Thursday, 31 May 2007

Other people's children: seen and heard

I’ve known the family over the road for seven years, during which time the only son, Drikus, a shy young police officer-in-training, wooed and married a plump, diffident-looking girl from an outlying farm. Which just goes to prove how very deceiving looks can be.

Drikus’s wife, Lizmabet (she was dubbed, I assume, by the venerable Afrikaans tradition of combining the names of all known female relatives), is extremely loud and incredibly confident. Once, when I declined to answer a timid knock at my door (I just didn’t feel like it, and I defy anyone to order me to answer my door or my phone for the sole reason that either has summoned me), this was followed by a thunderous rap that all but shook the rafters. Alarmed, I rushed to the door and threw it open, and there stood Lizmabet, her hand proprietarily on the shoulder of what was clearly a beggar. She said (roughly translated from the Afrikaans), ‘This poor chap knocked on your door but you obviously didn’t hear him, so I came over and knocked for him.’ And that will tell you all you need to know about Lizmabet.

When she moved into the family pile with Drikus a few years ago, Lizmabet wasted no time in making changes. First, she arranged to have a small cottage built in the back garden, into which she shifted Drikus’s parents. Next, she tore down the hideous wire fence around the property (I was delighted) and replaced it with a new, higher, even more hideous wire fence (I was not). The family’s ancient toy pom was despatched (I like to think it was old age that killed it and that Lizmabet has no canine blood on her hands) and replaced with two enormous, bloodthirsty, ever-barking boerbuls.

Lizmabet has also shown a great deal of entrepreneurial spirit – something I admire but which, as you shall soon see, can quite frankly be carried too far. In short order, she converted the family’s garage, which faces onto my house and in fact onto my study, into some sort of workroom, in which a variety of people did a variety of things, none of which I have ever been able to fathom, but all of which have involved a great deal of arrival and departure by an endless stream of people in 4X4s, which park in front of my house and belch great clouds of noxious gases in through my study window.

The reason for Lizmabet’s relocation of Drikus’s parents soon became apparent, for she has also shown a truly remarkable propensity for breeding. She has produced three sons (all carbon copies of Drikus) in three years and is recently looking more rotund than usual, although I strictly follow the maxim of not asking a woman if she’s pregnant unless I see a baby actually emerging from her body.

I must admit right off that I don’t like other people’s children (I hardly like my own much of the time). Like other people’s dogs, they tend to be noisy, ill-mannered, unruly, intrusive and destructive. So having three of them over the road from me, gambolling deliriously on the lawn from morning to night, has been something of a trial. And I use the phrase ‘gambolling deliriously’ as a catch-all for crying, screaming, sobbing, crying, shouting, whingeing, yelling, howling, fighting and crying some more.

So you will understand my shock last week when I took out my garbage one morning and found Lizmabet supervising the erection of a large signboard that read (again, roughly translated from the Afrikaans), ‘Busy Bee Play School’.

‘Well, wow,’ I said, trying to smile in a neighbourly fashion but succeeding only in baring my teeth. ‘A play school, huh? Wow.’

Lizmabet barked her strident, disquieting laugh. ‘Ja, I’ve got so many kids of my own now I didn’t think a few more would make any difference. And I’ll get paid for looking after them.’ (See? Entrepreneurial spirit carried to its insane extreme.)

‘Well… wow,’ I said, and went back into my house with my head spinning.

Since then, every morning at 7.30am – around the time I make my first cup of coffee and sit down to review my day’s work and sort through my emails – a phalanx of 4X4s has rolled up to my study window and disgorged vast cloud of noxious gases and equally vast numbers of noxious toddlers. Then, for the next five hours, teeming hordes of other peoples’ children have gambolled deliriously on the lawn over the road. (I have watched in fascinated horror as a few of them have come within a fang’s breadth of being eaten by the boerbuls, which now live in a permanent state of heightened excitement.)

At some time past noon the exercise is repeated in reverse, and by 1pm all that remains of the morning’s exertions is a pall of carbon emissions hanging over the street and two boerbuls racing madly around the garden barking fit to bust.

And me, sitting in my study, staring at my computer screen on which I haven’t written a single word, and coughing quietly.

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Sunday, 27 May 2007

Sex and the single mother

I just want to say to you marrieds out there – and it does seem to me that a lot of you treat your relationships as eminently expendable – that it’s worth quite a bit to have familiar, safe sex on tap.

I can find sex in most places I look, although for reasons of convenience I obviously look most often in my local pub (where it is ridiculously easily available), but do I really want what I find? Inevitably, no. (And there I go, insulting your intelligence by answering a rhetorical question.)

There are loads of pro’s to being a single mom, and I’m not saying this because I’m being defensive. It’s quite frankly a joyous experience shipping your kids off occasionally to their otherwise absent father for the weekend, and taking the time out to swing from the chandeliers. Which I would definitely do if that old running injury in my hip didn’t give me so much gyp.

And I quite like not being bothered to make real food and sit down at the table for dinner like a real family. I’ve managed to convince my children that popcorn is an actual food group, so a giant bowl of that and a mindless DVD filled with V and L (violence and language, for those of you not familiar with the Film and Publications Board’s terms of reference) do nicely for us. I want to see that in a family where Daddy has been out selling garage doors all day comes home expecting flat meat and three veg.

And obviously I am a fan of the ‘what I say, goes’ method of parenting. There’s no running off to Father for a second (or different) opinion in our household. I never even have to say, ‘Because I’m your mother and I said so,’ because it’s implicit. What heady power!

I also enjoy lying diagonally in bed, watching Oprah at 11pm because there’s nothing else on and I can’t sleep, having unsuitable people around for dinner (who’s going to stop me?), not showering for three days just because I don’t feel like it, wearing outlandish clothes without some tosser saying, ‘I’m not going out with you looking like that,’ and occasionally getting drunk at 10am (only occasionally, I promise).

But the sex thing is, I have to admit, a problem. When I wake up out of a sweaty dream that involves Ashley Judd and Johnny Depp in a hot climate and not many clothes, and feel a strangely disturbing itch deep in my lower extremities, what do I do? I make a cup of tea.

When I get home after an evening of flirting at the pub and feel the need to round off my night with something robust and spectacular, what do I do? I make a cup of tea.

When I find myself with time on my hands and nothing specific to fill it, what do I do? I make a cup of tea.

You clock the problem.

In a nutshell, everything about life as a single parent appeals to me, except for not having sex on tap. And if you’re married and are having to make daily sensible meals, have your kids play you off against your spouse, go to war for duvet coverage, endure someone else’s mastery of the remote control, wear something modestly frilly when your instinctive choice was a sparse but achingly sexy plunging top, and keep your friendship with the florid owner of the ‘Just Gorgeous’ boutique a secret, think about what you do have.

It may not be much, but it’s more than I do.

PS Okay, you’ve got sex on tap but there’s a significant lack of fireworks. (For what the fireworks should be like, read any of Tony Park’s books. Tony, is the cheque really in the mail?) What now? Watch this space.

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Getting sick on red wine


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Desperately seeking serenity

Having sounded off about the dogs in my street, I have a few other disturbance anecdotes to share about rural life.

One of the other most intrusive noises of the countryside was brought home to me a few years ago when a friend from the city – let’s call him Dennis, since that is his name – came to visit on what was to be a 10-day sabbatical. A movie producer, he’d got to the stage where he was seriously burning out and wanted nothing more than some time away from phones, people, traffic, computers, movies, restaurants, televisions, dogs, beggars, vuvuzelas … everything, in fact, that lends big cities their vibrancy and drives their inhabitants into insane asylums or a life on Prozac, whichever is the cheapest and most convenient for their families.

On the first morning after his arrival, Dennis staggered into the kitchen, where I was perking coffee, at about 10am. He looked bleary-eyed and irritable, a surprise to me since we’d had a sober dinner and gone to bed early the night before.

‘What the fuck was that astounding racket at 3 this morning?’ he asked.

‘Racket?’ I said. ‘Really?’

‘Jesus!’ He grasped at his hair as if he were trying to pull it out by its roots. ‘It went on and on and ON..!’

‘Oh, the chickens,’ I said. ‘You get used to them.’

This was actually dishonestly ingenuous of me, since I know from bitter experience how ghastly it is to wake up at 3am to a cock’s crow that sounds – and, here, is – practically right next to your ear. When I first moved to this village, there was a cockerel that clearly didn’t think much of me, and would highstep it to my bedroom window in the early hours of every morning, and crow its stupid head off. Now, chickens generally are not known for their big brain capacity, so every rooster in hearing distance (here in the unbroken landscape of the country, about 5km in all directions) would hear the call, shake itself awake, and add its two bits to the melee. So, in spite of the fact that dawn was still hours off, you’d have rooster-calls echoing up and down the valley from about 3am until, oh, 6am or so – when you had to get up to see the kids to school.

Well, you do get used to it. Eventually.

The following night’s shenanigans were of a more hysterical nature. Dennis – a tall, strapping lad with a reputation for ruining people’s lives just by looking crossly at them – came racing through to my bedroom around midnight, his face flushed with fear. ‘There’s something in my room,’ he said. ‘It’s big, it’s hairy and it’s moving at the speed of light.’

Ah. A solifuge.

I don’t mention the solifuges to most people who come and stay over, because if I did, they wouldn’t. Solifuges (sun spiders, or ‘Red Romans’, as they’re known locally; who knows why, I always thought that was a fish) belong to the spider family, but they’re the embarrassing backwoods cousins who took too many drugs when they were young, and now have too much hair, too much bulk and too many legs, and are irredeemably psychotic. They’re not poisonous, but they have big jaws and they can bite. And they’re really scary-looking – the stuff of nightmares.

There was no way I was going up against a solifuge in the dark hours of the night, so I made up a bed for Dennis in another room. Using a torch as if we were CSIs, we checked every corner of the room for creepy-crawlies, and Dennis made me stuff a towel into the crack along the bottom of the door before he was satisfied.

The next morning his eyes were bloodshot and his complexion pale. ‘I dreamt I was being eaten by spiders all night,’ he said. ‘What other rural wonders have you got in store for me?’

‘Let’s go and drink our coffee out on the verandah,’ I said soothingly.

You see, the countryside, for all its various nasties, is really wonderfully soul-restoring – and my verandah, which is huge and looks out over the valley and up to the mountains, and gets the morning sun, really is my favourite place in the entire world. And Dennis really would have appreciated this, had he just not decided to extravagantly slide open the entire verandah door, and had a snake that had been curled up along its top not dropped into his hair.

Dennis richocheted off the verandah like a man electrocuted.

‘It’s okay!’ I shouted. ‘It’s only a mole snake! It’s not venomous!’

‘I don’t care!’ he screamed, caroming around the garden and beating at his head as if he were on fire. ‘It’s a fucking snake! And it’s in my hair!’ (Well, I suppose he had a point.)

The snake dispatched (Dennis was disappointed when I refused to beat it do death, and instead released it into the garden), we spent an exceedingly pleasant day around the pool, swimming as it grew hotter and hotter, and drinking some lovely chilled Chenin Blanc. At 10pm and with the sun long gone, but the earth still radiating heat like a DeLonghi, Dennis yawned, stretched and announced that he was off to bed.

He was back two hours later, his eyes rolling in his head, his expression murderous. He stood over me, where I was reading out on the quiet verandah in the endless serenity of the rural night and screamed, ‘What is it with these fucking mosquitoes?!’ And he snatching down his sleepshorts to show me his bottom, liberally festooned with angry red bites.

‘Oh, yes, sorry,’ I said. ‘I forgot how they can swarm when it gets hot…’

‘Swarm?!’ he yelled. ‘They’re like the fucking Wehrmacht!’

‘Look,’ I said, ‘it’s quite simple. You plug in a Baygon mosquito mat, rub Tabard stick all over your body, and light a Doom Super Coil and leave it on the windowsill. Then, if they’re still getting through…’

I stopped there, because Dennis was looking at me with an expression that made me decidedly uncomfortable.

‘What?’ I said.

‘I’ve known you for a long time,’ he said (energetically scratching his arse, which diluted the effect somewhat), ‘and I’ve always considered you a sensible woman. But this!’ and he extracted his hands from his shorts and flung them around, encompassing my house, my garden, the village, everything. ‘This! This is… it’s… it’s just ridiculous! Crowing cocks, falling snakes, hunting solifuges, bloodsucking mosquitoes…. It’s insane! Insane, I tell you!’

He disappeared inside and reappeared moments later, fully dressed and grasping his suitcase. ‘Don’t take this personally,’ he said, ‘but I need to go back to the city… to get some peace!’

I didn’t take it personally, and Dennis and I are still close friends. What I’ve never told him, though, are the many other things that make life in the country so uniquely unserene: the bird guns that go off for two months every summer during the grape harvest; the occasional rallies that see farmers on bakkies driving slowly through town and exhorting the villagers through loudspeakers to come to the square to hear boeremusiek and political messages; the Sunday-morning motorbike breakfast runs that roar through the streets; the frog infestation at the beginning of winter when the rains start to fall and you find squashed amphibians everywhere; the ‘miggie season’ in spring, when biting midges descend on the town and afflict the unfortunate with flu-like symptoms; the toxic spraying of the outlying farmlands in summer, when everyone suffers from a hayfever so severe that simply breathing becomes a chore; the endless electricity blackouts, not per se because of Eskom (amazingly) but because the substations are so old and verlep; how the municipality will willy-nilly turn off the water because a pipe has burst somewhere, and they won’t bother to warn anyone because in a community this small, who cares…

And of course the dogs. There are always the dogs.

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Sleaze in a small town

I often used to drive past or through small towns in South Africa and wonder what the people did there – the old joke about watching the traffic lights change springs to mind. Then I moved to a small town myself – one that didn’t have any traffic lights and only got its first stop street about three years after I arrived (but no, not because of me).

I’ve lived here for seven years and can now reliably report on what people in small South African towns do for fun. Mainly, they drink. And as a secondary – and not entirely unrelated – pastime they commit adultery on a fairly impressive scale.

I know they drink because about a year after having moved to the country in search of peace, tranquillity and a cleaner way of life, I’d become a raging wino. Because the truth is, there isn’t much to do out here in the boondocks. If you don’t have wheat to grow or cows to milk or sheep to shear or chickens to do whatever you do with chickens (kill, I suppose), you’re left with a lot of time on your hands. And when you go over to your neighbour’s for a morning cup of coffee and they say, ‘White or …?’ and you say, ‘Oh, black, please, and one sugar,’ and they say, ‘No, white or red?’ you eventually come to regard this as normal. As you do your afternoon siesta, taken not to hide from the heat or recover from your morning’s toils, but because you’re too pie-eyed to stay standing.

An offshoot of this rural dipsomania is the regular collapse (usually on a Saturday night, but it can happen at any time) of normal civil society’s ethic and moral codes. I went to a party once and, predictably too pissed to drive, walked home in the early hours of the morning. I returned the next day to reclaim my car (which I discovered I’d parked cunningly in a ditch) and found a harassed-looking man combing the area. ‘Lost your car?’ I asked.

‘No, my wife,’ he said.

I once had a boyfriend who worked at one of the local pubs. One evening, needing to deliver an urgent message to him and knowing he’d never hear his cellphone ring (it gets very, very loud in the locals on a Saturday night), I walked up to the pub. Having battled my way through the three-deep crowd at the bar and leaned over the counter to shout the information in his ear, I turned to leave. An attractive but catastrophically inebriated woman gripped me by the shoulder. ‘Don’t waste your time,’ she slurred. ‘I’ve already tried to pick him up but the bastard says he’s got a girlfriend.’

‘Thanks for the advice,’ I said, but she wasn’t done yet. ‘But hey!’ she added, ‘the other barman’s an MBA!’

I know the other barman very well and if he’s got an MBA, I’m a tin of sardines. ‘Really?’ I said.

‘Yes. He’s Married But Available!’ she crowed.

Obviously, when my boyfriend got off shift I enthusiastically showed him my appreciation for his fidelity (ref any of Tony Park’s books for details). But here’s the thing: the drunken slag was actually right about the other barman, and word in the village is that later that night she availed herself of his education.

And, as evidenced by that anecdote, it’s not only the men who are irretrievably sleazy. The women are, if anything, more so. And what I find really astonishing is how the women will unashamedly fight over a man, even if (a) the man is married, (b) to a friend of theirs, or (c) they themselves are married, (d) to a friend of the man’s.

There are two things about life in a small town that make regrettable dalliances difficult to deal with. The first is that there’s just no getting away from them: there they are, fresh and early the next morning, buying bread in the local co-op (often in the company of their wives/husbands and/or children); and there they are again, at a local fete (wives/husbands, children, etc); and again, on the verandah of the Royal Hotel on a Friday afternoon; and again, walking their dogs past your house; and again, at a meeting to decide a town-planning issue; and again, at little Johnny’s birthday party…

The second is that small towns thrive on gossip. Before I entirely clocked this, I would do ill-advised things, like meet a neighbour for a quick drink at the Royal or go walking with someone around the dam or invite an acquaintance over for dinner in order for us to get to know each other better. And if the person involved was a male, it wasn’t long before the news was zipping around town that I was having an affair with him. So there is nothing – nothing! – you can do in a small town that you can keep secret, and many things you don’t do that also aren’t kept secret.

(I have, over the years, learnt to moderate my alcohol intake, and let the record show that I have never had sexual relations – no, not even in the Bill Clinton way – with anyone local who is/was married and/or romantically and/or sexually involved with any other person in any way.)

How people in small towns amuse themselves reminds me of how a friend of mine reacted to an impertinent question posed to her at a dinner party once. She was the only wife present who didn’t have some sort of wildly impressive and high-flying career – all the others were lawyers, doctors and astronauts, and let everyone know it – so when one of these paragons of modern womanhood asked her, ‘And what do you do?’ she squared her shoulders and answered, ‘I wash dishes and I fuck.’

What people in small towns do for fun? They drink and they fuck.

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Saturday, 26 May 2007

The deadly, deadly dullness of Blogs

Don't get me wrong: I love being a blogger, I'm having fun playing with my own blog, and it's very interesting and entertaining reading the posts of some of you sparky writers. But I'm getting desperately bored with what's going on in the S.A. blogosphere ( as aggregated by Amatomu), and I have to agree with Bullard that that there is some air-guitar going on here. Here are my top twelve most-boring headlines, culled from Amatomu in the last 30 minutes. Read them, and then bang your head on your keyboard. Or, even more interesting, go and watch your kettle boil. Heck, even boiling your head would be more interesting than reading these...

Mobile Web

The Cost of Reinstalling Windows: Part III

Vote now for Webware 100

Buffalo advance: Video

I've added you as a friend on Facebook...

Create Interactive Website Tours In Minutes.

ReMIX is coming to town...

Online Strategy ?

Sold Out eSquared Durban Sold out eSquared Cape Town

links for 2007-05-25

Mig33. 4 Million Users. 15 Million Messages per Day. $10 Million

Celebrating Two Centenaries

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Friday, 25 May 2007

M&G on Christopher Hope vs Liz McGregor

Today's Mail and Guardian is carrying a story by Kwanele Sosibo and Darryl Accone about the brewing literary spat revealed here on Salmagundi a few days ago. The story publishes an email response by Hope that, in a nutshell, denies using McGregor's book as a source.

"I think her claims that her book provided the base of the Aids pages in my book are her authorial exaggeration," he says. More

Having read through the various extracts a couple of times, I tend to agree with him. There are remarkable similarities, but frankly I think McGregor is clutching at straws. Christopher Hope could have gathered this information - for example, the bit about the Dutch nurse - from any newspaper. (For examples, click here and here.)

What strikes me is McGregor's reluctance to comment: "McGregor declined to comment to the M&G, preferring that her publishers handle the matter."

Now this seems like cowardice to me. If you're going to accuse someone of lifting your research, the very least you can do is have the balls to put your own voice to the challenge.

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Thursday, 24 May 2007

Seven-hour lamb: fall-apart, sticky, garlicky, lemony heaven

Feck, but it's cold outside. My jeans harden instantly into frozen blue cardboard when I open the front door to let the pup out for a poo. A black frost has withered every plant in the garden. Dogs and cats are piled outside the front door, looking suspiciously rigid, like a pile of hairy frozen logs. (Only joking: they're snoozing by the hearth, in front of the feeble glow that passes for a fire).

Anyway, all I can think about is soft, tender, fall-apart, garlicky roast lamb, even though it's half-past ten at night and I've already sconed, while having a drink with my friend Nina, half a ton of olives and 200 discs of garlicky, olivey, capery marinated mozzarella discs (from the Cheese Factory Shop in Strydom Park - one of the Seventeen Shopping Wonders of Johannesburg; watch this space!).

So this is what I'm going to make my family tomorrow night:

Seven-Hour Lemon & Garlic Lamb

1 big shoulder of lamb (ask your butcher for this), or a large leg of lamb
10 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons good dried oreganum
Finely grated rind of 2 lemons
1 tsp coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thickly sliced
Juice of 5-6 lemons
2 cups (500 ml) white wine

Pre-heat your oven to 220 C.

With a sharp knife, stab inch-deep cuts into lamb joint, at an angle. Ten stabs top and bottom will do. Now crush together the garlic cloves, the lemon rind, the oreganum and the sea salt, using a mortar and pestle, or a blender. Add the olive oil and mix to a paste. Using your fingers, stuff this mixture deep into the cuts you've made in the lamb. Rub any remaining mixture over the joint.

Arrange the onion slices in a deep roasting roasting tin, or oven-proof casserole dish, and place the lamb joint on top of them. Now put the dish in the oven, which should be blazing hot. Leave it for 20-30 minutes, or until the meat is nicely browned and the fat is starting to blister and bubble. Now turn the joint over, pour over half the lemon juice, and half the wine, and turn the heat down to 140 celsius. Leave to roast for another half hour, then turn the lamb skin-side up, cover tightly* with tin foil or a lid, and turn the oven down to 120 celsius. Cook for another four or five hours (depending on the size of the joint), topping up and basting frequently with lemon juice and wine. Don't allow the juices in the pan to boil dry - you want about 1 cm of juice at all times. After a total of seven hours cooking time, check the meat: you should be able to pull it off the bone with a fork.

Remove the lamb from the baking dish, put on a plate, cover, and allow to rest for five minutes. Skim the fat off the juices left in the pan. Now pull the lamb from the bone, using two forks, and toss it in the skimmed pan juices. Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. Serve with roast potatoes** and veg.

* Note: There is a school of thought that says that lamb should not be covered during this slow-roast period (thanks, Michael-the-Greek). If you don't cover it with foil, it will have a lovely, sticky, lemony glaze, and a fantastic flavour, but it will be a bit dry on the inside.

** Note: Don't put the roast potatoes in the same dish as the lamb. An hour and a half before you're going to serve the lamb, parboil the pots for 10-15 minutes, or until they are soft and fluffy on the outside but still slightly 'cucumbery' on the inside. Drain off the water and toss the spuds well so they get fluffy and ragged on the edges. Now heat some fat (preferably the fat you've skimmed off the lamb, but olive oil if you're health-conscious) in a roasting tin or baking sheet, on top of the stove, until it's spitting. Add the parboiled potatoes, toss well to coat them in the fat, and put into a very hot oven (at least 190) for an hour or more.

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Monday, 21 May 2007

My poor, pathetic pup: so sick I dare not go to bed

How do you stop a puppy from vrekking in the night? I don't want to be a pessimist, but dear little Coco is so sick that I don't know if she's going to make it. Her gums are as pale as paper, she's breathing fast and shallow and her little furry frame is all a-shiver.

I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say that there has been a lot of human retching and gagging going on in this house in the last two hours, and that there isn't a scrap of kitchen or toilet paper to be had within a kilometre of our front door. The air is humming with lavender oil, tea-tree oil, deodorant, Handy Andy, hair spray, Windolene and Jeyes' Fluid. Fights have broken out. Children are weeping. Befouled carpets hang from the frosty branches of the trees in our garden.

Anyway, the patient is wrapped up in two blankets, on a big pile of newspapers, flanked by two hot-water bottles, in the scullery. I am checking her every twenty minutes, syringing warm sugar water (with a pinchlet of salt) down her throat and prodding her to make sure she is still alive.

I'm scared to go to bed in case she shuffles off.

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Friday, 18 May 2007

Jokes of the 60s and 70s: anyone remember Poep-Harder?

'When you were a kid, what was your funniest joke?' my daughter asked me recently. After some thought, I came up with a list of broek-wettingly funny gags I heard during the Sixties and Seventies - dead-baby jokes, frog-in-a-blender jokes, boys'-names jokes, and so on.

Some of them made my daughter turn a pale shade of green. Others were received with a stony silence. To yet others, she responded with utter bafflement. (And there were some apartheid-era jokes that I kept quiet about: funny though they were to me as an eight-year-old in 1970, I cringe at the memory of them now).

She didn't laugh at a single one.

Anyway, I was quite offended by my daughter's response. Some of these jokes, after all, had made me laugh until I ached, and I'd had to go to bed with a stitch in my side. On one memorable occasion, I guffawed so long and hard that I threw up on my pink candlewick bedspread.

So how come she didn't find them funny?

My teen boys were also unimpressed. 'Pathetic, Mom. Don't you know any good Chuck Norris jokes?'

'No, but I do know some good Helen Keller ones.'

'Helen who?'

'Forget it.' And I stomped off, feeling all embarassed at how feeble my childhood sense of humour was.

Hours later, in one of those amazing moments of synchronicity, I stumbled onto Kevin's Arbitrary Thoughts, and found a list of Helen Keller jokes. I laughed like a drain, posted a few Keller jokes of my own and, feeling freshly encouraged, went off to Google the subject of vintage jokes.

Turns out there are other parents who feel stung that their kids don't appreciate sick vintage jokes (read, for example, what blogger Todd Goldberg has to say about non-PC jokes and, specifically, about how tasteless it is to make jokes about Helen Keller).

Anyway, to get to the point ('At last!' I hear you cry), here is my top joke of the late Sixties.
It's a long, involved joke, but to cut to the chase, it goes like this:

There was a little girl called Poep-Harder. Her friends came and knocked on the door and asked if they could play with Poep-Harder. 'Sure,' said her mother. 'She's on the toilet, but I'll call her.'

The mother stuck her head into the passage. 'Poep-Harder!' she shouted. 'Your friends are here to play with you!'

Silence. 'Poep-Harder!' shouted the mother.

Another silence. 'POEP-HARDER!' screamed the mother, in exasperation.

'Give me a break, mom,' came a voice from the toilet. 'I'm poeping as hard as I can!'

Never, in my entire life, have I laughed as long and as hard as I did when I first heard this joke in about 1969. The more often we told it, the funnier it got. (Before you shake your head and roll your eyes, remember that in those days we didn't have TV, there were hardly any magazines, and we lived in a profanity-free zone - 'bum' and 'fart' were the rudest words I knew.)

Intriguingly, I came across an American version of this old joke (on Todd Goldberg's blog; also mentioned here), involving a boy called Johnny Fuckerfaster. The joke's virtually the same, except the punchline goes, 'Aw, Mom, I'm fucking her as fast as I can'.

Anyway, here are some of my top childhood jokes. Some are not suitable for sensitive or PC readers. Most are so feeble, they're hardly worth reading (but hands up if you remember them!).

What is green and turns red at the flick of a button? A frog in a liquidiser.

What do you call an epileptic under a pile of leaves? Russell.

What do you call a man with a spade in his mouth? Doug.

What do you call a man with no spade in his mouth? Douglas.

What do you call a man with a seagull on his head?

How do you fit four elephants in a Volkswagen beetle?
Two in the front, and two in the back.

How do you know there's an elephant in the fridge?
Footprints in the butter.

How do you know there are two elephants in your fridge?
You can hear them giggling.

How do you know if there are four elephants in your fridge?
There's a Volkswagen parked outside.

How does an elephant hide?
He paints his balls red and hides upside down in a cherry tree.

How did Tarzan die?
Picking cherries.

What's Helen Keller's favourite colour? Corduroy.

What did Helen Keller say after her parents gave her a cheese-grater for Christmas? 'That's the most violent book I've ever read!'

What happened when Helen Keller fell down a well? She screamed her fingers to the bone.

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Mafeking who?
Mafeking car won't start.

I guess you had to be there.

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How do I fix the freaking time-stamp format on my Blog?

Can anyone help me with this headache? I've set the time-stamp format to a 24-hour clock, and I've selected the right time zone (ie, +1, or Central European Summer Time). Yet the time stamps on my posts seem to change every time I post or edit a post. When I post in the morning, the timestamp is 45 minutes ago. I change it to the correct time, and it resets itself next time to a 12-hour clock.


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Chickens on Bullard: which came first?

Here's a cartoon that I think perfectly sums up the Bullard vs Bloggers squabble.

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Hairy slit-faced bat and other enchanting names

Ever heard of a Boland Skolly, a Yellow Zulu or a Soldier Pansy? No, these are not South African insults - they're names of butterflies. There's a lovely article in today's Star (Chasing butterflies into the future, by Leon Marshall, no link) about a project that's cataloguing South Africa's butterfly species in an effort to ensure their survival.

Other butterfly names mentioned by Marshall: Jitterbug Daisy Copper, Deceptive Widow, Common Joker and Gaudy Commodore. Aren't they delightful?

Here's a list of common names of other South African animals which I think are sheer poetry:

Hairy Slitfaced Bat
Brant's Whistling Rat
Fat Mouse

Rosy-faced Lovebird
Tinkling Cisticola
Zitting Cisticola
Cape Penduline Tit
Pale Chanting Goshawk

Shovelfooted Squeaker
Whistling Rain Frog
Bubbling Kassina
Mottled Shovenosed Frog

Snakes and lizards
Schlegel's Beaked Blind Snake
Elongate Quillsnouted Snake
Shortheaded Legless Skink
Lomi's Blind Legless Skink
Transvaal Thicktoed Gecko
Graceful Crag Lizard

I found these on checklists published here

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Thursday, 17 May 2007

Update on the Elle skeletor ad

Hallelujah! I've just had an email from Elle magazine about the Pringle skeleton-in-a-frock advert. I wrote to them again, asking why I hadn't had a reply, and this is what came back (ok, it didn't come from the editor, who presumably is too busy to answer her own mail, but from someone else on the staff, whose job is not specified):

Thank you very much for your e-mail and your interest in ELLE magazine. We note your concerns about the Pringle ad and have in discussed it with the advertiser. You are welcome to liaise with me regarding any future concerns and/or recommendations.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Mouse-ball gunk: is there a name for it?

I was cleaning the hairy black crud off my mouse-ball's rollers this morning, and I wondered if the stuff has a name. I'm sure must have, but I'll be damned if I can find it. A quick Google tells me that the gunk is composed of - big yetch - skin flakes, sebum, sweat, dust, hairs, crumbs and, if you're a smoker, cigarette ash. But even the mighty Google hasn't thrown out a name.

What's it called? If it has no name, may I propose one?

Goip (pronounced goy-p). That's what my late, sainted Norwegian granny used to call the dark greasy stuff that collects in cracks in kitchen tables and round the edges of a counter-top hob. It's an all-purpose word that can also apply to (sensitive readers, please click away now) what collects between your toes, under your fingernails and in dogs' ears. I think it's a damn fine word.

If you have a better one, let me know.

(And might I recommend a craft knife and a pair of tweezers for removing mouse-ball lint?)

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God lives in your brain circuitry, says scientist

Are our brains soft-wired to be spiritual? Is religion just part of the neural circuitry of our brains? As an atheist, I fervently believe so, and that's why I was so interested to read a fascinating interview in Salon with developmental biologist and atheist Lewis Wolpert. Wolpert, who grew up in South Africa, has written a book called Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast in which he argues that human brains evolved to become "belief engines."

'In Wolpert's view,' writes Salon's Steve Paulson, 'religion has given believers an evolutionary advantage, even though it's based on a grand illusion.'

In the interview (and in his book), Wolpert also has a go at telepathy, healing, astrology, energy fields, ghosts and all the other ridiculous superstitions of our age. I can't wait to read this book

Link, via Digg.

Posted by Juno

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Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Where there's smoke, there's fire

Oh, how massively entertained I was to see that smoking in the movies is now becoming such a threat to human wellbeing that the powers that be are considering putting an age restriction on movies that show it. (Sunday Times, 13 May, ‘News & Opinion’ section.)

We all know that smoking kills. But so does living.

When my mother (who never touched a cigarette in her life, and lived in an entirely smoke-free environment, so don’t come with the ‘but secondary smoke’ argument to me) was dying of several different cancers, including of her lungs, and I in guilt and horror gave up smoking, she laughed and said, ‘Why bother?’

And when I had two precancerous polyps removed from my colon, I was told very specifically by the oncologist that this particular cancer has nothing to do with smoking. ‘It’s largely genetic,’ he said. (Thanks, Mom.)

The bad things about smoking are undeniable: it stinks, it makes you breathe funny (and sometimes hardly at all), it makes your chest hurt, it’s expensive, it gives you wrinkles around your mouth and, worst of all, when you run out of fags in the middle of the night it’s a mighty inconvenience getting in your car and driving to the nearest all-night café (mine is 40 kilometres away).

But wine, beer, whisky, vodka and particularly rum also make you stink (and, eventually, kill you). Asthma, cats, grass seeds, wheat, milk and mould can make you breathe funny (and also, incidentally, can kill you). Flu, colds, pneumonia and pleurisy make your chest hurt (and can kill you), as do enthusiastic karate workouts, laughing too hard and softball accidents (ditto). Everything (but everything) is expensive these days. Age gives you wrinkles everywhere and does awful things to your boobs into the bargain.

As for what actually kills! Cars, guns, heartbreak, falling pianos, Aids, bird flu, SARS, botched operations, blocked veins from long-distance flights, plugging in your toaster after you’ve washed your hands and neglected to dry them (or have your trip-system upgraded), malaria, anorexia, dogbite, lions eating you, tripping on your way up to the pub and hitting your head, bad mussels, not getting your body in quick enough on a Metrorail carriage in Cape Town, shark attacks, swimming too soon after you’ve eaten (apparently), being caught in a riot, planes being flown into your office block, tsunamis, tornadoes, old age, saying ‘no’ to someone who wants your bag and has a big stick, logs flying off the backs of trucks, failed SCUBA equipment, collapsed paragliders, spiked over-the-counter medication (remember Tylenol?), lightning… the list is literally endless. We’re all going to die, eventually, of something.

I am a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen. I seldom speed and I never use disabled parking spaces. I do Pilates twice a week and walk, cycle and play tennis regularly. I drink a minimum of six glasses of water a day and eat the requisite quantity of fresh produce. I serve on community groups. I give to charity. I keep a clean house and raise respectful kids. I switch off my cellphone in movie houses. I don’t push to the front of queues, human or vehicular. I recycle glass, paper and metal – separately. I switch off major appliances when the national grid is running low. I steam, not boil, vegetables. I rarely eat meat. I turn down my music early in the evening so my neighbours aren’t disturbed. My ‘grey’ water goes into my garden. I am kind to children and animals.

So let me have a cigarette, for god’s sake! Let me have several! All I’m killing is myself. (I never smoke around my children, never in my car, never in my bedroom, never in the bathroom, never around people with shifty eyes… I am, like most social drinkers, a ‘considerate’ abuser.)

Last week, at dinner with a friend (a non-smoker), sitting outside in an airy environment, I finished eating a while before he did. I picked up my pack of cigarettes and said, ‘Do you mind if I smoke while you eat?’

He gave me a wicked grin and said, ‘Not if you don’t mind if I eat while you smoke.’

PS Brad Pitt has been caught most often lighting up on the big screen – a lung-busting forty-two times! Could this devil-may-care streak have something to do with why he’s affianced to the Most Gorgeous Woman In The Entire Universe? (Nicolas Cage* and Gene Hackman were close behind in the smoking stakes.)

* With reference to Juno’s posting about poor subbing – how is it that Nicolas Cage* has been acting for, what, two decades, and South African subs still can’t get the spelling of his name right? It’s without the ‘h’, people.

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Muriel's dishwasher: the love of her life

Oh dishwasher mine!
I think you’re divine:
You give me crockery shiny and clear;
My glasses you clean;
My cutlery gleams;
And it’s never, ‘Oh, not tonight, dear.’

You’re sleek and goodlooking,
And no matter what’s cooking,
You handle the mess and the gunk.
You do your thing quietly
Both daily and nightly
And you never get into a funk.

No job is too tough
But you’re never rough
On the things I hold dear to my heart.
I load you with crap
And you never snap back.
And best of all, you never fart.

You’re quiet and you’re strong
And when you go wrong
The fault is with me, not with you.
I know I’m demanding
But there’s no reprimanding
When I lose it (which I often do).

You cover all bases
And get into hard places,
And for you nothing’s ever a bother.
If you were a man
With long legs and a tan
I’d dearly wish you were my lover.

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Crappy English: print media have no room to talk

May I have a little whine about crappy, sloppy editing in the print media? And no, I'm not highlighting this because I want to get in a dig at Bullard and his ilk. I think the Sunday Times has very good subs (C - you can post that cheque directly to me).

I'm moaning about it because it seems to me that the standard of subbing in books, magazines and newspapers seems to be going from bad to appalling. (And, frankly, it's a bit rich for Bullard and his fellow glass-house-dwellers to mock the standard of writing in the Blogosphere when their own industry is so far from perfect.)

I sometimes wonder, reading magazines, newspapers and books, whether they actually employ any subeditors at all.

Take local fiction: time and again I've picked up an interesting new novel by an SA author, only to find myself huffing and tsssking over numerous typos, inconsistencies and unforgivable spelling and punctuation errors. Call me pernickety, but I do think the least that a publisher can do is ensure that a manuscript has been properly proofread before it's put on the shelves. I'm not the only one who thinks this, I might add: I've had several conversations with avid readers, book reviewers and book editors who are equally dismayed.

I was discussing the whole matter of bad subbing and lazy writing in the print media (and the blogosphere) with a friend the other day. 'Am I just being old-fashioned and crabby?' I asked her. 'Does punctuation matter? Does anyone care?'

'I care!' she exploded. 'It is important!'

And, do you know what, she has a point.

Take local magazines. A good example is Good Taste, the Wine-of-The-Month Club's magazine, which has won several awards. I can't pick up a copy without wanting to whip out a red pen, correct every second paragraph, and post it back to the editor. An example from the latest issue (and this is the introductory blurb, printed in at least 16pt type): 'It's a sunny day in Durban and although we take the odd wrong turn en route we certainly don't let it damper our spirits.'

Damper? That's irritating enough, but read on, and you'll find a story about a Durban restaurant that is so badly written it's virtually unreadable. No punctuation, no structure; just a string of quotes by the restaurant's owner, typed out verbatim by the 'writer'. The rest of the magazine is riddled with errors. Not surprising, then, that I can't find a sub's name on the magazine's staff list.

The other lifestyle and decor mags are not much better. Even if they manage to get the subbing right, the editorial is so trite that it borders on ludicrous (see my rant on the Woolies magazine Taste for more). 'The sexy side of concrete' was the coverline on one glossy interiors magazine recently (Visi, I think it was). Another classic from the same issue: 'Imperfect is the new perfect'. Huh? Sexy side of concrete? Who is writing this swill? Who is buying these magazines? (I, of course, picked up my copies on a bus. No, that's a lie, I bought them for R2 each from the blessed Parkview Library, along with a big stash of brand-new National Geographics, Time magazines, Spectators, etc. Whoever the big-spender magazine junkie in Parkview is, thanks for sharing!)

And then you get the newspapers. Here are some howlers I've collected from the Saturday Star (whose sub hasn't got the hang of correcting dangling modifiers):

In a food review (the reviewer was writing about a fish dish his wife had ordered):

'Indifferently sauced with white wine, she finished it all.' [Oh, his poor dizzy wife!]

In a book review:

'Gritty, fast-paced and violently realistic, Orford has created a Cape Town underworld whose depths reach into the far recesses of human depravity.'

'Hands bound, eyes blinded and necks cut, his viscous [sic] attacks are getting more and more frequent...'

In a social column:

'marquis' (instead of 'marquee') and 'source' (instead of sauce).

From a recent Taste magazine: 'Plump and oval, long and slender, glossy purple or almost black, we celebrate the mysterious brinjal!'

I could go on and on giving you examples of modifiers dangling by their fingernails, and lists of 'its' instead of 'it's', and 'it's' instead of 'its', but I'll leave you with my most prized example of crap subbing (taken, I'm afraid, from the Sunday Times).

The writer, in an article about madumbes (African potatoes) writes, 'Greyish, slightly floury and a little dense, I am going see what they’re like in a bredie'.

You said it, dude.

PS: If I see the words 'tad' or 'leafy suburbs' in another newspaper column, I'm going to vomit.

PPS: Another tagged-on thought: Bloggers don't have the luxury of having a sub to correct and proofread what they write. Print-media journalists and columnists do have this luxury (or should have; see my comments above). What I'm trying to say here is that, having worked for years as a freelance editor and proofreader, I've seen copy submitted by so-called journalists and writers that is so shockingly incompetent that the only thing I could do with it was put it in the circular file under my desk. (I nicked that from the FT - isn't it a brilliant image of a dustbin?)

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Monday, 14 May 2007

Skeletor ad in Elle magazine - no reply from editor

I can't say I'm surprised that the editor of Elle magazine, Jackie Burger, hasn't replied to the email I wrote her complaining about the shocking Pringle advert (depicting a puppet-like carcass of a model) in the latest issue. I haven't had a response from Pringle, either. Perhaps they're all too embarrassed to respond. Perhaps they're too busy scouring the boneyards looking for new skeletons to use in future campaigns. Or perhaps they just don't give a tinker's cuss about how women are portrayed in the media. To beg a catch-phrase from John Robbie, 'You've disappointed me'. Here's what I said:

To: ''''

Dear Ms Burger

I’m writing this email to express my shock and disappointment at the Pringle ad you are carrying in the latest issue of Elle.

This image is especially upsetting in the light of the recent controversy about skinny models and their impact on the psyche of young women.

Not only is the model skeletally thin, but her passive, puppet-like pose and her corpse-like, heroin-addict expression add up to an image that is profoundly disturbing, if not downright offensive.

I can’t see any artistic merit in this photograph; I also fail to see how anyone could be persuaded to buy a garment that looks like a shapeless black sack. (I’m also astonished that a wholesome brand like Pringle is choosing to associate this kind of look with its products, but that is something I intend to take up with them directly.)

I’ve shown the ad to a range of eight different women of different ages and viewpoints, and we all agree that it is completely unacceptable. The only person I haven’t shown it to is my eight-year-old daughter, because I’m afraid it will actually frighten her.

I urge you not to carry such images in future issues of Elle.

Yours sincerely, etc.

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My friend Muriel grooves into Salmagundi

As you can see from the posts below, Salmagundi has now has two authors, as my fabulous friend Muriel has agreed to join the blog as a co-author. I am doing cartwheels round my study at the thought. This doesn't mean I won't be sharing some of her hilarious emails with you (I will, Mur), but that she'll also be adding her hilarious 10c' worth to the blog whenever the desire
grabs her.

Muriel isn't her real name, of course. So why's she called Muriel? (And why does she call me Muriel?) Well, her name comes from the wonderful movie Muriel's Wedding. In the movie, Muriel Heslop, who's played by Toni Collette, has a depressed lump of a sister, Joanie (Gabby Millgate). Joanie always responds to Muriel's mishaps with a shocked but deeply admiring, 'You're terrible, Muriel'.

That just sums up the way I feel about Muriel, and vice versa

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Sunday, 13 May 2007

Muriel laughs about literary sex scenes

The movie Where The Truth Lies has a fairly hectic girl-on-girl sex scene in it. I know this because my 16-year-old rented it from the local DVD store and I watched it with her (the age restriction on the DVD was 16). We both squirmed like slugs with salt on. I'm just not, oh I don't know, progressive enough to watch soft porn with my teenage child. (That MNet flighted it at 8pm on Friday night, albeit with the more -- to my mind -- suitable age restriction of 18, beggars belief.)

This got me thinking about sex scenes in movies and also in books. Unless they have something specific to add to a plotline (and let's be honest, how often do they really?), I find most sex scenes a bit, well, embarrassing. If I want to get turned on by editorial erotica, I'll buy a book that tells me it's going to try to do just that. And if I'm not reading erotica, I quite frankly don't want to know about the hero's erection and how it strains against his Levi's buttons, or the moist and swollen state of the heroine's labia.

Hurrah to the Literary Review, which awards a 'Bad Sex in Fiction Award' annually to the author who produces the worst description of a sex scene in a novel. It's been won by such literary luminaries as Andre Brink and Sebastian Faulks, so it's not for sissies. And when Tom Wolfe was awarded the prize for his toe-curling scene (described by the judges, delightfully, as 'ghastly and boring') in I Am Charlotte Simmons, he harrumphed that he'd intended it ironically.

The Literary Review's judges are instructed to look for 'crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description'. Last year's winner (the award is given in November, and is now in its 15th year) was novelist Iain Hollingshead, for a passage in his debut offering, Twenty Something. Reportedly, Hollingshead's reference to 'bulging trousers' tipped the scales in his favour.

I've just finished a book called Zambezi by Tony Park. It's a skop-skiet-en-donner adventure set in southern Africa, and while I could almost forgive him for calling white Africans 'Europeans' (he's an Aussie, what does he know?), I just couldn't get past the ghastly and boring sex scenes, one of which in particular (it graphically featured the insertion of a male finger into a female anus) made me both sweat heavily and laugh out loud.

Thinking that perhaps I'd lost perspective (although I haven't read a Wilbur Smith for yonks, I understand they're erotica hotbeds), I asked my no-nonsense brother-in-law to vet Zambezi for me. His take? 'I quite liked it... but the sex scenes? It's almost as if the publisher pointed out that there wasn't a sex scene in the book, and asked the author to insert a couple. They're totally gratuitous.'

Is it just us (and the judges on the panel of the Literary Review's annual awards)?

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Friday, 11 May 2007

Muriel's gorgeous Israeli Chocolate Pudding

My friend Muriel has been kind enough to share a treasured family recipe with me (a real Family Feast, KFC). She says this baked chocolate pudding (called, for no reason that Muriel can discern, an 'Israeli' pudding) is brilliant when you're expecting a crowd.

'It's easy and impressive and amazingly delicious,' she says, and you can take her word for it - she's a killer cook.

Israeli Chocolate Pudding

2 cups (500 ml) sugar
½ cup (125 ml) Muscadel
½ cup (125 ml) water
5 tablespoons (75 ml) cocoa powder
250 g butter, cubed
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla essence
1 cup (250 ml) sifted self-raising flour
4 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

Put the sugar, Muscadel, water and cocoa in a saucepan and stir well to combine. Place over a medium heat and bring to a brisk boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter cubes and stir until the butter has melted into the mixture. Set aside and leave to cool.

When the mixture has cooled, whisk in 4 egg yolks and the vanilla essence.

Pour 1 cup (250 ml) of this mixture into a bowl or jug and set aside.

To the remaining mixture, add the sifted flour and stir well. Now gently fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.

Pour into a greased pudding dish and bake at 180 C for about 30 minutes, or until it doesn’t wobble when you shake it and the top is spongy. (It shouldn’t be well cooked – a knife inserted should come out a teeny bit gooey.)

Remove from the oven, and pour the reserved mixture over the hot pudding. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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Muriel Goes to Town, and other fun stories for girls and boys

My friend Muriel lives not far from a one-horse town. Here's her account (emailed to me this evening) of a merry morning in the big city:

I spent an appalling day today in the seething metropolis (not!) of Nicotinesfontein dealing, with steadily decreasing patience, with the most astonishing display of inefficiency I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience all in one go.

First, J's optician couldn’t test her eyes because she’d been wearing her contact lenses all day.

‘Don’t you think maybe you should have told me that she shouldn’t wear her contact lenses today, when I made the appointment yesterday?’ I asked.

The optician gave me a cheeky look and said, ‘I didn’t know the appointment was for a contact-lens prescription renewal.’

‘Really?!’ I said, my eyebrows arching so high they practically disappeared down my back. ‘So when I phoned yesterday and said, "My daughter needs an eye test FOR HER CONTACT-LENS PRESCRIPTION RENEWAL," what did you think I meant?’

‘Oh,’ she said, avoiding my eyes (an ironic thing for an optician to do, really). ‘Well, that’s my problem then.’

‘It isn’t, actually, it’s mine,’ I pointed out, ‘because now I’m going to have to bring her back tomorrow.’ (And that’s what I’m going to have to do.)

Next stop, the Traffic Department to book P's learner-driver’s licence – only to find, gobsmackingly, that IT CLOSES AT 1PM ON FRIDAYS!! What a very nice job to have, doncha think? And I can’t return tomorrow, when I’m back in Nicotinesfontein to book it, because it’s also closed on Saturdays! Amazing.

Then on to the one-hour photo shop to get some pics developed. When I returned fully two hours later, the woman said (clocking my face and realising I wasn’t in a good mood), ‘Oh please don’t shout at me. The chemicals took a long time to warm up and your photos aren’t ready. But they’ll be ready in another hour.’ So I spent another hour kicking around N'fontein (and there is not a lot to kick around in that town, if you don’t count some of the people) and when I went back the second time, she said, clearly panicking, ‘Sorry, still not ready. Another hour…?’ I muttered dark things under my breath and told her I’d be back tomorrow. ‘And don’t tell me you’re closed on Saturdays, because then my head will explode and my brains will splatter all over your shop,’ I hissed (this being my threat of the moment, and very effective it seems to be too). She stared at me with real fear in her face. ‘We’re open on Saturday,’ she said, wringing her hands.

While I was waiting out the third hour for my one-hour pics to be developed (or not, as it turned out), I went to the chemist to get lice shampoo for J, who seems to be particularly prone to it and gets infestations regularly. When I asked the chemist, a snooty woman who seemed in no hurry to be helpful, for lice shampoo, she looked critically at my hair and said, ‘How bad is the infestation?’ I said, ‘It’s not for me, it’s for my daughter.’ And the next second, no kidding, my scalp started itching like buggery. I would rather have had a giant slug eat my hair than scratch in front of the snooty chemist, but it took all my self-control not to – I have half-moon marks in the palms of my hands from my fingernails where I made fists to stop myself. And the minute I got out the shop I attacked my head, much to the alarm of passersby. (I’ve just had P check my hair and I have no nits or lice – neither does he, I checked his too – so it was purely psychosomatic.)

And on to the cobbler, who is ‘fixing’ (a broad term) a one of pair of my sandals for the third time. ‘Can you come back tomorrow?’ he asked me. ‘Why in heaven’s name isn’t it ready?’ I demanded, close to petulant tears. ‘You’ve had it since Monday and all you had to do was sew a strap.’ He looked at me in embarrassment and said, ‘Sorry, I’ve lost it.’ (Let me repeat that: ‘SORRY, I’VE LOST IT’!!) I felt cracks appearing in my skull and he quickly said, ‘But it’s here somewhere, I promise, I’ll find it,’ and took refuge behind the desk. Okay, he didn’t really take refuge behind the desk but in my imagination he did, and then I tore apart his little cobbling shop, finally found my lone sandal under a pile of uncured leather, and slapped him soundly across the chops with it. In reality, I stalked out, hurling over my shoulder, ‘I WILL BE BACK!’ and sounding, I rather fancied, a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I ordered pizzas to take away for the kids for an early dinner and they were – oh, miracle and wonder! – ready on time – the only bright spot in an otherwise infuriating afternoon. And tomorrow I have to be up at dawn’s crack to go BACK to the seething metropolis of Nicotinesfontein (which really does seethe on a Saturday morning, when all the shopgirls and officeboys and about a gazillion labourers from miles around descend on the town to spend their wages) and do most of the things I tried to do today. This is definitely one of the downsides of living away from a big city.

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Fourie's a jolly good fellow, and other mondegreens

My daughter informed me last week that she'd learned a new song called 'Super-Callow-Fragile-Lipstick-Expert-Oh!-Delicious'. This got me thinking about misheard lyrics, words and phrases (or mondegreens).

My best ever comes from my good friend Mark, who thought, as a child, that the oke who lived on the neighbouring farm, a Mr Fourie, was the famous subject of the song, 'Fourie's a jolly good fellow'.

My Significant Other, until he was six, thought that 'this morning' was 'The Smorning'. As in, 'The Smorning, a postman fell off his bicycle'. (And I'm enchanted to hear that 702's news diva, the sainted Katy Katopodis, also says 'The Smorning').

And isn't it embarrassing when you mispronounce a word that you know well, but that you have never heard spoken out loud? Until I was about 17, I thought that 'misled' was pronounced 'mizzled'. I thought 'determined' was pronounced 'detter-minded'. A negligee, to my mind, was a 'niggly-giggly'. And, until my dear friend Muriel told me recently, I thought 'segue' was pronounced 'seeg', like 'league'. (Depressingly, it's pronounced 'seg-way').

Many years ago I worked for a transcription company as an editor, and furiously put my red pen through the words 'villain of the peas'. I changed it to 'villain of the peace', because the subject under discussion was crime. Imagine my mortification when the Afrikaans-speaking chief editor asked snarkily of me, 'Have you never heard the idiom "villain of the piece"?'. My answer was an emphatic 'No!'. In 29 years of being a voracious reader, I'd never seen it, read it, or heard it.

Kids have a lovely original way of pronouncing words. For years, my daughter thought that a 'happy hugger' (a microwaveable hotpack filled with lentils or barley) was called a 'happy bugger'. A hedgehog was a 'Hedge! Hodge!' (with a sharp intake of breath between the words). 'Cafe', to her mind, was 'cathay'.

Most delightful of all, 'nipples' were 'nibbles'.

I've corrected her only because I don't want her to be embarrassed in the future (as I was when, only last year, I pronounced hubris 'hugh-brie', to the assorted sniggers of the assembled company. It's pronounced 'hugh-bris').

I'm not really bothered that much about pronunciation, with two exceptions (please indulge me here). Marshmallows cannot be pronounced 'marsh-mellows'. And please, don't ever say 'mis-chee-vee-us' in my company, or you will die a swift death. 'Miss-cha-viss', please.

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KFC chickens out over 'family feast'

I wonder if KFC (UK) has ever heard of the Streisand Effect. In a nutshell, this is what happens when legal action you take backfires on you and you end up looking like a proper nana.

The term, according to Wikipedia, is an Internet phenomenon, and it's named after Barbra Streisand, who sued a photographer who was mapping the California coastline, demanding that he remove aerial pictures of her Malibu mansion from his website. As a result, the photographs of La Streisand's mansion spread over the Net like a contagion.

KFC might also have paid some heed to the outcome of local boy Justin Nurse's legal battle with SAB Breweries before they, KFC, wrote a threatening letter to the owner of a tiny little pub in the Yorkshire Dales, demanding that she remove the slogan 'Family Feast' from the pub's Christmas menu. According to KFC, she was infringing their trademark. Link

KFC's poultry attempt to establish the pecking order has since backfired, and now they're the laughing stock of the British press.

What a yolk. You would think that a big multinational like KFC would have better things to do. This reminds me of the pathetic attempt by local fast-food operation Chicken Licken to prevent Soulsa, a restaurant in Melville, from using the term 'soul food' - Link

Since when did generic terms like soul food and family feast become the property of greedy corporations? Good on the pub's owner for showing them two finger-lickin' fingers.

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Thursday, 10 May 2007

We are all Africans - even Australian aborigines

A DNA survey has just confirmed what archaeologists have been saying all along - that all humans came from Africa.

A fascinating report by scientists from Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin universities has proved that all Australia's aboriginal people are descended from one small group of modern humans who migrated out of Africa and spread out through Eurasia. More here

According to Science Daily, academics analysed the mitochondrial DNA Y chromosome DNA of Aboriginal Australians and Melanesians from New Guinea. 'This data was compared with the various DNA patterns associated with early humans.

'The results showed that both the Aborigines and Melanesians share the genetic features that have been linked to the exodus of modern humans from Africa 50,000 years ago.

'Until now, one of the main reasons for doubting the “Out Of Africa” theory was the existence of inconsistent evidence in Australia. The skeletal and tool remains that have been found there are strikingly different from those elsewhere on the “coastal expressway” – the route through South Asia taken by the early settlers.'

I find this notion so deeply touching: the idea that every person in the whole of the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australia, is descended from the same plucky group of individuals, perhaps just a single family, who picked up their stone tools and hotfooted it out of Africa 50 000 years ago. Can you imagine how resilient these individuals must have been? Can you imagine the stories they would have to tell, if we could meet them now and communicate with them?

This map of human migration (from Wikipedia) just blows me away.

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Retch, retch: puppy poep all over the house

I have never been able to handle the sight, smell or thought of dogshit. Swollen rat carcasses? No problem. Squishy babies' nappies? Bring 'em on. But show me (or even drop a hint to me about) a dog turd on the lawn (even one that's been thoroughly crisped in the sun and looks like a piece of droë wors) and I'll be dry-heaving for hours.

I think this is genetic. My sisters also make elaborate retching noises at the vaguest hint of doggie-doo. Or it might be the fault of my friend Muriel, who told me during her first pregnancy that warm dogshit smells exactly like freshly brewed Nescafé (and it does).

Fist-fights regularly break out in our house about who's going to get the pooper-scooper and collect the landmines that accumulate (mountains of them every week) in the garden. (I'm afraid the teens usually lose these fights and are marched at gunpoint into the garden carrying Pick 'n Pay packets... 'Sorry for you, dude,' I tend say to them. 'Pick it up, or you're gated until you die.')

So how the hell am I supposed to deal with a new puppy who, after just four days after arriving in our family, is poeping all over the house? And these aren't neat, sweet little cocktail sausages - we're talking fluffy, porridgey, mustard-coloured extravaganzas.

It got so bad yesterday that I took the poor little pooch to the vet, who informed me, to my horror, that she was in poor condition, hadn't been fed properly, had a worryingly distended stomach and was in need of some proper start-up nutrition and a thorough deworming. He wanted to know if I'd got her from a 'reputable' breeder, and I admitted, with some shame, that we'd found her in Junkmail.

Anyway, she's now been switched to proper, expensive, melamine-free puppy food (yes, I succumbed, and I take back everything I said about profiteering by vets) and I am assured that the size and splendour of her thrice-hourly poeps will gradually diminish. (Apparently supermarket food is stuffed with unnecessarily bulky fillers which, well... let's say dogs who eat Bobtail definitely Got It All this morning).

Good enough, but how do I house train her? I've tried taking her out for a walkabout (I did at least 12 of these today, and one at 4 am this morning), to no avail. She gambols around outside for ten minutes, then comes inside and makes a beeline for a kelim, on which she merrily craps. (And because carpets like that are so richly patterned, I usually feel it squishing coldly through my toes before I actually see it).

Are puppies like cats? Do they appreciate and understand the concept of a special toilet area, like a cat box, or a sheet of newspaper? And how is poor Coco ever going to learn how to go outside when every single external door in our house is double-locked, day in and day out?

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Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Muriel declares war on dogs

My dear friend Muriel is a cat person. Here's Mur's email on the subject of her neighbours' dogs. (Boy, I can relate to this):

'FAHKING DOGS! Although your blog pic of Coco made my heart pump lumpy custard, since I have just been thoroughly woken by 12 dogs – that’s how many there are in my street and I don’t own a single one of them – barking their fucking heads off for 25 minutes at some imagined threat.

I am not feeling kindly caninely disposed right now. I just don’t get it – how come I am the ONLY person who, having been woken by the persistent yapping (and 12 dogs can make a LOT of noise), and having lain in bed biting my duvet in irritation for 10 minutes, finally bursts, wild-eyed and bushy-haired, out of my front door into the street, to have a look for myself what A DOZEN DOGS are objecting to so loudly at 2am?? The dogs’ actual owners are clearly sleeping peacefully through the melee – mine is the only house in the street with a light on, and there I stand, entirely solo, in my PJs, in the middle of the road, shouting, ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!!’ – which of course gives rise to another 10 minutes of frenzied barking. Jesus.

Interestingly, a few years ago there was a severely unpleasant rash of dog poisoning in this town and everyone was up in arms. I obviously would never condone such a cowardly act, but I did empathise -- I was living at the time over the road from a nasty family (who saw fit to build a HUGE clinker-brick 70s-Pretoria-style monstrosity of a house right in the middle of one of the most visible and beautiful plots in the town, and that will tell you all you need to know about them) who owned two vicious alsations and who never closed their front gates, with the result that my children were constantly harassed, the neighbourhood population of chickens was decimated (not entirely a bad thing, that) and my garbage was regularly torn open and strewn the length of the street.

I’d finally had enough when J. told me that she and P. were walking practically around the entire outskirts of town to get home from school, just so that they wouldn’t have to walk past the alsation house, and went to complain. The woman said (you will not believe this), "Our dogs are protecting YOUR property too. You should be grateful for them." My head immediately popped and sprayed brains all over her rubber-tree-plant-infested front verandah.'

Isn't Mur a peach?

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Eye-poppingly good science experiment for kids

My eight-year-old nephew showed me this fantastic little trick when I was in Cape Town last weekend. He got it out of a big book of science experiments.

Half-fill a big, shallow soup bowl with milk. Carefully dribble a few drops of food colouring into the milk (use several different colours, if you have them).

Now squeeze a couple of big drops of dishwashing liquid on top of the patches of coloured milk.

Stand back and prepare to be amazed! Here's a scientific explanation.

Another excellent trick from the same book. You need to figure out where north is, but you have no compass. Pick a leaf (about as big as your thumb, and not too thick) and float it in a big bowl of water. Carefully drop a sewing needle onto the leaf. The leaf will swivel so that the needle points to north.

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Me drink 'Pimpjuice'? Not on your nelly, Nelly

No, that's not what you get when you squeeze a zit. Today's Star reports that ANC stalwart Matthews Phosa has teamed up with US rapper Nelly to launch a new energy drink. It's called Pimpjuice. Yes, really. (Link - covershot only)

Lest any of us women be offended by the name, Phosa tells the Star that the word 'pimp' actually stands for 'positive, intellectually motivated persons'. And Clark Wolfsberger, CEO of Nelly's company Fillmore Street Brewery, says that Nelly wanted to turn a 'negative connotation into something positive'.

No, Mr Phosa, 'pimp' does not stand for a positive intellectually motivated person. It refers to a man who controls and manages prostitutes and takes a cut of their earnings, and I find it deeply offensive.

Read what columnist Rachel Bell has to say about the word (and the energy drink):

'Being a pimp is the epitome of cooldom. If you want to be somebody in this white world, to be the main man and have serious street cred, you’ve got to be a pimp. Or at least call yourself a pimp. This is the message from MTV. It’s the message from hip-hop culture. It’s a message that’s been around for a while, but I’m pissed now because the media are letting it seep into our casual vocabulary without question....

...'Many prostitutes are willing, paid participants but this does not make colluding in the degradation of women right. The male tendency to shift all responsibility onto the women involved speaks volumes about these men’s attitudes to women. Nelly needs one-dimensional sex objects around him to make his dick and his ego gigantic enough to feel safe; and show off his great “pimpiness” to the gangsta rappers he looks up to. One can only conclude that three-dimensional human beings in female form will make him feel threatened.' More

Couldn't have said it better myself. Pass me a Fanta Grape.

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Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Bullardgate on WebProNews: a 'brain fart'

I did a little Google News search this morning for 'Bullard' and found a report on WebProNews, by Jason Lee Miller: Blogger "W ackos" Upset By Columnist Rant.

What he has to say is basically the same as the general feeling, but I loved this bit:

"Was it a botched joke, or, as they say in some circles, a brain fart?"

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Bullard: you bloggers are over-sensitive, and overreacting

I've had a very pleasant day reading about Bullardgate (in between lounging around eating peanuts out of my navel, scratching my nerdy scrofulous bits and not earning a penny for writing this blog).

I've also not said a word (apart from a timid comment in response to Vincent's initial rant).

However, now that I've dragged my sorry arse off the couch and away from my arsenal of guns, I feel ready to toss a few spanners into the ointment.

First, I can understand that Bullard's column caused offense, especially to those sainted bloggers who're slaving away (and good on you all; you have my genuine admiration) at the New Media coalface. However, isn't offense the whole point of his column? In fact, isn't that the point of any good column? If you are familiar with any of SA's top columnists - the late Robert Kirby and Andrew Donaldson, among others, spring to mind here - you'll surely agree that a column without sharpened fangs and a good slug of arrogance isn't one worth reading.

Second, I feel quite scandalised at the suggestion that the Sunday Times has erred in any way by publishing this column. I'm not pointing fingers... no, on second thoughts, I am pointing fingers: some of the comments I've read today carry a nasty pro-censorship whiff. I might be new to this blogging thing, but what I do know is that all of you will defend to the death your right to have your say in an unfettered environment. Isn't it the height of hypocrisy, then, to suggest that Bullard should be muzzled by the Sunday Times, or, even worse, that he should self-censor his columns?

Third, and still on the subject of hypocrisy, I find it ironic that so many commentators who've got their broeks in a twist about Bullard's 'generalising' and 'hate speech' and 'insults' have themselves resorted to slinging juvenile insults at the man, among them 'mindless self-serving wanker', an 'arrogant fuckwit', even, disgustingly, a cheap-shot reference by Matthew Buckland to the strength of the burglar bars on Bullard's house (he, ie Bullard, was recently shot in his own home by intruders).

(I hasten to add that I don't know the oke, and have never met him, but still, this is going too far).

Fourth, the suggestion that this was a cheap exercise in link-baiting, or a marketing exercise on the part of the ST, is just ludicrous; even paranoid. Even thinking these thoughts in passing is buying into loony-tunes conspiracy theories. Sunday Times writers are too busy and too pressurised (and, I might argue, don't have the enthusiasm) to cook up a scheme like this one.

Last, but not least, and without looking like an eina-piel (like a soutpiel, except that I have a leg on either side not of an ocean, but of the barbed-wire fence that separates new media from old) , I'd like to add that this has definitely been my best day ever in SA's blogosphere. I've loved the debate, chuckled over the comments, gnawed the keyboard a couple of times, and thrown a vrot guava at my PC's screen, which hit Bullard squarely on the nose just as he was ejaculating.

I wasn't convinced about the power of the SA blogosphere when I started my blog a month ago, but I am now.

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Monday, 7 May 2007

Our new pup hits the ground squeaking (and tangential thoughts about child pornography)

I wrote last week about how I couldn't wait to see the look on my daughter's face when she opened a box on her eighth birthday to find a little basset pup inside. I can't show you her face (I have a deep anxiety about my kids' pictures being stored anywhere in cyberspace*) but I can show you the wee hound. She's as cute as a button, she's eight weeks old, and she spent all of last night sleeping on my face and making dear little squeaks and huffles. Every time I put her in her basket she wailed so pathetically that I gave in and took her back to bed with me.

Her name is Coco, although I seriously considered calling her Bullard because she's a bitch, and in honour of today's knickers-in-a-knot blogspat.

My daughter's reaction? A guarded smile, and a stunned silence. I expected cries of joy and a few handstands, but she was so overwhelmed that she was literally struck dumb for ten minutes.

The oddest thing has been the reaction of my older basset, Velvet. Instead of responding with hysterical yelps of delight and a bit of Dumbo-like flapping of ears, Velvet (who allows cats to crawl all over her) fled in terror, and is still a quivering wreck. The way she's carrying on, you'd think I'd bought a premenstrual mamba into the house. Why could this be? Could it be that the pup has a scent of strange dogs on her fur? (I did try bathing Coco to neutralise any threatening scents, but she shrieked so loudly that I gave up halfway through, with the result that she now smells like Dove cucumber soap.) Still Velvet is cowering behind the couch, her legs all a-jelly. Any suggestions?

* I'm afraid of putting my kids' photos on the Net (I won't even put them on a password-protected site, or Picasa) because many years ago I wrote an investigative feature for a local magazine about cybersex and Net predators. This involved some hands-on-keyboard research (ie, baiting potential predators by pretending to be a teen in various chatrooms) and the responses I received were so sickening that I still shudder at the thought. Do you put pictures of your kids on the Net? Am I being paranoid?

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Elle magazine's shocking Pringle ad

Given all the hoo-ha recently about skinny models being a negative influence on young women, you'd think that magazines would show a bit of sensitivity and judgement. Not Elle magazine. In the latest issue of South African Elle, which has Madonna on the cover, you'll find the offensive advert on the right.

Believe it or not, this is an advert for Pringle of Scotland, a brand that I've always associated with wholesome argyle sweaters. As a woman, and a mother of a young daughter, I'm appalled by this image. Not only have Pringle chosen to use Skeletor-on-Heroin as a model, but they've arranged her in a passive, puppet-like pose and dressed her in a baby-doll sack, all of which add up to an image that I find profoundly disturbing on many levels. Even worse? This is a magazine managed, edited and written by women. Probably the same women who complain about the abuse of women and children; who pride themselves as being role models to and an empowering influence on other women. Go figure.

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