coffee-table books.
I completed my second coffee-table for Isipani Construction this year (2021). Other coffee-table projects have included: Doolhof 1714-2014 (2014) for the Doolhof Wine Estate in Wellington, Sillery Manor (2010) in Cape Town, J van der Sluys 1960-2010 (2010) for Isipani Construction in Paarl, Africa’s Giant Eye: Building the Southern Africa Large Telescope (2007) for the SA Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town, A Century in Stone 1906-2006 (2006) for JA Clift Granite Contractors in Paarl, and SA Winelands of the Cape (2006) for Gerald Hoberman Books in Cape Town.
I wrote a number of editorials and articles for the Paarl Post between 2008 and 2012 on local history. The editorials focused primarily on local history, while the articles were based on personal interviews to document oral histories of the 1960s to 1980s. At time I was also involved in two oral history projects, one in Wellington—an initiative of the Wellington Museum—and the other in Paarl—a project of Paarl’s private archive, the Drakenstein Heemkring.
I really enjoy working on larger projects, especially if they require some historical research. I have worked with cultural historians to write up the histories of historical properties in the Cape Winelands and genealogical research. Some of my more unusual ad hoc projects have also included the history of jackal-proof fencing in the Karoo. I have also researched the history of food gardens for Babylonstoren.
Archival research is an enduring passion, but it is very easy to fall down multiple rabbit holes when doing research for a client. It takes quite a bit of self-discipline not to become side-tracked. I clearly failed hopelessly because I have over the years filled countless notebooks with references and sidebars. These notebooks on the Cape’s early whale industry, Paarl’s 19th century wagon builders and the early trade in indigo are, of course, clamouring for attention.
Travelling with a camera
I am also passionate about gardening and sustainable agriculture, grow my own vegetables, and love photography and street art. My carbon footprint is slightly compromised by my love of travelling. I have pony trekked through Mongolia’s northern taiga, crossed several time zones on the Trans-Siberian Railway, cycled through the Camargue, walked the Camino through Portugal to Spain and mushed dogs in Finnish Lapland. Well, and got chased by an Egyptian Goose in Norwich, but that is another story.