Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Snakes and Badders

google image

It occurs to me that this evergreen childhood game (as pronounced by my 5-year-old grandson then) is a prime example of how to prepare a youngster for the vicissitudes of life.  Can there be a more telling example of the blows delivered by fate - up one minute and on top of the world - brought down to earth and into the doldrums the next.  Even now, I dread throwing the dice, my heart is in my mouth as I move my token around the board - will I land on a dreaded snake?  The end is in sight - but so is that incredible long snake that sends the hapless player plunging back down almost to the beginning again. I sympathised greatly with my grandson as I used to watch him struggle not to cheat when moving his token to avoid the mouth of the grinning snake that was his legitimate destination. Yet the game is highly popular still with children (leaving computer games out of the equation for the moment.) It must be the frisson of excitement generated by the threat of the hugely colorful snakes and enticing ladders. Any game of chance seems to me on reflection to be pretty pointless, apart from this character-building side effect, because unless you are born lucky (I do have one such friend who is always winning things), your chances of winning are 50/50 - no skill or thought required. Perhaps it's just that I wasn't born lucky, never had a big (or indeed small) win on anything. I guess the golden rule is, whatever kind of game you are playing - don't play for money.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Murphy's Law in Spades

Sore toe on left foot - nasty plastic pipes now used instead of 

copper so fittings don't fit

Long ago my husband put a sink out on the upstairs balcony - before he recently closed in part of it as a laundry room. Thus I've been happily doing my washing with the machine connected to the existing taps (fawcets?) and drain. However this meant we could not use the taps in any other way. So hubby planned to change the plumbing to accommodate both. All was fine until he pointed the big drill at the wall and unfortunately drilled straight into the existing pipe. (Much cursing directed at the original plumber for putting the pipes in the wrong place) Of course, he was drenched, trying to stem the tide, while yelling for me to run down to the sidewalk to turn off the water supply. Naturally, the tap hasn't been turned in years and I couldn't do it. Had to race back upstairs and say he had to do it. Meanwhile, most of the water was pouring out of the tap which he had managed to turn on. As he rushed out of the door, he slipped on some of the water and stubbed his toe so hard on the door frame he is convinced it is broken (toe not frame).  He limped down to the street and turned off the mains. Back again - very slowly up the stairs because of bad knee -  he sat in the puddle to continue the battle and I had to run round the house turning on all the taps to empty the geyser. Thoughtfully, I then took him 3 disprins to help with the pain of the toe. I was met with a reproachful look: had I forgotten he is having the surgery on his knee this week and can't take painkillers or anti-inflammatories for two weeks beforehand?  Oops. One good thing: they have at last got our swimming pool into its hole and filled it with water - so we have been able at least to bring up bucketsful for the toilets.  I also saved enough water for coffee and tea.  It's Sunday today, and after another trip to the hardware store, work continues....  Please hold thumbs for us.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

A Fashion in Fiction-writing I don't like

Google image from the TV series

It's the literary device of telling your story by going backwards and forwards in time. Yes, there are some writers who do it very well, but I've got tired of this particular style of writing.  I can just about stomach a mysterious Prologue (that of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a case in point - remember all those flower pictures on the wall?) But preferably, give me a good story that starts at the beginning and carries on to a satisfactory end, with some good plotting and characterisation and easy enough to read so that I don't keep having to go back to a previous chapter to clarify the situation (possibly 50 years in the future or the past in the next).  The same applies to film.  I've been watching "The Honorable Woman", starring Maggie Gyllenhall, which currently airs on one of our satellite channels.  The credits which roll at the beginning of the first episode flash tiny bits of the entire story-to-come, which at a guess will probably be about 8 x 1  1/2 hour parts. They are so confusing though clearly meant to be tantalising - the same technique is applied during the actual episodes - that several of my friends gave up watching altogether after the first or second episode. I have stuck it out until the 5th part and am finally sorting out who is who and what is really going on.  Still, I have watched with a constant feeling of frustration throughout. Anyone agree?

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Pirate Princess

Complete outfit - frilly skirt over shorts

I suppose every year my daughter scratches her head to think of new themes for the children's birthdays which both occur in March.  I just had to share this pic - could there be anything more definitive of a Pirate Princess?  (She is more partial to clothing now than the last pic I shared of her 2nd birthday). Her birthday is two weeks before her brother's - he will be 7 next week.  My daughter says it is difficult to counter M's logic every year when he asks why his sister's birthday is always first when he is older than her?  Perhaps he'll get it next year. Meanwhile, although he was jealous of her pile of presents, he scorned the 'Barbie stuff' but tried very hard to get hold of her battery-powered bubble-making machine.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Terrible Beauty leaves a Bad Taste

The fire started late at night. This is 2.00 a.m.

Two weeks ago we experienced the worst fire on our mountain in fifteen years. Four thousand hectares of bush/forest were ravaged and 13 homes burnt down. I happened (in my usual insomniac way) to be awake in the middle of that Sunday night, listening to my local radio station when concerned citizens started to phone in. By 2.30 a.m. it had climbed over the mountain due to very high winds and was approaching the area where my daughter lives. I was very anxious: they were starting to evacuate people from the Old Age Home nearby.  I wanted to phone her but was sure things would be under control. Sure enough, she told me the next day they had been evacuated at 3.00 a.m. Mercifully, the fire was prevented from entering their area and they were allowed back home the next afternoon.  The fire was only brought under control after 4 days: the winds were ferocious, the flames incredibly high and the firemen incredibly brave.  Local people rallied round with 24-hour refreshments and helped in any way they could. 450 firemen were brought in from other provinces. It was a huge effort.  Our local radio station had a phone-in and raised almost R4 million for the volunteer organizations for training and equipment. Ironically, this had an unpleasant backfire reaction in our nearby shanty towns whose shacks regularly burn, especially in winter because of knocked-over candles and parafin fires. Bitterly, they asked why was there no such fund-raising when their own settlements burned and children died.  They turned it into a racist thing: "citizens of Cape Town only care about the white people".  This is untrue: every year all kinds of organisations help in the townships and they receive the services of the very same fire services.  Some things we can't help with like the deaths. Many of these shack fires are the result of drunkenness or drug use, especially the ubiquitous tik. And are these evils not the result of unemployment, poverty and overcrowding? So many illegal immigrants cross our borders from N.Africa every day.  False documents are so easy to obtain, The Internet helps and we have many corrupt officials in our Home Affairs departments. So who's to blame for their fires? This is Africa. A thought: the cause of this fire has not yet been established - the photographs are breath-taking and awesome - one can almost understand the compunction of pyromaniacs.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Much Ado About Nothing

Google image

The oddest thing about my husband being at home all the time, is that he now claims half of the house is his to do as he likes in.  This may sound fine and equitable but it means things like beard hair from his razor left in the bathroom sink, work surfaces are not wiped down after he cooks  (I hear you - at least he cooks!) He doesn't put the pillows straight on his side of the bed after our afternoon nap, doesn't close the drawers in the dressing room properly and demands to put plants he prefers in half the garden! The frustrating thing is his point of view is indisputably reasonable and the logic cannot be argued so I am obliged to put up with the above.  However, a line must be drawn on the subject of plasters.  Since (very foolishly) putting his hand on one of his machines that had to be heated up before using and finding too late that it was indeed hot, I am finding used plasters lying all over the house as, of course, they don't stay on his fingers for long when he works on his many projects. Perhaps I have a case for demanding their disposal (by him) from the point of view of hygiene?  So I have left them. So far. It looks as if I shall lose this one as he just doesn't seem to notice. To be fair I ought to mention that I am extremely possessive over my tins of furniture oil and refuse to allow them to be used to oil our wooden staircase because they are expensive.  "When did you last oil the furniture?" asked he.  Well because the product is expensive I had to admit the last time I had used it was before we moved house last year (that was in May).  QED - no reason why he can't use them then. Of course if we anticipate imminent visitors coming to stay, I shall throw principles to the wind and do all of the above myself.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Speech Patterns

I have often marvelled at how ineradicalble are the speech patterns we grow up with in our first language.  I used to think it was a matter of intelligence whether a person could pick up the correct speech rhythms in a second or even third language. I have since had reason to change my mind. At one time in my life when I lived in Israel for two years, I used to give private English lessons: one of my students was a highly intelligent German gentleman, aged about 65, who wanted to  eliminate his German accent. Not matter how hard we tried he simply could not pronounce a "w", it always came out as a 'v'.  We gave up and he and his wife enchanted me with their 'Shakespeare evenings' when they would invite friends over and listen to records of English actors reading Shakespeare plays. I've also wondered how it is that some people simply can't read aloud. An example would be young children performing their annual Nativity plays:  some pronounce their lines entirely naturally, others are stilted and with weird intonation. My husband can't read aloud: when he reads me things 'out loud' I have to cringe when he takes a breath in mid-sentence and mispronounces words. But he is an intelligent being. Does this disability stem from bad teaching when he was learning to read?  Surely a teacher explains that a reader must send his eyes ahead of his brain so that his words sound natural? It's not something I embarrass him about: you learn to sweat only the small stuff. Similarly, I love certain accents and dislike others. e.g. I love a Texan and a Bronx accent  but I really dislike certain African voice speaking English to the extent that I switch off my radio. What does anyone think?

A Heath Robinson Affair

 As usual when I am required to help my husband with something he forgets that I am not very tall. This time when asked to hold up the long aluminium window frame of my new wash room so that it wouldn't sag in the middle while he went down to the garage, my arm began to tire and I was just able to grab the small steps, a tool box and a broom and set up a substitute before my arm collapsed. I remembered something my mother used to talk about and I thought it would be appropriate to my calamitous situation.  Something about a Heath Robinson effort with reference to things that my dad was inclined to do. Needless to say, I had to Google and consult Wikipaedia to find the precise reference.  I see that it very much describes the sorts of things my brother loves doing as well. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Heath Robinson" is used to refer to an improbable, rickety machine barely kept going by incessant tinkering. (The corresponding term in the U.S. is Rube Goldberg, after an American cartoonist with an equal devotion to odd machinery.  (Wikipaedia)

Fun With Washing

Just a little fun today. I was hanging washing when hubby asked me to hold the ladder while he ascended to make adjustments to the roof of my new laundry room.  With a little imagination it looks as if I have left the bottom half of my body to hang the washing while my top half is holding the ladder. It happened that he had washed a pair of shoes and left them under the line to dry - underneath a pair of jeans.  Have a nice day.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Keeping in Touch - or not.

Google image

In this digital age, there can be no excuse for not keeping in touch with family and friends because it can be done at the touch of a button or by lifting a phone.  Of course, it's easier if you can touch-type as the words appear almost as fast as you can think them. The thing is people go through periods in their lives when they don't want to be in contact. After many unanswered e-mails and skype messages to my beloved cousin (we grew up so close), I finally received a Christmas card last year, apologizing for the lack of communication but only saying she had had a 'difficult' year. I have to respect that and I'll try again in a few months' time, worried now as to what has been going on in her life. Whatever it is she hasn't wanted to tell me about it and I hope this year goes better for her. The same goes for many old friends: often we have joyfully found each other on Facebook, exchanged potted stories of our lives and then gone our separate ways. My best friend is hopeless at any written correspondence but she loves a telephone. I am the opposite. She loves to sit for hours chatting on Skype, I would rather e-mail. So we don't talk often: I used to pop in to her house once a week at least for a cuppa and a chat when we lived close. The thing is we don't keep score or hold a grudge: we know we will be available for each other should the need arise. My husband is even worse: he and his friends just phone each other once a year on their birthdays. The key thing is if you can talk as easily and naturally when you do speak as if no time at all had passed.  If not, maybe the friendship should be consigned to the past. Relatives can be put on a back burner.