Friday, 31 January 2014

Pretty Women

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I have two sisters-in-law, aged 68 and 74, who have been genetically blessed with good looks, height and slimness.  In fact, the elder was pushed to enter the Miss South Africa competition circa 1963.  Their younger sister, although tiny, was very pretty and won Miss Karoo when she was a teenager.  Of the three, she is the least worried about her looks these days (possibly because she still has to work hard to earn a living).  The other two have been farmers' wives all their lives, married very young, had to keep up positions in the community, and have spent their lives creatively, producing lots of children, bringing them up and generally running the domestic side of their husbands' lives (with the help of 3 - 5 housemaids).  Nowadays they are preoccupied with their looks: they worry constantly about the lines on their faces, their imaginary fat stomachs, and they trawl the shops constantly for flattering clothes. It is so hard getting old when you have been pretty. Isn't it easier if you have earned praise and attention during your lifetime more for your achievements than for your looks?  Or is it just that we receive so few compliments from our husbands any more and that leads to insecurity?  Or is it just the world we live in, where appearances are everything?  I've just finished reading: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, in which the shuffling, nondescript concierge of a posh Parisian apartment building, conceals an excellent brain and a multitude of eclectic knowledge on everything from Japanese culture to the great philosophers and classical music. Her life is fulfilled when someone sees through her facade. An amazing read. I guess the only way to stop worrying about one's looks fading is to focus on keeping busy and not looking in the mirror.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Hoping Against Hope

I've come across two examples of this maxim in the last couple of months: now I understand from whence it comes.  I advertised an extractor fan on our local website, specifying it as 700 mm wide.   This elicited the enquiry: "Is it a 600?"  I've now put an ad for a high school blazer (big son's) on another website, describing it as LARGE, suit 17-year old and have had to answer the question, "Will it fit my skinny 13-year old?"  The answer, unsurprisingly was "No", to both. People.  I've still got both items: obviously, no demand for them. Note to self: think I will take a new photo of the blazer with self inside - thus sleeves will hand over my fingertips and blazer will reach to my knees. Maybe that will solve the problem.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Tact and Diplomacy - The White Lie

I decided that once I left home as an 18-year-old, I would never tell another lie, being somewhat ashamed of just how many brazen fibs I had told my parents during my teenage years in order to pursue various interests that I knew they would veto. I've pretty much kept to this credo ever since, barring a few compliments (fingers crossed) re dear ones' new hairstyles, clothes, home decor etc. These come into the category of white lies, do they not?  Living in a multi-lingual, post-apartheid, black empowerment country as I do, there is nevertheless one area in which I have had to resort to the White Lie on frequent occasions. These are confined to the times when I dial a 'Help' line in any shape or form. There is usually a choice of "Press 1 for English or 2 for Afrikaans."  Interestingly, still today English is the language of the cities and Afrikaans, the rural areas (geographically huge, but small, except for Kwa-Zulu Natal,  population-wise). I speak of the white population group here. As our education system has failed to find a solution to the language problem: the best it can do is demand that all children are taught in English for most of their school lives, so a great many do not get great marks in their final exams and find their way into answering telephones. It works like this:  if you Press 1 - you will get a black or Indian person answering the phone. It must be my European ear, but I find the Indian accent fairly easy to follow, but the black - virtually impossible.  There is something about the atonal and rapid way the black people speak English here that I (and the majority of my friends) simply can't become attuned to. Also, as many of our black people are immigrants/refugees from further north, they don't speak Afrikaans at all. So I press '2', knowing that I will get a 'person of color'  (native to Cape Town) to speak to whom I know will be bi-lingual, formerly exclusively Afrikaans, but determined to be 'English' since 1994. "Oh, sorry," I lie,"I pressed the wrong button. Would you mind speaking English for me?"  "No problem", they invariably reply and I can hear the grin in their voice.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Do-it-Yourself - Pool Leak

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New direct line to pool pump
Offending silicon & duct tape

"Found the leak!"
It is only now that we are selling the house that we are attempting to fix everything. After three visits from the pool man, my husband sent him packing and had to make time to find the leak himself, muttering darkly to me to enquire as to the man's qualifications, not least did he have one in Practical Hydraulics (part of the 5-year apprenticeship my husband in another life as an aircraft technician. Amusingly, everyone calls themselves an 'engineer' these days. My husband would never call himself that. When he was an aircraft technician, they mostly had to diagnose and fix problems for the engineers who had a lot of theoretical knowledge, but were stumped by the practical application. Other jobs we are now doing, painting - inside and out, fixing damp caused by astronomical amounts of rain this last winter and generally pruning our possessions. Actually, it feels quite good and I am looking forward to this new phase in our lives, both the challenges and the fears.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Foot in Mouth

I was recently asked to attend an AGM for a voluntary organisation for which I work a few hours a week. I went reluctantly as I don't enjoy these affairs but I was asked to represent someone.  It's only once a year that all the volunteers get together and we don't all know each other.  The chairlady confided to me afterwards that some-one had whispered in her ear: "Who are all these people who come out of the woodwork when there is free tea and cake?".  Once I had got over my indignation,  (after all I've worked here for ten years), I was quite amused because amongst my own group of lady friends, I am well-known for not joining any club in which food is the focus as I just look at a piece of cake and put on 3 pounds.  Apparently, the chairlady disabused this person of their wrong impression after which a shame-faced apology was forthcoming. This is another example of don't 'assume', because it makes and 'Ass' out of 'u' and 'me' .  Moving on...

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Never Ass-u-me!

This is a Silverwing - not my little bike

So there I was, sitting on my scooter, adjusting my helmet, outside the library - admiring a big touring bike, a Silverwing, thinking how nice it would be to be a passenger on same as the seats look like armchairs: when a really old gentleman, holding a shopping bag comes up to me and starts talking about how big and heavy that bike is.  He pulls out the passenger pedal and says that it is a bit small for his wife. He looks admiringly at my scooter (I mean, who wouldn't?) and tells me he is thinking of perhaps getting one, (he is 83).  I wonder privately, if he could pass a test at his age, but I smile and say I think that would be a good idea. Imagine my surprise, when his next move is to produce a key, pop up the seat on the Silverwing, take out a helmet and put it on.  You could have knocked me over with a feather. He climbed on, started the motor, grinned at me and pulled decorously away. Well, I never! Clearly, once a biker, always a biker.

The Hungry Vacuum Cleaner and the Popping PC

I've had to shut my computer down over Christmas, owing mostly to an invasive and insistent popping sound which I couldn't solve.... now back in business after a hectic Christmas and surfing on my i-pad (thank goodness for backup),  I discovered that the culprit was a non-Apple number pad, which having served me well for two years, developed internal electrical problems which upset my computer. (At least, that's how my husband explained it.) So. Happy New Year, everyone!  I thought I would share a cautionary tale to start off with. I was hastily vacuuming my bedroom two days ago when in a surge of unsolicited energy, I pushed the machine too far under my husband's bedside table and it sucked up (I swear at the speed of light), the charging cord of my husband's new i-phone 5. Thence resulted horrendous chewing and crunching noises and I extracted a completely destroyed brand-new cord.  I then engaged on a secret mission to replace it immediately (with our worthless currency at the moment, I will merely say that it cost me the price of a week's groceries). In the nick of time, as we went over to visit our daughter, who had to move house in 1st January, and in the rush she couldn't find her charger cord and asked her dad if she could borrow his for a few hours (phew!). Otherwise, I have one New Year Resolution: I would like to take ballroom dancing lessons. This is something I really love, but my husband has two left feet and so we never dance. I shall look into it today.  This year will be one of changes and challenges for us with M due to retire in August. Maybe he will stay to the end of the year? Maybe we'll move? Maybe we won't. Lots of numbers to crunch.....