Monday, 21 September 2009

Maddened by Jozi's aggressive vendors and window-washers

I've tried to be gracious, generous and friendly as I've driven around Johannesburg over the past 17 years. Really, I have. I've always tipped unpushy parking guards, always greeted road-side vendors (while politely declining their wares), and always dished out random rolling car-coins (what my cousins charmingly call 'shrapnel') to blind beggars, street children and the heart-breaking human flotsam and jetsam on the streets of Johannesburg. Like most drivers in Johannesburg, I have a chatty (albeit paternalistic, I admit) relationship with the 'regulars' on the street corners on my various routes.

I don't want to sound prissy, but I have always believed that how you behave towards destitute people defines you as a person: if you can't give something to them, the very least you can do is offer a cheery greeting and a little facile banter, followed up, if necessary, by a firm refusal.

This is all very well when you're dealing with, say, five or seven or even ten road-side beggars a day. But how about thirty people at a time?

In the past two years or so, the number of roadside peddlers, beggars, panhandlers, vagabonds and window-smashers has increased tenfold, due, no doubt, to crushing economic times, and - gee, thanks, Mad Bob Mugabe - to a flood of ragged refugees from Zimbabwe. And so, too, has the level of aggression at intersections. Particularly towards women drivers.

I hesitate to pull out the gender card here, but I have noticed that, as a woman driver, you definitely get the short end of the stick.

I drive though the Grayston Drive intersection in Sandton on average 18 times a week. Every time I do, I count the number of panhandlers at the intersection, and it is never less than 38 individuals operating on two sets of traffic lights. Yes, you read that right: thirty eight!

If these vendors peacefully peddled their goods, I would have no objection - after all, I'd far prefer that they were making a living selling stuff than resorting to crime. But the sheer doggedness and belligerence of these vendors is just wearing me down.

Swarms of 'window washers' - young, swaggering men armed with plastic bottles - besiege my car and any car in the vicinity that seems like a soft target: that is, in the main, cars with women drivers. They squirt soapy water on the windscreen and proceed to 'wash' it. I shake my head and flap my hands to indicate a 'no thanks', but to no avail.

When they're finished smudging my window, they demand payment by thrusting a hand towards my open window. I respond by driving off, at speed. If the traffic light is red, and I am stuck there, I roll up my window and look away, infuriated. Most vendors walk away, resigned, but some of them get nasty: I've had my car bonnet thumped, my side mirrors bashed and, last week, a threat as a young thug drew his finger across his neck in a throat-cutting gesture.

Infuriated, I rolled down the window and, in my bossiest mommy voice, gave it straight back to him by wagging my finger and promising to have him arrested. He jeered, made a lascivious thrusting gesture with his groin and gave me the middle finger. Then I drove off, heart pounding, and dissolved in infuriated, helpless sobs.

I am terrified by this, and I'm enraged too. All I want is to go peacefully about my business, without harassment or abuse. And, damn it, am I, as Jane Citizen, not entitled to feel safe and secure?

And I'm sick of hearing the Metro police force making excuses about why these intersections aren't properly policed. The most common excuse is, 'We move them along or arrest them, but they return the next day. And, besides, we can't be everywhere all the time'.

Well, duh, isn't the answer to have a permanent police presence - just one car would do - at the worst-affected major intersections in Johannesburg? (The Greyston intersection, the Nichol Highway offramp and the main Bruma intersection are just a few that spring to mind). And, please, Mr Metro Plod, don't insult my intelligence by telling me you don't have the manpower: how about pulling several hundred of your officers out from behind the bushes where they're hiding with their speed cameras, and putting them to work making intersections safe? Look, you're going to lose a lot of traffic-fine revenue, but the idea behind a metropolitan police force is to enforce the law and keep citizens safe, not swell State coffers.

God, I'm maddened by this. What's more (and I love to pull the World-Cup card here): if I, as a tough old Jo-burger with eyes all over the back of my head, am afraid to drive through a busy intersection that is as familiar to me as the back of my hand, how do you think a carload of hapless tourists are going to feel?

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Thursday, 17 September 2009

Kika, the content thief: blog plagiarism at its most brazen

I don't know why I still get upset about this. It's not unusual, at all, for bloggers to steal, lift, nick and plunder other people's work: it happens all the time, often in the most subtle of ways.

But I do get my knickers in a knot when I stumble across bloggers who brazenly pinch the work of freelance professionals who have spent years, even decades, honing their craft, and who are trying to earn a living from the fruits of their labours.

I am more or less resigned to the fact that, if you post content online, the chances are that sooner or later someone will re-use or rehash what you've written or photographed. I don't mind this, generally speaking, because I do believe in the free exchange of information, particularly when whoever's reproduced that content takes the trouble to acknowledge its source.

But I do get maddened when I see amateurs passing off someone else's excellent work as their own. I suppose my outrage stems from the fact that I know, from long experience, how difficult it is to make money as a freelance writer, and how many years it takes to build a portfolio and make a name for yourself.

My old pal Rob Woodburn, a South African who has lived in Australia for many years now, is a freelance photographer, journalist and travel writer whose compelling blog, Lost in Transit, is packed with superb photographs and high-quality travel articles. Lost in Transit was the first travel blog to appear in the online editions of two leading Australian newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and the blog has a significant and devoted following.

This prestige has not deterred a certain Australian blogger, one 'Kika' (no surname, no contact details) of Sydney, from audaciously lifting Rob's photographs and text, and passing them off as her own work.

Is it possible that 'Kika' genuinely doesn't realise that lifting text and photographs without permission is not acceptable? Maybe. Then again, maybe not: if you have the savvy to create your own blog, I reckon you should know full well that stealing is stealing, whichever way you slice it.

I am tempted to post a picture of this Kika here, so you can identify her, but, then again, I'd have to take it off her personal blog, and that would be stealing.

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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

What would you ask your dog, if you could?

Imagine a genie hoists itself out of your beer bottle one night and says, 'You have five minutes in which to ask your dog ten things. Your dog will give you truthful answers, in your own language.'

This is the question I asked my 10-year-old daughter, as we were wedged in traffic on the way to fetch her brothers from school. I was fascinated by the selection of questions she wanted to ask our basset hound, Velvet (in pic, left) , and equally intrigued by the questions offered by my teen sons.

After much debate (which - hooray! - made the hour-long trek home whizz past) we came up with the following shortlist. In no particular order:

1. Can you converse with other dogs, and, if so, what do you talk about?
2. What is your real dog name, if you have one? And what are the names of the other dogs in the family?
3. Why do you poke your head out of the window when you travel in a car?
4. Do you really feel cross, anxious, sad, jealous or afraid, or am I just reading too much into your expression?
5. Do you have dreams, and what do you dream about?
6. Who is your favourite in our human family, and why?
7. What's the pecking order in this house? In other words, who is the top dog, and who is the top human?
8. Do you have any complaints, or something you'd like to tell me?
9. Would it be possible for you to not poop in the house?
10. Why do you love me?

Other suggestions received, but rejected as being too obvious, or too difficult to answer, included:

- Where do you like to be scratched?
- What on earth is so appealing about sniffing other dogs' bottoms?
- Why do you howl and whine when you can't come inside?
- What does it feel like to be a dog?
- Why don't you listen when I tell you something?
- What do humans smell like?

So, what would you ask your dog? Or your cat? And what would you tell your pet, if a genie gave you the opportunity?

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Friday, 11 September 2009

The War of the Inanimate Objects

My Aunt Janet, who lives in Manchester, is an intrepid traveller but it must be said that she seldom returns home from a jaunt without an injury of some kind. Her latest trip was to visit my father and his girlfriend Catherine at Catherine's home outside of Amsterdam. There, his lifelong engagement in The War Of the Inanimate Objects conspired evilly with Janet’s innate proneness to accidents. Here’s my father’s account of events.

The day that Catherine’s Blackberry hid itself in a balloon was the day I realised that we might be losing The War of the Inanimate Objects.

You’ve all been in the firing line. With the chair leg that makes contact with your big toe when you’re not wearing shoes. With the knife that takes a slice out of your finger when you’re chopping onions. With the car door that closes on your fingers, the lemon juice that squirts directly into your eye, the screw that you drop on the floor and never find again...

The balloon was a hot-air monster in which Catherine, a Dutch TV presenter, was doing a shoot for a travel series. When she disembarked, her cellphone didn’t. It was slyly out of sight in the basket that was last seen heading for the outskirts of Amsterdam. Score one to the enemy.

Then at 3.30 in the morning the onslaught really begins. The burglar alarm, which isn’t primed, decides to come alive. And stay alive. No amount of putting the code into the keyboard will switch if off. We can’t hear the first telephone call from the alarm company because – you’ve got it – the alarm is shrieking away. Janet suggests I switch off all the power and switch it on again. I switch it off. The alarm doesn’t stop. I switch it on again. Nothing happens. We’re in total darkness. Score two to the enemy.

The alarm company is now trying to phone a mobile landline that has no power. They can’t phone Catherine’s cellphone because it’s in the hot-air balloon. We go outside to get away from the noise. I make contact with the alarm company with my South African cellphone. For security reasons they need to phone me back but don’t have international roaming facilities. Score three.

After a minute or two the power comes back on. But we’re now outside, in the street, Catherine wearing only her bathrobe, me in my Bjorn Borg underpants (the paparazzi would have had a field day). The front door closes and locks. We don’t have a key. The score is 4-0.

I bang on the door. Janet and her husband Brian can’t hear me because the alarm is still wailing. But finally I manage to get their attention. Janet rushes to open the door, and trips and falls down the stairs. Score five.

Brian opens the door. Janet is moaning on the floor. Catherine runs around, making an ice pack for Janet’s ankle. The alarm is still shrieking. Finally we make contact with the security company again and receive instructions how to disconnect the alarm from a mass of electronics that looks like the arming system of a nuclear bomb.

Final score: 5-1. Plus we have no burglar alarm system, I have a bed-ridden sister with a severely twisted ankle and a ruined holiday, and Catherine has sleepless neighbours who are not amused and a dog traumatised by the bizarre behaviour of the humans she’s been brought up to love and trust. And there’s still the prospect of a drive through morning horror traffic jams to Amsterdam to collect the Blackberry.

So who says that inanimate objects are exactly that? That they don’t retaliate? And here we are surrounded by them. The War goes on. Watch out for that banana peel.

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Wednesday, 9 September 2009

If it's already bad now, what am I going to be like when I’m old?

I’ve always been a jump-up-and-down sort of girl: running, swimming, cycling, dancing, that sort of thing. And I’ve had twinges in the past, but they’ve usually been utterly explainable (hip and knee damage from running, for example, and if that isn’t a reason not to run I don’t know what is).

So when I woke up last Monday (that’s 10 days ago) unable to get out of bed, and established that I wasn’t handcuffed to the bedposts and hadn’t had my limbs sawn off in the night by a crazy person, I was a bit worried.

It was Johann’s fault, obviously. Johann, on a Sunday-night drinking spree (these things happen in these parts), thought it immensely entertaining to leave not one, not two, not even three… okay, EIGHT SMS messages on my Telkom landline.

What happens when you leave a cellphone text message on a Telkom landline is this. It goes into a computer. In the computer sits a Ken-doll-type man with his brain removed and a synthesizer clamped to his voicebox, which blurts out a bizarre American accent. And when he gets your message, he dials your landline number and repeats it, twangily verbatim.

But the thing is, he does dial your number. And your landline does ring.

I very, very seldom answer my landline (as Rosie and Ronaldo, the only two people left on the planet who still call it, should know by now). But that doesn’t stop it ringing.

When it rings, I know this: It’s either Ronaldo (in which case I’ll talk to him annoyedly or phone back at a more convenient hour on my cellphone) or Rosie (and then it’s for my daughter, and in order not to kill both of them I do a brisk few laps of my bedroom walls); or someone trying to sell me something I can promise you beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don’t want (not even if it comes with a ‘free’ blow-up mattress or apparently all-expenses-paid holiday for two to Mauritius provided you attend a time-share seminar).

So I obviously enormously didn’t appreciate Johann’s eight Ken-doll Telkom-voicemail phonecalls last Sunday night, and every time the phone rang I tensed up in bed and thought, ‘If I knew who that f*cker was I’d tear them limb from limb.’ And I’m pretty sure that’s where the back problem started.

(Johann wasn’t at all fazed. ‘Don’t you love having such interesting friends?’ he SMSd me the next morning, when I texted him to tell him that he’d done irreparable damage to the muscles that enable me to stand upright.)

Ag, but you know life goes on, and by last Wednesday I’d been bitten by about a gazillion bastard midges and even if I couldn’t bend down or stretch around to scratch the suppurating welts because my back was too sore, the suppurating welts took my mind off the fact that I couldn’t stand upright.

But now, genuinely, I can’t stand upright. I finally caved and phoned the local physio and begged her for an appointment. She was shamefully unsympathetic and told me she couldn’t see me until Friday. (Friday!) So I got in my car and drove 25km to the next town (the nearest place with a chemist) and told the pharmacist on duty what my problem was.

‘And have you tried a heat pad?’ she said.

I clutched the counter. My eyes might have bugged a bit and it’s possible I foamed slightly at the mouth. ‘I’m begging you,’ I said, ‘and it would be on bended knee if I only bloody could. Give. Me. Some. Scheduled. Drugs.’

She did. (She told me not to tell anyone. So I’m only telling you. Don’t you tell anyone.)

Unfortunately I did also tell her that I needed to ‘think’ (why?) so she hasn’t given me anything even vaguely hallucinogenic. But the relief of not having to drag my ailing body around like Quasimodo simply can’t be described.

I’m really worried about what I’m going to do when my body breaks down for good. Thank god Johann is going to be there to look after me.

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Moving swiftly on from the snail house

My daughter’s snail house was such a hit that my friend Wicked Mick helped his daughter make one too. And when an art-exhibit opportunity came up in our village that encompassed a box that was, after all, more or less the dimensions of the snail house, my daughter thought she’d like to reproduce it for a wider audience.

But things happened between the planning and execution stages. There was, firstly, a dream: one that, shared during a brisk walk with the dogs, became the inspiration for a new box project – a bed. A populated bed.

Then, the things that crept into – that populated – the bed were made of silver foil, and so ‘The Shining’ suggested itself as a topic.

This bed was discussed and planning done, and even some execution, but then more inspiration came (at a very late date; indeed, well past the deadline) from an unexpected source: Johann, grumpy from an afternoon nap, needing some sort of diversion. If he weren’t 43 years old, I would have given him a Farley’s rusk and put him in his bouncy chair. My daughter, who’s had long experience with a baby brother, knew what was needed.

‘I’m making this bed,’ she said, plonking it down on the kitchen counter next to Johann’s lower jaw, ‘and I need to populate it.’

This is what emerged. It might not cut the mustard as an artwork, but we like it.

Here’s what we have in ‘Populated: The Shining’: An alien woman in a luxurious bed, clutching a teddy and holding a lollipop; a worm; a cat; a dog; a notebook; a laptop; a die; a bottle of wine and a glass; a blancmange with a spoon; a rose in a vase; and (the ‘shinings’) a scary monster with red eyes and a forked tongue and an octopus-like creature emerging from under the duvet, having snagged one extremely alarmed teddy, reaching out a silvery tendril to get the other.

* Click on the pictures for better views.

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No-see-ums... but SO-feel-ums

When I lived in the city, midges took one form, in my experience: tiny, deeply annoying insects that flew into your open mouth while you were doing your morning run (when once you partook of such outlandish activities) and lodged round about your uvula, causing you to stop, hunched over, hands on knees, hawking and spitting so alarmingly that passing motorists screeched to a halt and kindly offered to call emergency services.

In the country, midges are different. They are, like in the city, practically invisible; but here the little bastards bite. Not that you feel them when they do: they’re called ‘No-see-ums’ in North America, apparently, for this very reason.

But good god do you feel the effects!

I knew nothing of biting midges when I first moved to this small country town nine years ago. So once, when I was sweeping my pool and my neighbour came around for a chat, and, after observing a cloud of the little buggers around my head for a few minutes, said, ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t watch this,’ I didn’t know what he meant. Until the next morning, when I woke up entirely transformed into something festooned with weeping sores, with puffy cheeks and leaking eyes, and very very sorry for itself.

I’m not alone in this: miggie fever grips a few sad members of our community for a few months each year, transforming them from relatively ordinary human beings into twitching, scratching, suppurating, terribly tired aliens.

Does anyone out there know why country midges differ so intensely from their city cousins? My friend T (who suffers as I do – and ‘suffer’ isn’t a word I use lightly for the fallout from these bites: symptoms range from a flu-like feeling to deep muscle aches and utter exhaustion that can go on for days at a time) suspects it may have something to do with the chemicals used in crop-spraying in these parts, and I have to wonder if she has a point.

Any ideas?

Click here for more about biting midges.

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Dogs that lick loudly

As any regular reader of salma knows, I think my dogs are among the most fantastically amazing creatures on the planet (yes, even The Worst Dog In The World). But having dogs brings with it several unpleasantnesses, including but not limited to dog farts (which actually make me angry I find them so offensive), large quantities of money that could better be used to buy wine having to be handed over to the vet, and a car backseat that will never be the same again.

But it wasn’t until a particular unpleasantness was confirmed by my friend Amanda that I realised there’s yet another annoyance that certain dogs come with: loud licking.

Now, I know most dogs lick. The Worst Dog In The World licks everything all the time. (She tries to lick me dry when I get out the shower. It drives me completely crazy.) But that’s kind of general, all-purpose licking, and it’s usually not too noisy.

Loud licking – the schlurping, schnuffling, slooshy kind – usually happens at night, when all else is still. And loud licking is one of the very few unpleasantnesses that can be ascribed to Sara the Wobbly Dog aka The Best Dog In The World. But goodness me is it unpleasant.

Both my dogs sleep in baskets beside my bed and often I wake up in the (otherwise) quiet hours to this noise, which can only be described as very, very nasty. It sounds like a humungous vampire bat sucking every last drop of blood from its equally humungous prey; it is actually Sara, choosing the inappropriate hour of 3am to give her bottom a jolly good wash.

Not wanting to wake up completely, I usually lie still and scream as loudly as my sleepy vocal chords will allow, ‘Shut up!’ (I often have to remove a cat from my head to do this.)

This frequently has the profoundly unwelcome result of sending The Worst Dog In The World into barking frenzies, so is clearly not the solution.

Lately I’ve taken to sitting up, switching on the bedside light, and then staring in mute but total outrage at Sara (often while removing a cat from my head).

Sara then instils gigantic guilt in me by stopping her loud licking immediately, but also freezing as if in mortal terror; sometimes she will roll her eyes and stare back at me, her expression infinitely sad (as illustrated).

It reminds me of when my father would take my three siblings and me to the Milky Lane in Hillbrow on a Sunday afternoon for an ice cream treat, and I’d order a chocolate double-thick and, lost in pleasure, I would get right down to the bottom and then suck through the straw with all my strength to get the very last drop. As the strains of the massive slurping sound died away, I would look around, immensely satisfied, and realise that my father was staring at me with an expression that told me very clearly that the minute we got back into the car I was going to get a big fat walloping. And that, apparently, is the expression I now use on Sara.

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Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Thompson brothers recover from the weekend

Dazzle is under the red blanket.

Dean is under the blue.

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Saturday, 5 September 2009

Our ancient and creaky dog: do we move him, or kill him?

We have, in one corner, our ancient staffie, Duke. At almost fourteen, he is arthritic, creaky, stone-deaf, and riddled with skin cancer. He's an elderly, grizzled old chap who is too sore to jump up on a couch, who pees everywhere and who limps around our home with a pained but cheerful attitude. He's had a hip replacement, a knee replacement and about five thousand other procedures during his life. All he can really do, at his age, is snooze by the fire and gently deflate.

I'm not an enthusiastic dog lover, but I do have a deep affection for Duke, who has been my constant companion over many years. He's snoozed at my fire, snored on my pillow, licked the dinner dishes clean and - thank you, Duke - saved me twice from being bitten by other dogs during our early-morning walks in the suburbs.

In the other corner, we have a family - mine! - who is moving house and city, from Jo'burg to Cape Town - in three months' time. Our two younger dogs - tiresome but loveable basset hounds - will come with us, but what to do with Duke? Should we put him through the trauma of a move to a new house in a new city? Put him on a train, a plane, or in a car?

Or should we bid him farewell? In polite parlance, 'put him down'?

That is, ask the vet to kill him?

Or, if we take him along, are we really being fair to him?

Is it fair to prolong the life of this dear old dog just because I'll miss him?

You tell me, because I don't know what to do.

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Friday, 4 September 2009

Thoughts on death and stuff

Dean, T and I were talking about death the other night – are we afraid of it? where do we go when we shuffle off? what will our atoms be reconstituted as? – and Dean came up with something interesting: ‘We spend our entire lives accumulating stuff that can be packed up in one day.’

True. Anyone who’s moved house knows that (a) you always have more stuff than you think you do; and (b) nevertheless, you can usually shift the whole lot in one day, although obviously usually with help.

It puts an interesting perspective on the value we place on objects. Everyone knows you can’t take it with you when you go, and when you die, whatever ‘it’ might be – car, flat-screen TV, sound system, bed, wardrobe of clothing, artworks, books, whatever – loses any value you placed on it while you were alive and becomes something that must be disposed of in some way. It surprised me, when my Mom died some years ago, how quickly my sisters and I were able to whip through her fairly extensive wardrobes and divvy stuff up into piles – some for us, some for her friends and some for various charities. It seemed, I don’t know, weird that after she’d spent 64 years on the planet, we could dispose of most of her belongings in a couple of hours.

(And we loved finding, even after she’d been deathly ill for 18 months, one or two of her ‘hidden purchases’. Although my father, a very generous man, never put any kind of limit on what my mother could spend money on, she – a child of the Scottish ghetto who grew up during The War – never could shake feelings of guilt when she bought something entirely for herself. She only ever bought on sales, and even then, she’d secretly show her newest pants or skirt or pair of shoes to us, her daughters, then hide them away in the back of her wardrobe, to be taken out and worn with elaborate casualness at some later date. In the extremely unlikely event my father noticed she had on something he hadn’t seen before and said, ‘That’s a nice dress, Jess. Is it new?’ she could say with a clear conscience, ‘This old thing? Oh, I’ve had it for months.’)

Another great leveller when it comes to things we ‘value’ is having children and/or pets. I remember watching with open-mouthed dismay (and from too far away to stop him) as my then 2-year-old son dropped, with quiet concentration and really rather admirable precision, a precious chain-and-pendant of mine down a drain. I felt like dropping him down after it and to be honest I still miss that pendant. But who will care when I’m dead? It was only a thing, and it meant something only to me.

And when an excitable pet sweeps an costly knick-knack off a table with its tail or jumps up and tears a pricey top, well, there’s a lesson in that too: don’t spend your hard-earned bucks on expensive stuff. (Buy wine rather, or go away to a new exciting place, or make a fat donation to a children’s or animals’ welfare.)

Of course, this high-minded kind of thinking works only when your friends buy into it too. I told T today that, following a week of misery from miggie-bite poisoning (biting midges are a spring terror in this part of the country, and I have a nasty allergic reaction to them), I thought I might die. ‘Well, if you do,’ she said, ‘remember that you promised to leave the tapestry in your lounge to me.’

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Tuesday, 1 September 2009

It’s so nice to laugh

I think one of the nicest things about my kids (and they are legion, those nice things) is that they’ve both got such a dippy sense of humour. (See below.)

Of course there have been times in our home when nastiness has gone down – one of the most recent was when my 19-year-old son lost his ID book and I had a meltdown. (His ID book was needed URGENTLY for a really really really important transaction.) In the absence of the option to tear him limb from limb (because they arrest you for that), I let loose on his snake-pit of a room. ‘Clean it ALL up!’ I roared (in the – vain, as it turned out – hope that the ID book might emerge from the chaos.) ‘Every Drawer! Every Shelf! Every Cupboard! Every Single Square Centimetre!’

An uneasy silence, broken only by the shuffle of things moving about on my son’s side of the house, reined for several hours.

Later, when I’d calmed down to a panic, I apologised to him. I gave him the usual speech – I have many things to be responsible for and not only him and his sister, he has to learn to look after his own stuff, I can’t mommy him forever, identity theft is a real danger, etc – and then added the inevitable maternal BUT: ‘Your room really is a mess, my darling boy. It’s probably not a bad thing that you cleaned it up.’

He said, ‘Well, there’s nothing like abject terror to get a body moving.’

I found this interesting, because I can’t remember the last time I terrorised either of my children, and I did so very seldom when they were younger, and only if they were (a) tantrumming in a public place – in which case I dragged them to the car and smacked them there; or (b) in clear and present danger, like trying to poke their fingers into electric sockets or hauling a large potplant off a table directly onto their heads.

Yet I am apparently able to instil ‘abject terror’ in my kids? Wow. I am heady with power.

Anyway, we laugh a lot here. My son has a bizarre laugh (a kind of high-pitched winnying, sometimes veering off into a series of snorts) which of course we find hysterical; and both my daughter and I find the way we laugh respectively infectious, so it doesn’t take much to set us off.

Today I asked my daughter (a learner driver) if she’d drive me up to the shops to buy - I hate to say this, but cigarettes: I wanted her to pop in to the shop because I was wearing my slippers and didn’t feel like getting out the car.

‘Sure!’ she said. (I could ask her to drive me to the edge of an active volcano, into the sea, straight into hell, whatever – as long as she has the wheel, she’s happy.)

As we left the house, she did a double take – she suddenly realised she was also wearing her slippers. ‘My god!’ she shrieked. ‘I’m turning into you!’

And that kept us practically insane with mirth for the entire trip.

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Schnaafing in maths class

I know I shouldn’t find this funny but I do. My daughter (who at 18 already has a misspent youth) at school recently ground up a piece of blackboard chalk, dabbed it around her nostrils, then acted hyper. Her maths teacher threw her out of the class. When my daughter told me what had happened (which I suspect she only did because she was worried a formal letter from the school about her putative drug use was soon to follow), I laughed so hard I spewed tea out my nose.

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