Saturday, 23 October 2010

dstv suits me

Since seeing the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1994, my ultimate life goal has been to lie in bed watching TV and eating until I grow so fat that I suffocate quietly in my sleep and then have to be removed from my home by a crane. (Actually, that’s not true. My goal was to be Liv Tyler – who isn’t in the movie – and live happily ever after with Johnny Depp. But we must work with what we have.)

My Mrs Grape goal has been somewhat thwarted by the need to constantly get out of bed to clean my teeth, transport my kids hither and thither, shop for supplies, sweep the kitchen, do the laundry, take the dogs for a walk and the cats to the vet, dance in a silly way late at night to Neil Diamond and backwash the pool. And it has been further frustrated by the fact that I’ve only ever had what Johann and I call ‘poor man’s TV’ (SABC 1, 2 and 3 and e) and, when my oldfashioned braai-grid aerial and the prevailing winds allowed it, MNet (far less often than I would have liked for the cost of my subscription) – not enough reason, it must be said, to keep me in bed.

But recently a number of things happened that culminated in my getting the Select 1 bouquet on dstv. These involved the donation of a decoder by my sister; several frustrating phonecalls to get quotes for the installation of a dish, which ranged over such puzzlingly wide sums that I wondered if I were being filmed for a Candid Camera insert; an argument with the company I finally chose, who insisted I chop down several of my precious trees in order to get a signal, alternatively (a suggestion offered by the ‘helpful’ owner of the company) move the house; and an additional payment (there’s always one, isn’t there?) for a special bracket to place the dish in a way that would obviate either killing the trees or repositioning the homestead.

And, voila, I had dstv.

My options on Select 1 include a multitude of sports and news and religion channels, none of which I’ll ever watch, and then a few channels that I will: MNet Action, MNet Series, Universal and National Geographic. Nothing that plays on any of these channels is current. The movies and series are at least five years old, and the movies are of such astonishing B-grade awfulness that you’ve simply got to sit through them. (When last did you see Rebecca de Mornay and Don Johnson starring sleazily together? It’s like watching a train crash – so horrible that you just can’t tear your eyes away.)

But the best thing about dstv is that they repeat everything endlessly. I haven’t counted it all up, but on balance I’d estimate that the number of shows shown for the first time on those four channels probably amount to about, oh, 16 or so hours of original viewing. The other 152 hours in the week are repeats. Interestingly, some of the channels make this a virtue: they brazenly admit that they repeat everything three or four times over each 24-hour period and double on the weekends, and then tell you it’s because you’re too busy to watch everything and they’re doing it for your benefit.

But actually, in my case, they are.

I’m a lifelong insomniac, and one of the few things that is absolutely guaranteed to send me off to sleep is watching TV. So, after years of missing the ends of episodes and/or having to re-hire movies to find out what happened, all I have to do now is turn on my TV at practically any time of the day or night, and whatever I’d started watching (sometimes several times) earlier in the week is there again, for my leisurely viewing pleasure. It’s bloody fantastic.

(It goes without saying that I’d rather fall asleep to and then later catch up on a better standard of movie than that offered by my Select 1 bouquet – but, as with the Liv Tyler/Johnny Depp scenario, we have to work with what we have.)

Another plus has been finally really cottoning on to Johann’s obsession with the retail therapy that is Glomail. (Oy, that odious man who tells us about ‘his’ promise to ‘us’? My nightmares about him repeat about as often as dstv’s offerings.) Nonetheless, I want a bobble remover. I want a slinky hose. I want a thingie that chops onions into a salsa in three flicks of the wrist. I do. I want all those things.

But Johann wants them more. Recently he got paid a big invoice, and he decided to treat himself to (and I quote him) either a weedeater or a lawnmower (both of which he does actually need). He came by my place to try to persuade me to go shopping for them with him (which would involve a trek to a nearby big town, a fair investment in going outside and driving in a car), but the last time I did, I ended up with four satin cushions that the dogs ate and a curtain that would look wonderful on the mother-in-law at an Indian wedding but does little for my kitchen window. And none of which I could afford.

So I said I’d go with him if he ate the macaroni-cheese I was making, which did involve macaroni but didn’t involve cheese and did involve a lot of spinach. The answer on both sides was an unsurprising ‘no’.

Later, I SMSd him to find out if he’d got his weedeater/lawnmower. This is his response (unedited): ‘Yes. A lawnmower, that magic washing ball, a teeth-whitening kit, a Shogun knife sharpener, a car charger for the cellphone, hormone replacement for older men, a lawn sprinkler, and peaches and cream for dinner.’

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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Silence

I lost my voice last Friday night.

It’s the first time this has ever happened to me, and it was a fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) experience. But I can’t say that being forced into constantly-listening mode was all bad.

Although of course first I had to listen to all the funnies. My kids thought it all superbly amusing. They made me try shouting, ‘I’m really cross with you!’ and fell about laughing when I screamed so loud the veins stood out furiously on my forehead and I couldn’t be heard more than 15 centimetres away. ‘Where are my socks, ma?’ my son asked, and when I told him, he said, ‘Is that a secret?’ Har-de-har-har. And when the phone rang, and I answered – obviously – and the person on the other end said, ‘Hello? Hello? Hello?’ – well, that was the funniest of all.

But perhaps the most interesting thing was hosting a party for about 30 people on Sunday, for my 46th birthday, and not being able to be heard. I had the most amazing backup in my astonishingly energetic friend Brigitte (a retired air steward, she is constantly coming in to land, which is very useful in large groups of hungry people), and everyone generally got on with things without my having to play director – in fact, probably a sight better than they would have without my offering my opinions (of which I have several, about everything).

My friend P (pictured here, at far left; that's me sitting silently in the middle, with my new short hair; and my friend T is on the right of the pic) took the opportunity – with astounding intuition – to make a speech on my behalf.

Now, my father has made speeches for me – on my 21st and at my wedding – but then he had to, and both times I think it’s fair to say he took the piss out of me (and, to be fair to both of us, I’m the kind of person it’s pretty easy to take the piss out of) but P was specific: she asked me beforehand if she could say a few words because, she said, she’d wanted to for a while.

She spoke about when we first met, 22 years ago, on Noordhoek beach (we were both there for boys – of course); about the ‘hazy, crazy days’ of the ’80s, which we both lived through with a great deal of enthusiasm and a severe shortage of sleep; and about how we’ve kept in contact through some hectic upheavals in both our lives. She reaffirmed that friendships – real friendships: formed in fun, based on loyalty, tested in adversity, strengthened through longevity, reinforced by differences, authenticated by similarities – are what enliven our world.

It turns out, sometimes you don’t need a voice. You just need ears.

* These photographs were taken at my birthday party by my darling Juno – also a real friend, over many years and many experiences, loyal through thick and thin.

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Tuesday, 5 October 2010

An encounter with baboons

I thought the most stressful thing about our group walk on Saturday morning would be getting all the participants (6 dogs, 3 adults and 2 children) onto the mountain before the cows came home.

My friend A doesn’t like getting up early, and even when I perked the coffee and left it tantalisingly in the kitchen, she refused to get out of bed until she had been served in situ.

Then our friend W, with her 2 dogs, arrived late. ‘Only by 6 minutes!’ A said, rolling her eyes at me – but if you add the additional 30 minutes it took to get A moving, time was marching on. (‘Patience’ is not, it must be admitted, my middle name.)

Then there was the collection of A’s son from a friend’s – when we arrived, he was standing at the gate, as instructed, and I was thrilled; but then I realised he was desultorily munching on a piece of toast and was barefoot – we had interrupted his breakfast and he required that we wait for him to finish it, and find his shoes. By the time we’d loaded him and the other kid into the car, the dogs were going nuts, my head was crackling, and A was apologising profusely (not to me; for me).

But finally – finally! – we were on the lower slopes of the mountain, the dogs were let out of the cars and ran maniacally all over the place, and we were off.

We took the longish route I walk every day, up behind the Allesverloren vineyards on the slopes of the Kasteelberg, which is effectively a mini wilderness area. The latest Riebeek Valley Handbook (the ‘essential guide for visitors and residents’) tells us that the mountain is home to 150 bird varieties, too many plant species to count (including over 100 varieties of orchid), and civet cats, dassies, porcupines, bushpigs, steenbok and baboons.

So we panted up the slope, the dogs having a grand old time. Poppy (a wiry-haired terrier-type street special) cockily kicked up dust; the elderly Harry (a shaggy, inky Collie-cross-something) kept to our heels; Simba (a ridiculously handsome young golden retriever) ran ahead, along with Sara the Wobbly Dog; Hullabaloo ran circles around us; and Tara (a fat little daschund) tottered along on her tiny legs, barking at everything that moved…

… when suddenly a terrible screaming rent the air. (I don’t think I’ve ever used the word ‘rent’ like this, but, believe me, ‘rent’ is what it did.)

‘Oh, god!’ said W. ‘I think Poppy’s caught a bird.’

A bird on this part of the mountain would likely be a Cape francolin, a helmeted guineafowl or maybe even a peacock, so we envisaged a nasty scene of bloodied feathers and flying fur. W called for Poppy – who, surprisingly, ran up to us… at the exact moment that Sara and Simba, sensing something we couldn’t see, took off away from us along the trail as if their tails were on fire.

The screaming sound went on and on, horrifyingly, and we added to the confusion by screaming Simba and Sara’s names, to no avail.

And then we saw the problem. Baboons.

Now, anyone who lives in the western Cape is familiar with the problem, down on the Peninsula, of troops of baboons who’ve been habituated to humans (who haven’t helped matters by feeding them), and who as a result have become extremely aggressive. Baboons are big, clever creatures, and the adult males have terrifying teeth. Any South African knows not to approach a baboon – it is a wild animal and if it feels threatened, it will attack.

And there was no doubt that the baboons we’d run into felt threatened. So would I, if two large dogs were after me and my family.

And so for 20 minutes pandemonium reigned. We corralled and leashed the dogs we could get our hands on (Harry, Balu and Poppy); W held them. A bushwhacked off the trail, straight up into the wilderness, screaming for Simba. I ran to the edge of the kloof up which the dogs had disappeared, shouting for Sara and Simba. Tara, the daschund, leapt unhelpfully around my feet, barking dementedly. The children were, like us, terrified. The sounds of shaking trees, breaking branches, snarling and shrieking continued.

Then, eventually, Sara came running up out of the kloof, followed by Simba. Both dogs looked immensely pleased with themselves, as if causing an adrenaline surge that could probably be felt on the Richter scale was just the ticket for a sunny Saturday morning.

Quickly, we examined them. Sara was unharmed. Simba, however, had a deep gash in his neck. The vet later told us the wound hadn't been caused by a baboon – more likely by a branch or sharp piece of rock that had snagged Simba in his headlong rush up the kloof. It took 6 stitches to close.

Once we’d all calmed down, we were able to work out what had happened. The initial screaming sound we’d heard was a warning being given by a baboon sentry – during the hysteria we could see him, perched on a rock outcrop up the kloof. The baboons reacted, sensibly, by running away from us and our dogs – but by then Simba and Sara had seen them and gave chase. Fortunately for us, these baboons are not at all habituated to humans, and all they wanted to do was get away – although I daresay that if one of the dogs had caught one of them, there would have been a different end to this story.

And next time I invite any youngsters along for a nice walk on the mountain and they say, ‘Do we haaave to? It’s so booooring!’ I’m going to just smile and nod.

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Friday, 1 October 2010

Really, really nice things about growing older

From a physical point of view, this growing-older thing doesn’t have a lot to recommend it. Stuff that used to point up (breasts) point down. Stuff that used to be thick (hair) becomes thin. Stuff that used to be thin (ankles) becomes thick. Getting up is always accompanied by an oomphy sound, like an elephant getting poked in the stomach. And - I tell you this from personal experience - don’t try and do a cartwheel because it will hurt.

However, in discussion with various similarly aged friends, we came up with several pluses.

Walking

Remember when you were younger and your parents would encourage you to go with them for a ‘nice walk’ after lunch? And you would say, ‘Do I haaaave to? It’s so boooring!’ There was really little you could think of that you’d rather do less than a toadilly pointless meander up a mountain or along a beach (except maybe wash the dishes, tidy your room or get a job).

But as time goes by and your body becomes less willing to go for a 10km bike ride first thing in the morning or a 5km run after work, the value of a ‘nice walk’ becomes apparent. I never thought I’d say this, but here goes: walking is one of my favourite pastimes. It’s free, you need no specialised equipment, you can do it alone or in company, and it’s good for you physically (20 minutes of enthusiastic walking three times a week is all a normal person needs to stay relatively fit and healthy) and mentally (it takes you away from your computer and provides brain space for creative thinking).

And the dogs love it.

Having dogs

If you aren’t getting married and settling down in your youth (in which case a golden retriever becomes de rigueur, along with the people-carrier, plush leather sofa and washing machine), you’re probably not at home enough to be a good pet owner.

I had pets thrust upon me in my late 30s – a cat that turned up and refused to leave (despite frankly pitiless attempts to make it unwelcome) and a dog that did similar and almost immediately became deathly ill, resulting in an emotional and financial trauma that bonded us like shit to a blanket.

But, judging by the experiences of my friends of a similar age (mid-40s), I would have finally gone down the pet route anyway. Remarkably, even those who were not ‘pet people’ in their youth suddenly acquire and become doting owners of dogs and/or cats.

This has a salutary effect on your social life. Bizarrely, just as your kids reach they age where, if left unsupervised, they will no longer stick their fingers straight into an electric socket or plunge to their certain death in the swimming pool, and you can finally go out without worrying yourself half to death – you can’t go out any more, because the dogs will be too unsettled.

But that’s okay, because you’re happy to stay in.

Staying in

Remember when you were in your 20s and some ancient geezer at the end of the bar eyed up you or your friends, and you looked at each other and went, ‘Ee-uw!’? Well, that oldie was probably in his 30s. Because, yes, there does come a time when going clubbing is just creepy – you get too old for it (sooner, often, than you realise, especially – with apologies to the rational male readers of salma – if you’re a man).

And hanging out all night in the latest trendy restaurant with your mates, drinking enough to make you behave so badly that the manager actually longs for the days when he was a telesalesperson, also no longer holds appeal. As a grownup, you realise that the restaurant chairs aren’t comfortable, the person at the next table is having an argument with his wife, the lights are too bright or too dim, you’ve left your reading glasses at home and can’t see the menu, the music is execrable, the waitron seems to have been recently shipped in from another planet (one where they don’t have food), you ordered the chicken and you got the lamb, your wine glass is always goddamn empty, and when your Irish Coffee finally arrives, it looks a frog vomited in it.

And when it comes time to pay the bill and you split it between the six of you, you’re just pissed off at ending up paying for Joe’s Chateaubloodybriand, when all you had was two bits of dry bird, some overdone butternut and a floret of charred cauliflower. Oh, and, of course, the amphibian-spew Irish, which is going to wake you up at 3am with heartburn. And as you leave the restaurant, you hiss bad-temperedly at your friend/partner, ‘I could have made that at home, much better and for a fifth of the price.’ (See ‘cooking’, below.)

It’s when you’ve had a really tough week at work and Friday arrives, and all you want to do is get into bed early with a good book, that you realise you’re all grown up. And waking up well rested on Saturday morning, with your bank balance precisely the same as it was on Friday night and with all your personal belongings (including brain) intact, sets you up perfectly for a day at home, gardening or cooking.

Gardening

This bug hasn’t bitten me yet, but it has sunk its tines deep into my friend A’s thumb and turned it green. She says that gardening – much like walking – is good exercise and that it also clears her mind. She can happily spend hours weeding, mulching, pruning, top-soiling and the like. And, bonus, she has a gorgeous garden to show for it. (She does, however, also have dogs - a word to the wise: these two things are not always compatible.)

My ‘garden’ is a jungle for all but two weeks in the year. Once in September and once in December (and both times because the law in these parts decrees it), I have to employ someone with an industrial weedeater and biceps like The Incredible Hulk’s to level it to a point at which we can see the distant mountains. Then, for exactly one week, we live in perfect Pinelands-type order, in a fabulously landscaped setting. With the one disadvantage that getting rid of the ‘overgrowth’ also reveals a myriad ankle-breaking holes, copious mounds of dogshit, inexplicable rolls of rusting barbed wire, and several mouldy garden-furniture cushions (I wondered where those had gone).

Okay, so I’m not completely grownup yet. And Amanda also plays golf, something I’m not yet big enough to understand. But I do love cooking.

Cooking

‘I never got how my husband could de-stress by cooking,’ says my friend P, who’s been married for over a decade. Now in her 40s, she’s a convert.

P and I go back aways – back to the days of The Lounge in Long Street (anyone out there remember that – Claudine?). Back to the days of playing pool, drinking tequila and staying up all night. Back to the days of waking up in the gutter and laughing about it (‘Hey, doesn’t this feel comfortable? It’s like we belong here! Hahaha!’).

Then I had kids and had to wise up – basically, I had to learn how to cook things like fish fingers and mashed potato, and scrambled eggs on toast. (And to stay out of those gutters.)

P wasn’t best pleased. ‘Who are these small people and why do they keep interrupting our conversation?’ she would ask, ‘and why are we always in the kitchen?’

Because I was always in the kitchen, slowly but surely making food started making sense. I got interested in things like Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips (although, when it comes to those actual things, admittedly not for long). But: great pasta sauces and how to really roast a chicken. Why long, slow heat does different things to meat cuts than the quick, high version. What you can do with eggs. How to make, say, a pecan pie (something I always thought sprang fully formed from the belly of Pick’n’Pay, like prepacked soup veggies and Swingball sets). How to make koeksisters and vetkoek. Fajitas and tacos. Thai green curry. Chateaubloodybriand. (And if you really want to get into food, go here.)

Now, when I wake up with my brain inside my head (rather than having to be located with the help of a GPS) on a Saturday morning, I go and shop. For ingredients. I buy lovely fresh seasonal things, and sometimes some prime cuts of meat (we are lucky enough to have a working on-farm butchery in striking distance), and I cook.

P gets it. She’s also grown up now. (She had kids.)

Not finishing the wine

This might be a bit of a surprise as an inclusion on this list to regular readers of salma, who know that ‘We don’t have to finish it!’ is the utterly futile battle-cry of Opening Yet Another Bottle Of Wine Late At Night in my house.

But it was my friend N’s contribution, and in fairness to those who don’t live within visiting distance of me (and a nod to the less excessive of us oldies out there), it must indeed be included.

Because, look, it’s true. As grownups, we don’t always have to finish the wine.

(Refer to ‘gardening’, above.)

Going to bed to sleep

This was also N's contribution, although I must admit that I go to bed for many different reasons, and almost none of them are actually to sleep. I go to bed to eat leftover reheated penne arrabiatta and watch CSI New York (NOT Miami; I am going to have to get a whole lot older before I can appreciate Horatio ‘Aiyeeeeeee!’ Caine). I go to bed to cuddle with the dogs and/or cats. To read a good book. And sometimes, briefly, a bad book. To get warm. To chat with Johann (even though this once led to a ringworm epidemic). To play Solitaire (endlessly, until I realise I haven’t blinked for two hours and my eyeballs have dried out). To avoid having to get out of my pyjamas. To jot down ideas in my diary.

Not caring what other people think

Were you the odd girl at school? The fattie? The techno-geek? The ‘least likely to succeed’? These labels can be hard to shed, even after you’ve left school. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s (and so had been out of school for longer than I was in it) that I stopped being insulted every time someone called me ‘weird’ (which was – and still is – quite a lot) and began embracing my eccentricity.

It’s bloody brilliant to get to an age where you can just be who you are. As Sam Wilson, the editor of women24.com, says, about looking back at your 17-year-old self, ‘The bad news is your dress sense isn’t going to improve. The good news is you’re going to care a lot less.’

It may take us 40+ years to grow into ourselves, but when we get there, it's great. Who cares what other people think? This is who we are. We like ourselves. Live with it.

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Feeding the senses

One of the fabulous things (among many) about living in this small country town is the amazing creativity of the residents. This weekend we celebrate them and their art with the annual Shiraz & Arts festival, a weekend-long adventure covering food, wine, song, dance, painting, sculpture … a whole gamut of unique homegrown entertainment to thrill and challenge eyes, ears, palate and brain.

My friend Loni Drager is one of the featured artists. You can invest in one of her limited-edition bronze female torsos this weekend (on sale at Still Pure on the Square), but if you can’t make it to the Riebeek Valley (and if not, why not??), then try to catch her exhibition at the Rust-en-Vrede gallery in Durbanville from 4 October to 5 November. Called ‘Sensus – the landscape of stolen moments’, the works, which Loni describes as 'split-second cameos of memory', are inspired by the landscapes of the Karoo and the human form. Pictured here are two of them, in wood, ‘Bath Belly’ (top) and ‘Verlatekloof' (above).

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