Sunday, 30 August 2009

Wonderful women

One of the things I miss profoundly in my life is good girlfriends. With the exception of Maxi’s Mom (T), my closest female friends live in other cities or provinces or countries, and I seldom see them, and although we are always in contact via email and phone, I really feel the lack of personal connection.

Entirely by chance, I’ve had the amazing good fortune over the last two weeks to have spent a lot of social time with women, and I’ve just been blown away by how damned awesome they are. From the gorgeous youngster (forced to grow up quickly, beautifully brittle, dedicated student) to the hippie wild-child (photographer, cancer survivor, brave heart), from the queen of tarts (consummate baker, searcher and now finder of love, courageous businesswoman) to the business wizard (gentle wife, electronic angel, kindly leveller), from the whip-snap nurse (good-humoured mate, skinny seeker at what she thinks is a ripe old age of bigger boobs, sense-of-humour sizzler) to the branding supremo (gardener, party-girl, golfer par excellence) – all have totally wowed me.

All but one of these women have children; many are single mothers. I’ve loved – LOVED! – comparing experiences with them, and laughing with them in the face of what is actually frequently unkind reality. In the case of the single mothers, it’s all too often absent or unsupportive fathers - it can’t be coincidence that in all cases there’s a lack of financial and/or emotional input; but just sharing the load between women (even when it’s only spoken) really does help. And whether they have partners or not, it’s just been a blast talking about our kids – finding all they say and do sometimes worrying, often funny, always fascinating.

With women, it’s possible to talk long and deeply about Relationships – with our children, our siblings, our friends, our lovers, our parents. There may not be enough time available to go into every aspect of all of them, so instead we skip from topic to topic. Nobody minds. One of the things I really love about women is how they’re so eminently capable of segueing seamlessly in and out, backwards and forwards, up and down. No conversation can possibly become too convoluted. Women never lose the thread.

I’ve been newly astonished by how vulnerable and valiant women are: they will admit their failings and openly ask for advice; and they will genuinely consider what is offered. They listen carefully while I blurt my own many imperfections, and suggest solutions seriously thought about and tailor-made for me.

I adore my male friends – they make my world turn – but it has been a real privilege to spend so much time recently with women. I’m hoping it will happen more often in the future.

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Thursday, 27 August 2009

Maddened, whining blogging is so last year: get over it, and entertain me

When I first started blogging, I did so mainly because I was indignant. No, more than that: I was infuriated and exasperated by everything: taxi drivers, bureaucrats, criminals, politicians, racists, poseurs, fundamentalists, new-agers, fussy eaters, spam, pot holes, traffic, Telkom, Eskom, the SABC, drunken drivers, broken traffic lights, rude people, lazy people, cashiers, school mommies, teenagers, husbands, ... well, I could go on and on, but I am sure you get the idea. And I am sure that you are irritated, every day, by every one of the above.

This is not to say I didn't blog about positive and happy matters. I did. But it was the blowing-gasket, get-it-off-my-chest posts that really cheered me up. And when someone commented on my post, and agreed with me, I felt vindicated, validated and a whole lot better. An example: when a woman was unspeakably abusive to me in a supermarket queue, for no reason at all, I blurted it out right here on this blog.

Imagine my astonishment, six months later, when I met the self-same woman at my daughter's school, and found her charming and sweet. She didn't recognise me as the person she'd insulted, and I was so floored by her warmth that I didn't have the heart to jab my car key into her eye, let alone remind her of how deeply her comments had upset me. Could it be - gasp - that I had over-reacted? Been unnecessarily cold and aggressive? Of course not! Like Mary Poppins, I am perfect in every way. (Yeah, right.)

But, reading over that post now, I have to ask myself: What was the point? Did this supermarket Hitler read it? I think not. Did anyone else give a flying fuck about the pain and humiliation I felt? (No is the short answer.) And, more pertinent: if I post a rant about how offended I feel by Julius Malema's ignorant comments, by taxi drivers trying to disrupt a brilliant bus transport system for Johannesburg, or by the sight of small children lolling alongside their begging mothers at traffic lights in this city, will it change a thing? Of course it won't, because, frankly, no one cares. I am farting into the wind here, and so are you.

This is not to say that social media (the fancy-pants word for blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc) doesn't have its uses. I am lost in admiration for people who plug themselves into this dazzlingly effective electronic grapevine and make sparks fly and oceans part. I followed the uprisings in Iran, and the accompanying Twitterfest, with great interest. But when an aggrieved tenant fights with an aggrieved landlord (as is the case in the recent Roy Blumenthal vs landlord spat), and it spills onto the Net, and then into the media, I just tune out.

I'm getting off the point here, so straight back to it: I am sick of outraged and indignant blogs about inconsequential things. I have given up reading the rants of serial complainers. You may have a valid reason to be enraged at your ex-husband, his new wife, your landlord or the broken streetlight outside your house, and I do (really) sympathise. But this does not make for interesting blogging. If you were the only blogger in the world, I might be entertained by the hurdles in your life. But you're not: you, like me, are one of a million other maddened people on this planet. I don't want to read about your problems, because I have enough of my own. What you're doing, to be blunt, sounds a lot like whining.

What I want is to be entertained, engaged and enchanted. I want to hear a fresh voice, a new perspective, an interesting insight, a brilliant idea. I want compelling, readable content on the few blogs that I read. I want to peek through your kitchen window and see what you're cooking up and who you're dancing with. Most of all, I'd appreciate a laugh. (Thank you, my dear co-blogger Muriel, you provide all of that, and more.)

You may be shaking your head as you read this, and thinking, 'Well, what a hypocrite. She's whining about whining bloggers.'

You have a point. But, sorry for you, my point is better than yours: stop moaning. It's boring.

And, to move on, may I slip in a few little complaints before my fingers are cut off by fellow bloggers and I have to type with bloody stumps?

I am SO annoyed with: Julius Mal... arrrrrrgggggh!

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Monday, 24 August 2009

Class of… then and now

My daughter (18) has made me swear on Dean’s Southern Constellation that I won't identify her in this school pic, taken a few weeks ago – her matric class. And I won’t. But I do want to post it, because it is such an interesting counterpoint to my own.

My matric-class pic was taken eight years after the Soweto Riots of 16 June 1976, which is now marked annually in our country as Youth Day – the black students of a huge township southwest of Johannesburg decided they’d had enough of being educated forcibly in Afrikaans, then seen as the language of the oppressor (and there were other issues too), and staged a walking rally which turned into a riot when a policeman panicked and opened fire. Many schoolchildren were injured or killed.

In 1982 (at left) I was in matric. (My brother, then aged 19, was a conscripted troepie in the army – had already been for a year and would be for another; it wasn’t a happy time for him). I went to a girls-only government school.

My children – English-speakers – have been educated largely in Afrikaans because of where we live. The Afrikaans community in these parts, although at times wary and, yes, sometimes bigoted (show me a human being who isn’t), is largely open-hearted, welcoming and unafraid of change. I love her matric-class pic because it shows how much can be accomplished when people are brave – this school not very long ago was a bastion of the white and mainly Afrikaans. (There are differences in this pic that you can’t necessarily see because of skin colour.)

This is why I love living in South Africa now.

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Gizmos and gadgets. And the geeks who love ’em

I got terribly excited the other night when I saw, on a home-shopping TV ad, a gizmo that you can buy that grows tomato plants upside-down. Without sparing a single thought for why, I immediately SMSd my friend Johann to tell him about it.

He was as excited as I. ‘Where can I get one?’ he SMSd back, his enthusiasm practically melting the phone.

Thing is, my excitement was purely for Johann: I have barely enough time and space for ‘real’ gadgets (egg whisks, soup ladles, fridges, those kinds of things) without forking out money and finding room for the fly-by-nights.

And fly-by-nights they most certainly are. My brother-in-law once remarked lugubriously, in passing, ‘All you get from Verimark is disappointment’ (and I’m not pinpointing Verimark here specifically; Glomail, Homemark, they’re all as bad as each other).

How right he is. I once – ONCE – bought a product from Verimark. It was a word-finder, and it cost a pretty penny, but it was for a writer-friend who was in the throes of producing a tome and I thought it would be a pleasant alternative for him to a paper Thesaurus. Hah! He was as pleased as punch when he opened it, but much less happy when it wouldn’t work. We took out and replaced the batteries. Nada. We re-read the instruction manual. Nothing we did would make the damned thing respond.

I took it back. (This required a lot of driving, as I don’t live near any Verimark stores.) It was replaced. The second one didn’t work either – but it didn’t work differently from the first one. The first one wouldn’t even turn on; the second one switched on fine, but then refused to recognise anything we typed into it.

We ditched it, and I put it down to a lesson learnt.

Not my dear Johann. He’s a total whore for home-shopping channels. Not even when he tried Brendan McCarthy’s ‘miraculous’ seven-day fruit/veg detox diet (during which, even if you start out looking like a bug that lives under a rock - and Brendan does, if you can believe the mind-numbingly repetitive TV ad – you end up with sculpted tanned abs and wearing a pair of sexy swimming trunks), and, on day four, while attempting to drink his broccoli juice, his body simply went into revolt and he hewied instead.

He regretfully gave away the R1 000-worth of produce he’d bought in preparation for his New Self, and shelved the equally expensive juicer – but did that stop him TV-shop whoring? Not a bloody bit of it.

Next he bought Memory Foam Slippers. These are slippers that you can walk on – in fact, an elephant can walk on them, and does, in the ad – and the next time you put your feet into them – WOW! the ‘memory foam’ has exactly the same shape as it did when you first bought them three days before! And not only that – they are apparently so attractive that you can wear them anywhere! (If you’re a homeless person, recently released from a psychiatric ward, or maybe me.)

Johann was so stoked about these new-age Stokies (remember those? Salt Rock takkies?) that he actually took them off in my living room and invited one of my guests to stick her hand into them to ‘feel’ the memory foam. To my gobsmacked astonishment, she did. ‘Very firm,’ she said, smiling uncertainly.

Johann’s not wearing them any more. I wonder why.

My late sainted mother was every bit as bad as Johann when it came to stuff you could buy to make your life easier and/or more exciting. My mom once bought an extendible fork. One of them. One extendible fork. It looked like an ordinary fork, but if you pulled on its tines-end, it would extend into a metre-long eating utensil. For what? What in god’s name might you need an extendible fork for??

My mom also bought a rock you could put into a pot of boiling eggs that would change colour when the eggs reached your desired softness/hardness. So we often had eggs boiled blue for breakfast.

She bought a gadget that kept food piping hot using only two tea candles. So lots of lukewarm meals, too.

She bought another gizmo that would take the top off the most recalcitrant jar. My father still had to run the bottle under hot water, tap the lid against a hard surface, then strain to open the jar until his eyes popped out.

She bought super-hero oven gloves that you could slip on and then remove from the oven a roasting pan that had reached a thousand degrees Centrigrade (if, for example, you were smelting gold at home). Pity you couldn’t feel a single thing through the gloves, so were never sure if you actually had a grip on the oven tray, with obviously tragic results.

Yet despite these endlessly repetitive cycles of attempt and failure, some people (my mom and Johann prime among them) refuse to accept that home-shopping via TV is a complete waste of time and money.

My 18-year-old daughter was in the room when I SMSd Johann excitedly about the upside-down tomato-growing thing.

‘What would you need one of those for?’ she asked.

‘Well, what if you live in a flat and don’t have space to grow tomatoes?’ I responded, having been temporarily brainwashed by the TV ad.

‘A window box?’ she said.

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Dining up the Eiffel Tower

My father, who at 75 is ageing disgracefully, recently had dinner at the Jules Verne restaurant which is on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. It’s a Michelin-rated restaurant with a very long waiting list, and you have to book months in advance to get in. You also have to be pretty heavy in the wallet to afford it – according to one of the websites I consulted, one of the set-menu dinners (without wine) is priced at about 160 Euros – that’s about R1 750!

Here’s what my dad had to say about his experience.

We arrive in a taxi and move through the hoi polloi of sweaty tourists like royalty, to be greeted at the special entrance to the Jules Verne by an immaculately suited maitre, reservation list in hand, who directs us into the tiny cage elevator that grinds up to the restaurant floor.

A table at the window and you have half of Paris below you. Waiters dressed up like pox-doctor’s clerks hover around speaking English, Spanish, Lebanese, Hindustani – any language that happens to be eating there at the time.

The food is, according to my gourmet girlfriend, good but she’s had better. Foie gras for me to start. A sole meuniere which doesn’t come laid out on the plate like at the Ocean Basket but stripped from the bone and, I think, overcooked, on a bed of truffelled spinach or buffalo’s nostrils or something. Dessert is cheesecake which Catherine said wasn’t as good as the previous one we had off the Champs Elysee. Who am I to judge, having gone from mousetrap cheese and biscuits to desserts that look like Picasso doodles on my plate (and a late-night snack of Rennies to ease it all through my groaning alimentary canals)?

At the next table, a banker from Luxembourg is speaking Luxembourgese which, Catherine detects, is a mixture of French, Dutch and German. With his son. Obviously on a trip paid for by little old ladies who have invested their life savings with him. And he phones his wife halfway through his foie gras to tell her where he is and what he’s eating. I thought Catherine was going to clock him with her baguette.

Behind us is a large family group of a handsome brown-skinned young man with a blonde, obviously very English, wife and some cafe au lait kids. Filthy rich. Probably in oil or weapons of mass destruction.

Also at a window table is a young, very British, man who vaguely resembles a pop star - Bono? Dino? Dunno? - who drinks his champagne like quaffing draught Bass and stares into his blonde girlfriend’s cavernous cleavage.

The serving staff is a disciplined bunch of young men - we saw only one girl waitron - who, according to their dress, have specific roles to play. Some could only come out of the kitchen with food and then had to wait for other waiters to take it from them to the table. An apprentice waiter scurries about looking like Gerard Depardieu in shirt sleeves – he’s not entitled to war a jacket yet. Overseeing all is a suave, multilingual maitre who moves silkily about, charming the ladies, joking with the men. He immediately makes a lifelong enemy of Catherine by insisting on speaking Dutch to her when she speaks French like a native. He is arrogant, she says, Eiffel Tower or not.

Paying the bill must be painful if you’re not the Sultan of Oman. Three glasses of wine cost enough to keep the muesli bunch [that’s us in Riebeek Kasteel] in local plonk for a week.

But, for a first and last, an eyeful of the Eiffel, from a table at the Jules Verne, is certainly one to remember.

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Friday, 14 August 2009

Mrs Grape and other very, very, very fat people

I couldn’t sleep last night so I got up and made myself a cup of tea and a piece of toast with lots of butter and Marmite, and got back into bed to watch Oprah and scatter crumbs all over my sheets. But last night’s show was Yet Another One about weight loss and gain, and pretty soon I lost my appetite. (In fact, I haven’t eaten since and may never again.)

It featured actress Kirstie Alley, who has turned being very fat into a personal promotion (one in remarkably questionable taste) and a man called Michael Hebranko, who once weighed over 1 000 lb (about 455 kg), lost it all over some years, then put it all back on again.

Now, although like many people my age, I could afford to shed a few kilos, I am nowhere even vaguely near obese. I am, however, occasionally known as Mrs Grape* in our village, particularly on mornings after big parties, when I have been known to eat a lot. (A doctor friend once told me that this is not necessarily because I am hungover, but because I haven’t slept enough: apparently some people’s minds confuse tiredness with hunger, and who knows, maybe he’s right.) By ‘a lot’ I mean, for example, the leftover Thai curry from the night before, a slice of pecan pie with ice cream, a packet of chips, a couple of bowls of broccoli soup (my favourite hangover cure) and perhaps a bag of nuts – this spread over a day. While I’m filling my face with food, I also clean the house and do other chores, and almost always walk for an hour or so with the dogs in the afternoon.

I’m telling you about my own ‘fat’ days because once I’ve munched my way through the list of food above, I feel so full that I sometimes worry I might explode and scatter my innards all over the walls. So how, I have to ask, does someone like Michael Hebranko reach a weight of 455 kg without popping?

Here’s how. He described, on Oprah, how, at his fattest, he could eat 24 pork chops, about 1 kg of bacon and 24 eggs at one sitting. And I assume by ‘at one sitting’ he means ‘at one meal’ – breakfast, perhaps? God alone knows what this man managed to put away for lunch and dinner, and I dare not ask if he snacked between meals.

This echoed the dietary habits of another gigantically fat man, ‘Half Ton Dad’ Kenneth Brumley, who ate in one day what a normal-sized man would consume in two weeks, including ‘ chilli-cheese fries for breakfast’ and ‘three or four cheeseburgers at a time’. (I was going to post a pic of Kenneth here but I actually can’t bring myself to – if you want to see him and read his story, click here.)

So, basically, these people get this fat because they eat far too much and exercise far too little. (Another gigantic fatty, Renee Williams, claimed that she’d reached a weight of 440 kg in spite of eating ‘normally’ – her morbid obesity was genetic, she said. Excuse me while I roll my eyes.)

Both these men got so fat that they were bedridden for, literally, years at a time – they were not able to move at all; in other words, they never got out of bed even to wash or go to the toilet. (The mechanics of that just doesn’t bear thinking about – and the least of it is that these people are so fat they can’t wipe their own bottoms.)

Now, I have two questions regarding these people (and there are quite a few of them in the good ole US of A). The first and most obvious is, how can they afford to get that fat? Food is expensive, and eating enough every day to feed a family for a week must burn through bucks like nobody’s business. (And since these fatties can’t get out of bed, who’s earning that money? Or are they all on some sort of welfare?)

Living in a country where many people survive on ridiculously small sums of money – often feeding families into the bargain – this seems astonishingly profligate. And forgive me for being hard-hearted, but the fact that these people are often helped with super-expensive interventions, including (but not limited to) being removed from their homes by squadrons of people and forklift trucks, being hospitalised, having gastric-bypass and other surgeries, and being under close medical supervision for years at a time, just makes me bloody furious. What an incredible waste of money!

The other question – and one that I haven’t seen tackled on Oprah yet, which I think is interesting in itself – is who enables these people? If they can’t even get out of bed to brush their teeth, how exactly are they getting their hands on this gigantic amount of food? Who is supplying these colossal quantities of calories for these gargantuan people, day in and day out? And, more to the point, why are they doing it? I mean, if the greedy bed-bound fatty threatens to kill you if you don’t bring them 20 Macdonalds burgers with all the trimmings, and now, you can just run away – it’s not like they can run after you and catch you.

* ‘Mrs Grape’ comes from the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? starring a gorgeous young Johnny Depp and a teenage Leonardo DiCaprio: Bonnie Grape, Johnny Depp’s character’s widowed mother, is morbidly obese and housebound.

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Thursday, 13 August 2009

Bye, Guy

Guy Wllloughby – actor, playwright, novelist, journalist and all-round party-boy - lived here in RK for a while, and after that we met now and again in social circumstance (usually weird).

He was an extraordinary man in many ways, and I remember him for his ability to carefully listen to, well, everything. Despite his sometimes flamboyant public persona, he was a thoughtful person, and very kind. His razor wit wasn’t that obvious when he was in small groups of people he felt comfortable with, because then he was better at taking in than giving out – a gift. He liked details, and his life bore this out, I think.

He often channelled Oscar Wilde and was known to quote him: ‘One can survive everything nowadays, except death, and live down anything, except a good reputation.’

Boy, did he live it.

I miss you, Guy, because you were clever, generous, unusual and brave.

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Lost children

There are always those who are meeker than the others: who, because they don’t shriek or pull hair, don’t really get noticed.

This is mine: Dental Floss. Dear thing, named on a whim by one of my berserk children, and now going by the gentler name of Flossie.

Half-cat, half-badger, she is very seldom noticed. Except in instances like these, when a timid creep into a welcome underwear drawer brings comfort.

And is So Pretty!

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Thursday, 6 August 2009

Juno makes us drool on 702

Juno’s other blog, Scrumptious, is a veritable Swiss-roll of recipes intelligently and clearly written for people who love food but don’t want to be bamboozled by complicated instructions or hard-to-find ingredients. She regularly cooks for her family of husband and three kids (who, as they’ve grown, have ‘just got hungrier and hungrier’), and is a dedicated party girl.

She’s also confoundingly modest. She was interviewed recently by iconic South African journalist Jenny Crwys-Williams on Radio 702, along with a slew of eminent cookery writers, both local and international, and she didn’t say a thing about it. I only found out what she’d been up to when I was scrolling through Scrumptious for her latest deliciousnesses.

Click here for the interview. Juno’s bit is at the end, but the whole insert is just delightful.

I, of course, have no problem with blowing my own trumpet (something I learnt from my good friend Tony Park, although I haven’t yet finessed his ineffably charming way of doing it). My own fondness for Jennifer Crwys-Williams (and goodness, do I wish her name were easier to spell) stems from The Penguin Book of South African Quotations, which she edited several years ago (and which she’s since updated), and which neither my late sainted mother nor I, despite our best efforts, was ever able to track down. ‘Children are the shit detectors of the modern world’ was apparently a quote of mine that Jenny thought worthy of inclusion in her original edition, and which I didn’t know about until my friend Pippa, doing research for an article, found and told me about.

So, there we are: in some small way, I – and my opinion of children – am recorded for posterity. Along, of course, with Juno’s foodie blog, in eminent company – not necessarily the renowned chefs who shared the kudos with her on Jenny’s radio show, but a gaggle of dancing daisies on her windowsill. ‘They gyrate and wriggle when the sun hits them, and they cheer you on when you’re cooking.’ Yes!

* A hello? point in Jennifer Crwys-Williams interview was the BBC-style out-take on the chocolate guy. Can’t those stuffy peeps at the Beeb just get with it, for goodness’ sake? Not everything is a soap opera. Some things are just what they are.

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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Dean isn’t only a wine maker…

He also makes pecan pie.

Well, he did, recently, under my steely gaze. I am precious about my shortcrust pastry (which has to be made with VERY cold butter and VERY cold hands; Dean, bless him, has toasty hands, just like his heart), so the rolling part was accomplished with much concentration.

For pecan pie, you have to whip up quite a storm in a teacup: the syrup mixture (a disastrously delightful combination of butter, eggs, brown sugar, syrup and vanilla) has to be beaten until it foams. And that’s where Dean hands-upped.

So here I am (a girl who’s been around the block a few times) showing Dean how to properly spank a monkey. Clearly, bedroom skills are sometimes useful in a kitchen.

For the recipe (it’s very easy, honest), go to Scrumptious.

* Click here for a great review of Dean’s wine.

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A beautiful noise: Neil, Steve, Chris and a CD system that’s done its time; and how T saved us

I had to LMAO at this Sunday’s Times review of Steve Hofmeyr’s Songs of Neil Diamond, in which the reviewer wrote about the ‘double awfulness’ of the CD, since it features ‘onse Hof’ (for non-South Africans, a song-writing Boereseun probably best known for his prolific ability to spawn illegitimate children with his fans) and Diamond, ‘whose music I loathe’. (I am, obviously, quoting the review; I LOVE Neil Diamond.)

When I pointed this out to my friend Johann (a man of infinite wisdom – and, like onse Hof, an Afrikaner), he similarly laughed and said, ‘Why buy Steve Hofmeyr doing Neil Diamond? Why not just buy Neil Diamond?’

Quite. It’s not like we’re back in the 1980s when you couldn’t find a Chris de Burgh* album in South Africa if your life depended on it (because it had been, um, banned).

Johann is, incidentally, Very Much Not a fan of Neil Diamond. Recently, however, I happened upon a Neil Diamond CD at his house (makes you wonder…) and played it, and he was so freaked out that he SMSd our mutual friend T to say, ‘Neil Diamond playing in my house! What next?!’ Interestingly, when T went for lunch at Johann’s house the following weekend, she reported back that when she arrived Neil Diamond was playing with no apparent arm-twisting on the part of anyone else there. Really makes you wonder…

Anyway, this is all a very roundabout way to get to my sound system, a Wharfedale, which has given me frankly astonishing service over the last nine years, during which time it’s played practically non-stop. The radio in this house (Kfm) goes on when I get up, which is usually on the dark side of 4am, and doesn’t go off until the house closes down, which can be anything between 8pm and 3am the next day (and, sometimes, not at all). The CD system, pressed into hectic service once or twice a week (and sometimes more often), with careless and frequent CD changes, and a lot of jolting from windmilling arms and berserk bodies, and with no regard at all for the finer nuances of volume control, has similarly done a sterling job.

Recently, however, it hasn’t been happy, and playing 15-year-old CDs that are worn and scratched (and have, in the case of a David Bowie double-CD, actual bites out of them) has proved beyond its failing capabilities. Late at night, when we’ve been out of options, we’ve tried several remedies, including (but not confined to) Maxi’s Magic Spit (making Max the dog lick them), ordinary human spit (usually me, and often after Maxi), Mr Min (definitely doesn’t work), chilling in the freezer (works; and interesting some days later when you’re looking for the ice cream), and vigorous rubbing on various fabrics (seldom successful).

So all hail the remarkable T who, two hours into a recent frustrating stop-go music session punctuated by swearing and licking and freezing and rubbing (and Max looking progressively more annoyed as his tongue was pressed, literally, into service), pulled out a few new CDs: a Kim Wilde (remember her?!), two ABBAs and a Neil Diamond!

My ageing Wharfedale has never been happier, and I’ve put off having it serviced for another week or two, while I have four CDs that actually play. Neil Diamond has been top of the bill.

* Do you have any advice how to prolong the life of abused CDs? Any suggestions very welcome.
* What’s up with Chris de Burgh’s new album of covers, Footsteps? I can’t believe the man who gave us Spanish Train and other stories is cashing in like this. One of his most remarkable talents was to be able to put lovely, original lyrics to pretty music. Not that it’s going to stop me seeing him in concert in November in Cape Town…

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