Christmas presents: 5 people. No driving. R1,000.
A challenge for High Life, British Airways' in-flight magazine.
Saturday morning at the corner of 4th Avenue and 7th Street is a neighbourhood affair. Bicycles lean against a tree growing through the pavement, there’s a queue at the corner coffeeshop and down the road, tannies clutch plastic packets from their weekly shop.
It is a community in transition: a new hip cafe and ceramic boutique flagship nestled on a street that wouldn’t look out of place in a tiny dorpie.
My quest begins over a tempura crusted poached egg with relish at The Whippet.
There is a table piled with “Linden Blend”, a medium hand-roast blend of Costa Rican and Ethiopian Limu beans, chosen by lanky Jaco, who opened The Whippet in January.
Everything is for sale, from the pricey hemp duffel bags in the windows to the diagonal pinegrain tables, made by local carpenter Lucky; even the clusters of Consol jam jar light fittings overhead (R175). It’s all achingly hip.
Outside Arthur Bales, Johannesburg’s institution of all things haberdasher, Patrick is selling his upcycled wares: personalised message mats of old candy wrappers (R200). “And it doesn’t have to be about Jesus,” he says gesturing to his ready-made offerings.
Inside, behind towers of rainbow fabric, “wool technical advisor” Natalie is giving stern knitting advice to a bewildered mum in her Romanian accent. “No, no. Unpick and start again,” she admonishes.
I squeeze my way through plump rolls of wool in jewel colours, determined to find an something unusual for my Christmas haul. I promise myself I’ll come back and learn (a 2-hour beginner’s class with Natalie is R150).
Down the road, a new dinosaur and bokkie range is on display at The Ceramic Factory. A T-rex stands guard over a cup next to a triceratops on a soap dish, behind an army of glazed robots in smoky grey, white and moss green.
There are shelves of owls and tiny cattle skulls, salt and pepper shakers shaped like binoculars, platters of nuzzling dogs - all arrayed on raw wood shelves and triangles, also for sale.
Further down 4th Avenue, the cash-and-carry-eqsue facade of Discount Liquors makes its impressive range of local craft brews a happy surprise. Floor to ceiling, it is the bottled equivalent of the city’s most extensive beer bar menu. Beyond the fridge, copies of Platter’s Wine Guide dangle from twine, next to rows and rows of side-stacked crates of wine.
As I walk into Yugo’s Supermarket next door, a skinny pensioner in a plaid shirt and Guinness cap looks suspiciously at my instagramming.
In the beauty section, metallic nail extensions perch opposite cotton grandfather handkerchiefs and baby bottle brushes. A rosy-cheeked piggy bank shares a shelf with a scowling skull ashtray.
“I was born in this store,” says shaved Archie, the man behind the counter, “I love Linden people. My customers are like family.” T-Boy, his shop assistant in a turquoise Superman muscle tee, smiles up from a huddle of neighbourhood gossip.
The supermarket has been in the family for 68 years, Archie says, since his RAF pilot father opened it after being shot down in Egypt; the “Yugo” a nod to their Slavic heritage.
“Christmas shopping? You could get a radio with one of those new-fangled USB things,” he calls after me as I wander down the kitchen aisle, a treasure trove of gifts on the vinyl floor.
I find a crepe pan (R99.95), a scarlet enamel colander (R165), a burnt red stovetop kettle (R250) and raw cast iron casserole dish (R295). A fellow shopper is clasping an aubergine coloured griddle pan (R350) to her chest.
I am crippled by indecision.
Thomas the cobbler, working at the entrance to the block of flats next door, has gift suggestions too: a pair of his handmade leather men’s sandals in jet black (R150), but I can’t remember shoe sizes. I decide to appease shopping stress with food.
The marigold umbrellas outside Rembrandt Slaghuis are smoky in their shade. Fat lengths of sausage sizzle next to dripping beef sosaties and lightly curried onions. The juicy wors roll (R20) gives me an idea.
Inside, the crowd around the glass cases of meat is standing room only. A ceiling fan wobbles above the wallpaper of rugby paraphernalia and plethora of framed “best butcher” awards.
Slaghuis patriarch Ross takes me into the meat fridge, amid hanging legs of karoo lamb, to choose my aged slab of Karan beef. He opens a black plastic barrel with pride. The fragrance is all-consuming, of pepper and coriander and long drives through the veld. “It was my grandmother’s wors recipe,” he tells me, “and it’s older than you.”
As he hands over my t-bone, he grabs a small bag of biltong dust and throws it into my bag. “For your morning avo on toast”, he says. And when I ask how much it costs, he smiles broadly. Just a little bit of love, he says.
For Yiannis, the Greek art photographer boyfriend:
A cooler box filled with a selection of Drayman’s craft beer - brewed on the outskirts of Pretoria - with an extra bottle of my favourite India Pale Ale (R40 for 1L, Discount Liquor); a fat roll of Ross’ boerewors, two thick cut 2-week old dry aged t-bone Karan beef steaks (both R70/kg, Rembrandt Butchers). A South African feast, personalised and packed ready for his first December road trip to the Wild Coast.
For Dad, retired and living in Melbourne:
A butterscotch enamel teapot and two mugs (R190 teapot, R6 each mug Yugo’s Supermarket), to make the distance between us seem shorter, when we Skype over tea.
For neighbours Karin and Oliver, an art publisher and marketer:
A bag of Linden Blend coffee (R65 a bag, The Whippet) and an elegant slim glazed milk jug (R120, The Ceramic Factory), a toast to more shared sunny Sunday brunches in our kitchens.
For Nechama, friend and lifestyle journalist:
Two plump rolls of scarlet Italian wool (R50 each, Arthur Bales) with Natalie’s phone number tucked in between, in preparation for her next guerilla yarn bombing. And a pink stegasaurus watering can (R49.95, Yugo’s Supermarket) to encourage her two sons to tackle their wild backyard.
For Ivan, the foodie half-brother who lives in Northern Italy:
A cast iron potjiekos, for him to slow-cook his rustic winter stews the South African way (R250, Yugo’s Supermarket).