Friday, 29 October 2010

Thoughts About Surnames

Did you know that surnames were originally devised so that the first tax collectors could keep track of individuals? We all know that there are a lot of Smiths and Carpenters about but when they ran out of the common trade names, they had to be more inventive. Thus : someone who had large feet, pied de grue (feet of a crane) became Pettigrew. Names like Rousseau, Rouse, Russell and Ross indicated someone with red hair. Now, my favourite columnist thinks in today's South Africa, we could do with names like: “Stuckup, Myright, Overnow and Changewind……Houselost, Jobslost and Headingoff”. In February 2008, I would like to venture my own additions viz. Lightsoff, Powergone and Emigrate. …..And briefly to another topical matter... I see the guys have returned as promised to fix the water meter. They are tapping gently at the rather massive concrete structure with which my husband had ring-fenced the tap and one is saying sorrowfully, “Die ding is hieltemaal toegeconcrete”. ("The thing is completely concreted in" - did you spot the Anglicism? In South Africa we are quite lazy with our two most popular languages - English and Afrikaans - and we often intermix words - to the horror of purists. Well, of course, my husband never does things by halves. What will they do now?

2010 Update... well we are still here - but have bought a generator as we are promised many huge powercuts when out electricity company finally gets around to building several last-chance nuclear power stations. No one yet knows from whence the money will come. Give you one guess though.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Not without a Snag

I’m a little short on blogging material today, partly because I’ve stopped having the Sunday paper delivered, on principle, because they took the job away from a lady who really needed the pittance paid and never missed a Sunday in five years, placing the paper right inside my security gate always before 6.00 a.m., (how spoilt were we?) and gave the contract elsewhere - to someone who drives past and throws it onto the driveway, and not at all early. On the good side, I telephoned the water department at our municipality yesterday and played some on-screen Scrabble while waiting for a person to speak (listening to some very nice classical music and no ads at all!). This meant that I was eventually very polite nice to the person on the other end, explaining that no I didn’t have a burst pipe or other emergency but there appeared not to be a special number to dial if you wanted to have your meter moved out to the pavement so that you could put up a wall. Being nice to him resulted in him being nice back - lo and behold, I couldn’t believe it when a yellow truck pulled up outside my house this morning at 8.00 o’clock and digging commenced! Unfortunately, the course of true love never did run smooth, (to use the wrong metaphor) and they discovered a leak - on our side - caused by the weight of the concrete my husband had thoughtfully poured around the meter in an effort to protect it should the boat be driven over it too many times as we park it up the side of the house. The next minute they were called away to a burst pipe emergency, promising to be back later. Hope they keep that promise as there is now a big hole in the ground. Hubbie has to fix the leak.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Fear of Germs

One of our more fastidious columnists refers to his fear of germs contained in the plastic bags which surround home-made cakes for sale at school fetes, co-op shops and the like. His fear is occasioned by the conviction that someone has blown up the bag before closing it with an elastic band thus exposing the naïve purchaser to all kinds of bronchitis, halitosis or garlic fumes or worse. He can’t bring himself to buy them. This reminded me of when my mother-in-law, in a stout effort to bolster her youngest child’s successful bid to go to university - the only one of her large brood to do so - spent four years baking 23 sponge cakes every day for the local fresh produce shop in the small town in which they lived. It fell to Dad (a heavy smoker) to blow up the surrounding bags. Popular myth has it that mom’s cakes were always a sell-out: certainly no-one ever complained - not even on the day when one sank in the middle and mom shored it up with a piece of cardboard before putting the icing on. She was going to keep it for her own family. But she forgot and it got mixed in with the others. They all sold out as usual, and no-one said a word. The other thing I read this week said that if you are serving a dip to a crowd of people and someone puts their half-eaten biscuit back into it - they are adding another 10,000 germs to those already present.

I’ve decided to forget all of the above in order to remain sane.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Inheritance Debate

February, 2008, .....catching up

I heard that celebrity British cook, Nigella Lawson, has announced that she is to leave nothing of her fortune to her children. That has caused some heated debate in my neck of the woods. Some say their children are precious and must be given everything, others agreed with Nigella and said children must paddle their own canoes and sink or swim (for their own good, character-building and so on) and there are those who had reservations for various reasons and took a middle path. My take on this is based on what my parents told me when I was a teenager viz regarding any inheritance, my mother made no bones about it:

“Your father and I have worked hard all our lives and we intend to enjoy our retirement. When we die, there will be a paid-for house to divide between you and your brother, but probably not much else.”

In reality, circumstances change and what I notice today is that my own children are far better off than we were at their ages (mid-twenties) and I foresee that we shall not be all that well off when we retire but we still hope to be self-sufficient. To this end we have planned and saved as best we could. If we do need help one day - I fully expect my children to chip in. The interesting thing is how my own parents’ circumstances have changed. They have lived to their nineties and have an inflation-based civil service pension, so actually, because their lifestyle now is severely limited for health reasons, they are actually better off than they thought they would be because they have very small expenses, living on my brother’s property now, having a National Health service etc. So we all get very generous Christmas and birthday presents (and I get help with my tickets to the UK.) I’ve actually witnessed cases of children who can’t wait for their parents to die so they can get their hands on the money. How awful is that? My parents have actually dished out as much as they could while they are alive and have thus been able to see how much this has been appreciated and a godsend at the time.

….fast forward to October 2009 after my mother died. She on a whim left a considerable amount of money to her five grandchildren and nothing to my brother and myself, changing her will when she was 83. Perhaps she didn’t know she had so much. Meanwhile, my brother and I struggle on….. Someone once told me your children will always need more than your grandchildren. I hope I remember that.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Contact Lenses - The Final Outcome

I’ve been wearing my disposable, multi-focal, soft contact lenses for eight months now. My final tips are as follows:

· Keep your old glasses so that you can see to get the things out of their liquid bath in the mornings. You’ll need them in the evenings anyway.

· Buy yourself a x 5 magnifying mirror and position it in the morning so that daylight shines through a window straight into your eye from the left side. This means that if you have the lens inserted correctly you will be able to just see its outline about 3mm outside your iris. If you don’t do this you can’t always be sure that it is in and not still sticking to your finger or somewhere else. I went on holiday without realising that my left lens was actually stuck on the back of my mirror. I nearly gave myself an infection scratching at my eye, trying to find it.

· Don’t wear your lenses for more than about 10 hours a day - you will find your eyes starting to get bloodshot if you do. If your eyes get bloodshot earlier in the day, perhaps your lenses are getting old and you should discard them. DON’T FORGET TO TAKE THEM OUT AT NIGHT !!! If you feel anything in your eye during the day, take the lens out and rinse it again. This is well worth the hassle.

· I got an infection which took 3 days to clear, because of not removing my mascara at night and then rubbing my itchy eyes. Your eyes will feel a bit dry when you take your lenses out at night. I now often use eye drops before I go to bed.

· Do not expect perfection - glasses will at this point in time always be better. If just depends how vain you are. Older men look distinguished in glasses, older women - just look old. I’ve used my first six pairs of lenses now: some months I can see far with both eyes or just one and everything beyond my car’s bonnet is blurry: sometimes, I can see well to read with the left but not with the right and vice versa. I don’t know why there are these inconsistencies but I put up with them because:

In conclusion, I would rather put up with the imperfections of contact lenses than wear glasses. I just hope that they will gradually improve.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Silk Purse from a Sow's Ear

Continuing the family saga catch-up.... 29th January 2008

Forgive my obsession with idioms for the moment: I have become possessed with the need to keep up the colourful traditions of my youth - both my parents peppered their conversations with idiom and I am sad to see them go in today’s parlance, other than in the speeches of black politicians here who want to show off the fact that they have been to good schools. One of my parents’ favourites - they both often accused each other and also my brother and myself - of “the pot calling the kettle black!” - which also typifies the type of daily interaction in our nuclear family …. Anyway, the silk purse at the moment in question is the desired result of a good mark in Matric Maths Higher Grade. The sow’s ear in question: small son’s lack of ability. Like many parents, we have tortured ourselves in today’s South Africa with the thought: “should we or shouldn’t we have sent him to a Private School”? We didn’t and have had woeful Matric results. His (much) older brother and sister, attending the same government High school, had much better results. Bottom line: our thinking was “government schools were good enough for us, they will do for our children.” But the standard of teaching has definitely declined. Now, everyone says, “you should have sent him to a cram college - they guarantee good results.” According to my daughter, her husband did badly in Matric, redid it at one of these and got As in everything! (She is still in love you understand, so I cannot vouch for the veracity of this). Still. My husband tells me that at his work, all the (ambitious) coloured and black workers send their children to private schools - and they, as parents are only earning R6000 (about $750) a month! So important is a good education to them. I am humbled. We now feel we have done the right thing (if a little late,) and our son is now repeating 3 subjects, enrolled at Abbotts College for 17 Saturday lessons at R1350 (about $168)per subject. That’s it. We can’t do more. Now its up to him. Of course, it’s entirely possible that we’ve made him take the wrong subjects. Uncomfortable thought. Square peg in a round hole?

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Furniture on the Move

I popped in to see my best friend M today to find her house in uproar, looking for all the world as if she is packing up to move in a hurry. But no, M is just possessed of one of her periodical urges to re-arrange all the furniture and pictures throughout her house. This time it was sparked off by the arrival of a new bed which meant that her bedroom came under scrutiny and was found wanting. And so the rest of the house. The contents of cupboards are emptied out and must be moved to different cupboards in other rooms and here is M, happy in the midst of this chaos and here am I, every cell in my body revolting against it, unhappily sipping tea in my favourite chair - now moved into an unfamiliar position. I am nonetheless glad to find my favourite chair: although on reflection this is not really a worry as M is one of life’s hoarders. This month’s ‘Popular Mechanic’ features an article that caught my eye: it suggests that scientists are finding that far from coming closer together, different peoples are becoming more unlike each other than ever. I haven’t read it yet, don’t know if this is about genetics or other points of comparison. Still, it made me think about myself and M. My house, by contrast, has all its furniture and pictures in exactly the same places they have occupied for the last 17 years. Ok, the bedrooms (not mine) have changed a bit as the children have grown, demanded bigger beds or actually moved out but otherwise, I am satisfied that all of the above are arranged to the optimum of convenience and artistic merit. There must be something wrong with me.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Great Loves

Have you ever had one - or more? It’s something we all deserve but many never experience: some think they have it - but with time but it fades away, or worse morphs into a bitter parting, its origins a fantastical dream. For the lucky few, the dream lasts ‘until death do us part’. There are many examples of the statistical lucky few: just look at your local paper and the pictures of devoted old couples celebrating their 50th and 60th anniversaries. My literary favourites would be Abelard and Heloise and Cathy and Heathcliffe (Wuthering Heights). I was watching this week another ‘diet’ programme on BBC Prime, in which a complete fatty family goes over to the US for a ‘fat camp’ in a smart hotel setting. Not the husband though: he remained behind, content with his (fat) stomach straining the seams of his fishing stool. Both husband and wife were discreetly interviewed concerning their feelings about their partners’ excess pounds and the possible shedding thereof and even more discreet fishing about their feelings for each other. Typically, the wife was able to say, “…..he’s my life, he’s everything to me” (albeit somewhat embarrassed to produce the words), whereas the husband would only say, laconically, “…she knows how I feel about her.” Sometimes we females might wish our partners of some years would vocalise their feelings more as they did in the beginning but realistically, how often can you say the same things without eventually sounding clichéd? For many, actions are more diverse and speak louder than words: for example my man spent an afternoon replacing all the old plugs on chains in my house, with those nice pop-up ones. And I hadn’t even asked (well, not recently). This has completely changed my life! I am now a much nicer person. I know he would much rather have gone fishing. I love him for that.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Sex Diet

Just caught the tail end of a nature programme about the American Bison. Apparently, this great creature loses up to 100 kgms in the mating season, exhausting himself running around after females. If he is successful, he then has to jog around after her for another half an hour to make sure no other males challenge his gene pool. I thought this was food for thought…… as my husband and I are struggling to lose a bit of weight.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Family Ties

January 2008.... still catching up

Now that my parents are becoming really old, I have to face the fact that one day neither of them will be around – the first real sign of my own mortality. My husband says you only finally grow up when you lose both parents. In the post yesterday came a delightful Christmas card and letter posted in Australia from a cousin on my father’s side whom I hardly know. Well, I haven’t seen him since 1968 when he first emigrated to Canada but we have connected in the last year or so via e-mail when his mother passed away. I had been very fond of her: she was the one who kept tabs on the extended family and wrote to all of us on our birthdays, lovely long newsy letters about what everyone was doing and where they were. I am finding that M has inherited many of her genes, including the writing one. He is a few years older than me and I detect in his character, as he writes, a lot of the characteristics I admire in my dad. He looks a lot like him too. It was a similar thing when I had a letter out of the blue from another cousin who now lives in Perth. She was coming to SA for the first time with her fiancé and wanted to look me up: I had last seen her when she was a little girl: she is 10 years younger than me. There was a déjà vue moment when we met: she is the image of her mother, my dad’s youngest sister who used always to bring me books. It made me catch my breath. We found so many common interests. It’s like finding part of yourself, a puzzle piece that fits. It helps to define one’s place on the planet and in the scheme of things. As a family, we share genetically connected journeys through life, often we have loved and lost the same people. It’s very comforting. I realise I am grateful for my family, the whole darn lot, even when we sometimes don’t get on.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Musical Wedding Fun

24th January, 2008..... catching up

Just a last word on our January wedding which my son and his wife paid for and organised from London. It was on a wine farm near Cape Town and a stunning venue it was too. However as they flew over only a few days beforehand there was a bit of a rush about some of the finer details. The bridal couple had overlooked the fact that it was their duty to choose a hymn for the service: they thought either the parents or the minister had done it. Consequently, there was a panic on the Friday afternoon, and they rushed off to the shops to find a suitable CD. They hit upon “Amazing Grace” as a hymn everyone would know (not sure myself that a song celebrating the release from slavery is ideal for a wedding, but no-one asked me). In fact, last year, I had delegated the job of deciding the hymns for my daughter’s wedding her mother-in-law, telling her that she could choose anything she liked - except Amazing Grace. Well, our couple had not even listened to the appropriate track until it started playing on cue during the service. We had been given the words to four verses, so that was no problem, and we were all providing a generally lusty and tuneful rendition but then the instrumental accompaniment went off into a few extra twiddles and diversions between the third and fourth verses, no doubt to emphasise that the finale was coming up and naturally no-one noticed. Taking a breath after the second line however, there was a bit of a vocal gap and everyone could hear that the accompaniment was just starting the last verse! Huge embarrassment all round, with voices gradually trailing off into the wide blue yonder: thank God the minister eventually realised it was all up to him, “I think, we’ll skip the last verse”, said he, smiling - and we all sat thankfully down - giggles all round.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

This movie has just opened in South Africa so I had to see it poste haste as I haven't read the book yet. I wasn't going to read it but I am intrigued as most of the ladies in my Book Club didn't like it. The general feeling was that most of us could cure our periodic depressive states if we had the money to take a year off in style! I remember having the privilege to walk around Rome for one day and barely able to afford the cost of an ice cream. Setting that aside, the film is a visual delight and there are some delightful cameo performances by little known actors and there is a lot of charm - mostly provided by the delectable Julia of course. And there is some great music: usually I am amazed that there have been up to 20 odd songs in any movie I've seen as I am unable to take in the music while absorbing plot and dialogue. Maybe I noticed it in this movie because there were some of my favourite tunes. I mean how could you not notice "The Queen of the Night" aria while watching Julia eat spaghetti? It makes me think with longing at a society wedding we attended recently. If only there had been a Glen Miller Band, we would have danced all night.... If only! Well, the film was a bit too much like a travelogue for me, but there are some sweet life lessons to absorb along with your popcorn - some of her self-discovery you wouldn't need to spend a fortune on. You could do it the Shirley Valentine way.

Could we be Self-Employed?

21st January 2008.....

We are again getting quotes for putting a fence/wall along the front of our house - just so that my husband can work in his garage on week-ends without someone suddenly appearing in the doorway begging or asking for work, or knocking on our front door. We have resisted this walled idea since moving down to the Cape from Johannesburg 17 years ago when we were delighted with the open-style front gardens we found here. But needs must: times have changed. Almost everyone now has walls. The trouble is it is an expensive exercise. Still, we are getting quotes and today I struck up quite a conversation with the young man (in his thirties) who took the brave step eight years ago of setting up his own business. He freely admits that his wife does all the nitty-gritty admin which he is not good at and says that it was a huge decision when he started out, but although he works long and hard - somehow it is very different when you are working for yourself. He says he could never now work for a boss again. Never say never. But it is envy talking - my husband has often champed at the bit to leave his secure employment and ‘do something’ on his own. I have been the restraining influence for neither of us comes from families where anyone ran their own business and we had both been brain-washed about the ‘security’ of a job and a pension. He still yearns to do it though but I secretly think that you have to be at least a tiny bit dishonest to actually do more than break even or make a modest living. Even friends/family of ours think nothing of doing cash jobs ‘under the table’. I just don’t think I could ever do that, so we shall remain as we are - comfortable as long as he is working - and we shall suffer quite a drop in our standard of living when we retire. So be it. At least we sleep easy.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Short and Sweet

When I worked in an academic institution as an AA (Admin Assistant), I was appalled at how long documents were expected to be. If something could be expressed simply in one short sentence, it was inevitably worked on for days until it resembled an unintelligible 3 pages. My boss once wrote what I thought was a brilliant motivation for overseas funding for a new Chair in the Medical Faculty - it was a good, concise and persuasive 5 pages - and we were told that if we wanted to impress foreign benefactors, the document would have to be at least 30 pages long!! How daft is that? Can you imagine being faced with all this ‘puffed up bumf’? You would surely want to speed-read it to get down to the nitty-gritty i.e. the original 5 pages.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Big Day for Small Son

16th January, 2008..... continuing blog catch-up from June....

6.30 am. Hmm...glad I left the laptop charging. My best friend’s birthday today and my small son’s big day. We are (after lengthy consideration) forking out the money to lend him for a photo-shoot to set him up with a modelling portfolio. The agent phoned again after an initial meeting last year at which it was decided that son, M, while having a possibly marketable ‘look’ was not tall enough and lacked self-confidence. So I left it, but he called back last week. We are keeping it quiet in the family (who don’t read my blog!) to avoid all the inevitable teasing. Let’s just say that his Matric results left a lot to be desired and (after a lot of ‘hard talk’) he has agreed that the best thing is to re-sit 3 of his subjects in May/June to improve his marks, for whatever as yet nebulous course of study he may decide on in the future. …5.30 p.m.Later, the shoot went off OK, the power came on at 9.00 am but not in time for me to post this blog.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Pesky Pubes

I have been debating for while the pros and cons of dying my pubes, having watched them slowly diminishing and turning grey and contributing in no small manner to turning me off sex. I fear that my husband has noticed and is finding me less attractive. Actually, I don't know why I should think this as he prefers to make love in the dark. Anyway. I finally took the plunge because of by chance reading a novel in which a young girl popped in to visit her mother and found her spread-eagled in her bedroom, having just dyed her pubes! What a revelation! So I went and did it last week - on a morning when I thought I was alone in the house. I used a Henna preparation which I imagined to be some kind of natural product - remembering the days when i lived in Israel in my twenties and was astonished on one occasion when I ventured into a Turkish bath in Tel Aviv, to find numbers of Arab-type women, dripping in red watery streams of henna dye dripping down their naked bodies - I think they were dying their hair. Anyway, I had just finished and was off to the shower when my daughter walzed into my bedroom (she has her own key), but I managed to maintain my cool by hiding behind the bathroom door (she wouldn't want to know!) - and she mercifully left quite soon. The net result has been awesome! I now have these very black, nay, sooty -coloured pubes which I find really sexy! I couldn't care less what my husband thinks. Anyway, it will take time before he notices. So you see - there are things we can do to halt the passage of time! I should make small mention of the fact that the tops of my thighs have absorbed some of the dye too - so I have been busy with the pot scourer and the surgical spirits. No matter. I feel much more sexy than before.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Country Girl, by Clifford Odets

I saw this play last month in England, at a superb theatre in a small country town in the Cotswolds. I was excited when I sat down in the packed house because two of my favourite TV actors, Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove (of Judge John Deeds fame) were starring. What a disappointment - not the actors, the play. Rarely have I been so bored watching a stage production. No story, no action (the most exciting parts were the scene changes), just a static exchange of emotions between the three main actors, much better suited to TV or film and at most, the first six rows of a theatre audience. Martin Shaw had some scope for his virtuoso acting skills, but poor Jenny Seagrove merely drifted about the stage being the 'long-suffering' wife (no doubt as per the director's instructions). My point is that I could find no actual reviews of the play, only dazzling advance publicity. The programme said: "Like the play? Write a review for our webpage". I should have clicked that the operative word was 'like'. Clearly, my adverse review would be ignored. And was. After an extensive internet search, I did find a review of a New York production in 2008, which coincided exactly with my own feelings: different actors of course, so it had to be the play. The proof of the pudding was in our own audience's reaction. A lady next to us did not return after interval, and the muted conversations eavesdropped upon at the bar were all of one accord - big disappointment. Has anyone else out there seen this play? It was going on to London this month: my brother commented that audiences would vote with their feet. One thing I was impressed with though - the proliferation of excellent theatres in the English countryside. Culture is everywhere. On a more successful occasion, my sister-in-law took me to a Mahler concert in the Birmingham Symphony Concert Hall. Absolutely mind- blowing - the 8th. You can keep your pop concerts - give me the real thing.