Coffee at The Old Gaol on Church Square in Swellendam can too easily turn into lunch, accompanied by a glass or three of Blush from Bon Courage. Sitting on the deck in the shade of some wonderful old oaks and overlooking the stunning much photographed NG Kerk, one often finds oneself in conversation with interesting creative people. Here it was that the idea of “Swellengram” was born, brainchild of Henk Klijn, another guesthouse owner in Swellendam.
Little did I realise that this simple concept and excellent name would become my child to rear – and little did I realise that this sweet infant would grow into a monster of gigantic proportions!
Swellengram is an online community information service – it started with a small database of local friends – and has now grown to a participant reach of over 1000. It is picked up by other local information services and so its viral reach is possibly twice that. Initially the idea was to make sure people in Swellendam knew what was going on in the town: events and specials. By offering free advertising to restaurants and businesses only if they were doing something special, the community would benefit from the increased amount of special deals. As a community service I decided to add requests for local information and opportunities for lift sharing. This has grown exponentially into lost dogs, lost parrots (there was a veritable rash of escaping parrots a few weeks ago – they were probably all looking for Louis) (see previous blog entry) jobs wanted, jobs offered, accommodation, and all the usual stuff. But the difference from this and any other information service, is the persona of Mrs Gram, who adds her own spin to the information and to the titles awarded to the most interesting Grams.
The pseudonym of Mrs Gram was awarded early on in the procedure and she has grown her own personality. She is loved by many, and once people realise who it is, they will hug her (me) or press gifts into her (my) hand on meeting in the street, and Mrs Gram received far more Christmas emails than I did.
Mrs Gram organised a charity do called SwellenGlam (luckily she has a willing husband who plays in a band) where yet another alter ego arrived, “ Mrs Glam” (Martyn Turck, local fruit farmer from Wildebraam Berry Estate) on the back of a Harley Davidson) dressed in Pink Lamé and a golden blonde waist length wig, set off delightfully with a pair of green wellies.
Mrs Gram also took it upon herself to play Cupid on Valentine’s Day and suggested that if people emailed their Valentine messages, she would send them anonymously. A Swellengrammer then offered a prize for the best one, and Mrs Gram suddenly found herself the recipient of some of the worst poetry in the world.
Like me, Mrs Gram struggles with Afrikaans, and has to rely on “Google translate” for many of the incoming Afrikaans grams. If they arrive in English, that is how they stay, as Mrs G does not want to risk ridicule by trying to translate the other way. She already suffered slings and arrows when she wrote about Tow Trek.
But most of all she struggles with the temptation to send out Grams that arrive with spelling mistakes that have passed the spell check and given a total different meaning to the original Grammer’s intention. Occasionally she has missed one or two.
One local restaurant was shocked at the outcry caused when Hot Steaming Cinnamon Nuns were presented as their special of the day. After an apology for the mistake, the outcry came because it turned out everyone WANTED Hot Steaming Cinnamon Nuns on the menu. So do visit Pennantwing when you are in Swellendam and ask for their Nun speciality. If nuns are off that day, at least the rest of their stuff is excellent! Recently a gentleman was searching for two roosters, which he wanted very badly. ‘Roosters’ was not the word he used but TWO COCKS WANTED BADLY did not seem to be the right turn of phrase. The above mentioned green wellies also suffered an unfortunate vowel change when Mrs Gram was ‘gramming’ her news about SwellenGlam, causing much hilarity and a red face for Mr Turck.
Apparently studies have been done which show that the perception of a quizmaster is that he/she is more intelligent and well informed than those participating contestants, despite the fact that all he is doing is reading out the questions and has the answer on a card. It would appear that the same thing is true with Mrs Gram. She is considered erroneously to be the fount of all knowledge. She (dressed as me) is frequently accosted on the street and asked such things as When was Swellendam declared a republic? Is there someone here who can service my boiler? Where can I get two cocks? When does the pub open? Can you give me ten rand for some bread? (OK that last person may not have realised that he was speaking to Mrs Gram, but he soon did when Mrs Gram showed him a very empty purse.
There is no money in it for Mrs Gram, but she enjoys the goodwill it engenders, and also is always first to know about events and bargains. If you have a Facebook and would like to check it out – it will be one of the best ways you can find out how we Swellendammers roll!