Monday, 30 November 2009

Return of Big Son

Big son and his wife have finally stopped dithering and decided to return to South Africa for good after eight years of a successful and comfortable life in London. The main reason for this is the arrival of their first baby and the realisation that they are missing out on extended family life and the advantages there would be in having both sets of grandparents readily available! They have done what they set out to do i.e.- lots of travelling. NB. They said their cheapest holiday anywhere had been to LA and the Grand Canyon. So they arrived yesterday morning in Cape Town after a not uneventful departure from London. Firstly, the shipping guys arrived early to fetch their 32 boxes and sundry furniture with the result that my distracted daughter-in-law authorised them to take their chest of drawers still containing most of my son’s clothes! At the airport, SAA was unrelentingly strict with their luggage allowance and they had to remove 4 kilos of luggage from each of their three cases and buy another suitcase for these items, and leave it with one of the posse of close friends who had come to see them off. Prior to all that my son found they had seriously misjudged the amount of stuff they owned and had begged space in a friend’s garage for another ten boxes and his bicycle. Luckily, they had been able to sell their car to another friend. On arrival at our house after an ecstatic reception from their arrival committee here, it was discovered that the baby’s suitcase with all her clothes was missing. Frantic phone calls later and a quick trip back to the airport and the case was recovered. We don’t know if they will settle here - they are still shell-shocked at the cost of our disposable diapers. For the moment, my son has to travel back to London for one week a month, so he will be able to bring back more of their things each time. Surely half of his luggage allowance will be diapers! Still, one thing at a time. They are looking forward to a great family Christmas in the hot African sun! I’ve carefully not mentioned that we often have rain on Christmas day.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Customer Service de Luxe

Apologies for lack of blogs! My son is returning home from the UK for good with his wife and baby - we have been madly painting and decorating as they will stay with us for a while.......

My brother, a nostalgia freak who can’t throw away his old tools, sent me the following e-mail correspondence between himself and the Sales Manager at Presto International Ltd:

Subject: History and drill bits

Hi there, I'm thrilled to discover that Presto has survived depressions and assetstrippers and is alive and well in Sheffield. I would love to replacesome of the the broken drill bits in my 20 year old Presto imperial drill index with genuine items, can you tell me of a toolmerchant/stockist in the north Worcestershire/southwestBirmingham/Dudley area or website that could help?

Many thanks
Good Afternoon M,

It is very good to hear such kind words. Yes we are still alive andmanufacturing drills in Sheffield ( even though we are now owned by a Chinese operation) We hope to continue and develop. Drop me a line with your address and I would be happy to send you a complimentary drill set. Look forward to hearing from you

Best Regards

Kevin BlackwellSales ManagerPresto International Ltd,

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Saturday Giggle

My daughter was most upset today as a truck side-swiped her car while squeezing past and knocked off and destroyed her wing mirror. I was sympathising with her and telling big son about it on the phone, when husband was heard to say meaningfully in the background...

"Why do you automatically blame the truck driver?"

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

None so Bilnd as Those Who Will Not See

It’s amazing how you just don’t see things or people you know if they are not where you expect them to be. The most obvious examples would be indicators on cars which on your old car were on the left of the steering wheel are now on the right hand side - how long does it take to get used to that! Ditto the petrol-filling cap. Some-one moves something in the fridge onto a different shelf and apparently it can’t be found (husband suffers from this kind of myopia). We got a new vacuum cleaner - I couldn’t find the pipe extension for how long because it fits inside the other pipe and for ages I just draped the electric cord over the top until I discovered the correct fittings for it were on the side. The worst has been that I have been convinced that the new video machine has no counters which slays me because that is how I locate and play things I have recorded. I searched the instruction booklet and went to ‘Menu’ and listened to the funereal voice of the ‘help’ and watched carefully as she went through all the options. Nothing. In the end I sent e-mails to the ‘Contact Us’ address - no reply - and in the end telephoned their help desk - just follow the lady’s lead, I was told. Back to square one. Finally, I swallowed my pride and asked my husband. He sat patiently with the instruction book and abracadabra the numbers appeared! (Press OK four times - the last page of the instruction book - not on the Menu at all.) How smug was he. But the display is on the TV screen, and not visible while you are recording! I got my own back the following week-end when my husband had me searching all over the other house where the old vacuum cleaner now resides, for one of its pipes. Blow me down if it wasn’t still attached to the machine in its rightful place. He had been looking inside the other pipe.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Gone For Good, Harlan Coben

November, 2007

I discovered this author only recently but am glad to see he is on the bestsellers' stand as he is a delightful writer with a flair for comedy. Although he takes us into the sewers of American society where there are so many horrors, he does it often with a light touch that makes him very readable and not a bit depressing. His originality is refreshing and his plotting artful and satisfying, take this description of a transvestite prostitute:
Many transvestites are beautiful. Raquel was not. He was black, six-six, and comfortably on the north side of three hundred pounds. He had biceps like giant hogs wrestling in sausage casing, and his six-o-clock shadow reminded me of Homer Simpson’s. He had a voice so high pitched it made Michael Jackson sound like a teamster boss - Betty Boop sucking helium….Raquel claimed to be twenty-nine years old, but he’d been saying that for the six years I’d known him. He worked five nights a week, rain or shine, and had rather a devoted following. He could get off the streets if he wanted. He could find a place to work out of, set up appointments….But Raquel liked it out here. That was one of the things people did not get. The street may be dark and dangerous, but it was also intoxicating. The night had an energy, an electricity. You felt wired out on the street.”
(Gone for Good, p.65)
I’ve now read a number of his books and not once have I been disappointed - unlike some others who go downhill when they get prolific - Jeffrey Deaver for one.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Little Pink Fairies

4th November 2007

I was caught on the hop re Halloween last year - forgetting about knocks on the door just after dark and pretending to be scared of six-year-olds dressed up as witches and other nightmarish creatures in masks. It is not a tradition I grew up with and it only really started in our street ten years ago when all our street’s children were small and the lady round the corner had opened a toy shop, so she was selling the costumes and masks. As the street’s children are now all grown up, last year we didn’t even have one knock at the door. Early this week however, a note was put in our letter-box to remind us to have sweets for the night of the 31st. It turned out that one neighbour was having a party and when small son went over for a recce at about 5.30 because our street was full of parked cars, he came rushing back to tell me that there were about 15 little children in the house all in the final stages of having their faces made up and costumes put on. Our neighbours belong to an Athletics Club and these were their (younger) friends’ children. In a panic, I had to rush out to the nearest shop. Just as well. Although I was prepared to find opening the door for an hour or so a real nuisance (that’s when cook dinner), I have to say, even my stony heart melted at the sight of the first lot - seven little girls in adorable pink & white costumes with fairy wings. They even had big sisters at the rear - dressed very convincingly as Playboy bunnies. After dark, came the boys with their scarier costumes. And as always, although I had made up small packets of identical goodies, you get the one who is sure his friend has a better packet and grabs it in favour of his own. There’s always one.

Friday, 13 November 2009

A Matter of Tact

October 15th 2007

It’s always nice to speak to my son in London and he phones a lot (misses us). It was his birthday last week (28) and although we all sent cards well in advance there was a postal strike their side and he only received them a week late. I thought mine was a nice one - cute pencils with laughing faces in a pencil pot “To the sharpest pencil in the box” I had written, mindful of the need to make my absent child feel special. He pretended to grumble about his sister’s one though - something about “How does it feel to be getting old so fast?” I suddenly remembered one he has sent me a few years back - a picture of a hippopotomas in a very tiny bikini. I reminded him. Thoughtful silence for a moment. Then, “I just thought it was a cool picture.”
Well, there you are then - but I must say, the length of the silence gave me food for thought.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Heart-Rending Love Story

October 24th 2007

We all have our favourite romantic film but an interview with Claude LeLouch on our TV recently reminded me forcibly of mine and I never knew who the director was until now. It was called “A Man and a Woman” (in French), it starred Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant and it was released in 1966 when I was 16. I was entranced. Now I see that the famous director/producer/script writer & cameraman to boot, made the film on a tight budget. He was asked about the significance of the indoor scenes - shot in black and white - which it was thought gave it great artistic significance. Oh, he smiled, it was just much cheaper than colour. This modest, quiet man then commented that Hollywood movies today are big on budget, low on plot whereas his own movies tend to be small money but dealing with complicated subjects. He was in the news because his latest film “Cross-tracking” (I think) was shown at a film festival at the same time as “Oceans 13”. When his film was over it received a standing ovation for no less than 20 minutes. Got to see that.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Nasty Neighbours

Why is it that some people are just born to be aggressive? We have such neighbours on both sides of our house. Both look for any opportunity to fight - and have upset almost everyone in our street over the last 15 years (and they show no signs of ever moving.) Regarding the lady on our left, my husband has had nightmares and sleepless nights over her and has told me that if her house burnt down he wouldn’t lift a finger to save her (not true in the event) - but this from a person who is the kindest man in the world and is always the first to help anyone in trouble. The man on our right rushed out this morning, all guns blazing, because two guys from the municipality had the gall to be standing on his property looking at his water meter. Where was their job sheet, he demanded? How could they pitch up with no warning? What had a leak in another street got to do with his house? It turned out that the aforementioned leak had been caused by someone putting up a wall. In the halcyon days when this suburb was built, no-one had any walls in front of their homes and the municipality, perhaps without sufficient forethought, placed many of the water meters exactly on the boundary lines. Today, they are often in the way of wall foundations and so the municipality has decided to move them (free of charge) for anyone that requires it. Naturally, our neighbour won’t ever make any changes at all to his property, and as he pointed out, the meter has stood in its present position for 40 years so no thank you. In the confusion, I overlooked the probability that my husband would appreciate having ours moved, anxious as I was to get back into my house. The same happened when we asked the municipality to trim the tree on our pavement: they came when I was out and the neighbour rushed out and created a scene and they went hastily away and did nothing at all. I’ll have to phone them back. I even went to see a psychologist about these miserable neighbours - such a nervous wreck was I. He simply shrugged his shoulders and said - some people just enjoy being assholes. It’s like breathing to them.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Mature Mom

The tea lady (aged 42) was having a good laugh the other day in my husband’s office - and not only because she was handing over the 5 kilograms of wet tea-bags. First, she noticed (huge guffaws) that my husband’s fly was open (so much for having a new zip put in last week!) Second, she told him that she was six months pregnant. Now Margaret is not a small lady and has grown up children already so my husband joked with her and asked her why she wanted another child at her age? More huge laughs: “Ach, meneer - dis net dit my man het nog baaie lewe in hom!” (“Oh sir, it’s just that my husband still has lots of life in him! (Afrikaans). No worries. I am sure that this will be a healthy baby and will grow up in a loving stable home. I wish that my daughter could be as relaxed about her first - but then the tea lady can’t afford those terrifying tests.

Monday, 9 November 2009


I am finding it hard to believe what has happened to me so far today….I sat down at the ‘phone table’ in the passage and it collapsed under me. (My husband made it at school- 42 years ago.) I side-swiped my prescription glasses once too often while dusting - they fell onto the tiles and a lens broke. I forgot that I had put my bunch of keys down the back of my shorts’ waistband (don’t ask) and they fell into the toilet and at the moment guys are taking out a big tree in our front garden and its roots are unbelievably entangled in the municipality’s electricity cables. It looks as if there are black snakes mating down there. I can’t look. In contrast to these ominous signs, the flower on my kitchen window sill has produced two perfect blooms during the night. Maybe I am being told I should get my eyes tested, let people get on with their work and believe that otherwise all is well. Oh, and I went out specially to buy an urgently needed item and came back without it, having forgotten what I went for. But that’s normal.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Same Old, Same Old

I was thinking at gym this morning, how amazingly patient our teacher is: every week there are new members and she has to explain from scratch everything that is involved and all the way through the hour-long lesson she encourages and helps us and explains exactly which muscle groups we are using etc. etc. Of course, this is what all good teachers do. It used to drive me nuts though: one year I had six grade 8 classes and 2 grade 9s, 13 - 15 year olds, about 36 in a class and many sharing desks - and I had to teach the same lessons over and over again in the same week. I fear that those that came to me towards the end of the week got a bit of a raw deal. God forbid that I should be given the same classes the following year. I would have gone mad. I hate routine - once I thought I was losing my mind when for a short period I rebelled against getting up in the morning and going to bed at night! In those days we got one free period a day (if we were lucky). I compare this to the ridiculously idealistic situations in movies where the teacher devotes herself to one particular class - apparently her only class that day - and changes them from street ruffians into model citizens. What was the name of that one with Michelle Pfeiffer? There have been others since. I cannot imagine how awful it must be to teach today. At least then we were allowed a modicum of disciplinary measures. I wonder what the future holds. Our government is already looking at plans to revise our newly-revised education system as the latest one is proving itself disastrous. Hopefully, the wheel will turn back to the good old days of the 3 Rs and most adults will again have a basic level of literacy. We now have a lot of private schools in South Africa - all with enormously huge fees and a big non-refundable deposit up front. The teachers there are so concerned with ‘keeping bums on seats’, they have to be especially nice to the children so that parents don’t remove them from the school.

A Surfeit of Teabags!

My husband staggered in last night after work bearing a large, obviously weighty plastic bag. It proved to be no less than 5 kilograms of wet tea bags!! He had asked the tea lady to save some for him and she took only two days to assemble these - 165 employees in the building. He expressed due gratitude and I am now relieved of my own collecting duties (a poor yield of only 6 bags in two days at home). The new arrivals are now resting on trays in the sun in my back garden, looking for all the world like piles of autumn leaves awaiting disposal. I hope my husband is now satisfied - after all, I don’t think we have more than one braai a month. Somewhat aggrieved, he says that I don’t appreciate his efforts at economy - apparently, the gas for his blow torch is expensive. My mother would say this is penny-wise and pound foolish. I’m just glad they are no longer in my kitchen.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Hubby's New Thing

My husband, like most men, loves a gadget: witness his love affair with the GPS, leaf vacuum, garden shredder, home generator etc. etc. His current fad is very irritating if not as noisy or expensive viz an economical way to light the braai (barbeque) fire. I have been asked to squeeze out my used tea bags and dry them with a view to soaking them in paraffin for use at some vague date in the future (because when at home, he currently blasts the fire into a volcano with his blow torch). This new plan is for when we go on a ‘back to nature’ holiday. In the meantime I can feel my patience sapping fast as my kitchen looks untidily like someone in the last stages of severe penury with tea bags in various staging of drying in little plastic tubs on the window sills and every other available space. I do hope this idea doesn’t work as I have visions of ubiquitously drying tea-bags like stockings and knickers in the bathrooms when we shared digs as students.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Lesson Learnt?

I had to ask small son for the umpteenth time to move his car out from under the carport down the side of the house (his father’s parking place) before said father’s imminent return from his day’s work. Small son was typically full of excuses - this time he had needed the hosepipe on the wall to wash out his car’s upholstery as a flask of coffee had exploded on the back seat, covering everything in stale coffee and curdled milk. I was secretly rather pleased at this, knowing how much elbow grease has to be employed to remove such awful smells and hazarding a guess that the said flask had been reposing in the car for more than a week - along with bits of left-overs in McDonald’s packets, sundry apple cores etc. etc. Will this have taught small son a lesson? I think not. Some character flaws are thicker than water (not quite the right metaphor but you catch my drift?) - one of which is laziness. The correlation of the results of being lazy with the ensuing need for hard work have not yet sunk into small son’s brain viz. an unlovely history of failed exams, to give but one example.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Self Knowledge

October 31st 2007

When push comes to shove, we all have to live with ourselves and we can’t escape our own skins. So it helps to be honest and verbalize our own faults (at least in private) and analyze them in a life-long attempt at self-improvement. Thus I have long since confessed to myself my addiction to blogging and to my computer in general and have acknowledged that my house is beginning to show visible signs of neglect which I shall have to do something about. Even my husband is running his hand along furrows of dust and starting to ask what did I do today? This is totally my own fault - I forgot to fetch his favourite trousers from the zip repair lady (for the 3rd day in a row) and he really wanted to wear them today, thus stupidly focussing his attention on 'how did I spend my day?'. Otherwise, as long as I have a nice dinner ready at night, keep the ironing up to date, the garden fairly neat, the pool backwashed and make him oats and a packed lunch in the morning - I can be a free agent for the rest of the day. I can almost convince him, of not myself, that this is a full-time list of things to do, but to be honest - it can all be done in a couple of hours. Witness the day I asked an estate agent to value the house - I cleaned and tidied up like a mad thing and got far more done than I usually do in a week. Now when it came to my son’s second Maths exam this morning, I was full of sage advice viz “Don’t go to bed too late, what you don’t know now you will never know, relax, be very calm when you go into the exam, have a good breakfast, organise your time while you are writing, leave the hard questions and go back to them later….and so on.” Of course, when I was in the same boat at his age, I was a bag of nerves, hadn’t prepared properly, often worked all night and faced an exam bleary-eyed, with crib notes on my wrist, gazing around at everyone else writing and not even picking up my pen and as often as not, had gone to the pub the night before. Hypocrite!