Tuesday, 30 November 2010

More Building Woes

I went out deliberately all morning today, leaving small son to field the non-stop sob stories of our builder’s subcontractor; these vary from “we forgot our wheelbarrow/rake/screw driver/sharp knife can we borrow yours”, to the latest. The new slusher we bought doesn’t work - there’s something wrong with the washer”. Now work is on hold while someone is despatched to locate/borrow/buy another one. I am beginning to think these wall pillars will never be finished. My son-in-law had better stories though: his tiler didn’t pitch up for a few days because he was in gaol, and one of the brickies couldn’t come for two weeks, waiting for the end of the month because he had broken his angle grinder and had to wait for money to come in before he could buy another one. This is South Africa.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Spell it Out

My son was asked by his father to help him move the safe to a more secure position. Son readily agreed and got the help of a friend. Having duly ‘moved’ it, son was ready to skip off to go surfing and was highly indignant when his father insisted that he had only done half the job - the other half of which was to drill the requisite four holes through the back and floor of the safe and similar into the walls and floor of the house at the new location. (We have rather determined gun thieves in South Africa.) This part required a little elbow grease. A heated debate followed as to the interpretation of the word ‘move’. I made a mental note to intervene and act as interpreter next time as I have crossed swords with my son on similar ground before. I have learnt that it is necessary to spell out each step in painstaking and precise English, although I have to admit even this is not always a guarantee against the inventive and devious mind of a teenage boy trying to get out of doing a job around the house. I should add that we only have such firearms as are necessary for my husband and sons to help cull the venison on our in-laws farms every winter, which also helps greatly with our food budget. PS My son went on his annual two-week visit down to the farms with such a small bag, I felt obliged to peek in his cupboard. As the owner of 14 pairs of underpants, I counted 13 still on the shelf. Presumably, this applied to the rest of his clothes and he will return with significantly dirty/worn out items. Yuk. Even a girlfriend has not resulted in him changing his ways. What's wrong with today's girls?

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Winning Tickets

March 3rd, 2008....

An atmosphere of gloom and despair has descended onto our house. I didn’t lose my job or have a heart attack: my family are all well and I am not depressed. What has happened is apparently trivial - I washed my husband’s shirt with his Lotto tickets still in the pocket. Looking at his face, you would think the world was at an end. The huge downside is that I think I shall not hear the last of this for the rest of my married life: every time we might be in need of a substantial sum of money to fund whatever, my husband will hark back to today, giving me a martyred and reproachful look, and say that of course, he might have had the winning ticket. I can think of only one thing worse - KNOWING that you had the winning numbers - and having lost the ticket! ….. Fast forward to today – November 26th, 2010. Miraculously, time has had a healing effect and I have not been reproached about the washed tickets in the last twelve months! Until today – that is, when I actually lost the ticket on the way to the shop to have it checked. Unlike our normal modest purchase, my husband had won some money in a bet with our son-in-law, and had decided to splurge it on a 10-draw, double row ticket. THIS would definitely have been the ticket that enabled us to retire in splendour. Double whammy. Now he has remembered about the previous incident as well and I am constantly reminded of both. I shall never hear the end of this lot. (Indeed, what if we had won? It doesn’t bear thinking about.) I bought him another big ticket to make up but paradoxically he has already decided this is a no-win item as I have now brought a jinx into the situation. Alright, I’ll keep it then. I’ll let you know!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

It's All in the Detail

We are having a metal fence with pillars built across the front of our property, a bit like this pic.

When my husband came home on Friday, he basically blew a gasket, so inexpertly has the work on our fence pillars been done so far. I don’t have much technical savvy and so did not notice that the track for the rolling gate only had a wafer-thin layer of cement to run on and was already cracking, nor did I choose to notice….well, a fair bit of other stuff. Besides I felt rather sorry for the youngster running the crew and yes, he had not been there when all went cock-eyed on Wednesday and Thursday but I had thought that it would all be put right on Monday. So we went out for breakfast this morning before our regular trip to our hardware store for sundry rawl plugs, shelving etc.etc. and came back to find the same sorry crew, sent to put all to rights today. This did not improve my husband’s mood because in the end he had to sit down and draw everything for them with meticulous measurements, copy for the contractor which I must take to his office on Monday. I can’t help feeling that this should all have been done by the contractor on the original quote. Our fault for not insisting on precise specs for everything but we thought these were experienced people, vouched for as they were, by the referral company we have used. I remember thinking I should have insisted on contactable references at the time with photographs of completed work to go and look at. Still, even that is no guarantee: your work is only as good as your current workers and they come and go all the time. It’s a bit like rugby really: your team is only as good as your currently naturally gifted players. No reason why last year’s champions should retain their place next time.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Teenage Boys

I received a surprise ‘bonsela’ (free gift) the other day in the form of a water melon because I purchased more than R100 fruit and veg at our local Fruit ‘n Veg. I don’t usually buy a water melon for our small family although we do like them, as they are too big and also heavy for me to carry. This one weighed about 10 kilos, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. So having lugged it home I asked my son to take it over the road to our good neighbour, M, (as my husband was away) and ask him to cut it into thirds, some for him, some for us, and some for our other good neighbours next door to him. The last I saw of it was my son handing it over at their front door before dashing off with his surfboard to a waiting car full of friends. Two days later I asked my son what had happened to our share? “You never said anything about cutting it up,” he declared, but I could see a grin of recognition spread over his face. So I can guess what happened. Not wishing to miss his lift to the beach, my verbal instruction would have been shortened to:

“My mom said here’s a water melon for you.” Score one out of three: obviously the other family didn’t get their share either.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Marriage Down Time

This is only on a small scale, but very much appreciated - my husband is away for two days on business and I can do exactly as I like in the evenings. This means no cooking! Cheers! I can indulge in my favourite food - tonight it is large quantities of humous on white toast followed by a whole bar of Cadbury’s nut chocolate. I can carry a pot of tea or bottle of wine to my study and sit on the computer all night if I like, while listening to Leigh Benny on 567 Cape Talk Radio (Cape Town’s local radio station). Tonight they were interviewing a financier addicted at various times in his life to heroine. He is never really cured. Serious stuff. I needed to switch over to my taped Barry Ronge show from Sunday morning for some light relief, all the while glued to my computer screen. My small son shouts from the kitchen that he has made himself a mountain of pancakes (in the glaring absence of anything else to eat). So he’s fine. At 9.00 p.m. I am going to watch ‘The Da Vinci Code’ with him. He hasn’t seen it before but I have - twice. If my husband were here, we would be watching ‘Dirty Jobs’ on Discovery channel, but I can always watch a good movie a few times. My husband can’t see the point of this and won’t. Last night I went to bed and indulged in my taped chick flick ‘Beaches’ with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey (remember her?) Great sob stuff. Then I carried on with my book, a John Connolly - also great stuff, well past midnight. Then I switched on the radio to have some company while dropping off . (567 again - what nuts phone in during the small hours!). This is all because although we now have an alarm system with outside sensors, I am always nervous when my husband is away. I have a completely false sense of security if he is asleep beside me. Can’t wait for him to come back.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Battle of the Blades

Gillette recently released their newest razor blade the ‘Venus Embrace’ for women, featuring no less than 5 blades! This is the latest in a long line of one-upmanship with rivals in terms of how many blades can be squeezed onto one handle. What attracted me to this article in the Business Times (24.02.08) was the highlighted research-speak viz “Female shaving areas are more topographically varied” than men’s. Also notable is the solemn dedication of the researchers to the ‘emotional end benefits’ apparently crucial for women to experience while shaving. What could these be I wonder? Some sort of cosmic soothing brought on by the feel of the delicate curves and colours of the handle? I suppose it’s not that far removed from the feelings evoked by the sight of a curvaceous bottle of perfume, for example. I would never have thought that a disposable razor would have to have such bling. I reason that a razor cut on the shin is just as painful whatever the packaging and to my way of thinking, a thing with five blades just presents 5 more opportunities for inadvertently chopping bits out of your leg! I’m not totally low-tech though: I am partial to the double blade which can still be obtained by dropping to one’s haunches to the bottom of the smart razor gondola, where its’ humble packaging resides one shelf above the really cheap single-blade jobs. I’ve tried an electric razor, can’t get on with it. If the price creep continues though, I might consider going back to the beauty parlour waxing thing - I’ll just have to weigh up the relative pain of the two procedures. Actually, there’s no real contest: I’ve only ever had one wax. As any man will agree: the pain is extreme, but waxing will always be with us as there are some places I wouldn’t want a razor to go, especially if I were a man: have you heard what they ask for at the beauty parlour?

“Back, Crack and Sac,”, (my daughter delighted to inform me). How gross is that?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

How to Fit a Toilet Roll

I cannot believe that neither my husband nor my son (both practical people) can seem to fathom out how to insert a new toilet roll into the holder. Why does it not offend their aesthetic sense to place the new roll on top of the old, not even convenient to tear a piece off? Come to think, why does it also not bother them when they open or close curtains and leave gaps between the drops or where they meet in the middle? Is this something I should have read about in “Men are from Mars….”. Despite this book’s popularity, I haven’t read it, having previously felt that none of my men or myself fit into the stereotype of what a man or woman typically is, my husband usually being able to turn his hand to anything I can do: moreover, I am pretty good at reading maps. It looks as if I might have been able to find comfort in a chapter or two.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Drama at the Gym

I had to skip stretch class last week because I had visitors so I missed the drama. A gentleman was training for a Spinathon just outside the windows of our studio, on one of the machines when he apparently had a heart attack. One of our regulars - an older chap - proved to be a retired doctor and he speedily supplied first aid while the Paramedics were summoned. Thanks to his quick actions and the arrival of the Paramedics within about four minutes, the man’s life was saved. It transpires that he had undergone a triple bypass not long ago! It just goes to show two things in my humble opinion - some people will always push themselves too far and too much exercise (as I have always suspected) is bad for you. “A little of what you fancy”, say I, reaching for my medicinal red wine. Just one glass though.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Brilliant Invention

There would be great cause for depression if it wasn’t that there are so many clever people about. When my friend, M, returned from the UK she brought me back a lot of gadgety gifts as if her wont. Among them was a nifty gadget for making toasted sandwiches. It is a sort of thick plastic bag made of some kind of rocket science material into which you insert your two slices of filled bread. You then place the bag into your toaster, choose a fairly high setting and voila! In the same time as you would normally toast a slice of bread you have a snackwich! And she gave me two of them! I see my small son has already become quite partial to these bags (M gave me two) as he has clicked that there is no washing up attached to the operation. You can put the bags into the dishwasher too. Three cheers for brainy inventors!.... Sadly they gave in after constant use for about six months. Where can I get more? .... Oh, of course - Just "Google" - there were so many photos to choose from for this post, these things must be in common usage by now, especially in America. Do any of you use them?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Retrospective Exercise

I have decided to concentrate my energies in my spare time to seeing if I can concoct a novel - loosely based (of course) on my own life experiences. To this end I am going through old correspondence: it seems I have kept every letter anyone ever sent to me since 1975, when I left the UK for good and kept in touch with everyone by Snail mail. This is becoming the strangest of experiences: I have forgotten good friends who sent me regularly 10-page letters when I was going through the trauma of different relationships, I have kept every weekly letter from mother, with its consequent trivia: I even have a small series of letters from my father - the worst letter writer ever - but he wrote to me faithfully during the year when my mother refused to communicate when we were at odds over my ultimate choice of husband. All these are so precious. I have letters from girls I worked with when I lived in Israel for three years. I am so ashamed that I have struggled to remember their faces. But these precious documents are all before Facebook and e-mail. I have letters which I have completely forgotten - from a dear male friend I had at university: he was the best friend of a boy my best friend lusted after and so we sometimes went on foursomes. Once I slept with him (it was the Sixties after all ) - although I was not attracted - he had rather an underbite - but he was such a nice big and friendly guy. It seems I wrote to him years later, asking advice for my entanglements of the moment. I chuckle now when I read his ten-page missives - so witty and self-deprecating. Why did I not realise it at the time ? Did he perhaps really fancy me? I feel tempted to try to trace him. It's so easy today isn't it. I wouldn't want to upset his wife (surely he is married and has grandchildren by now) but as I age, I begin to wonder if it isn't a true gift of today's digital world that we can make contact with our past and perhaps, with hindsight, make better sense of it. I assure you that I adore my husband - I love every hair on his head and every wrinkle on his face - and wouldn't change him for the world: but it is very tempting to get in touch with 'the past' and to try to make sense of everything by relating it (with the wisdom of hindsight) to 'where we are now.' Perhaps I'll try: this 'friend' had a family farm in Scotland. I still have the address. I'll keep you posted......

Take Your Choice - what to believe?

There are so many ‘scientific’ studies out there today that one can pick and choose the bits of research that suit one’s own way of thinking: for example, I cut out all the articles that tell you how good coffee is for you or red wine or how bad too much exercise can be - and ignore the rest. At the moment I am trying to train my daughter to do the same re childbirth, breast-feeding, child-rearing etc as I see she is becoming mightily confused by all the conflicting advice available. The other day I came across someone whose life is mostly devoted to her own ailments and in beautifying as much of her body as she can at vast expense. Her justification is that the bible tells you that your body is your temple and you must worship it and look after it. That would be the same bible that says that the black man must be the slave of the white I suppose. I think I must give the bible another go and bookmark a few pages.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Stork Party - or Keeping up with the Jones?

......February 2008 - retrospective

About 20 girls were expected for this event plus myself, the mom-in-law and my sister-in-law. I bought a few things from the list and wrapped them up from myself, her dad and her brother, so that it made a few parcels, I made snacks and a chocolate cake, together with fruit juice, tea and coffee and my daughter’s two best friends did the rest. This involved dressing her up as an ‘African babe’ organising party games and prizes (viz bottles of wine and blocks of Lindt chocolate – no less.) they also brought six bottles of champagne and a large cheese platter. What totally shocked me though – remembering that the last stork party I went to was about thirty years ago - was that each of these twenty-something girls had spent a fortune on extravagant gifts, surely R500 per person! Everyone brought an exquisite carrier bag absolutely chock-full of baby goodies. I know all of these things cost a lot as my sister-in-law and I had done a lot of trekking round the baby shops in the previous week. She was as shocked as I was when the unwrapping finally came to an end. I think even my daughter was embarrassed. Whatever happened to the days of a couple of tins of talc and a pot of nappy rash cream? So many of the things are so hi-tech, one wonders if they will ever actually be used. I hope there is not just a lot of one-upmanship going on here. The same seems to have happened with children’s parties, where the small guests go home with almost as many presents as the party girl. I’ve now begun to worry that my catering wasn’t grand enough. I must get a grip!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Wedding Present Heist

....Catch up, Sunday April 17th 2008

My big son phoned from London yesterday, looking for some sympathy as he went over a pothole on his scooter and is now having physio for his back, as well as for his knees and ankles – a result of his devotion to touch rugby. The penalties of extreme sport, in my view. You are just getting old, I joked. He is 28 now. Then he told me that he and his new wife were looking out of their top-floor window (their flat is on the third floor) waiting for the delivery of their wedding presents which many people had ordered from SA and England on the Internet from the London store, John Lewis. They were just in time to see the van arrive and then to their dismay, the door of the ground floor flat opened and after some consultation and signing, all number of large boxes disappeared inside! They ran down the stairs to find that the delivery guys preparing to depart. The lady told them SHE was Mrs M, they said, and the parcels were hers!!!!!! My son and his wife couldn’t believe it. This person is actually a teacher. Can she also be a kleptomaniac and slightly touched as well? I suppose so. She made a great fuss as they removed their parcels, clearly marked with their name and address. The first really annoying thing is that my son decided he can’t take this any further as there are three flats in their communal building and he has to collect various communal levies and insurance payments from the owners of the other two on a regular basis, so he has to keep the peace. The second thing is that John Lewis only delivered half the presents as they didn’t have stock of everything. They will have to post a permanent guard until these arrive.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Feel of a Book

I went in to change my library books this morning and was pleased to be asked to come in and help shelve books again twice a week. I do this on and off when I can and when they are short-staffed. Oddly, I like shelving the books (I usually do the children’s section) – it’s quite relaxing if you only do it twice a week. Just the sight and feel of lots of books makes me feel calm and serene and in awe of all the effort and talent that has gone into the production of any kind of book. I try to squash the feeling of dread that threatens to steal over me when I think of all I must read before I die and all those I am not going to get to. It’s almost akin to the feeling I get when I switch on my computer except that that feeling is one of hyped up excitement in tune with the kind of medium that it is. Books, though, are much more user friendly - the worst that can happen is that you can find a page missing. You don’t need much schooling to be able to read a book. Long live the printed page! I sat on a bus the other day when someone was reading something on a ‘Kindle’. It may look impressively like a book with pages but it’s still made of metal – not the same feel at all, and there’s always the chance that it’s battery runs out. No, for me, real books are here to stay – unless we run out of pine plantations.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Noddy Books

I came across an article from the mid-nineties when there was that great fuss about the possibility of a homosexual relationship between Enid Blyton’s two most famous characters. Together with the scandal about the appearance of the gollywog as the bad guy in the stories, there was a ‘sensitivity panic’ and the books were hastily removed from libraries all over the world. The article mentions, rather cynically, that this scarcity put an immediate value on the little books and first editions were going for very high sums. In fact any books with the original texts became of some value: it is at his point that I regret not having the hoarding gene. I wonder what happened to all my Noddy books? I had 16 when I was young and I loved them all. I doubt whether my mother has them: when I finally decided to collect all my dolls from her house to give to my small daughter, my mother had ‘given them all to the jumble’. Perhaps my brother’s got them? If he has, I am going to say it is time I had them back. Anyone know if they are back in favour and now worthless?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Dilemma in the Church

My sister-in-law comes from a small country town which has a correspondingly small English-speaking community. It follows that their tiny church runs on a shoe-string, gamely supported by the 28 couples in the congregation who share their minister with three other district congregations. Typically, the minister is allocated to them for about four years before being moved on by the powers that be. In keeping with the times, the supply of churchmen of a pale skin tone is diminishing as fewer young people are finding it to be their vocation. Indeed, there was consternation enough when a woman arrived once. After that, there was a young Coloured chap with an Indian wife. This pair soon endeared themselves to one and all however, as they were both charming and willing and he gave a good, witty sermon. The church was full. After only two years however, these two decided that they wanted to become missionaries. The latest unfortunate is a black gentleman. He came just before Christmas and soon after that his wife died unexpectedly and he is left with a little boy to bring up on his own. To add to his troubles he has encountered a hostile congregation: for the simple reason that try as they might, they cannot understand his English. The situation is sad, the church is emptying, the people feel they have been short-changed. But this man has a Master’s degree: surely something can be done? I suggested they get hold of a taped basic language course of the sort where the learner has to listen to a native speaker, then speak onto the tape - and then listen to himself. Someone should take him tactfully aside and explain the difficulty instead of smiling politely and leaving the poor man in the dark. Meantime, on the other side of town, the coloured congregation is more than happy with their own Xhosa-speaking priest. Communication is everything, isn’t it?

Curious Culture

The News & Opinion section of the Sunday Times recently featured a front page article about how well South Africans relate to each other’s cultures. The conclusion, unsurprisingly, is that most people would like to understand more, but remain somewhat perplexed by customs and beliefs which differ from their own. There is a sort of East or West, home is best mentality which is entirely natural. No matter how hard we try, we are never going to become them, nor they us (whichever cultures we are comparing.) The lucky few go so far as to marry into another culture and make a success of it but for the most part we stick to our own. Take a case in point: one of my husband’s customer’s is a black man who gave up high-school teaching to go into business. Today he is a very wealthy fleet owner of a number of luxury buses. They were talking about wives: my husband asked why he finds it necessary to have two. He replied that it is a question of economics: if you want to get ahead you have to have two wives so that a spirit of competition prevails. He explained: each wife has a kraal house (back home) together with a supply of goats and perhaps a few sheep. One wife would be lazy and not increase the herd - with a rival she has to keep on her toes (also in the bedroom). Strangely enough, I could not relate at all to this custom, although I can see the advantages for the husband’s point of view. I cannot think of any white woman I know personally who would allow another woman in her husband’s bed, other than over her dead body - Swingers and Mormons excepted.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

National Pledge in Schools?

12th Feb 2008....

This idea has been all over the news in SA today as Parliament is going to debate the issue tomorrow. The thinking is that if schoolchildren recite a pledge of devotion to their country, as the Americans do every day at assembly, then we shall foster feelings of unity and tolerance etc. through a commonly-felt national pride. An idealistic thought but a step in the right direction. The question on eveyone’s lips is what should the wording be? How do we not offend anyone’s culture or religion? Fortunately, a lot of the good stuff is common to most religions cf some of the 10 commandments viz. ‘Thou shalt not steal’, ‘Honour thy parents,’ ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife’ and a few more. The need to be charitable and assist the poor comes up a lot so we should have a lot of common ground to dig over. When I was at school circa forty years ago in England, it was assumed that the majority of children were Church of England, so we had assembly every day with a hymn, a prayer and a reading. We always recited the Lord’s prayer, which to me, made it a trifle boring albeit comforting in a mindless sort of way. The few Jewish and Catholic pupils were excused and had their own religious meetings in classrooms. I wonder if all that has changed today along with nourishing school dinners? The demographics of England have changed as much as anywhere else. A few years ago, there was huge outrage because Moslem parents were objecting to their Primary School’s annual Nativity play. One mother who phoned into the radio this morning, pointed out that such pious messaging might fall on stony ground, considering the cult of gangsterism and drugs in many of our schools. Still, you have to start somewhere. To again quote my wise Afrikaans mother-in-law: “Plak it thick and some will stick.” PS... 2010 - no conclusions were achieved and the idea was dropped

Monday, 1 November 2010

Making Music

Way back when at High school in England circa 1963, three friends and I used to sit on the radiator in our classroom during break (snowing outside), and tried to work out the harmonies to Beatles songs….”Last night I said these words to my girl”… There is something magic about making music with others, whether you sing in a pop group or in an opera chorus, or play an instrument in an orchestra it is an absolute delight to create something together in this way. Perhaps it should be compulsory in schools for classes to sing together or bang drums or tin cans - to promote racial harmony etc. We could learn from the nursery school classes. There is a difficulty with a choir at high school though when guys voices are breaking and they either squeak or bellow. I’ve always belonged to a choir – once just for a day. In England last year, my sister-in-law asked me to attend a rehearsal and join her church choir for the evening service. I was anxious as I don’t sight-read too well, but thought I would just copy the person next to me. To my amazement - absolutely nothing issued from the mouth of the lady next to me but she was just mouthing the words, and the one on the other side was singing so out of tune she put me off completely. My sister-in-law confided afterwards, that there are no auditions for their choir - a sort of humanitarian policy - which has resulted in a lusty body of 20 assorted males and females of questionable talent, which doesn’t really matter as they are mostly drowned out by the sound of the organ in the beautiful old 16th century church. There might be a bit of a side effect though. I only counted four in the congregation.