Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Not-so-funny Side of Forgetfulness

You can see why I love my bike

I would make a lousy crook. Today, I wanted to leave my scooter parked at the library car park for about five hours while I caught the bus into town to see two important movies, "Sessions", and "Argo".  When you live in a crime-ridden country like mine, you are always imagining scenarios in which someone is just waiting for you to give them a chance to break into your house/steal your car/swipe your handbag at the mall etc. We have a huge unemployment statistic for the age group 18 - 30, coupled with a high intake of drugs. So as I locked up my bike, I was keeping a wary eye on the nearest 'car guard' (as we call them):  these are usually French-speaking guys from the Congo or other parts of North Africa, who migrate to SA, seeing it either as the land of milk and honey or more often as a place of easy pickings.  They patrol our car parks and you are meant to give them a tip for 'watching' your car. My daughter's vehicle was stolen from a parallel parking in the middle of the city under the noses of the cops: it was simply loaded away on a flat-bed trailer in the middle of the day.  While I was working at the University, the entire Security Company was sacked, as it was discovered they were responsible for syndicated theft of students' vehicles all over the campus. As I read a lot of thrillers, I made my getaway, keeping a beady eye on the guard and innocently pretending to enter the library - which would normally be a short visit - but in fact I detoured at the last minute around the perimeter of trees, hit the road and hurried off to get the bus.  As the bus departed, some sixth sense told me to search my purse for my bike's key: having removed every item I had to admit to myself: no key.  There are no stops on the first mile into town, so I discreetly phoned small son, convalescing at home still after his op, and asked him to drive to the library immediately in my car and rescue the key.  He called me back in half an hour: I had indeed left the key - an open invitation for someone to drive away with my precious bike - in the lock under the seat.  As I said, I would make a lousy crook. In the end, I only watched one movie, too worried about my bike. I rushed back, grateful that my bike was still there. I won't risk that again.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Small Son and the Hospital

Small son has long irritated me with his know-all attitude to life in general and I have longed to eject him from his insulated life, living at home with all his needs accommodated (except maybe privacy, we all need to earn that); but my husband won't let me.  Aged 23, small son is lucky to be able to job shadow in his brother-in-law's company: otherwise he would still be unemployed, not having ever achieved even a diploma of any sort. Granted, he doesn't earn much, but others of his age are grateful to work for nothing just to get some job experience.  Granted also, he rarely eats at home, spending his hard-earned cash at McDonald's mostly and I am shamed to say, on cigarettes.  Whatever. This week, he learned a lesson about why even a healthy young man needs a decent Medical Aid (having argued with us about this). He developed a pain in his groin, which proved to be a twist in the epididymis - resulting probably from an old rugby injury when he was school. He had to be admitted for a minor op. and an overnight stay in the hospital.  On the way there, he was telling me how he thought it was time he moved into his own place, being 23 and all. I thought of the things he doesn't yet pay for: accommodation, car repairs, cell phone account, laundry, .... I could go on. This is the same hospital in which I had my toe op last year, so I knew the ropes:  I had to conceal a grin when the admin trainee asked small son to fill in the part in his own words concerning "what the surgeon told you he is going to do".  Small son's pen hovered in the air:  "I don't know", confessed he.  "I only heard: 'have an injection, go to sleep, wake up, stitches. I didn't listen to the rest."  I wonder what he wrote?  I wasn't allowed to assist, although I of course, had looked up everything on YouTube. He scribbled something in the end. The other thing of note is that during the admission process at reception, he was finally taken through the "Financial Commitment" page, after which the efficient clerk regarded him with a beady eye and said, "Sign here to show that you are responsible for whatever amount your Medical Aid does not cover." Small son turned to me: "You hear that, mommy?"

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Funny Side of Forgetful

I also went to see 'Quartet' last week, not really a comedy, as billed, but more a thoughtful and poignant look at old age, with some funny moments. It stars Maggie Smith, Billy Connelly and Tom Courtenay to pick out but three of the famous names. The whole cast was superb and for opera lovers like me, there was a lot of beautiful music in that old age home for retired opera singers, most memorably - the quartet from Rigoletto.  Then on Friday I was invited to a farewell tea at the library: one of our volunteers who had served for 17 years, was finally retiring, aged 83.  She could no longer drive, her son with whom she had been living, had died and she had to move into an old age home. A large table had been laid, rather too large for the amount of snacks, I thought, but no matter, the food was tasty and enough. This morning, the librarian confided that the lady who had volunteered to bring two large fruit platters, had spent hours making them and then left them on her dining-room table. She only realised after the event had finished and she returned home. Still chuckling about this, I prepared to ride away on my scooter, planning how much shopping I would be able to pack into it's bin for my husband's new diet, when an elderly gentleman smilingly stepped up to me and suggested that I put my helmet on, as in South Africa, I risked immediate arrest if spotted without it. Feeling really dumb, I realized I had been about to ride away, not only helmet-less, but with my rather large purse slung over my shoulder as well. I normally have an entrenched routine re mounting my bike, helmet, keys, bag etc. but I do have to engage my brain first. Luckily, us oldies look out for each other - as they do in the film.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Success Story

I finally got hold of my brother on Skype today - my husband having diagnosed my lack of auditory connection for the last two months being because I had attached the camera with Prestik to the top of my Applemac right over the tiny dot (who knew?) that was the microphone. Anyway, part of the catching up on news was that my brother (aged, I think 56), has successfully negotiated himself a permanent post at his IT company (one that deals with the national banking system in the UK, so it is not in any danger of closing down): he has up to now been on nerve-racking three-month contracts there for the last three years. He travels up and down to London weekly, staying in a bedroom in someone's flat for the rental of £100 per week, and listening permanently to the Harry Potter books, read by Stephen Fry, on his drive up and down on Mondays and Fridays. You may remember that he has torn his hair out over his eldest son, now aged 18, over his poor A level results - so poor indeed, despite his VERY expensive private school, that he could not even think of applying to university. However, he is a very bright boy, if one-track minded (in fact, a carbon copy of his father, which, no doubt, is why they don't get on) and last month, my brother happened to espy an ad for a "Trainee Java Developer" at his own company.  As this is his son's specific interest, my brother high-tailed it to the Human Resources Dept., found that the applications for the position had closed and the person responsible was jaundiced from his 19 telephone interviews, confiding to my brother that half the applicants sounded as if they would be reluctant to get out of bed. As my nephew, M, had spent the previous summer working in said company, HR decided to let him apply for the job.  He was one of 12 on the shortlist, (5 of whom did not pitch for the one-day interview - this in a age of job shortages?) It was a day of personality trials: you know the sort of thing: you are marooned in the desert after your plane crashes. Do you take with you  a) a picture of the queen, b) a can of baked beans or c)a travel catalogue? Of course, there is no sensible answer, it is all about team work.  Guess what? My18-year-old nephew got the job (all the other applicants had degrees). How cool is that? HR said it was very impressive the amount of knowledge he had, compared with the others. And oddly, he has always been a people person. Very odd for a computer geek. I am so proud of him. He started last Monday.

Thursday, 21 February 2013


An actor's film: if Daniel Day-Lewis gets the Oscar - it will be well deserved and it is uncanny how exactly like Lincoln he looks. I thoroughly enjoyed the political shenannigans required to get the 13th amendment through although I thought the film almost lacked enough pace for the average audience: it managed not to and I was riveted for the entire two hours and a half. I even stayed awake, as it was necessary to concentrate hard on the legal stuff. Sally Field delivers her usual expert performance and the young Joseph Gordon-Levitt ( a favorite of mine since "Third Rock from the Sun) makes a cameo appearance as Lincoln's elder son.  What a joy to watch a movie that is about words and not special effects! Perhaps some would find it boring: not me. My compliments to the screen-writer and the casting agent. Tommy Lee Jones has the best scene at the very end: was that fiction? I don't know. There was a marvellously ironic moment during the debate about the amendment.  An opposition speaker was declaiming his views: the abolition of slavery would be the thin end of the wedge!  What would then follow? Mixed marriages ? (Uproar in the chamber),  votes for women?  (HUGE uproar !) A brilliant film. Congratulations for all concerned.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Met at the Movies

Liudmyla Monastyrska as Aida - left

Some genes are very strong: although I dissed my mother for singing opera as she did her housework in case someone would hear, I later came to love the art myself, joining a choir at University which performed annual operas in conjunction with the London Opera Centre, who sent their young students up to Scotland to perform the main roles for us. Hence I met my first husband, a wonderful baritone, during our run of William Tell. We divorced after two amazing years in Israel (one of which included the Yom Kippur War of September 1975). He is now a huzzan in New York, married with two grown-up daughters (we met again after 35 years of silence - guess where? - on Facebook, of course). We have moved on...
But I still love opera, so when our local cinema nouveau decided to run a series of operas, filmed live at the Met. I went to see 'Aida', dreaming of live elephants on stage and a chorus of hundreds.  There weren't elephants, but there were horses and there were definitely hundreds of people on stage. Interestingly, watching the film was like actually being in the theater, as there were two intervals of 20 minutes, during which we were given a comprehensive tour backstage, shown all the scene changes and treated to interviews with the soloists.  The soprano, a rather strapping young woman from the Ukraine, sang like an angel, but one had to definitely suspend disbelief when it came to the love scenes when she towered over the little Italian tenor, who clearly (in close-up) was finding it difficult to believe himself in love with her.  That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will go to see others as it is not on the cards that I shall ever make it to New York.  I was just a bit disappointed though to see that no-one dressed up to go to this magnificent theater, perhaps because it was a Saturday matinee. Perhaps the cost of the tickets would mean that you couldn't afford to buy an outfit. I can't wait for them to do "The Marriage of Figaro". Mozart's music is just sublime and my favourite by far.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A Wonderful Memorial Service - the story behind the story

Well, the service was this morning - Valentine's Day, appropriate as it turned out, as one of the speakers - the deceased's life-long friend, who was unable to attend, said in his letter that M had found the answer to life and it was Love. Because of our friend's untimely and sudden death, many of those who paid tribute to him, broke down as they spoke, and several of these were his men friends.  One of his closest buddies, from the cycling club, told us that if you were out on a ride and you had a puncture, M would be the one who stayed to help you and pushed you up the hills if you got tired. He was that kind of guy. Both his daughter and step-daughter (now pregnant with his next grandchild) cried during their tributes: he was that kind of guy. His son was unable to read his speech and stood behind his wife as she read it for him. He inspired that kind of love. Luckily, M has always lived in and around Cape Town. That's good for a funeral because there were several impromptu tributes from guys who had heard of his passing, but had lost touch over the years. Their memories added welcome touches of humor and we laughed out loud at the guy who started school with M when they were 5 years old: when they were 7, he had punched M on the nose in the boxing ring - and they had both cried. Then there was the guy who had been in the Boy Scouts with M - they had lost touch as grown-ups and hilariously bumped into each other after intervals of about 15 years each time and each time, they had to re-introduce themselves (not sure of each other's identity in the face of changing physical appearances, beards, hair etc.) The wife's tribute was read by the young minister and I wasn't the only one to make a mental note to ask her if I could borrow her words one day, should I happen to need them, so perfectly did she describe their love. So the event was uplifting more than it was sad. For today at least. A cautionary note. When M was admitted to hospital last Friday, the doctor's didn't know that he had suffered back pain so severe for the last two years, that he always slept on his side or front.  He and his wife had just thought it must be muscular and he thought as long as he kept fit, there could be nothing seriously wrong with him.  He was not one for check-ups. After his operation for stents on Saturday (all major arteries clogged),  he had to lie on his back for 24 hours.  At this point, the aneurism, that had been building up for 20 years (so the docs said afterwards), burst and that's what killed him.

Saturday, 9 February 2013


A friend died this morning. He had a heart attack while he was in hospital recovering from surgery. He wasn't ill, but had reported a pain in his arm.  His wife had just received recognition in her work and a major promotion, aged 60.  They had everything going. They were devoted to each other.  Why??  I am so angry I can hardly speak.  This is just final confirmation for me. There is no God. Life is just pointless.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

It's All Relative

Google image

It's been a good week-end for my gambling friends: those that take a mild flutter once a year 'at the races'.  Actually, no-one goes to the racecourse any more - it's become too expensive, but at the library the staff had a modest sweepstake and my friend, M, and her husband went to the local casino and did their betting there.  The chief librarian was thrilled to win their sweep - about R40 (which would buy perhaps 3 cups of coffee here). She immediately offered to buy a cake for the staff with her bounty.  My friend and her husband had a really good day;  they took two trifectors at a cost of R48 each - my friend fancying a real outsider to win - and guess what, it did!  They scored a terrific R10 000 between themThis would buy for example, a return plane ticket to England from Cape Town at today's money value. We don't gamble any more in our old age, finding better ways to spend our spare cash but more because my husband says I stand behind him radiating bad vibes at the casino so that he always loses. True.  I heard another good luck story at the library today: my colleague's sister ten years ago bought a packet of tea and found a gold coin inside and won R50,000 from Five Roses. A lot of money then - it would have bought a small car. (I'm glad to know that not all these prizes are a scam).  She was allocated a personal shopper and taken to the local mall to spend her money. She bought a computer and office equipment for her husband and other stuff,  including ten packs of high-quality towels for her work colleagues. When only R300 remained the personal shopper insisted she buy something for herself. At work the next day, one of the staff was overheard to say, "she wins all that money and we only get some towels".