I'm hopping from foot to foot in excitement, because I'm going to the beach, for a week, on Thursday. Not any old beach, but the warm, dozy stretch of sand and ocean that is a stone's throw, down a jungly path, from my family's beach cottage on the south end of the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast.
And not just any beach cottage, but the place where I've spent virtually every holiday for the last 46 years; I first went there when I was just six months old.
You'd think that, by now, I'd be feeling ho-hum at the idea of going back for yet another same-old week in the same-old spot, but I'm just fizzing with excitement at the thought of all the familiar, ancient family rituals that go with holiday at the beach: driving out of Johannesburg in the dark, kids dozing like puppies in the back seat. Unwrapping the padkos - always sandwiches, and little spicy meatballs - as the sun rises over fields of nodding pink-and-white cosmos.
Swooping down Van Reenen's Pass, with the Drakensberg a jaggy slash of indigo on the western horizon. Spotting the first waving banana tree, just outside of Durban, then rolling down the windows and inhaling the humid iodine tang of the Indian Ocean as we barrel southwards past fields of rippling sugar cane; and finally arriving at the cottage, waving and hooting, where aunts and cousins and nieces and nephews come boiling out of every door and window with big sweaty hugs and shouts.
Hauling the suitcases out of the boot, and dumping them on the beds in bedrooms that look and smell exactly the same as they did when I was five: plain as monks' cells, with their speckled mirrors, creaky little teak wardrobes, whitewashed walls and gulping geckos.
But there's more: the first icy bite of an industrial-strength gin-and-tonic, the first, cleansing dive into a fizzing ocean, the scent of smoke from a driftwood fire rising through the branches of the milkwood trees. And then, the evening spread out before me like a jewelled quilt: a long, lazy gathering on the beach as the sun sets behind us; tramping up to the cottage in the dark, through a singing glade; fresh fish sizzling over hot coals; happy conversation around a long candlelit table; children giddily swinging in the hammocks; and many bottles of wine. And then tumbling into beds made up with crisp white cotton sheets, under lazily turning fans - to fall into a coma that lasts for 12 hours.
Until I wake up, in a sunbeam, to the sound of vervet monkeys galumphing on the roof and Natal robins tweetling in the bush, and the smell of bacon drifting from the kitchen.
Can you blame me for being excited? Doesn't that sound like paradise to you?
I almost forgot, during this attack of nostalgia, to tell you about the wonderful holiday food. Most nights, we braai. (That is, have a barbeque.) We always assume that we're braaiing, unless the rain is pelting down, in which case we get a beach umbrella and a torch - and lots of wine to raise our spirits - and cook over damply steaming coals, as the rain water dribbles from the milkwood tree down our necks. I use the term 'we' loosely: actually, to be honest, we girls sit gossiping on the warm comfortable veranda with big glasses of wine while we watch the designated Braai Meisters (husbands and/or brothers-in-law) squat miserably in the dark, turning over the lamb chops and boeries. We might throw them with a beer, every now and then, if they don't complain too much.
Okay, okay, the food: here are some of my favourite beach-cottage recipes:
Durban-Spiced Prawns with Coconut Milk
Squashed Crispy Potatoes with Rosemary
Light Potato Salad with Garlic, Lemon and Yoghurt (scroll down to end of post to find recipe)
I will post more recipes (from our cottage's recipe book, to which everyone contributes) in the next ten days.
Enjoy your holidays, and drive safely, my friends.