Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I need a vacation to recover from my vacation…

Has anyone else noticed that when you return home from a holiday, regardless of where you went and what you did, you get up the next morning to suitcases full of dirty laundry and an empty refrigerator?

We got home Sunday night from 16 days of driving, looking, seeing, photographing, and then driving some more. We dragged in a multitude of suitcases, bags, bundles, and packets plus a small table and a large plant. After depositing them randomly in the dining room and wolfing down a Mr. Delivery order, we fell into an exhausted sleep…blessedly in our own bed, for a refreshing change…and rose to the raucous racket of the alarm clock at barely six. Monday morning and Dear Hubby has to hie himself off to work.

As I closed the garage door after his departure, I fatuously said to myself “Ah, poor thing…he has to go back to the office while I have the day all to myself…Felicia is on holiday, no workmen scheduled…I can read, compute, watch TV or DVDs…” Smugly, I sauntered back into the house and made the mistake of stepping into the dining room…

It was nothing short of carnage, my dining room. The table was covered with packets and bits and bobs of things and surrounded by half-opened suitcases and bags, their fetid contents spilling untidily out onto the floor like so much offal. Even the kitchen counter was inaccessible, every available inch littered with the disgorged contents of shopping bags, tote bags, and miscellaneous containers. Discarded bits of bubble wrap, newspaper shreds and wads of packing paper littered the floor, mute testimony to my haste to reveal the glory of my prized Ardmore pot…purchased direct at the Ardmore pottery…to see if it really would look as great as I had imagined it would standing on the hand-carved three-legged table DH had negotiated for me in St. Lucia (it did).

But the room was a disaster…my beautiful polished pine furniture was buried under a blanket of discards mixed with as-yet-unrecovered treasures, the Oriental rug was nothing but an occasional glimpse of colour beneath the shifting dunes of discarded packing materials, dirty shirts and scattered shoes; nothing of the kitchen counters were visible beneath their burden, the refrigerator and cupboards were bare…there was nothing to eat, nothing to drink, and virtually nothing to wear…and DH was off at work, sitting in an air conditioned office, with nothing to do but play with his computer! There would be no lollygagging for me this day!

Laundry was the first order of business, five loads of grubby, sweat-stained garments that had been stuffed into suitcases for the better part of two weeks. Yah, we’d found a laundry partway through the trip and had things washed, but we had since worn them again and…well…let’s just say there is a reason that laundry hampers do not have tight-fitting lids… The doggies were filthy, their hair overgrown and sticking out wildly in all directions, their silky white coats grey with dirt. Obviously somebody had found themselves a nice patch of sand or dirt and had had a joyful time rolling in it…repeatedly! When I called the groomers, however, I learned that they were booked solid through the week…and they were closing on Thursday and would remain closed until January 3! Fortunately, a little whining and pleading (and the fact that we’ve been loyal customers for nearly two years) got me an appointment, but no pick-up and delivery…I had to do that myself.

I had to make a plan…there was just too much to do, too little time to do it, and the maid is on holiday in the Transkei. There was a mountain of laundry, two dirty doggies, and entire ML-load of purchases to unpack and put in their places, empty refrigerator and cupboards to fill…who was kidding whom about reading, computing and TV watching?

I did manage to catch up on the email and to get a blogspace going on my old site so I could point readers to the new one, but from the time the stores flung open their doors, my trusty laptop was destined to languish, abandoned and alone on the unmade bed, until I could rejoin it in the dark hours. I had been on holiday for two weeks and now it was time to pay the piper.

Bertha…which we were now calling “Dirty Bertie” due to the unimaginable coating of dust and the crust of kamikaze bugs she had collected on our many off-road adventures…and I rolled out the driveway with the two wriggling yapping doggies on board. Nashie loves to go “bye-bye” and apparently has communicated his joy to Candy for she no longer cringes at the prospect of a ride in the car. Nashie, however, is no fool. Halfway to the groomers he figured out where we were going (maybe I should try another route next time?) and began to moan pitifully. Candy, oblivious as ever, continued bounding happily from the centre console to the window and back, making occasional forbidden forays into my lap. She leapt joyfully out of the car when I opened the door and strained mightily at her leash while poor Nash just stood on the seat and looked at me with mournful, reproachful eyes. I could read his little doggie mind… “abandoned for two weeks and the first thing she does is take me to the torture place to be sudsed and drowned and my butt shaved and my glands squeezed…she really does hate me!”

Doggies safely entrusted to the groomers, Dirty Bertie and I rolled majestically (even disgracefully dirty, Bertha has a grand aura of stateliness to her) towards the Pick ‘n’ Pay…the cupboard really was bare!...only to find ourselves surrounded and immobilized by a slavering horde of other cars. Where did all these people come from? And why couldn’t I get just one kilometre from the groomer to the market without being embroiled in a bad imitation of commute traffic? It wasn’t even noon! At first I thought it was the Christmas shopping rush…I was passing Bayside, after all, and the parking lot was full. But as the traffic inexorably crept forward, the true source of the problem was revealed: a timid driver in a royal blue Toyota was afraid to stick his neck out and enter the traffic circle at one of the Bayside parking lot exits and the exiting shoppers were rolling through unchecked. Car after car crept out from behind Blue Toyota Man and entered the second lane of the circle while the Toyota stayed rooted to the spot, effectively choking traffic for nearly a kilometre back. I slowly rolled Bertha’s imposing bulk up until she filled the Toyota’s rear view mirror and at the next opening in the stream of cars leaving Bayside, I gave Blue Toyota Man a blast of Bertha’s hooter. The third time I “alerted” him to an acceptable opening in the traffic stream, Blue Toyota Man got the hint and bolted out into the traffic circle like a scared rabbit, a big grey Mercedes wolf on its tail. He was still running when I veered off his trail and wheeled Bertha into the Pick ‘n’ Pay parking lot.

Not being entirely stupid…and having long ago learned the value of doing last minute Christmas shopping at the very moment the store opens (and exiting within an hour)…I expected to find the Pick ‘n’ Pay centre a bit less hectic than Bayside. There are few browse-worthy shops in the centre, its tenants being more the kind of shops that you visit with a purpose…shoe repair, liquor store, security shop, pharmacy…that sort of thing. But I underestimated the zeal of the shopping-frenzied South African woman, for despite the store being relatively uncrowded, my fellow shoppers had not shifted out of retail combat mode.

South Africa enjoys the dubious distinction of having one of the worst traffic fatality records of any civilized nation on the planet…600 people have already died on the nation’s roads this month, in a country roughly twice the size of Texas…and if South Africans take the same mental attitude into the car with them that these people were displaying in the store, the only wonder is that the carnage is no greater than it is! I have long-since learned the folly of being in a hurry…the gain of a few seconds (which is all you ever get) simply is not worth the elevated blood pressure and souring of mood…but it seems I was much in the minority. Women of all shapes and sizes, ages and descriptions shoved their trolleys in front of them like rolling battering rams, whacking and sideswiping anyone or anything unfortunate enough to be between them and their objectives. Powered by caffeine and determination, they surged through the aisles, unapologetically crashing into other trolleys and even into each other without the barest hint of apology or acknowledgement. Queue-jumping at the deli and cold meat counters was rampant, arms snaking out into one’s field of vision to snatch a jug of milk or loaf of bread from in front of one’s face a regular thing. The thin veneer of courtesy and civilisation that separates us from the beasts had been scraped away to reveal the brute within. It was ugly.

And so I sojourned home to face the soothing mindlessness of unpacking the groceries, unpacking more bags, washing yet another load of clothes, my peace of mind gnawed at the edges with the sure knowledge that tomorrow I would have to venture out again…this time to Makro (a down-sized CostCo, for Americans---same stuff, same style, same volume, half the space to display it in). Dinner came and went and finally…finally!...I could rest my increasingly weary bones on my wonderful king-sized bed with all the fat pillows, fire up the laptop and blog.

I’ll bet you know what happened next…yup…fell dead asleep and had to write the blog this morning!

Happy Holidays to you, and the next entry will see me trying to upload photos of my holiday. Skip it if you don’t like travelogues punctuated by photos of yawning hippo, annoyed elephant, and basking crocodiles. We went a lot of places and saw a lot of stuff!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Observations of the Random Kind...

Ag! Somebody call the WHO…Les Médecins sans Frontières…the CDC! There is a plague upon us! An epidemic! Oh, the humanity…It’s too horrible to contemplate…eeeeeeeeeeeek!!

We’ve had to spend a little time in malls lately and it would appear that summer us upon us here in Cape Town with a vengeance. Saturday was sunburn weather for pale, peaked-looking blondes like me, cabriolet weather for the young and the sporty, like my husband, and execrable taste in clothing weather for half the women over the age of consent.

Each year brings its own examples of trendy new looks which, because of their very trendiness, quickly fade into the realm of tedious and tiresome. This year everybody has a white tiered skirt. Yah, there are a few variations…lace between the tiers, bling on some of them, maybe not white but the same style…three fourths of the female population of Cape Town must own one of these trite…but light and summery…little numbers. Paired with them, invariably, is an ungainly eyesore of a belt, invariably of a contrasting colour, invariably of a weight, texture, size, and style to clash with and simply overwhelm the deliberate delicacy of the dainty summer skirt. Few, if any, of the adherents to this bankrupt notion of style demonstrate any fashion sense in selecting the tops they wear with those charming little skirts, either. Fragile, fluttery little tops with handkerchief-hems or lettuce-edges designed to catch the eye with their airy, ethereal, wispiness and which should pair beautifully with the skirts, are pinioned, overwhelmed and overpowered, by those clunky, clumsy leather and metal atrocities that instantly fatten even the slimmest hips.

But the most egregious offenders are not the young girls who haven’t paraded around in enough fashion disasters to have learned a few embarrassing (and expensive) lessons. They aren’t the twenty-somethings who failed to get the memo about pube-baring pants and bucket-bottom jeans being tacky and entirely too passé. No, the flagrant offenders are those who should, more than anyone else, know better. I am referring to the current plague of Mutton Dressed as Lamb.

I try…I really try…to stifle my urge to make an under-the-breath critical remark when faced with a woman who is definitely old enough to know better but who is running around, just the same, with a bunch of her wrinkly, crinkly parts grossly overexposed. I truly try to not roll my eyes and hiss through my teeth when someone who is well past the first…and second…blush of youth packages her saggy baggy bits in threads specifically designed for the fit, the firm, the young. Even a fit woman past a certain age is collagen-deprived all over her body and while the muscle may, with effort and a private flat at Virgin Active, stay firm, there’s no help for the skin. Yah, you can lift this and inject that, but the plump, moist glowing smoothness of youth inevitably gives way to the thin, fragile, crepey texture of age, no matter what you do…and a helluva lot sooner than most of us…and all of them…want to admit!

My husband is not ordinarily a critical man, particularly where women are concerned, and most especially when it comes to women’s clothes. He follows the age-old male dictum of “less is more” and is not particularly attuned to the nuances of female fashion, but even he has taken notice of the recent upsurge in MDL sightings. “Mouton,” he whispered to me in the queue at the Pick ’n’ Pay the other night, and subtly inclined his head towards a woman browsing the Coke Lite display. From behind…and at a sufficient distance…she could have been taken for being in her mid-to-late twenties.

Long, moussed, teased, highlighted, artfully tousled hair cascaded to mid-back. An long expanse of extraordinarily tanned leg reached from a trendy pair of orange and pink high-heeled sandals upwards to disappear beneath the hem of an extremely short white skirt that was liberally printed with large red rosebuds. A shoestring strap cotton knit lettuce-edged T-shirt, pink layered over orange, completed the ensemble. Even the faulty selection of the clothing…the matching shirt and shoes paired with an “oh, that is soooo wrong!” skirt, bespoke a young woman still getting her fashion bearings. And yet…

There was something too perfect…too packaged…about the whole thing, even from behind. And, sure enough, she turned around and the face, the slight neck wattle, the softened jawline, the dead giveaway aging hands…surely she had borrowed the clothes from the closet of her twenty-something daughter? There were signs of rhinoplasty…the nose didn’t look bad, it just didn’t look real on that face. Was her forehead botoxed or just lifted a bit too much? Too-perky, artificially firm bosoms pushed out the front of the top, creating a prow-like effect. It was all just a bit bizarre!

We really aren’t very critical of the majority of people whom we encounter on our sojourns about the city. Lumpy huisvroue, dressed in calico or jeans and the nearest T-shirt to hand, faces naked as the day they were born, hair yanked back in a knot…these are women who employ no artifice, make no efforts to be anything more than the creature, for good or for ill, who greets them in the bathroom mirror each morning. They make no attempt to join the ranks of the trim and trendy and cannot, therefore, be held accountable to that standard. The young and exuberant, stumbling their way through the ever-changing fashion/fad/trend/style landscape, learning by failing, learning by succeeding, learning by doing…this is a time of individuation, experimentation, learning for the young teen crowd, and they can’t learn without making a few…mostly forgivable…mistakes along the way. (But I am almost compelled to ask, when I see a 13-year-old dressed like a $2 whore, “Where is your mother? What was she thinking, letting you out in public looking like paedophile-bait?”)

Women who dress and groom themselves as if they were the be-all and end-all of fashion, however, who seem to view themselves as, if not trendsetters, at least cutting-edge fashionistas…but who fall desperately short of the mark…these women are a different story altogether. My favourites are the omnivores, the eager fashion omni-victims, those poor, deluded souls who disgorge the contents of their pocketbooks at the first sign of a new trend, whether it suits them or not. My husband, on the other hand, tends to notice those whom we have come to call “fake teenagers”…Mutton Dressed as Lamb. And the malls these past days have been overrun with them!

Last weekend we sat at a café, sipping cold drinks and watching the parade of passersby. There was the one I nicknamed Morticia Addams. Long, inky black hair (sadly, devoid of the suppleness and sheen that denotes natural, healthy colour and condition) with raggedy ends and a white streak emblazoned from one side of her forehead all the way to mid-crown. Long, lean…to the point of unnatural thinness…legs encased first in stiletto heeled boots sporting weapon-like toes, then in skinny black jeans low cut enough to be barely decent. From behind, as she browsed the skimpy summer tops at Mr. Price, she looked like an anorexic teenager, but the face, when she turned around, showed decades of hard living. So did her bared belly. It was deplorable, that toneless expanse of bare flesh, and although I was too far away to actually see the stretch marks themselves, the half-mast nature of her navel…a dead giveaway to another stretch-marked sister…told the tale.

In stark relief were the middle-aged ladies who were comfortable in their skins. Some of them were stout and matronly, dressed in casual slacks and tunic tops that skimmed their ample curves tastefully. Others had maintained the slimness of youth, but had opted for coiffures and fashion that flattered their mature looks: sport casual looks from the likes of Lacoste or the South African version of Liz Claiborne, attractively groomed women who saw no need to cling embarrassingly to a youth long past. Holding hands with their (presumed) husbands and strolling past the shops, the presented an almost poignant counterpoint to the pathetic and desperate aging MDLs that surged around them, tricep wings flapping, crinkled bellies jiggling, hair-extensions obvious to anyone who knows what they are.

It was actually kind of sad, seeing all these women who really are old enough to know better, reduce their self-worth to their tits and asses, to realize that without their youth…or the youth they see in their magic mirrors each morning…they believe themselves to be of diminished worth. Women who accept the stages of their lives, who recognize that age and gravity have a telling effect on us, are so much more attractive than those who cling in panic to a time long-dead. They not only look ridiculous and do themselves as disservice, they teach our daughters that, without youth we have no value, and therefore we must cling to it, claw it to our breasts, damage our skin, carve up our flesh, malnourish our bodies, and make damned fools of ourselves in public…all to maintain an illusion of youth that is immediately dispelled the moment a real teenager hoves into view. Kinda pointless, isn’t it?

And pathetic.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Letting the Bitch out...

So, on Thursday I let my Inner Bitch out to play

Sometimes this is a necessary thing, you know. Bitchiness, like any other negative behaviour, actually has a useful place in one’s repertoire of interpersonal skills. The trick is not to allow it to become a personality trait, but to keep and use it as a tool…a tool of last resort…when it is necessary to accomplish something that is sufficiently important to warrant its use.

Allow me to elucidate, please…

Two years ago, newly wed, I followed my freshly-minted husband from my home in Silicon Valley to his home in Cape Town, South Africa. Unlike many Americans, I was not so insular that I expected to find lions roaming the streets and giraffe ambling along the dirt tracks connecting the dusty villages full of barefoot villagers. I knew that South Africa was the single most modern and powerful nation on the continent and, although technically an “emerging nation,” it was a country full of modern conveniences and a wholly Western-style government and infrastructure.

I was not disappointed when I arrived. It looked a lot like America. The weather was a lot like the Bay Area’s. I saw more Mercedes and BMWs on the roads than in Silicon Valley. The food was mostly familiar, virtually everyone spoke English (if I listened hard enough), and with the exception of learning the currency and how to drive on the wrong side of the road, the integration process was mercifully brief and virtually painless. Unashamedly, for my only paradigm was that of a liberal, “Left Coaster,” I saw Cape Town (and by extension, the rest of South Africa) as being more like America than different from it.

For the most part, this impression has borne itself out, at least in the white, middle-class sector. In fact, the majority of white South Africans enjoy a higher standard of living then their Silicon Valley counterparts, a completely counter-intuitive declaration but demonstrated readily by the sheer magnitude of the domestic service industry: almost every white South African householder has a maid at least once a week. Many have “sleep in” maids. And, when perusing the property ads, the phrase “servant’s quarters” is not uncommon to find.

South Africa, for all its similarities to America, has profound differences in even the most superficial aspects. And one of the differences that I have found most glaring is in the service sector. To put it briefly and bluntly, it sucks. And not just with South African marques, either. We have endured three years of dismal service from the local Honda dealers and nearly two years of equally bad service from Mercedes (although I must say a complaint to Mercedes HQ got a much better response than a complaint to the Honda HQ). Even American companies…which pride themselves on good service…are not immune to the service malaise that infects this country: my latest run-in was with Whirlpool!

I must confess to having owned Whirlpool appliances in the States and having been very satisfied with them. But, sadly, I can’t give them anything but a grudging “not exactly excrement” grade for my service interaction with them this week. You see, my husband and I own a rental property here in Cape Town, a property that has been under renovation for several very expensive months. A large house has been divided into two spacious flats and the maid’s quarters, a dark, dismal, foul, barely habitable hole has been completely gutted and renovated and made into a bachelor flat (studio cottage). Now, Cape Town is the holiday destination in South Africa, for Europeans and South Africans alike, so we decided to put the little cottage up for rent as a “self catering” holiday flat (that means we provide everything but your food and your clothes: dishes, pots 'n' pans, appliances, etc.). We can make more in one week than the flat could rent for on a month-to-month rental so, since holiday season is hard upon us (is it gloriously summer here!), we listed ourselves on some holiday websites and, in the very first week, we had a bite! R2000 for five days (the long term rental is R2000 a month!) and the man was pleased to pay it! We eagerly confirmed his booking, grinned like two Cheshire cats when his deposit showed up in our bank account, then scrambled to get the last minute things done to get it ready.

Hubby put together the kettle braai (Webber BBQ), cleaned the pool, got a TV for the place. I got a TV technician in to set up the antenna leads. We picked up a cute little stainless steel microwave at a ridiculously low cost, and a small refrigerator with a little freezer on the top. Last Saturday, Hubby and I spent hours getting the place ready, running the extension cords to the appliances (everything runs on extension cords and “multiplugs” here) and confirming everything worked, and I popped some bottled water into the fridge for our guests. Tuesday, three days before our first guests were due, we stopped by to water the gardens and I pulled a bottle of ice water from the fridge…only to find it wasn’t cold. Not even cool. Dear God, the brand new fridge didn’t work and the guests were arriving in two days...and had taken four days to get the thing delivered!

For two days my husband was shifted from one place to another. Salesmen and department managers and service people promised to “look into it” and call him back…few did. By Thursday, things were looking critical…our guest was arriving the following day and we still didn’t have a functioning refrigerator…and neither the store from which we bought it nor their service arm had come up with a plan. And then Hubby had to go into a meeting and said that I had to call the supervisor at the service company which, by the way, was Whirlpool.

“Whirlpool?” I asked, aghast. “Whirlpool the American company, Whirlpool?” He confirmed and then rang off, saying he just had to get to his meeting.

Steam escaping from my ears, I picked up the phone and called the supervisor. I could understand the “hang loose” attitude that many South Africans evidence in their own daily workaday worlds, but this was an American company and I fully expect American levels of service from them. The company that has been jerking me around for two-and-a-half days is not a laid back South African firm but an American one? I’m pissed!

The phone was answered and the accent was definitely South African…but the company was not. “This is Mrs. Gxxxxx,” I said by way of introduction, “What is the story with the refrigerator?”

“The technician says it needs to go into the workshop,” he tells me.

Huh? How the hell would the technician know anything? Nobody has been out to see it! Nobody has called me, and I have the keys to the flat where it is locked up… “How would he know?” I asked. “Nobody’s been there.”

Now it was his turn to be confused. He was sure his technician had been there to look at the machine. Soon it is discovered that the technician did see the refrigerator, he just failed to telephone me…my builder, who is still renovating the other two flats…let them in. Hours ago. And neither I nor my husband knew a thing…which wasted hours of precious time needed to arrange for a replacement.

“I need a refrigerator in that unit by noon tomorrow,” I tell him. “It is a holiday flat and we have guests arriving tomorrow afternoon and I need something in there by noon so it will be cold by the time they arrive.”

“Weeeeeeellllll,” he drawls out in his South African accent, “We have to pick up that unit and it needs to go into the shop…”

“Look,” I interrupt him, “I don’t care. If you can’t have a working fridge in there by noon tomorrow, just come pick up the broken one…and bring my money with you. I’ll just go to House and Home [a major competitor] and buy a bar fridge that I can get there in the back of my Mercedes.”

“It’ not that easy…” he drawls out. Again I interrupt him. “This is an American company, right? And I am sure you can tell by my accent that I am an American. In fact, I owned Whirlpool appliances when I lived in California. And I fully expect the same level of service from Whirlpool here in South Africa that I would get from Whirlpool in the States. I don’t care if you have to stop at the warehouse and pick up a brand new refrigerator and swap it for the dead one, if you cannot have a working fridge in place in this flat by noon tomorrow, bring my money with you when you come for the dead one!

He said he would see what he could do and call me back in five minutes.

Fifteen minutes passed, then twenty, then half an hour, and my husband called to see how it was going. After relating the conversation to him…and the fact that the fellow had not called back, Hubby said he’d look into it. Five minutes later it was the Whirlpool guy on the phone.

“We can bring you a loaner fridge,” he tells me.

“Excellent,” I respond, softening my tone. No point in being tough when things are moving in the right direction. “What time will it be here?”

“Well, it will have to be tomorrow as it is too late to get anything from the warehouse today…”

“What time tomorrow?”

“Well, the delivery guys are in the Southern Suburbs until 1 pm…” I, of course, am in the Northern Suburbs…

“Nope,” I interrupt him sharply. “If you have to put it in your own personal bakkie and drive it over here your own personal self so that it is here before noon, that is what you are going to have to do…or have those delivery guys bring my money with them because, one way or another, there will be a functioning fridge in that flat by noon tomorrow, if I have to go over to House and Home in the morning and pick one up myself!” He again promised to call me back.

He was only fifteen minutes late…but this time he had a solution. That “Southern Suburbs” delivery thing was suddenly flexible…apparently it was worth nearly R2000 to them to “adjust” the delivery schedule, particularly in view of the fact that their facility was located in an industrial park only a couple of miles up the road from the flat!

Next morning at 8:30 the fridge shows up and the driver and his helpers wrestle it into the flat and carry the dead one away. By 6, when our guests arrive, the bottled water we have put in for them is nicely chilled, and they “ooooh” and “ahhhh” over the flat, tiny, cosy, compact, with “everything we could possibly need!” Including a functioning refrigerator.

Sometimes a bitch’s gotta do what a bitch’s gotta do…

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Tempest inna teapot!

Ok, by now everybody has heard about Bad Boy Harry Windsor attending a costume party dressed as one of Rommel’s Afrika Corps. I’m guessing that since the theme of the party was “Colonialists and Natives” and Harry’s girlfriend is from Zimbabwe, he generally thought no further than how cleverly this costume would pay homage to his Africa-born sweetie while keeping with the theme of the party.

Ok…so it was in bad taste, considering that England suffered brutally under the Blitz…which was something that happened when his grandmother was younger than he is now. Hmmm…how emotionally connected are you to the traumas your grandmothers suffered when in their teens? And how mature…and global…was your thinking and decision-making capacity when you were 20? I dunno about you, but I can assure you that the decade of my life surrounding that age was fraught with more poorly taken decisions that wise ones. It is, after all, from our mistakes that we learn (or at least ought to learn!). Those of you who consider that I carry some small amount of wisdom, give a bit thought to how I might have come by it!

I’m not excusing Harry’s faux pas, but rather explaining how such a thing might come about…and how normal it really is. Some people are of the opinion that because he was born a Royal and is third in line to the throne, he should “know better.” Why? Does Royal blood carry some kind of special gene that imbues wisdom beyond one’s years to those in whose veins it flows? Because he went to Eton or whatever bastion of uppercrust education he attended? I dunno…I somehow doubt the British public schools (actually private schools, to you and me) have special classes for princelings that teach them good taste. Maybe he should have learned it from social context like the rest of us do? Ummmm…what does the social context of a kid who grew up with bodyguards around him have to do with you and me? If you really think about it and you take all of the “should have’s” out of it, what you end up with is a twenty year old kid who is behaving like most twenty year old kids who have grown up with too much money and a sense of entitlement (like just about any kid anywhere in the world today whose parents are financially secure). He thought he was going to a private costume party, not a public event, and he thought he was being clever. So did his older brother and his best friend…they hired costumes at the same time Harry hired his and were aware of what he selected and neither one gainsaid him. (The friend hired a costume to attend as Harry’s grandmother, the Queen. I’ve not heard any criticism about that one…)

One of the things that bothers me about this whole debacle isn’t Harry’s poor taste in costumes but rather that he seems to be shaping up as the press’s newest Royal scapegoat, now that “The Duchess of Pork” has assumed a lower public profile, and everything he does is seized upon and reported with the most negative possible twist. He’s just a kid…can these same finger-pointing reporters and tongue-clucking readers point back in time to pristine youths themselves? They never made a poor choice, bad judgment, or embarrassing error? My grandfather, he of the ready aphorism, would tell these people that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Not a one of us is perfect and I’ll bet everyone reading this did or said something when they were around 20 of which they are less than proud today. Harry is making his mistakes, albeit more publicly than most of us do, en route to the wisdom of adulthood…assuming people allow him to make those mistakes and learn from them and don’t hound him into an undeservedly bad reputation that leads him to the “if I’ve got the name, I might as well play the game,” mindset of the perpetual screw-up.

The other thing that bothers me is that party. Young Harry, only 20, is pilloried for making a tasteless choice in costume but I have seen very little criticism of the party theme itself, and no criticism whatsoever of the host of the party, 66-year-old Richard Meade, who is, himself, a minor public figure: he won three Olympic gold medals in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics for equestrian events. That a 66-year-old man had the execrably bad taste to throw a party with the “native and colonial” theme is appalling…that the press should seize on a kid’s costume choice to criticise rather than the incredibly arrogant and insensitive party theme…chosen by someone presumably old enough to know better…is simply inconceivable.

Few would argue that the Nazis were some really bad actors who were responsible for the most murderous decade and a half in the last century…but the British colonial efforts lasted longer and had, I think, more far-reaching negative consequences. I doubt a death toll can ever be counted, but the British Raj saw to the destruction of entire civilizations through the imposition of its own, and committed, if not genocides, certainly massacres that approached that magnitude. Whole nations came under the lash of the Raj…“the sun never sets on the British Empire”…from the wholesale slaughter of the native populations of America where the Brits settled, to the marginalization of the aboriginal people of Australia, from the capture, enslavement and transport of free Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean to the complete assimilation of India’s governmental form and the colonization of Africa, the record of the British colonial effort is far from something worthy of pride. It should have been looked upon with the same kind of shock and horror that a “Nazi and Jew” party would generate in Berlin today, but instead, the press chose to focus on the unfortunate sartorial choice of one 20-year-old young man.

So Harry should have taken the moral high ground and refused to attend? Sorry, but as much as we like to paint the prince as a rebellious, headstrong, bit-between-the-teeth fellow, you have to recognize that the party was thrown by the father of a close friend of his. Mr. Meade was celebrating his 66th and his son’s 22nd birthdays with this party, 400 hundred people saw fit to attend, and if adults and youthful friends alike are attending and apparently finding nothing amiss with the theme…what is the tip-off to Harry? It is easy enough to say that he “should” know better, but when all of the adults around him are giving it the thumbs-up by the very fact of their attendance…some 20-year-old kid is going recognize something is amiss? Doubtful…very doubtful.

So why didn’t the press seize on the tastelessness of Meade’s party theme? Why is it not OK for Harry to inadvertently offend the Jews, but celebrating something that destroyed the lives and cultures of countless Indians, Aboriginal Australians, Africans of multiple heritage, Chinese, and native American and Canadian peoples…all of this is OK? Where is the outrage for these people and their destroyed and plundered histories? …and before anybody starts winding themselves up about the Jews and the Nazi camps, let me state here that my late husband was Jewish and his mother was, as she so delicately put it, “arrested by the Germans,” and spent the majority of the war in a slave labour munitions factory (where she delighted in sabotaging the guns as they assembled them…way to go, Maman!). I’m not saying offending Jewish people and the survivors of the Blitz (or Rommel’s campaigns, for that matter) is OK…what I am saying is that a grown man mocking, even inadvertently, the millions who suffered under British colonialism and whose futures were irrevocably altered as a result, is a far worse act than a thoughtless costuming choice by a kid barely out of his teens.

A little perspective here, people! Please!