Friday, 31 August 2012

A Consequence of Tiled Floors

I grew up in a cold place - England - and all houses that I knew had wall-to-wall carpeting, even in the bathrooms.  It was a great culture shock for me to set up house in South Africa with tiles everywhere except the bedrooms. One good reason for this is that South Africans are outdoor people, especially the men, and I soon realised I had zero chance of persuading my husband to take off his dirty shoes on entering the back door. Also, tiles are nice and cool and a delight to walk on with bare feet in our hot summers.  I do feel sorry though for tiny children learning to walk:  there are many hard falls and large  bruises. An unexpected consequence has been that I have been reluctant to use the beautiful cut glass items I brought back with me as wedding presents from the UK.  I have lovely whiskey and wine glasses, trifle bowls and milk and sugar sets. After some early accidents, the survivors have been placed firmly in a display cupboard never to be used again. Ditto china tea-sets. My best friend, M, has about three in her house (I've never seen them), which she inherited from her mother.  She is too scared to use them.  I've recently been tempted to break my rule though: I confess that I have been influenced by an advert for whiskey in which a sophisticated couple are drinking out of stunning cut glasses which sparkle and reflect the light in a magical and seductive way and I'm sure the whiskey looks a more beautiful golden color as a result. 
Three items which are on display are these lovely porcelain dolls - they all belonged to my mother and I've had the two larger ones on my mantelpiece since she died.  She said the small one was my dad's favourite so that is a new addition this month.  Luckily, the mantelpiece is way out of reach of my grandchildren.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Believe it or Not

They say truth is stranger than fiction and I am not sure if one should laugh about this story but here goes...  I have a friend of a friend who has a Downs syndrome teenager who likes fairy tales. He is quite a strapping lad but with quite an active imagination.  One day he was alone at home while his mother went to the shops. On her return, he told her excitedly that her had caught a 'Troll' and locked it in the cupboard under their stairs.  Mystified, but hearing noises from the aforementioned cupboard, the mother approached cautiously, opened the door and was greet by an irate small person (actually a dwarf), who had rung their doorbell (he was a Jehovah's Witness) and been summarily bundled down the passage by the frightened teenager, and shoved into the cupboard.  He was really angry and wanted to call the police but the mother was able to calm him down and apologise on behalf of her son. This is a true story. It happened last week. I am rather impressed that he knew what a troll was: I only had a vague idea, gleaned from sometime back when the toy shops were full of these long-haired little men.  I only found out exactly what a troll was when we were in Norway last May.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

One More Airport Encounter - Not Mine

Librarians are a surprising breed.  At our local library we have two sexy sirens, several average-looking ladies, one young man and a library stereotype - mousy, glasses, academic & dressed like a somewhat younger Nanny McPhee.  One of our sexy sirens  - a delightful person, I may add, and much loved by all the old gentlemen patrons - went off for a holiday in Paris with her husband.  M sports one of the best figures I have ever seen, entirely innocent of surgery and in her late forties, she likes to show off her admirable curves.  On her return from her holiday, she entertained us with an airport story.  In her bubbly way, she told us how she had donned a figure-hugging, knee length dress and high heels for her journey home and piled her blonde hair on top of her head in casual curls (as we did in the sixties) and while waiting to check in, she had been approached by a Frenchman (I am sure his age is not relevant). Entirely ignoring her husband, he fixed her with an admiring gaze and said that he must kneel before the vision of such beauty and kiss her feet - which he promptly did. Her husband merely walked away, pretending not to notice.  What is it with the Continentals? Are they really more romantic and spontaneous than the rest of the world?  Whatever.  It totally made her day.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Encounters at Airports

Although I really enjoyed flying to England with Turkish Airlines - the best way to get to Birmingham from Cape Town, - there was a pile-up of Passengers-in-Transit at Istanbul in the early hours of the morning as about 5 planes had landed at once.  Istanbul has become a central hub, not only for people travelling around Europe but also those heading on to the East. Normally, I would never travel around Europe in the peak tourist season - August, but of course, this time I had no choice re my dad's funeral.  For reasons which I fail to understand, we all (several hundred people) had to be shepherded through a very small gate to go through Security again, before we could go in search of our departure gates for ongoing flights. Even more absurdly, half of us were redirected when we got to said gate, and had to fight our way back against the tide to first have our passports scrutinized. This put us at the back of the same queue again and being somewhat disgruntled we struck up brief conversations.
 I've always been tempted to chat in such circumstances and often make the first move. Sometimes it is unwise to approach the nearest man to do this, especially if they are an Arab or Israeli. However, I was surrounded by mostly Moslem women (who don't look approachable) or Chinese, so there wasn't much choice.  I did first ask one young girl if she was getting married (she was tiny and carrying a large wedding-dress-shaped white bag high above her head). Of course, she was, and proved to be an American living in Manhattan, on her way, excitedly, to Israel to tie the knot. When the queue appeared to stop moving, even at snail's pace, I started a conversation with a large, bearded gentleman next to me. Mistake. Within seconds he was complimenting me on my beauty, telling me I looked just like the women from his home country (Iran) and edging even closer in the crush, with a lascivious look in his eye. I got away from him, only to chat to a more harmless-looking man, who proved to be an Israeli. Even worse. Within two sentences, he had his arm round my shoulders, expounding the virtues of Israel, as if I was an old friend. I shouldn't have tried out my two sentences of Hebrew. ...At last the queue began to move....
On the plane home, I found myself next to a skull-capped gentleman who was clearly fasting as he refused the delicious meal that was brought around.  I enquired if this was the case and apologised for eating in front of him. Mistake.  He proved to be very garrulous, explaining that he had lived in England for 32 years and was now going to visit his home country - Afghanistan!  I was a little taken aback because it seemed he planned to stay and leave his wife and family back in the UK (?)  Luckily, another passenger arrived and sat between us...
My last encounter was with a Customs Officer on my return to Cape Town. In twenty years, I have never been stopped but my number came up that day.  I replied composedly to his first questions until, "What was the purpose of your visit to England?"   "My dad died" said I, and lost it.  (Waterworks).  The poor man was so embarrassed, he abandoned the rest of his questions and waved me straight through.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

A View of Cherry Tomatoes

One thing about visiting my eccentric (to me) brother is to constantly marvel that his two sons are real chips off the old block.  The 18-year old, although brilliant, didn't fit into the school 'system' and consequently disappointed his parents by not getting the grades to go to university.  However, he has immediately had the good luck to be able to get a job in Software Programming through a family friend who runs a business which basically sells a programme called 'Quoteworks' which they sell and customise for companies. (At least, I think that's what it's about). Unluckily, one of the partners suddenly died and left a gap for a programmer. and lo, this young man now happily departs every morning on his scooter, earns a reasonable first salary as a 'trainee' and pays his mother for his board and lodging, while building up a CV. The other youngster, 16, has the school cup for Mathematics, is the Chess champion and good grades for everything, but failed his 11+ exam!  He is a fussy eater: one of the many things he dislikes is tomatoes in general and in particular, cherry tomatoes. When challenged, his reply was:  "They have a weird surface area in relation to the inner liquid".  I have to admit I was a bit gobsmacked but not really surprised.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Dad, Genealogist, September 1st 2007

Dad was born in a terraced house like this

Dad’s latest project is to try to trace his forebears on the 1891 London census. He first discovered street maps on the Internet and managed to locate where he grew up and has since researched some of his relatives this way.  Now he has paid for a number of searches into the census document itself. He has been involved in this for the last two years - this is mostly because with his limited vision he can only see about a square inch of his computer screen at a time and thus spends a vast amount of frustrated time deleting things he is supposed to be saving/printing etc. and trying to locate his cursor. (Can you imagine trying to work like that?)  Sometimes he gives up for days in frustration as his computer often gets as confused as he is and therefore does funny things which can only be solved when Eric, my brother is around.  Luckily, dad is networked with my brother’s computer system next door and he can often spot when dad is in trouble which really helps because so often dad is too proud to ask for the regular assistance that he needs.  This week he has been trying to send an e-mail enquiry.  He has made several drafts (which he then couldn’t find  - finally after 3 days asking my help).  But then (typically), after enlisting my assistance and having me send the e-mail, he then solved the query himself - the answer lying amongst the pages of ‘help’ documents about the census that he has printed out.   He now thinks however, that his grandfather must have lived in a tenement building which is why our two ‘clicks’ on the ‘Search’ button have so far yielded no result and have used two of his credits.   The project is now on hold while he reorganises his search requirements and calculates how long his 148 search credits will last.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Dad's Runner Beans

I have now been in the UK for three days, during which we have all been hectically working in the garden to try and conquer the three-foot high weeds and grass which have flourished in the non-stop rain over the last three months. Apparently, England had the wettest June since 1910.  I haven't seen stats for July but they must be much the same.  My brother has a large plot and a sit-on lawnmower, an industrial strimmer and a chain-saw to keep the vegetation under control. This latter was put to good use last month as two huge trees fell over in a storm and had to be cut up. We are thus occupied as the remaining family will be coming over for refreshments after dad's funeral on the 13th and we need to make a reasonable impression as most are gardeners. Mum's thing was flowers, but dad's was vegetables. On my last visit in February, it was sad to see the forlornly empty bed where dad tried his utmost to keep mum supplied every summer with her favourite runner beans.  Even when he could no longer see, he still tried to dig it and plant fresh seeds every spring and this continued until she died and he was himself wheel-chair bound. This time, I am delighted to see my sister-in-law has decided to grow runner beans again in the very same spot and the beans have thrived in the rain, shot up, and are now ready for picking.  Yesterday, my brother went to say goodbye to dad at the undertakers.  He took a nice, big bean with him and put it in dad's top pocket: dad knew about the proposed new bean crop. He was mightily pleased.