Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Road. (Warning: Prozac required)

There are great movies that are so relentlessly bloody horrible that it takes real commitment to see them through to the end. The Road is one of them.

In this undeniably accomplished but endlessly depressing offering, Viggo ‘Versatility’ Mortensen plays a man whose sole objective, following an unspecified cataclysm that has burnt the world to bits, is to protect his young son from the ravaging hordes of cannibals that stalk the unremittingly grey, unyieldingly cold landscape. (My thesaurus has now reached its limits of alternatives for ‘without end’ – feel free to insert your own synonym almost anywhere you like.)

Viggo is, in fact, the only reason I didn’t hit the ‘stop’ button. In a post-apocalyptic world, I’d like him to be my dad. (Or, you know, my boyfriend.) He even does us the favour, at one point, of removing his clothes and frolicking in a pond – a moment I have been eagerly waiting for since I saw his naked wrestling-in-a-sauna take in Eastern Promises.

(A quick side note: like most women in the known world, I fell hopelessly in love with Viggo’s Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. But in real life, Viggo is even more swashbuckling: he’s worked as a truck driver – way to earn rough kudos! – has a degree in Spanish, and established his own publishing house, Perceval Press, to help struggling artists get the recognition they deserve, because he’s also a poet, musician, photographer and painter. He was married to a singer in a punk band – can this man get any more fabulous?? – with whom he has a son, now 22.)

Anyway, back to the movie. I’m not a fan of horror movies because I don’t like having nightmares (I couldn’t sleep for a week after seeing the apparently tame The Frighteners), so I never rent them. But there was nothing on the cover of The Road that led me to believe that I’d wake up, strangling in my duvet with terror, at 3am. It didn’t say, for instance, that Viggo would come within nanoseconds of purposefully blowing his own son’s brains out. It gave no inkling of the Deliverance-style scene where a hillbilly’s snake-lipped black-toothed grin at a petrified boy would send horrified chills down my spine. It didn’t warn me that Viggo would find, in a locked cellar in an abandoned house, a roomful of deranged, skeletal people, cached there by cannibals as a food supply.

‘Please, let something good happen,’ I whispered, about half an hour into the movie, when my nerves were so stretched that when my cellphone beeped to tell me an SMS had arrived, I let out a little scream.

Then something did! They found food! And warmth! Oh thank god! I relaxed a little, and massaged the crescent-shaped indentations in my palms.

But it was a shortlived reprieve. Very soon, they were back on the road, having an entire forest of trees fall on them, getting pierced by arrows, being robbed, vomiting, being wracked by fever, exhibiting meanness to blind old men and generally displaying man’s inhumanity to man (well, Viggo was, which did make me a little disappointed in him).

The ending – which really couldn’t come soon enough for me – was both as traumatising as the entirety of the movie (and - spoiler alert - another thing Viggo can put on his CV is playing a corpse with genuinely upsetting credibility) and unbearably annoying. Okay, I’ve given this much away, I may as well just reveal all: Viggo dies, and the boy finds a new home with a mom, dad and kids – and a dog!

A dog?? Hello?? In a world in which nothing grows and dinner is, literally, a hay seed if you’re lucky, not only does a dog somehow succeed in not being turned into dried strips of much-needed protein, but appears glossy-coated and cheerful? Yes, I realise it’s a metaphor for hope and new beginnings and all that stuff – and I suppose I’d rather starve to death than eat my own hounds – but come on! There’s seldom been a time when I’ve wanted to kick Hollywood’s butt more.

Anyway. By all means, see The Road (if you want to, now that I’ve told you what happens*). But be warned: this is not a road movie, it is a horror movie.

* I’m sorry if I’ve spoiled The Road for anyone who hasn’t seen it, because I’m a great fan of how carefully movie buffs protect the plot twists of movies even years after they’ve left the main circuit. So I have to share this astonishing experience I had, in a DVD-rental store in Malmesbury, a while ago. I took out a movie called The Orphan. When I went to pay for it, I asked the clerk on duty if it was any good. ‘Ja, I s’pose it’s okay,’ she said, mindlessly snapping her bubblegum, ‘but I think it’s just schoopid how the 9-year-old orphan girl akshully turns out to be a 33-year-old woman.’ Not believing for an instant that someone who akshully works in a DVD-rental store could possibly supply such an obvious spoiler (and temporarily forgetting that Malmesbury is not the centre of the world’s brains trust), I assumed that more would be revealed when I watched the movie. It wasn’t. The whole point of the movie was that ‘the orphan’ wasn’t a 9-year-old girl, she was a 33-year-old mental patient. So, if you’re planning to see The Orphan any time soon, sorry for that plot spoiler too.

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Sunday, 26 September 2010

Pop goes the geyser – but this story has a happy ending

Several years ago my son, then about 12, came staggering through to my bedroom in the middle of a freezing midwinter night. He shook me awake and said, ‘It’s raining, Mom.’

‘I know, it’s okay, go back to sleep,’ I muttered.

‘No, I mean it’s raining inside,’ he said.

And so began our geyser adventures. For reasons that nobody can fathom (and therefore for which nobody can suggest a solution), my geyser goes pop about once every two years. It’s sited above one of the bedrooms, and every time it does this, it ‘rains inside’ – the valve explodes with such force that the water quickly overflows the drip tray.

For many years, I wasn’t aware that geyser repairs/replacements were covered by the mandatory insurance that comes with my mortgage bond, so I spent thousands of rands and hours of difficult logistical organising (I live about 100km from the nearest major centre) every time this happened. Also, as is the way with these kinds of things, the geyser only ever went magoela (a) when the weather was cold, rainy or (usually) both, and (b) on the eve of a public holiday, weekend or (usually) both.

So it was on Thursday morning, a chilly, dreary day before the Heritage Day long weekend. I hadn’t had a good morning anyway. I’d woken up stuck to my pillow courtesy of a weeping miggie bite, and when I looked in the mirror I saw Joseph Merrick looking back at me – another miggie bite, this one on my right eye, had swollen my face alarmingly and given me about three extra eyelids. Then my wobbly dog, in a perfect imitation of a kudu, jumped the fence into the neighbour’s garden – a problem, as from there she runs into the street and I get (entirely justified) complaints from the neighbours about my untrammelled hounds. I was so freaked out that my furious calling only made her frightened, and she refused to come back.

And then the geyser popped. Perfect.

We were due to leave home for our Old Mac Daddy Trailer Park getaway at 1.30pm, so I knew the chances of securing and having a new geyser installed by then were on the shady side of nil. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?

I phoned the Nedic (Nedbank insurance company) helpline, and my first pleasant surprise was Fortunate, the aptly-named woman who answered. When I told her what I was phoning about, she didn’t immediately go into that rigmarole that proves to the helpdesk person that you’re not out to defraud them – usually, a long list of personal facts to corroborate who you are, including but by no means restricted to account number, ID number, postal address, physical address, landline number and cellphone number.

No, indeedy. Instead, what she asked was, ‘Have you switched off the electricity to the geyser and the water supply?’

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Are you all alright?’ she asked. ‘Nobody’s hurt?’

‘No, we’re all fine,’ I said. ‘But thanks for asking!’

‘Right,’ she said. ‘Is there any damage to ceilings or floors?’

‘Nothing I can’t live with,’ I said.

‘And where do you live?’

I told her.

‘What’s your nearest big centre?’

I told her that, and then said, ‘So I suppose there’s no chance of getting it fixed today, right?’

‘We’ll do what we can,’ Fortunate said, and then and only then proceeded to extract all the relevant personal info.

Our phone conversation finished at 9.10am. At 9.30am I got a phonecall from Nico of Plumb Guarantee. ‘I’m on my way,’ he said. ‘I’ll be there by 11.30am.’

Yeah, right, I thought, and pigs will fly. But, by golly, he arrived smack on time, and by 1pm I had a new geyser, fully installed, and Nico even went to the trouble of carefully replacing the geyser blanket.

So, thanks, Fortunate at Nedic and Nico from Plumb Guarantee, for great service.

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Saturday, 25 September 2010

Not so trashy, these trailers

As an early birthday present for me, my sister and brother-in-law took my kids and me away for a night to the Old Mac Daddy Luxury Trailer Park in the Elgin Valley. Being stuck in a two-hour traffic jam over Sir Lowry’s Pass made finally getting there – the last stretch along an 8km farm road – even better.

The Elgin Valley really is incomparably gorgeous, and the hillside site of the trailer park allows for the most magnificent views across farmlands and orchards to the mountains beyond. The afternoon we arrived there was cloudy and wet, but this didn’t detract at all – to the contrary, the landscapes looked fabulously moody, and the low cloud cover gave a contented feeling of cocooniness.

It’s a pity that the human element was less inviting. A woman who turned out to be the manager (apparently, at Mac Daddy, ‘manager’ means walking around a lot while avoiding eye contact with your customers) wasted no time in informing me that the bookings my sister (who had not yet arrived) had made were insufficient for the number of people expected in our party (seven), and that they’d have to ‘charge extra’ to make up a sofa bed in one of the trailers. (The trailers accommodate four people – 2 adults and 2 children up to the age of 16 years. Given that the sofa beds on which the children sleep are easily big and sturdy enough to accommodate an adult such as myself – I am both big and tall – I have to assume that the age restriction relates entirely to Mac Daddy’s bank balance, rather than the actual logistics of accommodating an extra adult.)

I was surprised by Ms Manager’s assertion, as my sister’s middle name may as well be ‘Organisation’, and I told Ms Manager this. She shrugged noncommittally, then pushed the bill under my nose. ‘Sign here,’ she said.

‘This is my sister’s birthday present to me,’ I said. ‘I’m not responsible for the bill, and I wish you hadn’t even shown it to me.’

Ms Manager shrugged again and turned the page. ‘Then sign the indemnity form,’ she said.

This somewhat hostile and unapologetic attitude was repeated by other ‘senior’ staff, including the resident chef. At dinner later, we waited patiently for over an hour to get our food, which we ordered from an astoundingly limited menu containing one meat dish – lamb shanks, which presumably had been prepared in advance and needed only plating before serving, and which turned out to be lukewarm and tasteless. Becoming increasingly hungry as the tables around us got and finished their food, we finally ordered a salad to bridge the hunger gap. It never arrived.

It didn’t escape our notice that salads and bread were supplied to some of the other tables around us, and that every single other person in the restaurant was fed before we were. Why were we so roundly ignored? Was it because most of the tables were couples and we were a larger party? Were they punishing us for being shirty? It was a mystery. (When my brother-in-law quizzed Ms Manager about this – and a few other things – the next day, her answer was that ‘uptake had been better than expected’ and thus they hadn’t had enough staff. This is just not an excuse. Mac Daddy isn’t a place you pass on the road and pop into on the off-chance that accommodation will be available – it’s an end destination in a cul-de-sac valley.)

Also, dinner here comes at an ‘extra charge’, but no prices were displayed on the menu. And where else, in the middle of nowhere, are you going to find a place to eat, anyway? Why don’t they just up their per-night charges a bit and include dinner? The constant ‘extra charges’ (breakfast was another) were intensely irritating.

(There was one human being – the enthusiastic, cheerful, unfailingly polite and hardworking Kenneth, who showed us to our rooms, and was on duty as a waitron at both the dinner and breakfast shift – who almost made up for the manager and chef’s surliness. Thanks, Kenneth!)

When my sister arrived, she immediately established that Ms Manager had indeed got it wrong – my sister had booked three trailers which could, between them, comfortably accommodate 12 people, so far from not having booked sufficient accommodation, she had technically reserved five extra berths. (I hate this ‘grabbiness’ that some enterprises display – it’s as if they’re so sure they’re going to be ripped off in some way that they unashamedly and aggressively make sure they secure every last possible penny, and give no thought to the impression this leaves. Given that our total bill, for one night, came to about R5 000, this was just bloody annoying.)

Anyway! On to the good stuff. The redoubtable Kenneth showed us to our trailers, and what a lovely experience they were! The trailers themselves are mainly the sleeping areas, and each one is attached to a modular-style living and ablution area with floor-to-ceiling glass. My daughter and I were accommodated in ‘Yellow Submarine’, complete with a periscope, table-top Arctic map, sub-style doorway and ‘emergency supplies’ cabinet stocked with tinned food.

My sister and her husband and their kids took the ‘Mills and Boon’ trailer – possibly not the best choice for an old married couple travelling with offspring, but wonderfully Barbara Cartland-style romantic nonetheless, all done up in frilly pinks and with a glass ceiling over a ridiculously luxurious double bed.

My son slept in splendid isolation in ‘Metalmorphosis’. This trailer was the least photogenic but the most interesting, I thought. The entire interior is magnetised (the reason why my son, the only one among us with no fillings in his teeth, was billeted here!), and everything, from the light fixtures to the cupboards on the walls, could be moved around. Also, much of it is made up of a huge magnetised puzzle – hours of stoned fun could definitely be had in this one!

The design and layout of the trailer park is very interesting. No effort has been made to ‘blend in’ the trailers and their attached living areas with the immediate environment, but far from being jarring, this actually gives them added cachet – this is no bunny-hugging-hippy trailer park; it is a ‘statement’ venture.

The huge 'barn', with its dazzling picture windows, houses the bar and restaurant, a library (woefully understocked – come on, guys, get someone to go to a secondhand bookshop and fill those shelves!), a computer hot desk, the reception area, and a kids’ inside/outside entertainment area.

The gardens, planted with indigenous species, haven’t yet grown in – the park only opened in July this year – but when they do, this hillside caravan park-cum-luxury lodge will be a sight to behold and an experience worth having. Let’s hope the staff and the food have grown into themselves by then, too.

PS: Have cow pajamas, will travel.

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Monday, 20 September 2010

Can coffee really kill (someone else, that is)?

I was quite fascinated (in a ‘whaaat?’ kind of way) by this story, about an American man who strangled his wife with an extension cord – and who claimed that coffee made him do it.

I’ve heard of the devil causing this kind of urge in people, and also one’s spouse neglecting to put the cap back on the toothpaste, but coffee?

Like many people, I’m slightly caffeine intolerant, and after my third cup of coffee in the morning (without which I remain in a state of suspended animation, unable to put my pants on the right way or remember where I left my head), I, too, sometimes suffer from ‘nervousness, excitement … and rambling speech’. And it’s possible I’d suffer from insomnia as well [really? from coffee?? little-known fact], if I hadn’t just woken up.

I’m also often gripped by anxiety after drinking coffee (and three cups is, according to the American Psychiatric Association, an overdose): I get the feeling that something bad is happening somewhere, and as a result, when the phone rings, even though I’m physically capable of answering it, I’m not mentally capable of anything other than nervous and excited rambling.

Interestingly, the person phoning is usually someone trying to sell me something I probably don’t want and definitely can’t afford. Which probably goes some way to explaining why my usual response to the telesalesperson password ‘How are you?’ is so, well, nervous and excited.

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Monday, 13 September 2010

Grown-up (so to say) sleepovers

Partying hard at home has some drawbacks, including the late-night possibility of cavalierly opening your lovingly saved bottle of 2004 Chateauneuf du Pape because all the plonk has run out, and the morning-after shock of what you and your friends managed to do to your house in mere few hours. But it does have the benefit of establishing you, having taken temporary leave of your senses, in a place where you’re familiar with the floor plan.

When you sleep over at a friend’s house after partying hard (because you mustn’t, you really mustn’t, drink and drive), there are many nasty experiences that can befall you.

First, there’s the waking-up-at-4.30am-in-a-strange-place thing. By then, you’ve only been asleep for a couple of hours – just long enough for your stomach to start turning the alcohol in it into battery acid which it then begins leaking directly into your brain, your kidneys having long packed for Buenos Aires.

Additionally, if you’ve fallen into bed in a giggling, loose-limbed heap, halfway through the magic bra trick* and with your shoes on, you’re likely to have done it face-down and with one eye jammed open against the pillow, so the first thing you feel, as the horrible realisation dawns that you’re still alive, is a stabbing pain in your cornea. You fumble for your bedside lamp switch but it is not where you left it. In fact, you realise, as you cover your copiously weeping eye with one hand and stare frantically around with the other, your entire bedroom has been inexplicably and nightmarishly rearranged. There’s a window where your wardrobe used to be and the door has been moved to the right-hand side of the bed.

You get up and immediately fall down – your jeans are around your ankles. You pull them up and crawl, whimpering, to the confusingly misplaced door, where you use the jamb to right yourself, slowly and painfully, like a kangaroo foetus inching up towards its mother’s pouch. Then you fumble around until finally, thank god, you feel a switch, which you turn on. The light pierces your retinas like a chef’s knife and it’s all you can do to stop yourself from screaming.

(There’s a host of unpleasantnesses that may be revealed when you turn on the light, including but by no means restricted to discovering that you don’t recognise the room you’re in at all; that someone else was in bed with you; that someone else was in bed with you and he’s naked; and that you’ve been sleeping in a truckle-cot, which can play evil mind-games with your sense of perspective.)

As your brain starts grinding into gear (and some of the cogs, it is becoming alarmingly clear to you, are damaged beyond repair), your body begins telling you several things: it is sore on your right knee, it is sore on your little finger, it is sore in your spine. It is tremendously, agonisingly sore in your head. It is also as thirsty as if it has just spent two weeks crawling through the Sahara (after, perhaps, a harrowing small-aircraft crash), and it needs to wee, desperately.

You stumble into a corridor that looked bright and fun last night when you were dancing up and down it with your friend’s underpants on your head to the tune of ‘I will survive’, but now is long and dark and filled with unnameable threats. Clamping your teeth down over the groans that are emanating unbidden from somewhere in the region of your toes, you find your way to the loo.

You switch on the light and discover that someone’s already in there – and she’s clearly dangerously deranged. Stifling a shriek, you hold out your hands in supplication, as she jolts towards you with scarlet eyes and murderous, grabby fingers. Then you realise it’s a mirror.

It’s categorically not possible to look at yourself in close-up – your already-overloaded grey matter would simply liquefy and pour out your ears if you did. You wee (two drops! when your bladder is literally on the point of bursting!), then, hunched over the tap like Quasimodo, you scoop frantic handfuls of water into your parched mouth. Even after you’ve been drinking for what feels like an eternity, the thirst hasn’t eased one jot, and additionally it appears that your brain has clunked against the top of your upside-down skull and stuck there.

You straighten up, then close your eyes to rid yourself of the horror-hallucinogenic effect of hundreds-and-thousands, but this makes it a gazillion times worse, so you open them again. They both hurt, a lot, although one more than the other (perhaps). You stumble back to bed.

(At this point, it’s possible you won’t remember which room you came from. The corridor seems so long and it’s so dark, and there are so many doors leading off it. Which one is the midget’s bedroom? Sometimes, if you can’t find it, you might just retire to the living room and collapse on the sofa. Sometimes you might find there’s someone already there. The potential traumas of this kind of night-time meandering are infinite.)

You wake again five hours later. Naturally, you neglected to close the curtains the previous night and now the early-morning sun is streaming in and causing such bizarre synaptic activity that you begin to fear the onset of epilepsy. In addition, none of the pain has eased since 4.30am; on the contrary, some of it has increased significantly. You can’t open your left eye. You can’t straighten your right arm (which you realise is as a result of your bra trapping it against your side, something that would be easily remedied if you could only remember how to unhook the damned thing). Your back aches and you’re sure your little finger shouldn’t be pointing backwards like that. You get up and immediately fall down. Your jeans are now where they should be (or, arguably, not, because you probably shouldn’t have slept in them) but there’s something wrong with your knee.

You stumble out of the midget’s room and down the corridor (curiously of the regulation length and quite ordinary-looking in the light of day) into the living room, where your host is using braai tongs to fish CDs out from under the sofa and remove random bits of clothing from the chandelier. ‘Hi,’ he says. ‘Sleep okay?’ Then he grins and says, ‘Creature of the night.’

You have no clue at all what he’s talking about, but it gets worse. There are three total strangers sitting outside on the verandah drinking coffee, but they seem to know you quite well. Uncomfortably well, in fact. ‘Vindaloo, my arse,’ says the one by way of greeting, and everyone falls about laughing. (Oh god, you think to yourself, please don’t tell me I told the ‘Vindaloo, my arse’ joke. But apparently you did.)

You realise that the only way you’ve going to make it out of there alive (there is, let’s face it, no saving your dignity) is to make tracks. But you also realise, when you try to put your coffee down on the table and your body in a chair at the same time, and succeed in accomplishing neither, that you’re still drunk and probably won’t be able to drive for some time to come. This causes yet more good-humoured hilarity in the gathered company – it turns out you’re a bit of a card, which is news to you, as you normally suffer from fairly advanced social phobia.

At this point, realising it’s only 9.30am and the day can’t possibly get any worse, some people opt for hair of the dog. And sometimes a kennelful of dogs. The downside of this is that you’re going to be repeating all of the above some time in the next 18 hours, and as mentioned at the start of this post, it’s always preferable to do so in a place where you know where the light switches are (and the doors). So my advice would be to take some power painkillers, drink as much water as your body can hold, and try not to cringe too obviously when yet another person compliments you, with a knowing wink, on how well you do the tango, a dance you’ve never learnt.

And when you can stand up without veering about like a tall tree in a storm, and are able to clearly differentiate real objects from those your brain keeps creating out of nothing in your peripheral vision, go home. And stay there.

* The magic bra trick is taking off your bra without taking off any clothes. I once did a magic bra trick in the Wimpy with a winter vest (so, in this case, the magic winter-vest trick). Johann and I had gone there quite early for breakfast and it was cold when we left home, but then later it got hot and I didn’t want to traipse through the shopping centre looking for a loo. Johann was very impressed and a bit embarrassed.

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Thursday, 9 September 2010

The big and the small of it: Escher’s room

I love this picture my Dad sent me, of him and Catherine in The Escher Room at the Escher Museum in The Hague. They are equidistant from the camera, and standing in the same room at the same time. Clever, hey? (For more about the museum, click here.)

MC Escher was a 20th-century mathematical/artistic genius who was a sickly child and did poorly at school, but blossomed later in life. If you don’t recognise his name, you’d probably recognise many of his images, including ‘The Drawing Hands’ (at left) and his ‘Ascending and Descending’ lithograph, where lines of people walk up and down stairs in a neverending loop.

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Fame at last! I’m in Tony Park’s latest novel, The Delta

My friend, Australian best-selling author Tony Park (whom I met virtually when I wrote scathingly about a sex scene in one of his earlier novels on this very blog; and in the flesh when he and his wife Nicola came and stayed overnight here in my very own house on one of their Africa forays), introduced me to the fascinating concept of auctioning off real people’s names to be used as characters in a novel - for a good cause, of course. So his latest book, The Delta, has several characters with real-life alter-egos, and these people contributed to various charities for the honour.

I didn’t buy my place in The Delta, and when you read about what my bad-girl alter-ego gets up to in the novel, you’ll probably understand why. Tony did give me the option of donating one of my pseudonyms, but in the end I decided I wanted to see my real name in print. This wasn’t only to do with the thrill of being famous (even if vicariously); it was also because I did actually once live at Xakanaxa Camp in Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve, where my The Delta alter-ego lives – the coincidence was just too good to pass up.

Here are some pics, taken at Xakanaxa in 1988 – with my pet squirrel (the cutest thing you ever did see, and generous with gifts such as half-eaten grasshoppers with their entrails dangling out, which she regularly left on my pillow for me); outside the tent that was my home for many months; and with two of our guides (this itsy-bitsy bikini is the closest I ever got to any similarity to my The Delta alter-ego; and, yes, hard as it may be to believe, swimming cozzies of that kind were fashionable back then).

I’m really looking forward to reading my copy of The Delta, which arrived in the mail today. This is partly because I was actually halfway through the proofs of the book last October when that pesky vertebra finally ruptured and put me in the hospital – and for weeks afterwards I was so delightfully hopped up on a heavenly cocktail of sleeping pills and painkillers that I couldn’t have read a cereal box, never mind a book.

Here’s a little taste of the wicked girl that is me in Tony’s book. To find out how really nasteh she can be, you’ll have to buy the book yourself.

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Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Telesalespeople: I wish they didn’t pretend they were your friend

I related to Nicole Mason’s post about the accident she witnessed and her attempts to phone it in; and her comment that one does not expect, when phoning the emergency services, to hear, ‘Hello, how you?’ popped into my head yesterday when I had truck with a telesalesperson.

The phonecall went something like this:

Me (businesslike; the number came up as ‘private’, and I hate answering these calls but I always do in case they’re a client): Hello, Muriel speaking.

She (perkily): Hi, how are you?

Me (immediately irritated): Who is this?

She (still perky): It’s Thembi. How are you?

Me (smoke beginning to trickle out my ears): Thembi? Thembi who? Do I know you?

She (slightly less perky): I’ve got great news for you.

Me (smoke billowing around my head): WHO ARE YOU? Where are you phoning from?

She (small voice, very fast): From1lifeinsuranceandI’vegotgreatnewsforyou.

Me (grabbing fire extinguisher): You haven’t! I know you haven’t! If you’re phoning from a life insurance company, all you want to do is sell me something I probably don’t want and definitely can’t afford! Goodbye! (flinging phone in general direction of swimming pool)

Now, I know telesalespeople are a fact of life, like dying or forgetting to put out your wheelie-bin on garbage-collection days, but do they have any idea how much they ratchet up the irritation level by pretending to be one of your close friends? (Never mind the blatant lie that what they’re going to tell you is entirely to your benefit.) I’d be so much less inclined to slam down the phone on them if they responded, when I answered their unsolicited and unwelcome phonecalls, with, ‘Hello, I’m Thembi Mnguni from 1life insurance and I’d like to tell you about our latest short-term insurance product, if you can spare the time.’ If that were the case, I’d probably say, ‘Hi Thembi. I’m sorry, but I’m not in the market for short-term insurance. You have nice day, now. Goodbye.’ And then disconnect the call in a manner that endangers neither the phone’s health nor mine, and doesn’t injure the ear or the dignity of the telesalesperson.

A few years ago I got just this kind of phonecall from a telesalesperson when I was on a deadline and feeling even more stressed than usual. When I answered the ‘private number’ call, the person said, ‘Hi, how are you?’ (the telesalesperson password) and, additionally secure in the knowledge that the person’s voice rang absolutely no bells and therefore was probably unknown to me (and so was very likely going to try to sell me something I probably didn’t want and definitely couldn’t afford), I distractedly said, ‘No, thanks,’ disconnected the call, and returned to my keyboard.

When he called back immediately, I assumed I’d made a mistake and that I did, in fact, know him, so I gave him the time to ask me how I was (‘fine’) and waited to hear what he had to say. It was this: ‘Aren’t you going to ask me how I am?’

I kid you not.

Who are you?’ I asked.

He gave me his name and said, ‘It was very rude of you to put down the phone on me.’

‘Where are you calling from?’ I asked.

It was a cellphone company. A cellphone company! He wanted to sell me something I probably didn’t want and definitely couldn’t afford!

‘Are you completely fucking mad??’ I yelled, and put down the phone.

And – I am not making this up – he immediately called me again. Obviously, I rejected the call. And the next one.

In a weird way, I was quite admiring of this – a kind of ‘telesalesperson strikes back’. I may even have been tempted to enter into a short debate about the rudeness of a person slamming down the phone on someone who’s only going to waste their valuable time trying to sell them something they probably don’t want and definitely can’t afford vis-à-vis the rudeness of someone who phones you out of the blue and then, under the pretence of being your friend and giving you ‘great news’ (or its equivalent – a ‘free’ cellphone, say), tries to flog you something you probably don’t want and definitely can’t afford.

But I was on deadline so I didn’t.

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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Plastic wine bottles – a fab idea

Do you remember the hoo-hah over corks versus screwcaps? It took South Africans a good decade to get over their snobbery regarding screwcaps, and I admit I was one of those nay-sayers – I so enjoyed the ritual around uncorking a bottle of wine. Now, as Johann so perspicaciously puts it, ‘Late in the evening, when I’m looking in the rack for another bottle of wine to open, I go for the screwcap. It’s just so much easier.’

And now we have wine in plastic bottles. Put baldly like that, I must say I wouldn’t be convinced, but having seen Backsberg’s elegant new PET bottle of Tread Lightly Merlot (isn’t the label gorgeous?), I’m a convert. For people like me who shop at chains for their wine, these lightweight little bottles (although the volume is still 750ml, like their bigger glass compatriots) make perfect sense – no more lugging heavy glass from trolley to car boot, and then from car boot to wine rack. And no more risk of breakages, either. (‘And perfect for picnics!’ said a 12-year-old observer, and I hope he was just passing on something he’d heard his mom say…)

The immediate assumption that glass is more environmentally friendly than plastic, although it seems intuitively right, isn’t actually accurate. It’s the same debate that swirls around disposable-versus-cloth nappies – sure, landfill is a problem where disposables are concerned, but you’ve got to take into account the enormous amounts of water and electricity required to wash cloth nappies. Using these resources contributes considerably to the carbon footprint.

So it is with plastic. Mainly, the cost savings come in the form of transport (and therefore fuel usage and carbon emissions) – the plastic [thanks, Davie H!] bottles are considerably smaller and lighter, which hugely cuts down on the sheer volume of transport required, and therefore lessens the carbon footprint. The PET bottles are also, like glass bottles, fully recyclable. (For more about this, click here.)

The one possible drawback is that wine doesn’t keep in plastic, which is why these bottles have ‘filled on…’ and ‘use by…’ dates stamped on their labels. But, as another observer (not the 12-year-old, this time) said, ‘It’s not like we lay down our wines. We buy ’em and we drink ’em.’ And if you do want to put up a wine for savouring at some later date, you can still obviously opt for glass.

We drank the glass-bottled Railroad Red first on Saturday night, then the plastic-bottled Backsberg Tread Lightly, and there was no discernible difference in quality. Both were delicious.

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