Sunday, January 15, 2012

Biltong

is a traditional savoury Afrikaner snack. When I think of it, I think of stockings stuffed with the packets for childhood summer Christmasses, spent with grandparents in Fish Hoek, The Cape. It tastes like horse manure if you are not used to it. But to me it is heavenly. Sometimes visitors to our English house would bring us some, small smuggled packets, since in those days (of apartheid and sanctions, when it was not wise to advertise South African produce) it was pretty much unavailable in England. That has now changed, but it is still much cheaper here. I wouldn't buy biltong over the electricity bill, but hey, now I think about it, if it was a choice between biltong and sex...

(Dreamy pause. Writer hastily recovers her composure and decides it's probably a good thing that husband has shown no interest in this blog...)


I am chewing some this afternoon, as we drive home happily. There's been a Mumsnet meet-up, in an area where a lot of expat South Africans live, and I grabbed the chance to buy a large packet. It's particularly tasty and nice, and I wonder if this is because I have found a good butcher, or if the extra-strong biltongy taste of biltong is another manifestation of what I have noticed since I arrived here: my senses being on hyperdrive. I seem to see things very clearly, notice small details, hear every bird noise and sound. From the greyness blankness of English winter, the sunlight burns strongly into my eyes. People seem to speak more loudly too than at home. It is as if the television is tuned a little too brightly for comfort, the volume turned up too high. Not unbearably so, but strange. I am reminded of the conversation with our autism support worker this morning, about the boys' sensory issues. The moment when one boy started to sing, and the other screamed in response, as if the singing caused him physical pain. He can only cope if we sing in the bathroom, where the echo somehow dulls the sharpness of the noise. Perhaps this is what it is like for them, I think. Perhaps this is how they feel when the world is just too bright, too shrill or too loud. I have to be more careful when driving, because my heightened awareness of small details takes my eyes off obvious things like the road. Perhaps that is part of the danger thing for my sons I think, perhaps so much sensory input makes it harder to focus on the stuff you need to see.

Like me, my boys adore biltong. There are cries of "More! More!" every time I turn a corner and the packet rustles. I am happy to indulge them, because biltong is the one foodstuff I cannot save. When we have it, I eat it: it is moreish, but also it was unobtainable for so long that it has become a craving. If I eat and eat, I know that eventually I WILL have had enough - I will not cease to desire it, but gradually I will get less and less satisfaction from every mouthful, until I am chewing for the sake of chewing, my mouth long inured to the tangy, salty taste.
As I chew, I think of addictions, and of deprivations, and of support. Would it be possible to have enough help with the boys, really enough, so much that one didn't need or desire any more? I don't know, I only know about feeling exhausted, spiritually famished and begging, and the huge, temporary relief when say a social services care worker, or a home volunteer, is offered. Not to help me feed or keep the boys safe, I can manage that myself. But we need help to do more than this, bathtimes except at the weekend, a trip to the supermarket. That relief is always tinged by fear, that it will not materialise, or that we will look as if we are coping and it will be withdrawn. I am desperate for practical help, as I used to be for the taste of biltong.

I know it is a pipedream. I know that like England it is a question of scarce resources and the pie being sliced very small. My boys are high-functioning, I may not qualify for anything. However, dreams do come true. Due to the high number of expat South Africans, we are now in the land of cheap(ish), sufficient, biltong. Within reason, I can have all that I want. Perhaps with time, the insatiable cravings will cease. For a moment I allow myself to dream that the same could happen with the boys, that New Zealand will do what England could not, provide that elusive, impossible chimera, reliable, supportive, substantial help.

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