Sunday, 30 November 2008

Weather tree update

In March this year I blogged about my weather tree. They're easy to draw and fun to fill in. This is what mine looked like a couple of months ago, when I last had a throwaway camera that I was taking happy-snaps with (so apologies for the quality).

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Monday, 24 November 2008

Facebok adveerts: who rites this garbach? And you mite be ugly

Do you ever lock at Facbook adveerts, and have you noticed how dreadfull they are?

Ok, I realize that each advertizer is limitted to about twentry words, but is this realy and excuse for such sloopy speeling and punctuashion?

It's bad enough that I'm assailed by these annoying adverts every time I try to have a quiet game of Scramble, but tonight I discover that there may be three or more people in my own home town who might think I am ugly.

Here is the offending ad, which contains my own secret name, blanked out so that you won't throw bricks at me:




Do you think I should click on the link? Do you think I should be offended at the fact that Facebook has allowed this advertiser to harvest my name, and use it in a customised advert, with the clear purpose of being really stupid?

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Friday, 21 November 2008

Ragged shoes and catapult: the agony and the excess of Africa

I was moved to tears of rage by this picture, from this morning's Times. These tattered shoes, this handmade catapult and this tiny morsel of food belong to Vhukani Sibanda, of Doma, Zimbabwe, who hunts for birds for the pot as famine looms in that country. This grim image, by Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, paints a thousand words.

On the same page, there's a picture of a man stricken by cholera being hauled to hospital in a rickety handcart, a scene that is medieval in its wretchedness.

And also on the news today, an outraged statement from Helen Zille complaining that when Jacob Zuma nipped up to Limpopo this week to do a bit of rabble-rousing campaigning, he travelled in a speeding convoy of 33 vehicles that stretched over a kilometre, even though he is not a public office-bearer. According to the report, 22 of these vehicles belonged to state law enforcement agencies. The convey 'forced traffic in both directions off the road, crossings on the route were blocked off so that the convoy could proceed without interruption and roadblocks were set up to stall other motorists.' The money to pay for this banana-republic-style jamboree comes, of course, from the state coffers.

For 100 marks, contrast and compare these scenarios. Consider how the ANC has consistently, and for more than a decade, pussy-footed around Mugabe and his malevolent regime. Then ask yourself: how does any member of the ANC - or anyone who still votes for the ruling party - actually sleep at night? How do African leaders who have kid-gloved this bastard, and mewed feebly at his stolen elections, look at themselves in the mirror every morning?

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Two-faced puss

Here's my suggestion for any politician looking for a personal mascot for the upcoming elections.
This little thing was born in Perth this week.

On second thoughts, it's just way too cute and innocent to represent a politican. Maybe a twee gat jakkals would be a better idea?

POSTSCRIPT: When I showed this image to my daughter, she said, 'It's twice as cute as a normal kitten'.

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Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Cohabition: you can’t choose your family, and sometimes you can’t choose your housemates either

I’m in the throes of finding my son accommodation for next year as he is going to be at university in a neighbouring town, too far away to commute daily. He’s a hermit at the best of times so a singular existence isn’t an option – he will, without doubt, simply fall off the radar – but finding people he’ll be able to share with in some degree of contentment also has its difficulties.

For the first four or so years I lived in Cape Town, it was in communal houses – they were relatively cheap, someone else usually held the lease (which meant little or no responsibility for me) and there was company on tap. But communal living also threw me – with varying degrees of violence – into the path of people who had… well, let’s just call it strange ways of living.

There was The Man With The Mucky Mattress. His bedroom contained one mattress and a pile of clothes - that’s all. He had no bedlinen and didn’t want any (I offered), and the mattress had, nastily, a ghastly black streak of grime down its middle where this man slept every night. The pile of clothes constituted his wardrobe, out of which he would pluck garments apparently at random to wear each day; when he went to sleep each night on his filthy mattress, he stripped off whatever he’d been wearing and simply threw it back on the pile. He never washed anything. Ever.

There was The Woman Who Didn’t Wash Dishes. She didn’t come from a particularly well-to-do background (and so, we assumed, wasn’t naturally used to servants doing her dirty work for her), but this woman brazenly stated that she ‘didn’t’ wash dishes. What began as a joke (we thought) grew into a full-scale kitchen war, with stacks of her dirty dishes piling up over the weeks, while we washed ours and refused to touch hers. Cockroaches came (and went, with liberal sprayings of Doom), but still she never got her hands wet.

There was The Man Who Hoarded Toilet Rolls. Nobody had much money, so communal grocery shopping was divvied up down to the last cent, and who the culprit was who was using so much toilet paper became something of an issue. It was only after TMWHTR moved out that we discovered where all the missing bogroll had gone: into a large built-in cupboard in his room which, when we opened its doors after he’d left, disgorged about 100 of them.

There was The Man Who Forgot To Put Out The Garbage. Communal living involves dividing up domestic tasks, and some are less pleasant than others, so we were delighted when TMWFTPOTG offered to take on the garbage detail full time. Until a few months later, when the Municipality delivered a summons on us. Why? TMWFTPOTG had indeed removed the full garbage bags from the kitchen bin – only to stack them in the lane behind the house, never to put out on the street on garbage-collection day. By the time we discovered his lack of follow-through, he’d left; I will never forget the horror of bodily shifting about four months’ worth of maggot-ridden garbage out onto the street for a very disgruntled municipal crew to collect.

There was The Woman With The Cats. We interviewed her, we liked her, we invited her to move in. She did, but she brought her four hitherto-unmentioned cats with her. I was allergic; the other housemate just didn’t like moggies. But nothing would induce her to get rid of them or to move to more animal-friendly accommodation. The most antisocial of the creatures, a malicious little tabby, would hide behind cupboards and, choosing its moment carefully, would leap out and claw you as you stumbled, hungover, to the bathroom first thing in the morning.

There were The Perfect Couple. Slim, blond and so alike in their flawless good looks that they could have been twins, this appalling pair of people would wake the house up with teeth-grinding good cheer at the crack of dawn and exhort us all to join them on a quick run around Table Mountain or a robust kayak across Table Bay. I loathed them with all my heart. And even more so when having to sit across from them at breakfast: glowing with good health, they would pour matching bowls of muesli – which they would eat with water. Gross.

And – definitely the record-holder in disturbing housemates – there was The Woman Who Had Really Loud Sex. Her bedroom was directly off the living room and if we’d known what we’d be in for, we’d have given her a fallout shelter at the bottom of the garden. The first time she brought home a man, we were surprised – she was such a quiet person. Half an hour later we were hysterical with shock: she was a screamer, and I mean that in the very visceral sense of the word. Even The Jam played at full volume failed to drown out her shrieks. Most bizarrely, by the next morning she was back to her shy, mousy self. I can’t remember what she looked like: I was always too embarrassed to make eye contact with her.

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Thursday, 13 November 2008

When is pornography not pornography? When it’s Open

About a year ago a fellow writer and editor phoned me to ask if I’d like to contribute to a volume of erotica, to be written by South African women for women. ‘Is a battery-driven dildo shock-proof!’ I said.

I wrote an artful piece (I thought), involving a woman with bitten fingernails, a deceitful man, a tense scene in a grocery store, and a short but fairly steamy encounter in a shower.

‘Nice,’ said the editor when I submitted it, ‘but we’re looking for… oh, you know… something more… specific.’

‘I don’t think I can,’ I said, and I probably giggled in a silly girly way.

‘No problem,’ she said, professionally.

But after our conversation I thought about it, and what I thought was: fukkit. Literally.

So I just wrote a piece of pornography.

And when I submitted that, the editor said, ‘This, we like.’

For years I’ve written scurrilous articles for a variety of magazines, above and below the radar, under various pseudonyms – I have teenage children who find the fact that I actually have sexual organs ferociously revolting; far be it for me to even suggest (never mind in print) that those parts are still in use. So I asked for my contribution to be printed under one of my pen names.

‘Can’t do,’ said the editor. ‘We have a reputable list of respected women writers who’ve put their own names to their pieces; the least we ask you to do is the same.’

So I did.

When the book came out, I was dismayed to discover that the only piece in it that could honestly be labelled pornography was mine. All the others were erotica: pornography written by women for women (although some did skirt the boundaries – and you know who you are).

I spent the next two weeks hiding under my bed, coming out only to shower and drink a glass of red wine now and again.

But on one of my forays I checked my email, and was amazed to find that people – women, for sure; but men, too – were really enjoying what we’d produced. Sly essays on hidden sexuality, fantasies come to life, poetry in lascivious motion, tongue-in-cheek (and sometimes elsewhere) takes on daybed daydreams – and, yes, good old-fashioned pornography: they were all finding their mark.

And these women – the women who wrote the stories that made up this bizarre and beautiful anthology – didn’t just lie down and take it when their publisher didn’t give them the foreplay they deserved: they took matters into their own hands and, a year after the book’s official launch (when, lubricated by the fuck-youness of big-business, which is what publishing has become, the book’s appearance on the market didn’t register so much as a small groan on the public’s radar), arranged their own launch.

So do yourself a favour and go to the Oshun page on Book.co.za for all the gen. Or go to Tony Park's blog for a Real Man's review of women's pornography.

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Monday, 10 November 2008

Citizen of South Africa? Your Govt. thinks you are crap

Many foul fruits fell from the apartheid tree, but among the nastiest, and the one that still leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of millions, was the poisoned apple of worthlessness. Many of those who had no choice but to chew on the apple are still suffering, a decade and a half after freedom arrived in South Africa, from its toxic, dehumanising effects: diminished self-worth, feelings of powerlessness, and a sense of shoulder-shrugging resignation: 'Well, I'm crap, and I deserve this treatment, so what's the point of complaining?'

These thoughts have turned over in my mind many times over the past few weeks, during several visits to Home Affairs and Vehicle Licensing Centres.

It would be an understatement to say that I am infuriated at the contempt shown by these agencies towards South Africa's citizens.

And I'm aghast at, and admiring of, the extraordinary tolerance and patience of ordinary people sitting in long, hot, frustrating queues. Not once, in a total of about twelve hours of queueing during the last seven days, have I heard anyone raise a complaint, not even a squeak, about the disgraceful, idle service dished out by these state agencies. No, they sit patiently, with folded arms, apparently resigned to the fact that they deserve nothing more than to be treated like shit.

There are frustrated comments, but always expressed sotto voce: 'Look at that lazy cashier. He's sitting there doing nothing.' And: 'Why is there only one till open?'. 'These chairs are dirty, and I want to go to the toilet, but I can't lose my place in the queue.'

I feel so disappointed - no, brokenhearted - that the ANC government that promised so much, and for which I voted for so eagerly, has failed so miserably to treat its citizens with a modicum of respect and kindness.

If that statement annoys you, Mr or Ms Minister, okay. But, before you denounce me, please go, without your bodyguard and your three-car convoy, and spend three to six hours at any office of the Department of Home Affairs, or any vehicle or licensing department. Okay, I'll make it easy for you: go to vehicle centre in Marlborough, Johannesburg, which is arguably the most luxurious of all Jo'burg agencies dealing with the public.

Take your place in a long queue which leads to a disinterested security guard lounging, as if he's on the beach in the Seychelles, at an old, chipped, stained desk. Note the torn-in-half cardboard cartons that serve as containers for the various forms that need to be filled in. Observe the filthy carpets, the stained chairs, the windows covered in old sticky tape and half-torn, drooping notices, which all contradict themselves.

Do have a wee and a snack before you arrive, because there are no toilets, no vending machines, nothing, in fact, that would indicate that you are a valued citizen of this country. Don't hold your breath for signposts, or any indicator as to where you should queue: you're clever, right? So work it out yourself, by trial and error.

Now allow the guard to misdirect you for a few hours. Once you finally make it to the room with six eye-testing stations, note that only one machine is in action. This machine is manned by one staff member who is too busy to process your application, because she's having a chat to the White Supervision Madam, who is about to go on a coffee break.

Next to her, at an old chipped desk, is the fingerprint and photograph executive, who is going for the regional finals in Gum-Chewing and Eye-Rolling. Please do not expect her to return your greeting: this is against office policy.

If you manage to actually get your file, please take your place in the 'queue'. This term is used loosely. It's not really a queue; it's a test of your patience and integrity. You will be approached, several times over, by burly men who whisper into your ear that they will, for a small fee, fast-track you to the front of the queue. If you are made an offer, I suggest you take it up, in the interests of research. Willingly and trustingly hand your ID book and a crisp note over to these strangers, and they will be back in under seven minutes, with your license. [Ok, maybe eight minutes: give them a break; they have to locate the person they're bribing.] Don't worry about being spotted doing illegal transactions: the staff here at the Marlborough station suffer from various degrees of blindness.

If you decide, like most of the good people in the queue, to actually sit it out and wait your turn, well, good on you, but I hope you have your knitting and the newspaper with you, because you are in for a very long wait.

Luckily, you are in good company. Your voters.

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Sunday, 2 November 2008

How parents lie to children

I laughed and laughed at my co-blogger Muriel's post about the lies that parents tell their children: 'Wine makes Mummy clever.' I laughed because over the years I've told my children many small white lies. I laughed because my parents told me lies too. And, most of all, I laughed because the lies don't really change over the generations - they're passed down from parent to child like shining pearls.

A recent survey revealed that parents lie to their children often, and with great consistency. According to the survey, these are the most common parental porky pies:

  1. Father Christmas only gives presents to good children
  2. Father Christmas only visits children who go to sleep nicely on Christmas Eve
  3. Sitting too close to the television will give you square eyes.
  4. Eating spinach will make you strong.
  5. If you pull a face and the wind changes direction, your face will stay like that
  6. If you play with your private parts, they'll drop off
I told my children lie no. 2, but I couldn't sustain it for long, because my conscience got the better of me by the time they were about four and I had to admit to them that there was no Father Christmas, no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy and, in my opinion, no Baby Jesus or God either. I also lied to them about TV square eyes and about spinach.

The other lies I told:

  • Eating fish grows your brain and makes you do better at maths
  • Eating carrots improves your eyesight and lets you see in the dark
  • The jingle played by the ice cream van means they've run out of ice cream [I was enchanted to learn that this is a very common lie among parents]
  • Injections do not hurt one bit
  • This medicine is delicious
  • Wrap up warmly, or you will catch a cold, and, put on a jersey at once or you will get pneumonia
  • Daddy and I have locked the bedroom door because I'm showing him your birthday presents
  • The pet parrot, Piper, flew away because he was missing his mummy and daddy and went to find them [the bird was eaten by a feral cat]
  • The daddy dog is giving the mummy dog a back massage [a good old rogering, actually]
And here are a few of my late father's favourites, which were passed down from his parents, and which might well have been true in the twenties and thirties, but which were just harmless urban legends by the time the sixties rolled around:

  • If you eat unwashed lettuce or garden greens, you will get liver flukes. Which might crawl out of your nose.
  • Don't buy crayfish off the side of the road, because they have been bred and raised in septic tanks and latrines
  • Don't sit on cold ground, or you will get piles.
My dad also gave me some bloody good advice, which I follow to the letter:

  • Don't ever fly in a light aircraft, ever.
  • If in doubt, catch a taxi.
  • Wash your feet before you climb into a bed with clean sheets.

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‘Wine makes mummy clever’ and other lies we tell our children

I laughed recently when a friend told me she felt guilty about having warned her son, when he reached 11 or so and became inordinately interested in his penis, that it would drop off if he played with it too much.

My own mother’s lies included that our spines would melt if we sat too close to the fire, that we’d get worms if we ate sugar straight from the bowl, and that we’d get nightmares if we ate bananas or cheese directly before we went to sleep.

And then there are, of course, the ‘regular’ lies we tell our kids when they’re young, most usually about Father Christmas. My sister dearly wished her 10-year-old son to have ‘just one more Christmas’ believing in Santa Claus and his little elf toymaker-helpers before being made privy to the big bad world of consumerism, but she was a bit too late: opening a lovingly wrapped rugby ball on Christmas morning, he said to her, ‘Mom, if this is from Father Christmas, he shops at Game, just like you do. And this cost him R69.99.’ Then he shot her one of those looks – the ones most teenagers get in their How To Irritate The Hell Out Of Your Parents goodie bags when they turn 16. (He is, needless to say, precocious.)

I can’t recall any specific lies I told my children (although I’m sure I did), but I did spend a lot of their early childhood very stoned. I was a dedicated marijuana smoker for years, and would still be if my children hadn't so inconveniently turned into teenagers, who can tell a stoned smile a mile off. So marijuana hasn’t featured in our house at all for a long time (and I can’t pretend I don’t miss it).

I remember particularly one evening when my son, then about 12, woke up late one night with a sore throat. I’d been working (I did a lot of my best writing work stoned) and, distracted, I searched through the cupboards for Panado pills, which I usually gave my kids for pain, but couldn’t find any. The only painkiller to be had was Grandpa, an analgesic powder. My son, understandably, didn’t want to take it, but there was nothing else, so I said I’d help him get it down. ‘Open wide,’ I said, ‘and put your tongue onto the roof of your mouth.’ My thoughts elsewhere, I tipped the powder in more-or-less the direction of his mouth. Then, still not really concentrating, I handed him a glass of water and told him to wash it down.

The next morning my son was right as rain but there was a strange little smattering of white powder on the kitchen floor. Serving up Cornflakes and orange juice to my kids, slightly bleary-eyed, I looked at it and murmured, ‘Hm, wonder what that is?’

My son giggled. ‘You don’t remember, Mom, do you?’ he said. ‘Last night you tried to give me some Grandpa. But you missed.’

If my children grow up to be axe-murderers, it will be all my fault.

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Anybody out there?

I first read the story of the Lonely Whale years ago in a science journal (I can’t remember which one) and my friend Johann reminded me of it at a dinner party the other night. I haven’t thought about it in ages but it’s an interesting story.

Although the Lonely Whale has never been seen, its existence is known from its call (akin, apparently, to a low note on a tuba), first noticed back in 1989 and recorded and tracked since 1992. No other similar ‘sonic signature’ has ever been heard.

First it was thought that the whale – whose home territory is the North Pacific – was a hybrid (resulting from a mating of two different species, one of them probably a blue whale) but scientist Mary Ann Daher established that the call’s characteristics identify it as a baleen whale. Problem is, most baleen whales call at a frequency of 15-20 hertz. The Lonely Whale calls at 52 hertz.

It gets more heart-rending. Baleen whales don’t make noises to echo-locate (in other words, to orientate themselves in their environments); rather, their very-low-frequency calls, which carry through the water for hundreds of kilometres, are purely for communication – for company and courtship. And if the call you’re making can’t be recognised by those of your own species, no-one’s going to answer, are they?

It’s been suggested that the Lonely Whale might be deaf – that, like humans with similarly impaired hearing, the sounds it makes are different from those of its own species (and therefore not recognised by them); and, more poignantly, that no matter how much it calls, it can’t hear any answers.

As the article I read ended, ‘Imagine roaming the world’s largest ocean year after year alone, calling out with the regularity of a metronome, and hearing no response. It must be so lonely.’

* Listen to the Lonely Whale at www.pmel.noaa.gov/vents/acoustics/spectrograms.html or www.pmel.noaa.gov/vents/acoustics/whales/sounds/sounds_52blue.html

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Wabbing, boondoggling and Sunday-night insomnia

Everyone has their best and worst day of the week. Least favourite in the western world must be Monday – the deathly beginning of the work-week grind, after two glorious days of late nights, sleeping in and doing whatever you want.

Tuesday is something of a ‘nothing’ day – it’s not as bad as Monday, sure, but it’s just kind of nowhere: too close to the beginning of the week to be considered in a favourable light, too far from the weekend ditto.

In South Africa (and perhaps elsewhere?) Wednesday is known as ‘the little weekend’. After three full days of early-morning rising, dedicated daytime labour and evening sobriety, and with the weekend almost in sight, the wheels tend to fall off on Wednesday evenings.

Which usually means Thursday is a ‘black dog’ day – hungover and difficult, characterised by nafi-ness and wabbing (nafi = no amibition, f*kall inclination; wab = work avoidance behaviour).

But that’s okay, because Thursday precedes Friday, which means it’s only one step to the last working day of the week and… freedom! In Cape Town, especially, Friday ‘evening’ rush-hour traffic starts at lunchtime – no-one bothers to work a full Friday; and if they do stay in the office until 5pm, they’re boondoggling. (boondoggling = moving pieces of paper around in order to look busy.)

When I was younger, the very fact that it was Friday was all the excuse we needed to go out and get thoroughly plastered. A kind of hysteria set in and lasted, usually, until the early – and sometimes late – hours of Saturday morning. Which meant that Saturday, lovely day though it was, was reserved for nursing hangovers over long, lazy lunches with friends or going to movies.

Now that we’re older, Friday evening is more for kicking back and relaxing. People who have dinner parties on Friday nights are seen as a tad more adventurous than is deemed strictly necessary – everyone’s too busy getting over the stress of their working week to let their hair down, and use Fridays to recover before the socialising that Saturday brings.

So Saturdays are fabulous no matter how you look at them – whether you’re lying in bed eating chicken tikka to try and smother a hangover, or doing some rudimentary gardening or other household chore prior to showering, primping and getting ready to have fun.

Which brings us to Sunday. For me, it’s the one day of the week that’s divided very clearly into divine and dreadful.

Sunday morning and early afternoon, divine: wake late; have a full cooked breakfast (in our family, the only day we do this); read the Sunday newspapers (fab junk food for the brain); often prepare for lunch with friends (in winter, round the fire; in summer, on the verandah); have lunch with friends (and lots of wine), etc.

Sunday late afternoon and evening, dreadful: prepare for the week ahead. If you’ve got kids, this means locating (and, if you’ve squandered your weekend on leisure, like most of us, laundering) school uniforms, checking homework and presiding over last-minute amendments to projects (or, if your kid has been as profligate as you with Friday and Saturday, sometimes the whole damned things), finding the readies to make dinner in a kitchen all but depleted of foodstuffs, etc.

And then there’s getting through Sunday nights. In my family of origin – ie, the one I grew up in – Sunday nights were always bleak. Firstly, my parents were usually fabulously pissed, having spent the afternoon entertaining their friends, and wanted as little to do with their four offspring as was humanly possible; this meant throwing together some comestibles (usually something weird and badly cooked by my father – pancakes blackened on the bottom, say, or scrambled eggs that were mostly water), then hot-footing it upstairs to their own private wing. And, secondly, we were expressly banned from our parents’ private wing on Sunday nights unless we were actually dying; I suspect this was because they wanted to have uninterrupted, wild, drunken Sunday-night sex.

Incidentally, I suspect that my parents – who were, to put it mildly, godless – insisted that all four of us go to Sunday School every Sunday morning without fail (unless, as above, we were actually dying) because they wanted to have uninterrupted, sensible, sober Sunday-morning sex as well.

Anyway, so for me Sunday nights aren’t much fun. I don’t know how much of this has to do with the subconscious ickyness of imagining my parents getting it on, but I suspect not that much – because a lot of the people I’ve straw-polled about Sunday nights also experience them as bleak.

There’s a phenomenon known as ‘Sunday night insomnia’ which the experts say has to do with how your body-clock gets thrown out by irregular Friday-night and Saturday-night sleep patterns (caused by late-night jolling). But this doesn’t explain why, even when I get to bed at a reasonable hour, and sober, on Friday and Saturday nights (and this does happen – okay, not often, but still), Sunday nights remain a real challenge for getting proper shut-eye.

But regardless of the quality of the sleep you get on Sunday night, all too soon it’s Monday. And the whole cycle begins again.

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