Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Tale of Two Views

This is going to be the last post of this blog.

Time to move on.

We are now in the Trans Atlantic phase of our lives: Tyler on Tortola running the bakery, me in the Kwazulu Natal Midlands with the boys all in school here - and a 58 hour door to door commute. We spend a lot of time on Skype. We'll also be knocking up some serious SAA airmiles.

I have really loved writing this blog and journalling about our lives and adventures. It has put me in mind to take all this writing business a bit further and start that darn book. Since that feels like too much fun, I procrastinate - but the time to do it is NOW.

Thanks for all the love, the positive comments and the encouragement.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


As we all know, social media and Real Life are not the same thing.

After a few years of writing this blog, I've come to instinctively know when I shouldn't post and so I knew the last time I wrote that I'd only be able to pick up again if we survived until Christmas and we were still  standing on 'the other side' so to speak. The fact that I'm writing again is testament to something. We're not entirely out of the woods yet, but we can now see rolling plains in front of us.

We've had a 'big' year in more ways than one and it has, for the most part, been pretty gruelling. The next time we have a good idea like "let's go and live on a tropical island and open a bakery' I can honestly say we'd both laugh our heads off (ROTGAFLOHO - or something like that) and then say an emphatic "no thank you" and carry on with our humdrum suburban lives.

The bakery has now been open just over two years, although it feels more like two centuries. In that time we've built a solidly good business which we're proud of.  In the past 3 months we have expanded exponentially with larger premises, imported French bakers and triple the staff, including drivers who didn't drive and Christmas bakers who disappeared over....Christmas. Battle-wearied, we've had a hard look at what we believe we can and can't do and we'll be going into 2015 much wiser and more tough-minded than before. I think I reached my lowest point a few weeks ago when a customer (a doctors wife, no less) refused to pay $1 for bottled water, as we had run out of our complimentary water and she didn't see why she should have to pay. My rather sarcastic "maybe because we're a business?" didn't go down very well and Tyler had to send me off to Riteway to calm me down before I mauled any other customers.

My Martha Stewart tendencies have also finally been completely assuaged and I'm looking forward to living a future life less perfectly. We will ceremoniously burn my collection of 'Living' magazines when we move and I never want to see another iced biscuit again for as long as I live.  It is not for nothing that Martha's empire is crumbling and not MacDonald's or Walmart. It is also complete crap when someone says that 'passion' and 'integrity' makes up for either a living wage or family life. The whole 'artisan' thing needs a reality check: Journalists with safe, well paid jobs who extort 'artisans' to sacrifice themselves for some moral food crusade, need a kick up the a**  or 24 hours in a bakery to see what bollocks they are peddling and just how hard 'hard' is.

Most challenging of all this year however, has been my ghastly health. It was with extraordinarily bad luck that one of the few known (and exceptionally rare) triggers for Guillain Barre Syndrome was Chikungunya, which I managed to get. Just as we thought the nightmare of GBS was receding I got it all over again, and ended up in bed for weeks on & off, battling excruciating nerve and joint pain, paralysis and fevers. I must admit to some very dark days. My hair started falling out in chunks, my body ballooned due to all the dreadful drugs and I became scarily frail. This all coincided with our major push to renovate the Fireproof Building. There seemed no respite from all the endless negotiations with banks and contractors and shipping agents and bureaucrats and we just rolled with all the punches and blearily pushed on. What a beautiful place we created too.

In amongst all of this mayham, the boys thrived and grew. They have been nothing short of angels this year - endlessly patient and understanding, supportive, mature and amazingly calm with a mother who had clearly lost the plot most days and an absent and exhausted father who immediately fell asleep if he sat down for longer than 5 minutes.

Has it all been worth it, I hear you say. Was it a foolish thing to chuck up the security of our middle class life in the leafy northern suburbs of Johannesburg and come and live on this fickle little island in the Caribbean and start our own business, nearly totaling ourselves in the process?

Of course we ask ourselves this question nearly everyday and of course we don't know the answer. I'm definitely not going to say that the view or the sunsets make it all worthwhile, nor do I have any other snappy answers either. We had to come and see for ourselves and we really did want to do this. So we did.  Now it's all part of the story of our family and who we are and who the boys are. Don't ask me if we would do it all over again however - I may just hit you.

Having survived, we are now ready for the next chapter, which is all about the boys going back to South Africa, starting school and being reunited with old friends and family. Tyler gets to stay behind to run the bakery and I get to knock-up some air miles again, something I used to be rather proficient at. We are spending a very content and quiet Christmas hanging out in our Carrot Bay eyrie, as we count down the days until we leave. We have a new house in Rosetta to sort out, school uniforms to sew name tags into, bakkies and dogs to choose, grandparents to fuss over us, cousins to play with and boarding school life with trunks, 'free bounds' and housemasters to look forward to. We'll be swopping rashies and snorkels for wellies and snaffles and we'll be struggling with our isiZulu, just as we were really beginning to understand West Indian accents.

Once the new order is settled, I'm starting my book. I should have plenty of time on the 16 hour SAA Joburg-New York City flight.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A sad week

Waiting to leave

We've been consumed by sadness all week after the devastating loss of a friend's son. A lovely 20 year-old young man in his prime with so much to live for. Life can sometimes be inexplicable.

It has also been a hard week: The AC has stopped working in the bakery, the truck has broken down again and brown matter continues to rain down on us. This is all further enlivened by the brutal summer heat. I saw someone talking about 45C temperatures and even if this is not quite accurate, it certainly feels like it. Put simply, life feels a bit like Purgatory right now.

Amidst this, James left for his 2.5 month travels on Wednesday. In some ways it was good to put him on a plane because he's off on a fantastic adventure, but I felt psychically ill as I watched him walk through Customs. He arrived safely in Ireland of course and we'll all soon adjust to the new order, but it felt like going against the laws of nature there for a while.

I've never given too much thought about whether we are "good parents" or not. I'm not sure how one benchmarks such a statement. Nobody sets out to be bad parents, do they? The term is actually ridiculous. We all want to be normal and for our kids to be happy. We all want to provide the best for our children.  We all try to protect our kids from how messy and less then perfect life is most of the time. We all try to inspire that only hard-work and discipline make for success, and even then there are no guarantees (as I can personally attest to this week). We all battle with the 'generation-gap'. We're all distracted.

I suppose the first time you start letting your children go, is the first time you start fearing about the future. You have a good look around you and it feels like the forest in the Gruffalo - monsters behind every bush.  You do a mental check-list with yourself that you have prepared the child enough for the big, bad world out there. You look at your child for the first time as the world sees him. You worry that you havn't done enough or too much or of the wrong thing. You worry that they will be frightened or lonely. That they will not be able to manage.

I hope James stays safe and is hungry to learn and has an extraordinary time. I hope he does amazing things.  I hope we've given him enough to help him on his way.

I hope there is a heaven and I hope Michael goes there. I hope he also has a good journey and that he finds peace.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

.......the other side of Summer

Anegada Days

Well it's already September 7th today and Summer holidays are drawing to a close with Georgie & William back at school on Wednesday and James off on his travels next weekend.

We had a good break over Festival Week sailing up to North Sound and then Anegada, where we lolled around eating, swimming and reading our books. We did manage to do the walk from Pomato Point to Cow Wreck Bay and didn't see another living soul the whole day. Amazing.

The boys also spent a lot of time whizzing around in the rib. Even the 8 year old was gleefully tearing around (don't tell the Moorings) whilst George belted out "We're on the Hiiiiiighway to Hell". Boy Paradise.

Please note the skipper has his RYA Level 2 Power Boat certification. 

We had our usual share of holidays dramas: Props falling off, over-heated engines, anchors that didn't work and then a sudden gale-force storm which hit us with all our full sails up on the way home - but despite all of that, we did relax and re-humanised ourselves again.

We spent a couple of weeks back on Tortola as I'm still working full time at Osiris and Tyler hung out with the boys and got busy with our new premises, which are cracking along. It all felt very civilized as our alarm clock only went off at 7am instead of the usual 4am.

Fire Proof Building

At the end of August we went over to St John's, our sister USVI island.  We did a day hike on the Reef Bay Trail which we really loved. Dotted along the beautiful rainforest path were fascinating sugar plantation ruins, 2000 year old petroglyphs and valleys of land crabs.  We had forgotten just how much we enjoyed  hiking and it's something to look forward to now that the boys are a little older.

We had an excellent meal at La Tapa, a grown-up sundowners at the rather jooshy Caneel Bay  and our little hotel was perfect for us. Once you look past the flaky-hippy veneer, we really loved St John's and it's definitely our new bolt hole when we feel we may be in danger of common assault on Tortola.

St John's National Park, USVI: Reef Bay Trail

Speaking of which, September is my least favourite month of the year on the island. It's stinking hot, the humidity runs at 100% and the mozzies drive one to distraction. Tempers are short and the invisible fault lines are tricky to navigate. It is very easy to offend someone in September. Then you have to live with it for the rest of the year and perhaps till the end of eternity even. Island life does have its shortcomings, as we know. In fact Island Life would be quite nice if it was in, say London or Las Vegas, but you can't have it all, I suppose.

The good thing about September however is that the island looks beautiful. Everything is lush and flowering. Coral trees are vivid orange, hibiscus and oleanders are everywhere. It's hard to be grumpy for too long.

Our driveway

Last week was our second birthday for the bakery's operations and the week previously was our fourth anniversary living on the island. With only about 6 weeks to go until we open the new premises, the days go by in a blur. We are fiendishly trying to recruit staff, order new equipment, deal with banks and shippers, work with the builders and not lose our minds. Some days we do. Some days we don't.

It's not so much exciting as it is terrifying, exhilarating and exhausting. Lots happening, lots of change and lots of lists.

Sounds about normal for us then.

Messing around with Anderson/Brockbank, the BVI Olympic Sailing Team

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Season's End

Life has been good for the past couple of weeks. This has everything to do with happy boys enjoying a jam-packed summer, working in an air-conditioned office and a busy bakery. The past year has been fraught with all kinds of challenges for us and most days we have just had to roll with it. I'm always grateful when we have a few weeks of respite and can just be normal mensch again.

Which I can't say for the rest of the world which has seemingly gone completely insane.

Tyler and I realised that - unlike our own childhoods - the boys are not growing up surrounded by news in the house. We stream TV and pick programmes as opposed to watching a channel and we both download newspapers online because of the lack of international newspapers on the island. We therefore consume news individually and although we chat about it to each other, the boys have remained oblivious to world events. So we felt we needed to rectify this and all sat down together on Monday to watch the BBC News before supper.

Of course the two main leads were MH17 and Gaza.The children were horrified. Amongst many other questions over dinner, William asked "if you are killed in a war does this mean you are actually dead?" To anyone over about 30 years old this would seem like a ridiculous question, but in video war games being killed dosn't necessarily mean that you cease to exist, you can come back from the dead. The boys were also bewildered why children their own age were being blown up in Gaza. It literally made no sense to them at all.

I immediately felt that maybe we hadn't done the right thing by exposing the children to such rawness. The BBC is always careful in its reporting and provides factual news as well as opinion, so nothing that they had seen was lurid or sensationalist.

Nevertheless, they were all visibly shaken by what they had seen and heard. It was hard to watch the children trying to compute such insanity. We couldn't even give them semi-coherent explanations in the face of such incomprehensible events.

On reflection however we believe that we have  done the right thing. The children are a part of this world and are about to re-enter the mainstream again, so to speak. Backwaters, whilst quiet are also murky - so we have our fair share of issues here albeit in a more parochial way. The boys also do not live in an idyllic island bubble. They've had to deal with bullying and racism and see first hand the desecration of the reefs and the near extinction of their beloved frogs. They've also seen how hard it has been to build our new lives here and so they do understand that it's not all roses the whole time.

We don't have Gaza or MH17 or hijackings though. In some ways it makes us appreciate our little backwater even more (until we have to get on a plane again, that is) but it is The World, and not a video game and William hopefully understands that now. We're also getting back to our TED evenings, which the boys loved and which focuses more on the positive and the rational.

In other news......James's team won the Premiers Cup last weekend and our 8 year old was baptised in a lovely island ceremony last Saturday. We also entertained for the first time in 18 months and enjoyed a fabulous surprise 50th birthday party.

We have ONE MORE WEEK until we close the bakery shop and take a little break ourselves. We are planning on sailing to Anegada for a few days, weather permitting and doing some hiking in the St John's National Park. Then we have to knuckle down to fixing things and sorting stuff out and get going on our new premises.

So we're stepping off the world for a week and I'm going to take a short break from the blog and we'll see you on the other side of Summer.

Hasta la vista x

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Fireproof Building on Main Street, Road Town

Fireproof Building can be seen with a little red arrow, bottom right
Our new premises - the Fireproof Building, is one of the oldest buildings in Road Town and a National Monument. It has variously been the Governor's office, a warehouse and the government archives and gets its name from having survived the riots and subsequent fire in 1853, hence the 'Fireproof Building'.

The view from the adjacent car park

It's a beautiful 'industrial' space with breezy open windows, high ceilings and stone floor. We'd like to keep this 'look and fee'l for the new cafe and bakery shop. 

We are planning both a new cafe and food store, with an expanded range of Family bread (think rye, onion, spelt and campagne...) baked goods, traiteur and regional produce -  not forgetting Christmas! We're planning a really fun 'Christmas Pop Up Shop' along the lines of some exciting places we saw in New York early this year.

Even though this kind of expansion is terrifying we believe in our product and have built up a loyal customer community over the past two years. 

We're finally going to have room for our patisserie and cakes. As the space is so much cooler than the bakery, we'll also be able to make puff pastry (think croissants!) and meringues......(think macaroons!). 

We are also currently sourcing local produce to continue our commitment to small-batch and locally produced food: It tastes better, it's carbon foot print is heroic compared to what we are used to and it contributes towards the future sustainability of the islands. As we are a family-owned business, we'd really like to see the boys and their children be able to build the business in years to come. 

Work is just about to begin and soon the building will be painted with a new bathroom and other improvements. We are aiming to open in October to have a 'soft start' before we plunge into Christmas!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Last Week Was Epic

Happy Days.

Last week the boys had a complete blast at Josiah's Bay at the Beach & Bush Camp. They were falling asleep in the car on the way home, always a good sign of a day well spent. This week it's Tennis Camp and then they're back at Josiah's Bay next week for more Boy Heaven, machettes and some surfing. Plus James & Georgie are both sailing in the Premier's Cup this weekend, which means they are staying at Nanny Cay in tents and get to hang out with teams and friends from all over the Caribbean and race. A charmed life, for sure.

Mine's not so bad either: I'm now back sitting in an office all day, at a desk, with air conditioning, wearing a dress. This is all a bit of a novelty and I'm quite enjoying it actually. I'm particularly enjoying the sitting down bit, not to mention the air conditioning.

I do have to fit in a few hours before sunrise to keep up with the family business and then run around like a sweaty lunatic at lunchtime. It's alright really - especially when it leads to such great outcomes namely our new premises - the historic Fireproof Building in Main Street, signed on Friday. We've been coveting it for years and it is by far one of the most beautiful buildings in Road Town. All 1400 sq feet of it.

Opening October. That's soon - 2 months!


You're looking at our Summer!