Sunday, 30 November 2014

Productive Week-end

Downstairs room - christened 'The Library"

Once again, a week-end of work.  However, we now have a 'finished' product. I have yet to pack the shelves properly and hubby's copies of "Popular Mechanics" and "Handyman" are to be added to the bottom shelves . I've also just noticed that small grandson got hold of the balsa wood models of truck and rhino  (now not in their right places), so there are empty spaces where there shouldn't be .... however, you get the picture.  What is not obvious, are the faults.  It's all very well to say that erecting your own shelving is a walk in the park. What is not stated are the following:  the frustrations when the sections wouldn't fit because the ceiling/wall were not straight, the hardware store had not (a) cut the sections correctly or (b) bits were missing or incorrectly measured. The fact that you have to have quite a lot of wood-working tools to make the job feasible. You also need quite a large dose of common sense, not to mention, philosophical acceptance of your own mistakes (mis-measuring) or the hardware store's (mis-measuring/careless gluing). Still, I am happy with the result: two week-ends work.  Most of the paperbacks I have carted round the world with me since I was a student, circa 1969 - 1975, and I know that I will never read them again. No matter they are yellowed with age. They represent a part of my life that I am comforted by referring to. Now they form 'decor'.  My husband's reading history is not well represented:  when he worked for South AFrican Airways in the 1960s, his books (Wilbur Smith) were regularly confiscated at the airport on his return home.We are so looking forward to moving here permanently. Unfortunately, 'red tape' will have prevented us getting a swimming pool put in before Christmas. These things are sent to try us.  I suspect that a bribe would have expedited the passing of our plans for the pool, but we absolutely refuse to go that route.

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Importance of a Catchy Title

Not everyone's favourite view of our insides

The workings of the human digestive system have always been a somewhat embarrassing topic (until one gets older and we are all in the same boat).  So approaching the topic with humor is obviously the way to go.  I've just listened to the author Mary Roach, who writes books about popular science, being interviewed on the radio. Her latest offering is entitled : "Gulp" and its about, I gather, how to keep oneself 'regular' amongst other related things.  We should live in constant appreciation of our marvelous digestive systems, she says.  In fact "we should give a round of applause to the human rectum!" which functions perfectly well if we treat its needs with respect and 'go' immediately we feel the urge, preferably at the same time each day. The author mentions that she was born when her father was 65 (good for him), and that the mood of their household was 'somewhat bowel dependent'.  This was a hilarious interview  (BBC Woman's World, some time this week).  Apparently, titles of the author's previous books include:  "Stiff" (death) and "Bonk" (self-explanatory).  I am sure they are just as entertaining with much sage advice.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Library Patron from Hell or is it Cloud Cuckooland?

It is a frustrating truism of customer service that says, "The Customer is Always Right".  This is no less true in a Public Library. There has been a tendency in the last few years to hike costs related to overdue books, a necessity which has occurred owing to a steady decrease in government funding. Witness the following dialogue, verbatim as far as I can remember, overheard while I was packing the shelves in the early hours of Monday this week, before the library was open to the public.

LIbrarian (to her colleagues) :  Mrs B. tried her usual tricks to avoid paying her fines yesterday...

Mrs B:  I gave the  $3 to Susan last Friday.
Librarian:  Susan was on leave last Friday
Mrs B:  Oh, no, it was that man over there. I remember now
John:   No, it wasn't me.
Mrs B:  Oh, that's right, it was that Indian lady.
Kareesha: It wasn't me either.
Mrs B:  My mother didn't like the books, so why should I pay the fine?  Call Sandra, she'll cancel the fines for me.

(Names changed).

I am trying my hand at writing my novel having received an enquiry from one of our Book Club members. So grateful am I for her interest, that it has given me the push to start (1500 words so far..)  Interestingly, I am finding dialogue by far the hardest but very necessary part. Narrative is easy but dialogue essential.  I got a book on Creative writing and tips from the Net.  The purpose of dialogue is either to illustrate character or to advance the plot.  Boring day-to-day conversations are to be avoided. Most writers, it says, are great eavesdroppers and note-takers.  (Hence the above anecdote). I do have diaries from my youth, and my blog posts (especially re my eccentric dad), but nothing since except letters to my friends which are still in their hands. So I'm learning as I go. I have actually thought I should just write the whole damn thing (plot is done) and go back and replace scenes with dialogue afterwards.  Also, I've had to wait for one or two people on whom characters are 'loosely based' to die to avoid possible lawsuits. I have also decided not to slow down my typing by leaving out quote marks around speech. Some books are printed without them.

One thing struck me like a bolt of lightening. Why have you not yet started, asks the author?   Excuses proffered:  I am too busy at work, I have to plant those seedlings, I have to clean the house, I am too tired.   These can be rolled into one, says she, namely:

"I don't think I'm good enough'.   Wow.  Sextant, haul yours out and take another look. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Who Says we Can't Age Beautifully?

In the wine-growing area in the Western Cape, roses are just everywhere in spring and summer.  It seems that the farmers are in competition to provide the most spectacular roadside shows. This bush was just bursting with pride and showing off so much, I just had to take it picture for all to see. It's clearly a very old bush - just look at those gnarled and twisted limbs - but topped with the most glorious white blooms.  It made me think of a classy, elegant old lady.  Similarly, our cactus is looking very feminine at the moment: she hasn't at all minded moving to our new home.

Monday, 24 November 2014

A Tale of Two Dresses

Mine is nicer - try Googling

On unpacking yet another box - as more and more cupboards are appearing in our new home,  I found - still in its famous boutique carrier bag - a marvellous 1980s confection of a dress, complete with layers and layers of net that bouffant out in glorious, sparkly black and gold tiers, all ending at the knee.  It is strapless, tight in at the waist and I would have been the belle of the ball. Except that I have never worn it, not even once. My husband won a prestigious award that year, circa 1986, and we were invited to a grand event to receive it. Unlike my usual cautious shopping style, I ventured into one of those tiny, fancy boutiques in Johannesburg and paid a huge amount (albeit on sale) for my dress. I wanted my husband to be proud of me. Triumphantly, I returned home to the small town where we then lived, only to be told that my husband's boss had decided to send his best mechanic instead to receive the award. It seems his thinking was that this man would remain forever in his employ, whereas we would one day move on. We did, so maybe he had a point. But still. Devastated, I kept the dress and over the years I've hoped that either my daughter or my daughter-in-law would want to wear it. Not so far.  My daughter doesn't mince words: "Oh mom, it's awful".  The other girl more politely declined. What? Not even for a fancy dress party? So I am waiting for the inexorable wheel of fashion to turn again from the untidy, scrappy look of the last few years and for it to resurrect the fashions of the '80s. I'm hoping to hear, "Mom, can you lend me that gorgeous dress?"  One of my colleagues at the library still has her wedding dress. Never worn: she decided at the very last minute not to marry the man who had made her pregnant.  She takes the dress out once a year and sends it for dry-cleaning. She doesn't even have a daughter.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

That Perfunctory Hello/Goodbye Kiss and Holding Hands

I saw Kelsey Grammar on TV the other day, talking about his happiness with his 'new' wife and baby. Maybe this time it will last for him.  Not easy to be this kind of celebrity. One thing I remember from the interview that stuck in my mind was him saying that he had been missing a 'real' kiss for so long in his previous relationship. This got me thinking:  every morning when my husband goes to work, he kisses me goodbye.  He has always done it - for 37 years and ditto when he comes home (I've always arrived home first). I noticed that his father always did it too. My dad tried: my mom was usually cross with him for some reason and would try to avoid it. Sometimes I've been surprised that I've got my morning Goodbye: there are times when I've forgotten to put the geyser on and he had a cold shower, and there are the times when I forgot to buy toilet paper/eggs/bread etc. Regardless and no matter how frustrated he might be, he always kisses me goodbye. I understand now that it means that no matter the hassles of ordinary everyday life, he still loves me, no matter what.  It sets the tone for the rest of the day and allows for new beginnings.  Besides it sometimes lasts for up to two seconds.  That's not so perfunctory after all.  What will we do when he retires? We'll have to make another plan. To digress slightly: I draw your attention to  how many older couples hold hands in the street (and not just to steady each other).  Have you ever noticed how sensitive the insides of your palm are? Must be a lot of nerve endings. Delicious and intimate. Well, that's my thought for the day.

Monday, 17 November 2014

An Excessive Customer Service

Better late than never

As we are technically still of No Fixed Abode until mid-December, we finally got ourselves a Post Office Box, actually a private company one (as our national Postal service has been on strike for the last four months).  We decided to get a small parcel mailed there, close to our little flat,  from a company we had previously used about eight months ago to purchase two Eco-shower heads which were not on sale in any retailers in SA.  I duly e-mailed our new box address details to the supplier who had dealt with our last postal order and the same lady promised that the items would arrive within 3 working days. When this did not happen and she had e-mailed to ask if I was happy with my purchase, I tracked the parcel and found it had been delivered to the office close to where we used to live - now far away from our current abode. She had over-ridden my instructions and decided to send it to the office closest to the street address on her records.  It has eventually taken 8 days to get hold of my parcel. It's the old story of never 'ASS-u-me'.  She assumed she knew better than me what my postal address should be.  I assumed she would mail it automatically to the address I had given. I didn't think it relevant to tell her I had changed my street address.  It was a frustrating exercise but I can't really complain. She thought she was going the extra mile.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Story Time should be Story Tme at the Library

Google image
Ours is designed for littlies from about the age of two. I take my smallest grandson, normally a voluble speaker and singer. He has just turned two, but at storytime, he is completely mute, eyes wide, taking everything in but giving me no opportunity to brag about his advanced vocabulary. He sits on my lap, eyeing all the children but not appearing to participate at all. On the way home in the car, I hear immaculate renderings from the backseat re "Insy winsy spider" and the whole gamut of nursery rhymes that were sung that morning. Sadly, today's mothers don't seem to have been indoctrinated with nursery rhymes but thank goodness for grandmothers - and for storytime.  Our librarians do their best to keep up the tradition, recognizing the importance of both rhyme and music in child development. I've done my best to pass on all I learnt at my mother's knee (it seems my own daughter by-passed some of my lessons, but, to my great chagrin she is tone-deaf and can't sing anyway). Still, I've noticed that all my grandchildren can hold a tune and I am most grateful for that. I have one area of concern: our marvelous librarian is retiring next month and her next in line regards 'storytime' as an opportunity to teach as opposed to simply letting the children exercise their imaginations which is to me the definition of 'storytime'.  We have a lot of wonderful books in our children's library but last week the one chosen was a dreary book about re-cycling. It was dead boring. I watched the little ones getting restless and I felt really sorry.  Surely it's time enough to teach the children how to save the planet when they start school, circa age 5-6. It's not necessary at 2 -4.  When I was at Primary School we had a terrific Welsh male teacher who used to read us a chapter from "Kind Solomon's Mines" last lesson, every day.  We sat enthralled. In the last month when I was teaching High School and before I went on pregnancy leave, I played a BBC radio version of "Lord of the Rings" to all my 13-year-olds.  They sat in silence. You could have heard a pin drop.  The voices and special effects were amazing. What do you think

Monday, 10 November 2014

Extract a Smile Week

shy, but pleased

We are having a "Be Kind" week at our library.  I couldn't quite relate to this so I shall simply up the ante on my ongoing  "Extract a Smile" campaign. We do not have much of a "Service with a Smile" ethic in our society at the moment: many in the so-called Service Industries seem to have such deep chips on their shoulders that they must be in constant pain so rare are their smiles.  So I try to extract a smile wherever I go: my main targets are the cashiers at our supermarkets. I've tried all sorts of gambits but I find compliments work best. There's nothing like one woman saying to another, "I must just tell you how nice/smart/beautiful you look today," or "you look fabulous in that outfit" (this to passers-by, and yes, I do waylay some surprised women to do this.) It always results in a dazzling smile. Most of us have given up expecting compliments from the men in our lives. For some reason, I only approach older men in a similar vein, sensing that they probably grew up the way I did - be polite and always greet strangers (perhaps life was more innocent then). I don't include the young in my policy - after all, they have everything going for them, namely all the advantages of youth. Besides, they would be suspicious and think me nuts. I suppose the main reason I do this kind of thing is that I don't have much contact with people during the day. I am not very social, I don't belong to any clubs: in fact, I only have one friend that I see regularly  (story of my life wherever I've lived), so sometimes I like to reach out as long as it is just a passing thing. I suppose I should also try to extract more smiles from my husband - he is finding his last weeks at work very stressful, but he's a harder nut to crack. Misery likes company so when he comes home I am all serious face and sympathy - which seems to cheer him up. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Carpets or Tiles?

Google image - cool, noisy?
Google image - cosy floor, quiet
Probably the main decider is climate.  In the UK, where I grew up, everyone had carpets (even in the bathroom) and everyone, (including once even a young policeman) is required to take off their shoes on entering one's abode. On arriving in a hot country, like South Africa, I soon found that carpets were confined to bedrooms as the outdoor life meant that, men, in particular, gave no thought at all to whatever dirt they tramped into the house, granted that it was more dust than mud. These days, fashion dictates various new types of flooring throughout like vinyl or bamboo or laminated floors. I can't get use to these because to me they look like rooms in UK houses which only looked like that when they were stripped, waiting for new carpets. So in my mind, they look unfinished. Wooden floors were built between floors in double-storey houses. And we all had an upstairs because on a small island with a big population, space has always been at a premium. Surprised was I, a new immigrant to South Africa in 1976, to find that most homes were what we British would call "Bungalows" i.e. single-story homes, nicely spread out. No stairs. Weird. In the UK, only old people lived in such. Times have changed: the young are slaves to fashion. In the two apartments we have now bought since selling our house, one has carpets in the bedrooms and the one we are in has tiles throughout. The downside to tiles in the bedroom is that dust bunnies gather in profusion every time one makes the bed. With carpets, they absorb the dust and store it until one feels like vacuuming. As our bedroom is tiny, I can't move the bed or get the vacuum or broom underneath. Solution: blast the bunnies out with a hairdryer, then sweep them up. I think I prefer carpets as I am not the world's most conscientious housewife.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Two Types of People

Garage at our old house


Motor bike stripped and being rebuilt

Other wood work stuff
I sometimes think that there are basically two types of people:  the practical types who never earn much money but do everything themselves, and the theoretical types, who gather degrees, earn large salaries and pay someone else to do their stuff.  The latter tend to be very sociable, like people and spend most of their leisure time out and about, eating in restaurants, going to shows etc.  Sometimes I envy them.  However, I confess that I belong to the former category as does my husband. We tend to find eating out expensive and a bit of a waste of time. After all, we could be doing 'jobs' at home.  Both of us come from parents who trained us this way. We tend to be content with each other's company and when one of us dies, well, the other will probably get a dog. We do however, often have breakfast 'out' as this means we can work uninterrupted the rest of the day. We like it this way. As we speak, hubby is busy laying tiles in our little flat.  When people ask what is he going to do with himself when he retires  (7 weeks time),  we both look puzzled.  Witness hubby's previous garage at our old house and try to imagine how long it took to move it to the new one.  I don't know how the pictures will upload on my webpage. I hope they look OK.

On my page, the pics have text around them - except the last one (below).

I shall be posting pics of progress at our retirement house next re re-location of garage stuff.

Monday, 3 November 2014

I Just Knew I shouldn't Have....

.... fiddled with every button on the TV remote.  Well, I had two hours of ironing and was watching an undemanding film on the box and thought, "While I am involved in an undemanding chore like ironing, now is the time for me to properly learn how to master the TV remote."  I have always been bothered that there are so many buttons on it that I have been warned not to touch. I wanted to change the picture shape as the people were looking too tall and thin. Which icon?  Several options presented themselves but I couldn't decide which so I pressed the "Analogue/Digital" button as the least ambiguous choice.  Big mistake.  Immediately a black screen, with a 'No Signal' message, 3 fizzy-looking screens if I scrolled up or down accompanied by so much noise, I had to hastily press the mute button. Choosing "Back' had no effect.  In vain, did I then naturally press every single button - nothing. Eventually, I managed to get a "Twin picture" screen - which meant I could still watch my movie in miniature but still no sound.  I could have called my husband away from his cupboards, but I felt I deserved to be punished.  One hour later, having hazarded a somewhat unsatisfactory guess at 'who had dunnit',  hubby came upstairs, pressed one button (in secret) and behold! Everything back to normal.  Meanly, he refused to tell me how he did it, just grinned and went back to his woodwork.