Museum takes shape after construction

Sir Nicholas Winton

Hurrah! Those giant yellow cranes on Steenberg Road, used in the construction of The Norval Foundation, have disappeared.

This action, together with an arboretum of tall trees appearing overnight, has suddenly transformed the building. It no longer looks so big and bulky and sooo out of place on that quiet corner of Westlake next to the gracious Steenberg wine estate.

What’s even more surprising is that approaching the museum from the shopping centre, the building looks slightly smaller than the American Consulate across the road. Perhaps the fact that the gallery is grey and the consulate bright white has helped. ​

Initially, I was horrified that such a monstrosity was to appear on the site where the low-keyed family Barnyard restaurant and menagerie had been for years. But I have to hand it to the architects.

They have done a good job in camouflaging this enormous multi-million complex which encompasses an art museum and centre for modern South African art, a sculpture garden, outdoor amphitheatre, purpose built exhibition space, research library and even a children’s playground to keep the kids happy while their parents soak up the culture inside. On Mondays entrance is free.

However, one thing still irks. Although I passed the construction site umpteen times, I never succeeded in counting all the cars parked and double parked in front of, opposite, and around the building. Presumably the vehicles belonged to the multiple men and women engaged in a variety of jobs to bring the architect’s drawings into reality. The maximum number I reached was 66 before we had passed them all.

Obviously the cars have dropped dramatically since the opening on April 28. But now I’m counting something else – the large trees and big flowering shrubs being off-loaded into prepared holes.

Thankfully I don’t have to count their cost!

Stop the traffic

A reader has not actually suggested I should be taken outside and shot for misleading the public about three-way intersections, but I think he thinks so.

He writes: “Three-way stop streets are to be treated as are four-way stop streets, that is correct, BUT, and a big but, the rules you wrote are for a traffic circle and not for a four-way stop. There is nothing in the law about yielding to your right at a four-way stop, never has been, and would not be practical. It is simply first come, first served, or first to stop, first to go. And that applies to three-way stops.

“At a two way stop-street – a crossing where only one road has stop streets – there is the rule that vehicles going straight or turning left have priority over vehicles turning right, but that does not apply at a four-way stop street.
In Gauteng, where four-way stop streets are as common as flattened squirrels here, there are four-way stop streets at crossings with three lanes in every direction, 12 lanes in total.

“Besides a daily one or two road-rage incidents, innovative language use, and shots fired, they do work on the basis of first come, first served.”

The power of one

If ever there was an amazing example of the power of one, it’s surely the case of Sir Nicholas Winton who died three years ago at 106. Many Capetonians now know about this remarkable man from a short video clip circulating on social media. It is an extract from the BBC Programme That’s Life aired in 1988 under the title Holocaust survivors lost and found.

Every time I replay it on my phone, I’m reduced to tears.

It begins with a photo of an elderly, bespectacled man in a theatre not knowing why he was invited there.

A narrator tells you he is Sir Nicholas Winton who, in 1939 as a young British stockbroker, began the rescue of hundreds of Jewish children from Nazi concentration camps in an operation later known as Czech Kindertransport.

He organised travel documents and visas to take them out of war-torn Czechoslovakia to Britain where he helped them find new families to start a new life.

None of this was known until 50 years later when his wife, Grete, found a suitcase in the attic containing a scrapbook full of documents and transport plans.

In the video the announcer flicks through the pages of that notebook and stops at the name of Vera Diamant who, she tells us, is now Vera Gissing and happens to be in the audience.

Then comes the first surprise. “I should tell you, Vera, that you are sitting next to Sir Nicholas….”

Vera turns to him, smiles shyly, and then they kiss. She is in tears. An astonished Sir Nicholas wipes his wet glasses.
When the narrator asked if there was anyone else in the audience who owed their life to Sir Nicholas to stand up, everybody did!

In total Sir Nicholas saved 669 children. Thanks to that notebook, the BBC’s That’s Life programme reunited more than two dozen of his “children” with their rescuer for the first time in that highly emotional broadcast.

Broken hearts never heal

I was delighted to hear from Tamsin Snyman, the daughter of Lannice and Michael Snyman, in reply to my letter for confirmation that her father had died so soon after the death of her mother in 2010.

First Tamsin expressed her approval that I had used her mother’s cook book, Free From the Sea, The book was first published in 1979, went on to 14 impressions and, although officially out of print two years ago, still brings Tamsin weekly requests for copies.

“Yes, my mom passed away on Mother’s Day (May 9 2010) which was my first Mother’s Day as I had just had my daughter, Trinity, five weeks before her death. Dad took it really badly and had a sudden heart attack four months later (September 27).
It was a proper fairy-tale tragedy as there was no way he could live without her, according to a lovely article in the Sunday Times on April 4, 2012.”

Under the heading “Until Death us do Part” and sub-heading “Experts find that you really can die of a broken heart”, the article quotes two cases of sudden death by spouses – musician Johnny Cash, who died from complications of diabetes four months after the death of his wife, June, and the former British PM Lord James Callaghan, who died of pneumonia aged 92 in 1995, 20 days after Audrey, his wife of 67 years.

Among the scientific arguments put forward to explain cases of widows and widowers who died days, even hours, after the death of a spouse, was that the emotional stress of losing a loved one could lead to parts of the immune system being suppressed, leaving grieving relatives more vulnerable to bacterial infections.

The DA needs a mother

When we were little, my mother had her own way of handling conflict between her three daughters.

When the shrieks and yells reached a certain point, she would open the door and in her commanding contralto voice, demand to know what was going on?

No excuses were heard and no sides taken. We were all guilty of destroying the peace of our home and were sentenced to go to our rooms and not emerge until we were prepared to apologise to her and each other for our bad behaviour.

Now if the DA had had a mother-figure like my mother, their public squabbling would never have reached the point where it is destroying the patience of voters and now runs the risk of the party losing a city.

Walk about

When we have time, we extend our walks from the Tokai pines into the fynbos and out on to the boardwalk and back into the pines. Except when the purple pelargoniums are in flower there’s usually nothing very exciting to see but right now there is a wonderful display of proteas.

I recall they were planted some years ago and have grown well in one particular spot in easy reach from the still-dry river bed. You will know you are getting near them when you hear the buzzing of busy bees. Some flower heads are at eye level so it’s possible to look right into the heart of a single bloom and see the frenetic activity going on as the bees jostle for space to gather pollen and collect nectar.

So much importance is set on bees helping plants and crops to pollinate, it’s easy to forget that pollen is also an important bee food. That powdery dust-like substance is one of the purest and richest natural foods containing all the nutritional requirements of a honey bee – sugar, carbohydrates, protein, enzymes, vitamins and minerals.

For the bees to produce honey, they consume pollen and nectar from a variety of flowers but most importantly pollen goes into making the famous royal jelly from which the bees raise and feed their queens.

Another interesting “food” available in the park, but for humans not bees, is a wild olive. I recently stopped to talk to a man who was picking and eating tiny black blobs from a rather scrawny-looking tree.

“Here,” he said, “Try one.

They are quite sweet… probably collected and eaten by the Khoisan people foraging around here.” I did try one, spat out the large pip and survived.

I prefer chocolate

I keep reading how bad chocolate is for me that I have decided to give up reading.