Thursday, 22 January 2009

Isandlwana, a solar eclipse, and my great-great uncle Malcolm Moodie's pointless death

Today is the 130th anniversary of the Battle of Isandlwana, and, in four days' time, a partial solar eclipse will be visible in South Africa. How are these things connected, why should I care, and why do I have goosebumps on my arms as I type this post?

Well, a decade or so back, when I first got interested in family history, I discovered that a great-great-uncle of mine, Malcolm Moodie*, aged 22, died during that battle, in which a mighty force of 20 000 Zulu warriors, mustered by King Cetshwayo, below, resoundly defeated a column of some 1200 British soldiers, who were armed to the teeth.

Knowing very little about Malcolm, or the circumstances of his death, or indeed about Isandlwana, I did some reading. The accounts of that tragic battle chilled me to the marrow - the usual stuff of war: the meaningless slaughter of thousands of teenage men; the blood and the last gasps of dying soldiers and warriors; the beating of chests and the wailing of widowed women and heartbroken mothers; the devastating casualties on both the Zulu and British sides. But what really got my attention the fact that on the day of the battle, an eery yellow light fell across the battlefield as a partial (65%) solar eclipse began.

Can you imagine how frightening and ominous this must have seemed to the exhausted soldiers of these armies? I don't know if you've ever experienced a solar eclipse, but I have, once, and was a truly spooky experience to see the sky darken, the birds flock to the trees to roost, and the stars begin to twinkle. So when the sun dims on Monday, and the world feels like it is coming to an end, I'm going to be thinking about Malcolm and all the other young men who died so pointlessly at Isandlwana.

I never met Malcolm - there's no one alive today who did - and I reckon there are only two or three people who remember that he ever existed at all (and they are deeply sentimental family historians like me). But on Monday, as the eclipse starts, I intend to get a tear in my eye for Malcolm, and for every young man who perished on that day, whatever side he fought on, and whatever his motives were.


*Malcolm Moodie, Natal Carbineers, born 1857, in Natal, died 22 January 1879, at Isandlwana, KZN Natal. Malcolm was the son of William James Dunbar Moodie and Clarissa Meek.

A handwritten note (probably written by his niece, Shirley Moor) in my family's copy of The Moodie Book, says:

“The burial parties afterwards recognised him by the brilliant colour of his hair, like burnished copper. Beside him were 79 used cartridge cases. He had been obliged to stay behind the day by one hospital, with a hurt shoulder.

"Lord Chelmsford having left with the main body of troops. Malcolm had lent his horse to his cousin, Edward Greene (afterwards Colonel E Greene, Natal Carbineers), whose own horse was lame.”

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Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Simon’s cat: brilliantly simple animation

I find my cats an endless source of amusement. I think it’s got something to do with how dignified they perceive themselves to be, and therefore how completely hysterical it is when they do something silly like falling off a fence or having a run-in with a chicken and losing; and I particularly love how they always sit down and concentrate hard on licking their bottoms when they’ve been embarrassed, as if that’s what they intended to do all along and whatever ridiculous thing occurred instead had nothing to do with them.

My cats – like most cats – are very good at waking me up when they’re hungry. One of them, Evan, employs the very effective method of yowling loudly and not stopping until I’ve filled his face with food. Another, Floss, will come and sit next to my head and then just stare at me – there is nothing like waking up uncomfortably aware that something isn’t quite right and being confronted by a pair of huge orange eyes millimetres from yours.

Simon’s Cat is a short animated film drawn by someone who clearly knows his cat very well. I think it’s brilliant how, in such simple line drawings, he has entirely captured the spirit of his hungry little cat, who will stop at nothing to get his breakfast. The sound, too, is just too charming. (And check out Simon’s bedroom – the cat toys, the scratched-to-buggery furniture, etc: this is someone who really loves his cat!)

Go to

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Friday, 16 January 2009

Gordon Ramsay to open a f**king restaurant in Cape Town

Foul-mouthed chef-entrepreneur Gordon Ramsay has teamed up with our Sol Kerzner to open a new restaurant in Cape Town. Hotelsmag reports that the big bad boykie of British cuisine will open a branch of his restaurant maze at One&Only, Kerzner's ultra-swanky new resort on the V&A Waterfront.

According to the report, the restaurant will showcase local seafood and game as well as fresh produce from organic South African farms. Oh goody. I am really looking forward, on my next trip to Cape Town, to seeing what's on the menu. Fucking Perlemoen with Kelp Froth? Naai-Zna Oysters? Fokof Fries? Jou Ma se Soup?

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Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Everything is going to be ok: my teens' mantra for 2009

My friend Bridget invents a motivating mantra for herself every January. This slogan sets the tone for the year to come. One year, her motto was, 'Lighten, tighten and brighten' - excellent, isn't it? Now, I'm far too much of a ditherer to come up with one defining personal slogan for 2009 - the only one I can think of is, 'Fuck off 2008, and may I have another gin?' - but I have been hunting for some inspirational quotes to pin up on our family noticeboard. One of my teen sons has just started matric, and the other is going into Grade 10, and, in view of their unspectacular school marks in 2008, I thought a few Improving Quotations would be just the thing to get them fired up about homework.

I flipped through a few dictionaries of quotations, Googled for quotes (or should that be Quoogled?) and made a shortlist, which I printed out and and stuck on the noticeboard.

But after reading them through, I came down with a severe case of Churchillitis, on top of Gandhilar fever. Something more contemporary, more edgy, was called for, I thought. So I turned to Facebook, and two of my friends generously provided suggestions.

Carsten offered these:

"I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring." - David Bowie

"I make it a rule never to smoke while I'm sleeping." - Mark Twain (?)

Mark suggested:

"Why does it hurt when I pee?" - Frank Zappa

Nice suggestions, guys, I thought, but... er... how is this going to help in the homework department?

I decided to put the quotes to the test. I read my favourite quotes [they're at the end of this post] to my Matric lad, and he rolled his eyes and made a gagging noise. When I read the quotes above, though, he guffawed, and visibly lightened, tightened and brightened.

So all three of the new quotes are going up on the board, and I've put the Churchill and Gandhi homilies away in a drawer to whip out during future emergencies.

I've also added to my noticeboard, my fridge, my dashboard (and my in-brain flight-deck) some little black-and-white stickers that say: 'Everything is going to be OK'. I took these three stickers - quite brazenly peeling them off with my thumbnail - from the counter at my local video shop, from a cashier's desk at Pick 'n Pay, and from a parking-ticket dispenser at my local shopping centre.

I'm not a thief: and this didn't seem like thieving. I was quite enchanted by the stickers - cheered, and comforted - and I had the feeling that the person who had surreptitiously pasted these six little words all over the place wouldn't mind at all if I took them home with me. Every time I nicked a sticker, I asked a person nearby who put it there. 'Don't know,' said Seate, a cashier at Pick 'n Pay. 'A missionary, problably.'

'Don't have a clue,' said Ian, in the video shop. 'We didn't see anyone sticking it there, but everyone asks about it.'

Once I'd put a sticker on my fridge - the most frequently visited place in our house - everyone wanted to know where it had come from. Theories abounded: an artist, a happy-clapper, a campaign for Nandos. Then my daughter remarked, 'Maybe it's someone who wants to make you feel better'.

Turns out she was right. Just before I wrote this post, I Googled the words on the sticker, and was just tickled to discover that the anonymous sticker of stickers is one Elli Garb. I know nothing about him (or her) but here are extracts from a statement he or she sent to 702 Talk Radio:

'The stickers are applied to everything from parking ticket dispensers to ATM's. They've made their way into rehabs and clubs. They've travelled to shopping centres and corporate office parks. Secretly. Unobserved. Sometimes they stay stuck for weeks; sometime they disappear within hours of application. It's a self-funded project, which has meant it has had to happen in bursts. But there is poetry even in that necessity - it's sporadic and unexpected. It's easy come, easy go.

And, while the design is relatively neutral or under-designed (by design), the application is pure punk. The outcome is the juxtaposition of urban viral communication and a little bit of heart.'

Very nice, Elli Garb. I agree, and I'm going to tell my teens that every day.

The quotes my teen rolled his eyes about:

'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.' - Eleanor Roosevelt

'Be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.' - Carl Sagan

'A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.' - James Keller

'A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.' - Winston Churchill

'Never, never, never give up.' - Winston Churchill

'Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.' - Winston Churchill

'You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.' - Mahatma Gandhi

'I think it would be a good idea.' - Mahatma Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization.

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Monday, 12 January 2009

Bloggolutions: my 2009 plans for being a better blogger

Do you ever sift through your archive of blogposts, and feel exasperated or just plain bored by what you wrote six weeks, six months, a year ago? I do this whenever I can't think of anything new or fresh to write, and every time I do it, I get annoyed at myself.

First, the repetitive whining about small, inconsequential things drives me nuts. I'm also irritated by any hint of pomposity.

Nastiness, character assassination, self-righteousness and finger-pointing in a blogger are just unspeakably tedious. Also highly distasteful, in some of my previous posts, is a whiff of self-satisfaction: or, as my sister would say, 'I think you're feeling a little pleased with yourself'.

So: enough of being a Complaining Customer, Fed-Up from Ferndale, and an Outraged Atheist.

I am turning over a new leaf. No, I'm not going to write about bunnies and dreams and sunsets, or be nice to celebutards, or say good things about Julius Malema, Steve Hofmeyr and their ilks. But I have resolved to do the following:

  • Give up pointless belly-aching about small things. Unless these concern the Department of Home Affairs, the Killarney Branch of Pick 'n Pay, school mommies, the Johannesburg Metro Police, the editors of women's magazines, or the VIP Protection Unit: in this regard, I fully resolve to deliver smart poes-klaps to all concerned (and thank you for that most excellent word, Andrew)
  • Keep my posts short
  • Keep a lid on the sarcasm
  • Try to be honest. Not honest in the sense of doing the right thing - I am a gleaming pillar of the community, I can assure you - but honest about my motives and my affiliations; about what I really think.
  • Stop self-censoring because I think I'm going to offend someone, or be sued. Stop being such a bangbroek in this regard, and pluck up the courage to put my own name to my posts. (Ha. As if.)
  • Stop writing hate-speech about two of my dogs (and love letters to my third darling hound Velvet). In fact, stop mentioning my dogs altogether.
  • Leave the Christians and New-Agers alone
  • Not gloat, and never use any of the following words or expressions: 'schadenfreude', 'what goes around comes around', 'just desserts', 'As Ye Sow, So Shall Ye Reap', and so on.
  • Pay more attention to the blogs of the smart people who read this blog and leave thoughtful comments on it.
  • Spend more time reading the blogs of the other Clevers in the SA blogosphere
  • Actually contribute some value to the blogosphere
  • Put every single vegetable peeling, onion skin and tomato-end into a stock pot, instead of being disgracefully wasteful and chucking organic matter in the bin. Ok, that bloggolution belongs on my other blog, Scrumptious, and - see point 4, about honesty, - I've put it here in the hope that you'll nip over and have a read.
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    Saturday, 10 January 2009

    Christians complain about atheist advert: yes, really.

    'It's too bad that stupidity isn't painful,' said philosopher and occultist Anton LeVey. If stupidity did indeed hurt, well, I can imagine that Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, would be screeching in unimaginable pain right now.

    Green has complained to the UK Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) about the mild and rather sweet atheist adverts recently emblazoned on London buses - 'There's probably no god, so now stop worrying and enjoy your life' says the ad - see my earlier post on the topic.

    According to a report in the Daily Mail, the slogan, Green says, 'is given as a statement of fact and that means it must be capable of substantiation if it is not to break the rules.

    Green adds: 'There is plenty of evidence for God, from people's personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.

    'But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.'

    I had to read this comment three times over, rubbing my eyes and nipping my thighs with red-hot pincers - which I borrowed, naturally, from my homie, Satan - to make sense of it.

    Green wants the statement 'there is probably no god' to be substantiated. As opposed, I suppose, to his ridiculous statements: 'There is plenty of evidence for God'... 'there is scant evidence on the other side.'

    Well, Mr Green, bring on the evidence, dude, and show me just how loving your 'god' is. I'll accept, as a start, just ONE good act of faith from your omiscient godlike being, who adores and cherishes us humans, our children, our animals and our planet:

    Any of the following will do, for now:

    • a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops in every conflict zone
    • instant vaporisation of every gun, landmine and destructive weapon on earth
    • a cure for Aids, malaria, TB, measles, bird flu, and all other diseases invented by Him
    • food in the tummies of every child on the planet, a life-long supply of money for their parents, and throw in fifty years of rich harvests while You're about it
    • a loving angel for each child who is starved, abused or suffering
    • the immediate release of every imprisoned animal
    • relief for the people of Zimbabwe and the Gaza strip (and please don't overlook all the other regions sinking in despair)
    • a complete halt to all floods, storms, tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis.. and...
    • ...well, I might as well ask - a million dollars for each of us.

    Are you up to this challenge, Stephen?

    In the meantime, while you organise this with your Father, ponder this:

    'Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe.' - Albert Einstein.

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    Wednesday, 7 January 2009

    There is probably no God

    How cheering it was to me, as a happy atheist, to see that buses and tube stations in the UK are carrying adverts with the slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

    This is the most positive public announcement I've heard for at least the last 2000 years.

    According to a report in The Scotsman, a total of 600 buses in Scotland, England and Wales and 200 bendy buses in London will carry the slogan following a fundraising drive that raised more than £140,000.

    'The fundraising drive was prompted by a suggestion from comedy writer Ariane Sherine,' says the report, 'who received support from the British Humanist Association and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins.

    'Ms Sherine said she had objected to a set of Christian advertisements running on London buses.'

    If you're religious, these adverts may well offend and outrage you. But why so? Isn't it time we atheists had a say? Just a tiny little squeak of protest?

    (Before you bleed from the eyeballs, hurl Bibles at me, and try to exorcise the demon that has taken over my brain, read this report, from The Guardian. )

    Just to annoy all you Christians (and yes, I'm allowed to do that: after all, you've been badgering and intimidating me and my ancestors for centuries), I've pinned these cuttings up on my family notice board, to loud cheers from my wild, heathen children.

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    Nice people behind desks

    Anyone who’s had anything to do with officialdom knows how bloody annoying it is when the person who’s ‘dealing’ with you is unhelpful or badtempered. It’s not like you want to be there – inevitably, you have to: getting a passport or ID document, applying for a bond, booking a driver’s licence. Really, you do have better things to do.

    So I was quite chuffed, on my recent travels, to find that everywhere I went, officialdom didn’t hassle me. All the passport control/security checks/customs posts were quick, well manned and efficient; even the Uber-hyper security guards in Dubai, who asked me to remove a bracelet that I’ve worn for about a gazillion years and which can’t come off any more, and which made their machine beep, just shrugged when I told them this, and moved swiftly along to the next person. (Fortunately, they didn’t find the bomb I’d hidden underneath it. JUST JOKING.)

    But there were two officials who went above and beyond the call of duty.

    One was an employee of a local bank, whose identity I can’t divulge because if I did she’d probably be fired. It was at Cape Town International, and I had an hour to go before boarding my flight to the UK, and I went to her to ask her to give me R6 000 of the money I had in my bank account (ie, my money). But I had forgotten that the stupid stupid stupid South African FICA laws are still being rigorously applied (really, guys, do you honestly think producing ‘proof of residential address’ is going to stop international money-laundering and the like??) so I hadn’t brought my latest utility bill with me.

    ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘but without proof of residential address, I can’t help you.’

    As she said this, a foreign arrival to our shores (British, as it happened) nipped up to the counter next to mine, handed over a bank card, and was given a small fortune in South African rands, no questions asked. (I could tell by looking at him that he had millions stashed in a Cayman Islands account, the product of a child-porn ring and a worldwide network of heroin dealers.)

    My bank clerk and I watched this transaction in the kind of silence that can be very loud. Then she looked at me and said, ‘Give me your card,’ and disappeared into a back room.

    Two minutes later she came back and slipped R6 000 in cash through the slot. ‘Never tell anyone I did this,’ she said.

    (And that is why I love South African lawlessness. I just hope she never finds out that I used my R6 000 to buy all that guy’s heroin.)

    The second time was at Heathrow, which is – and I’m sorry if I’m offending the British here – a zoo. It’s furiously badly organised, mind-bendingly ugly, sweatily overheated, annoyingly overcrowded, very badly signposted and a sheer disgrace to international travel. My friends Kevin and Michele queued with me in the Dubai (economy) line for really quite a long time before finally we reached the check-in counter.

    The clerk asked me to put my luggage on the scale, which I did, and she said, ‘You’re 12kg overweight.’

    ‘Is that all?' I said. ‘After all that Christmas pud, I’d have said it was nearer 20.’

    She smiled. Tiredly. I got the message.

    ‘Okay, no problem,’ I said, ‘I’ll pay. What’s the damages?’

    She put her head on one side; her expression said, You poor sap, you really have no idea, do you? ‘Thirty-four pounds,’ she said.

    I did a quick calculation: about R500, not what I’d choose to fork out as my farewell, but I’d manage. I reached for my wallet.

    ‘Per kilo,’ she said.

    I don’t have much memory of what happened during the next few minutes but apparently I turned very pale and had to sit down.

    ‘Look,’ said the clerk, leaning over her counter and speaking down at me. ‘Your hand luggage seems light. Do you have space in that?’

    As it happens, I did: since you’re not allowed anything liquid, aerosol or gel on the plane (they call this LAGs, you’ve gotta love it), my trusty old satchel was practically empty – I only had it with me because moving swiftly from subzero temperatures to midsummer heat means that eventually you’re going to end up with a coat and a scarf and a hat and gloves to carry, and I didn’t want to, so I’d left a big gap in my backpack for them.

    ‘Repack,’ hissed the clerk. ‘Put everything heavy into your hand luggage.’

    Quickly, Michele, Kevin and I retreated in order to do this and I removed 12kg of books from my suitcase into my backpack (well, I had been to Waterstone’s, okay?).

    That done, the same check-in clerk waved us back (we didn’t have to queue again, yay!) and cleared my lighter luggage through to Cape Town. Me, with 12kg of hand baggage, she booked onto the plane.

    This kindly (and amazingly cost-saving) measure raised a question: why should 12kg extra in the passenger compartment rather than the hold make a difference? (I really would like to know the answer to this question, if anyone has it.)

    And it did have a rather sweaty spin-off – our plane left Heathrow late, so we landed in Dubai late, and I had to dash through Dubai airport to make my Cape Town connection, with a bounty of books bouncing about on my back – a six-minute, 12kg, R6 500 sprint.

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    Monday, 5 January 2009

    Cape Town: my beautiful, tattered old tart has grown young

    I'm always overjoyed to visit Cape Town, because this is where I spent some of the happiest years of my life - I lived there for eight years, had my first child there, made lifelong friends, had brilliant jorls, and so on. But, although the city is still as beautiful and blue and sparkly as it ever was, and although it remains one of the most remarkable places I've ever been, I came away this time feeling surly about the fact that it wasn't 'my' Cape Town any longer.

    Look, I'm not going to moan about the tourists (I am one now!) or the traffic or the street kids or the wind. But I am going to complain about the theme-parkiness of the best bits of Cape Town. Heck, if I wanted Disneyland, I'd go to Florida.

    When I first moved to Cape Town in 1984 with my boyfriend - now my husband of 20 years - I had only been there once before, and then only for a few days as a Jo'burg teen. Within weeks of arriving, I was quite smitten. It was all so, well, foreign. I had difficulty believing I was still in Africa. The smells and sounds were entirely new to my highveld senses, and to this day I can't take a lungful of salty, kelpy air, or hear the bleat of a seagull, or the boom of the Mouille Point foghorn, or the echoing report of the Noon Gun, without swooning with pleasure. Unemployed for a few months, and with not a care in the world, I gobbled on Cape Town like a starved puppy. I spent the happiest hours tramping around and soaking up its long and chequered history, which seemed to me romantic and bitterly sad in equal parts. Every building, every street, every door, every statue, every raggy peak and winding road and pebbly beach seemed saturated with wonderful stories of the Fairest (and unfairest) Cape: ships and slaves and spices and sailors and long-forgotten sea shanties...

    Later, when I'd found a job and settled down, and - excuse the mixed metaphor - the scales had fallen from my high horse, I began to take heed of the vicious and dark underbelly of this extraordinary city. Cape Town in the late 1980s, the darkest days of apartheid, was a brutal place, but, as an idealistic and rather earnest young thing, this only heightened the excitement. I thought I was really at the cutting edge as I mingled with intrepid (white) reporters from the Cape Times, sniggered at the hordes of flak-jacketed, drunken foreign correspondents who swarmed into the city and fucked everything in a skirt, and got drenched in purple water by a police cannon in Greenmarket Square. I clenched my fist as I watched Nelson Mandela deliver his speech from the balcony of the City Hall hours after his release, wore badges and T-shirts, got outraged and generally had the time of my life hating apartheid and - to my shame - doing nothing constructive to actually lend a real hand to the struggle.

    Anyway, I digress. Cape Town - at least the touristy well-heeled areas I visited - seems clean and well ordered and pleasant, and no doubt the mayor Helen Zille has had a hand here. But my gripe is this: Cape Town's historical soul seems to me to be ebbing away; it has lost some of its essential seediness. The harbour, which I first knew as an idle, clanking dockyard where seals were smelly and real drunken sailors lay, stunned, across the tables of the old Harbour Café, and where the Penny Ferry still operated as a real service, and where you could buy fried fish and slap chips from from an old train carriage, is a cookie-cutter shopping mall with as much romance as a limp Vienna.

    Long Street, where antique traders, booksellers, tailors, shoe-menders, bottle stores, seedy clubs and the odd brothel jostled, is just depressing, with its pretentious delis and bars. Greenmarket Square, which was buzzing with artists and craftspeople selling leather sandals and Kenyan kikois and tinkly mobiles and wire bicycles and painted T-shirts, is wall-to-wall wooden giraffes and Chinese-made sarongs. The Bo-Kaap is all cobbled and gentrified. Cape Point is crawling with vicious baboons. Constantia's Old Cape Farm Stall, which sold the best wholewheat bread and smoked snoek paté on the planet, has been replaced by a refrigerated Woolworths food shop.

    I didn't get a chance to visit the flower sellers' arcade in Adderley Street, or the Atlas Trading Store, or the Zorina Café in Loop Street, home of the world's best Cape Malay-style mutton curry roti, but I sincerely hope they are still there.

    The good news: there are still some places in Cape Town that haven't changed a bit, and that do what they do so well that - snivel - it's enough to bring a tear to the eye. I didn't get a chance to visit all my old haunts, but here are the places that I hope never change. Kirstenbosch is inexpressibly beautiful, with its craggy mountain backdrop, winding paths, ferny caves and wonderful, dusty fynbos scents. The open-air restaurant, although packed to the gunwhales in season, remains excellent and serves a damn good breakfast - I can recommend the smoked salmon.

    Hout Bay harbour has mercifully escaped any major chichi-fication, and you can still enjoy watching a working harbour going about its business, while inhaling the eye-wateringly fishy smell drifting from local processing factories. Mariner's Wharf, at the entrance to the harbour, is heaving during tourist time, but this long-lived fish and chip outlet still serves really good fried hake and calamari, in big, hot cardboard boxes. (Which, for the full experience, must be eaten while sitting on the edge of the pier, with greedy seagulls wheeling overhead.)

    Chappies (Chapman's Peak Hotel), at the foot of breathtaking Chapman's Peak Drive, below left, has resisted pressure to encase itself in glass and serve cocktails and sushi, and here you can still enjoy great tyres of butter-tender calamari, and Portuguese-style steak that is so good you'll faint.

    One thing about Cape Town that impressed the pants off me was the fact that Cape Town beach-walkers pick up after their dogs. I walked the length of Hout Bay beach and back, and five times I saw dog-walkers whip Checkers packets out of their pockets, scoop up the steaming mounds, and deposit them in bins.

    Which just about sums up the difference between Cape Town and Joeys: both have their share of shit, but at least Cape Town seems to make the effort to pick up after itself. Sure, Cape Town has lost some of its houding [Afrikaans for 'attitude'] along the way, but I have the sense that its good people won't allow it to to lose its soul completely.

    And as for my sense of loss? Dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.

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    Sunday, 4 January 2009

    Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

    It was an epic journey from Edinburgh in the icy north to the heat of the southern hemisphere, and involved planes (14 hours), buses (nine hours) and automobiles (two hours) – plus the requisite waiting and queuing etc (approximately 24 hours, all told)– but here I am, at home and hot. And very happy.

    My children and animals and household survived very nicely in my absence (about which I’m pleased for them, obviously – but I can’t help harbouring the tiniest bit of resentment over how my personal planet kept on turning without me on it?!), for which Dean, the Indestructible Wife, Johann and my sister can take full credit. And I have brought them tourist tat to express my thanks.

    I know this is going to sound wussy, so please forgive me, but I did get homesick – and, embarrassingly, it didn’t even take that long. After about a week of constant travelling, law-abiding behaviour and never really being properly warm, I began hankering very seriously after warmth and anarchy. I’m hoping that this is only because I was in a cold climate (given a choice, I’d rather be burnt to death than frozen alive), because for many years I’ve been waiting for my children to leave home so I can ‘go travelling’. If the temperature isn’t the reason, I’m going to have to redesign my retirement plans and open a pet hotel or something.

    2 recollections in tranquillity:

    * In Edinburgh, down the road from Donald’s house, was a house that was being refitted/refurbished by its owners. All inside had been tossed outside into the front garden, victims of the elements (ice, rain, mist, etc), with the eventual aim being for it to be dumped somewhere as rubbish. Among the ‘trash’ waiting in this front yard to be consigned to nowhere were two beds and one sofa (both in evidently perfectly usable condition) and a stove (ditto). I was really upset by this – there are so many people in South Africa in need of such basic stuff, and without the means to secure it. The ultimate evidence of what an affluent society the UK actually is (at least in contrast with South Africa) was an aunt-by-marriage’s admiring take on a UK website called ‘freecycling’, on which you can post things (like usable secondhand beds, sofas, cookers, etc) that you don’t want any more and someone else might have a use for. ‘The great thing is,’ she said, ‘is that someone will come and take it away for you – you don’t have to pay the council to get rid of it.’ It was on the tip of my tongue to point out that in South Africa, such a website wouldn’t be much use – there would be no point in posting secondhand goods on a website, because you could just put them out on the pavement (in the very unlikely event you didn’t actually know someone first-hand who might need them) and within minutes they would be gone, and you could be fairly confident in the knowledge that they’d be furnishing someone-in-need’s home.

    * Everywhere I went, throughout the wintry UK, I saw lost single gloves – a child’s mitten abandoned on the road; a woman’s woollen glove lying on a pavement; once, in a graveyard (I love graveyards and make a point of visiting them), a man’s leather glove, its fingers curled inwards, a small mound of ice in its palm. I mentioned this to friends I stayed with and they pointed out how easy it is, in this freezing climate, to lose one glove: you are, after all, forever putting on and taking off hats, coats, scarves, gloves, etc, and mislaying a glove is understandably easy. So I was thrilled, on our walk on New Year’s Day in an Edinburgh suburb, to come across this collection on a fence. (Note to South Africans: people don't pick up and keep these gloves; they post them somewhere their owners might find them if they ever bother to come looking!)
    (Enlarge the picture and you'll see a notice on the board behind the single-glove colelction headed 'Bad People'. In South Africa, 'Bad People' rape, pillage and murder; in the UK, they don't bag and bin their dog's leavings. It really is a different world.)

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    Thursday, 1 January 2009

    Travels with Muriel X: an Edinburgh hogmanay

    Friends of Donald bravely had the six of us, plus several other guests - adults and children plus a dog - for a New Year's celebration at their home in the Edinburgh suburb of Cammo. I began the evening with a very strong whisky (recalling, as I drank it down with probably more enthusiasm than was altogether seemly, even for New Year's Eve, how I managed to single-handedly bring up two children just 14 months apart in age: I drank), followed swiftly by a few glasses of bubbly, then by a magical never-emptying glass of red wine. As a result, large bits of the evening are missing (or it could be large bits of my brain).

    What I do recall is heading out in a group into the fuh-reezing night at some berserk hour quite a while after midnight to 'first foot' the neighbours - this is a Scots tradition that requires the first person through the front door in a new year to be a tall, dark stranger carrying a lump of coal (or, says Donald, a 'black bun', whatever that might be). I also apparently played a game of pool - passably, surprisingly.

    I came to this morning on an air mattress, snug in a sleeping bag, in my hosts' front room - fully dressed, down to my boots. I felt horribly grim but this wasn't considered sufficient reason to beg off that fine Scottish tradition - a bracing walk in sub-zero temperatures. I actually enjoyed the walk - the bitterly cold air gave me the impression I was functioning after a fashion - but after we got back to the house I felt 100% worse and that's how I'm still feeling - so the prospect of nine hours on a bus to London, which is what I'll be doing shortly, isn't thrilling me.

    Little Fergus, meanwhile, kicked off the new year with some spectacular examples of how Terrible the Twos really can be. First, he objected loudly and strongly to the traffic lights being red ('I don't want the lights to be red!'); then he remonstrated with his father for stopping the car at the red lights ('I don't want the car to be stopped!'); and he took the crown for contrariness this afternoon by furiously refusing ice cream for dessert - on the grounds that the ice cream was cold.

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