Monday, 27 August 2007

When overnight arrangements go awry

My friends C and A made plans this last weekend to visit the city on Saturday night to go to someone’s 40th birthday party. As it turned out, though, on Saturday afternoon they -- and I -- found ourselves at a late, boozy lunch in the little village in which we all live, and, realising that driving 100km was out of the question, C and A phoned and cancelled their big-city arrangement.

At about 5pm C and A left the lunch party to go home to their house around the corner. And were back at 5.15.


‘It was the most surreal thing,’ said C, helping herself to another glass of chenin. ‘When we pulled up to our house, all the lights were on. We could hear the TV and the happy chattering of voices.’

Turned out that they’d forgotten that they’d asked their char to stay over in their house for the night, to look after their two dogs. And the char had brought her grandchildren with her, and the whole family was snuggled down in front of the TV, eating dinner off their laps.

‘We were too embarrassed to admit that we’d forgotten, and anyway, they all looked so comfortable, we didn’t have the heart to send them home again. So,’ C said, turning to our host, ‘we wondered if we could stay here tonight?’

Which is why two adult human beings who own their own house ended up camping out overnight on a blow-up mattress on the floor of a neighbour’s living room.

This falls into the same category as:
* Cleaning up the house before the char arrives.

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Names across the language barrier

Further to my post on names (below), I have a dog who’s had a hard time health-wise. A scorpion sting a few months ago set off a series of nasty chain reactions: irreversible nerve damage in one leg, which has given rise to frenzied licking by the dog and a constantly open wound on one of her toes, a brain lesion that causes Parkinson’s-type symptoms; and the onset of epilepsy.

Our local (Afrikaans-speaking) vet has been a star in helping us cope with the fallout, but there has been one thing about his otherwise tender and attentive treatment that has puzzled me: he’s never called my dog by her name. This is unusual for him, since he knows and addresses all his other animal patients personally.

The dog is a stray who turned up at our home at a crucial time and seemed sent by the gods, so I called her Serendipity, ‘Sere’ for short.

And the folly of this was brought home to me recently by an Afrikaans friend, who, when I told him what I’d called my dog, looked at me appalled and said, ‘Jy jok!’ (You must be joking!)

‘No, why?’ I said. I thought the name was rather pretty, in a hippy kind of way.

‘You know what ‘‘sere’’ means in Afrikaans? Sores!’

* BTW, Elijah Bob Patricius Guggi Q Hewson is Bono’s offspring. Poor kid.

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Thursday, 23 August 2007

The Amazing Vanishing Nail Scissors

Read this list of 20 common household items, and then ask yourself where, exactly, they are right now. If you can mentally locate, say, 17 out of the 20, you need not read this post. (Feel free to shimmy back onto the dance floor. Or sink back into the arms of that red velvet chaise with a bottle of champagne and your band of louche friends. Take your poodles for a walk, organise your CD collection, or finish packing for your one-woman six-month trek across the Andes. Clearly, you are single, you have no children, and this little quiz won't mean a thing to you.)

Whew, now that those disgraceful hedonists are gone, let's get back to the list.

Where are:

1. Your nail scissors
2. The stapler
3. Four or five double adapters
4. Your handbag
5. Your razor
6. The hammer and the Hilti-nail thing
7. One R50 note and a handful of silver
8. Ten nice new rollerball pens. Ok, an old orange Bic. Heck, ANY pen. Sob, the broken stub of a pencil will do
9. The phone book
10. The sticky tape and its dispenser*
11. Your hairbrushes
12. Your car keys
13. Your cellphone charger
14. Three boxes of biscuits you bought half an hour ago
15. The DVDs you took out last night
16. The boxes of the DVDs you took out last night
17. The keys to the bathroom door
18. Your child's homework diary/togbag/gym shoes/tracksuit/maths homework/lunchbox/juice bottle, clean school shirt, etc
19. The bath/sink plug
20. The dog

I bet you don't know. I BET you have tried to look for at least a quarter of these items at least once today. It's quite likely that you spent at least half an hour hunting for half of these items today. And if you're like me, you've lost all of the above, repeatedly, and replaced them all at least three times in the last six weeks.

Don't get me wrong. I adore my three children and my husband, and I do like living with noisy teens, manic dogs, bitchy cats, blaring music, wild shouting, slamming doors, damp towels on sodden carpets, chewed furniture, no milk for my coffee, not a single slice of bread left in the bread bin, and all the other little annoyances that make me glad to be the sainted mother of three young people who won't be living here forever. But I am furious at, and MADDENED by, the way stuff vanishes, without a trace, not ten minutes after I've put it away in its assigned place. And, husband, could you please not thunder around the house in a rage when you can't find the hammer? I know you've heard this excuse a million times, but, truly, It Wasn't Me.

Offspring: Is it too much to ask that, after clipping your toenails all over my bed, you replace the nail scissors in my broekie drawer, where I have cunningly hidden them? Am I demanding too much when I require that the sticky-tape dispenser goes back onto my desk after you have finished bandaging up the 'broken' leg of your favourite stuffed toy? Could you leave just a dribble of milk in the bottle for my morning cup of coffee?

* Er, ma, you remember that lovely silver sticky-tape dispenser you had when I was eleven? The one you accused me of taking? Well, to my astonishment it turned up under a pile of knickers. I didn't take it, I swear. I would love to give it back to you, but....

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It never rains unless you’ve just hung out your washing

It dawned bright and beautiful this morning, and I sent blessings to the cotton socks of everyone at the Met office, who seldom get the weather forecast right, but at least this time they’d promised rain and instead we’d been granted glorious sunshine.

We’ve been labouring under low cloud and very chilly ‘lazy’ winds (those that don’t bother to go around you, but just go right through you) for the last few days, so I took this golden opportunity to do some laundry.

I have one of those nifty eco-friendly washing machines that use a thimbleful of water and a nanowatt (or whatever) of electricity, but do take their toll in time: almost two hours for each load.

I started early, and by 11am had two batches of lovely clean fresh-smelling washing hanging on the line.

And at 11.05am a gargantuan cloud snuck in over my house and opened its bottom. And it's been pissing since. (My heartfelt apologies to the Met office.)

This falls into the same category as:
* The phone that never rings unless you’ve just settled down on the loo with a magazine.
* The stove that works perfectly until you have 12 people coming for dinner.
* The geyser that only ever bursts in the middle of winter; similarly, the electricity that inevitably fails at 6pm at the end of a cold, hard day when all you want is to cook a heartwarming meal of comfort food.
* The water mains that are unexpectedly switched off at noon on a swelteringly hot day in the middle of summer.
* The person who knocks on the door the second you sink slowly and luxuriously into a deep, bubbly bath.
* The recent ex you run into when you’ve just rushed up to the café in your tracksuit and curlers (or the nearest hideous equivalent) to pick up some milk and bread.
* The article that you desperately need right this minute, and is the one in the newspaper you used this morning to light the fire /line the cat-litter tray/wrap the fish-heads in.
* The website you urgently require access to and is the only one not available at the moment.
* The keys you need which are the only ones not hanging on the key rack. (Where, oh where, do all those missing keys go?)
* The email you erroneously send to the wrong address, which goes to the person about whom you have gossiped viciously in said email.
* The document you’ve held on to for five years and have finally decided you will never need and thus throw away, and within a week is the very document that is urgently required for something vital.
* The thing you throw away which you only realise you desperately need as you hear the municipal garbage truck making its way off down the street.

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Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Hell of a hoo-ha in the blogosphere

Don't get me wrong: I think Amatomu rocks. But if you rely on this site to let you know what's really smokin' (or who's smoking something) in the South African blogosphere, you're missing out on some juicy discussions. (Vincent, Matthew, how about a little gizmo that tracks the number of comments on individual blog posts?)

Two examples: The Sunday Times's Fred Khumalo is attracting a blizzard of comments from a smallish band of devoted fans, including Fred himself, Sarah Britten (author of The South African Insult) and others. Insults are flying, feelings are being hurt, academic qualifications are being trashed, commenters are stalking off in a huff... and very entertaining it is too!

Then there's Tertia Albertyn's blog So Close. When I first looked at this blog, I was mystified as to why Tertia won the top prize in the SA Blog of the Year competition. The design of the blog is dull (although it's up for a revamp) and the first few posts I read were humdrum mommy-and-baby stuff. Now that I click in to read Tertia's thoughts (and the hundreds of comments each post receives) every day, I can appreciate why her blog has become an international hit, with a massive following. It's painful, hilarious, raw, gutsy, heartbreaking and inspiring, and that's why gazillions of women (and some men) obsessively read it every day.

At the moment, there's a bit of a kerfuffle going on (also here) because Tertia apparently posted a 'before' picture of her breasts (she's having a breast augmentation, ie boob-enlarging, operation on Friday), took offence to some comments ('your breasts are fine as they are') made by users, and removed the post in its entirety. (A mistake, in my opinion; if you happy to let it all hang out, then be happy to take any comments on the chin).

To get an idea of her audience, have a look at Tertia's most-commented-upon post. For a taste of what makes her blog evoke such strong feelings in its audience, check out her most-Googled post (about the ins and outs - ha! - of circumcision).

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Monday, 20 August 2007

Lovely voluntary musclely quite expensive furniture removers

I recently acquired a little flat by the sea, which needed furnishing so that it could be occupied now and again (which is, after all, the reason I prostrated myself in front of various bank personnel in order to raise the requisite monster bond). I’m not wealthy enough to waltz into Russels and pick out whatever I need and have it delivered, so by necessity it had to be kitted out with old, little-used and largely verlep stuff from my own house.

And then: how to move the old, little-used and largely verlep stuff? Furniture-removal companies charge ruinously expensive prices to shift your secondhand beds and tables.

I was discussing this with my friend R1, an almost-famous artist, who, under the influence of several glasses of Chenin Blanc, agreed to get together a gang of musclely men and their bakkies (utes to you Aussies) to do the deed.

So grateful was I for this neighbourly intervention that I immediately undertook to fund a dinner beforehand and a lunch afterwards.

The dinner, on Saturday night, began very tamely: everyone was feeling somewhat wearied by the hedonistic exertions of Friday night, and was also preternaturally aware of the heavy lifting to be done the next day. ‘We will be gone by 9pm,’ said R2 (an almost-famous hairdresser), ‘so that we can get a good night’s sleep and report back by 9am for the Big Move.’

At 2am I was grooving to Bob Seger’s ‘Roll Away’ with R1, R2, four other muscley men, a wobbly dog and three extremely badly behaved teenagers, and all thoughts of the morrow had been banished in a welter of good weather, great food, excellent company and execrable ’70s/’80s music.

On the Sunday we finally raggle-taggled together at 11am. There was much drinking of coffee, taking of scheduled painkillers (one of our number had them on prescription for a real ailment, fortunately) and a few suggestions of postponement – immediately shot down, because the thought of actually having to get up that early again on a weekend morning was too much to bear.

And bless those musclely men! Fast and furiously, they loaded two bakkies with the saggy double bed, the miff mattress, the scoured-to-buggery table, the astonishingly heavy (and equally astonishingly uncomfortably) 15-year-old family-heirloom sleeper couch, a cabinet, chairs, etc. ‘Let’s go!’ shouted R1, energised by the thought of lunch at the other end.

There are 15 very steep steps up to the holiday-flat-by-the-sea, and those musclely men nailed them. Clutching their heads, occasionally sitting down and looking a little pale, they nonetheless hoisted all that heavy, pokey, raggedy furniture up and up and in and in; and R2 even had the additional energy to exercise his creative flair and supervise the placement of the bits and pieces. So by the time I finished faffing around outside (mainly saying things like, ‘Are you okay? Do you need another painkiller? Here, have a sip of water,’ but not actually doing anything) and mounted those steps myself, not only was the furniture in, but it looked like an entirely habitable space. I have seldom been so grateful in my life.

And then we went out for lunch.

* Hosting 6 x musclely men to dinner on Saturday night: R700 + collateral damage to a potplant, two CDs and several wine glasses (also a lost sweatshirt, a broken pair of sunglasses and a temporarily -- we hope -- mislaid camera, but those expenses not for my account)
* Hosting 6 x musclely men to lunch on Sunday afternoon: R1 000
* Having a mad dinner with 6 x musclely men, then moving a household of furniture with vicious hangovers on a Sunday afternoon and going out for a Chenin Blanc-soaked lunch by the sea afterwards: priceless

* My lowest furniture removal quote for the same job was R1 020.

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Thursday, 16 August 2007

What's in a name?

My son (17 years old) mentioned to me today that there’s a boy in his class called Shiraz.

That’s not even subtle. We live in the winelands, and specifically in Shiraz country. It’s like naming a child born in Obs in the ’80s Acid Flashback.

My birth name (which isn’t Muriel, I am sure you will be amazed to know) doesn’t thrill me. It’s a short, sharp, nasty abbreviation of a lovely old saint name: Theresa.

Why? My parents managed to name my siblings sufficiently elegantly: one after an African river, one after a French writer, one unusual enough to be timeless. So why give me an appellation more commonly ascribed to slaggy lower-working-class teenage Brits? It doesn’t seem fair.

But then, I gave my own children names that, in the years they were born (1990 and 1991), hadn’t been heard of for scores of years, and were considered hopelessly old-fashioned at the time. ‘Are you sure?’ people asked their father and me, when we told them what we planned to label our offspring.

Within 10 years every curly-haired creature turning up at crèche was an Isabella and every second lad a Daniel. By 2002 – barely 10 years after my kids’ births – Daniel was the ninth most popular boy’s name and Isabella the 14th most popular girl’s given to newborns. (I comfort my children by reminding them that they are at least a decade older than any other child going by the same name.)

I did a bit of research into this recently and wasn’t astonished to find that the biggest reason for not choosing a name is overpopularity. (Equally unsurprising, the biggest reason for choosing a name is uniqueness.) But it’s also true that a fad name becomes trendy because a famous person has it (oh, pity all those Britneys, and the welter of ‘unique’ spellings that name has spawned).

Also, women given ‘cute’ names (like, eeugh, mine) tend to name their daughters more ‘seriously’ (like I did): a Nancy born in the 1950s might have named her daughter, born in the 1970s, Erica; a Patti would have called her daughter Christine; a Debbie’s daughter would have been Denise. (Nancy, Patti and Debbie were all top-10 name in the 1950s; Erica, Christine and Denise were all top-10 names in the 1970s).

And there’s also the notion that some names are ‘adult’. I can’t imagine, for instance, calling a baby boy Arthur or Harry; but then, Hannah, Jacob and Max were all considered ‘old people’s names’ not so long ago.

And then there’s bridging the gender gap. Boys called Tracey, girls called Michael, and the names Madison, Jordan, Taylor or Kendall being up for grabs for either.

And what about place names: India, Sierra, Ireland (Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger’s daughter) and Brooklyn (the Beckhams’ son).

And now that celebrities have come up, goodness me, do they need to be slapped for what they land on their children: Apple (Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter), Sailor (Christie Brinkley’s daughter), Daisy Boo and Poppy Honey (Jamie Oliver’s kids), China (daughter of Grace Slick, who was also known, for a time, as ‘god’ – small ‘g’ for, apparently, humility), Moon Unit (daughter of Frank Zappa), Fixi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom and Pixie and their half-sister Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily (Bob Geldof and Paula Yates’s offspring), and Elijah Bob Patricius Guggi Q Hewson. I’m not telling who this last’s child is. Answers on a postcard…

But not all is lost. Zowie Bowie, David’s son, wasted no time in changing his name to Joe and later to Duncan.

In Africa, names traditionally have less to do with trends and more with family status (Tazara – railway line), the hopes of the ancestors, celestial events (Baba - born on Thursday) and current occurrences (Nafuna – delivered feet-first). Which is why you may end up being called Amandla (power), Jabulani (happy) or Palesa (flower); but equally likely Issay (hairy), Kaprea (this child, too, will die) or Wasaki (the enemy).

So maybe Tracey isn’t so bad after all.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Water baby video: oh, this made me laugh and laugh

When I saw the first few frames of this video of a baby put to sleep in a kitchen sink (under a running tap, mind you) my immediate reaction was outrage. A few seconds later I was chortling* along with the other 100 million people who have seen this delightful clip (scroll down to watch it).

It reminded me of the days when I used to bath my own babies in the basin on the grounds that it was just so much easier to plonk them in a basin of water than run backwards and forwards filling up a baby bath (which I was too shnoep to buy in the first place). And, yes, I did remember to wrap a wet flannel around the hot tap, test the water with my elbow, prop up the babes with a cunning under-back elbow grip, and all those Rules and Regulations which seemed so important when I was younger and toiling at the rockface of raising small babies. Now my challenges on the child ablution front include a) persuading my teens that 40 minutes under a hot running shower will definitely do the trick if they're worried about personal hygiene and b) convincing my 8-year-old daughter that brushing her teeth twice a week definitely falls short of of her dentist's expectations.

This reminds me of a story told to me by my uncle. He claims that he was once in a change room at a public swimming pool, and heard the father in the cubicle next door bark out to his three young sons, who were getting dressed after their swim: "Right, boys! Underpants on! Brown spots on the inside, please!

* PS, while I'm digressing: do you know that the word 'chortle' was invented by Lewis Carroll, and was used by him for the first time in Through the Looking Glass? 'Chortled' appeared for the first time in Jabberwocky. Other words invented by Carroll and used for the first time in Jabberwocky include 'burble' and 'galumphing' .

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Tuesday, 14 August 2007

As I lay me down to sleep

I’ve always had a very close relationship with my bed, an old-fashioned king-size that’s so weightily unwieldy that it requires several strong men to shift it. (No, not like that. Get your mind out the gutter.)

But I’ve been sleeping on it for 15 years and before it was donated to me it belonged to friends of my parents, who told me when they handed it over that all four of their children had been both conceived and delivered in it. A profound case of information overshare, but there it is.

So my trusty old king-size was beginning to go bump – well, sproing – in the night; getting into it was becoming a case of negotiating hills and dales, and getting out again required some fairly energetic rocking, so I decided that I’d stump up for a brand-new bed. I’ve never had a brand-new bed in the 43 years I’ve been alive, so this was terribly exciting for me.

Now, far be it for me to indulge in product placement on Salmagundi, but let me just say that I’m so glad we live in the Information Age, and that Dial-a-Bed is a gift from the consumer gods. I went onto their website, clicked on the bed I wanted (sadly, I couldn’t afford a king-size – around R8K for a bed! eeek! – so I’ve downgraded to a queen), entered my bank account details, and half an hour later a nice man phoned me to tell me my bed was on its way.

A few days later it arrived. And oh what a joy and a delight it truly is! Firm at its core, with a satiny-soft exterior (like, if you don’t mind me saying, in the spirit of pillow-talk, a good erection), it is also princess-pretty and light as a feather. (Okay, not a feather. A kori bustard, perhaps.)

This segues – pronounced ‘seg-ways’, by the way, and did you know that? I didn’t, until recently, when my 17-year-old son used it in a sentence and I giggled at him. He gave me a stony stare and said, ‘Go look it up in the dictionary, Mom.’ Most embarrassing. But I digress.

This segues into two stories, one about another bed and one about banks.

I got an email from a friend in Jozi recently who showed how crime in the big naartjie can be turned to one’s advantage. ‘I needed to get rid of the baby’s cot,’ she wrote, of her youngest child’s upgrade to a real bed, ‘but didn’t want to go to the hassle of selling it. So I put it outside on the pavement and 10 minutes later it was gone.’

And about the bank – you know how easy (and justifiable) it is to moan endlessly about bloody banks, who charge through the nose for the privilege of looking after our money? Well, I had to make a big transaction this morning (over R13K) on my debit card, and not an hour later someone from Nedbank’s card fraud division phoned me to check that the transaction had been legit. I don’t often feel I get what I pay for from my bank, but I was pretty impressed by that.

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Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Ab-fab am-dram in Paradysville

I went to our local amateur dramatic society’s performance of Little Shop of Horrors on the weekend and what a jolly time I had. This was unexpected because (a) it was held in the fuh-reezing old church hall and (b) I’ve sat through enough of my kids’ plays to know that these productions are usually a matter of clapping in the right places and stoically staying till the end.

What probably put the edge on this performance is that it was directed – with wicked flair, and a truly startling sprinkling of dirty double-entendres – by the local (gay) psychologist. He also played the lead, and what a revelation he was: a GOM (Meggie!) in the making. Who knew that someone so suavely stylish could also be so respectably bespectacled.

Of course, any am-dram performance rests on the charm of its players – and this one didn’t disappoint. Our police inspector made a fabulous singing drunkard (the play is set on Skid Row), and then zipped back into character in the next scene as a do-gooder rescuing the down-and-outs.

One of our local drunkards also played a drunkard – while not exactly an artistic stretch for him, it gave me a renewed respect for his ability to stumble about without actually falling down. (He does this off-stage too, although he tends to crash into things more.)

The female lead, playing the 20-something love interest, was on the shady side of 50, but hammed it up wonderfully in a platinum wig, a series of divine dresses, and a high-pitched voice that could cut metal.

The shopkeeper kept me on my toes by putting the wrong emphasis on all her syllables. I didn’t understand a word she said but the zesty way she played her part rendered this unimportant.

The man-eating plant, whose face was the only part of her visible practically throughout the play, managed nonetheless to communicate an astonishing range of emotions. If it were up to me, I’d give her eyes an Oscar.

But the real surprise was the baddie – a sadistic, ether-sniffing dentist/biker – played by a quiet, shy, kind local artist. With his hair slicked back and a leather jacket on, he floored his audience (and, once or twice, the female lead, whom he was required by the script to beat up fairly regularly). He growled and strutted, laughed maniacally, threatened and fisticuffed as if it were second nature. Amazing what hidden depths there are to the people you think you know!

(Last year’s performance of The Rocky Horror Show revealed a similar buried side to another quiet, respectable local: clad in fishnets, high heels and makeup, he inhabited the role of Frank N Further as if born to it. And after the play was over, he quietly returned to his life of low-key respectability. Apparently, anyway.)

And the after-party was fabulous too. A movable bacchanal, it shifted from pub to pub, the celebratory spirit becoming more frenetic at each spot. It was when, at about 2 in the morning, the quiet, shy, kind local artist who’d played the biker/dentist came over to me and snarled, ‘Buy me a drink, woman,’ and I laughed and he said, ‘Watcha laughing at? Get your arse to the bar before I get it there for you,’ that I realised what a huge success the production had actually been.

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Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Food 'tastes better' with a McDonald's logo

If you, like Ray Hartley, think that the government's new junk-food packaging proposals are a waste of time and precious resources, suck on this for a minute: a new study has found that young children think food tastes better when it's in a package emblazoned with the golden arches.

According to a report in Forbes, 'Most 3- and 5-year-olds who taste-tested a variety of foods said they preferred the ones in the McDonald's wrapper - even though the foods were exactly the same.'

The report continues:

'This study demonstrates simply and elegantly that advertising literally brainwashes young children into a baseless preference for certain food products," said Dr. David Katz, the director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.
"Children, it seems, literally do judge a food by its cover. And they prefer the cover they know," said Katz, who was not involved in the research.'

Now, children, what would you like for dinner? Bangers and mash in a nice yellow box, chocolate ice cream in a blue box with bunny print, home-made lasagne in a puffy pink packet, or lightly grilled brains, candied gizzards and Frankenchips in a red McDonald's box?

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Friday, 3 August 2007

Jozi crime-zone quiz: take the kids, or leave them?

Answers on postcard, please: You live in Johannesburg and have three kids, aged 8, 14 and 16. The youngest is asleep, and the oldest, who has been out on the jorl, needs to be fetched at 10 pm from a location 8 km away. Their father is out, and there is no one else on the premises, although there are beams around the garden, spikes, burglar bars, dogs, and a security guard on the street.

Do you:

1. Wake up the youngest, and drag her and the 14-year-old to the car, and drive the 16-km round trip? (Risks: hijacking as you reverse out, hijacking as you drive back in, hijacking at intersection, being mown down by a drunken driver, having an accident, etc)

2. Leave both kids at home, the older kid in charge of the younger one, in bed behind a locked trellidor with a panic button and cell phone on hand. (Risks, in rough order: intruders/armed robbery, being hijacked as you drive in and out, fire, medical emergency, earthquake, tornado, sinkhole, meteorite hit, alien invasion....oh, jeez, I have to get a grip)

I was faced with this choice and I chose the latter because statistically I reckon my kids are safer at home. What REALLY pisses me off is that I have to make this choice in the first place, and that I need to calculate the odds every time I go out.

Concern for my safety and that of my family colours every decision I make. What is safer? Go for a walk through a quiet suburb, with my feisty and loyal Staffie on a leash, or drive at morning rush hour to the gym, dodging kamikaze taxis and smash-and-grabbers as I go?

If I allow my 14-year-old to ride his bike round the neighbourhood, am I being irresponsible? Will he be mugged, like several kids in our suburb and its surrounds have been recently? If I don't let him ride his bike, am I being over-protective and paranoid and depriving him of his freedom?

Can I leave the doors onto the garden open, so that my daughter and the dogs can run freely in and out for a bit of light gambolling on the lawn? Or should I keep every door of the house locked up tight at all times, just in case some murderous thugs scale the walls, invade my home, and do unthinkable things to my family?

If my 16-year-old goes out with his friends, is it reasonable to ask him to SMS me every two hours to let me know where he is? Or is my concern for his safety ('It's just paranoia, Ma') going to cause him excruciating embarrassment that destroys his social prospects?

Can I draw cash from an open and exposed ATM, or should I be safe and go into the bank? If I go into the bank, what are the odds that a gang of gunmen will burst in?

Most unsettling thought of all? If I take all these precautions and choose the safer options (and you can be assured that I will), is this any guarantee that I won't be the victim of a crime tomorrow?

Again, answers on a postcard.

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Am I too old for Facebook?

Intrigued by the Facebook hoo-ha, I decided to join. This was easy enough, but my social self-esteem is lying in tatters under the desk because I can find only 3 (three) people I actually know personally, and who are about the same age as me, ie 45 (forty-five). I've invited them to be my friends, and so far 1 (one) has accepted.

There are two possibilities here: 1) I have no friends or acquaintances, or 2) I have friends and acquaintances but they are too old/busy/preoccupied/ludditish for Facebook.

I do, of course, have the option of asking my kids' friends, and my friends' kids (and, my giddy aunt, they are there in their hundreds) to be my friend, but this seems dodgy, if not downright pathetic.

Another trauma: choosing a photograph. A recent one of me looking like a jowly, weatherbeaten slag, or a 15-year-old one of me looking like, well, a radiant thirty-year-old? A pack of Varicose Vein Support Hose goes to the first correct answer.

PS My chum Angie has some interesting observations of her own.

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Thursday, 2 August 2007

Knock, knock, knocking...

So someone uninvited knocks on my front door this morning and my usual instinctive reaction kicks in: the barely controllable urge to fling open the door and scream, ‘Fuck off!’ to whoever’s there.

I don’t consider myself an unsympathetic or ungenerous person, but having lived in Cape Town’s hippie-or-hellboy suburb of Observatory, wedged between the railway station and a homeless shelter, has taught me tricks I’m not proud of.

Working from home (the car parked outside a dead giveaway) made me a patsy for the local hard-luckers, and word got around. And it wouldn’t have been so bad if they just took the cheese-and-tomato sandwiches I made them (or the money, when I had it), but no: I first had to listen to the whys and wherefores of their ultimate arrival on my doorstep. And this being South Africa, I am in no doubt that at least 80% of those tragic stories were true: houses burnt down, belongings washed away, wives raped and murdered, children never seen again, jobs lost, limbs rendered useless… I heard it all. Over and over again, several times a day for seven years. It took a lot of my time.

(Of course, there were those I came to know as chancers: ‘I just need train fare home.’ ‘Okay, you wash my car, I’ll pay your ticket.’ ‘Mmm, I’m just going down the road to tell my friend, I’ll be back.’ Yeah, right.)

Soon I was running an impromptu non-profit-making cheese-and-tomato-sarmie-kitchen and earning a living in my spare time. Something had to give.

It was my manners.

My admittedly antisocial tactic of answering unsolicited knocks at my door claimed collateral damage: my sainted mother dropping in for a mid-morning cup of tea, the local pastor collecting for the church’s roof fund*, two sweet-faced schoolgirls looking for sponsors for their Walk-A-Kay-For-An-Abandoned-Pet challenge.

But I got to know if the recipient of my furious invective deserved (or at least expected) it: there would be a weary sigh, and a turn away.

Those not thoroughly versed in the ancient art of doorstepping (as journalists call it), yet determined to tell their story no matter what, would act outraged. ‘Jissis, maar jy’s onbeskof!’ hissed one beggar – who managed to shame me into giving him food, if not money, and returned the compliment by mashing the sarmies I made him against my doorpost. (He’d actually wanted money.)

The innocents stabbed guilt deep into my heart, by stepping back, their hair flying, as if the very breath from my lungs had swept them willy-nilly into limbo. And of course I made it up to them by giving them far, far more than I could afford.

So this morning’s knock elicited the usual ‘fuck you’ fury in me, and I raced through to the front door, took an angry breath and threw it open. There stood a young man with angelic curls, a wide if nervous smile and a body odour that almost felled me. ‘I’m not asking for money!’ he bleated, holding out his hands like a supplicant. ‘I’m doing market research!’

Silly creature. If only he knew that the phrase ‘market research’ is almost as poisonous to me as ‘train fare’. But at least he wasn’t cold-calling me on the phone at dinner time; and he had such interestingly inky-black eyes, such beautiful mocca skin and such a bizarrely pungent aroma that I stilled my tongue.

He flipped open a notepad that looked very like something he may have ferreted out of a nearby garbage bin. ‘So… you shop at…?’ he asked, pen poised.

‘Speed?’ I guessed.

He laughed maniacally. ‘A sense of humour!’ he trilled flutteringly. ‘I love that! But really, where do you shop?’

‘Oh, where,’ I said. ‘Pick ‘n’ Pay.’ (I do. I blame my mother. She always shopped there and I can’t get out of the habit, no matter how good the deals are other supermarkets offer me.)

‘Excellent!’ he squealed, hopping from foot to foot. And I couldn’t help feeling chuffed for having pleased him so easily. (No money! No food! No long sad sob story!)

Anyway, so the interview went on, not for very long, and then he snapped his ratty little notepad shut and said, ‘Well, I’ll be on my way. Thanks for being so helpful!’ and he hopped, skipped and jumped off up the street.

I closed the front door feeling that old familiar pang of guilt. He was only young, he was only trying to earn an honest buck doing a shitty job, I really should get my mind around giving humanity the benefit of the doubt…

Two hours later he was back. ‘Sorry to disturb again,’ he said, ‘but I was just wondering… I need train fare home…?’

* What is it about churches and roofs? Why don’t they just build them properly in the first place?

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Wednesday, 1 August 2007

A working-class hero is something to be: my vid of the year

I wept buckets at the age of 17 (it was 1980, and I was conked out on Old Brown Sherry in a tent in Plett) when I heard that my hero John Lennon had been shot. I wept buckets again tonight watching this video of Green Day playing a brillaint cover of Lennon's Working Class Hero, in aid of Darfur. If you haven't bought this album, hurry along to your local mall to buy it. I wouldn't want to diss the sainted Lennon in any way, but I have to admit that I think Green Day's version is better than the original. Jack Johnson's cover of Imagine is something to hear.

Vid comes via The Lone Writer.

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I get busted twice: Metro cops on stop-street blitz in Jozi

I got a R500 snotklap from the Metro police yesterday for failing to stop at a stop street. I had slowed down and treated the stop as a yield sign (it's on a street that abruptly turns left, with no going forward or right), but I hadn't actually stopped dead. I accepted the fine with long teeth and no quibbling, because I was in the wrong, and I knew it. Besides, the (female) officer was cheery and efficient, and I was pleased to note that the cops were stoppng every taxi that flew through the said stop street, and meting out the same fine.

Then, bless my zimmer frame, I was stopped again today, in Craighall Park, when I executed the same manoeuvre: ie, slow right down, look left and right, and accelerate into a gap in the traffic. Big mistake. There they were, right round the corner, and they pulled me off with triumphant waves.

This time the attitude was different.

'You didn't stop at that stop street!' yelled a burly Metro cop.

'I slowed down and then crept forward!' I protested, a bit feebly.

This seemed to enrage the cop, who was clearly in a foul mood. 'Don't say that! I saw you! You DIDN'T STOP!'

'Ok, I admit it, I didn't stop.' (I was late for a meeting, and had realised that there was no point in arguing with this person, who had a large shiny gun strapped to his belt).

'AND!' roared the cop, 'YOU'RE AN ELDERLY PERSON! You are not a young person!'

'I am not elderly!' I squeaked. 'I'm only 45!'

'YOU ARE ELDERLY!' thundered the cop (who was a grizzled chap not a day under 65), 'and you should know better!'

'But 45 isn't elderly!' I protested. (I was quite annoyed by this, considering that the cop who busted me the day before had said, charmingly, when she asked me my age, that I looked 'like I was thirty-three'.)

He shook his head at my vanity. 'Now,' he said, whipping out his pen. 'Are you happy with this R500 fine?'

'Of course I'm not happy. But if I have to pay it, I will.'

A long silence and a pursing of lips. And then, craftily, 'So how much would you like to pay?'

My wizened jaw dropped. 'I. BEG. YOUR. PARDON.?'

'No, no, no, I'm not asking you for a bribe!' Now it was the cop's turn to look sheepish.

'Oh really?' I raised one grizzled eyebrow and took a long hard stare at his badge.

The cop reeled back, clearly withered by my sarcasm. 'No, in fact, you can go! Go on! This is just a warning!'

He shooed me away with a wave of his hand, and I roared away, feeling R500 richer.

When I thought about the incident later, I realised that, once again, the universe is trying to tell me something. I'm a law-abiding motorist (and an insufferably self-righteous one, at least when it comes to other drivers' misdemeanours) but I'm terribly dozy. It's so easy to slip into that Zen-like right-brain mode when you're driving, especially if it's along a route you've worn a groove in over 10 years and you're listening to music or 702 as you pootle along.

I hardly ever get speeding fines and in the 27 years (eina!) I've had a driver's license I've never been in a single accident or even a bumper bashing (touch wood). But I realised that I am dozy, and complacent, in the traffic (except when roused from my reverie to shake my fist at taxi drivers dicing with death) and that's a dangerous thing. So I have decided to smarten up my driving act. I might be 'elderly', but old bitches can learn new tricks.

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