Tuesday, 7 November 2017

New life for Pop's Table

I'm sitting at the table made by my grandfather, Harold Lesile Johnson, known to his children and grandchildren as Pop. The table has just been beautifully and sympathetically restored by Ian from Adams & Co, and looks like new - well, as new as a table that's more than 80 years old can look...
That's the short version of the story...
The longer version is that my grandfather made this table out of Burmese Teak that he'd salvaged from a vehicle showroom in the 1930s. They didn't have electricity in their home in Pietermartizburg back then, which meant that all the hard work (it's hard wood, after all) had to be done by hand.
That's why the old man took my dad's Meccano to build a lathe, that he drove by pedaling furiously, to turn the magnificent and exactly identical four legs. I say that so glibly, but I can just imagine the hours and hours of work - both pedalling and crafting carefully with chisels and calipers to create perfectly matching legs - that must have gone into that.

The lack of electricity is also why my uncles had to sand it down every day when they got home from school, using elbow grease and sweat, to get it smooth enough to the old man's liking.
My dad related a few stories of family meals around that table, most notably the one where Uncle Basil, who was known for his...er... mischief, cheeked Pop, and then when the old man got up to smack him (because that's what you did back then), Uncle Basil ran out of the room and slammed the door... into Pop's face.
He continued running but wasn't too smart about where he landed up: in a tree. The old man took his chair and his newspaper and sat at the bottom and waited until Uncle Basil was cold and hungry enough to come down and face the music.
The table has stayed in the family since it was made with so much love, care and child labour in the 1930s, although there was one narrow escape when Aunty Tilly wanted to sell it for R100 when she was moving house. Fortunately, my dad (who was considered, as the very laatlammetjie, too young for child labour way back when the table was made), paid the R100 and kept it.
The table has hosted countless family meals over the years, and it's our kitchen table, where we sit as a family every morning and every night,.
We'd been looking for someone to clean it up properly, as it was grubby had some nicks in the surface, and really looked like it could do with some professional love and attention.
We found a company a few years ago that quoted a fortune just to sand and seal the top - and it didn't quite feel right to give them the job, so we didn't.
Then, in one of those small world moments, I remembered that I'd seen news about Ian opening Adams & Co earlier this year. Ian is the son in law of a very good friend and opened what looked like just the kind of woodworking shop my dad would have loved to have had - he was a passionate woodworker like his dad had been, and funnily enough, as had my maternal grandfather been too.
I contacted Ian and gave him a bit of the history of the table, letting him know that I wanted to have it cleaned up a bit - but by someone who knew what they were doing.
I think he was a bit skeptical when he heard how old the table is, but agreed to come and look at it, even though I think he was expecting a rickety wreck beyond redemption.
When he first arrived, he was impressed with the table's condition, and told me that, as a hobby, he read old woodworking books, and as it happened, had just read one from the 1930s that described a new way of affixing a table top to the legs so that the wood wouldn't move and crack.
And... there it was - that was exactly the method that the old man had used,
Ian said that he would take the table apart, which freaked me out more than a little - but as he described what he would do and how he would give each piece its own special attention, I relaxed, and accepted his quote - which was less than the original for significantly more work.
Fast forward a bit - and Ian came to collect the table. He treated it with such love and respect as if it was his own family history being loaded into the back of a truck.
A few days later he contacted me and asked if I would like to continue the Johnson tradition of child labour - would we like to go and work on the table at his workshop over the weekend, with the boys having the chance to sand the table top, just as their great uncles had?
I leapt at the opportunity - never mind the boys, I wanted to have a go!
We headed out to Ian's workshop that Sunday morning, and entered the world that I hadn't been in since my dad packed up his workshop at home and sold his vast collection of tools and equipment.
He would have loved Ian's workshop - all the big machinery, a place for every tool and every tool in its place, with the workshop purpose-built to accommodate jigs and templates, machines and offcuts, and a very ingenious home-made vacuum system, which collects saw dust for the horses' lunging yard outside.
Ian told us how there were parts of the table that had been made from pine, and it was at these points where nails had been used, that the table was getting a little wobbly. He replaced these pine elements with teak he had in his workshop but kept the original cross beams under the table, which were made of Oregon pine floorboards.

Ian was amazing - he let all of us sand the table's top with an electric sander (we were so much luckier than Uncle Basil and Uncle Leslie on that count, as they had to use blocks, sand paper and elbow grease), and then he spent time with the boys showing them how all the tools worked, and helping them build their own creations out of offcuts.

A week later, Pop's table came home. Ian had filled some gaps with marine epoxy, and cleaned, sanded and sealed the whole table. It looks magnificent and is solid and sound enough to last until my grandchildren can share a meal around it - and probably well beyond then too.
If you're looking for someone to build wooden anything from scratch, or to restore a special piece with love, care and the kind of craftsmanship I thought didn't exist any more, Ian and his team are the people you need to speak to.

Monday, 8 February 2016

A suggestion box for concert organisers

There seems to be a bit of mass hysteria whenever a big act comes to South Africa, with tickets selling out in minutes - if that long - for the likes of Mumford & Sons.

What that means is that the big event organisers know that their product is sold out before they actually have to deliver the service that people are paying fortunes for... and it's given me the feeling that they actually don't even try to deliver an acceptable - never mind exceptional - product for their customers.

I guess that we're a little spoiled, having been to the Glastonbury Festival of the Performing Arts (I've been twice, Brett's been three times) where everything is geared around the festival-goers' experience - and not about the organisers' commitment to making money and not taking care of patrons.

This weekend's Mumford & Sons events were a case in point, in my view. Here's why:

  • The amphitheatre at the Voortrekker Monument is a great idea in theory - the views are magnificent, and the way the landscape is shaped means that everyone can see the stage. However, there was one route into the amphitheatre, that I could see - what happens if there's a panic? And there's not parking for 25 000 people. There's not even enough parking for those people if they take park and rides and Ubers. 
  • I got quite excited when I heard that the event was going to be cashless. I thought that the organisers were smart making Mumford & Sons branded cashless tap and go cards available, and communication ahead of the event led me to understand that I would be able to use my contactless bank card. Not so. One food vendor did accept my bank card, but none of the others we checked with did. Which meant that we had to queue to buy a R200 cashless card with a credit card to buy four bottles of water. 
  • But wait, there's more... most of the points where these cards were sold... only accepted cash. So. Go to a cashless environment with your cash to buy a cashless card so that you can buy goods in the cashless environment. Right. 
  • There was a minimum purchase of R200 to get the cards, R10 of which was a card fee. Even if you wanted to just buy four bottles of water that cost R10 each. Yes. R10 per bottle of water.
  • You can get your money that you didn't use back out of that cashless card by sending an sms (but not via Telkom mobile, because that doesn't work) - but you can only get it back two weeks later - so whether it's Plankton (the card vendor) or the organisers, someone gets to sit on all that money for two weeks and earn interest... on top of the R10 per card fee we've already paid.
  • There weren't enough food vendors. There never are. Waiting upwards of 30 minutes to buy overpriced takeaways does not make for a good experience. 
  • The alcohol queues looked like they would take in excess of an hour to buy anything. HEADS UP CONCERT ORGANISERS: people drink at your events. They drink a lot. So for crying out loud in a bucket, have more than one place for them to buy booze! Have five places! Have 10! You'll still make all the money... unless you want to maximise profits by keeping your staff count as low as possible, in which case, you're hitting the ball out of the park in making sure that your customers have a bad experience while they're waiting to give you even more of their money. 
  • Why do we have to pay for water at concerts? Why are we not able to take in our own water or water bottles - and why is water not provided, for free? 
I'm shouty about these things because at Glastonbury I've never had more than three people in front of me in a queue for a drink or a food item - and the festival hosts 200,000 people over five days. The food is always fresh and tasty, and there's a wide variety of it - more than burgers, pizzas and schwarmas.

Water is free at Glastonbury - just bring your own bottle. The bonus of that is that there's not mountains of litter to gather up and throw away. 

I am very well aware that I'm somewhat of a jaded concert goer. I'm completely over the whole vibe of spending two hours to get into a venue, to sit for an hour or two to wait for the performance, to watch it for 90 minutes, and then to spend another three hours getting home. 

But part of my disenchantment with the whole scene is just how little the organisers do to make it an enjoyable experience. Putting on a concert is about so much more than bringing the band out and selling all the tickets in five minutes or less. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Of pedestrians and pavements

Did you know that nearly 35 percent of the people killed in December's road carnage were pedestrians? It's something that's easy to understand when you're driving around suburbia, because the vast majority of pedestrians you'll see are walking in the street - some perilously close to the curb, looking like they're about to tip over onto the pavement, while others stroll more towards the middle of the road, with cars swerving around them to avoid a collision. 

I'm still not sure why so many people walk in the street, when often there are pavements right there. Maybe its a hangover from the bad old days - were non-whites not allowed to walk on the pavements back then? Regardless, this train of thought got me taking the time to look at pavements while I'm driving around town. 

Pavements in Johannesburg are not pedestrian-friendly places, and they really, really should be. 

I've noticed that the Joburg City Council is doing some good work paving public pavements - Louis Botha Avenue is a great example towards the Alexandra end of the road, although pavement conditions are absolutely appalling and a disgrace through Orange Grove and towards Houghton. The intersection at the top of my road is a mud pit - even when it hasn't been raining - and the intersection is a popular stopping place for taxis. 

I know that public money isn't spent quickly (unless it's on Nkandla) and that they're making an effort. I also understand that these things take time. They're also doing a great job with the City's parks - our outdoor spaces really do look good - apart from the pavements. 

But what about the pavements outside our homes? Even though your pavement doesn't belong to you (your property ends at your wall), its upkeep and maintenance are the home owner's responsibility. I've seen some great pavements, and I've seen some shocking ones. There's one on my route to school where the home owners have planted a forest of trees, three or four deep, to make sure that nobody can get to - or over - their wall. Great for security, but completely awful for any pedestrian who is pushed off the pavement and onto a busy road. 

There are some pavements that are overgrown with ivy, and no place to walk. There's a house on my road that started renovations two years ago, and there's still a pile of builder's sand blocking the paved part of the pavement. I've seen pavements where bushes push over, blocking the pathway, and others that are uneven, full of stones, or just not nice to walk on - never mind push a pram on. 

So. This thing of dying pedestrians and awful pavements becomes one of things that we all need to play our small role in to fix. We can start by driving less aggressively, paying more attention to what's going on and who's walking in the street where. 

But we can also own up to our own pavements, making them easier places to walk. You don't need to haul in a landscaper - just clean up any plants that are over any paved areas outside your property. Don't plant forests on your pavements. Clean up your building rubble. Get someone in to level the ground out, if the area isn't paved or tarred (or do it yourself). 

Walk your pavement yourself, and think about the experience. Then fix whatever makes your experience unpleasant. 

If you're planning some home improvements, think of improving your kerb appeal (what estate agents call 'first impressions'- those are the things that help sell your house one day) and invest a little in paving your pavement. You don't have to plant anything pretty - although you could. You could even take things 'to the next level' and plant a pavement veggie garden, for hungry people to help themselves - but you don't have to. 

All you have to do is take a little time to think about what it's like to be a pedestrian walking past your house - and make their lives a little easier while making your house look better from the outside.

You may well help save a life in the process. 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

How to get rid of writer's block (or, what it's like to be a professional writer)

There are all sorts of perceptions out there about what it must be like to be a professional writer in an agency environment. For example, there's the notion that we sit before our screens, and the words just flow abundantly as our fingertips dance elegantly over the keys, masterpieces flowing as our souls soar with the joy of creating the perfect on-message content. 

There's the idea that we get to imprint our creative stamp onto every piece of content, an invisible signature to our art that is so subtle as to not be obvious, but clear enough to be recognized as the work of a master (or mistress). 

There's the vision of constant creative elation as we sit, overjoyed at the magical imagery we create, telling stories in erudite ways that nobody else possibly could. 

There's the expectation that every word we write will tell a brand's story in such a way that product will fly off the shelves, making companies millions while we sit in our garrets starving and drinking cheap red wine, plying our craft for the love of it (or for the exposure). 

The reality? 'Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed onto the page.' That's according to Paul Gallico (ish). Another favourite of mine is 'Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, then for a few friends, and then for money.' So said Moliere, who I've never heard of, but who really does capture the essence. 

Being a salaried writer certainly has advantages over being a freelance writer - with the most significant ones being a regular paycheque, and paid leave. There's also the absence of fear that your clients will be fickle and fire you based on a single piece that they don't like, or that they simply won't pay you, once you've worked on a Sunday morning while feeding your baby (don't laugh or cry - it's happened) to meet their crazy deadline. 

There's also the joy of being part of a team (or several teams, actually), and the tremendous satisfaction that comes with knowing that you played a pivotal role in the success of a particular campaign. With freelancing, you seldom get to see where your copy went or who did what with it - working in a public relations agency gives you the ability to keep tabs on your written children, watching them grow up into (good) news stories. 

When it comes to the actual business of writing in an agency, there's a lot to be said for the variety of topics - and for the massive boost that this gives to your general knowledge. In my four and a half years in my current job, I've written about everything from sunscreen to prepaid cards, from printers to military defense equipment, and from smoothies to student accommodation - and a whole bunch of other stuff too. There's a caveat to that though - nearly every client has their own style, preferred vocabulary and structure, and sometimes it's a challenge to switch between voices fully, within one day. 

With working across more than 20 clients at a time, you also don't get to be a specialist on any one account - although there's a great satisfaction in having an awareness of what's going on across the agency, and being able to link products and projects in a way that sets up partnerships and collaborations that gives them added impact from their communication activities. 

Another lesson you learn quickly is to park your Precious at the door, and I won't lie, it took me a long time to embrace this one, even though I really didn't think that I minded it when people made changes to my work, when I first started here. Any agency worth its salt won't let copy go to client without at least three people proofing it - and everybody has their own preferences when it comes to grammar. Often, a change made really is six of one and half a dozen of another, and it's not worth getting offended. There's a fine line to be trod, between writing what you're told to and sending out to the universe and not caring what happens to it further, and taking constructive criticism on board and never ceasing in your quest to create the perfect content. 

There are days when the words really do dance off your fingertips, and there are days when writing a 140 character tweet is like drawing blood from the proverbial stone. I haven't yet figured out how to solve the latter problem, but it often works to go completely off message (gah! agency speak!) and write something completely unrelated or irrelevant (like this blog post). It may not be very good for your deadlines, but it does help unblock the creative juices. There's also that whooshing sound of the deadline as it goes flying by that often helps to motivate, but one's colleagues generally don't take too kindly to receiving content long after it's due. 

That's all the long way of saying: being a writer for a living has its moments - good ones, bad ones, and great ones. I guess that's true of any job in a creative environment though - so if you're going to earn your living by putting your heart and soul down onto paper (or a screen) , be sure that you've got the right mix of creativity, insight, a willingness to learn, the ability to park your preconceptions, a good dose of grammar Nazism, and a clear lack of Precious. 

Make the time to understand how you fit into the teams that you work with, and find ways to make their lives easier. Never miss a deadline. If you know that that's inevitable, remember that you're in the communications business, for goodness' sake, and let them know. Find an environment that really does place a value on content and team spirit, and on the input that a writer can give to the success of a campaign or project. 

I'm one of the lucky ones - Tribeca Public Relations and I chose one another nearly five years ago, and while there were tears shed over copy in the early years, they've been few and far between in more recent times. We've grown together, and I've learned volumes about myself and my writing, and I work with an amazing group of people who really do believe that content is king. Working together as a team and applying our different skill sets, we get great results for our clients, using what I have created. What more could a writer want, really? 

Thursday, 26 November 2015


I'm doing what every writer who has a metric sh*t-ton of work to do, does. I'm writing a blog post completely unrelated to what I'm meant to be doing. 

Maybe not completely unrelated - my story is that the traffic on our road, still pumping after 9pm, is what's distracting me from the work I'm trying to do. 

It's what inspired this post, actually: HouseBuying101, or, lessons we've learned since buying our nearly 100 year old house. 

  • If the house of your dreams is on a road that has traffic circles or speed bumps, or a combination of those, change your dreams. These devices are there to calm the extensive traffic on the road, traffic that is unlikely to slow down just because it is night-time, or a Sunday. 
  • Similarly, if the house of your dreams is on the same road as a shopping mall, you are also likely to encounter the traffic nightmare - especially if your shopping mall is open late one night a week, or if it home to a Sunday market. 
  • If you've ever wondered when supermarkets receive their stock - it's at 4am. Trust me, I've lost count of the Pick n Pay trucks zooming down our road at that time of the morning.
  • It's not just the traffic that makes the noise - it's the people walking the street on their way to and from work that add to the 'vibe' too. 
  • Johannesburg's older suburbs are home to many houses with oregon pine floors, which are exquisite in their welcoming warmth. When you view your potential dream home, make sure to lift any strategically placed Persian carpets to examine the condition of the wood underneath them. Move the furniture too, and consider getting an expert in to evaluate them before it's too late to toss your toys at the previous owners, who, we established too late, were aware of the problem. We did none of these, and had to re-floor the entire house after two years of living here, because the floors had been over-sanded and the groove parts of the tongue-and-grooves were splintering off. Not ideal when your firstborn is learning to crawl. Or when you don't have R50k lying around to complete the job. 
  • View the house in the day time, in the early morning, in the evening, on a weekday, and over a weekend, before you put that offer in. We were under a lot of pressure to buy due to some pretty kak circumstances (some of it self-imposed, I will admit) and looked at our house twice. At night time. 
  • Look beyond the seller's styling. The previous owners of our property are in the interior decor business, and dressed things up really well, shall we say. Refer back to the point about Persian carpets, etc. 
  • If the house you're looking at has a pool, check to see if there are any pin oak trees within a 50 mile radius. These charming beauties, owned by the council because they're on the pavement, spit off leaves all year round that clog up just about every pool cleaner on the market. And if it's not leaves that are clogging the cleaner, it's the round seed pods. And yes, I've Council several times to cut them back… to no avail. 
  • Still on the pool … if it's deep, and made of concrete, and in the shade of those bastard pin-oaks all day, it will be cold. Very cold. 
  • Still on the pool… if you can see a crack that's been repaired, walk away from the pool, and then walk away from the house. Ours has a crack that was repaired before we bought, and it opens up for a repairing every four years or so. Like now, right in the middle of the drought, when we can't empty the pool completely to fix it, because water restrictions prevent us from refilling it when repairs are done. 
  • Pressed steel ceilings are indeed works of art, with the last ones being made before WW2 (when they stopped production to use the steel for guns rather). But they do mean that you develop a completely unreasonable conscience when it comes to lighting. I would dearly love downlighting in our house, but can't bear the thought of ripping out or covering the steel ceilings with gypsum board to do that. 
  • They also mean that you can't get away with changing the configuration of your house, without it being glaringly obvious. I love that my kitchen is four rooms big. I know that my kitchen is four rooms big because I have four different ceilings in it.
  • Make sure that your living areas face north (if you live in the southern hemisphere). The only rooms that get the magnificent winter sun in our house, are the kitchen, the main bathroom and the second bedroom. 
Don't get me wrong, there are things I really do love about our home. We moved in here newly married, our boys have only ever known this property as their home, and we have made many wonderful memories here with treasured friends and family. 

But when the time comes for us to move on to something different, I'll be looking at properties through very different eyes to the ones I used over 11 years ago. 

Monday, 9 November 2015

Driving with Discovery Insure

Brett and I play the Discovery game quite well through Vitality - we're heading for Diamond status next year. A few months back I decided to see whether we would benefit from moving to Discovery Insure. Even though we were really happy with the service our broker has given for years and years, we wanted to see if we could save some money through the cash-back driving incentive. 

Our overall insurance premium is around the same as it was before, although the numbers are different - our cars both cost more, but our household and buildings premiums were less. There was also the fact that my car's policy required a tracker, which was an extra R140ish per month. I made sure that we had the same benefits as before, such as car hire in the event of our own vehicles being in for repairs after an accident, and that we were covered for the same amounts as with our previous insurer. 

The paperwork was, well, paperless - all done by email and over the phone, which was great, and Trevashin (aka Trevor) Reddy in the call centre was (and continues to be) very patient and helpful. 

Discovery sent nice men to both of us to fit their own branded trackers to our car, which are included in the price - and which means that I no longer have to pay for a tracking service. This was pretty painless, apart from the fact that my nice man arrived at my office exactly when I'd asked him not to - but, #firstworldproblems, right? 

We had to take our vehicles to Tiger Wheel and Tyre for a once-over that covers things like tyres, shocks, integrity of your windscreen etc - all the things that need checking on your car anyway, that you never get around to doing. That part turned out a little pricey for Brett, because it transpired that he needed new tyres... but rather he find that out before he has an accident on slicks. We'll have to take them for that appraisal once a year going forward too, but again, that's not a bad thing. 

The tracking devices monitor your car's 'behaviour'  and feed it to their database through a mobile phone application. We joined in the middle of their annual driver's challenge, so have a bunch of tickets in their draw for fuel. Holding thumbs we win some... 

The tracker monitors things like harsh braking, harsh acceleration, mobile phone use, speeding and impact, and then gives you a star rating for each journey. Discovery emphasizes that they don't expect you to drive like a granny - you just need to drive at the speed limit (not unreasonable) and drive defensively, rather than aggressively. Also not unreasonable. Based on your driving performance, you get money back on your fuel spend each month, as long as you buy your fuel at BP petrol stations. You also score lower if you drive late late at night, or before 5am I think. 

The link between the device and the app took a bit of setting up and working with the lovely Trevor, but once it was all done, both of our mobile phones can track our vehicles, monitoring our driving behaviour. This also means that we can find one another, if necessary. 

So. Was it worth it? 


Top of the list is that my fuel consumption has dropped by about 25%, just through driving less aggressively and sticking to the speed limit. This effectively means a 25% reduction in fuel costs - good news, whichever way you look at it. 

My time on the road is far less stressful, because I'm not always trying to get in front of the next guy because he's going too slowly (at the speed limit). It's kind of like getting on a train actually. I drive on the M2 there and back every day, which has a speed limit of 100. If the traffic is clear, I engage cruise control at 100, and pretty much just point my car in the right direction until it's time to get off the freeway. 

Not that I've ever been a speed demon (well, apart from that one time...), but I'm expecting far fewer letters with AARTO printed on the back... 

It's taken a bit of getting used to, to find BP petrol stations, because they're not as prolific as the Engens I've favoured after being conditioned by eBucks. If Discovery was smart, they would add a BP Finder into the app, that would then spit you through to a maps application and direct you to the closest BP fuel station. 

After my first run of seven five-star drives, Discovery sent me a voucher for R30 to use at a Vida e Caffe. Nice touch, but I didn't manage to use it before it expired, because there aren't any Vidas in my regular life, apart from which the number of outlets seems to be shrinking. I haven't had any more vouchers since then, although there is a document on their website that tells you how to boost your points - most of which is helpful and commons sense, really. 

The calculation of fuel spend you get back seems to take a little while - I don't know yet how much I've scored from last month's driving, and none of my achievements (ie the TWT session etc) are reflecting. 

The impact sensor was appealing because it triggers an alert in their call centre if it feels an impact, and they promised to call straight away to check and see if you need help - a good idea in an accident. I'd forgotten about that, and drove through a rather hectic pothole on the Oxford Road offramp from the M2. About 10 minutes later, I got a call from a nice man at Discovery to check I was ok, because they'd picked up an irregular movement. 

There's the slightly creepy thing that Discovery now knows wherever I go, all the time, always. But, given how long it can take for emergency services to get to you in an accident, I quite like the fact that there's someone looking out for me and my family - that if something happens to us that we can't call for help ourselves, they'll send it. 

So. Would I suggest you move to Discovery Insure? I would, but crunch your numbers properly first - although it could be argued that some of the benefits may well be worth a small added cost. As said, I'm not sure how much cash we'll get back, although a friend of ours and his wife both get around R800 back each month. But, my reduced fuel costs are already a win, and safer driving is definitely a win - and having a Big Brother checking up of you in moments of distress is also not bad. 

The money stuff: Even though Brett does some work for Discovery, this blog post, written by me, was unsolicited and unpaid for

UPDATE 18 November: Between us, Brett and I earned R850ish back, based on positive driving behaviour. I've now completed some of the assessments so hoping for even more back next month. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

On cycling: this one's about me...

A while ago I wrote about cycling in the Haggard family, but this post is about me!

First, this happened on 12 October:

I cried when I crossed the finish line, but out of sheer joy. I started out with this massive 106km journey ahead of me, with mental images of the terrifying hills ahead, and wondering if I was actually going to make it. Or whether I had completely lost the plot.

But. I finished the TsogoSun Amashova Classic. I stopped to rest, to drink (and to eat Bar Ones, obvs), but I didn't once get off to push. I cycled for every one of those 106km, and it felt completely amazing. The route was beautiful, and there were a few completely surreal moments, like zooming onto the highway at Hillcrest, and literally being the only person around. Imagine that - having a whole three-lane highway to yourself and your bicycle? That didn't last for long - I soon saw other cyclists, but it was an amazing moment.

There was also the moment along the route where you come around a bend after climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing (did I mention there was some climbing?), and seeing a glorious vista of green sugar cane fields, as far as the eye can see. Just magical.

It's also amazing how quiet a big group of cyclists fighting their way up a hill can be. Quiet, that is, apart from my beeping heart rate monitor, which I couldn't figure out how to stop beeping...

I was also proud of this ride because I did it by myself. Obviously, you say. You weren't on a tandem! But no - cyclists train together, and often ride in groups or packs (or I think the racing snakes call them 'buses'), and there's aerodynamic stuff that happens that helps you along when you're in a group. While my awesome training buddy checked up on me at the first few water points, he's a racing snake in the making, and headed off after the second stop. It was just me and Paul Oakenfold in my ears riding this race, and we rocked it.

I won't lie, being able to walk over to our most awesome hotel suite at the TsogoSun Suncoast Towers when the race was over was the final cherry on top of this awesome. The social media team hosted Brett and me for the weekend, and it was another reminder of why this hotel group completely understands its guests. Its sponsorship of the Tsogo Sun Amashova Classic and the Cape Town Cycle Tour - and the specialised care it gives to its cycling guests, make sure that I'll have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone taking part in those two races (and anyone who's looking for a great place to stay, even if they're not going to be cycling from A to B or in a very big circle...) 

And then this happened on 16 November:

This was the BHAG, the monster on the hill that nobody knew what to expect - the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge, on its new route.

It was a long day out there, but the atmosphere was amazing, with crowds cheering cyclists along the route. My mind was more prepared for this, because I figured that I'd already completed a longer route, and that we had trained on many of the hills that were included in the race.

I was particularly proud of making it up Jan Smuts Avenue in Randburg, because every time I drive that section of road I shake my head at it, and the uphill on Witkoppen near the Baron on Witkoppen nearly broke me. But wait... there was more...

The last three hills were brutal, and I was completely unprepared for the Steyn City section. I don't think anybody was, because the mood of the cyclists changed so much on that section. It may have been because there were no spectators cheering us on, but for me, it was the fact that I was anticipating one hill - not two (or was it three?) hills within the estate. And they went on and on and on. I say the mood changed, because I know mine went from exhilaration at being so close to the finish, to actually being angry that the very end was so very difficult. I think you can see my anger in the pic above.

But, I finished. And I will do it again. I will definitely do the Tsogo Sun Amashova Classic again - it's kinda like my first cycling love affair, and there's a sentimentality to that, that surprises me. And I've signed up to the Cape Town Cycle Tour.

So. I've achieved what I set out to do. It's a really great feeling, I won't lie. But now there's the challenge to keep up the fitness, to up the speed, to beat the records (if you can call them that), that I've set for myself. All spiced up with the challenge of finding the balance between my training and my family. I'm taking it a little slower at the moment, but the 5h15 spinning class at the gym is still my regular, although I suspect I'll have to kick things up a bit with cross training - most likely some more intense cardio, and some strength (core) training.

Good lord. Did I just say that?

Who would have thought?

The money stuff: Brett and I were guests of Tsogo Sun at the Suncoast Towers. We paid our own way to get there, and our own race fees.