Monday, 28 February 2011

There are Good People Out There

I’ve never totally forgotten this quote from Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, spoken by Mark Anthony at Caesar’s funeral.  The famous speech begins: “Friends, Romans, countrymen...” and the beginning of this part is:  “The evil that men do lives after them....”  How true.  It reminds me of when I was teaching –you never forget the naughty kids but hardly remember the good ones.  There are so many people that do so much good but you never hear about them. Certainly, they don’t make the news. On Saturday however, when our neighbour  M, arrived to watch the rugby, he couldn’t wait to tell us of his experience outside our small, local supermarket. He went in to make his purchases, noticing the persistent sound of an African drumbeat outside. When he came out he saw that the ‘Men At The Side of the Road’ – those that hang around hoping to find work, were now all standing in an orderly queue, holding paper plates and at the front was a man with an old truck, from which he was dispensing steaming plates of curry and rice from two huge pots.  This was lunchtime – past the hour when the lucky few would have been picked up for a day’s gardening or whatever. The drum was still being softly beaten by someone and several of those queuing were dancing to its beat. 

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

PC Speak

There is one thing I am not sure I love about my Mac - this is its 'wire-less' appendages, namely the mouse and keyboard.  I was first assured by big son that it will be great for me to have a wire-less machine  except that there are still permanent wires for the keypad and the printer draped over my desk.  I had not at first realised that said mouse and keyboard have batteries instead.  So about every three months I get warning messages pop up about their batteries being low.  This sends me into a panic so I immediately change them.  The last time I couldn't get my mouse to work with its new batteries:  A message appeared:
                "Your mouse is undiscoverable, please make it discoverable"  ????????  ,  making me think that perhaps the "mouse detection programme" was not functioning.  Re-booting the machine made no difference. I was stumped. Eventually, reluctant to phone big son and receive another lecture, I took my mouse out into the bright sun and squinted into the hole where the batteries go.  It seems you have to put them in both facing the same way, so I'd got it wrong as in most appliances you put them end to end as it were.
 So why can't the message say, much more clearly:
              "Are the batteries inserted correctly?"
Who designs these messages?  Is English their first language?  (NB. Can't seem to upload any web pics today.  So this is one of mine - meant to be 'bright sun'.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A LIght - Bulb Moment - Computer Lesson

My friend from Jo-burg is a little less PC literate than me, meaning that she doesn’t know how to attach a photo to an e-mail.  So I said I’d help her and we sat down at my Mac.  She has “Gmail” so I told her to login and all was well when her own page appeared.  I showed her how to click on the little paper clip and would have shown her how to attach a photo – but all my pictures came up, not hers. We puzzled over this for a while and then I phoned my big son.  I got quite a lecture which included questions like: “Where do you think L’s photos are stored?” “Um….. somewhere on G-mail?”  we  guessed.  I imagined son’s eyes rolling skywards. With a big sigh and after some thought with the fairly mild comment, “Don’t be silly, mommy!”  he came up with this analogy -  “If you go to L’s house and look inside her fridge – do you expect to see your food?”
Ah, this made sense.  We get it now.

"The Texi Got A Puncture, Baas"

One thing about living and working in South Africa is the nightmare of getting to work without a sophisticated public transport system. There is no doubt that what we are sitting with today is a legacy of Apartheid but no matter, it gives lots of latitude for employees to produce woe-filled excuses when they are late for work. My son-in-law pays for private taxi transport for his employees to and from home as they work late hours at his restaurant and when they are late in the morning it is always because the taxi had a puncture. This is detailed on the monthly sheets submitted for payment by the taxi owner. Strange to say, the punctures are always on the outward journey to work, never on the homeward bound. My son-in-law says it’s strange how many nails there are on the road all pointing in the same direction! (Giggle)  

Monday, 21 February 2011

Role Reversal

Before we got married, I told my husband firmly that I didn’t plan on making daily spousal ‘lunchboxes’ .  I hate making sandwiches and in fact, cooking in general, and as we both worked, I couldn’t see any reason why I should have to do this for him just because I was the de facto ‘wife’. He was unfazed – being used to looking after himself.  (This was 30 years ago, you understand, and my mother had taught me that I would have ‘wifely duties’ when I got married.) So I guiltily spoke these words but I meant what I said and for 27 years it worked that way although I did dutifully do most of the other cooking – the other ‘duties’ were not arduous at all. Then one beautiful day – we agreed that I would give up my job – actually we moved to a small town and there was no work for me. On my first ex-working day, my husband brought me a pot of tea in bed and thus began a habit he maintained for a long time until one day he had to have a carpal tunnel operation on his right hand and for two weeks I had to do everything for him, including lunch and driving him to work.  I found I experienced in equal measure, enjoyment in these tasks and also some guilt surfaced as I realised that I no longer resented making the sandwiches and actually it was the least I could do for a man still working a 12-hour day while I luxuriated at home. I guess I had made my point.  That’s why on week-ends I always take him coffee in bed.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Proving a Point

We had guests last week-end, so I made a special effort, knowing that they like their drinks in cups rather than mugs to serve the coffee in our rarely-used best china.  Typically, when we bought the set, we did so because we liked the pudding bowls and overlooked the fact that the cups had tiny bases which were a bit unstable.  Forgetting this while jovially chatting to our visitors, my husband placed his cup down on its saucer without thinking and knocked it flying, coffee all over his trousers.  Without inflection, I suggested he change and put his pants in cold water in the basin in the bathroom, which he did, returning, somewhat chastened to finish his breakfast.  Later when we went to clean our teeth, we stepped into water flooding over the bathroom floor. He had not turned off the faucet.  Neutrally, I told him where we keep the mop and old towels (husbands never seem to know these things) and left him to it.  A week later, I had cause to check on my supply of new bars of soap, toothpaste etc kept in a bowl in the bathroom cupboard under the sink, and found all floating around on a sea of soapy foam, the soaps all mush.  I said nothing at all this time: after all, we’ve been married 33 years.  Some things need no further comment.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


The North-Wester is having a bit of a howl today although there is no rain, but the sky is grey and blustery and the house is a bit chilly which immediately gives me the urge to do a bit of baking.  Shades of growing up in the UK. I loved it when the smell of my mother’s cakes wafted up through the house and everywhere was warm.  Although she never taught me to cook, nor indeed was I allowed to use any of her appliances – except to wash the dishes, I found that when I set up a house of my own, I wanted to do things the way she did – mostly because I still loved the taste of a raw cake mix better than a cooked one. My daughter popped in today so I am also on ‘baby watch’ while crashing around in the kitchen but he is passed out in his chair and not reacting at all, having recently been fed. Do girls still bake today?  There are so many instant mixes on the shelf, not to mention home-made cakes and jams at all the craft markets, so there is really no need unless you like it.  I have taught my daughter to cook but she prefers making dinners, not desserts or cakes. I shall continue to do it – especially for my grandchildren, if she doesn’t have the time or the inclination.  I am just lucky that I have the time myself.  PS - Pic is of my husband's cake.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Chocolate Rations

In times of all kinds of rationing, necessitated by general price hikes in every direction, food, petrol, bond and the huge electricity one, our household continues to operate Chocolate Rationing. Although we can afford to buy as much chocolate as we want, there are various reasons for this quirky behaviour.  Firstly, it harks back to my childhood, where similar conditions prevailed in our house with regard to sweets and fizzy drinks. Thus, I want my children to know that such things are actually bad for you other than to consume as an occasional treat as well as being a shameless luxury when children are starving in Africa. Secondly, I believe we should all train ourselves to suffer delayed gratification in some way, alarmed as I am by the general trend of modern life which leads our young to believe in Instant Gratification as their right.  So it is that my husband and I buy ourselves a block of Cadbury’s Nut once a week and it resides in my husband’s bedside table drawer from whence he dispenses 3 squares each every night. It is not possible for me to keep it on my side of the bed because of a complete lack of self-control – it would disappear in half an hour (unshared). It is quite disproportionate the simple anticipatory pleasure that this activity provides and how good those 3 squares taste.  It must be remembered though that the probability of addiction looms large to judge by the great consternation and bitter recriminations that would ensue should I forget to replenish our supply.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Getting to a Casting

By an unfortunate coincidence,  small son has been shortlisted for a big-paying job for Samsung for which second-round casting he must present himself half an hour after his Maths exam this morning.  Of course, he is mightily excited about this and the two guys who wrote the exam with him have no choice but to accompany him in his mad dash across town.  I have tried (meanly, I admit) to dampen his enthusiasm a bit for two purposes: (1) to try to protect my car from injury and (2) in an effort to re-concentrate his mind on the exam. Still, I am not wrong – there is many a slip twixt cup and lip as far as actually landing a modelling job is concerned and he will be extremely lucky if he has EXACTLY  the look they want. Still, as my husband says, if you don’t have a hook in the water......(or in his case, more often these days – a ticket in the lotto)......  I just told son not to stand too close to his friend, M, who with his 1.9m height makes small son look a bit of a midget at 1.78.  On second thoughts, as I rather took to this shy, tall, gangly lad who has an engaging smile – I suggested small son take him along to meet his agent.  After all, it takes a lot of money if you want to be a pilot.  Post Script:  small son didn’t get the job but he did get a speeding fine. Such is life. I of course, think he's better looking than Zac Efron but that's just a mother talking.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Teenage Dreams

Small son left school with poor results in most subjects so today is a biggie – his re-sit of Higher Grade Maths after six months of extra lessons. He has found three other buddies in the same boat.  We’ve made a plan to avoid parking a car at the venue which is in a questionable part of town. The three boys are going to take my car to my husband’s office – they will leave it and my husband’s driver will give them a lift down to the venue (in a very old truck), fetching them afterwards as well. This is life in South Africa – we take precautions. So its 7.10 a.m. and they have just left, allowing a good one hour fifteen minutes to face the gridlock for the 8 kilometre drive to the office. It will take them half an hour to get out of our suburb – one kilometre.  I was first worried about offering lifts in case anyone should be late, but the two boys arrived promptly at 7.00 a.m. looking quite nervous and refusing my offer of bacon and eggs with which I had just force-fed my own son. The first wanted to be a jet pilot, he told me, but was too tall at 1.9m, so he is trying to pursue his dream of becoming a commercial pilot. The other lad is also trying for a Higher grade pass – necessary for his proposed studies. Small son is trying for a Higher grade pass -  because his parents said so.  His ambitions at the moment are of getting work as a catalogue model in London.  He will stay with his brother for a couple of weeks in the beginning and he has just bought his ticket.  As we are strapped for cash and not wishing to throw good money after bad, we were dubious about helping him. In the end, he used all his Unit Trusts (now a ten-year investment) and – the amount that appeared in his bank account two days later was the EXACT cost of his ticket – one rand over.   Well, I’ve always believed in fate.  Son’s other ambition is to buy himself a fancy motor-bike when he gets back and to save enough to pay for his own eventual studies – whatever they may be. I’ve said nothing about that. In the meantime, he‘d better deliver a lots of pizzas in the next month to gather a few £s to take with him!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Parking Space

I cannot understand why when I go out with my husband in the car and there are lots of empty spaces in the car park, he insists on squeezing in between two already-parked vehicles if he possibly can, so that we both have to open our doors with great care in order to slither out, flattened against our own (often not very clean) body work and clutching our doors so that the cars don’t mutually scratch each other.  He does not take kindly to being challenged about this:  I just get told that he will park where he wants to or do would I rather drive?  Similarly, no matter how many available spaces there may be, when I get into my car to leave there is always someone waiting to take my space – as if it must be somehow better than all the others. It’s the same in restaurants – why do people always gravitate to the parts which are already full?  Personally, I like my space – wherever I am and I don’t like to broadcast my cell phone calls.   Maybe there are just ‘people who need people’ all the time. My husband is certainly a gregarious type whereas I am more of a loner. Just another example of ‘it takes all sorts’. NB. I just thought this pic was so cute! Obviously, not our car.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Nature of Envy & A New Oven

While we were up north (Johannesburg) we had an opportunity to visit people we have known for many years - in fact, since we were all young and newly married, just setting out. Some were more ambitious than others and this couple in particular have done really well.  Let’s just say we felt like the poor relations when we got there.  If I say that their home feels and looks like a five-star guest house, you will know what I mean.  At first, my instinct was to envy all that they had achieved.  Then - once the initial glamour had worn off - I thought about what it had needed in all sorts of ways, not to mention a couple of bitter divorces - to get there.  No, I didn’t envy them any of that heartache and my husband and I have never given much thought to accumulating wealth. When it finally came down to the line - all I really envied them was their oven, which is still gleaming and immaculate. But I won’t be bitchy enough to suggest that this is because it has never been used. Unlike my own, which although pretty new has two faults: although exactly the same OUTER measurements as the under-counter one it has replaced, can you believe it, the INSIDE is narrower and only my smallest roasting tin will fit  Even worse - although I checked to make sure that the inner glass was sealed as my old one had to be unscrewed all the time to clean it, this one seemed dirt-proof. Not so!  There is a small slit at the top of the glass and grease and grime inexplicably manages to get inside and bake on and there is no way to clean it at all!  I was reminded of a good lesson after this visit - you can’t be too careful when you choose a new oven! Or you can just stop cooking so it never gets dirty.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Double Take

I’ve never really believed in re-incarnation, although the philosophy does have a lot of appeal (if you’ve been good), but I like to keep an open mind.  Thus it was that I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw what appeared to be my friend’s parents dancing together at a wedding when I knew that her dad had been dead for fifteen years, and her mother has had Alzheimer’s for ten years and is in a home. They would both be in their early 80s now and this couple looked absorbed and in love and in their fifties.  We were introduced to them later - the man proved to be my friend’s brother and the lady, his wife. Even close up I could not get over the resemblance to his mother as I had known her, dark-haired, pretty, vivacious and slightly rounded back.  Even her legs and walk were similar. The brother was exactly as I remembered his father, tall, broad, genial-looking and balding. Some things in life are just too uncanny.  It gives you lots of food for thought.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Waiting for Fish

We left for our holiday house after work on Friday evening, admonishing small son as usual to remember to set the burglar alarms, check the house, not leave the stove on etc.etc. as we plan to be away until Monday afternoon. A proper long week-end.  Unfortunately, husband has hurt his back somehow last week and is behaving in both a martyred and stoical fashion as he badly wanted to go fishing and is too sore to carry on with tiling the bathroom.  Normally this would mean that we would have been heading back to town on the Sunday morning but surprisingly, small son phoned out of the blue afternoon to announce that the ‘surf was up’ and he would be arriving with four of his friends to stay over, surf and fish.  I think he was feeling a bit guilty about his dad, as he knows it is really difficult for him to get his boat launched alone, especially as I am still working up the courage to learn either to reverse the boat trailer or to drive the boat so it is quite sweet of small son to come here, especially as he struggled to find someone to do his Saturday night shift delivering pizzas. This is his big earning night, so of course, his grateful dad has sponsored him a bit extra. They have all gone off now hoping to get a big haul of fish or at least have a lot of fun trying.  I’ll make them a big brunch when they get back.  All nice boys: only two are studying, the others are having a ‘gap’ year, trying to find themselves.  Not always easy to be young.