Growing up in the nineties in South Africa… the average white, middle-class, suburban family has a big-ish home, a garden, a dog, cat, hamster and a pool (and if you don’t have a pool – I never did – your friends will have one). The idea was (still is?) to go to school, then university, maybe get married but definitely buy a car and a house/townhouse or get busy with some sort of property investment. The privilege is glaring (embarrassing even) but a conversation for others stories on this website. The point for now: no one rented and no one lived in a flat the main road back then, which is exactly the life my man Zan, our five children and I have bought into. Our Saffa parents are “ag shaming” us behind closed doors: no garden, one bathroom and ‘campfire dinners’ on the kitchen floor every night—cushions and stories. But you know what, we love it and I am looking forward to sharing shenanigans on the High Street with you all. So, here’s to expat adventures in London.
“What can we have for breakfast?”
“There’s no milk. Mommmm…we’re staaarving.”
“There’s no fruit. We’re dying mom—honestly; look at our faces…we’re practically skeletons.”
“Aha. Skeletons. Just eat whatever you can find then. But not the cookies—okay!?”
Away they run, enticed by the freedom of “whatever”. Pretty energetic for the walking dead.
It took ten minutes for me to unbury my head and look up…white walls, high ceiling, fireplace lurking in the background—its delicate features dismissed by my typically over-eager eye the night before as we let our mattress crash like timber and haphazardly dumped our limp-limbed torsos where it landed to sleep the sleep of the dead. What happens in the witching hour stays in the witching hour, especially the ostracism of exquisite fireplace ornamentation. To my left; the Mount Doom of boxes, which, all things considered, made a nice change from the more familiar seven-people’s-worth-of-washing version of Tolkien’s tower of torment.
Zan’s head was still buried—he was also unusually still; he might be dead. Dead from box carrying. Which would mean that I’d have to do the last haul on my own muscle. Please don’t be dead.
“Zan, are you awake?”
Okay, not dead.
Sheesh, anyway—how are children always hungry? Literally, always. Jeepers. I need to take them back home to South Africa and show them hungry. I mean, Siya Kolisi had sugar water for sustenance and the guy’s a machine of a Springbok rugby captain. Never again will they align their strong, well-fed frames with what lies beneath. Suburban London is doing us no favours in helping raise children with perspective—Planet Organic, foamy milk and croissants from Sable Doré. Sure. Real life. Nah. Something that requires further thought but not the day after moving day (with still some kak to carry). Right now, they’re hungry. Skeletons, remember? And there are five of them. In the kitchen. Scavenging for food.
The flies lording over Piggy’s fat carcass. The broken conch.
I’d better get up.
Onward to the kitchen.
Ice cream cones and onion flakes. Let me clarify: onion flakes (the type sprinkled on sushi) inside ice cream cones. That’s what they’d come up with.
I hated to rain on their parade with some milk (they seemed quite happy with their loot) but for health’s sake I dashed onto the High Street (where we now live) and acquired some. No garden but milk within the minute. Yup, life is going to be different.
Where does one park? Nearby.
We live on a traffic circle alongside a bus stop.
What does one do when one’s children walk across the road to the new flat but forget what number it is? Drive around and around the traffic circle (six times at least) shouting three digits from the driver’s seat out the passenger window (whilst the children look on at the bellowing crazy lady who is in no way shape or form their mother). Yup, still South African.
Where does one park a medium-sized moving van? Good question—around the corner, across the road?
How does one move one’s house when there is nowhere to stop and unload? Friends, perseverance and a Sainsbury’s trolley.
A two-seater couch, bookshelves, drawers, bed bits and as many boxes as you’ve seen in your life balanced in turn in/on a shallow Sainsbury’s trolley cajoled along the high street in between Starbucks cups, charity shop tourists, M&S bags full of fruit and wine, children with grubby pain-au-chocolate hands, suited Estate Agents, dogs, cigarettes in hand and pavement conversations. And then up two flights of stairs—PIVOOOT!
Thirteen years ago, we arrived in London with a suitcase each and have there since morphed into a family of seven with stuff to match. It’s LOL funny, when you don’t have to pack and carry it. Or when you leave your son at old-home because you and your pal are loading, driving, unpacking, hauling, and he does a man poop in your freshly cleaned toilet plus you’ve already taken all the toilet paper to new-home.
“Mom…when are you coming back to fetch us?”
“Uh—I don’t know; we’re just carrying stuff.”
“Mom, Jackson did a poo and there’s no toilet paper.”
“Of course he did. I cleaned the bathroom so nicely. Could he not have waited?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Okay – I am going to have to go back to the flat and find the toilet paper, and then bring some home. Tell him not to move.”
“I’ll tell him.”
“I mean it Amelia; he must stay on the toilet until I get there.”
Honestly. Always hungry and always pooping. (Or is this just people. Inconvenient by nature.)
So, I dash back with the toilet paper only to see Jackson emerge from the house upon my arrival.
“No mom, Izzy brought us some toilet paper.”
And then our French neighbour pops outside, having stumbled upon five rogue children and what looks like a car-boot sale in the driveway—and somehow ends up offering my son some toilet paper.
I don’t even want to know.
And then she packs her car with some of our junk and drives it to the High Street. That was yesterday, right now; the kids inhale cereal, milk, cones and onion flakes…
…then we leave four, take one and dash back to old-home; finish cleaning whilst Delilah sits on a camping chair eating a box of rogue Cheerios with a fork that would have been useful yesterday. We do the last load, hand over the keys, go home, build some beds and then flop back down on the mattress under the high ceiling – ignoring the ornamentation and cringing at Mount Doom on the way down – and fall sleep.
And then we go camping three days later.
Next question: how do you pack a car full of camping gear when there is zero parking outside your home and Sainsbury’s, a teen or a tramp has reclaimed the moving day trolley? Timing and brute force.
“We’ll do it like this…”
“Okay, I’m listening, Zan.”
“We’ll take all the stuff downstairs; chairs, food, gas cylinder, clothing bags, sleeping bags, mats, tents, pillows…all of it. And the kids.”
“Then I’ll go and get the car. The camera on the traffic circle takes a long time to swivel around so if we do everything really quickly, we shouldn’t get a fine”.
We get everything and everyone downstairs. Zan goes to get the car. He ramps up the kerb South Africa style, jumps out and starts lobbing stuff into the car (entirely contrary to his typically meticulous packing style) whilst I boot the children in.
“Amelia, just put the chair in the back.”
“But I forgot my gum, dad.”
“Amelia! That is not our priority right now. The chair, please—just put it behind your head.”
“But dad, the gum.”
Zan passes Amelia chair number six. Amelia refuses to stack it.
The camera keeps turning.
Amelia keeps sobbing.
The chair keeps not being put in the back.
I throw anything within my reach in the car, check seatbelts, grab the gas cannister (that weighs about 1000kg) and stagger into the passenger seat.
“We’re in, Zan.”
(We’re barely in.)
Zan takes the wheel and we dash. I sit with a gas cannister on my lap for the next three hours. Luckily, camping absolves all trauma of lost gum and badly packed chairs. We have a 4-day jol. Life is great. Then…
We pack to go. No beady-eyed, fine-wielding observer, no forgotten gum or pre-teen drama. I sit with the fire pit on my lap all the way home (also 1000kg). We’re better prepared for exit onto the High Street this time: watch camera, ramp car, deposit children, grab everything and load into lobby, ignore the busses all the while, zoom away…and then begin the great trek upstairs—PIVOOOT!
Life on the High Street.
Is there anything more un-South African?
Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin
Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.