Sunday, 24 August 2008

My 16-year-old daughter eventually goes to London - to stay with precious old friends

It was 14 months in the savings and about six months in the planning, but last week I finally waved my ‘baby’ (all almost-6-foot of her) through the gates at Cape Town International on her way to England. Of course I wept copiously all the way home after I’d seen her off at the airport (what if she were kidnapped and sold into the slave trade on her stopover in Dubai?) but needless to say she arrived safe and sound at Heathrow, if a little ‘greasy’ (her description), pissed off (because she’d sat on a crowded flight between two businessmen who ‘farted all the way’) and disillusioned with international travel (her baggage had, predictably, not made it to London along with her).

Coincidentally, this week, my trusty old Canon printer finally gave up the ghost and I, pressured by deadlines, rushed out to buy a new one. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a scanner/copier/printer costs, now, about what my old printer cost me when I bought it 10 years ago, so I am now the owner of a mini-bizhub, and having quite a lot of fun with it.

One of the first things I did with my new purchase was scan and email pics taken over 20 years ago to old friends living abroad who’d asked me for these when trawling through my scrapbooks on various visits to my little country hovel during the last couple of years. And I had to have a giggle at what I’d sent my daughter to…

Here are my good friends Kevin and Ruth, snapped in the squat we lived in in inner-city Cape Town in 1989, when we were in our late teens/early twenties. Kevin now owns properties in various cities around the world, is an in-demand IT specialist, is married to the woman of his dreams, and drives (as if all the rest weren’t enough) a canary-yellow Porsche; he’s currently resident in Oz but that’s not to say he’s going to stay there. I took this pic (below) of him and his wife in January this year, sharing a coupla glasses of wine on my verandah.

Ruth (in whose tender loving care my daughter is at this very minute) morphed with astonishing style from a cross-dressing chameleon-haired wild girl into this elegant working lady-of-the-manor, now mother of one and wife to a gorgeous Frenchman an indecent number of years her junior, living the sophisticated high life on a sprawling Surrey estate.

Here’s another shot, of my friend Michele and (I can hardly believe it) me, taken over 20 years ago in the same squat (which my then-boyfriend refused to spend time in because, he said, 'hedonism seeped from its walls'). Michele, then a fan of food and the grand vizier of unsuitable relationships, is now a mom of three, still married to the delicious man she fell in love with almost 20 years ago, an academic editor and forging a successful life in a foreign country. My daughter spent a few happy, busy days with her last week.

As for me – well! That bright-white hairstyle (not to mention the glistery blue shirt) was one of my lesser indulgences in those days (I once had a chessboard dyed into the back of my head). But the two glasses, the cigarette and the ‘listen to me now - and make it snappy!’ expression haven’t changed much. And I have to wonder: if I weren’t me, would I send my precious 16-year-old daughter to me to look after?? (This pic, above, is of Michele and me in 2006 - my, how sensible I've become!)

I love the notion that I sent my daughter off, like a marble shot out of a rubber band, into a foreign country, trusting my dear old wild friends to make sure she's fed, watered, entertained and cosseted. And of course that’s exactly what they’ve done (they, and my Aunt Janet in Manchester – she of Bobby the Spider fame, for regular readers of this blog – and Brigitte and John in Richmond, who've known me since I was a toddler and my kids from day dot).

It’s just so amazingly, stupendously wonderful to have precious, irreplaceable friends who've known you since you were young and stupid - and who, no matter where they've been in the universe and what's happened in their lives, have never lost touch with you. And who - who would've thought it?! - so many years on, you can send your precious, irreplaceable child to, and know they will be creative and caring to. My dear, dear old friends: I salute you!

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Saturday, 23 August 2008

Kid craze: squidgees sweep Cape Town

My sister, who lives in Cape Town, tells me that the craze for squidgees - also known as crystal soil - is rampaging through primary schools on the Peninsula. I am fascinated by this, not only because I - ahem - believe I can take some credit for starting the whole thing, but also because I think the name 'Squidgee' was first used at my daughter's school. When she took her first bowl of these funny giant fish eggs to school, they had no name, but by 1 pm on the same day, everyone was calling them Squidgees, and as I can't find them called this anywhere else on the Internet, I reckon the girls of Roedean school can take the credit. They're also now known as Squishies.

Even more interesting, a rumour that swirled around the school on that day - namely, that squidgees can 'get pregnant' and pop out little squidgees [squidglets?] - has also turned up at my nephew and niece's Sea Point school, demonstrating the incredible power and durability of child folkore. My sister tells me there's another, similar rumour involving sugar, but I haven't heard that one - have you?

I was also very amused to hear the Chinese supplier of polyacrylamide plant crystals refer to them as Squidgees a month ago, when she eagerly offered me packets of square squidgees, which swell up to coloured blocks three times the size of ice cubes.

Another interesting variation of squidgees is the delightfully named Gelli Baff: a bag of polyacrylamide powder that turns bath water into colourful, gloopy goo, and comes with a packet of stuff - salt, I believe - that turns the gunk back into water, so it can be drained away. Available from your local Kitsch & Kool.

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Thursday, 21 August 2008

Living pure: it may not prolong your life, but it sure feels like it does

A month ago, after a particularly wild stay-up-all-night-misbehaving party, I came down with a nasty dose of the snots. I was afraid it was going to develop into full-blown flu (a catch-all phrase used by South Africans to describe any illness that involves sniffles, but which in reality is when a virus literally knocks you off your feet for at least a few days) but the achy bones and shivery skin passed pretty quickly, leaving me with nothing more than a stuffy head and an alarmingly copious flow of mucus.

Wanting to get rid of these unpleasant symptoms as quickly as possible, I decided to go on a full week’s detox – no alcohol, no cigarettes, plenty of water and fresh fruit and vegetables, and early nights. By the end of the first week I could discern no measurable change – I still felt significantly below par and there was no noticeable decrease in my phlegm production.

Still, I didn’t feel well enough to party, so decided instead to extend my detox to two weeks. By the end of the second week I noticed three things: I was sleeping better, I’d lost 2kg and my friends had stopped dropping in. Although a little perturbed by my sudden plummet in popularity, I was sufficiently buoyed by the small achievements of better sleep and weight loss to extend my detox to three weeks.

By the end of that week, I noticed five things: the minute I got into bed, I fell straight to sleep (a miracle for a lifelong insomniac), I’d lost another kilogram, my complexion was pink and glowy, my friends had stopped phoning, and I was getting annoyed emails from people asking why I hadn’t responded to theirs.

So, while I was physically looking better than I have for, probably, the last five years, nobody was bothering to pop around and notice this. As for the emails thing – the truth is that I find it just about impossible to sit at my computer and scribble without a glass of wine and a cigarette to hand. And rather than invite the possibility of these lovely indulgences, I was responding to emails strictly on a ‘have-to’ basis, replying only to urgent business matters, then fleeing the computer before temptation took hold.

Tomorrow marks the end of my fourth week of detox. I’ve lost 4kg, my skin is so bloody gorgeous it could be used for a cosmetics ad, and I’ve never slept better in my life.

On the down side, I’ve been completely and utterly shunned by my friends, both virtual and real (most of whom are, admittedly, committed party people). I haven’t written a creative word in a month. And I’m so bored I could scream.

But I have discovered the secret of those who live pure and profess to have the answer to longevity: they don’t actually live longer than we hedonists do, it just feels as if they do.

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Monday, 18 August 2008

Do you hate your dogs? I think I do

I've never been much of a dog lover, because I've never been able to understand the point of having them. Maybe this is a character flaw, or maybe it's just because I don't have the dog-loving gene. Unfortunately for me, my three kids, and my husband, adore dogs, and so we have three of them, two of whom madden me to the point that I have seriously considered leaving our driveway gate wide open so that they run away and get adopted by a loving family.

I have only really loved and bonded with one dog in my life, and that is my adorable basset hound Velvet, She Who Can Do No Wrong. Velvet - see pic, left - is the perfect dog. She is kind, patient, sweet, obedient, and very cuddly; she has ludicrously long ears and enormous paws, and her coat is fluffy and long - an undesirable trait in bassets, I have since learned. She has droopy pink-rimmed eyes, hyperactive eyebrows and an expression of perplexment and deep disappointment. She adores me, follows me from room to room, and loves nothing more than to drape herself all over me, and give deep, contented, melodramatic sighs. When I take her in the car, she hangs out of the window, her ridiculous ears billowing out like a ships' sails behind the car.

So what's the problem, I hear you ask. You love one dog, you love 'em all. Sorry, but that's not the case at all. Velvet is an obvious freak of nature: she has inherited none of the genes that make dogs so offensive. For one thing, she doesn't smell. [All the dogs I knew as a child smelled terrible to me, perhaps because I grew up on a smallholding where there was a lot of animal dung on the ground. We had about eighteen generations of bulldogs, mixed in with various mongrels who ravished them during their adventures in the veld, and the smell of their fur on my hand always made me want to gag.]

For another, she is not particularly loud, barky, rude or boisterous. She poos neatly in a back corner of the flower garden, she doesn't chew or steal or howl, and her fireside farts are never strong enough to blister the paint on the skirting boards. She is kind and loving towards to annoying cats, too - as this picture proves.

But as for the other two: I wish I didn't own them. Out of respect for his age, I'm not going to diss Duke, an annoying, dysfunctional old staffie who is on his last arthritic legs, because he doesn't have many years left in him, and because he has nobly spent the last ten years tramping around the suburbs with me on my daily walks as my personal attack dog. I won't say a word about his manic, obsessive-complusive behaviour, which includes six hours a day of licking walls until his drool forms a river that actually seeps under my front door. And I won't even mention the amount of money I've spent at my local vet, getting this sorry old hound x-rayed, hip-replaced, knee-replaced, pain-relieved and tranquillised. No, I cannot say a word against Duke.

But I do want to throttle our one-year-old basset hound, Akamaru [previously known as Coco]. She's a disobedient, thieving little bitch, who barks and howls incessantly, respects nobody, is immune to any sort of training, chews everything in sight, leaves big steaming mounds all over the house, the driveway and my herb and vegetable garden, escapes from my gate at every opportunity, misbehaves so badly in the park and on walks that I've given up taking her, fights with other dogs, rips up dustbin bags, and the dustbins themselves, sneaks through windows, steals food off counters, tears up my plants, chews my shoes - and any pair of knickers or underpants, to the point of leaping up and ripping them off the washing line - and smells like the tail-end of a sewer rat. She infuriates my neighbours, frightens the postman, terrorises vistors and spends many hours every night whining and pawing at our front door.

I don't have the dog-loving gene, and Akamaru doesn't seem to have anything between her long ears at all. I wish I didn't own her. In fact, I could do without dogs altogether.

I realise I am going to provoke some ire by saying this upfront. Some twelve or so years ago, I wrote a column for Fairlady magazine complaining about how offensive dogs and their owners were, and the magazine received a flurry of outraged letters from dog lovers denouncing me as a heartless beast.

But I haven't changed my mind. I don't really like dogs, and I don't see the point of them.

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Sunday, 17 August 2008

New Oz traditional weapon: the sjambok

Nothing like a sjambok to show a pack of rampaging adolescents who is baas. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that ex-South African Dion Driman, 46, of Wahroonga, Sydney, whipped out his trusty sjambok when a 'marauding gang of teenage gatecrashers' tried to storm his 16-year-old's birthday party. Now he may be charged for using excessive force to chase the away the teens.

"I told them it was a private party and to clear off but this big youth put his face right into mine and said: 'make me'," said Mr Driman, 46.

Driman tackled the ringleader as he came round the side of the house: "As I tackled him, six of them came over the top of me. I received a big hit to the side of my head," said Mr Driman.

[Can you imagine the actual dialogue?

'Hey, bru, voertsek or I'll teckle you, then donner you with my sjambok.'
'Fick you, mate? I'll heet you on the side of your head?]

I am sure that Driman is very glad he packed his sjambok when he emigrated to Australia. I wonder whether Ozzies coming to South Africa pack their boomerangs?

Which reminds me: what do you call a boomerang that doesn't come back to you? A stick.

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Friday, 15 August 2008

Video: Little Gordon Ramsay is f***king popular

A video clip of a pint-sized version of foul-mouthed chef Gordon Ramsay has become an internet hit - according to this report, the clip has been viewed over 60 000 times on YouTube.

I've just finished reading Ramsay's autobiography, Humble Pie, which swept away any reservations I had about the man and his manner. I think he's a fucking genius and I would like to have his children. Not least because he's now, according to business magazine Forbes, the third-highest-paid chef in the world, raking in an estimated £4 million a year. Not bad for lad who grew up on council estates.

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Thursday, 14 August 2008

Funny-Galore: win R20 000 for your funky T-shirt design


I am a devoted fan of quirky SA retailers Big Blue, not least because of their continued efforts to put local designers on the map. If you'd like to see your T-shirt design in Big Blue and Kitsch & Kool stores, and win a fat twenty thousand ront on top of that, read on.

Hot off the press release:

Makhulu Polane (loosely translated means Big Idea) was started by Big Blue in 2006 in an effort to discover and support South African design talent. The annual Makhulu Polane t-shirt design competition has become a firm favourite on the annual SA design calendar and attracts entries from aspiring and professional graphic, illustration and fashion designers.

The 2008 Big Blue Makhulu Polane opens for entries on 18 August, closing date for submissions is 1 September 2008. This year’s design theme is ‘Funny-Galore’ - the funniest, smartest, coolest design will win R20 000 in cash and will be sold in all Big Blue and Kitsch & Kool stores nationwide for two months.

Since its inception in 2006 this original Big Blue idea has become a great success; this award winning online marketing initiative is unique in that it reached both online and offline audiences and translated into real in-store sales. Winning designs from 2006 and 2007 sold out and were reprinted several times and a number of the top 10 2007 Makhulu Polane designs are still being printed and sold.

Take a look at some of last year's winning designs, including this stunning vision of Mandela.

The competition is not limited to submissions from registered students or designers but is open to anyone who feels they have a unique t-shirt design. Designs do not need to be digitally created; hand drawn illustrations can be scanned and uploaded.

The award winning Makhulu Polane campaign is an original, award-winning annual event that encourages and celebrates South African design.

Images from www.bigblue.co.za


Check out the Big Blue website for competition details and guidelines on how to submit your design.

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Tuesday, 12 August 2008

A pockage of Prunglies - how to find inner peace

Maybe I'm the only person on earth who hasn't seen this email forward, but oh my giddy aunt it gave me a good laff in the midst of a horrid week.

How to find iner peas

We all could use more calm in our lives. By following the simple
advice I heard on a medical TV show, I have finally found inner peace.

A doctor proclaimed the way to achieve inner peace is to
finish all the things you have started. So I looked around my house to see
things I'd started and hadn't finished and, before leaving the house this
morning, I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of shhardonay, a bodle
of Baileys, a butle of vocka, a pockage of Prunglies, tha mainder of bot
Prozic and Valum scriptins, the res of the Chesescke an a box a chocolets.

Yu haf no idr who gud I fel.

Peas sen dis orn to dem yu fee ar in ned ov inr pece.

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Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Doctors' Receptionists From Hell

What is it about some doctors’ receptionists that make them think that because they answer the phones (sometimes, when they feel like it) for medically trained professionals, they themselves are entitled to some sort of special respect? Odd though it may seem to this particular breed, being a doctor’s receptionist doesn’t actually automatically qualify you to be insensitive, overbearing and generally just exceedingly unpleasant.

I’ve known some really charming doctors’ receptionists in my life, but they’re vastly outnumbered by these arrogant, loud and often plain rude women (I’ve never met a male one).

These are the people who refer to the doctor as just ‘doctor’, dropping the definite article as if even it were beneath their contempt (‘I’ll check if doctor can see you now’; ‘Doctor says you must go for X-rays’; ‘No, you can’t speak to doctor, he’s far too busy and important to waste time on a nonentity like you’).

They’re also the ones who police the appointment book with a ruthlessness that can do fairly serious emotional damage to the less-than-sturdy. Unless your arm is actually severed from your body or you can prove that you’re in imminent danger of death, don’t expect an appointment within the next three months. An emergency? What kind of emergency? You don’t want to tell me? It’s personal? In that case, sorreee for you, the soonest doctor can see you is in November, and that’s only if she gets a cancellation. Or you can cough up and tell me – a mere receptionist with, quite likely, zero tertiary education and under no obligation, moral or otherwise, not to blurt patients’ most heinous secrets to anyone I feel like – exactly what the problem is.

Then you turn up five minutes late for an appointment that you made three months ago, and that’s only because you were mugged on the way in or your mother died or something. Well, sorreee for you, you’ll just have to sit and wait until doctor has time to see you – he's simply way too busy and important to be kept waiting for five whole minutes by the likes of you.

On the other hand, should doctor be running late, sorreee for you, whatever other arrangements you’ve made that are being totally screwed by 'doctor's' inability to not overbook her appointments – that’s not our problem, is it?

I recently had to make an urgent appointment for my son with our local doctors’ practice. I’m not a great fan of theirs – they’ve done things in the past like give my daughter antibiotics when I specifically told them she was allergic, hand out strong antidepressants like sweets (which I thought might be fun until I accepted a script and ended up becoming suicidally depressed), and allow me almost to die of tickbite fever from a simple inability to identify what turned out to be mindbogglingly obvious symptoms – but they’re close by, we’ve been on their books for eight years, and they can usually fit us in in an emergency.

But, apparently, they’ve also just got a new receptionist – one of those straight from the deepest, darkest pits of hell.

First, she wanted to know what was wrong with my son. ‘He can discuss that with the doctor,’ I said firmly.

She sniffed. ‘I hope you’re not going to waste doctor’s time,’ she said (and there it was: ‘doctor’ without the ‘the’ – I just knew this was going to be awful). ‘If he needs X-rays…’

‘He doesn’t need X-rays,’ I said. ‘What times do you have free today?’

There was a frosty silence, then she said, ‘Four-thirty.’

I said, ‘That’s problematic for me. I have to fetch my daughter in [the next town, 20 kilometres away] at 4.30. Haven’t you got anything earlier or later?’

‘Four-thirty,’ she repeated. ‘Take it or leave it.’ (She used those actual words. Serious.)

I took it, then phoned my daughter and told her to go to a friend’s and wait for me there. I reckoned I’d be able to fetch her an hour later, at 5.30pm.

My son and I were at the doctor’s at 4.30pm on the dot. When we walked in, there were two people sitting in the reception, the phones were ringing off the hook, and the Receptionist From Hell was having a jolly good ole chat with some random person (not a patient) about a flat tyre she’d got on her way to work that morning – I know this because I stood in her peripheral vision for about 10 minutes, listening to both this conversation and the phones ringing away unanswered, while she totally ignored both me and them.

Finally, she wrapped up her conversation, then, at her leisure, answered a phone. Listening to the conversation made me cringe – it was classic Receptionist From Hell stuff. What was the matter with the person? No, what exactly was the matter? How long had it been that way? What colour was the discharge? And on and on, until (and this amazed me) she actually persuaded whoever the poor person was on the other end of the phone to go to hospital for X-rays (lord knows, I hope he or she needed them).

Then she carefully put the phone back in its cradle, turned to me (we were sitting down by now) and said (I am quoting verbatim): ‘What’s your problem?’

I stared at her in near-disbelief but managed to choke out my son’s name and the time of his appointment – which was now about 15 minutes overdue.

The harridan immediately said, ‘It’s just bad luck, you’ll have to wait, these two patients were here before you.’

I said, ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Doctor’s running late,’ she said, then folded her arms and looked at me in a bizarrely and blatantly challenging way.

‘And you didn’t think to maybe phone me and tell me that?’ I said. ‘You’ve got my contact details right there in your book. You knew I had to fetch my daughter at 4.30 because I told you so this morning, when I called to make the appointment. And it didn’t cross your mind to just pick up the phone and let me know that the doctor’s running late?’

‘Don’t you be rude to me!’ shouted the receptionist.

I was absolutely astonished. I stood up, intending to leave, and said, ‘I can’t see what’s rude about asking you to phone me and tell me that the doctor’s running late. In fact, I think it’s rude of you not to have done so,’ then began walking towards the door.

But she just couldn’t let it go. ‘How dare you speak to me like that!’ she yelled.

Well, I’m sorry to say, I snapped. I stormed over to the reception desk, pushed my face right into hers, and screamed, ‘WHAT’S RUDE ABOUT ASKING YOU TO PHONE ME AND TELL ME THAT THE DOCTOR’S RUNNING LATE?!’ (Little bits of spit actually flew out of my mouth and landed on her nose.)

Then I marched out.

Still she didn’t drop it, and continued shouting after me as I walked down the path towards my car. My son (who’d discreetly left when I’d said, ‘I beg your pardon?' – he’s lived with me long enough to know the danger signs) was already sitting in the car, and I joined him there. ‘What happened?’ he asked.

I had an image of this ridiculous woman, tinpot general of the waiting room, with a bit of my spittle on her nose, and I burst out laughing. ‘Nothing really,’ I said. ‘I’ve just realised it’s time to find a new doctor.’

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Friday, 1 August 2008

A power melt-down in my house. And why Samsung rocks.

Humorist Paul Jennings once classified book reviewers as 'batchers, betchers, bitchers, botchers and butchers', according to Bevis Hiller, writing in the November 2007 issue of The Spectator. I think that bloggers too can fit quite neatly into these pigeonholes. I won't offer examples, but surely you must know bloggers who are batchers (they blog in meaningless batches), betchers ('I betcha I could do it better'), botchers (they cannot write), butchers (eviscerating their enemies at every opportunity), and, of course, that most popular category, bitchers.

I sincerely hope this blog doesn't fall into five of these divisions, and only occasionally warrants inclusion in the bitchers' league. And I'm not apologising for this: surely half the point having a blog is so that you can have a little grumble now and then?

So here's my little bitch.

Last Tuesday, I popped a piece of bread into my toaster - which is so elderly that it takes a minimum of two minutes, on its highest setting, to warm a wafer-thin slice - and took the opportunity to stagger to the bathroom for a quick vomit. (At this point, I should mention that I was suffering from a severe bout of flu, topped by an evil gastric rotavirus. I hadn't eaten for three days, but my stomach juices seemed to be eating me, and I thought I fancied a bit of Marmite toast. )

Less than a minute later, I returned to the kitchen to find black smoke billowing from the toaster, and a cinder lying on the counter. Odd, I thought. I twiddled the knob, turned it to the lowest heat setting, and put in another slice. Exactly forty-five seconds later (I know: I was leaning against the counter, counting slowly as I tried control the dry-heaving) the same thing happened: an incinerated crust exploded from the toaster slot, wreathed in black fumes, with a funny burnt-plastic smell.

I didn't suspect a thing. Naturally, NATURALLY, the toast would burn: everything else had conspired against me that week, so why not the toaster? I unplugged the stupid thing, and hobbled to the microwave to warm up a nice mug of hot chocolate. Big, huge, grinning surprise - the bloody machine wasn't working, and I didn't have the energy to wonder why.

Instead, I let out a self-pitying snivel, and wobbled off to the lounge to watch a bit of TV. Thirty seconds later, there was a loud bang from the kitchen, and the lights went out as the earth- leakage switch tripped. (And then, as is the case when you live with children, shouts echoed from every corner of the household: 'HEY.' 'Fuck that.' 'Who switched off the TV?' And then, in unison, 'MOMMMMMY, the lights have tripped.')

So off I staggered to the distribution boards, which are in a cupboard under the stairs. En route to the cupboard, I realised I felt rather spacey: for one thing, all the lights burning in the kitchen and passage were way, way too bright; retina-burning bright, in fact, and there was a strange humming noise in my ears. Either I'm beginning to hallucinate, I thought, or I have meningitis.

But, brain inflammation or not, I was not going to miss The Antiques Roadshow, so I lurched into the cupboard-under-the-stairs and flicked up the main switch. Another massive bang from the kitchen. Like an toddler who doesn't learn from its mistakes, I flicked it up again, and there was another small explosion. I yelled for a teen, told him to push the switch up himself, and reeled into the kitchen. As he lifted the switch, a fork of flame shot from a wall socket, and there was another bang, this time accompanied by a merry chorus of pops, gurgles, burps, growls, beeps and hisses, coming from every corner of the house. 'OFF' I screamed to the poor, bewildered teen, still standing in the cupboard under the stairs. 'Turn the switch OFF'.

He did, but not in time to prevent a massive power surge from frying virtually every appliance in the house.

Then, a terrifying smell of smoke. I bounded back to the lounge on my twelve-league boots to find foul-smelling white smoke boiling out from underneath the TV set. Panic. Shouting. Curtain-flapping, door-opening, child-shooing, tea-making, painkiller-popping and a disgraceful melt-down of the mother figure.

Husband-phoning. Neighbour-contacting.

When the last black tendrils of smoke had gone, some sober damage assessment. The massive power surge was caused - according to Johannesburg City Power - by someone vandalising or stealing some cables one block up from our street.

So, the damage: fridge, microwave, dishwasher, tumble drier, washing machine, toaster, DVD machines, kids' computers, the gate motor, the intercom, heaters, lights, cell phone rechargers, satellite decoder, TV set... I won't go on and on, but, in a nutshell, the surge fried everything that was plugged in at the time, save two PCs fitted with surge protectors, the kettle, and my hair-dryer (there might be a God after all).

We are covered by household insurance, and I am grateful for that, but I am maddened and exhausted by the sheer admin load: the many hours I've had to fritter finding technicians to give me quotes for repairs, waiting in queues, phoning call centres, dealing with technicians, shopping for new appliances, reading manuals, waiting for deliveries, and so on.

We're almost up and running again, but I have learned three important lessons I'd like to pass on to you, for what they are worth:

1. If your toaster acts funny, don't assume it's out to get you because you're having a shit week. For once, it's not the toaster's fault.

2. There are too many electrical appliances in your house.

3. If you insist on having so many electrical goods, make sure you buy the same brand of everything. Trust me on this. I speak as someone who has spent three days begging and pleading - from my sickbed, I might add - with eight or nine different service centres, all of whom have rules and regulations and policies that make South Africa's Department of Home Affairs look like the Red Cross. The winner? Hands-down, Samsung. They arrived the very next morning, fixed two of the melted appliances in a jiffy, and took away the third one. They were polite, helpful, and couldn't have been more pleasant.

On the upside: I have some lovely new electrical appliances in the house. Guess which brand?

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