Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Men of a Certain Age: art imitating life

There’s nothing funny about the TV series Men of a Certain Age, although I did expect it to be. It stars Ray Romano, after all. He poked fun at himself in Everyone Loves Raymond, and we all chortled at the scrapes he got himself into as a result of (mainly) his silly male ego, and lifted our eyebrows along with his long-suffering wife.

Men of a Certain Age is billed as a ‘comedy-drama’ but it’s mainly drama. And while it hasn’t made me laugh, it has taught me some things. Because I am a Woman of a Certain Age – a creature long denigrated in popular culture and literature for being bitter about romance, stuck in her ways and dry in her vagina.

To open this discussion, let me recount a conversation I had with a friend, a Man of a Certain Age who we shall call, oh, Harry. Harry’s wife – a bombshell we shall call, say, Gloria – divorced him some time ago and swiftly went through two more husbands before settling on a 10-years-younger playmate to brighten the days of her dotage. For his part, Harry had serial disastrous romances before snagging a woman literally young enough to be his daughter – viz, when he brought her along to visit me, she kept company with my then-17-year-old son while Harry sat around with us ‘oldies’ (his contemporaries) and drank wine and discussed food, music and Zimmer frames.

For reasons that are too boring to go into, Harry somehow ended up at the same hotel resort as Gloria, and he later told me the story of this in clipped tones. He was watching Gloria, he said, from the window of his hotel bedroom (why? you might ask; but I didn’t), which overlooked the swimming pool. She and the younger boyfriend cavorted (Harry’s word) for a while, and then, when they decided to get out, the boyfriend (who I imagine is built – Gloria is not a small gal) picked her up, carried her effortlessly around the pool and deposited her on her lounger.

(I was already both loving Gloria and hating her by this time – a mixed emotion, incidentally, I’ve had about her ever since I met her 25 years ago when we were all young and she was ridiculously pretty.)

At this point in the story, Harry laughed derisively. ‘It was pathetic,’ he said. ‘I’m sure people watching would have thought it was his mother, and that she was afflicted, and had to be helped out of the pool.’

Uh, no, Harry, not at all. I’m sure most people watching her, like me, would have thought that both Gloria (who, even at our advanced age, is still a bombshell) and the younger boyfriend were exceedingly enviable. But, to my endless credit, I didn’t say that. What I did say was, ‘Wow, Harry, isn’t that a bit hypocritical?’ (Let me press the point: Harry’s girlfriend is 23; Harry is 47.)

You’d have thought I’d caught and killed a small helpless child right in front of him. He visibly recoiled, then spat, ‘YOU’RE ONE TO TALK!’

Now, let me say this in my own defence: I am far from without reproach in the romance department, save for the fact that I’ve managed to be married only once. I won’t go into the index of indiscretions I’ve notched up over 47 years, but I will say this: if I’ve ever consorted with anyone younger than me, (a) he’s never been biologically young enough to be my son (although admittedly in one case by a matter of months), and (b) I have seldom kissed and told. So Harry’s comeback was a matter of some mystery to me.

‘I’m prepared to admit to very many character flaws,’ I said, ‘but hypocrisy?’

Harry sneered. ‘Oh, come on!’ he said.

‘Well, I’m willing to be corrected. Tell me when I’ve been hypocritical,’ I said.

Harry shot me a look that, had I caught and killed that small helpless child, would instantly have burned it to ash.

‘Staring at me like that isn’t telling me anything,’ I said. ‘Speak.’

Harry grunted, angrily.

I won’t go into the rest of the conversation, since it continued in more or less this vein – me asking for information, Harry making various animal noises and looking furious. In the end, I just said, ‘Oh, okay then, I’m a hypocrite, let’s just forget it,’ because Harry’s friendship is more important to me than winning a stupid argument about who did what when, where and why.

The conversation upset me but, in retrospect, it actually put some things into perspective for me. I’ve had a few run-ins with Men of a Certain Age (ie, around my age) over the last few years, and none has ended happily. There was the man who upped and married a mindless bimbo (and who asked what I thought of her, and all I could offer was, ‘Well, she’s enthusiastic’); the man who suddenly turned into a hormonal 16-year-old and said things like ‘nice tits’ when a woman walked past us in a bar (and who took such offence when I pointed out that this wasn’t really on – at least, please, when I was there – that he’s never spoken to me again); the man whose midlife crisis took such inexplicable form that he changed overnight from a longtime buddy into a bitter ex-friend.

So, as I say, Men of a Certain Age isn’t a comedy, it’s a drama – both in real life and on the small screen. And it’s a bit of a shame, because Women of a Certain Age are (in my experience, anyway) certainly more about having fun than proving a point.

Maybe the truth is that men and women (and boys and girls) are just always tragically out of syn. I’ve put together this comparative table to explain this (and this is just my experience – if yours differs, I’d be delighted to know how). (And, before you point it out, yes, there are always exceptions!)

Age 6
Girls: think boys are smelly and yukky
Boys: think girls are boring yet somehow also maddeningly mysterious

Age 10
Girls: think boys are smelly and yukky
Boys: want to see girls’ private parts

Age 14
Girls: think boys are smelly (and they are)
Boys: want to touch (or, even better, see) girls’ boobs

Age 16
Girls: think boys are stupid yet somehow also maddeningly desirable
Boys: want to get girls to have sex with them

Age 20
Women: wish boys would just grow up already – they’re such children!
Men: want to get women to have sex with them

Age 25
Women: wish men would get over their obsession with football/motorcycling/porn long enough to take them on just one proper romantic date, for godsake
Men: want to get women to have sex with them

Age 30
Women: want to have babies
Men: will have babies with women if that’s what it takes to get women to have sex with them

Age 35
Women: wish men would do a bit more about the house and help with the kids
Men: wish women would get out of their face so they could do more football/motorcycling/porn

Age 40
Women: having shucked the useless husband, rearing their kids alone and streaming ahead in their career, regard men as sex toys – necessary, but only now and again
Men: swear off marriage forever and start haunting clubs and trying out tired pickup lines (but only on women under 30); change their ex-wife’s name on the cellphone to ‘rancid bitch’.

Age 45
Women: if not in a more-or-less permanent relationship with a younger man, have ‘friends with benefits’ arrangements; have paid off their house and drive a nice (but not topless) car
Men: having been burnt several times by younger women, gather in bars to share war stories, but still say ‘nice tits’ to any attractive female who walks past; buy a motorbike, join a gym, have hair implants, start wearing jeans and takkies

Age 50
Women: either settled down with the pool boy or happily single and having occasional but discreet recreational sex; the kids have left home so they’re either travelling or spending money making their home gorgeous and/or buying beautiful clothes
Men: regretting not having formed proper relationship with their kids, so now scrabbling for foothold as ‘fathers’; dating their gym instructor; living in stupidly expensive rented ‘bachelor pad’

Age 55
Women: either go gay or give up men altogether (other than as friends); celebrate the stoppage of their periods; value walking as exercise; love cooking and do it well; belong to so many clubs and societies that their diaries are indecently full
Men: marry their gym instructor; buy a house they can’t afford

Age 60
Women: are excellent grandmothers; garden enthusiastically; write books.
Men: get arthritis; suffer from indigestion; go bankrupt

Age 70
Women: go to India to bliss out at an ashram
Men: die (unless the gym instructor has already killed them)

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Annoyed by noise

Lerato Tshabalala wrote, in her column in last weekend’s Sunday Times Lifestyle, about how she’s ‘at that age where noise irritates me – especially where there shouldn’t be any’. Her example was how the experience of going to the movies is ruined by people who bring along inappropriately young kids, munch on popcorn, and chat to each other and on their cellphones during the show.

I’ve long been annoyed by unwelcome noise, and a few weeks ago, when on what should have been my daily dose of mountain serenity, I was so infuriated by it that I momentarily wished I had a blunderbuss handy. It was a Saturday morning and early enough for the sun to just be clearing the distant mountains, so the village below me was slumbering in weekend bliss. There was scattered birdsong, and the occasional far-off moos and baas of livestock.

Suddenly, from behind a patch of trees down on the other side of the village, a tremendous noise erupted. It sounded like 20 power mowers all being turned on at the same time, which in fact wasn’t far off the truth: it was a microlight, blundering up off the ground like a giant drunken bumblebee. This obnoxious machine revved its way clear over the village and up the side of the mountain, then motored along the scarp in a slow, infuriatingly loud manner. What was happening is that the SINGLE occupant of this stupid contraption was getting a lovely, long bird’s-eye view of the village and valley below, while encroaching in the most insufferable way on the peace of its 2 000-plus inhabitants.

It reminded me of a morning some time ago in Yzerfontein, which is a dozy little fishing village on the Cape West Coast where I used to own a flat. I woke up to the usual delightful low-key harmony of swishing waves and twittering seabirds, which was suddenly broken by an appalling noise, very similar to that of the microlight. Stumbling out onto the verandah and staring maniacally seawards, I spotted – a jetskiier. With due respect to those of you who own and ride jetskis, I can’t think of a more brainless way to pass time on the water – hairing at noisy high speed hither and thither. And, in this case too, this SINGLE individual was getting whatever thrills jetskiing gave him at the price of the peace of the +- thousand residents of the town.

Some animals, too, can be clamour-monsters, and the three little dachshunds who live over the road from me are currently in first place for noise pollution. They yap frantically at everything that moves and many things that don’t. So hectic are they, in fact, that if I open one of my kitchen windows (which give onto the road and face the house opposite), all three of them rush to their fence, splay their back legs and bark their bloody heads off at me. They drive everyone in our road crazy.

One of my own cats, Evan, is also a racket-hazard, although he only bothers me – if he’s shut in at night, he mews to be let out; if he’s shut out, he mews to be let in. I love him, but sometimes I truly hate him.

So I’d like to see one of the circles of hell reserved for people who make a noise where there shouldn’t be any: I’d like all microlighters and jetskiiers, and people who talk during movies, to be stuck permanently in a room together over the road from the three high-decibel dachshunds, with my cat Evan as permanent company, eternally whining to be let out or let in.

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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Getting the kids out the house

I find myself in a somewhat unplanned-for situation. Just when I thought my sprogs would be off my hands, studying to be rocket scientists or the writers of the next Great South African Novel (or, you know, washing cars or dishes for a living), they’re both back home again.

I wrote a column about this for parent24, in fact, some years ago; I didn’t think at the time it would come back to haunt me quite so soon.

So, to prevent my daughter lolling about in the living room and plaiting her hair into ever-smaller braids (I’m worried it might eventually all fall out, and guess who’s going to have to cough up for implants if it does?), I signed her up on a cake-decorating course.

She came back with these little treasures. And – bonus – they’re very delicious too!

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Relaxing in the autumn sun

Having two (three if Maxi’s visiting) dogs, four cats and a flock of hens (one of which, Goldie, is a nut-job) makes for sometimes stressful inter-species (and, indeed, intra-species) interaction. And especially where this cat, Flossie, is concerned – she is the half-cat, half-badger non-conformist member of the household.

At night, she creeps onto my bed and snuggles up to me in the most endearing way. But during the day, if she encounters me anywhere in the house or garden, she flees in apparent terror. And if I see her sleeping in the sun somewhere and approach her to give her a friendly little cuddle, she shies away from me as if all I ever do is beat her. It’s a bit disturbing.

So these pictures are particularly sweet. Not only is Flossie relaxing in the autumn sun with human and canine, she’s also generously allowing herself to be petted. Aaaaaw!

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Another way to uncork wine

I’m a bit of a fan of eco-friendly packaging, so at first sight I really liked this classy-looking glass wine-bottle stopper, which my brother-in-law, Buzz, introduced to me a few weeks ago in a bottle of Danie de Wet Chardonnay.

When I began researching it I was surprised to find that it’s been around since 2006. But, interestingly, nowhere can I unearth anything about its environmental impact. One thing I can tell you – it’s not readily reusable, as it doesn’t fit all wine bottles.

Can anyone throw any light on its carbon footprint?

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Thursday, 9 June 2011

‘If I’d known they’d turn out like this, I would have fed them to the shark’

That was Johann’s take on what I should have said when he saw this appalling picture of me and my kids, taken at the Two Oceans Aquarium a few weeks ago – the shark in question being the big fish in the first Two Oceans pic we posed for (below), for the cover of Getaway magazine way back in 1997, when my sprogs were just 5 and 4 years old. (Patrick Wagner, the photographer who took the pic, died in a plane crash in Kenya the following year.)

We are not a photogenic family, as any regular reader of salma will be able to attest, but the recent Two Oceans pic really did take the cake – or that’s what it appears both my children have eaten, and lots of it. They are big people in real life – my son stands well over 6 foot – but believe me when I say this photograph seriously packs on the pounds. As for me, ‘You look like you’ve been sprinkled with dust by the Acid Fairy,’ said my daughter.

The photographer clearly found us a challenge – this was one of about five pics he took, and after each one he looked at his preview screen and frowned embarrassedly, then asked us to pose for another. In the end, it came down to choosing the best of a truly bad bunch, and we just picked the one that had the most fish in it.

We were so hysterical over this picture that we could hardly eat the sarmies we bought at a Waterfront restaurant afterwards – and it was just as well we were weak with mirth, because the bill was no laughing matter: R260 for three fairly simple sandwiches and three Grapetisers. Wow, way to rip us off, The Waterfront!

We took these pics ourselves with a camera-phone – see, we’re not monsters!
(And we managed to get the shark in this one.)

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