Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The plagues. And trying to keep cool. Already.

Summer* here brings ‘the plagues’. Mosquitoes are prime among them, flying in squadrons through the teeny-tiniest gap in any defence, whining infuriatingly around your ears and turning even the little sleep you can get, lying in a pool of sweat and a squalid sphere of fetid air as you are, into a nightmare. They can and will find the only bit of your skin you haven’t plastered with Peaceful Sleep, and suck your life-force out through it. You will reach morning with no memory whatsoever of having had any sleep at all, alive with bright red welts and itching so crazily that your eyes will roll in your head.

Then, as the sun rises and hits your kitchen counter, the flies will begin massing like a poorly trained and ravenous army. And this is no lie (I’ve actually done it): you can put a piece of meat, say a bit of fat you’ve cut off a lamb chop, into the bin at noon, and by 4pm it will be crawling with maggots. (Great for the chickens, indescribably hideous to have in the kitchen bin.) And there are always those slow, ‘sticky’ flies – the ones that return repeatedly to one spot on your foot or your back, and no matter how much you slap at them, they refuse to go away. Until you find a can of Doom and empty the entire thing onto your mosquito-bitten, dehydrated, overheated skin.

A special super-hot-weather horror in these parts is the solifuge, or sun spider (or red roman or haarskeerder – Afrikaans for ‘haircutter’, after the belief that it snips and carries away your hair while you’re sleeping, to line its nest). Although they carry no venom, they don’t have to: they can easily scare you to death. They’re big (the adults can get as big as your stretched-out hand), have 10 legs (if you weren’t scared enough by the 8 spiders have), are covered with a furry red pelt, have large snappy jaws (big enough to actually see in all their horror-movie glory), and run incredibly fast in any direction, including directly up walls and across ceilings. There’s something about a solifuge blocking your pathway to the fridge, and a lifesaving glass of iced water, that will tell you exactly how hot you really are.

* I smile in a very annoyingly thin-lipped way when I hear on the radio that Capetonians are ‘suffering’ in temperatures ‘that have been in the 30s all week’. Ag shame. For we out here beyond the boerewors curtain, ‘in the 30s’ is lokshuree.

And even I know this post is premature – we haven’t hit February yet, when nighttime temperatures here rarely drop below the 30s; early-morning temperatures are in the high 20s, and it’s a real wake-up call knowing that that’s the coolest it’s going to be all day.

For humans who don’t have aircon (and we greenies don’t, obviously), keeping cool enough not to go mad or die a lingeringly sweaty death means wearing the bare minimum and often only underwear (something to bear in mind if you’re a home freelance worker and have scheduled a business meeting), frequent dips in the pool or cold showers, hanging wet lengths of fabric over our bedroom windows (in the usually vain hope a slight breeze might spring up during the night), drinking litres of water (from the fridge – I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that water run from the cold tap any time after 10am will literally burn your fingers), and, if you can do it without losing custody of your children or jettisoning your career, staying drunk for about 6 weeks until the worst of the heat passes.

For chickens, keeping cool requires mainly standing around with their beaks open, much like eels waiting for someone to laugh at their jokes, but without the charm factor. (Hard to envisage, but true.)

For cats, it requires either finding a spot to sleep as if you’ve been dropped that way from the sky (Maui, above left - and a morning-after posture probably familiar to those who've drunk too much tequila on a summer evening), or finding the darkest, most tucked-away spot in the house (Evan in the paper-recycling box under my printer, above right).

For dogs – and I especially feel here for my poor Balu, who has a double-thick and quite greasy Labrador coat, designed specifically for retrieving in the icy waters of the north – the only place is the shower. She’s often joined there by Sara, who’s an Africanis, with a thinner coat – and who’s epileptic, and most often has seizures when she’s either going to sleep or waking up, with the result that Balu is frequently kicked unceremoniously out of the shower.

And, you know, in winter, when it’s really cold – something I find impossible to even imagine at the moment – Balu is often also kicked unceremoniously off the bed, for the same reason. She really is an endlessly patient sister; her only reaction, other than slinking indignantly away, is a very occasional raised lip. Dear thing.





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Chicken or plant?


The first fowl to come into my world was Indiana Jones, so named as a cheeky chick for his adventurous spirit. He was one of a brood of chicks hatched out next door, in Oom Vossie’s yard; they used to wander over into my property and scratch hysterically at the loose soil that was my front garden at the time. Quite quickly (because chickens grow like weeds) Indiana turned out to be a she and developed the most wonderfully berserk hairstyle, so he became Mrs Jones and, before I could quite come to terms with him being a girl, hatched out 12 chicks on the front verandah, so that put paid to any doubt.

Also to my herb garden, which I’d planted artistically between huge concrete slabs on my septic tank, and which was just beginning to not only look bushily pretty but actually yield basil, marjoram, oreganum and other foodie delights.

After enquiries around the village and feedback from those in the know – who all, as one, laughed merrily when asked how I could have both herbs and chickens, and said helpful things like ‘Buy shares in Robertson’s’ – I realised I was up against an unbeatable foe. For those who don’t have chickens, here’s a heads-up: they fly. Also: they can fit through holes that defy belief. So fence in what you like, they’ll find a way over, under or through. The only way to really protect any crop from chickens is to grow it in a closed tunnel or stand next to it with an air rifle.

Neither of which was an option for me, so, after a suitable period for mourning, I abandoned my herb patch.

For several years my ‘garden’, such as it was – big trees, several beloved plants (many in pots) and gazillions of indigenous weeds – flourished in summer and died back in winter. By then Oom Vossie had died (and I still miss him), and I’d inherited many of his chooks, plus various random donations. They lived in a comfortable dog kennel, and all got a good breakfast of grain every day. Everyone was happy.

Then the magicians at Riebeek Valley Garden Centre, Andre Beaurain and Corne Pretorius, designed and planted a new garden for me. I loved every single square millimetre of it (even though taking out 10 trees almost broke my heart) – it was functional and defining, it was water-wise and pretty, it was (largely) chicken-, dog- and cat-proof, it was … it was my first-ever real grownup garden. Andre had wanted me to start clean, from scratch, but there were some things I couldn’t give up: my hawthorne bushes (obviously), the plumbago, the hardy frangipani, my washing line – and the busy lizzie (impatiens) that had been with me for as long as I could remember.

So the busy lizzie stayed, in its pot on the verandah – here (right) it is, where it had always been, very happily, getting plenty of morning sun and protected from the fierce noon heat.

About a week ago, I decided to sleep out on the verandah – it’s been hellishly hot here, and sleeping in a room, usually in a pool of sweat and blanketed with mosquitoes, isn’t a fun way to spend a night. And I was charmed – charmed, I tell you – when I woke up to find Dash (the small black chick, in the bottom right of the pic below) sitting practically on my head. And Dot (the small orange one, perched on the table above Evan the cat) made me coo ‘Aah, cute’. And Goldie, their mom, apparently smelling the flowers of the busy lizzie, was also too delightful for words.

 
Until, later that afternoon, I realised she hadn’t been smelling the busy lizzie, she had been eating it, the bitch. And even though every time I saw her – and her compatriots, an evil trio of Gertie, Goldie’s only remaining chick from a previous brood; the red hen (peripatetic and disgracefully slutty mom of chicks Cocoa and Butter); and one of the three noisy roosters – attacking the busy lizzie, I came roaring out of the house, screaming and windmilling my arms, I just couldn’t be on duty 24/7. Which is (see above) what you have to be, and with an air rifle, to keep your plants safe from marauding chooks.

With the result that, in four short days (these pics, below, taken two days apart), this is what they’ve reduced my busy lizzie to. 


Andre would probably be pleased. But I’m very fucking irritated, and all I can see at the moment when I look at any of my hens is a nicely roasted chicken with a lemon crammed up its arse.


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Saturday, 28 January 2012

At last! A thumbs-up for a Malmesbury business

Malmesbury, the town that taste forgot, is the closest thing we have to a commercial centre, although I use the term ‘commercial centre’ loosely. It’s seldom that anyone from our valley returns from a trip to Malmesbury – where we have to go for medicines, since there’s no pharmacy in either of our twin villages; and periodically for supplies, since both our retail outlets (again, a term loosely used) make up in expense for what they lack in stock – without their lives having been considerably shortened.

Malmesbury boasts three large supermarket outlets: a Shoprite Checkers, a Pick n Pay and a SuperSpar. I was, for many years, a committed Pick n Pay shopper, partly because it’s the supermarket my mother always shopped at, and partly because, at least in the earlier years, the Malmesbury Pick n Pay did actually stock most of what I needed. And when they didn’t have what I was looking for, they’d find it for me. This often resulted in charming miscommunications, two of which stand out in my mind – once when I was looking for capers, and the second time for poppadoms. Take into account the language (English/Afrikaans) and cultural (urban/rural) divide, and you’ll get an idea of the problem. How does one describe capers and poppadoms? I tried ‘a kind of edible pickled flower’ and ‘a thin Indian bread that goes crispy when you fry it’, without any luck. Both times, after much fruitless discussion and a rousing round of charades, I was asked to simply write the name of the ingredient on a piece of paper, and the next time I went in, they’d found it for me. (Also, I once won a washing machine in a competition they ran.)

But let’s just get Pick n Pay out of the way immediately: it was recently taken over as a franchise and, although I’ve since shopped there once or twice out of loyalty, it’s never been the same.

Then there’s the Shoprite Checkers, until a few years ago a rather tacky OK. Then they did a huge revamp which included a (presumably massively expensive) redesign of the store itself, which resulted largely in gratifyingly wide aisles. The revamp didn’t, however, extend to the staff, an unfortunate oversight. Still, I like to go there sometimes, just for a change and perhaps because I have some sort of sado-masochistic streak that requires occasional indulgence.

So last week that’s where I went, with a long shopping list in hand. I’m going to gloss over some of the smaller irritations and go straight to the big one, which serves as a perfect example. On my shopping list was ricotta cheese. Shoprite Checkers boasts ‘more than 400 cheeses to choose from at ourCheese World!’ so an expectation of ricotta cheese wasn’t unreasonable. I looked through the cheeses on offer (there weren’t 400, or at least not 400 different ones) but couldn’t find ricotta. And then I went through a ritual that many people from our valley go through every time they visit Checkers (or Pick n Pay) in Malmesbury. It goes like this:

1. You ask a passing person in a Checkers uniform if they have ricotta cheese. They say, ‘This isn’t my aisle. I’ll go and get the right person.’ They walk off.

2. You hang out around the cheese section for about 5 minutes, during which time nobody turns up. You ask another passing person in a Checkers uniform, and they say, ‘This isn’t my aisle. I’ll go and get the right person,’ and you say, ‘Somebody’s already done that. Where is the right person? Should I go and get her? Or can’t you just help me?’ They ignore you and walk off.

3. You hang out for another 5 minutes until somebody in a Checkers uniform comes and stands next to you. She says nothing, but finally you twig that this is the right person (apparently), and you say, ‘Do you have ricotta cheese?’

4. Although you’ve already looked through all the cheeses on offer, and know there’s no ricotta cheese there, she then carefully looks through all of them again. You say, ‘I’ve already looked, it’s not there. Do you have some in the back?’ She ignores you and continues to search. This takes another 5 minutes.

5. Triumphantly, she hands you a tub of cottage cheese. You say, ‘No, not cottage cheese. Ricotta cheese.’

6. Another person arrives. Without any communication between them at all, the first person leaves. You say, ‘Oh, are you the right person? Ok, I’m looking for ricotta cheese. Do you have any?’

7. The second person begins another careful search of the cheese display. You clench your hands into fists so tight that you leave moon-shaped wounds in your palms and you say, ‘I’ve already looked, there’s no ricotta cheese there. Do you perhaps have any in the back?’

8. The second person triumphantly hands you a tub of cottage cheese. You say, ‘No. I. Do. Not. Want. Cottage. Cheese. I. Am. Looking. For. Ri. Cot. Ta. Cheese.’

9. The person snatches back the cottage cheese as if you’ve just spat on it and says, ‘No.’

10. You say, ‘What do you mean ‘‘no’’?’ Do you mean you don’t have it? How do you know? Have you checked your stock list? How can Checkers offer 400 cheeses but not have ricotta? What’s the matter with you people? Are you doing this just to annoy me? Is there a hidden camera somewhere?’ Then you either break down in tears or foam at the mouth.

The torture at Checkers in Malmesbury doesn’t end there. Once I’d got all I could find (about three-quarters of my shopping list – which, quite frankly, is as bad as nothing at all, if it means I have to go to another shop for the balance), I trundled my full trolley to a checkout. There, I had to queue – although there are 12 tills, only 3 were open. (My called request to a very, very fat manageress sitting at the ‘customer service’ – excuse me while I laugh my arse off – counter to open another till was roundly ignored.) Then, when my turn finally came around, I was observed in a lazy way by about 5 packers lounging against the cigarette counter* while I began unloading my trolley. As the items went through the barcode scanner and started piling up on the other side, I realised that nobody had the slightest intention of packing my groceries.

And last week, at Checkers in Malmesbury, that’s when I cracked. I stood up straight and yelled, ‘Stop!’ Everybody turned and looked at me – the other shoppers with surprise, the Checkers staff with bored loathing. I said, ‘I am not putting one more item through this till until one of you comes and helps me pack.’

It was an interesting stand-off because it was immediately clear that nobody wanted to do it. (Just to clarify things: these are packers, paid to pack.) Finally, after what seemed like a week, one of them disengaged herself from the cigarette kiosk; I fully expected to hear a *pop* as the vacuum seal between her butt and the counter was broken. She didn’t bother to hide her disdain of me and my groceries as she started packing, and when I asked her not to put all the tins in one bag (and I even explained that this was because it would make the bag too heavy to lift and probably break it, something I would assume was taught in Packing 101), she casually did exactly what I’d just asked her not to do, while occasionally shooting me challenging looks.

I left there with my life considerably shortened, and now I can finally come to the positive part of this post. I loaded my Checkers groceries into my boot (as I did so, the bag with the tins in it broke) and drove straight to SuperSpar. There, I found ricotta cheese at the cheese counter (also: anchovies, fresh basil, tinned Italian tomatoes, crème fraiche and short French loaves, among other things). All SuperSpar’s tills were open, and I didn’t have to queue. Two managers patrolled constantly, answering queries, responding to bells, stacking trollies, etc. The packer leapt into action, and packed sensibly; and she wheeled my trolley to my car for me, helped me unload into the car boot and wheeled the trolley back. (I realise this is so that the trollies aren’t left around the parking lot by customers, and thus aren’t stolen, but it’s still a nice touch.)

So, a big THANKYOU TO MALMESBURY SUPERSPAR!! And I put on record that while this excellent service is delivered to customers, I will never shop anywhere else in Malmesbury.

* On the subject of cigarettes, if you want to buy a carton of fags at Shoprite Checkers, ask for it when you arrive and before you start your shopping. If you don’t, and leave it until you get to the checkout, someone will be summoned from the other side of the shop, handed a key, and asked to fetch the carton, presumably from a storage facility in another town. This person will wander off as if she’s on a weekend ramble, stopping on the way to have a lengthy chat with the security guard at the front door. And the chances are very good, even if you’re patient and wait for 20 minutes, that you’ll never see her again.


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How stupid does Hollywood think we are?


I’ve had the unfortunate experience recently of watching not one but two much-vaunted Hollywood productions – one TV series, one movie – that made me absolutely bloody furious to have wasted my good money and time on them. (Again.)

The first was Steven Spielberg’s Terra Nova, which debuted on DStv earlier this week. As usual, MNet ran and reran its teaser for weeks in advance, until every time I saw it I wanted to smack a teenager. I’m repeatedly reminded by my children that neither of them is a teenager any more, so I had to be satisfied with screaming at the TV “For chrissake we’ve seen this four hundred fucking times already!” which is nowhere near as satisfying.

It didn’t help that when the series finally aired, much of the cast was made up of unbearably irritating teenagers. When one got eaten by a dinosaur, I cheered.

But that was the only high point. Oh, and the set’s pretty marvellous, mainly because it was shot on Australia’s Gold Coast, one of the most beautiful places in the world. Other than that, from the storyline to the script to the actors to the score, it was bloody dismal.
 
The clichés came so thick and fast that I have to wonder if the writers were either stoned or taking the piss. There are plot holes so big (and some holes that are plugged with explanations so facile) that you could ride a Tyrannosaurus rex through them. And even for a non-scientist like me, the ‘science’ (which is, annoyingly, spouted by the Hollywood-cliché nerdy teenage girl) is just silly.

When it comes to the characters, I have no problem with the fact that they’re mainly extraordinarily goodlooking – in fact, I expect my movies to be populated by gorgeous people. But, really, it stretched the steel cables on which I tried to suspend my disbelief to breaking point to accept that Jim Shannon (played by Jason O’Mara) spent 2 years in solitary confinement in a ghastly prison breathing poisoned air, only to break out and into the future clean-shaven, pink of complexion and with a body that screamed good nutrition, plenty of exercise and piles of pampering.

As for Commander Taylor (Stephen Lang), the father-figure of Skye Tate (another teeth-grindingly irritating teenager, played by Allison Miller), he’s so freakishly creepy that I wouldn’t leave him alone in a room with my dog, never mind a nubile 17-year-old, no matter how annoying she is.

The musical score (by Brian Tyler) is blatantly used to evoke emotion – and I can only assume this is because the makers of the series realised that their plot, script and characters never could. So it’s soaring orchestral music – cue awe and wonder; short sharp violins – cue fear and loathing; and so on. It’s simply shameless.

 *
 
The other movie I watched was The Hangover Part II. I loved The Hangover with its quirky (although not exclusively gorgeous) cast, ridiculous story-line and wicked (if at times tasteless) script, so I was looking forward to the follow-up. And when comic-gangster Leslie Chow (played by Ken Jeong) came into the movie penis-first (and shortly afterwards with his underpants around his knees), I assumed it was going to be more of the same.

I was wrong. It was as if the script of The Hangover had been handed over for rewriting to a group of male college students along with a large supply of Klippies and Coke and several baggies of dagga. And the change of location, from spiritedly sinful Las Vegas to the depraved and dissolute backstreets of Bangkok, set the scene for a film in which almost everything was both unfunny and offensive.

Casual cruelty to an animal, the tattooing of a 9-year-old boy, the kidnapping of a Buddhist monk and subsequent noisy invasion of the monks’ sanctuary, the stereotyping of a Thai father with unreasonable expectations of his children, the blatant bigotry, the selfish, snobbish stupidity (as opposed to simple cluelessness in the first movie) of Alan (Zach Galifianakis)… I sat there open-mouthed, wondering how this load of rubbish had actually made it onto the screen. And in a film crammed with low points, the very lowest was the graphic description of Stu (Ed Helms) being ‘fucked in the arse by a ladyboy’ while being watched by his friends and Chow, who was being jerked off by a nicotine-addicted monkey. No matter which way I spun this, I just couldn’t find the humour in it.

There was one sequence that, in this sad shambles of a movie, entertained and (almost) amused me. It’s when Alan – who we have to assume has some sort of mental disorder that causes him to see the world through the eyes of a 12-year-old – has a flashback to the previous night, and all the characters are played by young boys. In Alan’s memory, these naughty, out-of-control tweenies (he is one of them, of course) wreak havoc in the tawdry bars of backstreet Bangkok. Unfortunately, this sequence also revealed the movie’s ideal audience: pre-teen boys. Assuming, that is, that their mothers wouldn’t mind them seeing full-frontal shots of ladyboys and being subjected to play-by-play accounts of how these ladyboys have sex with their off-their-tits clients.

·    Oh, I also tried to watch X Men: First Class. It’s populated largely by teenagers. I managed to sit through 20 minutes of it before I had to switch it off and pour myself a large whisky. Which was much the way I made it through my own children’s teen years.


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Thursday, 26 January 2012

A clue that everything isn't going to be alright

There are many reasons the only marriage I’ve ever had failed, and there were clues as early as our wedding day that things were going to go bad, if not immediately, then some time shortly after that. (In the event, it took the traditional seven years for things to truly fall apart, but I spent six of those getting pregnant, giving up smoking, having children, getting very fat, taking up smoking again, getting very thin, and going mad. So they don’t count.)

First, I chose green as my key colour. How was I to know that of all the colours a bride may wear, green is the one not to opt for – it’s bad luck. (‘Married in white, you’ve chosen right; married in green, you’re ashamed to be seen’, apparently.) Also, I carried arum lilies, my favourite flowers – but which are more usually used at funerals (more bad luck). And we got married in May, traditionally the only month of the year to avoid for nuptials (‘Marry in the month of May and you’ll surely rue the day’).

But it was about a week after the wedding, when my new husband and I were house-sitting for my parents, that an incident highlighted the almost certain future downfall of our partnership. My mother had a wall of family photographs, and she wasted no time in blowing up one of our wedding pictures, framing it beautifully and giving it pride of place.


I came across my husband staring thoughtfully at it one morning. “What’s wrong with this wedding photograph?” he asked me. (This is the actual photograph.)

I examined it closely. “My brother’s face is partly obscured?” I guessed.

“No,” he said.

“My sister’s hand on my mom’s shoulder looks like a tarantula?”


He shook his head.

"My other sister looks like she has antennae?"

"Uh-uh."

“The two women in blue shouldn’t have been standing together?”

"Nope," he said.

“Okay, I give up,” I said. “What’s wrong with this wedding photograph?”

“I’m not in it.”

*

My ex-husband actually showed remarkable good humour about this. He took the picture off the wall, and carefully prised open the back. Then he went through our wedding pictures and chose a suitable one of himself, which he cropped into a head-and-shoulders format. This, he glued into the top right-hand corner of the pic, in much the same way as a member of a sports team who isn't present on the day the team photograph is taken, is represented in a school magazine. Then he put the frame back together and hung it back on the wall. And that's how it stayed until my mother finally realised what had happened, and with much apologetic bowing and scraping, replaced the pic with one that included the groom.

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Monday, 16 January 2012

Fire!

When you live in a place of temperature extremes, you tend to forget, when it’s hot, how cold it can get; and when it’s cold, how hot it can get. Like the simply stupid pain of childbirth, the memory becomes but a signpost to the reality: you know it’s wild, but until you’re right in it again, you forget just how wild it really is. To drag this metaphor out into its own extreme, I recall screaming, ‘Bring me drugs! BRING ME DRUGS YOU BASTARDS!’ in my 18th hour of ‘natural’ (har-de-fucking-har) childbirth the first time around; the second time it took me all of about 15 minutes to hiss at the expectant father, ‘I swear I will tear your face right off your skull unless you get me drugs this second, and I don’t care if you have to sell our first child to do it.’ And I meant it.


So although I’ve been waiting for the stunning (and I mean this word as it’s meant, rather than as something a 16-year-old might say about her BFF’s mad hair) heat of summer to hit, it’s still been a slight surprise that it has. And, to be perfectly honest, the catch-phrase ‘bring me drugs, bring me drugs you bastards’ applies every bit as much to the berserk things constant 40-degree-plus temperatures do to your brain as it does to the simply stupid pain of childbirth. 

And then there are the fires. 

Just as in winter, you would sell your first child for two rain-free days so you can get some winter woollies dry and not go out smelling as if your clothes have been in Fungus the Bogeyman’s waterobe for a month, in summer, you would sell your second child for the slightest hint of moisture from the iron sky. And that, thankyou unforgiving universe, is when the fires start. 

Fire season is a big deal in these parts because much of it is farmland. I can’t begin to imagine the despair you must feel after having nurtured a crop from planting through to near-fruition, only to have it decimated by fire. 

The latest one (and it won’t be the last) burnt spectacularly in the valley next-door to ours for about a week. By day 2 it had turned our valley – and ours is, not to boast or anything, a pretty vast valley, encompassing serried mountains, several towns, hundreds of farms, a huge and I mean HUGE dam, and so on – dark. As the sun rose on Monday we were coaxed out of doors by preternatural light, and I would not have been in the least surprised if space ships had landed and spat out tall people with podlike heads who demanded to be taken to our leader. Which obviously would be interesting, because where does Jacob Zuma actually live? And anyway would I be okay with taking them to him? I’d be more inclined to take them to, say, Johann, who would at least offer them a glass of something refreshing before finding out if they’re going to turn us all into sex slaves, which actually Johann might like, so that might not be the best… but I digress. 


I love how the flaming sun reflected on Jill's firepit
mosaic - it really brought it to life!
The day the sky went dark was also, coincidentally (some might even say serendipitously), a full moon. Wild, hey? Directly below is my pic of the smokey full moon through the Natal mahogany in my back garden; (taken with my phone camera because some piece of vomit stole my Olympus) below that is Dan Bush's gorgeous full moon through a tree - for more of his amazing moons shots, go here.































Everyone needs a chill-out spot. I came in from admiring the moon to find this lovely Cape toad cooling its heels (and everything else) in the dogs' water bowl. I obviously wanted to take a picture of it there, but I laughed so loudly that I scared it, and it hopped away - I snapped it as it hotfooted across the verandah.




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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A busy couple of months

A car for one day

My son finally got his driver’s licence in September, so the next step was securing him a car. We found a lovely little CitiGolf, which languished in the driveway until all the paperwork and other admin was sorted out: licensing, insurance, fitting a gear lock, that sort of thing. Finally, he was fully legal and able to take his car out on the road, and off he went to buy mosaics for a course he was taking with mosaic artist extraordinaire Jill Gordon-Turner. Alas, a particularly badly signposted and busy intersection in Bellville, combined with his lack of experience in heavy traffic, resulted in a collision that instantly wrote off his little car. (The Land Rover he hit had a couple of scratches on it.)

On the plus side: Nobody was hurt.

On the minus side: My insurance covered only balance of third party, so the loss of the CitiGolf was a sizeable financial blow.


A lunch a month later

Bestselling author, lover of tacky ’70s music and all-round good guy Tony Park and his wife, the irrepressible Mrs Blog, put me on their yearly western Cape visit list, so I was thrilled to get an email early in November that read ‘see you on the 20th’. I gathered a posse of party people for a lunch on the verandah, but by the time 3 o’clock came round, the Parks hadn’t arrived and I was beginning to worry that they had missed their plane or otherwise come unstuck. I phoned Tony, who was still in the Kruger Park. ‘I meant the 20th of December,’ he explained.

On the plus side: We had another lunch on the verandah on the 20th of December.

In the pic: Chef BelAir and Tony Park hang out on the verandah on the morning of the 21st of December (the lunch, as usual when the Parks visit, went on into the next day).


Thieves in the night #1

Early in December, my daughter extended my hospitality to a stray who washed up at the pub she worked at, waking me at midnight to ask if he could stay over in our house as he’d missed his lift home. Although I generally operate an ‘open door’ policy in my home, I wasn’t thrilled about this as I prefer to actually meet the people who end up in my house overnight, and my misgivings were well placed: the man left at some stage during the small hours (after, bizarrely, having a shower), and so did R400 out of my bag and my beloved little Olympus digital camera.

On the plus side: My daughter learnt a valuable lesson about how crap some human beings can be.

On the minus side: I had to chalk up yet another financial loss.


Thieves in the night #2

My friend, photographer Tracey Derrick, spent New Year’s Eve with us. She lives on a fairly remote farm on the other side of the mountain, so she slept over. When she got back to her house at lunchtime on the 1st of January, it was to discover that some bastards had broken in and stolen her brand-new digital camera (a gift, as it happens, from a group of us for her 50th birthday) and various other things.

On the plus side: That old South African adage, ‘it could have been worse’ – she and her children weren’t in the house when the thieves broke in, and they didn’t actually clean her out.

On the minus side: Financial loss, that awful feeling of having been invaded, the wake-up call that even out here in the country, life is changing for the worse.

A surprise flower

I’ve had this golden arum plant for about 10 years and it’s never flowered – I didn’t even realise that it could flower. Then, amazingly, the day after Christmas, it produced this astonishing bloom.


A Christmas present for Goldie

Goldie the mad hen hatched out two more little chicks the day before Christmas – Dot (the yellow one) and Dash (the black-and-white one). Goldie is a remarkable hen – she’s a consistently excellent layer and a marvellous mom to her chicks. She’s at least five years old – the lifespan of a domestic hen is around seven years, although some chickens have been known to live a lot longer than that, and I’m hoping Goldie will be one of them.


Say hello to Dweezil

Our friend Ruan was sitting next to the pool on New Year’s Eve when this berserk little bird flew into the garden and landed at his feet. Ruan tried to return it to a nearby tree, but it was having none of it: it had, apparently, chosen Ruan as its foster parent. We named it Dweezil (after Frank Zappa’s son). It is a charming but very noisy and demanding little bird, and Ruan very quickly tired of his parenting duties. Dweezil, a young pied starling, is now resident on the barrel in the back garden, where he gets a meal of dogfood and bananas every morning. He loves it when anyone comes outside, and immediately flies onto their head and shouts loudly.

On the plus side: It’s fun having a tame wild bird around the place.

On the minus side: He craps everywhere.


Seeing in the New Year with a totally needless bang

Change is inevitable, and our little village has been experiencing it over the past few years – some good, some bad. A very unfortunate development is that locals and visitors are now setting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Many animals are made crazy with fear by the noise, and try to escape it by running away, and end up being run over or lost. I’m not a fan of legislation, but I would love to see fireworks banned in all built-up areas where there are pets that might be affected by the noise.

On the minus side: People who mindlessly terrify animals for the sake of a few minutes of visual spectacle.


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