Sunday, 30 September 2007

Bored of blogs? Check out Stephen Fry's wonderful 'blessay'

Are you feeling bored and maddened by meaningless blogcrap? Me too! Then I found (courtesy of one of today's newspapers; must have been the Sunday Times) the new blog of actor, comedian, author, depressive, raconteur & all-round interesting person Stephen Fry. He's made two posts so far, and I reckon neither of them is less than 5 000 words long. But, oh my goodness, what excellent reads - and what a good example he sets for bloggers. His post on the subject of fame is so entertaining and delightful. Check it out.

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'Only if the fucking bricks arrive': why I love Bill Bryson

I didn't know I was such a huge fan of Bill Bryson until I became a member of LibraryThing (a fantastical site that lets you make your own list of favourite books, and then compares and contrasts them with other people's lists, showing you who shares your reading tastes, and what books they've enjoyed that you might relish).

Once you've built your list (you can add 200 books for free; after that you pay) you can click on the 'author cloud' link which analyses your reading list and lets you know what and who you're into. It came as a welcome shock to me to learn that my fave authors are Bill Bryson and JM Coetzee.

Anyway, the reason I love Bryson's books is that they make me laugh out loud. I don't mean a single, muted chuckle - I mean thunderous guffaws, trumpeting snorts, peals of merriment, the spurting of hot coffee through nostrils and, best of all, aftershocks (lasting several hours) of small, pleasurable sniggers.

There are precious few books that still make me laugh out loud. I say 'still', because I remember quite clearly, as a ten-year-old, reading in bed and laughing so hard that my belly cramped and I had to ask my mom for a Milk of Magnesia. Richmal Crompton's William books had me in stitches (who can forget Violet Elizabeth Bott saying "I'll thcream and thcream until I'm thick!"?). I was so entertained by Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking books that I read Pippi in the South Seas a record 17 times in a single year ( "I'm getting frecklier by the day" Pippi says at one point. "Soon I shall be quite irresistible").

Anyway, here are some of my favourite Bryson quotes. They come from memory (and I am probably hopelessly misquoting him), but I am sure you get the idea.

-In one book, Bryson tells of being on a train and sitting opposite a young boy who has his finger up his nose. The boy, Bill tells us, seems to regard his nose as a "mid-face snack dispenser".

- "He had the sort of face that makes you realise God does have a sense of humour."

-In Down Under, which is about Australia, he tells a lovely anecdote about a little four-year-old who is living next door to a house that's being renovated. Every day the little girl goes next door and hangs around a bit, until the builders invite her to 'help' out a bit with the building and have tea with them. At the end of the project, the builders give her a little pay packet containing a few dollars. Her mom, keen to show her the value of saving money, takes the little girl to the bank so she can deposit her dollars in her saving account. "Wow," says this cashier. "You're a clever girl to earn money building a house. Will you be building another house next week?"

"Yes," says the girl. "But only if the fucking bricks arrive."

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Thursday, 27 September 2007

My Auntie Janet invites a stranger to our table

I know I’m being snobbish and I hope you will forgive me, but there is a certain type that ‘canned safaris’ attracts. One of them is, for instance, a bespectacled, sweating, slightly overweight, alarmingly talkative prosecuting attorney from Dishwater, Alabama.

Because, oh lordie-be, let us not be thrown into ‘real’ Africa – you know, the place where you die of dengue fever or have your toes chewed off by chiggers. Let us rather (if we have the money, the time and the inclination) visit an ‘African’ reserve in the western Cape – which, and let us make no bones about this, has always been nodded to as the ‘most European’ little sector of our vast, dark continent.

(As an aside, let me say that bespectacled, sweating, slightly overweight, alarmingly talkative men have always been attracted to me. They think, because I wear no makeup and dress in clothes that would be better suited to a tramp, I am unaware of my ‘inner beauty’, and that they alone will be able to find that gorgeous lost soul somewhere deep inside. But the nasty truth is that I like men who appear to recently have murdered their grandmothers and made off with their best silver, on a motorbike; or who have just been paroled; or who have recently escaped a lunatic asylum by bodily uprooting an airconditioner and throwing it through a window. And, god knows why, those kinds of men like me too.)

This dear prosecuting attorney (let’s call him Ralph and be done with it) ended up on our early-morning ‘game drive’ (see post below) with us. My Auntie Janet, a woman of deep compassion, took pity on him during a hiatus between the rhino and the giraffe, to engage him in conversation. From which point he never shut up.

Not content with having heard his entire life story, delivered LA Law-style in the short gap he had to present his opening arguments (between getting off the Land Rover) and his closing arguments (getting back on again, after a quick refresher of coffee and rusks), Auntie Janet sought to include him in our party.

Which led to a bit of bewildering body language in the restaurant for breakfast back at the camp.

‘A table for… five,’ said Auntie Janet, clocking Ralph, who was hanging out at the back of our party (of four), looking lonely.

The waitress looked at me, because I twitched – perceptibly. I shook my head.

‘For… four?’ said the waitress.

‘No, no,’ sang Auntie Janet. ‘For five. Five!’

The waitress looked back at me. I shook my head a bit harder. ‘For four, I think?’ the waitress said, slightly strangled.

‘No, five!’ said Auntie Janet. ‘Five, I say!’

And five it was.

I seated myself as far from Ralph as possible, without actually moving outside and eating with the cheetahs, and took refuge in enormous helpings of food.

And Ralph talked.

In the 20 minutes it took me to eat (with concentration) a bowl of peaches and yoghurt, a fried egg, two rashers of bacon, some pork sausages, a couple of fritters, a spoon of baked beans, two fried tomatoes, and a slice of toast heaped with butter and marmalade, we learnt more of Ralph’s life than I’ve ever shared of mine with some of my best friends.

Yet I was put to shame when, as Ralph stood up to vacate the table, he said, with genuine grace, ‘Thank you for allowing me to join you. I really appreciate it.’

And let it be said: not once, in any way, shape or form, did he put any moves on me at all.

Which just goes to show: it’s only criminal bikers, jailbirds and psychopaths who really do appreciate my inner beauty.

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I stroked a cheetah

‘You didn’t!’ said my friend Johann when I told him. ‘Don’t you know NEVER to get out of your car in a game reserve?!’*

But even I’m not enough of a daredevil to try to stroke an actual wild cheetah.

This cheetah, which was lying on his side enjoying the morning sun in his own private enclosure, allowed me to rub his head (the fur there is softly rough, if you can imagine such a thing), after which I got a bit cheeky and gave his tummy a good going-over (my cats love that kind of thing). The cheetah wriggled with pleasure (the earth moved – these cats are BIG), stretched his dinner-plate-sized paws and rolled over. ‘Um,’ said the game guide, ‘don’t do that. He thinks you want to play. And you don’t want to play with a fully grown cheetah.’

So I reined myself in and rubbed him under his chin instead (my cats love that too). And he purred. No, he PURRED! A cheetah’s purr is as big as a cheetah itself. It was one of the most wonderful sounds I’ve ever heard – a quietly roaring hum that I could feel in my feet.

That was the highlight of my stay in a private ‘game reserve’ a couple of hours outside of Cape Town. The rest was pretty interesting, too, even if the slightly creepy feeling of being in a zoo rather than a reserve was at times overwhelming. It’s big – 4 500 ha – but let’s face it, it’s not the Kruger Park. So the game – and there’s lots of it: springbok, eland, bontebok, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, zebra, hippo, etc – is pretty concentrated, and a ‘game drive’ is` really just an exercise in being transported from ‘where the rhinos are’ a few metres down the gravel track to ‘where the giraffe are’.

But the animals all look healthy, some of them are breeding quite happily, and for tourists it’s certainly a thrill to be exposed so easily to the Big Five plus all the other ‘littler’ lovelies without having to drive for hours through bushveld – without, sometimes, spotting a single noteworthy thing (as My Auntie Janet who, despite her creepy-crawly phobia, has been visiting Africa and its nature reserves for over 20 years, pointed out).

The lions depressed us. They – three females and a male – have their own enclosure, as it would be just too easy for them to go on a killing spree in the main reserve, and they also looked in good condition and happy (if lions lying lazily about doing nothing can be said to ‘look happy’, yet that is, in fact, how lions spend most of their time in their natural habitat), but the females have been sterilised, so there’s no chance they’ll breed. Our guide – a font of facts, rattled off at AK47 speed – told us that this is a Nature Conservation policy, but it brought home the fact that these creatures are only there for us to look at. A bit sad, really.

It’s telling, I suppose, that the notable moments had nothing to do with the big game roaming ‘free’ in the reserve. We were billeted in some old, beautifully renovated labourers’ cottages, a good distance from the main camp and everyone else, snuggled into a small koppie behind a gorgeous dam. Last evening, back from a ‘game drive’ (sorry, I can’t help putting that in inverts), we were visited by two female ostriches. You’d think all ostriches look the same, but they don’t. One of these, ‘the showgirl’, was all cutesy blinky curly-eyelashed pointy-toed standoffishly flirtation; the other, My Auntie Janet immediately nicknamed ‘Auntie Mona’, after a particularly disapproving relative – she had a nasty, judgmental gleam in her eye and she kept her beak open, a mouth-breather if ever there was one. The two of them sidled around outside our cottage, watching us watching them, for an hour or so. It was brilliant.

When I got back home today, things were pear-shaped. Johann had looked after The Wobbly Dog in my absence, and she was in the pink of health. The teenagers had, however, wreaked havoc in the house: among the damage, a mysteriously defrosted fridge/freezer and a smashed painting. Since my daughter – the alleged perpetrator of these deeds – had made good her escape to Cape Town in my absence, I have yet to find out how they happened.

It put me in mind of a teen reserve – 4 500 ha on which they can roam free, and we, their parents, can go on ‘game drives’ twice a day to look at them. Just look at them.

* ‘Find someone dressed in khaki, and stroke him instead,’ was Johann’s advice.

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Friday, 21 September 2007

Pointless Kiwi tixidermist joke

It's a bit of pressure having a blog, isn't it? You lose interest for a week or two because you've got nothing to say (or perhaps you're just too preoccupied with other stuff to pen a witty or outraged post), and then guilt creeps in.

Is it lazy and sluttish to post something only once a fortnight? Should you wait until inspiration strikes, until you have something pertinent to say, or should you write any old crap and post for the sake of posting? I have to say I prefer the latter option: I'm really bored reading plod-along blogs that record every crushingly dull detail of their writers' lives. Mommy blogs are really grating me at the moment: maybe I'm just getting old and interesting (hah!), but, honestly, does cyberspace need more pictures of four-year-olds in Spiderman suits? And how interested am I, really, in whose toddler isn't sleeping through the night? (OK, I admit, I found my children's behaviour/health/emotional issues hugely interesting when they were small, but not so riveting that I wanted to write 2000 words about them every day).

Thank goodness for Salmagundi's co-author, the terrible Muriel, whose wonderful musings - check out the Spider Bobby one - keep this blog's eyebrows above the water.

Having said all that, this is an entirely pointless and gratuitous post, written for the purpose of 1) assuaging my guilt, and 2) writing something - anything.

Are you still reading? I'm sitting back in my chair, scratching my head, and wondering what to write. I could give you a list of the top ten hundred things that have annoyed me this week, or a little rant about the taxi driver who deliberately tried to side-swipe my car this week because I had the temerity not to shoot a red traffic light, or an impassioned diatribe about how freedom of the press in South Africa is being eroded. Yes? No?

Ok.... how about a joke?

A bloke walks into a bar in New Zealand and orders a shandy. All the Kiwis sitting around the bar look up, expecting to see another Australian visitor.

The barman says, "You aren't from around here, are ya?"

The guy says, "No, I'm from Canada."

The bartender says, "What do you do in Canada?"

The guy says, "I'm a taxidermist."

The bartender says, "A tixidermist? What the hick is a tixidermist? Do you drive a tixi?'

"No, a taxidermist doesn't drive a taxi. I mount animals."

The bartender grins and yells, "He's okay boys. He's one of us".

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Thursday, 20 September 2007

My Auntie Janet meets Bobby

Janet is my aunt from England. She’s in her 60s and is a strong, intelligent, funny, attractive woman who just happens not to be able to handle creepy-crawlies of any shape or kind.

So she was a little nervous about coming to stay with me in South Africa. Because not only is my home – a rambling old farmhouse awash with nooks and crannies beloved of creepy-crawlies – a haven for all things that slink, slither and skitter, but our house policy is ‘live and let live’. Which is why Bobby (read post here), the venomous tarantula that lives with us, has been allowed to grow, unmolested, to the size of a dinner plate.

‘Don’t even mention spiders,’ I warned my two teenage children ahead of Janet’s arrival. ‘Or lizards or worms or cockroaches or flies. Not even as a joke,’ I added, when my daughter smirked wickedly. ‘She’s really nervous of them, so show some sensitivity.’

On the morning of Janet’s arrival I saw Bobby in the living room, high up where the wall meets the ceiling. He was sitting fairly peacefully there, his long hairy legs outstretched, and I had a stern word with him. ‘Keep out of sight,’ I said. ‘You’re pretty good at that, usually, so just keep it up.’

He waved a furry leg, which I took to be an acknowledgment, but clearly I’m not all that clued up on spider semaphore.

Because poor Janet, late on the first evening she was here, took herself off to the bathroom, settled herself down on the seat, and reached forward to take a magazine out of the rack (we are great believers, in this house, of being allowed to be enthroned for as long as it takes to read at least one article). And with the magazine came Bobby, who had apparently taken the opportunity to read up on Cosmo’s ‘7-Point Plan to Spin a Web Around Your Man’.

‘It’s just as well she was where she was when it happened,’ my father (Janet’s brother) commented later. ‘Saved on the laundry.’

But in the event Janet was remarkably self-contained. All she said, in a voice barely above a whisper, was, ‘Oh. My. God.’ And she flung the magazine across the bathroom.

Bobby, large as he is, doesn’t have the strength to shift an issue of Cosmopolitan off his arachnid self, and was trapped there for about an hour while Janet came back into the living room to regale us with the horror she’d just lived through.

When I went to the bathroom later to rescue him, he was looking a little flatter than normal, and was understandably a bit pissed-off, but was otherwise none the worse for wear. After I’d checked each of his eight legs for damage (there was none), I took him outside. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘but you can’t be in the house until Janet leaves. She’s the guest, and her feelings must come first. I’m sure you understand.’

As I tossed him into a hedge, he waved a furry leg at me. I’m pretty sure that if he had fingers, he’d have been giving me one.

Janet, brave woman that she is, professed herself emotionally unscarred by the incident. ‘But if you don’t mind, dear,’ she said, ‘I’m going to phone your father and ask if we can go and stay with him.’

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Friday, 14 September 2007

When children go AWOL

I post this with my blood pressure so high that I’m surprised red stuff isn’t spurting out my ears.

I arranged to meet my 16-year-old daughter in a neighbouring town (which is also where she goes to school) at 2.30pm today. She is going away for the weekend with friends, so the plan was that we’d connect so she could give me her school bag, and I’d hand over her pre-packed overnight bag.

I arrived at our agreed-on meeting place at 2.25pm. At 2.30 I phoned my daughter’s cellphone. It rang for an eternity then went to her voicemail – which, incidentally, is a long, asinine rambling message from her, designed no doubt to thrill and delight her friends. But I’m her mother, and all it did was annoy me.

I left a message asking where she was.

At 2.40, with still no sign of her, I rang her cellphone again. And repeated the exercise.

At 2.50 I went officially into panic mode. Perhaps I am a product of the media blitz about kidnapped kids – but kids do get kidnapped in South Africa, all the time.

I began asking random passers-by if they’d seen my daughter. ‘She’s 16, fairly tall, very pretty, and wearing a SH uniform,’ I told them – describing about 500 young women who go to school in the same town.

Amazingly, only one person – another mother! – took my panic seriously. ‘What’s her name?’ she asked. ‘Have you tried her cellphone? Do you know any of her friends in town? Have you called in at the school?’ She and I quartered the area, calling my daughter’s name.

By 3pm I had chewed my fingernails down to the bone. Horrendous images were whirling through my mind: my daughter in the hands of slave traders; my daughter dead in a ditch; my daughter snatched by a pervert; my daughter injured and helpless… I know it was only half an hour, but do you have any idea how long it takes to count to 1 800-crocodile when you think your child’s safety may be endangered, how slowly those seconds tick by?

So when my daughter finally strolled into view at a few minutes past 3, chewing a big fat wad of gum and swinging her schoolbag in an insouciant manner, I wanted to kill her.

‘Jumping jiminy! Where have you been, you silly girl? I’ve been so terribly worried’ I said, give or take a few expletives.

She snapped her gum at me. ‘Ah, ma,’ she said. ‘Don’t be so paranoid.’

Instead of abusing my daughter – which I dearly wished to do but my desire to stay out of the clutches of Child Services overrode it; and anyway my sole helper was staring at my daughter in disbelief, which was embarrassment enough – I abused my car. Once I’d tossed my daughter’s schoolbag into the boot and hurled her overnight bag at her, I slammed my door so hard I’m surprised it stayed attached.

‘Cheesh,’ said my daughter. ‘Touchy, touchy.’ And she strolled off, overnight bag over her shoulder, snapping her gum.

‘Are you alright?’ asked my helper. ‘You look like you need to sit down for a bit.’

We stared at each other for a few moments, then she said, ‘I’ve only got littlies myself, but I think I’m going to give them away when they reach puberty.’

Hah! Who would take them?

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Tuesday, 11 September 2007

American English with PJ O'Rourke: go figure

I haven’t read anything by American satirist PJ O’Rourke for a while, so I was thrilled when I found a book called The CEO of the Sofa (published in 2001) in my local Paperweight discount book store.

While I’ve been looking the other way, PJ has got married and reproduced – twice by the time the book was published and he has declared himself keen to keep doing it. This disappointed me, firstly because I always thought PJ would marry me, and secondly because he’s exactly like every other dad I’ve ever known – that is, under the impression that he’s the first and only person ever to have fathered an actual human being.

But that isn’t the point of this post. One of the hats I wear is as a lecturer in ‘Plain English’, which is a newish way of writing intended to make communication clearer and easier to understand by bending some rules but not really breaking any. So, because I’m always looking for examples of iffy writing to show my students, I’m always interested in writers’ quirks.

Here are a few from PJ’s book.

* This isn’t his fault, because he’s American, but he calls maths ‘math’. This is an Americanism that particularly irritates me, because it reminds me of how some South Africans call a pair of jeans ‘a jean’ or a pair of panties ‘a panty’.

* He uses the term ‘I could care less’ when I’m sure he means ‘I couldn’t care less’. Surely, when you could care less about something, that means you do care, even if it’s just a little bit?

* He uses the expression ‘like the dickens’. I was interested enough in this very Anglo-sounding phrase to look it up, and discovered it has nothing to do with Charles. ‘Dickens’ is a euphemism for the word ‘devil’, possibly via ‘devilkins’. Shakespeare used it in The Merry Wives of Windsor: ‘I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of.’

* He talks about ‘a tossed salad’. What the dickens is this? ‘Toss’ means ‘to throw lightly, with a flourish’ or ‘to fling or fling about’. I have tried to turn my ordinary green salads into tossed salads, and they’ve always ended up on the floor.

* He also mentions ‘collard greens’. If, like me, you’ve often come across this term and wondered about it, it’s cabbage.

* He starts one of his sentences with the following phrase: ‘The pharisaical, malefic and incogitant…’ For that, a Plain Writing student would be sentenced to a thorough flogging with a thesaurus. In Plain English, it means ‘The righteously hypocritical, harmful and thoughtless…’ I wonder why he didn’t just say that. And if he ate a dictionary for breakfast.

* He makes an interesting if misogynistic suggestion for getting around the pesky personal pronoun ‘he’ as a generic (when referring to females too): ‘Why don’t [they] just combine ‘‘she’’ and ‘‘it’’ and pronounce the thing accordingly?’ he writes. I shall put this to my students at my next workshop.

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Monday, 10 September 2007

Bobby's back

A commotion ensued some months ago when a visiting friend spotted a large, hairy spider on a lampshade in my living room. There was a general exodus Miss Muffet-style, accompanied by knocked-over chairs and screams of horror, and instructions to ‘Kill it! Kill it!’

After I’d dispensed Rescue Remedy to the more sensitive in the gathering, and lured them back inside with promises of chocolate cake and strong coffee and/or generous doses of whisky, I pleaded for the spider’s life.

What I did not tell anyone was that I knew what kind of spider it was – not, as someone suggested, a harmless if scary-looking rainspider; no. It was a Harpacterilla lightfooti, or ‘small baboon spider’, closely related to the tarantulas of South America and the only spider in its genus in southern Africa that is venomous (although not fatally so) to man. I also didn’t tell them that Harpacterilla’s bite hurts like buggery.

Because Harpactirella (or ‘Bobby’, as we called it, from its Afrikaans name, ‘bobbejaanspinnekop’, or ‘baboon spider’, a nod to its hairy appearance) will leave you alone as long as you accord it the same courtesy.

Somewhat mollified, although still a little jittery, the gathering reconvened in the living room to look a little more closely at Bobby. And while they did, I told them some things about spiders.

I know quite a bit about spiders because I love them. I am not a fan of tattoos, but when I was driven by peer pressure – specifically, the jeering encouragement of my teenagers – to get tagged, I opted for the image of small spider, in the middle of my back where nobody but the very privileged will ever see it. Including me, incidentally.

I love the ‘bolus’ spider, which attaches a sticky ball to the end of a line of silk, and whirrs this around like a cowboy until it catches an insect.

I love the ‘fishing’ spider, whose special talent is to build a funnel-shaped net, half in and half out the water, into which it gently drives the tadpoles it eats for dinner.

I love wolf spiders, normally terrestrial, who can produce a bubble of air, which they use to breathe underwater, like a diving bell. (Some can spend up to three weeks submerged!)

I love the ‘parachute’ spiders who, the moment they’ve hatched, climb up on a grass stem, let out a gossamer line of silk, and wait for a breeze, before flying away into the big wide world.

And when it comes to spider romance – phew! You’ve just got to admire their tenacity. Most male spiders are smaller than the females of the same species, and the females' first instinct is to eat more or less anything movable it sees, so courtship is a tremendously stressful affair. Some males politely twang on a female’s web to let her know he’s there and willing; others bring a present – a fly, for instance, sufficiently tightly wrapped in silk to distract the female for long enough for mating to take place. And what of the wily ‘bridal veil’ spiders, the males of which are very tiny and in constant danger of being snacked on by the much larger females, so ‘tie’ their paramours to the substrate with silk before mating.

And spiders never have to experience the PODs (post-orgasmic depressions, for those who weren’t alive in the ’80s) – they have ‘lock and key’ genitalia, in which same species’ reproductive organs fit perfectly together, so there’s just no chance they’ll mistakenly have sex with an unsuitable other.

And spider silk – wow! In proportion, it’s stronger than steel, twice as elastic as nylon and more difficult to break than rubber. Some spiders produce up to six different kinds of silk for different purposes – sticky silk for the catching spiral (in orb-web-spinning spiders), dragline silk, swathing silk. ‘Cribellate silk’, which is a special kind of ‘combed-out’ silk produced by some spiders, acts just like Velcro (which, by the way, was only invented in 1955).

And have you ever seen an orb-web-spinning spider (the ones most people know best, those that spin the classic spiderweb) actually spin its web? It’s an amazingly exacting and time-consuming process, and the result is not only an astonishingly efficient way of shopping for dinner, it’s also exceedingly beautiful. And what does the spider do in the morning when the sun comes up? It dismantles that feat of arachnid engineering, leaving its environment exactly the way it found it (minus a few juicy insects). And the next evening, it begins all over again.

All this, and more, I told my somewhat nervous audience, while Bobby sat politely on the lampshade, waving a hairy leg now and again, as if in agreement. And when he was gone the next morning, I said, ‘See? You have nothing to worry about. He’s moved along.’

As it turns out, however, he hasn’t. Bobby is alive and well and living in our house. Since we first saw him about five months ago, Bobby has popped up in the bathroom (hysterical screams from my teenage daughter), on a painting in the hallway (hysterical screams from my char) and perched on a book in my bookcase (one short, embarrassed hysterical scream from me, I have to admit). And he has grown large on the abundance of creepy-crawlies that inhabit our house: once about the size of my palm, he is now bigger than the span of my hand.

My children are begging me to catch and kill him. (Although what would I use? A gun?) ‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘He’s a spider. He’ll die… some time.’

Because I just can’t bring myself to tell them that baboon spiders can live for up to 20 years.

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Tuesday, 4 September 2007

The JHB city council makes my eyeballs bleed

Powerless is what I felt when some cheery contractor from the City Council arrived to disconnect my electricity. Without warning, mind you. Never mind that I was working on my PC on an important document (ok, an email to a friend) when the lights went out. Never mind that my ninety-year-old diabetic granny's life-support machine sputtered to a halt and she began to flatline. (Ok, I'm making that bit up, but it could have been the case).

Can you think of one other large organisation that would treat a loyal, bill-paying customer of 25 years' standing in this manner? Apart from Telkom, MTN, Home Affairs, etc? I won't bore you with all the intricate details. On second thoughts, I will:

In a nutshell, they presented me with a bill for R25 000 (that's right, twenty-five thousand ront) six weeks ago, claiming that they'd failed to read the meter for the past few years, that all the accounts I've paid in that time have been 'interim' accounts, and that I had better pay up, and smartly. After several hours of futile argument, I caved in and paid them the money in five installments of five thousand ront, sending the overdraft into orbit.

Were they grateful? Did they think to themselves, with a snigger, 'Wow, that Juno is one heck of good a customer. Asks no questions, just hands over the lolly. Obviously, there's plenty more where that came from.' Did they send me a letter saying they wanted more money? No, what they did was send around their 'independent contractor' to disconnect my power. After he'd done so, he presented me with an account showing that I was R9 000 in arrears. NINE THOUSAND RANDS.

Blood began to trickle down my cheeks as I pleaded with Mrs Call Centre. How could we have consumed so much electricity in six weeks? Was it possible that there was a mistake? How come they didn't warn me? Why didn't they send me a letter telling me they were going to disconnect the power? Could I speak to a supervisor? Is there anyone there who gives the slightest fuck?

Mrs Call Centre couldn't have been more polite and patient. My attempts at trying to reason with her were fruitless. All my efforts were, in the words of my sainted late father, as useless as a hatful of arseholes.

Reader, I paid. The lights came back on. Who's the stupid one?

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