This week, I have been in South Africa visiting family and friends and old haunts. At this time of year it is beautiful here, with near endless blue skies and sunshine to warm the shoulders and make a body happy but not overwhelm it. Locals have been muttering about there being a nip in the air but after months of being buttoned up inside a heavy woollen coat, it is bliss, sheer bliss, to wander around with bare feet and legs with impunity.
Today I took a break from sorting out personal affairs (an hour and a half in the bank, three hours queueing in the traffic licensing department) and drove with my parents into the rolling, temperate hills of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands in which I grew up. We stopped for lunch at the wonderful Cafe Bloom in Nottingham Road, where we bumped into Mick and Sally Haigh, a ceramicist and botanical painter respectively, who own and run the cafe with Sally’s mum, Wendy.
Mick’s work is particularly popular at the moment and you may recall a post I wrote a couple of years ago about the hand-built wattle-and-daub studio, in the depths of the hills, from which he dispatches his whimsical pieces to destinations around the world. It seems demand has continued to grow, for today he spoke about licensing a factory in Singapore to produce the work on his behalf for a foreign retailer.
It is the classic case of small-scale meets serious retail, isn’t it? You can see why the situation has Mick and Sally – both concerned about craftsmanship, fair and ethical trading, consumption and climate change – scratching their heads. What started off as a desire to live a simple life in the country by running an organic, vegetarian cafe, throwing pots and painting has grown into something much greater than they might ever have imagined. Short of working 24 hours a day and seven days a week, meeting a large retail order on their own would be impossible. Training local assistants has had mixed success in the past and the Singaporean factory, already set-up with extremely skilled labour, access to raw materials and commercial connections, can deliver an excellent product quickly and efficiently to meet demand in the US and Brazil.
Tricky, isn’t it? Short of abandoning all notions of export, what would you do? We moved on to apple and cinnamon tart before buying a gorgeous knobbly platter from the Easter collection stacked up on display behind us. ‘Do find one with his stamp on it,’ my mother said.
PS Don’t you love the aloes in those blue jugs? I nearly bought a jug myself but visions of a run-in with a Lufthansa official at check-in put me in mind of something smaller and more robust.
PPS I have changed my mind about fiddly watermarks for the time being – see previous post. Right now I am all about karma. Must be the sunlight.