Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Here's a Christmas card for all of you! Hope your holidays are the absolute best!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cast suddenly back into Hell…

Sixteen days ago I took my lunch and plopped down in front of the TV at noon and clicked on Dr. Phil to watch a show originally aired in the States in May. Here in South Africa, our Dr. Phil broadcasts are delayed by about six months.

Some things never leave us, even when we are sure they are dead, buried, and gone. Within minutes of the show’s start, I found myself catapulted more than fifty years backwards, horrified and helpless in the middle of an emotional firestorm.

You have to see the show or read the archive, which includes transcripts and photos from the taped footage, to begin to understand. Karen, a stay-at-home mother of five, rages at them constantly, and reserves a particularly large helping of scorn…including physical assault…for her oldest child. I felt chilled watching her and listening to the child plead for surcease…but here is where it gets weird: as that woman hit her ten-year-old son and chased him into his bedroom and assaulted him again…as the gooseflesh of recognition and empathy erupted on my arms and as my gorge rose…at the that very same time I found myself detach from the entire event. I felt as if I were viewing it through a long telescope. Some of the visuals even had a kind of dark yellowish tint in my eyes, as if viewing it through a filter. And as I heard the boy sob and beg his mother to stop hurting him, my mother’s voice echoed in my head “oh, that’s not so bad.” And then I heard the woman on tape speak my mother’s own words: the boy complained his knee was hurting and he could not walk and his mother said, her voice dripping contempt, “oh, bullshit!”

With few exceptions, this woman could have been my own mother. My mother had only two children and thankfully she was not a stay-at-home mother, but what I saw on that tape was still like peeling back the years and standing alone and vulnerable in the face of a vicious hurricane. Mercifully, the bits of tape were short and Dr. Phil immediately called the mother on the carpet for her behaviour, which she tried to blame on the kids. With her confession that she has convinced herself that her abuse is really their fault…that they provoke it with their own behaviours…I started having a creepy déjà vu sense. Wasn’t this, after all, how my mother excused her own conduct? “Don’t make me hurt you!” echoed around in my head.

But the kicker came...I found myself sitting there, mouth agape, heart racing, shudders wracking me…when one of the most terrifying experiences of my early childhood showed up on the tape: in the middle of a terrifying, towering rage, the telephone rang and the mother picked it up and spoke normally…even cheerfully…to her caller. To this day I find people who can turn a consuming fury on and off, as if they were flipping a light switch, absolutely terrifying.

This has taken 16 days to write and I’m still struggling to write it. She told me not to tell, that she would beat me within an inch of my life if I blabbed, that I was not to air our dirty linen in public. It’s not that I’ve been silent over the decades, for I haven’t. But it took a distancing, a detachment from the reality of events, to loosen my tongue. Fifty-plus years after the fact, five years of intense therapy under my belt, and my normally nimble brain becomes sludge when I try to talk…or write…about it without first donning the filter of detachment and distance to blunt the pain.

Have you ever seen something so horrible that you can only look at it in little peeks? So awful that simply looking at it full on is more than you can bear? Without the cushioning effect of distancing myself, that is how I find myself viewing my early years. Five years of excellent therapy brought me to a kind of truce with the past, a realization that the past is back there and that I control whether or not it taints my present and my future. Most days I don’t think about it or if I do, the protective filters are firmly in place. But on rare occasion something strikes that responsive chord and I am cast suddenly back into Hell. My reasoning brain tells me it was not so bad…that’s what she told me, too. She never broke any bones or drew much blood, I was sufficiently fed. I had clothes and shoes. I even had toys. How bad could it have been?

But I lived in fear. And I knew hatred at a much-too-young age. I had no security…her mercurial nature terrified me, for I could not know from one day to the next what would displease her. And to displease her was the worst sin I could commit. My very existence seemed to displease her at times, a circumstance that could only be mitigated by servitude. At seven I cooked breakfast for myself and my younger brother, standing on a chair at the stove. At ten I baked a cake twice a week after school, peeled potatoes for supper, mopped the kitchen floor every Saturday morning, and dusted and cleaned the house daily after school. But, lacking instruction in how to do these things, I often made errors…the floor wasn’t clean enough in the corner, the cake frosting was too thin, I missed a spot on the dishes…I did the best I could, but it was seldom good enough.

It has taken days to get this all written down and arranged in some semblance of order. The memories come out in disconnected jumbles, each one sharp and dark and haunting, and I don’t want to look at any of them very closely or for very long. The writing is easier now, I have been pulling away, detaching, trying to remember the facts and emotions without actually feeling them. The dark, shadowy edges are clearing from the memories, and the vignettes are clearer, less difficult to look at. I am starting to see events now, without becoming emotionally engaged by them…

Mother and I are standing in the bathroom, the water running from the tap, me stifling my sobs, she is screaming at me, her face puffed-up and suffused with blood, her carmined lips large and terrifying. “Don’t you ever tell me that you can’t again!” she is shrieking at me. I want to cringe away, but I know that will earn me a slap or yank of my hair. I can feel tears leaking from my eyes and running down my face and my lower lip is trembling, and I can only pray that she is too wrapped up in her rage to notice. “When I tell you to do something, you’d damn well better do it, and do it tout de suite,” only she mispronounces it “toot sweet.” I am nodding my head mindlessly, knowing that my only possible salvation lies in agreement with her. The water is still streaming from the tap and she points to it, her diatribe continuing unabated, my agreement ignored. “If I tell you to tie a ribbon around this stream of water, I don’t want any excuses, I don’t want any whiney ‘I can’ts’ from you, I want you to just do it and do it fast! Do you understand?” That last is delivered in a bellow so forceful it makes my ears ring. “And stop that blubbering,” she commands me. “If you want to bawl, I can give you something worth bawling about.” My face immediately goes blank, my tears stop, my throat grows a lump the size of Kansas. I wait silently until she exits the little bathroom, then turn off the tap and creep to my room, shutting the door as quietly as possible so that nothing draws her attention back to me.

She’s dead now, she has been for several years. She can no longer lie to the family about me, manipulate my children, or beat me for blabbing. But still, when I force myself to fully look at my early years, without flinching or changing the subject in my mind, without the numbing effects of detachment, my brain slows, my normally articulate self disappears, my fingers stumble on the keyboard. My words come out choppy and slow, hesitant and clumsy…my eloquence deserts me and I find myself staring at the words on the screen, motionless for long periods while snippets of the past race darkly through my brain.

Some things never leave us.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Oops! They're at it again!

So, after a couple of weeks of titillating the public, Fed-Ex’s mouthpiece comes out with his big bucket of whitewash and tries to repair the wannabe rapper’s non-existent reputation. The sex tape, trumpeted by the media and even the subject of commentary by those who have allegedly seen it, does not exist. Furthermore, a second cleansing brushstroke claims, poor Kev has been the innocent victim of the envious and malicious who have slandered him with untrue allegations that he had such a tape and was shopping it around for the best price. Not a word is true, Lawyer-Boy says. Nary a word.

Yah, right.

I’m guessing there is something, probably tamer than has been advertised. So tame, in fact, that those who would stoop to make money from such a tape have deemed it unmarketable, either through lack of quality (can’t tell who the woman is) or lack of sufficient prurience to generate enough cash to pay back the initial acquisition and distribution costs. So, after a couple of weeks to flog the tape to various internet porn merchants and finding either no takers or receiving offers well below the millions anticipated, what’s a sleazebag to do? Deny, deny, deny!

Other, not-mutually-exclusive, possibilities include Brit’s legal team having a little chat with Kev’s legal team of one, reminding said individuals that her image is her legal property and the release of such a tape could be seen as a serious infringement of Britney’s intellectual (how’s that for an oxymoron?) property…which would mean any money he made from selling such a tape could be awarded to her in an infringement lawsuit, plus damages. Even a porn king might want to sit back and rethink the tape under such conditions, ya know?

And what if a little birdie perched on Kev’s scrawny shoulder and cooed into his ear “Ya know this will make her even more marketable, right? You do this and fans will flock to see her, to buy her music, to attend her concerts…this is priceless promotion that will make her millions and make you look like and even bigger schmuck than you are today. Let the scales fall from your eyes…nobody’s seen that tape yet and it is already happening! You’re doing her a favour, making her money, and you aren’t getting one thin dime of it!”

As much as Britney has shown herself to be a vulgar, under-educated red neck tart, Federline’s various attempts to further blacken her image (and make money off it) are backfiring. His suit for custody and alimony are publicly lampooned and the very media that delighted in catching Brit in all of her thoughtless moments with Sean Preston is now left-handedly defending her by revealing K-Fed’s long list of parental transgressions. Not only did he spend a whopping total of four days with his newest son in the first eight weeks of the child’s life, it’s been revealed that while married to multimillionaire Britney and dropping as much as $50,000 a night at the craps tables, he has paid no child support to the C-list actress, Shar Jackson, for the two children he sired on her. Oh, he pays for their private school, she tells the media. He does? With whose money?

When I last looked in on Fed-Ex’s antics, I was thinking he couldn’t get any more stupid, but I have to admit that I was wrong. With his attorney spewing out nonsense designed to make Kev a sympathetic figure…a victim of someone else’s malicious press and gossip…he just makes the guy look so much more the pathetic loser…and that’s quite an accomplishment.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Murphy’s Law in action

South Africa has a number of large supermarket chains and, like in America, there is often one or two of them anchoring certain of the local malls. Here in Cape Town, Pick ‘n’ Pay is one of the dominant chains (where I do a lot of my shopping), Checkers is another (which I perceive as being a bit downmarket), and Woolworth’s is the premier “luxury” food shop, the place you go for the best quality produce and exotic cheeses. This morning I planned a trip to Woolies, with a stop at the nearby Checkers for some packaged goods. It did not go well.

I drive an SUV. Clearly aware of the prejudices against the vehicles and those of us who drive them, I try to be particularly circumspect when I drive and park, taking particular care to align my behemoth properly in the space. So, can anyone explain to me why, when I emerged from the supermarket this muggy, sweltering morning with a trolley full of perishables and a miserably aching ankle, the space available to open my car door was slim enough to give Nicole Richie pause? And, since I’m built more along the lines of the “before” pics of Kirstie Alley, getting into the car was a bit of a challenge, particularly with that sore ankle. And the cause of this inconvenience? Another gargantuan example of the automaker’s art? Would you believe, a VW Citi Golf, parked catawampus in its space, making ingress to my car…and egress from the parking space…an exercise in white-knuckled creativity?

The sore ankle was a large part of the problem, since the car is right hand drive and I must support my not inconsiderable weight on it as I fling my left leg and haunch up into the driver’s seat. Having my manoeuvring space compromised by the Piggy Parker next door made it all the worse. So why did I come out shopping if my foot is still so sore, you ask? Well, it wasn’t particularly tender when I left the house and, had my experience at Checkers gone according to plan, it would have been fine at the end of my excursion. But things at Checkers did not go well…and I never even made it to Woolies.

One of the things my husband says he loves about me is my practicality. I tend to plan things out…even such mundane things as shopping trips. My plan was to arrive at Checkers at opening time, dash in and pick up a few things, and get out before the store got crowded and the lines at the cashiers got long. From there to Woolies for a few things only Woolies carries, and then home in time to catch the latest instalment of All My Children (several years delayed from the US). But you know what Murphy said…

I hadn’t planned to buy produce from Checkers, but on entering the store, I saw a terrific display of white seedless table grapes (Hubby will only eat seedless grapes), so I grabbed a bunch and bagged them. I’m planning stuffed peppers for dinner this week, and the peppers looked to be in good nick…and there were fresh apricots, loose so I could choose my own (the pre-packaged punnets always contain about 50% unripe and sour!). Now, one of the ways that South African supermarkets are different from American is that loose produce must be weighed and the bags sealed shut and tagged in the produce department…the fruit is not weighed by the cashier at check out. To this end, there are scales and employees manning those scales at every produce department in every major market in South Africa. Or at least that’s the way it is supposed to be.

Once I had my fruit bagged, I headed for the scale. A young man in a red T-shirt with a Checkers logo on it was busy hefting a huge plastic bag onto the scale…and I mean huge…the size you’d ordinarily need a small wheelbarrow to move about. The bag was leaking copious amounts of sticky wetness all over the scale, the stand, the floor…and it stank something awful. It was easy to deduce from the smell that the bag contained decaying produce, most particularly rotting grapes. When he had hefted the nasty goo-dripping bag onto a nearby trolley, he turned to me expectantly…and I looked pointedly at the disgusting mess on the scale.

Correctly interpreting my glance, he looked for something to clean the surface of the scale with and grabbed a plastic bag from one of the rolls of bags in the produce department. Of course, his efforts to wipe it clean succeeded in only smearing it around so he tried another tactic…a larger wad of plastic bags. I looked around for a “regular” produce department employee…they usually wear turquoise blue uniforms and aprons…but nobody was around. I did, however, spot a different scale. Unfortunately, the young man couldn’t make this scale work at all. My foot was starting to get tired, for I had been on my feet nearly 15 minutes by this time, and had barely begun my shopping.

To my left was the produce department, brimming over with employees, but not a produce department worker in sight. I asked a deli worker if she could help me, and she grabbed a “cleaner” (grocery stores have regular employees whose only job is to roam the store and make sure it is clean, mopping here, collecting refuse there, etc) and asked the cleaner to find someone to help me. Eventually she found someone, but she could not make the scale work either. She beckoned me to the other scale but I balked. “It’s filthy,” I told her. “I don’t want to put my bags on that thing.”

Sure enough, she found the scale in the same sticky, stinky condition as before. She dashed off to find something to clean it with while I, hobbling now on my sore foot, crept over to the scale…only to find, by the time I got there, that a line had formed! By the time I got to the scale, I was third in the queue and she was weighing the produce of another customer! Eventually I got the bags weighed and tagged and I headed off to the packaged goods section of the store for some things I knew Woolies didn’t carry.

By the time I was finished with my shopping, I was weighing whether or not my foot would stand the trek down to the Woolies at the far end of the mall or not. I had to stand in a queue to get a cashier (something I had hoped to avoid by arriving at the store early…my plan thwarted by the fiasco in the produce department), but finally it was my turn and when she rang up the total, I handed her my Visa card. She put the card through and a message came up on her terminal screen: “verifying transaction”…machine-speak for verifying my credit card had enough headroom to charge a few hundred rand worth of groceries. Problem is, two minutes later (an eternity in nano-second driven machine time), it hadn’t verified…or rejected…my card. The cashier pushed a button to resubmit the transaction for approval and a little blue window popped up on her screen: her credit card terminal was off line. So what does she do? She keeps me standing there for fully another five minutes (while the queue behind me grows and grows and grows…) as she repeated tries to resubmit my transaction on a machine no long functioning. Just as I figure out what she is doing, she rings for a supervisor who comes over, reads the “off line” message on the screen and tries to submit my transaction for approval on a machine she knows is off line and non-functioning!

To give her credit, she didn’t make multiple attempts, she just wrote down the total of my purchase on her hand, grabbed my credit card and said she had to use a different terminal, then walked away. With my credit card. And so I had to hobble after her…in a direction away from the exit where my car was parked…to complete my transaction.

By the time it was done and I had my credit card back and my groceries bagged, my foot had started to swell. I checked the time and All My Children had already started…I was woefully behind schedule, every step on my right foot was like a sabre stabbing me from the heel to the knee, and I hadn’t even been to Woolie’s yet. Hobbling out the door, pushing my trolley in front of me, I headed for the parking lot, only to find the little VW snuggled up to my driver’s door like a lover.

Murphy was right.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What part of "I don't have it" did he not understand?

If there is anything worse than a complacent civil servant, it is the witless customer service rep whose mind is incapable of thinking beyond the narrow confines of his ordinary job.

This morning my power went off and, after checking my DB board to make sure it wasn’t a problem with the house, I called my local power utility.

“I live in Table View and my power just went off,” I said.

“What is your account number?” he asks me.

“I don’t know,” I said. “My husband pays the bills, he is out of town, and I don’t know where he keeps that stuff. But I live in Table View…are there any outages here?”

“I can’t tell you that without your account number,” he drones. Honest to God, the man had no inflection in his voice!

“I told you, I don’t have it, but I can tell you my street address…”

“I can’t locate you without your account number,” he tells me. Right…Table View is this tiny little remote village that cannot be located without a multi-digit number to which I have no access…NOT!

“I can give you my street address,” I repeat helpfully. Ya know, when my tenant was trying to get her power turned on, they demanded a street address which, once they received it, they promptly told her was non-existent! What is going on with these people? My husband works for the same company and, believe me, there are plenty of really, really smart people working there. Maybe they refuse to hire intelligent people for the customer service area like the telephone company in America that told me I had scored too high on their test and was therefore too smart to be a directory service operator.

Anyway, this drone continued to demand my account number which, inevitably, pissed me off. And, contrary to my normal behaviour with anyone, service people in particular, I shouted at him. “I DO NOT HAVE IT!” I yelled. “I have a street address! My husband is out of town! I don’t have access to his papers! My power is out! Now if you can’t help me, let me speak to your supervisor!”

He put me on hold for a mercifully short period of time, then returned to say his supervisor was on another line, but if I would leave my telephone number, she would call me back within five minutes. Yeah, right. But I gave him the number anyway. About 15 minutes ago. I’m still waiting for her to call me back…

…and the power is back on.

Dumber than dirt...

In today’s sex-saturated media, can anyone seriously believe that a Britney Spears sex-tape will do any kind of lasting harm to the pop princess’s slutty, trailer-trash public image?

C’mon folks, a tape like this took Paris Hilton from being no more than a scrawny, skanky heiress to being a famous, scrawny, skanky heiress, and Pam Anderson’s career certainly suffered little lasting ill-effect from the release of a similar tape. Can Britney’s career fare any worse?

I get the impression that Fed-Ex, as he is now being called, is a veeeery long distance from being one of the intellectual heavyweights of Hollywood. Not that Britney is the sharpest knife in the drawer, mind you, but she’s got that control freak mother of hers and a battalion of legal sharks swimming in her waters, helping to keep her feather-brained choices from taking too much of a toll on her fortune. Like marrying Jason Alexander without a pre-nup…or marrying Kreep Federline at all. But Federline takes the cake for being the intellectual midget of the moment…the guy who pissed off the Golden Goose to the point that she’s taking all of her golden eggs and going home.

I mean, just how stupid can one person get? He was smart enough to recognize the smell of money when Britney flashed those big baby blues at him, crass enough to dump his heavily pregnant girlfriend and their toddler when Brit’s money started winking seductively his way, and quick enough to make his union with Brit legal, thereby securing himself access to her fortune. But either he didn’t read or understand the pre-nup he signed or he was arrogant enough to figure he’s find a way around it when the time came, or he just figured Britney would put up with his crap. Whatever his reasoning, he may have secured access to the cash cache, but as any strategist worth his salt will tell you, winning the battle is only the beginning: now you have to secure and keep the territory won.

And that’s where Federline has shown himself to be dumber than dirt. Oh, we can add some modifiers as “arrogant” and “over-confident,” too, but the bottom line is, dumb, dumb, dumb. Who in their right mind, after all, manages to land on their feet in a bed of soft, cushy roses and then immediately proceeds to kill the bushes that produced them? Federline could have had his bed feathered for him for life, had he just observed a few very simple rules of relationship conduct: 1) don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; 2) don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs; and 3) don’t shit where you eat. Even a puppy knows that last one!

So, after two years of repeatedly pissing off the keeper of the purse strings, after regularly embarrassing the meal ticket with his less-than-committed behaviour, after publicly dissing the diva, the only surprise is that he was surprised when she gave him the old heave-ho. But, like the low-life, scum-sucking loser that he is, rather than consider himself fortunate for his brief ride through the good life on Britney’s back, he’s decided to retaliate for her having the impertinence to divorce his faithless, talentless, conscienceless ass: he’s threatening to release a sex tape of the two of them unless she hands over the kids and a hefty sum of cash. He couldn’t be more stupid if he put actual effort into it! Assuming he is not arrested and charged with blackmail and he succeeds in putting the tape up for internet view, what makes him think it’s going to harm Britney…or make him any money he can keep? She has legal control of her brand (her image), the tape is half hers anyway, and this kind of sleazoid reveal is exactly what her sagging career needs for a boost, if Pam and Paris are anything to go by.

Geeze, Federline, why not just shoot yourself in the head? (But be sure to have someone help you point the barrel in the right direction.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Home again, home again…

The lavender farm in Franschhoek
Wednesday was our third wedding anniversary and to celebrate the occasion (as well as Hubby’s new job, which starts on Monday next), we took a few day's sojourn to the local wine country.

The village of Franschhoek is less than a two hour drive from Cape Town, but a world away. Joburgers, who think Cape Town is a laid-back, “hang loose” kind of place, must find Franschhoek to be standing still. But Franschhoek isn’t the quaint little village it likes to think of itself as being…oh no. It’s appeal is as studied and contrived as Disneyland’s Main Street, USA, for all that many buildings on the main road through town are truly masterpieces of the art of building preservation.

Franschhoek Village
This place is a village only in the sense that it is fairly small in size…but don’t look for the support services you would expect of your average farm village. I didn’t see a musty old hardware store or a farm equipment dealer or repair shop, no forge for mending unhappy implements, no drilling company or pump and irrigation sales…a village for the support of the neighbouring farms, Franschhoek definitely is not.

An old house in the village

So what is it? The main street is lined with one well-preserved ancient Cape Dutch building after another, In most cases only the façade is fully intact, the rest of the building having been gutted to serve as home to a long queue of trendy restaurants that range from “just ordinary” to “truly superb” in quality. I’d like to say “with prices to match,” but our seven meals, unfortunately, lead me to believe that restaurants in Franschhoek range from eyebrow- raising to “quick, call the paramedics!” in price.

Hubby is a man who enjoys his creature comforts and when we take these little holidays they are usually short enough to allow us to afford four-and five-star eateries and accommodations. But sometimes you wonder why the stars were granted. The eponymous Reuben’s, known as not only the best restaurant in town, but the best in South Africa, deserves every one of the five stars in its crown. But don’t expect cuisine…fine or otherwise…from The French Connection, despite the recommendations and stars. Any restaurant that feels it must notify its patrons that it is a “bistro” and to therefore not expect greatness in the fare, should be approached with caution. We found the food…particularly the lamb and the French fries…overdone and the portions rather skimpy (a ham sandwich with one layer of nearly transparent ham?), and the woman at the table next to us sent her entrée back to the kitchen because her roasted kudu was refrigerator-cold. How many stars is that kind of gastronomic offering worth?
Pond at Bread & Wine Restaurant

Accommodations are likewise “luck of the draw,” the stars meaning considerably less than one might ordinarily expect. I expect a certain level of luxury and upmarket appointments in a four star accommodation…certainly a queen-sized (if not a king) bed, and definitely a real shower, certainly not a hand shower in the tub (and no shower curtain). I have long come to expect mosquitoes every place I go in South Africa…we don’t seem to have gotten the word about window screens yet…so checking the ceiling corners for mossies before turning in is a nightly ritual nowadays. But we didn’t sign up for an army of creepy little roommates! On our second night I was jolted awake by an overly friendly spider which Hubby then had to hunt down and slaughter, the third night I found a little slug merrily running laps around the inside of the bathtub rim, and every night a battalion of two-inch long centipedes marched across the bedroom carpet, defying both squishing with shoes and picking up with tissue…and refusing to die even after being heavily dosed with Doom. Ya know, to my mind, the fact that the proprietors of this establishment thought it prudent to supply our suite with a can of Doom says volumes all by itself.

View of Franschhoek Mountains from Lavande

All negatives aside, though, the Franschhoek Valley is as beautiful a place you could ever hope to see. The craggy, majestic mountains encircling the fertile river valley, kilometre after kilometre of lush green vineyards and silvery-sprigged lavender fields, rustic thatched-and-whitewashed homes…it’s as delightful to the eye as the wines are to the palate.

Boekenhoutskloof Winery

Lavender fields at Grande Provence Winery

It was an enjoyable few days and aside from my sore foot and ankle rather slowing me down (adventurous pursuit of photographic ends is a bit difficult to do on crutches!) we had a lovely time. Lovely enough, in fact, that we plan to return to Reuben’s (even if one meal there did cost more than my maid’s monthly wages!)…but first we need to find a nice guest house with showers. And big beds. And no free-loading, uninvited roomies!

Friday, November 03, 2006

On the road again…

No, not travelling…sprawled face first on it.

Well, it was a driveway, actually…and a gravelled driveway, at that. And for the past ten days or so I have been dosed with pain killers and confined to anyplace where I can keep my right foot elevated, preferably higher than my heart. So I’ve been spending a lot of time in bed. With my foot up. Stoned.

This isn’t the first time I’ve bunged up an ankle and ended up on painkillers with my foot strapped up and propped up. Early in 2001 I managed to fall off my porch (don’t ask…I haven’t quite figured out how yet, myself) and landed butt-first in a big geranium bush. Unfortunately, as I plummeted the entire metre from porch step to geranium-cushioned earth, I heard a sickening crack in the region of my left ankle…a breaking bone has its own distinct, stomach-turning sound. Alone and in excruciating pain…thank goodness one of the cars had an automatic transmission…I drove myself to the emergency room and emerged several hours later, one hand clutching a shocking hospital bill, one foot encased from toes to knee in Velcro-strapped black plastic.

It took months for it to heal, despite its being a fairly mild break, as breaks go. Of course the doctor put the Fear of Surgery in my heart by warning me that if I didn’t keep my Darth Vader boot on at all times, they’d have to go in and “pin” the bone together, a fate I emphatically wished to avoid after seeing him demonstrate the procedure on my x-ray. So I hobbled around on the ugly, clumsy thing for the prescribed three months and emerged, eventually, almost as good as new.

Fast forward five years and a Monday morning in Cape Town. I went out to pick up the mail and found the neighbours’ little bulldog, Xander, peering up at me through the bars of my front gate. Xander’s predecessor, Lexie, wandered away from home and ended up dog-napped, never to return, much to the heartache of the two little boys who live across the street. So, being a good neighbour sort of person, I took it upon myself to escort Xander home and close the gate that someone had carelessly left open.

This is another one of those “I dunno exactly what happened” deals. I closed the gate and turned to walk down the gravelled driveway, as I have done dozens of times in the past, and after only a few steps my right foot struck something hard and I suddenly went flying. Instinctively, I stuck out my other foot to steady myself, and struck something else! The next thing I know, I’m skidding on my hands and knees on a driveway full of sharp gravel, a sharp pain shooting through my right foot…thankfully without cracking sound effects.

Pumped full of adrenaline from the fall, I picked myself up and limped across the street to my house, looking back to determine that I had fallen over a large white stone that had somehow become detached from the driveway’s border. It didn’t take long, however, for the throbbing and swelling to begin, and so I called Hubby… “I’ve either broken or badly sprained my right ankle,” I told him over the phone. “I’ll be right there,” was all he said. And he was.

By the time we reached the hospital, I couldn’t bear any weight on it at all. X-rays, however, revealed no broken bones, just lots of blood in the spaces between all the little bones in my foot. A bad sprain, the doctor told me, along with instructions to stay off it and to keep it propped up, preferably higher than my heart.

It was two days before I had the courage to remove the elastic bandage, but I was desperate for a shower, so I took it off and, with the help of a wheeled office chair, rolled into the bathroom. Once the bandage was off, I was horrified at the sight of my foot! Fat as a purple and blue balloon, with five plump little sausages sticking out of one end, it was alarming! I quickly showered and wrapped in up again…the compression helped keep the pain down to a dull ache…and rolled back to bed, where I’ve pretty much been confined ever since.

Two days ago I discovered I could put enough weight on it to hobble to the loo and back, and last night, fortified with painkillers and Hubby’s strong arm to lean on, I managed to make it to a dinner out, but today I’m back on the bed with my now purple, blue, green and yellow foot propped up and mildly throbbing.

But next week is our third wedding anniversary and Hubby has booked a getaway in the winelands, a few days and nights at a lavender farm in Franschoek, and you can bet I’ll have this foot thing under control, one way or another!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hubby moves up the corporate ladder!

It's been a while since I've blogged and I won't make any excuses except to say that I've been rather tied up with things that sort keep me from ruminating...which is necessary before a good blog can form itself up. But Hubby has recently had a event of which I am inordinately proud...

The Western Cape has suffered from electricity supply problems for just about a year now. Not only has the unprecedented (and unexpected) migration to the Cape from other regions of the country caused unanticipated demand to the existing infrastructure, the local power plant suffered a shut down of several months for repairs, throwing us into months of rolling blackouts and unplanned interruptions.

Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, Africa’s only nuke, provides about half of Cape Town’s power needs, the rest coming overland from upcountry coal-fired stations. Cape Town, being the most outlying location on the national grid, continued to suffer from unplanned outages whenever there was a disruption on the grid. In addition to seeing to the repair of the damaged Koeberg generator, Eskom, South Africa’s national power utility, responded to Cape town’s travails by embarking upon an ambitious plan to increase generating capacity in the Western Cape, a plan that could eventually end Cape Town's virtual dependence on the national grid.

First, however, Eskom had to replace the damaged rotor in one of Koeberg’s two generators…and they had to do it fast. The reactor powering the undamaged generator was scheduled to be taken down for refuelling in just a few months, and there was no way that Cape Town could enjoy an adequate electrical supply with both generators out of service. A replacement was located in France, but the massive 200 ton behemoth defied conventional methods of transport. My husband was appointed Logistics Manager on the “Generator Recovery Project,” and tasked with finding a way to transport the rotor not only to Cape Town harbour, but up the 30+ miles of urban and suburban roadways to the power station as well. The generator went down on Christmas Day, 2005, and on 5 April, 2006, after weeks at sea on a South African naval vessel, the rotor arrived. Hubby arranged the loan of the naval vessel and crew, a 12-axle trailer and two tractors to transport the rotor from the harbour to the power station, and a pair of massive mobile cranes to offload the rotor from the ship and onto the trailer, and later from the trailer to the generator housing. It was a Herculean undertaking, but ultimately successful. By the time the second reactor had to be taken off line for refuelling, the rotor had been installed and the damaged generator was repaired and on line. And Hubby returned to his regular job as a Senior Engineer for the PBMR project.

Eskom, however, was determined not to get caught with its pants down again. Construction of two gas-fired power plants near Cape Town were fast-tracked and nebulous plans for a second nuke at the Koeberg location were firmed up. Cape Town, the fastest growing location in South Africa, was no longer going to be a poor step-sister on the grid: the Mother City was slated to have enough locally generated power to at least meet her needs, and possibly enough excess power capacity to meet peak seasonal demands without depending on the national grid.

Ground was broken in Mossel Bay, a small town on the other side of the Cape Peninsula, and at Atlantis, an economically depressed settlement only a few kilometres from the Koeberg power station, for the construction of the two gas-fired plants. Hubby was restless after his success with the rotor project, and his present assignment was moving ahead at a snail’s pace, affording him little professional satisfaction and precious little opportunity for advancement. Looking at the company intranet one afternoon, he found a division that was seeking to fill four Chief Engineer openings. With his rotor project success recently tucked under his belt, he applied and, just a month ago, flew up to Johannesburg for an interview.

Most new job offers are anything but instantaneous. Usually you interview, you come back for at least one more interview, then you wait interminably until either you get a card saying “thanks, but no thanks” or The Phone Call. Less than an hour after Hubby left the Johannesburg offices, while he was still in the car en route to his hotel, his cell phone rang and the division had an even better offer for him than Chief Engineer (in a location that would not require us to leave our idyllic Cape Town home). Seems the Atlantis gas plant, which is presently half built, needs a Site Engineering Manager…and once that site is up and running, there will be a promotion available, 12 to 18 months out, on the new nuke that will be going up on the Koeberg site…was he interested? They faxed the formal offer to him at home the very next day.

Requesting a transfer, offer in hand, turned out to be a bigger drama than going to Joburg and interviewing for the new job. The whole of Eskom has less than two dozen turbine specialist engineers, and of those, only two are nuclear qualified…Hubby being one of them. When he presented the offer and the transfer request to his boss, all hell broke loose! Not only did the boss refuse to sign the transfer request, he tried to turn the meeting into an impromptu criticism of Hubby’s performance. Strangely, his boss claimed that the project really needed Hubby’s rather rare skill set, but when Hubby said he would consider staying for a salary increase and promotion (there are three open management slots in the department), the boss turned him down…and heaped a bit more character assassination on him. Great way to keep the talent, eh?

The new organization, however, was keen to have him and, once the transfer was signed (the boss wasn’t allowed to refuse…the transfer request was just kicked upstairs until someone in authority signed it) Hubby discovered that his new boss was someone he knew and had successfully worked with for five years at another location. Because the gas plant was only half built, Hubby was concerned about offices and local infrastructure, and didn’t even know if he was going to be the sole engineer on site or if he would be assembling a staff. Imagine his surprise when his new boss chatted with him a couple of days ago and revealed that there was already an engineering department of 10 on site! Last Friday his present department gave him a going away party and he has been accosted half a dozen times since by engineers in his old department volunteering to come to work for him at the new location.

So, at the tender age of 34, he’s broken into the engineering management ranks, his first assignment giving him a staff of ten in a brand new facility. He tries hard not to show it, but I can see that he’s proud of himself, and with good reason. Here’s hoping he finds management everything he has hoped it would be!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lifestyles of the Crazy and Famous

I am among the growing numbers of people who think Tom Cruise has slipped a cog or two and is now paddling his canoe up Cuckoo Creek. Craziness, however, does not necessarily mean a person lacks intelligence or the ability to think and plan well…it just means the person’s thinking and planning are carried out within a framework of standards, beliefs, and perceptions that the bulk of us do not share.

Yesterday it was announced that Cruise and Paramount had, after 14 years, parted ways. Since there was a controversy as to who bounced whom, I spent a little time perusing a variety of websites dedicated to celebrity news, hoping to gather enough diverse crumbs to piece together the most likely scenario.

All things considered, I’m taking Paramount’s version of the event. In the Wall Street Journal Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone remarked “His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount.” Reducing euphemism to Corporate-Speak, what Redstone is saying that due to his increasingly nutty personal behaviour, Cruise’s box-office appeal is declining and, now that contract renewal time affords an ideal opportunity to divest itself of what is beginning to look like a growing liability, Paramount doesn’t want to be chained to a sinking stone. In plain English, Tom’s crazy behaviour is starting to drive people away from the box office and Paramount wants to ends its association with Tom before its profits are hurt. Continues Redstone: “…we don't think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot."

Yah, he’s cost Paramount a chunk of money…it’s reported that he gets a 25 percent cut of the gross of his movies…one quarter of every coin you spend on a ticket…and the cost of the production has to be borne by what remains. His antics have caused his box office to decline, so fewer people are seeing his movies than in the past…but his budgets aren’t declining. Apparently the production costs of MI3 exceeded the US box office take, of which Cruise got 25% off the top, leaving Paramount to make up the difference. The movie may have been a box office hit, but it left a dent in Paramount’s bottom line. Had Cruise not poisoned his well, more of us would have gone to the movie and maybe Paramount would have made a buck.

One of the problems with this kind of production deal is that misbehaving stars like Cruise, Lohan, or Gibson don’t actually bear the brunt of their behaviour. If they have a substantial cut of the gross of the film, success or failure are immaterial because they make money whether the film does or not…and whether they behaviour influences the ticket-buying public or not. So, Cruise can insult women with post-partum depression, talk down to his host on national television, and revert to his simian ancestry on Oprah with relative financial impunity…even if we stay away from his movie in droves and the thing is a box office flop, he still gets 25% of the take and Paramount drowns in red ink.

Shame…I used to like Tom Cruise movies, but I have to side with Paramount. As a movie-goer, I find it difficult to watch Tom on-screen without images of his embarrassing couch-hopping or his incredibly supercilious pillorying of Brook Shields or his arrogant behaviour towards Matt Lauer overlaying his on-screen character. I don’t want to go to his movies anymore…I don’t want MY hard-won money to fund a silly pseudo-religious cult that was founded by a crazy conman-cum-crappy science fiction writer. I don’t want to be a party to the kind of insanity that publicly scorns the users of legitimate medical treatment absent solid scientific reasons. And I especially do not want my ticket money ending up helping to fund the exploitation of the innocent.

Yes, I’m talking about Suri Cruise. The fact that her daddy is virtually certifiable at this stage does not mean he is bereft of guile and cunning…or greed. “Crazy like a fox” is a phrase that comes to mind here. With the world hanging on the imminent birth of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, Crazy Tom had the business acumen to realize that his little gift to humanity would be upstaged by the arrival of Brangelina’s babe, so he took the sly tack of hiding Suri from the world until it was sated with Shiloh and suddenly remembered that there was a little Cruise cruisin’ around, sight unseen. And, once Shiloh’s pictures were sold, the value of Suri’s photos could then be established…and if the offers weren’t high enough, she could continue to be hidden from view until the value inched up enough to surpass the benchmark figure of Shiloh’s photoshoot.

Aw, do I really think he is that mercenary and calculating? Yup, I do. Over the past year or so it has become increasingly obvious that Cruise veered sharply off the path of compassion and common sense sometime between his divorce from Nicole and his ensorcelment of Katie…oops—Kate…Holmes. His suffocating control of Holmes, from dictating what she will be called to how she would be permitted to give birth (silently and without drugs!) bespeaks a bone-deep misogyny and ingrained controlling nature that has flourished since the departure of the strong (and strong-willed) Kidman. Pity the girl child raised by such a father…a man who can do no wrong in his own eyes, a man for whom the accumulated wisdom of the world fades into subordination to his own concepts.

Yup, I got to go along with Paramount. They took a sound business decision to unhitch their wagon from a falling star, to a man spiralling out of control for lack of rational touchstones outside his own microcosm of incestuous thought and support. Tom Cruise and Company can contradict Paramount’s announcement with claims of having quit rather been fired, but the fact remains that contract negotiations broke down when Paramount balked at renewing their old, profit-bleeding deal (confirmed by Cruise’s production partner, Paula Wagner). Whether Cruise then walked or Paramount chucked him out the door is virtually immaterial: Paramount made the decision that Cruise wasn’t worth the cost to them anymore and calculatedly made an offer that they knew Cruise had to refuse. Damned by faint praise, as it were.

So the question now becomes, what is to happen to Crazy Tom and his entourage? Will he feather his nest by leaking the occasional multi-million dollar pic of little Suri? Will Kate Holmes ever make another movie? Will Tom? Does anybody really care anymore?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Life’s Odd Little Details…

I have been sick. Not just sick, but sick. And this weekend I finally began feeling a little bit like normal myself.

In the weeks I have been under the weather, life has continued apace. For three weeks I battled one of the worst sinus infections I have ever had, taking three double-strength courses of antibiotics before it was finally brought under control. Unfortunately, that much antibiotic tends to have side effects…and I immediately came down with a fungus infection which, mercifully, was short lived. This was followed by a virus that attacked my joints and muscles and digestive system and lasted nearly a week, which was followed by a mild cold or an allergy…which has reactivated the sinus infection, but much milder than before. Today I’m sitting up, my mind is clear…although my head is still a bit stuffed up…and I feel like I just might make it through the day without resorting either to a nap or pain pills.

Hubby managed to time his business trip to Richard’s Bay…to see the old rotor off to Europe…to coincide with my virus and managed to escape unscathed. Nashie’s sister, Sasha, is getting along better each day…she is now sleeping with the other doggies in the doggie bed, rather than huddling alone on a cushion.

Nashie seems to be unaffected by the addition of another dog to the mix, but Candy is ambivalent. On the one hand, she makes regular attempts to play with Sasha…but on the other hand, she doesn’t want to sleep in the doggie bed when Sasha is in it. Nash, however, has bigger fish to fry…he is being romantically pursued by a Hadeda bird. Yup, you read that right…a Hadeda bird.

We have a really big back garden and after a rain it is not unusual to see a small flock of these big, loud creatures probing the back lawn for grubs and worms. Recently, a single bird has been dropping by and, rather than silently harvesting the goodies from the soil beneath the lawn, it stands in the middle of the open space and raucously calls for Nash to come out. At first we didn’t get what was going on…we opened the doggie door for Nash to rush out and chase the bird…his normal response to them…but instead of flying immediately up into a tree to escape his attentions, the bird took off running! And it ran until Nash came within catching distance, at which time it flew up onto the garden wall, only to come back down and resume the game as soon as he had retreated to a safe distance.

A few days later we saw the bird collecting nesting materials in the back garden and came to the conclusion that it was female, so Hubby christened her “Cleo.” Her visits became more and more frequent, and she became more and more bold. When Nash didn’t respond to her rasping calls, she came looking for him. She would tap with her beak on the window he uses as a doggie door, or flutter her wings against it and, considering the size of her, it made quite ruckus!

This has become a regular thing now, and over the weekend she actually perched herself on a patio chair outside the bedroom window and peered inside, looking for him, crying hoarsely for him to come outside and play. Silly bird…

So, today I’m back on the road to recovery, surrounded by little white doggies and listening to the hoarse song of a lovesick Hadeda bird…my rather unconventional life seems to be coming back on track…

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Our family grows

First there was Nash.

My husband was never very fond of dogs, having been rather savagely bitten as a child...on two occasions...but while dating me, he grew rather fond of my ancient little Pekingese, Chloe. When I came to South Africa, Chloe had to stay behind...I feared she was too old to survive the when I arrived here, it was to an empty house. My furniture was in transit, my dog had a new home, and my husband was at work all day.

But he is a kind-hearted man and loves me enough to face his fear of dogs. Leafing through one of the local circulars one day, I came across a small ad about an elderly woman in our town known to everyone as the "Dog Lady." She was known to be a person who would rescue abandoned animals and care for them until she could rehome them. Unfortunately, she had unexpectedly died recently and left a houseful of animals with no caretaker. The woman's daughter and granddaughter had taken on the task of finding homes for a dozen or more dogs and cats, and were advertising for interested homes.

After conferring with my husband, I called the ad and gave them a rather detailed set of specifications: an adult dog, small sized, housebroken, gentle natured, preferably female. I explained that my husband was not keen on dogs and if we were to get one, it had to be as non-threatening and "user friendly" as possible. The following day two rescuers showed up at my house for a visit, and with them was fluffy white little Nash.

It was a surprising visit. Nashie is a very friendly, open personality dog but not highly active or energetic. So he walked up to Hubby with a wag in his plumed tail and a smile on his doggie face, stretched himself up and put a paw on Hubby's leg. They bonded. We had a dog.

The nice thing about the Maltese breed is they have hair, not fur, so they don't shed or have dander or activate my allergies. The not-so-nice thing about the Maltese breed is that they have hair, not fur, so their hair never stops growing and if you don't take them to the groomers every month, they quickly come to look like animated dustmops. Nashie had recently been groomed, so his body hair was cut short, and he looked like a dapper little gentleman. But there were a couple of things that seemed a little off: he wasn't a very good eater and was therefore a little on the thin side, and he had breath bad enough to wilt plants. That last particularly concerned me, so I whisked him off to the vet and soon learned the two were related: he was thin and not eating because his teeth were bad...which was causing the bad breath. Further, his teeth were so bad that he was on the verge of sepsis! The very next day he was put under and emerged with only 7 teeth left in his whole mouth! After two courses of antibiotics he was finally healed and we were to quickly learn just how formidable his appetite really was!

But he was lonely. Having been abandoned several times (failed placements), Nash had developed separation anxiety and everytime we left him alone, he howled nonstop until we returned, much to the chagrin of our neighbours. After trying behaviour modification and tranquilizers, we finally found the solution to his anxiety problems: enter Miss Candy (AKA Evil Doggie, Mad Thing, and Toothsome Wench).

Hubby took me to the SPCA for Valentine's Day and we found a rambunctious, long-legged, spring-loaded young Maltese/Jack Russell female who had the beautiful white coat of a Maltese and the boundless energy of the Jack Russell. After filling out a five page form, paying R265, and having our home and garden inspected (!), we were approved as an adoptive home under the SPCA's guidelines, and Candy was ours.

It was slow going in the beginning. Candy had been a street dog and what manners she had were bad. She nipped me and Hubby, she dug in the garden, she was aggressive with Nash, and she was given to bursts of mad, frenetic activity, racing around our large garden like the devil himself was perched on her ostrich-plume of a tail. And Nash's little nose was put squarely out of joint by her arrival, his position as spoiled darling of the household in jeopardy. The Count of Maltese Cristo was definitely not enamoured of his Countess! But time is the greatest of healers and eventually Candy acceded to our discipline and Nash came to tolerate her antics and within the span of just a few months they were friends...and Nash stopped howling when we left him home.

We made a cosy little family, the two dog-babies and their indulgent parents, and had no serious thought about adding to the family, but a year and a half after Candy joined us, the daughter of the Dog Lady called us out of the blue...Nash's sister, Sasha, with whom he had lived the first six years of his life, needed a new home. Her second family was emigrating to the UK, which has a six month quarantine for incoming dogs (at the expense of the owner), and she was about to be homeless again. Were we interested?

We agreed to a one week trial, concerned about how Candy would react to a new dog, but the trial was short lived. Sasha arrived here at 7 last night and I was appalled that these people had had her for 2 years and she had no collar or leash, it was winter and she had a short haircut but no jersey, and she had no toys, no blanket, no doggie bed...nothing but a bowl. Candy came from the SPCA and I expected her to arrive naked as the day she was born, but this dog supposedly was coming from a loving home and she didn't even have a collar and a tag with her name and owner's phone number, in case she got lost? By 10 pm, our bedtime, the decision was made: Sasha would stay and as soon as I finish recovering from my sinus infection and can drive again (no driving while under the influence of these pain pills!), we have to go to the vet (she has bad breath, too, and she won't let us touch her ears), the groomer (funky doggie smell!), and the pet store (collar, leash, jersey) with a stop at the kiosk where doggie ID tags are made.

Sasha needs us and, I am sure we will soon discover that, without knowing it, we needed her, too.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I used to have very nice neighbours...

When we moved into this house in December of 2004, we were pleased to find ourselves living next door to a very nice family. Two clean-cut, wholesome teens and a puckish, energetic 6-year-old, parents and a sleep-in maid. We didn’t establish any kind of a friendship, mind you…simply introduced ourselves and continued living our own private lives, but they were very nice people and, with the exception of the occasional security gate slam that reverberated through our house, quiet.

A few months back we noticed they were cleaning out their garage and then, in a casual conversation with the teen aged son, it was revealed that they were planning to move in a few months. Nothing more was said, but the big black sacks of discards kept showing up on trash day, and finally one morning we saw a “To Let” sign in the front garden.

We braced ourselves for new neighbours…you can never tell what you are going to get when the house next door changes hands, and we hoped for the best. We live just a stone’s throw from the high school, so teen-aged kids next door was almost a given: we could only hope that the incoming family would make as comfortable a set of neighbours as the outgoing.

After a few days the board disappeared and we naturally presumed that new tenants had been procured and would be moving in shortly. One morning we awoke to the sound of slamming doors next door, chaos in their back garden, and other various and sundry noises. Sounded like moving day. The problem was, moving day seemed to go on forever. Although we never seemed to hear fighting or deafening music, the sounds of slamming doors and other disturbing noises continued—even escalated—and they got earlier and earlier in the morning…and later and later at night. I began watching for the new neighbours to arrive home so I might stop over and introduce myself and have a chat with them, but they were elusive: never did I hear their car enter the driveway or see it leave.

The racket continued unabated. One morning, before the early sun had cracked the hard shell of darkness surrounding the city, banging, shuddering noises came from the house next door, as if someone was beating on the security bars. Inured to their noises now, I did not call the police, but listened carefully for a few minutes, in case any sounds of distress might come over the wall. Quiet soon reigned, but it was not to last. Before I knew it afternoon had crept upon me and the private bus engaged to transport the youngest child to and from school had arrived. From my vantage point at my office window, I could see the curly headed moppet emerge from the bus and bounce his way towards the gate in the front wall, out of my line of sight. He looked amazingly like the kid who had moved away!

It took only a few days of careful listening to the next door noises (as opposed to intentionally tuning them out) to discover that, indeed, it was the same child. In fact, it was the same family! Apparently they had renewed their lease with their landlord and remained in the house.

But something obviously had changed for, the quiet neighbours who occupied the house next door during my first 18 months here have unaccountably changed into a houseful of noisy, door-slamming, window-rattling, pot-banging, peace-fracturing characters who make my bedroom, the windows of which face their house, something less than the sanctuary it once was.

I miss my old neighbours. I wonder where they went.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Winter's Embrace

Winter…7 am and still as dark as the inside of George Bush’s brain.

With the seasons reversed down here at the nether end of the globe, the shortest day of our year falls in June. June 22, to be exact, nearly a fortnight distant. Although the recent days have been bright and clear, there is an unmistakable crispness to the air that lets you know, make no mistake about it, winter is upon us.

The doggies wear their hated jerseys day and night now, huddling together in the fat, cushy doggie bed at night and squirming into the big bed full of warm people at first light. Slim, long-legged Candy, with her curly white poodle cut, wears her forest green knit turtleneck like a supermodel, platinum ears flowing, dark, expressive eyes flashing. Portly Nash, on the other hand, looks like a rotund little white-whiskered professor in his fleecy green-and-grey argyle vest.

The past few nights haven’t been cold enough to turn on the heaters, although we had a cold snap a week or so back that had us all huddled together beneath the fat new duvet we bought on holiday last year. Amazingly, South African houses are built without heating systems…unless you count fireplaces (which are no more numerous than in American homes)…and the winters here can be bone-chillingly cold, particularly with the stiff winds that are an integral part of the Cape Town experience. Those winds are a blessing in the dry, scorching summer months, for they both cool the air and remove air pollution, leaving the area a veritable playground in paradise. In the winter, however, they serve to exacerbate the deep chill.

By the time the gardener arrived at eight the sun had flung itself into the sky, but its light lacked warmth. Time being money for him, Christopher set to work immediately, his breath issuing out in a visible vapour ordinarily uncommon here. The lack of winter cloud cover proved itself a blessing, allowing the sun to grow robust enough to finally warm the crisp air and chill earth. By ten, Christopher’s jacket was draped neatly over a patio chair, his bare arms glistening with sweat as he clipped and snipped the rain-driven recent growth of what was rapidly becoming a small suburban jungle. Only Christopher’s weekly ministrations keep the enthusiastic vegetation at bay.

The afternoon was sunny and warm outside, but the thick brick walls of the house tend to retain the night-time chill. Sans furnace, with only the feeble heat of a fireplace to warm us…and then only in a small circle immediately in front of the hearth…I pondered dinner: what kind of dish can I prepare that will cook all day and warm up the house? The answer was a sudden craving for Texas chili and that truck stop delicacy, the Chili Size. A quick inventory of the cupboards revealed I need a few things, so it was off to the market and, an hour later, a rich pot of chili bubbled on the stove, sending a fragrant heat wafting through the house.

Dark descended upon us as quickly as it had decamped in the morning. At five I handed Christopher his daily pay and a quart of chili, the old mayo jar thickly wrapped in newspapers, and by six, when we sat down to heaping plates of chili, onion, and grated cheddar, the moonless night had returned. Black as bin Laden’s heart, the night hurls itself upon us without even a twilight’s warning, banishing the frail winter sun until it can screw up the courage to bring us yet another pale and pallid morning. It is winter in Cape Town.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My husband was born in a barn

Winter didn't sneak up on us here in the Cape the year, it arrived with a bang. One day we were eating lunch on the patio, the next day we were huddling in the bed with the doggies in midday just to keep warm!

Fortunately, as a person of foresight, I helped the maid put the electric mattress pad on the bed a few weeks back, moved my winter nightgowns to the top of the pile, and shifted Hubby's long-sleeved shirts to the front of the cupboard. The doggies have become reacquainted with their winter jersies, the fireplace is clean, the space heaters have been dusted and tested, and a small stock of coal and wood are conveniently placed in the garage. As much as is possible, we are winterized and ready for the chilly temperatures...except for Hubby... How do you winterize a husband?

He was born and raised in Durban, a place with a climate roughly akin to Miami. Durban houses have doors on their rooms solely for the purpose of privacy...there is more of a need to open doors for air flow than to close doors to conserve heat. And so my Durban born-and-bred husband has great difficulty remembering to close doors behind him when entering or exiting a room during our chilly Cape Town winters.

This is not a huge problem when the door is the one that leads to the bathroom...but when it is the door that opens onto the patio and I have just spent thirty minutes shivering as the puny little space heater worked itself into a sweat trying to heat up the frigid space I wish to occupy...well, that's a problem! Our home office is located in a room that was built in a section of the garage and is accessed through the patio: two steps out the kitchen door, turn left, open the office door. A conversation with him these days goes something like this:

SV: "Hi, honey. What can I do for you? Close the door, please."
H: "Where is the bread?"
SV: "Close the door, please. In the cupboard above the toaster."
H: " 'k."
SV: "Close both doors, please."

We shut off our geyser every evening so we don't impact the peak demand time; we run around turning off lights when the TV says power usage is increasing; we run the pool pump only during off-peak hours. He is an engineer for Eskom and is intimately familiar with the negative consequences of wasting why does he exit the kitchen into the patio, leaving the door open to admit the frigid outdoor air?

I am teaching my maid to bake, encouraging her by striking a deal that she can take home half of whatever she makes (I supply the ingredients). Using the (gas) stove to cook an all-day pot of soup or pasta sauce or baking something like bread, which requires a warm rising place and a pre-heated oven, are good ways to efficiently use the energy expended: get something good to eat and get the room warm at the same time! This morning the oven is hard at work heating the kitchen and dining room while a luscious batch of scones browns inside...Hubby (who is home on leave) is still tucked up in his long will it be before our precious heat is vented to the frigid expanse of patio as he pops his head in to ask where I have hidden the milk for his tea?

What is it with men...and boys...with doors? I can remember my mother bellowing at my brother "Close the damned door! What? Were you born in a barn?" My own sons were equally door-knob challenged. One would think that an engineer for the power company (who is also the household member who actually has to pay the utility for our power consumption,) would be a bit more circumspect when it comes to conservation of a resource for which he must shell out hard-earned rands. But old habits die hard, I guess, and while I am sure he wasn't actually born in a barn, I know he was born in a place with a far warmer winter clime.

Maybe I should place under his pillow a subliminal tape recording to program his subconscious brain...close the door...close the door...close the door...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A view from the

We left Swellendam late Monday morning to the accompaniment of a light drizzle. We expected to hit some traffic, but we were leaving early enough in the day that we didn't expect to hit a great deal. The rain, however, was an unexpected complication. Once out on the N2 we found ourselves driving through intermittent downpours that actually made it difficult for us to see the road. Hubby being diabetic, skipping lunch is not an option for us, so as the rain slowed the traffic and stacked it up, we decided to take a side trip down to Hermanus for lunch, a decision that was, ultimately, a mixed blessing.

We found a restaurant in Hermanus that was upstairs, with windows on three sides. It was just after the lunch rush, so we were shown to one of the premiere tables, right in the corner with spectacular views in two directions. The rain and wind continued, giving us quite a show to accompany our dinner!

The traffic in and out of Hermanus was horrifying! The main road through the town was choked literally from the eastern entrance to the town all the way through town and out onto the highway. At first we assumed it was simply holiday traffic clogging the roadways, but eventually discovered the cause: two traffic lights at the western end of town were holding up traffic by not allowing enough cars through at each cycle...the lights were programmed for normal Monday traffic, not holiday traffic in which the majority of the cars were all going in one direction. To add insult to injury, at both intersections there were police cars and a gaggle of cops standing around (including Traffic Department cops) looking at the snarl of cars and doing absolutely nothing!

Eventually we got out of town and the traffic moved along nicely until we came to the back up where the holidayers from various destinations all were trying to get onto the same road back to Cape Town at the same time:

The traffic behind us

The traffic ahead of us...

More of the traffic ahead of us

The scary part about all of this traffic is that it was way out in the middle of nowhere and we had no way to gauge how far the jam stretched! But people were, for the most part, polite and good natured and despite all the congestion, we managed to make it home in one piece before the sun went down.

All things considered, it was a nice holiday and I definitely recommend the guesthouses we stayed at: WedgeView in Stellenbosch and Rothman Manor in Swellendam. Lovely, lovely places, well-kept, beautifully appointed, stunning grounds, excellent meals and gracious hosts. We'll be visiting both places again!

What do you say?

Like most women, I like babies. At this stage in my life, I particularly like babies who belong to other people…the ones who get to change the diapers and pace the floor at 3 am…but I still adore babies. So, like many other women, when I espy a pram at the mall or the market, I am compelled to peek in at the little creature and make some kind of complimentary noise to the parent. It’s not generally difficult…even the most visage-challenged babies generally have at least one or two features upon which a stranger can make a truthfully complimentary remark. If the child is truly cosmetically-challenged, there is usually something like smoothness of complexion or plumpness of cheek or thickness of locks or blueness of eyes over which to coo.

So what do you say when you find yourself leaning over the pram and looking into the face of a truly ugly baby?

I’m not talking about a child who has had the misfortune to have been born with some kind of congenital malformation or who is afflicted with a disfiguring malady like eczema or a port wine stain. I am talking about a child who, for all intents and purposes, was born perfectly normal but the shape of the features and their arrangement was less than fortunate. Do you say something untruthful but complimentary, hoping the parents haven’t really realized that Junior’s ears look like wings or his nose looks as if it has been surreptitiously replaced with one from a piglet?

The cliché “a face only a mother could love” exists in our lexicon for a reason…parents seem to see their own children through a filter the rest of us simply cannot seem to replicate. I’ve been known to comment on an otherwise plain child’s deliciously dark and curly eyelashes, eliciting a glowing response from her mother who now has one more thing to dote upon in her…through her eyes…flawlessly configured offspring. But suppose the parents of the bat-winged baby I saw this morning were not labouring under the misconception that their child was a future Miss South Africa? Suppose Mum had already begun a saving account for the otoplasty? What if the child’s other cosmetic flaws are clearly recognized and accepted by the parents? What do you say? Do you say anything at all?

It usually only takes me a matter of seconds to zero in on a feature that can be complimented, and additional time spent gazing into the little one’s face surely is interpreted by the doting parent as rapt admiration on my part. Wouldn’t they be alarmed or disturbed if I took a long look at their child and then just turned and walked away? I would have considered such behaviour very creepy in the days when I was pushing a pram. So, when you’ve looked into those little washed-out blue eyes fringed by stumps of lashes, when you’ve wondered how long it will take the child to grow into that nose, if it will ever grow hair, will the lips ever shape up to more than a thin, colourless line, what on earth gave it that greyish-yellow pallor, and is there any hope that the kid is more intelligent than that dull expression suggests…just what do you say?

Sweet. “What a sweet baby!” Who can argue with that? Mum…who was no Miss South Africa herself…beamed, and pallid, beak-nosed infant waved its arms and legs about and emitted a typical shrieking sound, giving me a perfect opportunity to flash a quick grin and escape.

Later, however, as I was strolling out to the car with a trolley full of groceries, I happened to pass the outdoor area at Mugg & Bean. Due to the inclement weather (Cape Town is finally getting some desperately needed rain!), the outdoor patio was surrounded by plastic and canvas drops, permitting the feeble sun to penetrate into the seating area, but not permitting the dense cloud of cigarette smoke to exit. Consequently, even though the seating area is technically outdoors, the trapped smoke made walking past the area a bit of a choking affair…and I found myself walking past a familiar pram and looking down into a familiar little face, breathing in all that second-hand smoke, a considerable amount of which was being contributed by Mum and Daddy in the airspace immediately above the kid’s face.

What are the chances Mum smoked during this pregnancy? What are the chances that the tyke breathes this kind of stuff all day and night long and now, with winter approaching, he’s going to get an even heavier dose of this poison to breathe? Could the kid’s pallor and generally dull appearance be due to hypoxia? Should Mugg & Bean have refused to seat a person below the smoking age in the smoking area? Should I have spoken up and suggested the mother take the child out for some fresh air instead of the choking smoke the poor little tyke was breathing? Or should I have done as I did…walked on by, shaking my head but unwilling to start a confrontation with a bunch of strangers over the well-being of a child I don’t know, a confrontation guaranteed to result in little more than those parents feeling unjustly attacked by a busybody stranger?

What do you do when you walk past some really ugly parents?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A View from the Overberg, Pt.3

Point Agulhas is the southern-most point of land on the Afrikan continent. Much to our surprise, there was a thriving community there, unlike the uninhabited wilderness of Cape Point. Here is a peek at a part of the fishing fleet.

Cape Town's conceit notwithstanding, the two oceans meet here, at L'Agulhas, not further west along Cape Town's extended environs.

You can see the marker but the confluence of the oceans doesn't appear to be particularly roiled up. We saw more exciting surf at Hermanus the following day!

I didn't get any details on the lighthouse, but it's easy to see that this is one very old building! We wondered if those oddly shaped doors might be gunports for old cannon, particularly since the entrance to the lighthouse is on the sheltered side. The old limestone blocks are weathered, but don't appear to have eroded significantly over the centuries. Wonder what those two towers are for?

This flower is the most uncommon-looking thing! There are no leaves, no plant, just this gorgeous translucent bloom thrusting itself upwards from the gravel and rock at the shore. We saw dozens of them, scattered in groups of three or four, their scarlet faces a stark contrast to their barren surroundings.

Next entry: after Hubby spends a dismal night with what he is certain is food poisoning, we awaken to a fresh, light drizzle that doesn't grow into a driving rain until we are on the road. Undeterred...and Hubby's tummy still a bit touchy...we head for Hermanus for lunch and find an upstairs restaurant with stunning views of the storm-tossed coast.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A View from the Overberg, Pt 2

So, we left the luxuries of WedgeView (where their premium breakfast is called a "Wedgie") and hit the road for Swellendam. After a couple of hours of ruddy barren fields dotted with the occasional dorpie for a view, a speck of green came onto the horizon, swelling in size with each passing kilometre until we could see the lush green of a town. Swellendam is the third oldest city in South Africa and it is situated along the Breede River, and is immensely fertile. After passing an industrial area, remarkable for the immense grain silos along the roadway, we came into the verdant little town.

After a right turn onto the main road, Voortrek, the fourth building on the right was our destination: Rothman Manor, a Cape Dutch house built in 1834 and the first in a complex of buildings that makes up this five-star, three-hectare establishment.

The owners, Franziska and Andreas Goebel, are a German couple, a fact reflected in the interior design of the rooms. While the rooms aren't decorated to reflect the historic nature of the property, they are beautifully and luxuriously appointed. We found some unexpected amenities...underfloor heating in the bath (which was tiled with black granite), the guest's cars washed daily, and a well-stocked minibar with fridge snuggled away in the side compartment of what could only be a custom-built desk.

The property includes a huge lily pond, the original dam has been converted into a koi pond (and those koi are HUGE!), a swimming pool and a jacuzzi, and a small private nature reserve that contains deer, zebra, and ostrich ( A few pics:

The lily pond
Honest...there is an ostrich in this picture!

The two little deer are a bit easier to find than the ostrich was.

These are the biggest koi I have ever seen!

To call the town of Swellendam "quaint" would be a gross understatement. The place is full of buildings two and three hundred years old, most of them in excellent repair and currently occupied. Rothman Manor has an oak tree more than 200 years old under which breakfast is served during appropriate weather.

After a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast, we set off exploring and ended up at Cape Agulhas, the southern most point of land on the African continent. Next entry: the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet in front of a stunning Old World lighthouse.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A View from the Overberg

Here in South Africa, Easter occasions a four-day weekend and South Africans just love to take to the highways and byways at such times. With the rotor for Koeberg's downed generator safely arrived, Dear Hubby was able to actually take the holiday and Friday we headed out for parts unknown (at least unknown by me).

Our first night on the road was spent in Stellenbosch, only an hour or so away by road, but a world away in amenities. Hubby found a delicious country house...located a couple of kilometres out on a gravel road...and dear old Bertha again did us proud, eating up the bumps and lumps like the trouper that she is. At the end of the dusty journey we found this:

When have you ever seen something this gorgeous? I was stunned! It was the most beautiful place, with 360 degree views of lush vineyards and beautiful mountains. And it had a luxe spa where I sent Hubby off to have his poor tired feet tended with a reflexology session and a pedicure (he's diabetic and must be very good to his feet and he'd been standing on them for days with that rotor arriving in town!).

This is a five-star country house called "WedgeView." The host and hostess, Mike and Trudie Spicer, are British and they immigrated to SA about 9 years ago. Trudie is a true horticulture nut, and the absolutely gorgeous gardens (not to mention the impressive koi pond) are both soothing and stunning at the same time. Here are a few more pics of WedgeView ( :

Hubby having breakfast on the terrace (above). Notice the huge cycad to the left.

The food was delicious (the quiche was absolutely wonderful!), the service beyond reproach, and the room was spacious, beautifully decorated, and deserved every one of those five stars. We were so impressed, in fact, we plan to return to WedgeView when we have the time to stay more than one night and really make a retreat of the place!

In the morning, after a solid night's sleep, we packed Bertha back up and headed off for our ultimate destination: historic Swellendam and the historic manor house, Rothman Manor (est. 1834), set on 3 hectares of stunning land right on Swellendam's main road! More pics tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

How rude!

Dearest Hubby took me out to dinner last night for my birthday. I had expressed a wish for sushi, so we headed to the nearest Cape Town Fish Market and ended up at the one at the Paddocks in Milnerton, near Woodbridge Island. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the area, it is an upmarket area and the restaurant has a view of the island, the sea, and Table Mountain.

The sushi bar was busy, full of the rich and the trendy, but we managed to find two seats and began ogling the tempting array of dishes rolling past on the little motorized conveyor belt. The sushi bars at Cape Town Fish Markets are long oval affairs with the sushi chefs on the inside of the oval preparing the sushi, the patrons seated on the outside, and a segmented conveyor belt endlessly rotating, carrying the tender morsels past each customer. When something comes by that you like, you simply lift the little plate from the conveyor, place it in front of you, limber up the chopsticks, and dig in.

Because most diners only take a plate or two at a time and the chefs are continuously busy adding new dishes to the conveyor, you seldom have to wait more than a few seconds for something tempting to pass before your eyes. Despite the fact that the place was crowded, things were going along swimmingly, the regularly occurring empty spots being quickly refilled by the busy chefs. And then the Greedy Twins came in.

I don’t know what some people have against taking their turns. What makes two people so oblivious to the local custom…and the feelings of the other patrons…that they can come in from nowhere and lay waste to the evening’s offerings? A man and a woman walked up to the sushi bar and, without taking seats, began snatching things off the conveyor belt and covering the bar in front of them. They were to my right and the conveyor was moving in a clockwise direction so, instead of the occasional empty space on the belt as it passed before me, suddenly there was the occasional dish of sushi as an empty belt rolled by! Slowly, patrons began looking up from their conversations and casting their eyes around the bar, wondering where the food went, while Piggly and Wiggly added to their ever-growing stash.

What really ticked me off was that the management and wait staff didn’t seem to think there was a problem here. When P&W shoved everything in the direction of a waiter and demanded it be packaged for takeaway, someone should have noted down everything on the bar, returned the food to the conveyor so the other 40 or so people at the bar could eat, and told Piggly and his Wiggly gal pal to have a seat while the chefs prepared their takeaway for them!

As it was, even the painfully thin, brutally nipped-and-tucked Paris Hilton wannabe at the other end of the bar took notice of the barren belt…I doubt she ate more than one California roll at a sitting, but even she saw that the bar full of patrons who arrived ahead of these boors were staring at a barren larder as the latecomers packed it all up and carried it away. It took the better part of half an hour to restock the conveyor, during which time more than a few patrons settled their bills and went home…we among them. After all, if you’ve come to eat sushi and suddenly the cupboard is bare, why hang about?

I have to wonder if those people had any idea how rude they were and how they, basically, shoved themselves to the head of the queue and then took almost everything on offer, leaving a good three dozen people staring at empty space where their dinner was supposed to be.

Nah…if they had a clue, they wouldn’t have done it…would they?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Another year gone by...

Today I am 59 and I have to ask…when does menopause end?

I told my Dear Hubby yesterday that I have just one year left now, that I am capable of the kind of sleight-of-mind necessary to stretch the definition of “middle age” to cover the fifties, but nobody, not even me, can call 60 “middle aged.” In 365 days, I will be officially old.

Funny, but I don’t feel old. I don’t even feel old approaching. According to most people who know me, I’m not looking particularly old, either…but you know friends and family…they probably wouldn’t tell me my age was showing even if I was down to no teeth and wrinkles so profound I was tripping over them. While having my roots touched up last month (yes, I am a natural blonde, just not this naturally blonde) I asked my hairdresser how much grey has sprinkled itself into my tresses and she said about a dozen…I have to believe her because the reason I asked is that I didn’t see any when I checked and Hubby, a wise man who knows when to keep his own counsel, wouldn’t admit to having found any!

While I am postponing the admission of being old, I cannot escape the fact that I am aging. Of course we are all aging…we begin doing that the day we are born…but there is a certain point in life when we look at ourselves in the mirror and realize that some things in our lives are not only gone, they are gone forever…like perky boobs or an unlined brow…and some things are here to stay…like crinkly skin and sagging jowls. Time and gravity take their toll and at that certain age…if you aren’t one of those pathetic people showing your wrinkled belly to the world in obscenely low-cut jeans and your pre-teen granddaughter’s cropped top…you simply cannot deny it any more.

I don’t know if men have a biological rite of passage out of youth, but women do. It’s called “menopause.” We can hand over our pension savings to the cosmetic surgeon, with his scalpels and lasers, suctions and injections, and come away with a temporarily updated version of ourselves, but we can’t fool Mother Nature and our ovaries. At some point in life the oestrogen factories start shutting down and middle age comes firmly upon us, like it or not.

Menopause has been likened to a latter-day menarche, just in reverse. Girls’ bodies gradually prepare themselves for the onset of womanhood and, once the ovaries kick into gear, there are a few years in which the hormones have to get settled down into a predictable flow: adolescence. We know, however, that this “adjustment period” will eventually end…at least physically…and once it is over and our bodies are acclimated to the new chemical brew, life goes on. One would expect menopause to work much the same way, but in reverse: a period of time in which the body reverts to its previous low-oestrogen state, followed by an expanse of years in which we are no longer tormented by cramps, PMS, monthly indispositions, or rabid curiosity about the latest and greatest advances in contraception and feminine hygiene products. And, indeed, that is our eventual destination but just how long is this journey and just how rocky is this road?

Fully twelve years ago I remember getting up from my desk and heading for the copy machine and nearly fainting half way there. Now, this is wholly unlike me…I am one of those indomitable types who would be at the very bottom of your list of “women most likely to faint for any reason whatsoever.” I’ve administered first aid to auto accident victims with gruesome injuries, I’ve endured a robbery in which I was assaulted with fists, feet, and knives, I’ve suffered the sudden and unexpected death of my dearest husband, and sat vigil at the bedside of a comatose infant. If that which does not kill us makes us strong, then I’m among the tougher of my sisters…so what is this nearly fainting half way to the copy machine crap?

So, I figured I was just standing up a bit too fast…blood rushing out of the head sort of thing…so I tried rising from my chair more slowly and, instead of rushing to the copier, being more measured in my approach…to no avail. Half way to the copier, I was feeling faint again. After a few more episodes, one in which I actually saw stars and swirling black clouds, I made it a point to visit my doctor. She gave me a prescription for female hormones and when I objected, she said “just try it for a couple of weeks…trust me on this…” Amazingly, my near-fainting spells cleared up in less than 48 hours and, thankfully, did not return when I stopped the hormones.

A dozen years have passed and, frankly, I have no idea why I am still experiencing symptoms. Oh, the fainting spells are gone and I am finding the odd stray dark hair in places more appropriate to my husband that to me (I’m beginning to think that the Bearded Lady of circus lore was simply any post-menopausal female who has lost her tweezers!), but the classic symptoms don’t seem to want to give up their hold on my physiognomy and retreat into the mists of history: I am still getting random hot flashes, especially at night. I am convinced that the sleep disturbances that are a legendary part of the “change” are really nothing more than nocturnal hot flashes that require the sufferer to awaken to some degree in order to alleviate the discomfort…remove the blanket…remove the sheet…remove the nightgown…remove the husband…point the fan directly at the body…and now you’re awake!

Unlike some women I have known, the hot flashes haven’t been such a problem for me. Some women have told me about trembling spells of rushes of body heat, sweat pouring down their brows, and noticeably reddened faces…I’ve never experienced anything like that, just a mild, uncomfortable overheating, easily remedied by a small fan directed at the face for several hours at a time. My doctor tells me that this is due to my excess weight, that fat tissue produces oestrogen and helps to mitigate my symptoms…who knew?? A positive side to being a pudgy! But that fat tissue must be sleeping at night, right along with my consciousness, because at two in the morning, with a fan trained on the bed, I find myself awake and rearranging the bedclothes and rolling Dear Hubby to the far side of the, thankfully, king-sized bed!

So, maybe the difference between being old and being middle-aged is less one of a number of years achieved and more of development. My body seems to be stuck firmly in the middle ages, and my husband (who is considerably younger than I am) tells me that I will never be old because I don’t know how to be (such a sweeeeet man!).

I dunno…I guess I’ll have to check next birthday and see how I feel then…