Merton Keep, French Ambassador's Residency, Pretoria

Merton Keep tower

View from Merton Keep's tower

The Residency's grounds are often used for day and evening functions. I remember one Bastille Day celebration when a certain female cabinet minister (now defunct; she was a Mbeki-ite) and her entourage drew their chairs into a circle and kept on drinking long after all the other guests had left. Real French champagne, of course - the Embassy would bring so many cases into the country for these fêtes that customs officials sometimes became suspicious.

When I joined the Embassy the garden was home to a cat the ambassadorial couple had rescued in Kuweit. The next Ambassador and his wife brought a mixed-breed dog with them who, they told us, was overjoyed by all the space, after their previous occupation of a Washington DC apartment. She was a smart dog: when she saw the shifty repairman-in-residence driving in through the gate, she'd bark fiercely and then lurk away. I would too: he stole the large, and expensive, container in which I brought the wild peach tree.

A young and very enthusiastic architect took over the greening of the garden, starting up a vigorous compost heap (and he believed strongly in the catalytic ability of urine) and implementing water-saving measures. By the nature of an Embassy, nobody stays very long, so he might not be there anymore. I hope his successor pays the same attention to the garden, and doesn't get a insecticide spraying-fit if my wild peach is denuded by caterpillars (as is their wont).