30 COL­UMN Nick Dall liked to think of him­self as a sea­soned trav­eller. Then he tried go­ing away with a baby and two dogs…


Ihave sur­vived a bat­tle with a flesh-eat­ing Ama­zo­nian par­a­site and I’ve tra­versed ban­dit coun­try in north­ern Kenya. I’ve diced with death astride a scooter on Hanoi’s claus­tro­pho­bic streets and I’ve swal­lowed (but failed to keep down) a piece of bar­be­cued cow’s ud­der in Bo­livia. None of th­ese mis­ad­ven­tures, how­ever, car­ries any­where near the emo­tion, the heartache or the angst of the quo­tid­ian tale I will now re­late… It was Christ­mas a few years ago, and like ev­ery other Christ­mas be­fore, I was about to make the an­nual fam­ily pil­grim­age to Betty’s Bay about 90 km from Cape Town. Ev­ery year since 1976, my en­tire ex­tended fam­ily from both sides has de­scended on this sleepy holiday vil­lage for a cou­ple of weeks of sun, sand and sies­tas; a much needed bat­tery recharge for the year ahead. Ex­cept this time it was dif­fer­ent. I now had a fam­ily of my own and just leav­ing Cape Town was go­ing to be a chal­lenge. Our brood com­prised mom, dad and baby daugh­ter, plus Basil and Ruby – needy Africa­nis res­cue dogs – and a colony of 523 earth­worms. (The worms may have been part of

the fam­ily, but they’d be stay­ing be­hind.) I tried to force down the panic by telling my­self that it was only a 90-minute drive to a place I’d been to a hun­dred times be­fore. We’d pack the Christ­mas presents the night be­fore and the rest of the stuff in the morn­ing and we’d still be there by lunch, maybe just af­ter. My wife had wrapped, la­belled and boxed the prezzies well in ad­vance, so all I had to do was pop them in the car’s roof box be­fore I went to bed. I did that, and slept well know­ing that ev­ery­thing was un­der con­trol.

It wasn’t. I got up at 5 am to feed the dogs, hop­ing that they’d have di­gested their break­fast by the time we reached the ser­pen­tine curves of Clarence Drive along False Bay. For good mea­sure, they’d both also get anti-nau­sea pills just be­fore we left. Basil was prone to car­sick­ness; I wasn’t go­ing to see if Ruby was, too. Then for the main event: Pack­ing for the baby. It’s a well-doc­u­mented sci­en­tific fact that the to­tal weight and vol­ume of an in­fant’s lug­gage is in­versely pro­por­tional to the child’s body weight and size. Yes, we were in for a few tonnes of clob­ber. Pack­ing for ba­bies, I learnt that morn­ing (and some of that af­ter­noon), isn’t as sim­ple as throw­ing a few T-shirts and shorts into your trusty Kar­ri­mor. I packed high chairs, rub­ber bath mats, bum balm and teething gel, four forms of in­fant trans­porta­tion, three vari­a­tions of sun­screen and two dif­fer­ent um­brel­las. But it wasn’t just the sheer amount of stuff to be packed that was get­ting me down. The en­vi­ron­ment in which the pack­ing took place was not con­ducive to or­derly or log­i­cal thought. Months of sleep-de­prived nights and days try­ing to keep the dogs from lick­ing the baby and vice versa had taken their toll. The mis­sus and I took it in turns to pack and watch baby, the end re­sult be­ing that we took enough Baby­gros for an en­tire month but not a sin­gle pair of socks for Her High­ness. We packed straight through the morn­ing nap, which we’d hoped she’d have in the car. And once her pack­ing was fi­nally done, we had to think about our own bags. For the first time in my life I didn’t take a sin­gle fish­ing rod with me on Christ­mas holiday. Hell, I didn’t even re­mem­ber my tooth­brush! We gave our­selves lunch and the dogs got their pills. We were just head­ing for the door when I re­mem­bered the worms. Luck­ily they’re not quite as de­mand­ing as the other mem­bers of the fam­ily, but I still had to feed them left­over salad and cover them with a soggy Sun­day Times. Fi­nally we hit the road. Our oblig­ing daugh­ter fell asleep be­fore we’d even reached the air­port, and Ruby and Basil set­tled into a calm­ing cho­rus of howl­ing at pass­ing trucks and scratch­ing at the bucket of dog food that I’d stupidly put in the back with them. I pumped the vol­ume on baby’s Cuban Lul­laby CD and tried to tele­port my­self from the N2 by dream­ing of cigars and palm-fringed beaches. It al­most worked. The ven­dors at the robots in Somerset West were a hit with the dogs: Ruby tried to de­cap­i­tate the guy wear­ing a King Kong mask while Basil cow­ered in the cor­ner. But still baby slept. Of­fi­cially known as Clarence Drive, the coast road from Gor­don’s Bay to Rooiels is one of the most pic­turesque routes any­where in the world: A sin­u­ous stripe of tar­mac cling­ing to the cliffs of the Ko­gel­berg, tee­ter­ing above the water of False Bay. We’d barely rounded the first curve when Basil started to retch. So much for the anti-emetic. Be­fore I could find a place to pull off, my tog bag had been splat­tered with Hill’s Sci­ence Diet, the most ex­pen­sive form of vomit known to man. I even­tu­ally pulled over, put Baz on his lead and took him out for some fresh sea air. He lifted his leg against a Shark Spot­ters sign and I knew he was feel­ing okay. Back in the car now, Basil had found a new lease of life, but baby hadn’t taken kindly to the stench, nor to the fact that mama was strapped into a dif­fer­ent seat a me­tre away. I cranked the vol­ume on an­other CD – this one fea­tur­ing the Abo­rig­i­nal ver­sion of “Waltz­ing Matilda” – and tried to sing and clap her tears away. It didn’t work, but I did learn the Pit­jan­t­jat­jara word for “waltz”…

When we fi­nally ar­rived, I felt like I’d just done an Iron­man. I took a deep breath and told my­self that at least I’d be able to rest for a few days while grannies, aun­ties and cousins doted over the baby, and Basil and Ruby tired them­selves out steal­ing os­trich bones from their pedi­greed ca­nine rel­a­tives. Un­for­tu­nately this pic­ture of peace and re­lax­ation was pure delu­sion on my part. There was no way any fam­ily mem­ber of mine was go­ing to forego an af­ter­noon nap or mid-morn­ing trip to the beach in favour of look­ing af­ter a baby. We were on our own, and we didn’t even have rou­tine on our side. Baby’s sleep pat­terns went berserk and even armed with those four dif­fer­ent modes of trans­port – pram, buggy, pa­poose and back­pack – we were never able to keep Her High­ness happy for longer than eight-and-a-half min­utes. We spent our days keep­ing her away from lethal cast-iron guineafowls in the gar­den and tipsy great-un­cles who kept of­fer­ing her peri peri bil­tong, and our nights al­ter­nat­ing be­tween try­ing to stop her from scream­ing and spite­fully en­cour­ag­ing her to scream even louder. As a child, I used to think that my par­ents were a bit bor­ing. But now I re­alise that they were down­right hard core. In a busi­ness where just leav­ing the house is an achieve­ment, they man­aged to show me and my three sib­lings most of South Africa and a bit of the world, too. But then I do re­mem­ber my gran dog-sit­ting quite a lot…

Be­fore I could find a place to pull off, my tog bag had been splat­tered with Hill’s Sci­ence Diet, the most ex­pen­sive form of vomit known to man.

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