Monday, 22 February 2010

Sing! Sing a song!

Hullabaloo the Monster Baby and Sara the Wobbly Dog give us a rousing rendition of ‘Who didn’t let the dogs out?’ through a handy bedroom window.

Afterwards, Hullabaloo is so exhausted by her choral efforts that she retires to ‘her’ sofa for a well-earned rest. (How convenient when your bed doubles as your chew-toy!)

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Sons and daughters and the gifts they give

My friend A has two children, a son of 11 (we’ll call him Alistair) and a daughter of 13 (Nellie).

A had a gathering of us over to her place for dinner on Friday night, and at the appropriate time made us coffee in a percolator that had been given to her for Christmas by Alistair, who had saved all his pocket money for months to buy his mother this special gift.

‘Aw, that’s so sweet!’ we all said. ‘What a thoughtful present!’

‘And what did Nellie give you?’ someone asked.

‘A bathroom scale.’

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Victory is – at long last – MINE!

It’s taken almost three months and hordes of helpful advice from all comers, enough chemicals to start my own factory, an astonishing amount of water (for all the backwashing) and, more recently, daily input – but victory in the pool arena is at last mine!

For HTH’s interest, the Green to Blue wasn’t the success I was led by its advertising to believe it would be. Although it did make a marked (though temporary) difference to the colour of the water, it took another three weeks, considerably more chemicals of varying kinds, and rigorous physical input to restore the water to sparkling clarity.

But the timing is right: not only have temperatures in our valley finally begun hitting their normal summer-time sit-and-sweat highs, but my Aunt Janet is once again headed this way for an African holiday, and getting her into the pool is going to be a priority.

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Friday, 12 February 2010

My weather trees reveal an interesting pattern

There’s reason for excitement here in the Riebeek Valley when we’re lucky enough to experience a summertime electrical storm. Particularly for those of us who grew up on the Highveld, where summer afternoon thunderstorms are practically an everyday event, the Western Cape’s Mediterranean climate can be rather dull – basically, summer is just an endless series of long, hot, dry days, and winter a seemingly as endless series of short, cold, wet ones; spring and autumn, both pleasantly mild, pass barely noticed, and largely without the profusion of blossom or fall of russet leaves we from wilder climes are accustomed to.

So earlier this week, when a tremendously loud clap of thunder shook the windows of the house at 5am and caused the zoo to run shrieking in all directions, I immediately got out of bed to go and stand outside in the ozone-charged air, turning my face up to the fat, warm rain and watching the lightning strike up and down the valley. It was just terrific! And so unusual, not to say unseasonal!

But was it? Because I’ve been keeping my weather trees going for three years now, I can say, with a high degree of certainty, that in fact this ‘freak’ summer electrical storm wasn’t either unseasonal or unusual. To the contrary, it occurred at the same time almost to the day, on 7 and 8 February in 2008 (top pic), on 7 February in 2009 (middle pic) and on 9 February this year – the purple zigzags around the leaf indicate storm activity.

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Wednesday, 10 February 2010

A whinge about nasty shop staff

Our nearest ‘big’ town (in that it actually has a Pick’n’Pay) is about 25km away, and that’s where we who live in this small village often have to go on errands – grocery shopping, to get stuff from the chemist, to buy printer cartridges, for art supplies, to get our teeth fixed, etc. It’s by no stretch of the imagination a thriving centre of commerce but it’s the closest we have to a Big Smoke, and for this reason I’ve developed a strange fondness for Malmesbury over the years.

It’s not a pretty town (although it does have some truly magnificent Victorian-era houses, unfortunately most of them sited on the main thoroughfare which is heavily trafficked by industrial transport including about 100 mountain-sized pantechnikons an hour), and the town fathers were clearly not generously gifted in the imagination department: Malmesbury is actually sited in a huge valley, at the very bottom of which a hot spring once emerged, miracle-like, from beneath the earth. But, alas, at some sorry stage of the town’s history this spring was callously channelled underground, and all that remains of it is a fabulously ugly mall-type development built directly on top of it and called, with awful irony, ‘Die Bron’ (‘The Spring’).

Having a fairly captive consumer market as it does – it serves several small villages and innumerable farms – Malmesbury doesn’t feel any sort of pressing need to go out of its way to provide tip-top service. So when I was in Clicks today and I got to the cash register with my basket of goods, and nobody – nobody – was there to ring up my purchases, I wasn’t terribly surprised. I wasn’t surprised, either, by the three shop assistants – clearly identifiable as such because they were wearing Clicks uniforms – standing around with their fingers up their noses. I sighed loudly and said, ‘So is one of you going to serve me? Or should I ring these up myself?’

They matched my sigh – oh, how wearying it must be when customers actually want attention – and one of them, his name badge revealing him to be called (with yet more awful irony) Meneer Geduld (‘Mr Patience’), trudged over to the cash register with all the enthusiasm of a teenager asked to tidy his room. With an air of heavy ennui he didn’t bother to disguise, he slowly rang up my goods - a relatively simple procedure that he nonetheless managed to take about three centuries to do.

I gave him my credit card. It was declined.

This wasn’t particularly surprising either. My finances spend a lot of their time in a state of hysterical chaos. But I’d taken the precaution of checking my bank balance on the Internet this morning and I knew there was cash in that account. Not much, admittedly, but certainly enough.

‘Try it again, won’t you, please?’ I asked.

By this time, three people were queuing behind me. (There were four tills, Mr Patience operating mine and the other three unmanned; there were also still two shop assistants standing nearby, chatting.) The customers waiting behind me perked up – a declined credit card passes for excitement in Malmesbury.

Mr Patience, whose forebears were either completely deranged or had a great sense of humour, irritably swiped the card a second time. Staring at the ceiling with monumental boredom, he said, ‘Declined. Again.’

By now there were five people behind me and an agitated murmur had started among them. I didn’t want to be responsible for An Incident in the Malmesbury branch of Clicks, so I asked Mr Patience if I could write a cheque instead.

He didn’t deign to answer. He just stared at me long and hard, then raised his eyebrows.

To cut a long and infuriating story short, I begged Mr Patience’s patience (har-de-har), then ran over the road to the bank, checked my balance (yup, enough money), ran back to Clicks and told him my findings, and asked him to swipe the card again.

In the interim (this is hard to believe but I’m not making it up), Mr Patience hadn’t rung off my sale – so once again there was a sizeable queue at the only till in operation. He swiped it again. ‘Declined. AGAIN,’ he said. Even though his demeanour communicated nothing but contempt, I could tell Mr Patience was quietly thrilled.

‘Look, ring off my sale,’ I said, ‘and let me go and do some other business in the town. I’m sure there’s just some sort of communication problem with the bank’ (which, as I said, was just across the road, and if that doesn’t make a baboon’s bottom out of modern-day technology, I’m a tin of sardines).

‘Can’t do,’ said Mr Patience, in that one phrase neatly encapsulating what should be Malmesbury’s motto.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, flabbergasted (although why, I don’t know). ‘Just ring it off so you can serve these other people, and keep my stuff here behind the counter, and I’ll come back in about 20 minutes and we can try my card again.’

Mr Patience hid a smirk (although not very well). ‘Nope,’ he said. ‘I’ll keep your stuff’ (clearly, a huge concession) ‘but I have to void this sale, and when you come back, we’ll just have to ring it all up all over again.’

‘Okay,’ I said. And I went straight home. I really hope it fell to Mr Patience to return all my non-purchases to their various shelves.

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Monday, 8 February 2010

Two instances of bizarre dog behaviour

Max is a Golden Retriever. Golden retrievers were originally bred as gundogs to retrieve shot waterfowl and thus have, apparently, an ‘instinctive love of water’ and ‘excellent swimming ability’ (according to Wikipedia).

Max would dearly love to live up to this reputation, but he’s too afraid to swim. He fell in the pool last week and although he panicked, once we’d shown him where the steps were and he’d got out and shaken himself all over everyone, his instincts clearly were aroused. He spent the next six hours hovering next to the pool, occasionally standing and staring nonchalantly away into the distance before quickly whipping his head around and glaring at the water in an accusatory fashion. But he just couldn’t work up the courage to actually get in.

I was out for five hours this evening. I had a stern word with the Monster before I left and explained that I didn’t want her, in my absence, to eat any lamps, uproot any potplants, dance on the table or disembowel any cushions. As is evident from this photograph, taken 10 minutes ago, she doesn’t understand English.

Incidentally, the Monster, who is a labrador/border collie mix, does swim – enthusiastically, many times a day; after which she rolls berserkly around in the sand to work up a nice layer of bodily mud before galloping inside and leaping dementedly all over my bed.

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Green to greenish and back again

I began Operation HTH Green to Blue on Thursday evening, and here’s what’s happened so far.

Friday: Water a lovely light greenish colour; hope running high for full rehabilitation.

Saturday: No discernible change in water colour; on HTH’s advice, I put a flocculant block in the main leaf trap. A flocculant (such an excellent word – just this side of swearing) is ‘a substance added to a suspension to enhance aggregation of the suspended particles’, in other words, stuff that gathers up the gunge.

Sunday: Signs of serious recidivism (on the part of the pool, not me), but I was up until 2am drinking wine and behaving in a silly manner, so I ignored the pool and spent the day resting with a book over my eyes.

Today: More green than blue, alas. I backwashed but this caused the water level to drop too low, so I put the hosepipe in it, then went inside to quickly make a cup of coffee and forgot about it, and came out two hours later and the water was lapping the brickwork. So the gazillion additional litres of acidic municipal water will now also have to be treated, and I have a heart attack to look forward to when my water bill arrives at the end of the month.

I haven’t given up hope, though. I will tackle the problem afresh in the morning, and even if it means the water will literally be bubbling by the time I’m finished with it, by god it will be blue.

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Sunday, 7 February 2010

B 1940

This is my Mom. She loved, among many other things: salt in her porridge; ‘It’s Raining Men’ by the Weather Girls; crème brulee; Snoekies in Hout Bay; tennis with ‘the girls’; decorating her house for Christmas; flowers (especially for St Luke’s); her car, and washing her own car; Woolworths sales; Wilbur Smith novels; the feel of earth under her fingernails;
mystery; order, and disorder; her children; beautiful fabrics; singing; ‘Life After Love’ by Cher; dry white wine; family gatherings; hummus; gossip if it wasn’t vicious; ‘jumping’ (gym); absurdity; her grandchildren; food, and cooking food; being wild; being calm; courage.

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Automatic drawing

From the top: Johann; Muriel; Gretchen Bong Spoodle; Sara the Wobbly Dog (sleeping)

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Thursday, 4 February 2010

Pool, boy

My relationship with my pool has been a little troublesome recently.

I was laid up late last year with Crumbling of the Spine and as a result the pool wasn’t cosseted and pampered in its usual way. It went green.

Many weeks went by while I lolled about in bed stoned on prescription painkillers (an interesting way, incidentally, to pass time), and although my housemate eventually tried to remedy the situation, alas: it was too little, too late. Even when my son took over pool-sweeping duties, summer’s heat had set in and the pool was just having none of it. Green it was, and green it stayed.

Today I had coffee at Lukas’s coffee shop, Heroines, in Riebeek West, with my friends Johann and Tanya (Maxi’s Mom), and while we were there we came to several conclusions.

1. Tanya and I needed to drink Bloody Marys.
2. Johann couldn’t join us because if he didn’t work the bank would take his house away.
3. If the next chemical cocktail I put in my pool didn’t work, Tanya was going to just bloody buy me a new Kreepy-Krawly.

As a result:
1. I went to buy tomato cocktails, celery and HTH Green to Blue while Tanya went back to her house to fetch vodka and Maxi.
2. Johann shot off for a quick look at his computer and decided that if the bank took his house away he could live in a tent in my garden.
3. We had to delay the Green to Blue treatment for several hours while we drank Bloody Marys and Maxi tried to come to terms with being the only Golden Retriever on the planet who’s too afraid to swim. (A long story, perhaps for another time.)

So here I am, late in the afternoon (okay, early in the evening, but Bloody Marys can steal time like that – much, incidentally, like prescription painkillers), dosing my clearly green pool with HTH Green to Blue.

HTH: watch this space.

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Funny boys

My friend Johann has given me permission to tell this story.

He recently embarked on a relationship with a delightful man who embodies all the qualities of queeniness I hold most dear: naïve irreverence, flamboyant hysteria and a fiercely wicked sense of humour (all elements essential to this tale).

Early one morning this week, Johann was dragging three large garbage bags from his house out to the kerb. It’s really hot here where we live, and the bags were heaving with maggots, so, not surprisingly, he was retching as he did so.

His new boyfriend saw him battling and came rushing out, calling, ‘Babes, is it morning sickness?’

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Muriel and Juno do lunch. And breakfast.

My friendship with my esteemed co-blogger, Juno, goes back about 25 years. ‘I hated you on sight,’ is how Juno likes remembering our first meeting way back then, in the reception area of the publishing concern for which we would both work for a while. ‘Don’t worry,’ I tell her; ‘I have that effect on a lot of people.’

We were both single at the time, but since then we’ve been through our respective marriages (I was, in fact, one of the guests on Juno and her husband’s honeymoon – they took all their friends with them), the births of our five children, some business ventures, a couple of vicious cat-fights, as many tearful make-ups, my divorce, and Juno and her family’s move from Cape Town to Joburg and mine from the city to the country.

Over the last 10 years we’ve managed to get together three times: twice, terribly, on my verandah and once, equally terribly, in Juno’s living room, when I flew up there to do a story, and I still remember the ghastly hangover I dragged around Joburg with me the next day.

But now, oh joy of joys, Juno has returned to the Fairest Cape, so it was with great excitement that I braved the N7 on Sunday to meet her, her family and some friends at her new home for lunch. Which began civilisedly enough on her wide verandah at about 1pm and ended, terribly of course, in the early hours of Sunday morning.

(Juno fed us the most fabulous food – not for nothing is her other blog, Scrumptious, one of the most popular on the web. She promised to post the recipe for her Amazing Mussel Soup With Just A Touch Of Thai soon.) Postcript: here's that recipe.

After just enough sleep to remind our bodies what they were missing out on, it was up and into Monday. I sat on the sofa, fondling Velvet’s ears, watching Juno and her husband stage-manage the chaos that getting a family moving into a new week entails, and thanking the gods that my kids are no longer schoolgoers.

Juno and I then rootled off down into Hout Bay, where we had breakfast at a little place in the harbour called, ahem, Muriel’s Munchies – here I am, snapped by Juno, sunglasses hiding my bleeding eyes, after we’d had The Other Muriel’s yummy toasted cheese and tomato sarmies for breakfast.

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