Sunday, 29 July 2007

Is being gay as bad as being a prude?

In a letter to the editor of the Sunday Times Lifestyle today (29 July), reader Robby Vogt wrote by email to complain of ‘attractive female’ correspondent Daniella Renzon’s ‘disgusting remarks’ in her En Passant column of 15 July. The ‘vulgar statement’ that so annoyed Mr Vogt was ‘the long journey back from my arse’. (All phrases in inverted commas, save the last, are Mr Vogt’s.)

‘Respect flies out the window when disgusting remarks like this are made by the fairer sex,’ wrote Mr Vogt. (‘The fairer sex’, Mr Vogt? What century are you living in?)

Daniella’s column, titled ‘More Bridget Jones than Bertolucci’, was an intelligent and entertaining rant about cinema-nouveau movie critics. Admitting that she is a ‘recovering pseudo amateur film critic’ and that she, too, once spent quite a bit of time up her own arse (my phrase) when it came to movies, she wrote, ‘After watching the biggest self-obsessed crap ever to find its way onto the big or small screen, I finally became concerned with my fascination for dark and distressing stories and began the long journey back from out of my own arse, or was it navel?’

Ironically, however, it is Mr Vogt and not the fair Daniella who is the author of the most offensive phrase in this little battle of words. ‘I am neither a prude nor am I gay,’ he wrote, ‘but I was taught by my mother to have respect for women.

Read that first phrase again: ‘I am neither a prude nor am I gay’.

As the mother of a gay son, and someone who proudly counts among her friends several kind and loyal men who also happen to be gay, I would like to know, Mr Vogt, exactly what you mean by this. That being gay automatically gives you licence to ‘trash yourself’ (again, Mr Vogt’s phrase)? Or that gay men have no respect for women? Or that (perhaps even more bizarrely) if you are gay, your respect for women is ipso facto so deep that you can be excused for taking issue with those women who make ‘vulgar statements’?

Whatever it means, it’s clear that Mr Vogt considers being gay as undesirable as being a prude. What a pity Mr Vogt’s mother didn’t teach him respect for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

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Thursday, 26 July 2007

The universe wants me to have a hamster, II

Update on the hamster situasie: Apparently the universe really wants me to have three hamsters, because one of them rose from the dead, only 10 minutes after I took delivery of said rodents.

What an odd day. First the strange hamster and money serendipity,* and then this. I drove my daughter (who by this time had worked herself up into a state of white-knuckled excitement) to her friend's house to collect the hamsters. Very cute they were too, all grey and white and fluffy, and smaller than day-old chicks. We decided to take all three hamsters, on the grounds that it wasn't fair to leave one chap on his ownsome. The housekeeper who handed over the creatures kindly carried the (borrowed) cage to the car and put it on the back seat.

Then my daughter cried, 'Mom! The hamster's neck is stuck under the cage! ' To my horror, the poor little thing was pinioned between the cage and the tray. I retrieved it, it twitched once and then it went limp in my palm.

'Oh NO!' I wailed. Frantically I tickled its tummy and blew on its snout, but nothing. Nada. This was an ex-hamster. Gone to meet its maker. Joined the choir invisible, etc.

'I think his neck is broken,' I said after a few moments of administering first aid. My daughter, stricken, turned white. Then she swallowed, took the hamster in her palm, and handed it gravely back to the housekeeper, saying, 'I think we'll just take two hamsters, thank you.'

'No, we'll take all three,' I gabbled. I put the poor limp thing into the cage and drove away, frantically dialling my friend to tell her that one of her daughter's beloved 'babies' had met a sorry end. How on earth was I going to break the news? This little girl, let's call her Kate, adores her hamsters, and I wasn't looking forward to telling her that one-third of her gift to my daughter had ceased to exist.

No point in telling my daughter not to say anything - telling her a secret is like handing her a megaphone. Then ten minutes later - oh, joy and relief! - a strangled squeak from the back seat. The little one sat up, rubbed its eyes, dusted itself off and scampered happily off to the water spout, evidently no worse for the wear (apart from a slightly flattened neck).

When my friend called back a few moments later (she'd heard the news from her housekeeper), entreating me to keep the news from her Kate, I joyfully informed her that a miracle had occured.

So now we have three hamsters.

** A final serendipity today. I've been hunting for a large and important bunch of keys for over three weeks now. This bunch holds spare keys for all the external doors in my house, plus the only keys for two doors on an outbuilding. I arrived home with my son, and gave him my house keys to open the front door while I got some stuff out of the boot. 'I HATE this lock!' he complained. 'It's so difficult to open! When are you going to get it replaced?'

'Chill,' I said. 'The locksmith is coming tomorrow to replace the lost key bunch'. As I said 'locksmith', my eye fell on something shiny poking out from under the carpet in my boot. Guess what it was.

I think I'll have a gin & tonic now.

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The universe wants me to have a hamster

Like my friend Muriel, I am not a dog person. I'm not a cat person, or a parrot person either. I hate feeding pets, and I can't stomach dogshit. A bitter irony indeed, then, that my household includes three dogs, two cats, a parrot, and, until recently, when they fell off their perches, two budgies.

Now I'm getting two hamsters. It wasn't my idea: the universe, in all her infinite wisdom, has foisted them on me.

Here's how it happened. My eight-year-old daughter wept buckets this morning when she discovered she'd missed a school field trip, which she's been looking forward to for about five years. I discovered the notice about the trip as I unpacked her backpack this morning, and pointed out to her that even if I had known that the field trip took place yesterday, I wouldn't have let her go, because she's been in bed for four days with a very nasty flu bug.

She was inconsolable and sobbed all the way to school.

'What can I do to make you feel better?' I asked, as we turned in the school gates.

'Buy me a hamster,' she wailed (the little minx).

'NO RODENTS IN THE HOUSE!' I said through clenched teeth. 'I've told you a thousand times [I don't believe I was exaggerating here] that I will NEVER allow you to have a hamster. They smell terrible. They bite. They breed. Sorry, but no.'

A fresh burst of weeping. I walked her to her classroom. Then - and I promise I'm not making this up - her friend walked in behind us carrying a large hamster cage. The friend's mother said, 'Hello everyone! Our hamster's just had six babies! Does anyone want one?'

ARRGGGHH! Kneecapped!

This is the look my daughter gave me:

What could I do but say yes? I stomped out of the classroom, feeling all grumpy about having to fork out for a hamster cage, wheel, food, etc. When I got home, I cleaned out my car boot, which looks like a compost heap. At the bottom of the pile I found a sealed envelope with my daughter's name on it. I opened it, and found a birthday card containing a R100 note. It's been there since May, when I piled all her presents into my boot after her party at the Zoo.

Don't know how I'm going to break the news to the other (male) members of the family. Maybe I can console them with this (click for full size):

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Wednesday, 25 July 2007

'No dogs allowed'. But why?

I’m not a dog person so it’s something of a surprise to find myself the owner of a dog. She just turned up at my house one day and refused to leave, and it’s cold and rainy here at the moment, so I let her stay. And not only is she ridiculously pretty with her long legs and huge bat-eared-fox ears and whippy tail and Indian-goddess eyes, but she also turned out to be sweet and playful and adore me in an almost embarrassing way, so what could I do but return the compliment? (The four resident cats weren’t so sure, but Sarah – that’s her name – is so ridiculously gentle and friendly that even they’re warming to her.)

Now, for the very reason I’m not a dog person, I’m very sensitive about how other people feel about dogs. I’m eternally grateful for my friend Johann who loves dogs and has two of his own, so he listens without appearing bored to hours of my Sarah tales, invites me on lovely long country walks, and allows me to bring Sarah over to his place to play.

But for those many people who would quite frankly rather not have their crotch publicly nosed, I’m careful to keep Sarah on a short leash and take her only where her presence is appropriate and appreciated.

So you will understand my surprise today when, going into my local DVD-rental store, with Sarah on her leash, I was told by the snippy clerk, ‘No Dogs Allowed!’

I looked at her in surprise. I was the only customer in the video store. It is a video store, not a food store. Sarah was on her leash and behaving, as always, impeccably. And there was no sign excluding dogs from the premises.

‘She’s not doing any harm,’ I said. Sarah pressed home the point by sitting down prettily at my feet and giving the clerk her most endearing smile.

The clerk folded her arms. ‘I said No Dogs Allowed,’ she snarled.

I am one of those nasty people with a hair-trigger temper, and when I felt the blood rush to my face I knew I was about to behave in a way that would embarrass my exceptionally well-behaved dog. So I turned around and, Sarah obediently at my heels, departed.

I drove home feeling deeply aggrieved. Not only had I not got a DVD to watch, I felt that both Sarah and I had been treated in an unnecessarily shabby manner.

After I’d calmed down and my blood supply had evened out across my body again, I realised why the clerk had been so peremptory: it’s other people’s dogs that are the problem. I know a few of these annoying folk, who think nothing, for instance, of allowing Fido to practically rape you and then saying, with a fond smile, ‘Oh, look, he likes you.’

Or – and this one has always absolutely stymied me – bringing Rover along to a restaurant.

Or turning up for a visit at your home with their beloved man’s-best-friend in tow and saying, as Spot tears across the living room and cats go screeching in all directions, smashing potplants and dislodging furniture, ‘I hope you don’t mind, she’d have been so lonely at home.’

Or staring into the middle distance while Fluffy dumps a big steaming turd right in the middle of your favourite greenbelt, then walking on as if it isn’t there.

Or allowing Brutus to run snarling at you when you’re on a nice peaceful beach walk then yodelling, ‘Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite!’

Or, I suppose, taking Sarah into a DVD-rental store and allowing her to crap on the tiling/chew the DVDs/hump the clerk/frighten the other customers (if there are any).

So a little request for you other people out there with dogs: try not to spoil it for the rest of us, okay?

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Monday, 23 July 2007

Movie plots: conspiracies of silence

The Jennifer Aniston/Clive Owen thriller Derailed was MWeb’s Sunday-night movie last night and I thought it was all a riller should be: continuously creepy, sometimes downright scary, and with plenty of omigod! plot twists. I really enjoyed it, which was unexpected, because when it was released onto circuit I couldn’t have been less interested in seeing it. I just didn’t want to sit through a tale about some philandering pair who get it on in a seedy motel, get mugged, then get their comeuppance. It sounded so tedious.

This is not, in fact, what the story is about at all. Which brings me to the conspiracy of silence among movie reviewers who work hard to tell us what a film is about (and if it’s worth seeing) without giving away too much of the plot. In an age where information is everything, and nothing is sacred, this is very unusual. After all, if any gossip magazine you care to pick up off the shelves will tell you (and quite likely also show you) who’s having sex with whom, where and how, what drugs they’re taking and whether they bother to put on underwear before they go out, what’s the big deal about giving away a little storyline?

The same applied to The Sixth Sense, a movie ostensibly about a child psychologist who treats a disturbed boy who can see the dead. For various reasons I didn’t get to see this film when it was on circuit and months later I got it on video. And the plot twist came as a complete surprise to me.

Again, this was unusual: not only had I read scores of reviews about the movie by the time I got around to seeing it, but most of my friends had seen it by then too – yet not one of them gave away the twist in the tale.

The Harry Potter plotlines have engendered the same conspiracy: apparently pages of the last manuscript were leaked and various newspapers ran them – yet most editors took steps to prevent telling those readers who didn’t want to know what happens, what happens, by printing the pages either upside-down or overleaf.

I find this all rather admirable. The only downside is that in protecting the plot twists, movie reviewers can be so coy about what a movie is actually about that they render the story too ordinary.

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Sunday, 22 July 2007

Inter-city rivalry

Tony Park’s latest posting ( describes Sidney/Melbourne intercity rivalry, and it reminded me of this great article. Athough I’m more familiar with Jozi/Cape Town rivalry, having lived for a couple of decades in each city, the razor resentment from this Port Elizabeth denizen says it all. The article first appeared in PE-based magazine Skyf and was reprinted in SA City Life in November 1998. No credit was given to the author in the reprint (which is the only version I saw), so I’m afraid I can’t give credit here.

10 Reasons Why Cape Town Can Fuck Off

1. It exists.
If it weren’t for Cape Town, Port Elizabeth would look a whole lot better. Tourists would love us if they hadn’t first had a dose of First World sophistication before embarking on the Garden Route. And anyway, if it’s first-world sophistication they’re looking for, why don’t they just stay in Europe or Japan or wherever it is tourists come from? Cape Town better wake up. This is Africa, not blimming Salzburg or something. Cape Town, fuck off.

2. Capetonians are too hip.
They’re a bunch of namby-pamby poncey glamour queens who think they live in a magazine. Prancing around in all their hip designer wear and looking all cool and unflustered like they’re in a fashion spread when they could be wearing perfectly good five-year-old jeans and T-shirts. What do they think this is? Cosmo-bloody-politan or something? Magazines are for wankers. Cape Town, fuck off.

3. They’ve got a mountain.
What is it with their precious mountain? If that was in PE we would have built condos all over its ass, and a freeway across the top of it. For good measure we would put a Playland on Devil’s Peak and a fuel depot on Lion’s Head. And ore dumps on Chapman’s Peak. Exploit the bastard. Instead, the bunch of sanctimonious pricks treat it like it’s some kind of national treasure, some gift from the Almighty. Every time some poor fool tries to build a little time-share block on the mountain there’s a hundred fuckin’ protesters chaining themselves to the trees screaming ‘Save the mountain, hey!’ It’s not like they built the damn mountain themselves or anything. So horse bollocks to them. Cape Town, fuck off.

4. Their roads are too damn narrow.
Ninety-five percent of the roads in Cape Town are too damn narrow for two cars to pass each other. How do you figure a town of four million can have a road system built to sustain a seaside village of 16-odd and then try to host the Olympic Games? A case of the little boy whose eyes were bigger than his stomach or what? Maybe try host a traffic-jam-free December holiday and move on from there. Baby steps, guys, baby steps.

5. Their sea is not usable.
Eleven degrees? That’s a geometry angle, not an ocean temperature. What’s the point of having beaches if the sea’s too cold to go swimming in? More proof that the only reason people go on holiday to Cape Town is to get into traffic jams on the way to the beach and then to pose around with their cellphones on the sand, not to go for a swim.

6. They’ve got a Waterfront.
The best thing Jo’burg ever did was build the Randburg waterfront. A crap hodgepodge of pubs, stores and restaurants to be sure, but one which well and truly called the V&A’s bluff, proving that Cape Town’s Waterfront is nothing more than a shopping mall with some water near it. It’s just another consumer temple geared to getting you to buy garments with price tags at the child-buggery level of obscenity and to be served Labels by waiters more condescending than the whole of America and the ex-smoking community put together. Cape Town, fuck off.

7. Everyone’s off their tits from drugs.
It’s common knowledge that the only people in Cape Town who aren’t alcoholics, smackies, E-freaks, charlie-junkies, goofballs, acid-heads or nexus-fiends are Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Tunisian high commissioner. For this reason, everyone you speak to in Cape Town is mad, either because they’re high, or because they spent the whole of the ’90s eating pills, and now they’ve had to stop because they weigh 12kg and they can’t even remember what high school they went to anymore. Compare that to PE, that haven of temperance, propriety and good clean fun, and you begin to see all too clearly why Cape Town can fuck right off.

8. It’s turning into another Hollywood.
Every person you speak to from Cape Town is working on a movie set. Either they’re doing the catering or making props or being unit manager or merting zol to the film crew or being an extra in a French cellphone ad. And getting paid 20 gorillas a month tax-free in Francs. Why don’t they just get it over with? Build a Spago at the Waterfront and a Betty Ford clinic in Rondebosch, and put up a 20-metre sign on the slopes of the mountain that says ‘Zollywood’. And while they’re at it, they can just fuck off.

9. All the best international bands and DJs go and play in Cape Town and none of them come to PE.
If you wanna check U2 or Skunk Anansie or Tsuyoshi Suzuki you’ve gotta mission to Cape Town and deal with the skinny roads and the toxic psychotics and poncey fashion-mag E-freaks and a mountain that makes it rain all the time. Pricks. Fuck them.

10. It’s the new Riviera.
Skaapies is so dirt-cheap for Euros and Americans that they’ve all bought property there. But it’s so incredibly dirt-cheap that you don’t even have to be an A-league jet-setter to afford a farm-size house in Bishopscourt. Consequently, all the prices skyrocket because of all the rich bastards around, and you can’t even do any star-spotting because the rich bastards are only Belgian record executives or the Earl of Derbyshire crew that you’ve never heard of.

Waste of time, really, Cape Town. Glad I don’t live there.

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Thursday, 5 July 2007

Pagan Long Man gets tits and hips

English pagans are hopping mad after Susannah and Trinny of the BBC's What Not to Wear gave the ancient hill-carving a sex change. The sassy style mavens invited 100 women volunteers to dress in white and change the masculine shape of the Long Man of Wilmington, near Eastbourne in Sussex, by lying along its outline and giving it breasts, pigtails and curvaceous hips.

A report in The Argus quotes Druid 'battle chieftain' Arthur Pendragon, 53, saying: "We are very angry because this is so disrespectful.

"We, the Pagans, would not in our wildest dreams consider putting female breasts and clothing on effigies of any of the Holy Prophets, be it Jesus Christ, Buddha or any other revered figure of another faith." More

And what's wrong with female breasts, Mr Pendragon?

I don't find anything offensive about the changes (see before and after, below). The only thing that offends me is what a crappy job the volunteers have done. Scroll down to see MY artistic improvements to the Long Man.

My Long Lady of Wilmington: better, don't you think?

Here's a blank man if you want to do your own. Email it to me (hobray at and I'll post it here.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2007

'Soft porn' video clip sexes up EU's fuddy-duddy image

Moans and gasps have greeted the launch of a new video launched by the European Union in a bid to promote its support for European film-making. The video, a montage of saucy sex scenes from various European movies, is currently showing on the EU's own video channel on YouTube - rather cunningly named Eutube.

According to a report in The Scotsman, the EU launched the channel because it 'wanted to spread the message on topics such as climate change and human rights'.

'The clip - titled Film Lovers Will Love This! - has been viewed more than 280,000 times, while the next most popular video on the EUTube channel - a humanitarian aid clip - has fewer than 30,000 views,' says the report.

"Cheap, tawdry and tacky," was the reaction of Godfrey Bloom of Britain's Euro-sceptic UK Independence Party, who described the clip as "soft porn" and a potential waste of taxpayers' money. The commission's foray on to the popular video-sharing website, he said, "was like watching an elderly relative trying to be cool: very embarrassing."

The Sun quoted Bloom as adding: “You might say it is appropriate for them to put out films like this — Brussels has been screwing the UK for at least 30 years.” Link

Here's the vid: judge for yourself. I think it's delightful. (Warning: Adult content.)

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Sunday, 1 July 2007

And as for 'poephol'...

My teenage children were thrilled when the word ‘crap’ was accepted into common usage. They couldn’t, of course, understand why ‘shit’ didn’t make the list too, but they were still happy with having at least one swear-word they could use and not get blatted for.

Now, apparently, ‘fokkol’ is also okay. ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu used it in the Mpumlanga legislature and the Speaker ruled, when it was queried for its value as ‘parliamentary language’, as ‘not offensive’.

I have, like my mother before me, always used the phrase ‘Fanny Adams’ to substitute for the English version of ‘fokkol’ (which I feel free to write here, since it is now apparently accepted parliamentary language). It has kept general conversation in our house fairly clean, even when tempers run high.

My children are now using the English equivalent freely, and directing me to Our Leaders when I object.

I have explained away, to my impressionable offspring, corruption, graft and plain rampant stupidity on the part of our government. But bad language?

Does Mr Mthembu have children? And does he say stuff like this at home?

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Next question? Eskom asks it like it is

Tony Park, the Australian author who writes tales set in Africa (his fourth book comes out next month and a fifth is in progress), and a regular visitor to Salmagundi, recently asked me in an email if the public services strike was still going on. A gearbox for his beloved Land Rover, which had to be imported to South Africa on his and his wife Nicola's last trip to the subcontinent, is still sitting in chookie, awaiting customs clearance. ‘The strike was in its second week when we were in South Africa, and that was weeks ago now,’ he wrote.

I gave him the bad news, then mentioned that workers from Eskom, our national electricity supplier, are also threatening to strike. (Eskom has in turn threatened to fire them if they do.) And I mentioned that Eskom hasn’t been, um, fully operational for some time now.

Coincidentally, the Sunday Times’s Chris Barron interviewed Eskom CEO Jacob Maroga this week, and if Mr Maroga’s responses are anything to go by, Eskom clearly believes in leaving its customers sitting in the dark.

Some examples:

Barron asked Maroga, regarding the recent persistent power failures on the East Rand, ‘Is what we’re seeing a symptom of neglect? Neglecting to maintain the infrastructure?’

Maroga’s response: ‘Next question?’

Regarding Alcan, the Canadian company that will produce aluminium in the Eastern Cape, Barron asked if it’s true that they will pay significantly less than local businesses, and if so, if this lower rate will be subsidised.

Maroga showed hair-raisingly cynical political perspicacity by saying quite a bit yet still managing not to give a straight answer to a straight question. (‘There is a formula which was approved by the regulator’; ‘It’s a long-term contract which has been approved by the regulator’; ‘We don’t disclose customer information’). When pushed by Barron, his response was: ‘Next question?’

Barron: ‘And now you want local consumers to pay an extra 18%. Why should they?’

Maroga: ‘We’re building new infrastructure to bring capacity to deal with the consumption of electricity.’ (Mr Maroga has apparently recently swallowed a political phrasebook.)

My three favourite Q-and-As, however, were these:

Barron: ‘Is it fair to ask consumers to pay 18% more when they’re getting such an unreliable service?’

Maroga: ‘Which unreliable service?’ (You know that little cartoon lightbulb that switches on above someone’s head when they have an excellently original thought? Evidently, Mr Maroga’s wasn’t getting any electricity.)

Barron (presumably talking slowly and clearly, so Mr Maroga could understand): ‘There’ve been power failures all over the country.’

Maroga: ‘All over the country? That’s an overstatement.’

Barron: ‘The bottom line is that it’s an unreliable service and we’re being asked to pay 18% more for it.’

Maroga (wait for it…): ‘Have you got any other questions, because we’re not getting very far with this?’

Mr Maroga, who has obviously been living under a stone somewhere (albeit one with a regular and reliable electricity supply), owes his customers answers. Barron made him squirm like an electric eel … which is more power than many of us can rely on these days.

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