For me, syringa flowers always dominated those late afternoons, their heavy perfume forming an invisible fairy ring around our garden gate. Flanking the gravel driveway were baby roses that Mommy made into dainty posies bound by silver doilies. Our thatched roof was wearing thin in places and varnish flaked from the sash window frames. ‘Ludlow’ belonged to Aunt Maud from Swakopmund and we struggled to pay the monthly rent of £11.
Surrounding the stone birdbath a flurry of doves were queuing for their evening shower. Drooping willows overhung them, motionless. A rabbit popped up from the flower bed its white tail, punctuating the orange and yellow nasturtiums like giant full stops. I was sitting cross-legged in the tree-house that uncle Cyril had built for my tenth birthday observing granny and Mrs Harry, a neighbour from across the road, having sundowners on the lawn below.
Granny was saying: ‘I do so love coming to stay with my daughter and the children here in Somerset West – it’s so quiet and clean compared to the grime and bustle of Cape Town, but I also enjoy the daily outings to town with my dear friend, Mrs Bell. I stay at the Gardens Residential Hotel and she lives a block away in a room at number 50 Orange Street. Neither of us has space for ‘At Homes’ and anyway no one seems to have time for them anymore.
‘So, promptly at 10.15 every morning, I walk up to meet her and we stand at the bus stop waiting for the trackless tram to trundle down from Oranjezicht. The conductor, Jim, is a real gentleman. He takes us by the elbow and helps us onto the platform. From there he ushers us to our customary seat among the other regulars. Only then does he allow the driver to proceed. Invariably along the way a tram has become detached from the overhead wires. Its huge antennae dangle from the roof like broken locusts’ legs while the unfortunate passengers are left stranded on the pavement.
‘By 11 o’clock we are seated in the tearoom at Stuttafords. Amy, cheerful as ever, takes our order. Mrs Bell always has her cream scone with strawberry jam while I love those dainty egg mayonnaise triangles nestling on shredded lettuce. We share a large pot of well-brewed Ceylon. Mrs Bell helps herself to three lumps of sugar lumps but I decline. You see, I gave it up for Lent at boarding school all those years ago when I was eleven.’
Granny paused: ‘Would you like another gin and tonic, Mrs Harry?’
‘No thanks, Mrs Ferris. I really must be running along!’
The marmalade cat stretched, got up slowly and sauntered off in the direction of the bird bath. An agitated twittering and splashing ensued as the bathers hastily took flight. But Ginger, posing no threat whatsoever, was otherwise occupied, discretely covering her deposit under the pink roses!