Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Round-up: the best back-slappery and bitchery of the SA Blog Awards

There's bound to be a bit of back-biting, bitching and vote-whoring when it comes to the SA Blog Awards (I've been guilty of this myself in the past), so I was amused to see this graphic, which just about sums it all up. (Click on the pic for a large image) This comes from Scroobl, a daily geek cartoon about social media, web 2.0 and the mobile web:

For once, I'm not going to add my two cents' worth (as this blog and my other are, ahem, finalists) but I can point you in the direction of some of the more interesting hissy-fits and shouty-crackers* posted in the past few weeks.

Tertia Albertyn, the grande fromage of South African bloggers, says that the moaning, bitching and pouting that attends the blog awards "never fails to irritate the living shits out of me."

"Each year they [the complainers] see the SA Blog Awards as an opportunity to moan, bitch and point fingers. I read a complaint that the results aren’t audited. OMG people! WTF! Get a fucking grip on yourself!" she writes. (Tertia is one of this year's judges.)

The auditing suggestions Tertia's referring to come from a post on aquilaonline, in which the writer (a past judge of the awards) raises some issues about the rules, alleging that some rules have been "bent". He, too, receives some interesting comments.

Kurt Ackerman of Afrika Tourism reckons, in a long, thoughtful post, that the awards are "meaningless fluff'' , and receives, for his sins, some positive feedback from commenters, as well as a few swift snotklaps from dissenters.

There are some more interesting observations at One Large Prawn.

POSTSCRIPT: Some comments from Wonkie.com: "If the organisers, 24.com and other sponsors want to have some credibility with Awards of this type, they should at least check to ensure that their nominations are valid and include a fair representation of the country’s readers when selecting their numerous judges. Hmmm… I wonder if this will qualify for next year’s Most Controversial Posts award! LOL.@

* According to Toby Young's book How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, 'shouty-crackers' is Hugh Grant's special word for a tantrum.

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Madonna accused of baby-trafficking: not Madge, surely?

Here's a picture of Madonna posing briefly before she headed into a Lilongwe court for an adoption hearing. No, I'm kidding: Her Madgeness wore something entirely more prissy heading into court for her appointment with the judge who will decide whether she can adopt Malawian orphan Mercy James. The picture with the bandages and thrusting pelvis (God, Madge and her Vag*: why does she think we want it in our faces?) was taken in January to promote her album Hard Candy.

According this report from the ever-salacious Daily Mail, Mabvuto Bamusi, executive director of Malawi's Human Rights Consultative Committee, branded Madonna a "child kidnapper" .

“In the absence of clear laws and procedures what is happening in this case amounts to child trafficking or kidnapping,” added leading Malawian human rights activist Mavuto Bamusi, according to the Cape Times.

I have very mixed feelings about this. I just loathe the idea of this woman swanning into Africa and picking up a baby as if she's choosing a new handbag from a catalogue. ("Make sure it's a thin orphan. But not too thin.") Yes, yes, I know the child will be saved from a life of hardship, and will live like a princess for the rest of her days, fawned over by nannies, sent to the finest schools, heaped with every luxury money can buy. But I'm sorry, I think every baby needs an attentive mummy, or daddy, or both, and, if I were the judge, I would ask Madonna exactly how much face-to-face, personal time she actually intends to devote to this child every day.

I'm sorry to sound sanctimonious, but any whiff of money lingering around any adoption process just appalls me. And I can promise you that if Madonna were some penniless schoolteacher from a run-down council estate in the UK, she wouldn't stand a chance of adopting a Malawian orphan - no matter how big her heart or noble her intentions.

* On the subject of Madonna's crotch, this is what British writer Julie Burchill had to say: "I've never to my knowledge shown Madonna my vagina, for instance, but she's certainly shown me - and countless others - hers, in that vile book SEX. Visions of that greasy muff, which one could easily have fried an egg on without benefit of oil, haunt me till this very day. But if a 'civilian' goes around showing their genitals, they're arrested!"

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Friday, 27 March 2009

Trevor Manuel: criticising Dalai Lama is like shooting Bambi

It's hard to believe that the knuckleheads in the ANC cabinet could make bigger fools of themselves over the Dalai Lama saga than they already have, but the fun's not over, folks.

Listen to what our esteemed Finance Minister Trevor Manuel - someone from whom I would expect better - had to say yesterday.

"To say anything against the Dalai Lama is, in some quarters, equivalent to trying to shoot Bambi," he said.

"Let's put our cards on the table. Who is the Dalai Lama? I've heard him described as a god. I've heard him described as Buddha.

"Is he just the spiritual leader of the Buddhists in Tibet, or is he the one who on March 28 1969 established a government-in-exile in the same way as Taiwan was established to counter the reality of a single China?" Link.

Well, gee, Trev, I'm scratching my head.

And there's still more: The reason the Dalai Lama wants to visit South Africa “is to make a big global, political statement about the secession of Tibet from China,” Manuel said in an election debate hosted by the University of Cape Town today. “We shouldn’t allow him to raise a global issue that will impact on the standing of South Africa.” Link.

Heaven forbid anyone would want to raise a big, global, political statement about the suppression of human rights, Trev. Thank goodness the rest of the world remained tjoepstil during the darkest days of apartheid.

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Thursday, 26 March 2009

Front bottoms: people search for the oddest things.

The free stat counter on this blog thoughtfully provides keyword analysis - in other words, it lets me know what search terms brought visitors to this site.

Reading through the list of recent keyword activity (below) made me snort coffee from my nostrils, and then, when I'd stopped laughing, wonder whether Muriel and I should try to raise the tone of the Salmagundi a little.

The front bottoms and knicker inspections I can sort of understand (see Front-bottoms and other silly words for private parts and Broekies are a dying breed).

But who on earth is searching for 'nun neck collar porn'? Or 'sherin heroin bathroom scene'?

Or, for that matter, 'What to do when you hate your dog'?

I'll be jiggered if I know.

The list:

  • front bottoms
  • madonna's poor health due to african juju
  • petition support barbara hogan dalai
  • restaurant gordon ramsay cape town
  • jokes from the sixties
  • skinny malinky long legs big banana feet
  • what you can buy for R20000
  • rhodesians a dying breed
  • translate: snotklap
  • tits and hips
  • jokes from the 60's
  • hope poster parodies
  • snake strangles cat
  • how to complain about a doctor's receptionist
  • jozi taxis
  • nun neck collar porn
  • sjambok weapon book
  • knicker inspection
  • alcoholism blogspot
  • rhymes playground elastics
  • shocking magazine advertisements
  • spooky goings on at isandlwana
  • sherin heroin bathroom scene
  • fungus the bogeyman quotes
  • harley vrot
  • how dirty is the keyboard
  • absolut mango vagina
  • what to do when you hate your dog

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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Any bets on how long Barbara Hogan keeps her job?

Compare and contrast these two pictures. What does South African politician Barbara Hogan (below left) have that the creature on the right doesn't have? Answers at the end of this post.

It's difficult to believe, I know, but it's true: a member of the African National Congress (ANC), and a cabinet minister nogal, has had the good sense and the sheer pluck to break ranks with her own party and condemn the Government's refusal to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama.

Not only that, but she has - gasp! - called on the gruelling party to apologise. "Just the very fact that this government has refused entry to the Dalai Lama is an example of a government that is dismissive of human rights," said Hogan.

Hogan, South Africa's health minister, is already the darling of health activists and professionals in South Africa because of her no-nonsense commitment to tackling the Aids pandemic, in contrast to her predecessor, Manta Tshabalala Msimang, who became an object of derision during her disastrous tenure as health minister.

The reaction from the ANC? '"We don't want to comment on the Minister of Health's comments," was all the presidential spokesman had to say. "We're all too busy sharpening our knives and signing Congratulations on Your Retirement! cards."

Ok, I made that last bit of the quote up, but slap me with a wet jellyfish if Ms Hogan doesn't find a boot mark on her bottom within the next few months.


I'll accept any, or all, of the following:

- a backbone
- a spine
- a brain
- balls

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Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Mugabe, Dalai Lama: can you spot the crucial difference?

What's the difference between these two famous people?

Can't spot any differences?

One is a revered world leader whose compassion and humility is admired by millions, and whose life has been devoted to freeing his people from oppression. And the other one is just some old monk from Tibet.

Or that's what the South African Government seems to think.

South Africa's President, President Kgalema Motlanthe, does not want the Dalai Lama in the country because the Tibetan spiritual leader's presence will "divert attention" from the World Cup celebrations. Link.

Click here to sign a petition objecting to this disgraceful decision.

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Monday, 23 March 2009

You guys are brilliant, just brilliant!

So, we’re on the map, and it’s all thanks to you.

[For the first time in the history of this blog, I, Juno, am interrupting my co-blogger, The Terrible Muriel, pictured, left, to put in my two cents' worth.]

Salmagundi has made it into the finals of the SA Blog Awards, in the ‘Best Original Writing on a South African Blog’ category. Thankyou thankyou thankyou, with many bowings and grovellings, for taking the time to nominate us. (And for those of you who also nominated Scrumptious, Juno’s food blog, and Tony Park’s Getaway travel blog in the three you had to come up with – mazeltov! They’re also in the finals!)

[Hoor, hoor!]

Now you have to be kind and industrious all over again, and vote for us. Ask your friends, beg your aunties and uncles, bribe your kids, exchange getting-coffee favours with your colleagues… do whatever it takes to get ticks against our li’l box. How cool would it be if we got placed (or, and I can hardly bear to think about this… won?.

[What do you say we share the twenty-ront first prize with all our 2 million fans, Mur? ]

There it is, on the right of this screen. Do it. Just do it.

[May I point you in the direction of some of the posts that I think truly illustrate the depth, originality and hilarity of Muriel's writing over the past year?

First, her hilarious posts about her travels in England and Scotland ('Travels with Muriel') . Click here to read them.

Second, Wine makes mummy clever, and other lies we tell our children

Third, A Fine and Beautiful Wedding

Fourth, The Unabashed Avarice of the US Embassy

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Thursday, 19 March 2009

The pen is mightier than the printer

The outcome of my broken dishwasher disaster was both embarrassing and agreeably economical. Embarrassing, because when the technician finally arrived and I plugged the thing back in to illustrate to him its broken-down-ness, the blasted thing worked! We stood there together, me with my mouth gaping in bewilderment, as it went through its 20-minute ‘quick’ cycle, at the end of which he turned and looked at me without saying anything but with a ‘Well?’ expression on his face.

‘Look,’ I said. ‘You’ve got to believe me. I would not have been hand-washing dishes for the last week if my dishwasher was actually working.’

‘Yeah, right,’ his expression said, although he remained mute.

This reminds me of when my friend Melissa’s VCR (in the days when we had those) wasn’t working, and she called a technician in, and he did her the gigantic favour of plugging the thing into the wall before switching it on. As he wrote out the invoice for the call-out fee, he said, ‘I’m charging you for stupidity,’ which I thought was a bit mean but very funny (and perhaps justified).

But I swear – I swear! – my dishwasher really, really was broken. And my technician was one thousand percent nicer than Melissa’s, and took pity on me, and said, ‘I’ve marked down this appointment as cancelled.’ So my dishwasher is working now (or maybe ‘for now’, who knows) and I didn’t have to pay anyone to make it do so.

Then my printer malfunctioned. It’s a lovely thing, my Canon, and has given me many months of flawless service, so this was a source of some concern to me. I looked at it very carefully as it battled to print, and I realised that one or more of its rollers might have become damaged (or, knowing the pit that pretends to be my study, so clogged with dust and other debris that it just gave up the ghost). It was really trying to print, but it wasn’t grabbing the paper properly, and it kept jamming.

In an attempt to learn from experience, I unplugged it and set it aside for a few days. But this morning when I plugged it back in again and fired it up, it encountered the same problem.

Now, anyone who’s taken faulty computer equipment to the their local nerd herd will know the rigmarole. Is it under guarantee? If so, it will have to be sent to the manufacturers in Outer Mongolia and you will have to do without it for at least three months. It’s not under guarantee? Then we’ll open it and tinker about with it, and we’ll probably get it working, but it’ll very likely malfunction again some time soon. And for that privilege, we will lighten your wallet so substantially that you will feel it in your sphincter.

With nothing to lose, I hoiked the printer into the kitchen, put it on the counter, switched on the overhead light, and began undoing screws. They are complicated little buggers, these electronic things, and pretty soon I was swearing and sweating, so my housemate Dean came through to help me.

‘Here, hold this torch,’ I said. ‘I want to clean in there. I think that’s the problem: it’s just dirty. A quick clean and it’ll be working fine again.’

Dean pointed the torch where I’d shown him and then frowned. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said.

He’s a winemaker, I thought. What the hell does he know about printers?

‘Really?’ I said, and I was about to add, extremely snarkily, ‘And I suppose you have a better idea?’ when he said, ‘There’s a pen in there.’

And there was. With a bit of careful manoeuvring, Dean was able to extract the pen, which had jammed itself firmly in the rollers, and lo and behold, my printer is working again. Perfectly.

There are several lessons and metaphors in this, and they include the irony of a pen causing a printer to malfunction (some sort of protest?), and the other irony of the fact that there are never any pens in this household when and where you need them – although now, of course, I know where to look.

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Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The fantastic disappearing keyboard

‘May I check my emails?’ my friend John asked when he came to stay.

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Power it up and take it away.’

A few minutes later he came through to the kitchen, where his wife Brigitte and I were sampling (okay, drinking) wine, and said, ‘There’s a problem.’

I offered a few curses up to the national telecoms company, my server, etc, but John said, ‘No, that’s not the problem. It’s your keyboard.’

‘My keyboard?’ I asked, mystified.

John, a photojournalist who began in the trade when cameras required actual human intervention to take a class picture, is what we call a ‘hunt-and-peck’ typist: he hunts out the keys he needs and pecks at them when he finds them. Most hunt-and-peck typists use only two fingers, although the quicker ones use four. (John has hunt-and-pecked his way through a healthy handful of prize-winning books.)

I’m a touch-typist – touch-typing was the one and only usable skill I learnt at secretarial college, but it did make the six otherwise utterly useless months of basic accountancy, public relations (how to dress nice and smile a lot) and whatever else they give us to pass the time more than worth it.

Touch-typing is excellently useful: you can more or less type at the rate you think, provided you don’t think too fast or type too slow. But by its very nature, touch-typing doesn’t require sight of the keyboard: your fingers control the letters while your eyes focus on the screen. So, apparently, by the time John came to visit, I hadn’t actually looked at my keyboard for quite a long time.

After two years of bashing away morning, noon and night, this is what it looked like. The only letters still visible are Q, W, Y, U, P, J, Z and X - not surprisingly, those least used when writing in English. (I am still using the keyboard, incidentally.)

What's a Qwerty keyboard?
The apparently random arrangement of keys on the modern English keyboard dates from the days of the typewriter, which, when it was invented in the late 1800s, had a movable carriage, a lever for turning paper and a mechanical keyboard on which the letters were arranged in alphabetical order.

Problem was, the alphabetical arrangement meant that one or more commonly used keys were placed close together, so when they were punched in quick succession, they jammed. This frustrated fast typists, who constantly had to stop their work to disentangle the mechanical keys. Hence, after some trial and error, the Qwerty keyboard.

Interestingly, the Qwerty arrangement wasn’t designed directly to stop the keys from sticking; rather, it was intended to slow down fast typists (and in this roundabout way stop the keys from sticking), because the typist's fingers had further to travel over the keyboard to produce common letter-pairs.

* ‘Qwerty’ takes its name from the first six letters in the top row of keys on a keyboard; and you can type the word ‘typewriter’ using only the keys in the top row.

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Wonderful, wacky toy monsters designed by kids

This enchanting, hilarious hand-made felt monster, based on a child's drawing, just made my day. As did all the other felt monsters and pictures in this gallery.

Visual art blogger Anne Karsten says: ' "Bean," by Olivia, was one of 24 Stuffed Monsters I made in collaboration with a group of 4th & 5th graders as fundraising project for their school.

'All students made use of textures in their designs, incorporating swatches and written notes with drawings of their monsters from multiple viewpoints. I transformed their drawings into plush toys in early 2009.'

Check out the Stuffed Monster Gallery.

Via BoingBoing

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Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Housework rules, okay

I quite like housework. I was thinking this today when I was breaking a mild sweat hand-sweeping my swimming pool. I now include swimming-pool maintenance in my housework regime because I had a Kreepy Krauly that was more temperamental than my teenagers and finally, in sheer frustration, I yanked it out the water and threw it down the garden. (Which is something I think about doing with my teenagers from time to time but most often don’t because I have been socially conditioned otherwise. And also I don’t want to be arrested.)

Kreepy Krauly consigned to the shrubbery, I was compelled to get out there and clean the pool myself. And do you know, there’s a kind of Zen rhythm to it that I really rather enjoy. I suppose it’s all that mindless up-down-across, the swish of the water, the kiss of the sun on my back. And it works my upper arms, and if I’m really in the moment I might even remember to pull in my pelvic floor and do a few Kegels. (If you haven’t had a baby and inadvertently wet your pants when you laughed, you won’t know what those are. Lucky you.)

And so into the house. I don’t concern myself with my kids’ rooms or my housemate’s, because it’s up to them if they want to live like snakes in a pit. Which doesn’t stop me making snarky remarks about the state of their quarters, but that’s part of the charm that makes me who I am.

I like making my bed. I like it especially because I have very nasty memories of making my bed when I was a kid, which was a Very Long Time Ago, before the word ‘duvet’ meant anything other than something unintelligibly French and ‘fitted’ was what happened to people with epilepsy.

Does anyone else remember the days of two flat sheets – one to sleep on and one to shield your skin from blankets (in winter, two or even three) that were invariably horribly heavy, scratchy wool? (Bless acrylic-polycotton, bless it.) And bedspreads – unwieldy things that our grandmothers had usually crocheted (from, I assume from the weight of mine, iron filings) and which had to be draped just so?

The communal areas – the living room and back verandah – are easy: mainly, it’s transferring dishes to the kitchen and straightening up soft furnishings, which are enormously rewarding jobs because they deliver instant, observable results in just a few simple steps.

And so to the kitchen. Here, in the hub of my house, my machines reign supreme. One quick sweep of the surfaces, and all trace of comestible preparation and consumption disappears: and that is the magic of the dishwasher (when it works). I can’t understand any modern middle-class household that doesn’t have one: why wouldn’t you want a cabinet in which you can stow all the slutty evidence of the day’s (or night’s) leavings, then, with the press of a switch, have them all meticulously cleaned for you?

While the dishwasher does its dirty work, I load the washing machine: I get genuine pleasure out of sorting whites from colours (and I can’t tell you how weird that makes me feel as a South African). The whites – which include soiled dishtowels, underwear, bedlinen, towels and the like – get washed on a long (eco) cycle at a high temperature; colours get gentler treatment: a shorter run and no microbe-blitzing heat. (See? I really enjoy this stuff.)

I like hanging out the washing, too. We don’t iron anything (ever), so it’s a satisfyingly exacting process. Cuffs need to be pinched, bedlinen pegged just so, underwear unravelled and smoothed. While I’m doing this, the pigeons are cooing in the trees above, the wind is blowing my hair about, the sounds of an industrious little country neighbourhood are engaging me, and the Monster Baby is biting my ankles: I’m in heaven. And taking the washing in and folding it is an art all its own. (My daughter is so infected by this that she won’t allow me to fold her washing: I don’t do it ‘properly’. I just love that.)

Not much left to do now. I give my study a quick once-over (empty ashtrays, remove coffee cups and wine glasses, clean cockroach nests out of my keyboard – the usual stuff) and I’m ready for the day.

(Heavy-duty things like cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, dusting and vacuuming – the really hard stuff – I leave for my angel-char, Rhonelle, who comes for a terrifyingly energetic morning once a week.)

This daily mop-up of general household dishevelledness (as opposed to actual dirt, I suppose) takes about, oh, an hour. I usually do it while I’m waking up, which for me is a troublesome and disagreeably lengthy process. For me, housework usefully employs a taxing time when I might otherwise be sitting, still sleep-stunned, on the verandah, drinking coffee in an attempt to kickstart my brain, or shouting at my kids and kicking the cats (I am, I admit, worrisomely irrational for the first few hours of each day).

Yeah, housework rules, okay.

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William Shakespeare had Bette Davis eyes: so says facial recognition software

Have you seen the magnificent new-found portrait of William Shakespeare? According to Science Daily, Professor Stanley Wells, Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and one of the world’s leading experts on Shakespearian studies, has announced the discovery of a portrait of Shakespeare, which he believes is almost certainly the only authentic image of Shakespeare made from life.

What's more, this enigmatic portrait appears to be the the original source of the copper engraving of a bald, round-headed man on the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays.

'Up to now, ' reports Reuters, 'only two images have been accepted as authentic representations of what the most famous English writer may have looked like; both painted posthumously and based on recollections around 1623.'

I'm sure this announcement will lead to years of furious debate and persnickety nitpicking among scholars, but what do I care? I am entranced by this luminous portrait.

This is exactly what I think Shakespeare ought to have looked like. The cool, noble, high forehead (and, receding hairline notwithstanding, that forehead needed to be high, in order to contain a planet-size brain), the intelligent, tranquil gaze of those deep-set eyes, the ever-so-slight lift of the eyebrows, the tender, sensuous mouth...

Pass the smelling salts, Mavis, I'm about to swoon.

Anyway, there was something about this face that struck a deep chord, as faces do. There's a sensitivity about his expression, and a fineness of his features, that I usually associate with with female faces, and with beseeching portraits of Jesus Christ.

Who, I thought, does Shakespeare resemble? Recently, I came across an intriguing online facial recognition tool, from My Heritage, that scans pictures of faces and compares them to other famous faces. I uploaded the new portrait, and was intrigued by the results (see a collage of results, above, from the same site). Six out of the nine matches were women. Two of the nine had Oriental features. But most intriguing of all was that Shakespeare's closed matches were Greta Garbo and Bette Davis. Now, I can understand Shakespeare looking like Garbo - the same aquiline features, and enigmatic air - but Bette Davis?

A closer look revealed why this software had thrown up the match: Shakespeare had the same deep-set eyes as Bette and - even more striking - the same smooth, arched eyelids, untouched by any overhanging baggy bits.

If you'd like to see who you resemble, take a look at this remarkable tool. I ran a picture of my husband through it four times, and was astonished to find that two out of four times it came up with the same matches. (Anthony Hopkins and Harvey Keitel, which was interesting for me, because those are two actors whose faces get me all hot and sweaty). It also came up with some ridiculous and frankly insulting matches, but to spare feelings, I won't go into that now.

You'll get the best results if you choose a good-quality, face-forward photograph shot in a flat light with no shadows, spectacles or other distracting features.

Try it, and then post a comment here telling me who you look like.

I posted two photos of myself, and the software couldn't find a single match for my face. I don't know whether to be elated, or frightened half to death. Could I be a Zillon from the planet Tharg?

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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Amazing anemones

I posted a blog about the anemones that thrive on the West Coast in March 2008 but I had to scratch about for a picture of them on the Net and the one I found really didn’t do them justice.

But here’s one I took with My Digital Camera (it’s so nice to have joined the real world at last) and I hope you agree with me – they’re just astonishing.

This pic has captured a few of the colours but there are others too – pure white, for instance, and sky blue: unusual colours in nature. (The tide was coming in when I was taking these pics so I was getting drowned a bit...)

I love that they’re animals, not plants. If you touch them, they react: they squinch up and start to close.

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Monster Baby is growing up

Look, I know that putting pics of your puppy on your blog is lazy and skanky, and hey not all of us are animal lovers (and at least Janet Street-Porter can now settle back with a glass of well-wooded Chardonnay and say ‘I told you so’ - okay, I know her rave was against Facebook, but let's face it, these ether-socialising sites are all the same), but I can’t resist. Balu, the Monster Baby, has doubled in size in the five weeks we’ve had her, and that’s only physically. Her personality – well formed at four weeks old, when she wriggled under the fence and ran after our car when we went to ‘view’ her and her litter-siblings – is just gigantic.

This is a dog who, although no bigger than your average guinea-pig, not only barks (in a laughable soprano) at the various big fierce alsation-boerbul-staffie hounds in our street, snarling and snapping through their perimeter fences, when I take her for a walk; she actually gets down there and growls, paws the earth, yanks at her lead and is ready – nay, willing! – to take on all comers. (Compare this pic, right, with the similar one I took on 15 February - my, how she's grown, hey?!)

This is a dog who, at all of 10 weeks, fell into the dam on a walk, then, while I was shrieking hysterically from the bank, took a leisurely swim out to the middle before turning around and coming back. (I wept – wept! – with relief when she got back on dry ground and shook herself all over me.)

This is a very small but extremely cocky little dog who cornered the Ruling Rooster (a nasty bully who looks exactly like one of those Pick'n'Pay-bag chickens - the only word that describes his truly bizarre appearance is 'exploded' - that were once sold at traffic lights, but whose lack of handsomeness never stops him raping his females indiscriminately – maybe this is the way of chickens but it traumatises me – and who viciously pecks the babies when they’re trying to get their share of grain), and ran him into one of our fences, keeping him there with little puppy yaps and playfully damaging sharp-toothed lunges until I came and rescued him. (I seriously considered not doing so.)

But, aw, bless her, this is still the baby dog who finds the beach walk at the seaside flat a bit too far for her little legs, and will finally sit down and cry until I pick her up and carry her (then she buries her tiny sharp Womble nose in my neck and makes snuffling noises that melt my heart).

And she is also the puppy who, at about 8pm – like any baby – is so worn out from the excitements of Yet Another Day On Earth that she goes all on her own to the bathroom, settles down and waits for me to bring her her teddy so she can go to sleep.

I think Balu is shaping up to be a sterling dog.

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What makes a name odd? And what’s ‘cold reading’?

The Sunday Times Magazine carried an article today on the new TV show The Mentalist. Much of the article irritated me because it lavished praise on the premise of the show (that the lead character, Patrick Jane, uses ‘cold reading’ to solve crimes), and I think the show is a big fat annoyance because Patrick Jane is, apparently, so clever that we, the viewers, aren’t always privy to his ‘cold reading’ and sometimes have to accept plot holes so big that you could, well, drive a bus through them. (I also think the actor who plays Jane, Simon Baker, has the kind of creepy blonde 'good looks' that would compel me to keep him far from children's playgrounds.)

But I had to laugh at this paragraph: ‘The CBI team is rounded out by a smart trio of agents: Kendall Cho (Tim Kang), the oddly-named Grace van Pelt (Amanda Righetti), and Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman).’

Now, I have to ask you, in that line-up, what makes Grace van Pelt so ‘odd’? Obviously I’m talking from a western perspective here, but aren’t Kendall Cho, Tim Kang, Amanda Righetti and Owain Yeoman every bit as strange? (Wayne Rigsby is just in bad taste.) In fact, the only name that seems not-odd to me is Grace van Pelt.

Cold reading
This was a new term to me and although the magazine article explained it in summary, I googled it and came up with this. (Amaze your friends and family! Frighten your enemies! Fool people! All in 12 easy steps.)

1. Choose a subject. Select the person you will ‘cold read’ ahead of time if possible. The more time you have to learn about your subject, the better. Some cold readers have accomplices visit or interview the subject prior to the cold reading so that the cold reader can then use this information to dazzle the subject and the audience.

2. Observe your subject. Visual clues about the person will tell you something about them: their age, the way they dress, whether they have any deformities or unusual features, their height and weight, the presence or absence of a wedding ring. Read the subject’s body language.

3. Make a mental list of assumptions about the person. As you observe the subject, think about certain things that you could reasonably guess about them.

4. Prepare the subject. When you meet the person, introduce yourself and get the subjec’s name. Try to make them comfortable talking to you, but at the same time try to make them a little nervous about what is to come.

5. Go fishing. Ask questions in such a way that they can be perceived as statements. That way, if the subject affirms your question, it will seem as though you knew the answer.

6. Build on the answers to your questions. Most of the time, the subject will volunteer more information than is necessary.

7. Use Barnum statements. Barnum statements, named after the circus showman PT Barnum, are statements that will apply to just about anybody but which will give the impression that you know something about the subject.

8. Make the subject’s answers your own. Much of what a cold reader does is simply repeating back what the subject has said. Do this in such a way that it appears you already knew the answer.

9. Delve deeper. Once you’re on a fruitful line of questioning (or ‘reading’), keep going.

10. Use pregnant pauses. One method of fishing around for information is to pause long enough for a reaction from your subject.

11. Cover your errors. Sometimes a question will be off the mark, and this can ruin the illusion if you don’t recover quickly. Don’t abandon the original line of questioning; rather, twist it just a bit until it makes sense to the subject.

12. Make a positive analysis of the situation. Once you have some idea of what you’re talking about (or at least the subject believes you know what you’re talking about), you can bring the reading to a satisfying end.

(adapted from www.wikihow.com)

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Do you talk to yourself?

I don’t.

At least, I thought I didn’t. Then something happened that made me listen to myself – I mean, really listen – and I discovered that in fact I talk to myself all the time.

My housemate Dean and I are up early in the morning – me because puppy dearest (dubbed ‘Monster Baby’ because that is what she is) is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 4.30am after a night shut up in the bathroom, and Dean because he’s a winemaker and at this point in the year – harvest time – winemakers start the day at dawn’s crack.

Usually I’m up first, though, so I’ll go out onto the back verandah, feed the zoo, and then doze on the outside divan until the sun comes up, from which satisfactorily horizontal viewpoint I can keep an eye on Monster Baby’s neverending attempts to find a hole in the fence and flee the property (heaving myself up now and again to go and reclaim her, wriggling with wicked delight at her cleverness as an escape artist, from the Big Wide World).

One morning I was just beginning this routine when I was disturbed by a sound. It was Dean, sitting at the table on the back verandah, having his early-morning cigarette. ‘Goodness me, you startled me,’ I said. ‘I didn’t realise you were there.’

‘Really?’ he said, in a smirky kind of way. ‘Then who were you talking to?’

‘Me?’ I said. ‘I wasn’t talking.’

He smiled and examined his cigarette in a contemplative fashion, and left me to do that instant-replay of what’s just come out of your mouth that you most often do when something you’ve said has caused someone’s eyebrows to do the fandango and you realise that once again you’ve operated vocal chords before engaging brain.

And in my mind’s ear I heard the most embarrassing stream of drivel. ‘Let’s fill that little tummy, shall we? Now, where have you put your bowl, you little monster? Here it is. How did it get under the divan? Oh, hello Mrs Jones, how are all your little chicks today? Wait there, I’ll get to you in a moment. I know you’re hungry, just be patient. Sara, where are you off to? No, you can’t go next door, haven’t we talked about this? Balu, stop chasing the chicks, you know they don’t like it. Ooh, and here come the kittycats. Where have you been, moggies? Caught any mice? Are we all going to be good little children today…’ and on and on and on until I could have wept with mortification.

Having done this discomfiting exercise, I then found I couldn’t stop listening to myself. And do you know, I really do talk to myself all the time. When I’m typing at the computer (which is for much of the day), I speak what I write, duly emphasising the words that I’m putting in italics (and I type about as quickly as most people speak, so it’s an unbroken monologue) – ‘… and I specifically pointed out when I signed the contract…’ and ‘… would be lovely to see you when you’re here…’ and ‘… please read this over carefully and let me know if there’s anything that needs clarifying…’ etc etc etc.

It gets worse. I realised, on doing a grocery shop on Friday, that I do this in the supermarket. ‘Tinned tomatoes… tinned tomatoes… three or four …? Oh, let’s take four, we’ll definitely use them. Right. Baked beans. Who wants baked beans? Yuk. Alright then, in you go. Loo rolls. Another couple of dozen. How can one household use so much toilet paper? Milo. I thought we had Milo. Must be finished. Right. Milo. Check. What’s this? Sharpener? Soy sauce? God, Isabella’s handwriting is worse than mine. Slee… oh, scissors! Scissors again?! What does she do with them, eat them?’ and so on. (And I used to think that people stared at me in the supermarket because I dress funny.)

Sometimes – although, mercifully, this isn’t a constant – I talk to the TV. I’ve found myself berating the writers of stupid movies (‘That’s a plot hole so big you could drive a bus through it!’), commenting on the sartorial sense of continuity announcers (‘Goodness me, woman, did you look in a mirror before you left the house this morning?!’) and chatting to people in sitcoms (‘Nice do! Who’s your hairdresser?’).

So now I know that I’m going to end up doolally like my Nana, who, at the age of 88, complained that there were people in her house who talked to her all the time but never listened to a word she said – and, when my father investigated, he discovered that she was trying to have conversations with her television.

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Friday, 6 March 2009

Gawd, the heat (and how very short our memories can be)

People in various parts of South Africa are melting – it was 29 degrees at 5.45am this morning in the Riebeek Valley and it’s just got hotter ever since.

When my daughter got home from school at 2pm and it was over 45, she was tetchy because the schools hadn’t closed. I can’t say I disagree – operating on any level when it’s so hot is simply impossible. This is weather that calls for mint juleps (whatever they may be, but they sound agreeably cool and alcoholic) and white linen and fans, not blazers and maths and trying to think.

My son remarked today that he found it strange that we’re having such fierce heat so ‘late’ in the year – and I was able to point with authority to last year’s weather tree and show him that, in fact, last year’s March was every bit as hot and sweaty. (Which is an excuse to put in a picture of my finally completed weather tree for 2008 – pretty, huh? You can go to my post of 30 November 2008 and to see it half-done.)

I keep reminding myself that in a very short time, it’s going to be cold and wet, and it’s going to be cold and wet for quite a long time. The Cape winters are every bit as extreme as the summers. It can rain for days, and the chill is wicked: it’s not icy, it’s just lazy – it doesn’t go around you, it goes through you. Washing goes miff on the clothes horse (for those of us greenies who don’t have tumble-driers; and we also don’t have aircon, obviously), paintings grow mould, and for some of us (Johann, for one) groundwater rises and makes itself permanently felt in our living rooms.

So sitting and sweltering, for me, is the lesser of two evils. Give me being boiled alive, any day, over freezing to death.

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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

My dishwasher’s computer is broken. Again.

I had a dishwasher – one with actual moving parts – that operated wonderfully for over 10 years. It was terrifically noisy – you had to shout to hear yourself above it when it was running – but it cleaned like a dream and didn’t give me a minute’s grief.

Then I came into a little money and thought a new, quieter, more eco-friendly dishwasher was called for, so that’s what I bought: a Defy Dishmaid (the same make as the previous one), but one with an ‘onboard computer’ that did clever things to save water and electricity, and had the words ‘Super Silent’ stamped on its front.

It was not actually silent (never mind superly so), but at least we didn’t give ourselves sore throats by trying to have a conversation in the kitchen after dinner. And so, for 18 months, we were all relatively happy.

The dishwasher stopped working one morning after – of course – a dinner party for 12. (A testament to my wonderful friends who hadn’t made it home the previous night, and who therefore had achy heads: they helped me unload the stupid thing and hand-wash all the dishes.)

I don’t live near a big city so I was forced to scratch around for Defy’s phone number – the head office turned out to be in Durban – and phone them to ask for a referral to an agent near to me. This I was given, and the agent came two days later, and he diagnosed a computer malfunction and he replaced the computer.

And that evening the dishwasher didn’t work. So again there was the unloading and the hand-washing.

The agent came back, three days later. He’d installed the wrong computer, he explained, but now he had the right one. Which he installed.

And that evening the dishwasher didn’t work again. So once again there was the unloading and the hand-washing.

By this time my hands were getting chapped and I was getting tetchy, so I phoned Defy in Durban again, and explained that the agent hadn’t managed to fix the problem, I was still dishwasher-less, and since the dishwasher was still under guarantee, I wanted a new one. They weren’t madly keen, but once I’d shouted a bit, they agreed.

The new dishwasher took over six weeks and several increasingly irate phonecalls to arrive.

But finally it did, and after almost two months of hand-washing dishes, we were in business once again. They’d sent exactly the same model – the Defy Dishmaid ‘(not so) Super Silent’ with ‘eco’ cycle option.

Today the damned thing broke down again - the onboard computer has once again malfunctioned (I know because its symptoms are exactly the same as last time). Defy now has an agent in the big city nearest me, and that’s who I’ve called to come and repair it. The machine is no longer under guarantee, so I’ll be liable for a R399 call-out fee – regardless of whether the agent they send can actually fix it or not. (And if he can fix it, I will of course be responsible for the parts and labour costs.) Oh, and he can’t come until next Wednesday.

Now, I ask you: this dishwasher, very well looked after, ran for about five years. Is it just me, or is this too short for what is, after all, a fairly expensive bit of equipment?

I have an Ocean fridge/freezer that is over 30 years old and counting. It needs gentle treatment and frequent defrosting but it rumbles on gently and reliably, day after day (touch wood).

I also have a Defy oven – I don’t know the model as it’s so old now (almost 20) that the name-stamp has been rubbed off over the years. All it’s ever required in its lifetime is the replacement of some fuses (touching wood here again).

Neither of these appliances has anything computerised about them.

And my original Defy Dishmaid – the one with no onboard computer? When I got my first new, computerised dishwasher, I donated the old one to a friend, and it’s still working - 17 years after I first bought it!

I miss the days when household appliances didn't have their own digital brains, and all faulty ones required was a little percussive maintenance (that’s a good thump or two) to get them working again.

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