Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Words, words, words

Although my job is working with words, I’ve always had an irritating mental blip where I’m looking for one word and another jumps into my brain, and sometimes I even use it without realising it’s not the right one. So, for instance, I might tell my son to remember to buy cardboard when he next goes up to the shops, and I’ll be puzzled by his puzzled look. ‘Cardboard?’ he’ll say. ‘Why?’ And I’ll say, ‘Cardboard? No, sorry, not cardboard, that other stuff. Um, milk.’

When I’m writing an article and this word-block happens, I put ‘xxx’ in and come back to it later. (Sometimes I can’t find the word, and I have to make do with a synonym; then, days or even weeks later, suddenly the right word will pop into my brain, like a lightbulb turning on. It’s pretty frustrating.)

Anyway, so it was hugely entertaining when this happened yesterday to someone else. I went to Paarl with Johann to get his new phone (great excitement!) and he was attended to by a very efficient MTN salesman. During the course of the conversation, Johann asked him if he knew where he could get a new car ignition/lock-system remote control. ‘Yes,’ said the efficient salesman, and then gave us detailed instructions how to get to the right shop. ‘Look for JJ Viljoen Earrings,’ he said.

‘Earrings?’ said Johann.

The salesman looked completely nonplussed. ‘Earrings?’ he repeated. ‘Who said anything about earrings?’

‘Um, you did,’ Johann said.

‘No, I didn’t,’ said the salesman.

There were a few people hanging around in the MTN shop, waiting to be served, and listening in on the conversation, and they all said, ‘Yes, you did.’

(I did feel for the salesman – the exact same thing happens to me, where I can’t believe I’ve got the word so completely wrong, but when the people around me all assure me they heard the same thing, it’s hard to insist you didn’t say it.)

The word-block error was hugely compounded when we followed the directions to the letter and found ourselves at a shop called Marais Locksmiths. They provided everything under the sun except car remote controls, and the man there directed us another kilometre or so down the street, to a shop apparently called JD Electronics. Which wasn’t called JD Electronics at all, it was called DJ Music, and it only sold sound systems and CDs.

So Johann is now the proud owner of a new phone and is still battling with his crappy old umbrella. I mean remote control.

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Thursday, 26 August 2010

Leaving washing out in the rain

I left my washing out last night and it rained. It's still raining this morning. I'm quite happy to let my washing hang there until the sun comes out and dries it, whenever that may be. But I can tell you that my late sainted mother is looking down at me from heaven and shaking her head sadly like she used to do when I was a teenager and she caught me getting stoned on the garage roof with the next-door-neighbour-boy.

Is letting your washing hang in the rain just allowing it to get a natural last rinse (as I fondly imagine) or is it some sort of cardinal sin (as my mother believed)? And if the latter, why?

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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Back on Planet Rock'n'Roll

I earned a bit of real ♪ money-money-money ♫ this month for the first time in ages (I’m hoping this is a sign that ♪ the times they are a-changin’, ♫ rather than a ♪ jumping-jack-flash in the pan ♫), and went straight out to buy a new ♪ thankyou-for-the-music ♫ system. (My trusty old Wharfdale gave up the ghost last year, and I haven’t been able to afford to replace it until now.)

The new ‘home theatre system’ came in a big box with enough Styrofoam packaging to destroy an entire planet all on its own. When I finally unpacked everything I was, I admit, a little intimidated – so many bits and pieces, so many wires, so many cables… where would I put them all?

The guidebook is actually quite understandable, which is a first in my experience. (I tried to key some auto-instructions into my microwave oven a while ago, using the guidebook provided, and failed spectacularly. Now, I have a microwave that can do everything including, quite likely, fly to the moon, but all I can use it for is the 2-minute ‘quick defrost’ and the 1-minute ‘cook’ options, with repeated stabs at the ‘start’ button when longer periods are required.)

Anyway, so using the guidebook and with much reference to the handily colour-coded cables, and crawling around in the ceiling with pliers and electrical tape, I finally managed to install the system, which includes a subwhoofer, a central speaker and four directional speakers. I did irritatingly time-wasting things like imagining that one of the cables was too short, and going to the trouble of splicing more cable into it, before realising that a good couple of metres of it was curled up behind a pot plant. I also whacked my head a star-studded shot on a low ceiling beam (there was blood and everything). But other than those clear indications of my own stupidity, the installation was amazingly easy.

So now, at last, I once again have a music system capable of blowing your skirt up. My neighbours are going to be so thrilled!

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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Rian Malan comes back from the dead

Many years ago I stood on the second-floor balcony of a poolroom in central Cape Town. I flicked my cigarette over the rail into the traffic below (because in those days you could do those things) and went inside to pay my bill.

While I was chatting to the barman someone sidled up to my left elbow. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked.

‘Home,’ I said.

‘I’ll follow you,’ he said.

I flicked my ponytail at him (because in those days you could do those things) and ran down the stairs. He did indeed follow and I let him.

I wasn’t completely winging it. I’d had a quick look at him and he was gorgeous.

And that was how I met Rian Malan.

I’m sure a myriad other women have far more interesting stories about how they met him. My defining moment with Rian came some months afterwards, however, when he didn’t turn up to take me out for dinner. I was miffed, obviously, but mollified the next day when he phoned from Heathrow airport to tell me that he’d had to hotfoot it abroad, the security police on his heels, with the only belongings he had in a black garbage bag.

‘I’ve never had anyone so keen to stand me up on a date that he actually left the country,’ I said.

Two years later, out of the blue, there was a knock on my door. It was Rian, back (temporarily) from a couple of years’ exile in the UK. ‘Hi,’ he said. ‘I know I’m late, but you still up for dinner?’

And he just keeps popping up in the most unexpected places. Here’s one of his more recent outings, as a zombie (check his Adam’s apple do the groove thing!) in Jack Parow’s totally fab ‘Blow Your Vuvuzela’.

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Monday, 2 August 2010

Does a week have a shape? Do days have colours? My calendar epiphany.

Sundays are rectangular, and a soft golden colour. Mondays have square edges, and are pale blue. Tuesdays are slim and turquoise. Wednesdays are wide, and sometimes orange. A week looks, from the side, like an oval, flattened top and bottom, but curving and plunging in three dimensions, like a length of convoluted swimming-pool pipe, joined end to end.

Does this sound like gibberish to you?

I don't blame you if it does. But to me, it makes perfect sense.  Ever since I first imagined the concept of a week made out of seven days - and I should imagine this was around the age of five - I've had a firm image in my mind of the shape, size and colours of a week (and of a year, a decade and a century). 

This mind-map of a week isn't something I'd ever thought about consciously, until a few weeks ago, when I realised that my abysmal date-remembering, time-managing and diary-keeping efforts were becoming a bit of an embarrassment.  Business meetings I am usually able to honour, but I am useless when it comes to keeping track of term dates, public holidays, birthdays, dentists' appointments, sports days and the myriad small events involved in keeping a family ticking.

I'm not senile, deranged or dyslexic. But I am, I admit, useless with diaries. I gave up keeping any sort of formal paper diary three or four years ago, because there seemed no point.   Every crisp new planning diary I've opened since 2006 has been abandoned around the beginning of February, even after I've dutifully filled in term dates, public holidays and birthdays.  No matter how hard I try, I just can't make sense of the grids and blocks that represent weeks, months and years: they're too square, too griddy and too linear.

So how do I keep track?  I keep appointments in my mind, placing them, in order, on the oval hosepipe. Not a foolproof method, I know, so my backup is to jot every appointment, note, date and phone number on a Post-It Note. My desk, keyboard and PC monitor are confettied with Post-It Notes. All very well, until a gust of wind blows through my study doors and... well, you get the picture.

So here's my epiphany: I made a pencil drawing of  a week, as I've always seen it in my mind. It's not an accurate representation of how I see a week in three dimensions - the Tuesday is the wrong shape, Friday's roof is too high, and there are no colours - but it's good enough for me.  I printed out 30 copies of this, filled in the dates, clamped them together with bulldog clips, and came up with a makeshift diary that works for me. The centre of the oval is filled in with my tasks for the week, and appointments and notes are marked with highlighter pens and tiny sticky paper arrows. For the first time in five years, I'm able to make sense of the flow of time.

And I promise you I'll be there to meet you next Thursday (pale green, and sometimes yellow, with a slightly astringent taste) at nine-fifteen on the dot .

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