Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!


I may be gone, but you are not forgotten! Merry Christmas to you all and a Prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Goodbye

I am not going to be blogging anymore...at least not for a considerable while.

Too much is going on in my life, things are too chaotic, even when I can carve out the time to write, I can't order my brain to think properly, to create and put down cohesive thoughts. And the attempt just frustrates me more, adding to my already overwhelming stress levels.

I may be back, after the move to Johannesburg and getting settled in, but I am not making any promises. I already feel totally sucked dry and the actual move is still a month or more away.

Those of you who have my email address can be in touch with me that way. Otherwise, you can reach me through FaceBook where I am Sweet Violet. Send me a message and I'll reply.

Please keep well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's not getting any better...

Right now, my life sucks.

My husband and I have had more arguments this week than we have in the past five years combined. I have cried more in the last eight days than I have in the whole last eight years. And, on top of everything else, I have managed to get myself a sinus infection, so the entire right side of my head is plugged shut, the right side of my face is puffed up…including a drooping eyelid which makes working on the computer a joy…my ear hurts, I’m dizzy, and I’ve had varying degrees of laryngitis since I woke up this morning. That’s not all, but unless you are into scatology, telling you more about how my body is dealing with all this would be over-sharing.

I am miserable, the most miserable I have been since Chuck died. I’m doing my part about accepting the inevitability of my situation and making genuine efforts to deal with it. But it feels like planning a funeral…it must be done and it must be done well, but I must be forgiven for my lack of enthusiasm for the task and my visceral negativity towards it.

I’m crying again. I can wrap my head…my logical, pragmatic mind…around this and make it happen. But my heart just feels like it is being simultaneously squeezed and shattered. I keep hoping I will wake up in the morning and this will all be just a horrific nightmare. But I know it is not and that next week is my husband’s last week home before he moves to Joburg, leaving me behind to deal with the agony alone.

This is going to be one of the worst Christmas seasons on record.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Moving…

I am sick with sadness. Yesterday it was confirmed that my husband is being transferred to Johannesburg on 1 December. It is a permanent position, so we…me included…have to move.

I don’t want to go. I love Cape Town, I love my life here. I have put down roots and established a kind of security and contentedness that is new in my experience, and it is precious to me. My previous moves have always come with the sense of either moving away from something I did not like or moving to something better…this move feels like I am being ripped away from the very fabric of my existence. I do not know if I can ever again feel as settled and secure as I have over the past six years. Now I feel guarded…I know this can happen again and I don’t ever want to feel this way again.

I feel very much like I did nearly ten years ago when I answered my phone to hear a doctor telling me my husband had died. Shocked. Shaken. Unsettled. That was an event that shook my world to its foundations, changed my life in a way I did not welcome and without my consent. In certain aspects this is worse…that was dealing with an act of nature that none of us can change and therefore must accept. This is a human act that is ill-considered in more ways than you would believe: it will unnecessarily cost my husband’s employer a boatload of money and it hurts people unnecessarily.

You see, my husband is not just a mechanical engineer, he is also nuclear qualified. The only nuclear power plant on the continent of Africa is just 10 kms up the road from our house here in Cape Town. Because it is the only nuke on the continent, there aren’t a lot of nuclear-qualified engineers hanging around South Africa, so the company imports them, largely from Europe. Since these imported engineers come in as contractors, this means the company has to pay these guys a boatload of money and perks to get them down here and keep them around.

One of the nuclear divisions offered my husband a position and it was not approved by someone in headquarters…they want him to come to HQ and take on a position for which he has no background or experience: HVAC. He is a nuclear-qualified turbine specialist with two years of engineering management experience…why are they importing, at a much higher cost to the company, nuke engineers from overseas and sending one of their own nuke engineers to work on something else…something for which he has no background or training?

If they imported an HVAC engineer, it would save the company the cost of transferring us halfway across the country, a process that will not be cheap. They have to pay for the cost of moving our possessions, moving one of our cars by rail, flying us up and back (and paying for hotels, etc) for house-hunting trips, and it is going to take at least two moving vans to get our stuff up there. Then, they are obligated to pay rent on a furnished place (as much as 50% more costly than unfurnished) for the first six months we are up there to give us time to find a permanent place to live while they pay for storage of the stuff that came up in the vans. This is easily going to cost the company hundreds of thousands of rand (tens of thousands of dollars), every one of which could be saved by simply transferring him to the nuclear power plant a few miles up the highway from our house and importing a qualified HVAC engineer to work at HQ. Considering the citizens are up in arms over the company’s 31% rate hike…and another rate hike is scheduled for next year…one would think that the company would be eager so save a few hundred thou by deploying its technical talents less wastefully, ya know?

I keep having these unexpected “sadness attacks” between bouts of pragmatic thinking. Just like when Chuck died, I feel my nose swell up, my eyes water, and a hollow feeling opens up in my chest. I feel grounded and secure and content in this house, in this city, in my life. And it hurts to have it ripped away.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

After this, I will be wary of October forever!

Well, I’m back…and hoping that the last days of October do not continue the trend of disasters, large and small, that have plagued me for the month.

I am ordinarily one of those perpetually optimistic and relentlessly cheerful individuals, the one you could cheerfully choke when she responds to your own litany of disasters by saying “Well, the bright side of this is…” Even when I run into a string of woes in my own life, I tend to view the most recent calamity as the last, and do not look forward with trepidation. As the end of this month approaches, however, I am beginning to waver. The fact that all of the crises, from major to minor, seem to be resolving helps…but their sheer volume has put a bit of a dent in my normally sunny disposition.

I can’t even remember the exact order of them all, but I believe it started with the refrigerator…my big, beautiful, nearly-new side-by-side…making a terrible groaning noise, straining to turn itself on…groan-click…groan-click…groan-click. Eventually it would come on, only to do it again the next time. This fridge is less than three years old and has already had a major repair…it has two compressors and one has already required replacement…so this was a very disappointing event. We called a generic fridge repair man who said it could be this…or it could be that… We paid him for his indecision and called the brand service centre who sent us a tech…at twice the hourly rate of the generic guy…who fortunately had just the right part in his little truck and, R800+ later (equivalent to two trips to the gourmet grocery store) the fridge was working again.

It could have started with the infection, however…I just don’t remember the order of things too well as there have been too many of them. Hubby is diabetic and is prone to skin infections (“boils” to those who are not squeamish) and sometimes he develops a cellulitis with it, which can be quite dangerous. He’s actually been hospitalized twice for these infections and placed on IV antibiotics, so they are nothing to fool around with. Any, he got one, complete with cellulitis and had to start a course of antibiotics with me monitoring the shrinking or spreading of the cellulitis.

A week or so into the month, he woke up with a pain in his left wrist. By the next day his wrist was swollen up at least twice its normal size, red and hot. No evidence of an insect bite or sting was visible, but movement was excruciating. We knew it wasn’t an infection…he was full of antibiotics…so it was off to the doctor’s office again. Doc thought it was gout, I thought it was tendinitis. Awaiting the results of the blood tests, I treated his wrist like a tendinitis…ice packs and a wrist brace in addition to the anti-inflammatory prescribed by Doc…and when the gout tests came back negative, we heaved a sigh of relief. Gout would have been a much worse…and much more complicated…diagnosis.

His wrist improved and the day before I was planning to suggest that he try going without the brace, he called me in the afternoon saying “I’ve had a bit of an incident.” First thing that came to mind was his car…had another arrogant speed demon T-boned him in another intersection? “What happened?” I asked frantically. “Are you OK?”

“I collapsed at the Pick n Pay,” he said. His voice was muffled and indistinct.

He seemed confused and unable to answer questions. I asked if anyone was with him and he handed the phone over to a person he thought was a security person for the supermarket but who was, in fact, a paramedic. He had had an episode of insulin shock…his blood sugar had dropped so low that he lost consciousness…and collapsed in an aisle in the supermarket.

I got to the hospital before he did, and when he got there, the news was worse…when he fell he landed on his right shoulder, bruising it, and bitten through his tongue. After hours in the ER they finally sent us home, but the next morning they called us back for additional tests…seems they were worried about some irregularities in his blood enzymes and wanted to rule out a heart attack with a repeat of the tests. Fortunately the retest was ok, but he remained fuzzy and confused for several days and has a permanent loss of memory for a good part of that day.

The very next day we were in the market and he suddenly looked pale and sweaty. “I need a Coke,” he said. “Fast.” We managed to get a sugar Coke into him, followed by a muffin and forestalled another collapse, but it was obvious that his blood sugar was not yet stabilized.

Amongst all this, my car needed to go into the body shop for what we thought was a minor repair…they quoted us 8-10 business days, which I thought was excessive, but whatchya gonna do? The insurance guys came out and assessed the damage, approved the repair, and Hubby called to make the appointment…only to find that the insurance guy had neglected to include the bee sting antenna on the back of the roof that was part of the damage. Another week passed while we got the insurance people to authorize that as part of the repair, only to have the official Mercedes Benz body repair shop tell us the aerial was an “after market” part and they did not stock it.

I had to go to the internet and find an article about Mercedes Benz’s 2000 model year and refer them to an article referencing the aerial as being part of the factory-installed hands-free phone kit. Only then did some genius suddenly discover that, indeed, it was an “official” Mercedes part and, by golly, they could replace it! Amazing, eh? So, my “minor” body repair ended up taking three weeks…two weeks of it in the shop…but I must say, they did a great job. Well…almost a great job. The next day we got in the car and Hubby decided to clean the front and rear windows. He hit the squirter thingy and the wipers automatically activated. But the rear wiper, instead of wiping the wet glass, began wiping the tailgate…some genius had installed the wiper assembly upside down!

Hubby’s shoulder continued to pain him until he literally could not raise his arm. For days after his collapse he suffered muscle aches all over his body, but as they subsided his shoulder, perversely, got worse. Back to the doc, who diagnosed tendinitis and renewed the scrip for the anti-inflammatory drugs.

I endured two weeks of cabin fever, awaiting the return of my car and just as I was mobile again, I did something to my left hand…who knows what? At first it felt like a burst blood vessel in the palm…it had that stinging soreness…but those usually resolve in a day or two for me. It has been a week and I still cannot grip anything with my left hand if it is going to contact the palm…like a steering wheel. Then, Hubby rocked up with another abscess, this one in a painful and awkward place to treat (under the arm), and on Sunday I stood up from a chair, took one step, and I nearly fell over from the pain in my right ankle.

Back to the Doc…I was starting to think about just taking up residence in his waiting room!...where Hubby got a renewed antibiotic prescription…and I got sent to the hospital for x-rays, ultrasound, and blood tests. The good news is that nothing is broken and I don’t have Deep Vein Thrombosis…the bad news is that I’ve got the symptomatic equivalent of a sprained ankle, but I didn’t injure it in any way. So now I am in bed, foot elevated and an ice pack on it, I am housebound again, and now the inside of my left arm hurts…

That’s a story in itself…I went to the blood lab for the tests and the technician checked both of my arms for “good veins.” She selected Old Faithful, a fat vein in the crook of my left arm that has been the favourite of phlebotomists for my entire life. I knew I was in trouble when she couldn’t get blood on the first pass, and kept wiggling the needle, pushing and pulling it in and out, unable to puncture a vein that sits close to the surface and is as big as the Alaska Pipeline. She finally withdraws the needle and informs me that the veins in my right arm aren’t satisfactory and she is going to have to use a vein in the back of my hands. I don’t think she was prepared for my refusal.

“No,” I said. “Absolutely not my hands. How about this fat vein in my wrist?” She demurred, insisting that she had to use my hands. I adamantly refused.

She got insistent. I got annoyed. “It doesn’t hurt that much,” she kept saying, unwilling to hear anything I might have to say about my experience with venipuncture in my hands. I could have told her those veins roll terribly, that the back of my hands bruise terribly after having blood drawn…assuming a vein can be tapped…and I use my hands all day, typing, cooking and/or sewing. She just kept insisting “it won’t hurt that much” when she had managed to provoke a dozen “ow! Ouch! Owowow!” comments of out me while she failed to puncture my biggest vein with fine needle. She was a butcher and I wasn’t letting her near my hands!

She stepped out of the room and I began formulating my explanation to the doctor as to why the ordered blood tests hadn’t been done (because I was planning to leave if she kept insisting on maiming my hand!), but another woman walked in and diverted my attention. She took my right arm and examined my veins and pointed out a vein the first technician had rejected as being inadequate. Then, in a trice, she had the needle into that vein and I literally felt nothing! She drew two vials of blood and withdrew the needle, all without giving me the slightest twinge.

But last night, Dear Hubby took the edge off my distress at being house bound again with a fat foot and a sore hand by taking me to see my anniversary present. Her name is Muffin and she is three weeks old, so she will have to stay with her mum for a bit longer, but she is just priceless. I hope Puddin’ likes her, as she is destined to be Puddin’s playmate. So, even though the month of crises isn’t over yet, things are looking up. Time to get out the knitting needles and finish Muffin’s pink baby blanket…

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Landlording is not for the faint of heart!

My husband has never been a landlord before. When I was in my teens, my mother and stepfather were landlords and I learned a lot…too much!...from their experiences.

One of the tenants we ejected last month has come back to haunt us. They moved out on August 11 and, despite my written request for a forwarding address, we have no idea where they went. Neither one of them provided an address so, when we finished our inspection of the property, there was no place for us to send the report. So, I wrote the report, noted there was no forwarding address, and stored it in my computer.

Today we received a letter from a lawyer. The letter is dated August 17…24 days ago and less than a week after they moved out. The letter gives us 14 days to refund the unused portion of their August rent…but the letter was not even posted until 19 days after it was written! It was sent via registered mail, so the date and time it was posted is on the sticker on the back of the envelope…that should sit well with a Magistrate, eh? Guarantee default by failing to post the demand until after the deadline has passed…cute.

We have no idea what this tenant told the lawyer, but based on the demand, the truth wasn’t part of it. First of all, there were two guys on the lease and this dude doesn’t just want his half of the money, he wants all of it. A real pal, eh? Pay half the rent but when you decide a refund is in order, demand the whole bundle for your own pocket. I’m guessing he neglected to mention his co-Lessee and flatmate to the attorney…

He also, obviously, neglected to mention that he never paid his security deposit, which was supposed to pay in monthly instalments…didn’t make even one payment! The amount he owes us for that security deposit is more than he claims we owe him in a rent refund…

Then there is the question of damages to the flat…if we keep the whole excess rent as a part of the arrears on the security deposit (which is what we did), the dude and his buddy still owe us 700 bucks in damages over and above the money his lawyer is trying to pry out of us. So, he wants R3000 from us (only half of which he paid) but he and his former flatmate owe us more than R3700 in damages. Do you think his lawyer would have sent us that letter if he knew?

Ya gotta wonder about people…did he think the cracked toilet would go unnoticed? How do you crack a toilet in four places so that it leaks all over the bathroom floor? Did he think I got a volunteer to work nine hours in that flat, carrying out rotting garbage, clearing the stench out, scrubbing nicotine off the walls, grease stains out of the wall-to-wall and the black slimy mould off the bathroom ceilings? Why was the recessed lighting fixture hanging out of the ceiling? How did the seat of the barstool get snapped in half? And why is one of the pine strips of the ceiling hanging half off? Does he think I have a magic wand that, with one wave, will fix all of that for free? The flat was in fine condition when he moved in…it was a sty when he moved out only four months later!

My husband is a kind hearted man. He wants to help people where he can, he wants to believe the best in them whenever possible. I’ve know all along that when given an inch, most people will take a mile…I remember some of the lulus my mother had for tenants and some of the incredibly lame excuses they could conjure for not having their rent or how something got broken or soiled or damaged or went missing. Forty years later and 12,000 miles away, it is no different.

Being a nice guy, my husband allowed these guys to take the flat without a security/cleaning deposit. We wrote into their lease that they would pay the deposit off in monthly instalments over the next six months. They didn’t pay a cent. And every month there was a sob story about how tight money was…even when it was obvious that they were spending a sh*tload of money on booze since, from the accounts of the neighbours, they were apparently seldom sober.

So, they paid their rent on the first of August and on the eleventh they moved out at our request. We applied the unused portion of the rent, about R3000, to the arrears security deposit…which was still about R700 short. Even if they had been up to date on their deposit payments, they would have gotten back less than R50, due to the filth and damage they left behind.

So, you have to wonder what prompted the letter. Did the guy really think he wouldn’t have to pay for the damages and dirt? What makes him think that even if we were inclined to refund the money, we would give all of it to him and none of it to his flatmate and co-Lessor?

So much of this makes no sense…he didn’t bother to give us an address to send a possible refund, but six days after moving out he sees a lawyer to demand a refund? What kind of sense does that make? Why did the letter take 24 days to get here? The lawyer’s office is less than two kilometres from our place, the post office is between here and there…19 days it sat in his office, unmailed, and it finally gets posted 5 days after the deadline had passed?

We wrote the lawyer back and told him that as soon as his client paid us his half of the damages…which amounted to about R1850…we would pay his client his half of the amount in question…about R1550. Or the man could just pay the additional R330 and we would keep the funds we already had.

And then we said that if he client decided to pursue his claim further, we would turn him over to our attorneys for collection, in which case he would be liable not only for damages, but for legal costs as well.

So, now we wait. Landlording is not a business for the faint of heart.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Are you looking for a job?

When I was in college, I managed a local branch of a nationwide résumé service during my summer breaks. Later on, I operated a desktop publishing business in which résumés were among my biggest sellers. And I spent four years in the trenches as a technical headhunter in Silicon Valley followed by a year managing the recruiting department of a small Silicon Valley high tech firm.

Those experiences taught me a great deal about job hunting, even in a bad economy. I have interviewed hundreds of people in my life and read ten times as many résumés. Over time I began to see patterns, to recognize when people were doing the right thing and when they were not. I saw what kinds of résumés my managers liked and listened to their complaints about the ones they didn't like and, by debriefing my managers and getting feedback from them about candidates, I learned about successful and unsuccessful interviewing.

I have recently written a series of articles called "Surviving a Soft Economy" for The Angels Weekly. This series teaches you how to create the résumé that will best showcase your skills and abilities and give you the best shot at getting those all-important interviews...there is even a free, downloadable sample résumé that you can customize for yourself! The articles also give you insider tips on creating a great cover letter, effective interviewing techniques, and how to answer tough questions like "What are your weaknesses?" in ways that advantage you. The series started yesterday and you can take advantage of my years of experience in this industry just by clicking here!

Good luck and happy job hunting!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mr. Weaver Bird at work

Hubby has named him "Bob the BuilderBird." Below you can see his nest (the lower one...I haven't seen his branch-mate yet).



Here he is, in all his glory, working on his house. What a gorgeous fellow!


Saturday, August 22, 2009

An Early Spring!

Well, the calendar notwithstanding (it is a full month yet until spring officially arrives), spring has sprung.

The recent rains have awakened the bougainvillea outside my bedroom window from its winter slumber and it has sent out a new spike fully 10 feet long, looking for all the world like a giant, thorn studded insect antenna jutting forth from the wall to which the vine clings. And there, midway down its length, hangs a bulbous green growth, a further harbinger of spring…a weaver bird’s nest.

A beautiful black-trimmed gold weaver bird male is diligently collecting grasses and delicately constructing this avian palace for his lady love. When he is finished, he will bring her here for inspection. More likely than not she will rip it to shreds, screaming her indignation at its imperfections, then she will huff off to another tree and await the rebuild.

I’m thinking this particular bird may be a bachelor male, since he has chosen to build his nest so close to human occupation. We have a line of old stone pines at the back of the property in which there is a twittering colony of thirty or more weaver bird families and why this young male decided to forego building his home where his mate would have girlfriends to gossip with from their front door is beyond me. No matter what he does to make this nest perfect, I fear he may be in for an unhappy time of it, unless he is lucky enough to have a sweetheart who prefers isolation to the hustle bustle of the established colony.

I have just taken another look at Mr. Weaver’s nest and discovered a nest further up the bougainvillea stalk…so, he has inveigled another young gentleman to build a nearby nest! This increases his chances of success as these birds prefer living in groups rather in isolation. But the construction of his nest must meet Mrs. Weaver Bird’s exacting specifications and these young males seldom get it right the first time.

Eventually, when (and if) Mr. Weaver Bird gets it right, his lady love will take up residence in her new quarters and proceed to incubate next generation. If she accepts the nest outside my window, I will soon be treated to the chitter-chatter of little bird babies calling for their next course.

I don’t care that the calendar says we have another month of winter to endure, Mother Earth and her furred and feathered denizens say it is spring. The wild calla lilies are blooming, carpeting the vleis with their creamy white cones, wildflowers dot the roadsides, moles are pushing up mounds after months of dormancy, and the lawn looks like a meadow. And the birds are nesting, right within eyesight of my bedroom window.

I love living here!


Photos by Stig Nygaard and smudger888, flickr

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Landlords are rich: fact or fiction?

My husband and I own rental property. Each time one of our flats comes up for rent, we show the unit to a horde of people and never cease to be amazed at their expectations and criticisms.

We aren’t slum lords…we have three units on a spacious property with a shared pool. There is parking behind a security gate. We pay the electricity, water, and trash for all three units. When we bought the property we spent 10% of our original 800K+ purchase price upgrading and renovating the property, including new carpeting and paint.

We have a mortgage on the property and, because in this country there is no such thing as a fixed rate mortgage, each time the prime rate goes up, so does our payment. The electricity rates were just increased by 34% and our mortgage payment went up five times in the last 12 months. We raise rents only when a lease is being renewed and our lease allows us to raise it up to 10%. Despite the increases in our mortgage repayments and the increase in the cost of electricity, when our last tenant signed his lease renewal, we raised his rent only 2.5%: our economy is shrinking, he’s a good tenant, and we don’t want to lose him.

Why would we do that? Well, an empty flat generates no income and we depend on the income from the rents to pay the mortgage. The two larger flats must be generating income in order to keep us from digging into our own pockets to make the payments. Good tenants are harder to find than bad tenants…and bad tenants cost us a lot of money in repairs, lost rent while a flat is being repaired, and even legal fees. We are motivated to keep a good tenant who pays his rent on time and keeps his flat and garden in good order, so we made his rent increase minimal so he doesn’t feel like he can’t afford to stay on.

Do people honestly believe that, because we own a rental property, we are rolling in money? And even if we were, why should our affluence mean a renter can destroy the flat or demand the outrageous? Surely the guy who owns the local luxury car dealership has a few coins to rub together…does that mean he should lower the prices on his cars for you or me? So why do people seem to think that because the landlord drives a Mercedes, he has plenty of money and it’s ok to trash the place because, after all, he can afford to fix it?

We had to evict a tenant last week for harassing and intimidating the tenant of another flat. He had been in the unit for four months and when we took possession on Tuesday, I reeled from the shock of the condition of the place. What part of “no smoking in the flat” did he not understand? The flat reeked of stale cigarette smoke…and rotting garbage. Yup, the kitchen floor was littered with trash and a black bag emitted the unmistakeable stench of decay. We had the handyman in to do an assessment and the quote we received covered a full month’s rental…seems they somehow managed to put four cracks in the toilet and replacing that will eat up half the deposit alone. In fact, the damages came to 25% more than the deposit will cover…and he was only in there four months!

A previous tenant was upset with us because we would not dance to her tune…how dare we not build her a garage for her BMW (at a cost equal to a full year’s rent)? How dare we expect her to pay her rent on time? How dare we expect her to refrain from smoking, to water the garden, and abide by other terms of her lease? She quit paying her rent, using the money instead to pay for her new rental and lied to us saying her clients hadn’t paid her. When she moved out, she left the flat in shambles, having caused damage more than double the amount of her deposit. Five months of litigation later, she finally paid up (when the Sheriff came a-knocking with papers to seize that BMW and sell it at auction to satisfy her debt), but in that five month period we had to liquidate some investments to come up with the cash to do the repairs and pay the lawyers. Yes, we recovered the legal fees and were reimbursed for the repairs, but our investments…and their returns…were forever diminished.

I am far from an elitist…I’ve been damned poor in my life, which is what motivates me to be as kind to my tenants as business considerations will allow. Good tenants get treated with special care…we want to keep them and it is worth it to us be flexible in dealing with them in order to keep them. But there are people whose expectations are just ridiculous:

One prospective tenant gave us a hard luck story hoping to get us to reduce the rent for her. “Would you consider reducing the rent?” she asked, naming a figure fully 25% below the asking price. “Sure,” my husband said. “Just as soon as the bank reduces my mortgage by that much.” Unspoken by either my husband or me was the concern that, if things in her life were as tough as all that, is she a good risk with regard to us receiving our rent each month?

Another asked that, if she rented both the two bedroom unit and the little studio cottage on the grounds, would we give her a discount on the rents? Her proposed discount would give her the cottage for nearly free…and remember, we pay the full utilities on all the units! She seemed quite unhappy that we wouldn’t go for her plan.

There were the people who said they would consider renting the big flat but only if we would put security fencing around the pool. Sorry, the flat has a fence all the way around it and if you cannot mind your child and keep him inside an already fenced yard, what makes you think a security fence…and my cost, no less…will keep him out of the pool?

Mostly, however, we get people who want something for nothing. They think the rent is too high without bothering to calculate in the amount of money they would have to pay for electricity. They think that they don’t need to take care of the unit or the garden because we have the money to pay for fixing it after they leave. Even if we do have that kind of money, why does it make it OK to damage the property? And what about those screams of indignation when they hear their deposit is being nicked for pay for it?

If you are one of those people who thinks your landlord is a bottomless pit of money, give some thought to the idea that, if you are late with your rent, he might be late paying the mortgage payment on the property that you live in…and enough of those could see his mortgage foreclosed! Is your landlord slow to fix something? Well, he could be the lazy sod you think he is…and then again, maybe he has to wait for payday to be able to buy the materials to fix the thing that you broke.

But he drives a Mercedes, you wail…his wife wears fine jewellery…they live in an expensive neighbourhood! So what? What does that have to do with your obligation to pay your rent on time, abide by your rental agreement, and maintain your unit? Landlording is a business, it is not a social connection or a charity. If you don’t uphold your end of the bargain, you can make it difficult…even impossible…for your landlord to hold up his.

To expect a person to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a property and then allow you to live there for next to nothing is simply not reasonable. Your landlord most likely has a mortgage on the property you live in and he needs your rent in order to pay it. If you think your landlord is a rich, greedy old SOB who can afford to wait for your rent until you feel like paying it, or who can afford to fix the things you so carelessly damage, you’re probably wrong. He has a budget and cashflow considerations, just like you do, and depends on your rent money to make sure the mortgage on your home is paid each month.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Whatcha gonna do??

A few days ago I went to the Post Office. It’s located in a mall and as I exited my car, I had to turn to find the source of loud voices, as did the man exiting the car parked right beside me. Walking towards us was a young couple, arguing in full voice. As my neighbour and I watched, the young man reached out and grabbed the woman, wrapping his arms tightly around her and stopping her from walking. She struggled violently and broke his grasp, then resumed walking towards the mall entrance, but he caught up with her and grabbed her again, restraining her. She again broke free and resumed her forward progress and while he caught up with her, he apparently saw they had witnesses and this time kept his hands to himself.

As the pair walked past us, the man from the next car looked to me and said “What was that all about?” I shrugged and replied “I don’t know, but if he touches her again like that, I’m calling a cop.” My neighbour nodded and we maintained our watchful positions until they entered the mall where the security staff could watch over her.

***
We have a tenant who is harassing another tenant and we are preparing to evict him. She has a restraining order that he has violated at least twice, and he has been arrested and briefly jailed. There is nothing compelling us to evict him, but his behaviour does violate his lease and we feel that she should not have to lose her home in a place she loves with neighbours who are her close friends because he can’t behave in a civil manner. We served him with notices of breach of his lease and an advance notice of our intent to cancel his lease (in keeping with terms of the lease) and he claims he will be seeing an attorney to fight it.

***
On an internet forum I frequent, one of the members has recently begun soliciting funds for a charity. At first blush, this might seem innocuous…even laudable…but on closer inspection the “charity” appears to be a scam. Inspection and careful perusal of the associated website revealed a lot of fluffy chatter about the founder’s “cause,” but no explanation as to what that cause might be. No charter, no plan, no pictures of needy victims…just garish photos of a blowsy blonde wearing an excess of clotted make up and trying to look sexy, plus a lot of poorly written hype using too many exclamation points.

When asked to explain her “charity,” its purpose and beneficiaries, Blondie dissembled frenziedly, using a lot of ALL CAPS and even more exclamation points. A great deal of drama ensued, polarizing the participants into “tell the truth” and “quit picking on Blondie” factions. Finally, in a flurry of breathless all caps and punctuation marks, Blondie obliquely acknowledged that the charity was, in fact, herself.

Suggestions that Blondie cease soliciting funds until her charity was legally sanctioned fell on deaf ears. When one of the more erudite members of the community called the fund-raising campaign a scam and threatened to contact Blondie’s state attorney general and lodge a complaint, the “quit picking on Blondie” faction revved its objections to a fever pitch.

I was astounded! Here was an internet scam growing before our eyes, the founder of which admitted that the pseudo-charity was for the purpose of lining her own pockets, and people were strenuously advocating that the whistleblower mind her own business!

***
Are we our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper? Has the world changed so much since I learned to tell right from wrong that people feel perfectly justified in publicly restraining an unwilling partner, seeking redress for an eviction caused by documented harassment of another, or proudly revealing…and publicly soliciting support for…an admitted fraud?

And why are such acts finding support? This, perhaps, is what baffles me the most.

The man restraining his girlfriend was viewed dimly by my fellow parking lot denizen, but a person doesn’t behave in such a manner in public without feeling justified in doing so. What has gone on in his life…what kind of support has he received…that allows him to think it is perfectly acceptable to restrain an unwilling and struggling woman, in public or in private?

The tenant has been arrested and his victim has a restraining order against him. He has violated the restraining order on at least two occasions and has admitted it. We reminded him of his obligation to not intimidate, harass, or otherwise disturb the peace of other tenants, per the conditions of his lease. So what kind of support has he received for this kind of behaviour that he thinks a court will grant his bid to remain in the flat and continue to harass the victim who lives next door?

And the internet scam…why on earth would a bunch of apparently intelligent people support the person perpetrating the scam instead of the person who reported it to the authorities? Instead of castigating the perp, why are they perceiving her as being “picked on” when she was asked to stop? This makes me feel like I have fallen down the rabbit hole…it makes me question my perception of right and wrong…it makes me wonder if I am out of synch with a world in which right and wrong have swapped places while I wasn’t looking.

I still stand ready to do the right thing…but can anyone tell me what the right thing is anymore?


Photo by navets, Flickr

Monday, July 27, 2009

A sad anniversary…

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of my late husband’s death.

I suppose it is something that I should put behind me, but all day yesterday I had flashes of memories of my marriage to him and a kind of melancholy pervaded my day.

He has now been dead for as long as we were married.

It was a long day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Eeek! I’ve got a parasite! I’ve picked up a troll!

It is one of the unfortunate facts that, without proper precautions, we can inadvertently pick up all manner of unpleasant little things as we make our journey through life. From leeches to lice, from tapeworms to ticks, from fleas to STDs, by living a life devoid of appropriate protection, we can pick up a host of unwanted diseases and parasites.

When I set up my blog I decided to enable anonymous comments because I didn’t want to lock out people who didn’t have Blogger accounts. At first I didn’t moderate the comments but after suffering an outbreak of comment spam a few years ago, I set the comments to be moderated so I could keep it out of my comments.

Despite opening the blog to anonymous comments, however, I do have standards. I don’t allow insults or ad hominem attacks, but legitimate criticism is published. What is “legitimate criticism?” you ask? Well, that brings me to the point of this blog entry…this month, after five years of blogging, I picked up my first troll.

On 7 July I found this anonymous comment awaiting moderation: “Terrible writing. Sorry. Just being honest.” I didn’t publish it, categorizing the remark as lacking legitimacy. Had the author expanded on her comment and given solid reasons that she considered my writing to be terrible, then it would have been published. This, however, was more properly classified as baiting, an attempt to draw me into an argument, the flippant “just being honest” tag giving it away. I deleted the comment and forgot about it.

Yesterday, however, I received this comment: “You CAN'T write! This is not to be "published," (since we wouldn't want to be on your blog!), just to advise you to stop polluting the internet with your non-writing!” Well, aside from the fact that this was unmistakably a personal attack, the author firmly established herself as an agent provocateur, with a comment that was both off-topic and clearly baiting. And, considering that this juvenile attempt at insult was posted to the same entry as the first transparent attempt to provoke a fight, it’s clear that not only have I picked up a troll, I have picked up a stalker troll. Not content to have done the typical troll’s hit and run, she has returned to see if I took the bait and upon seeing I hadn’t she left some more.

I’m honoured. I am finally initiated into the ranks of true bloggers, having acquired my very own bit of internet vermin, a real troll! And an anonymous revisiting troll, at that! (Those, I am told, are the pinnacle of trolldom, the ones who love you so much they keep coming back and are too shy…or cowardly…to reveal themselves, preferring to remain secret admirers.)

It is my own fault, of course, for not using the simplest of internet prophylaxis, disabling anonymous comments. And I may have to eventually go that route to prevent the troll from getting out of hand…they are not known for their wisdom or circumspection, after all. But if I do that, I’ll leave a dedicated email address for anonymous comments…and then I’ll be able to trace my little troglodyte admirer back to her cave and thank her for making my day.


Troll photo by Patsemchism, Flickr

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Secret Life of Inanimate Objects

I went someplace today and needed to take my laptop. I unplugged it and carefully rolled up the cord and power block, then put the computer in one pocket of my briefcase and the cord in another. When I reached my destination, the computer came out of the bag just as I had put it in. The cord, on the other hand, was literally tied in knots. What was it doing all by itself in its own private pocket in a leather bag in the back of my car that a perfectly coiled cord would emerge, less than half an hour later, literally tied into knots? I shudder to think.

Then there are wire coat hangers, the kind you get from the dry cleaners. I have ceased to allow those beasts in my house. They multiply in my dark closets like rabbits, going from a couple of hangers to a horde ready to attack anyone unwitting enough to stick a hand in there, hoping to withdraw a single garment. They have been banished to a box in the garage where they seem to still be multiplying, albeit at a slower rate than in the closet. I am afraid to even contemplate what they might be eating…

And speaking of eating…beware of washing machines, especially the top loading kind. I once had to have the bearing at the bottom of my washer replaced and when the repairman lifted out the tub, the remains of a half dozen or more socks…primarily children’s socks…were found. One quails to think of what had already been digested by the machine, leaving no telltale traces behind.

Clothes dryers aren’t much better. Have you never wondered where the lint in the lint trap comes from? That dryer is slowly, agonizingly torturing your clothes, unhurriedly stripping them down, infinitesimal layer by infinitesimal layer, for its own pleasure and amusement. The lint is the dryer’s digestion by-products.

I once had a dishwasher that ate forks and disposal that mesmerized spoons into jumping down its maw, there to be mangled beyond use or repair. Then there was the fax machine that would refuse to function when I approached: it would happily disgorge a 60 page fax for one of my co-workers but let me try to feed one paltry page into its feeble little memory and it would snort, growl and display an unintelligible error message. It would often join forces with the copy machine and the two of them would gleefully malinger together for the bulk of the day.

I used to drive an English sports car. It was the most fun I ever had on wheels and I loved the car so much, I drove it for more than 15 years. But owning that car was not without its perils. I often wondered what The Little Green Beast got up to during the night while I was asleep that it was just too tired to start up in the morning. The car that had started with a merry roar in the parking lot at work and jauntily carried me home would be a lethargic slugabed in the morning, unwilling to give more than a token crank until I rolled it backwards down the driveway and popped the clutch to force it to start. What was it up to while I innocently slept?

And vacuum cleaners! Lives there a household doesn’t have at least one greedy vacuum brooding in a closet, a victim of its own gluttony? After years of blaming owners and operators for not changing the bags frequently enough, bagless machines came along and put the lie to rest: in my closet there moulders a bagless machine, its cup empty but its feeding tube packed tight at the bend, the machine obstinately refusing to disgorge its prey.

Then there is my spice cupboard…I swear they hold parties in there, behind closed doors! I open the cupboard to find the bottles and little tins moved about, and sometimes there are spices missing…and other times duplicates of things I didn’t even know I had. And they are like mean girls, too, inviting only the popular to their revels. I can tell because all the little bottles and tins shift around like dancers at a cotillion while the big, lumbering, ponderous jars never move a centimetre…they just squat in their accustomed spots like the stolid lumps they are, wallflowers in their own domain.

When was the last time you looked behind your entertainment centre? If it has been a while, you might be amazed to find that those neatly connected cords, those connections you carefully made and left neatly draped, are now a seething, jumbled mass more than double its original size. Fed by dust and energized by solitude, the mass may have spawned additional cords or perhaps attracted them from other parts of the house with their irresistible siren song. Can’t find your phone charger? Check to see if it forgot to come home from the orgy behind the stereo system…

I think jewellery, particularly neck chains, might be related to electrical cords, at least way back in their evolutionary history. I postulate this based on their proclivity for embracing each other until they, too, form that same sinuous, twisted mass as the cords, just smaller and more flexible. Their fine, supple lengths entwine more easily, rather like lithe acrobats than the stiffer, more unwieldy cords…and they are devilishly more challenging to disentangle.

I have some possessions that are obsessed with playing hide-and-seek. I think that propensity is part of the DNA of remotes and is so well-known in cordless phones that base stations actually have beepers built in to flush the little buggers out of hiding. My cell phone is fairly tractable and seldom goes missing, but my glasses are a whole other story. Like my cell phone, my prescription sunglasses tend to stay put…perhaps they like their leather Brooks Brothers clamshell case…but my regular daily wear blended bifocals are not so well-behaved. They can migrate from the front of my face to the top of my head to destinations unknown in a matter of seconds and because I am decidedly nearsighted, finding them can be quite a mission. While I sleep. they oftentimes trade places with one of my pairs of reading glasses. I am sure they consider it a great practical joke, but if they’d care to take a closer look, they would see that I’m not laughing!

But the worst offender of all are keys. Nothing can do a disappearing act around here faster than keys. Now, you must understand that I am an almost compulsively organized person. My dresser drawers are neat. My kitchen cupboards are tidy. My shoes are in clear plastic boxes, neatly lined up in their own cupboard. I even have a rack near the back door with hooks for the keys. And yet, on any given day, you will hear someone in this house asking where one set of keys or another has gotten off to. It is so bad that Thandiswe, my darling maid, will catch them when they’ve wandered off and hang them safely back on their hooks in the kitchen…not that they stay there once our backs are turned! I’ve even given them their own specific pocket in my handbag, naively believing that they would happily stay there rather than migrate to the absolute lowest depths of my purse…no such luck!

I have considered borrowing a video camera to tape their antics in my absence, but then it occurred to me that it would probably join ranks with the keys and the spices and everybody else…or they would recognize it for the spy it is and play dead in its presence. It seems I can’t win…

Anybody want some wire hangers? That box in my garage is getting a bit overloaded…


Photo by viewoftheworld, Flickr

Monday, June 22, 2009

The escape artist Yorkie

Well, with the exception of having taken a rather laissez-faire attitude towards her potty training, Puddin’ seems to be pretty much recuperated from her surgery ordeal. So much so, in fact, that I’ve had to shift gears from nurturing mama to vigilant disciplinarian.

Puddin’ is tiny. Well, by Yorkie standards (3 to 7 lbs) she is on the large side at 6 lbs, but objectively speaking, she’s tiny. We had “dog bars” built into a beautiful wrought iron gate at the top of the stairs so that the Maltese Mafia couldn’t just wander upstairs and wreak havoc. We also had the narrow dog bars built into the iron gates that separate our front courtyard from the street so the MM can’t bolt out through the front arches into the street. Puddin’ is so small, she can get through both sets of dog bars. We have a baby gate on the kitchen door so we can open the door for air but keep certain dogs out of the house and certain dogs inside…she can get through the bars in the baby gate. Right now it is mostly academic because it is winter and we keep the kitchen door shut, but there are those times…

Recently, because she has finally discovered the purpose of her puddle pads and has begun using them faithfully, we gave Puddin’ unfettered run of the house. She quickly learned to go up the stairs to the lounge and, being tiny, she could get through the dog bars. But she has toys, food and water bowls, and a puddle pad up there, and she’s not destructive (except to her stuffed toys), so it wasn’t an issue…at first. It became an issue when she…and we…discovered she couldn’t come down the stairs. Several times a day she would bound up the stairs and play with her rubber chicken or rawhide chewies, only to end up piteously whining at the top of the stairs, afraid to descend into the dark, curved, abyss on the cold, slippery tiles. And every time, one of us would come up the stairs and rescue her…which did nothing to curtail her forays up the stairs and her pitiful demands for assistance to come down. Finally, Hubby took it upon himself to help her come down the stairs on her own…after only two lessons, she was bounding up and down the stairs on her own, relieving us of rescue duty.

Yorkies are very small dogs, but they are fearless. This can work against them, as they have been know to leap out of their owner’s arms, breaking bones and even dying as a result. Puddin’ had made a couple of heart-stopping leaps off the bed so, once she had mastered the stairs to the upper floor of the house, I determined to get her something to let her get up and down off the bed safely. I found a plastic step stool and our local K-Mart clone and voila! Puddin’ was scampering up and down them in a matter of days.

So, on Saturday Hubby and I were kicking back on the bed, watching TV, when I realized I had neither seen nor heard Puddin’ in a while. Just like with little kids, extended absence and silence on the part of a puppy is generally a bad sign. A cursory search of our bedroom and bathroom didn’t turn her up but I noticed that, on his last trip to the loo, Hubby had obviously not fully shut the door. Puddin’s escape route from the master suite was revealed.

Our first thought was that Puddin’ had scampered up the stairs and was frolicking around the lounge, but on his way up he noticed that the kitchen door…the one that leads to the patio…was open. In a panic I ran to the bedroom to get some shoes so I could go outside to look for her while he checked the upstairs. The baby gate at the kitchen door was closed, but she can wriggle through it, and she had never been allowed in the back yard alone. We had dog proofed it a couple of years ago so the Maltese Mafia couldn’t escape, but she’s a lot smaller than they are and we don’t know if she can get out or not.

Additionally, Nash and Candy, the Maltese, haven’t exactly welcomed her with open arms. They haven’t attacked her or anything, but they’ve been rather hostile when she’s trying to gain their attention. Sadly, Puddin’ just loves Nash…she gets all wriggly and giddy when he’s around, but he’s in that grumpy old man stage of life and just doesn’t have any time for or interest in a puppy. That big back garden is the domain of the Maltese Mafia, their own private stomping grounds, and I wasn’t so sure how happy they would be at the sudden and unexpected arrival of a small, hyperactive intruder.

As I scrambled for shoes in a panic, Hubby used his head and looked out the upstairs French doors into the back garden. There, in the middle of the verdant, rain-freshened lawn, stood Nash, nose to the ground, investigating some fascinating smell or another. And right beside him, nose to the ground only inches away, was Puddin’.

Hubby beat me to the back garden but when he stooped to pick her up, Puddin’ had other ideas. Off she ran, scampering around like a mad thing, dancing just out of his reach, joyfully exercising her unprecedented freedom. This time it was my idea to use my head: I called Nash to me and he came running full tilt, ears flapping in the wind like silky white wings…and Puddin’ chasing him just as fast as her little legs would carry her.

As Nash came to a halt at my ankles and Puddin’ tried to jump on him, I scooped her up. Praising Nash for his obedience in coming when he was called, I held Puddin’ away from me as she was soaked…just dripping wet…from the lawn. It was past noon but we had not seen enough sun for the morning dew to have evaporated. She was only two days past her surgery and she was so wet she was shivering, so I took her straight to the bathroom and swathed her in towels.

She has now figured out that kitchen door is the key to unparalleled freedom and, instead of scurrying up the stairs at every opportunity, she now bolts for the kitchen door in hopes that someone has carelessly left it open enough for her to skinny through the bars on the baby gate and make her escape. She’s a busy little thing, and keeping up with her is quite the challenge!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Yorkie pictures

Puddin' is a good example of her breed, considering that she is not quite 6 months old. She's cute, spunky, intelligent, and cheeky...a true terrier. I've taken regular pictures of her in the months I've had her, and share some of them with you now:









Friday, June 19, 2009

My poor little puppy!

Puddin’ is teething and, poor little thing, the baby teeth aren’t coming out as the big teeth are coming in. This makes her mouth doubly tender, and she spends time pawing at the sides of her muzzle, obviously in discomfort.

So, I took her to the vet for her rabies shot on Tuesday and expressed my concern over her teeth. Before I left, we had an appointment to have them removed. She’s almost 6 months old, up to 2.8kg now (6 lbs) and, while small dogs are at higher risk for anaesthesia, she’s about as big as she is going to get so there is no reason to put it off any longer.

I took her in yesterday morning and she was not a happy camper. She was hungry and thirsty, as she had been NPO for nearly 12 hours. It was dark and uncommonly cold…only 8°C (48°F) when we went out to the car…she never goes for a ride in the car in the dark!...so I think she knew something was up.

Traffic was lighter than usual so we arrived at the vet about ten minutes before they opened. Puddin’ climbed in my lap, shivering in spite of the fact that the heater was on in the car and she was wrapped in her favourite blanket, one I had crocheted while awaiting her initial arrival. Once the door opened, she didn’t leap into the receptionist’s arms with her usual ears-back joyful wriggle…we had been there only two days earlier and she had received a particularly painful shot, and she definitely did not seem pleased to be back.

I sent her back to the cages with her blanket, hoping that having that familiar item would comfort her and went home to worry. I would not be able to collect her until after 4:30, as they keep the smaller animals that have undergone general anaesthesia for the entire day and monitor them. I knew it was in her best interests to stay, but I fretted over her absence…even the maid missed her.

Finally, it was time to bring her home. Hubby drove us there, thinking it would be better to bring her home comforted in arms. We knew she would be in some discomfort and probably groggy, but when I first saw her, my heart squeezed. Poor little thing looked like she had been through a war!

I was taking care of the bill when they brought her out looking limp and dazed. Hubby took her, wrapped in her blanket, and she just wilted against his chest, no greeting…no indication that she was glad to see us or relieved to be going home. When he handed her to me, she gave up this pathetic little moan and flopped her head against me. I was assailed by guilt.

We only live about a kilometre from the vet, but it was a long ride home. She lay miserably on my lap, her head against my tummy, emitting a low moan each time we turned a corner or hit a bump, each one eliciting a slash of guilt. This poor baby was in pain, she was miserable and not a little bit confused, and it was my fault! Never mind that the teeth had to come out, that it was in her best interests for her future health that they be removed, I was the one who subjected her to the procedure and its resultant torment. Bad dog mama!

It was a long night. They had removed five teeth, including her two upper canines, and she was drooling blood and moaning in her sleep. She would drink chicken broth from a syringe, but aside from one trip to the puddle pad, she remained in a groggy, pained state and showed no interest in anything. She was chilled, her ears and foot pads cool to the touch, so I put a onesie on her, followed by her flannel nightgown and tucked her into my bed with the heated mattress pad turned to its lowest setting. She snoozed for an hour, but her ears stayed cold until I covered them with her crocheted blanket. By 8 pm she was warmed up and no longer huddled into a tight little ball, but her discomfort was evident. And each little groan just sent another dagger of guilt through me.

By morning she had recovered enough to nibble at a bowl of boiled chicken and rice, but she remained subdued and disinterested in her toys or chewies. Several naps later she began perking up, using her stairs to come up onto the bed rather than standing on the floor and moaning piteously for me to pick her up. It is now evening and except for the fact that she won’t eat her kibble, she seems pretty much back to normal: trying to rip the stuffing out of Fred, her stuffed dog, playing “blankie monster” with my hand beneath the bedclothes, and making brief attempts to gnaw on her rawhide and ostrich sinew chewies.

Me? I’m exhausted. Between my limited sleep last night and the regular pangs of guilt that assailed me each time the little beastie winced, I’m worn out. It will be an early night for me and, with any luck, we’ll both be back to normal by tomorrow morning.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

South Pole and Breakfast with Prince Harry…well, sort of…

We’ve been out sampling restaurants again.

A few weeks ago we attended the Good Food and Wine show at the Convention Centre and found a restaurant’s booth that was selling delectable canapés. We decided to make a lunch of them and were so impressed with the food that we determined to actually visit the restaurant to see what they could do on a larger scale. Imagine our surprise and delight to learn that this restaurant, Southpole, is located in our neck of the woods!

Tuesday was a public holiday in South Africa and Hubby had the day off, so we spent the day just leisurely cruising the malls (where I found some great German kitchen gadgets) and having a solid German lunch at Cape Town’s only microbrewery, the Paulaner Brewery at the Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront. Hubby, kind soul that he is, often gives me the day off from kitchen duty on weekends and holidays, and Tuesday was no exception. We decided to have dinner at Southpole, as we had been meaning to try it ever since we discovered their canapés. It was quiet that night, so we got a booking easily, and headed off with high expectations.

They did not disappoint. From cheerful service to superb menu choices, I have to give the place five stars…if there were six stars, I give them that. Quite simply, this is the best restaurant in Cape Town. Although the cuisine is different, in quality of both food and service, it easily rivals Reuben’s in Franschhoek, which has been named the best restaurant in South Africa at least once.

We liked it so much, we went back the very next night. Both nights, I had a filet mignon and both times it was superb. The meat was fine-grained and generously cut (it was the biggest 250 gram piece of meat I have ever seen!), and perfectly prepared…I like my beef rare and this was exactly that, without being cold or mushy in the middle. Hubby ordered the R95 set menu and he pronounced his chicken liver starter (pretty much his standard starter in any restaurant that offers chicken livers) to be the best he had ever eaten. Last night we had the chef’s special, a “surf and turf” that consisted of scallops (almost impossible to find in South Africa!), calamari and another one of those fabulous fillets. I don’t like calamari, so the chef kindly substituted an extra scallop for me. I ordered the prawn cocktail for my starter and, frankly, I am ordinarily appalled at the way prawns are served in this country…with the heads on and those beady little black eyes and waving antennae staring up at me…just grosses me out!. The chef kindly shelled the little critters for me so that my plate arrived with the beautiful curls of prawn tails nestled atop a small mound of salsa-type vegetables, beneath which was a tasty, tangy sauce.

For dessert I ordered the lemon meringue ice cream, fully expecting a scoop of yellow ice cream in a fancy dish with a creative bit of garnish. Boy, was I in for a surprise! The dish that arrived was indescribable, but it was creamy, ice creamy, and it tasted exactly like a lemon meringue pie. There was a thin slice of meringue on top and the experience of eating it literally beggars description. Suffice it to say, I hope this is a regular menu item, as I can see myself eating it again. We have, in fact, found a new favourite restaurant, and a worthy successor to Dale’s Place (back when Dale was running it, of course).

OK, you sceptics who think that no place on the Dark Continent can possibly compare with the French Laundry or Atelier…you have to understand that food, in Cape Town, can be a near-religious experience and it is done very, very well here. We have a Wine Country that easily holds its own against Napa and Sonoma, and the rich and royal of Europe holiday here, their expectations of what they put in their mouths being higher than most of us mere mortals ever hope to experience.

Speaking of the rich and royal…I had breakfast with England’s Prince Harry on Sunday…well, sort of…I think…

Maybe I should explain…Sunday was another one of those events at the Convention Centre and this time it was a book fair. On Sundays Hubby and I like to do things early and get home before the churches disgorge the faithful who then clog up the roads, restaurants, and entertainment venues. So we decided to breakfast at the hotel across the street from the Convention Centre, which used to be the Arabella Sheraton and has now changed hands and acquired a lengthy and pretentious name: The Westin Grand Cape Town Arabella Quays. The morning buffet at the Thirty7 restaurant hasn’t changed, however, and Hubby happily immersed himself in a full English breakfast and then some, while I luxuriated in waffles with berry compote and salmon rosettes with capers and cream cheese.

One table away, up against one of the tiled posts, attractive, fresh-from-the-shower young maidens of a marriageable age began to accumulate, their wet hair testimony to their haste at arriving at the breakfast table. None of them looked familiar and I paid little attention until two young men arrived, one a rather scruffy fellow badly in need of having his unruly mop of dark locks shorn, the other a squeaky clean young man in a white T-shirt with a longish ginger brush cut. I went back to my breakfast, thinking he looked vaguely familiar, but that tiled pillar prevented me from seeing more than a partial profile.

Then he got up to go get some food and stepped fully into my view. I swear to you, if he was not Prince Harry, there is a double of the man hanging out in Cape Town, breakfasting at 5-star restaurants, surrounded by nubile, eligible young maidens!

And being observed by old women who might be wondering what it would be like to be young and beautiful again when a prince is in town…and seated at the next table…


Photos courtesy of Southpole

Monday, May 25, 2009

Trinny has gone to Doggie Heaven


I cannot even express how much it hurt to have her put down this evening, but she was so sick and she was beginning to show signs that she was in pain. We couldn't keep her with us anymore, it wasn't fair to her.

We held her as the injection took hold and we wept. That was four hours ago. I am still leaking tears.

Goodbye, Trinny. We will miss your goofy personality, your long, fawn-like uncoordinated legs, your jack-in-the-box greetings. You were an exceptionally good dog, sweet natured and pure of heart, and your absence has already left a searingly painful hole in my heart.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sexpo: flaccid and inadequate and entirely too small

So this weekend there was another exposition at the convention centre that we attended. We’ve been to decorator shows and home improvement shows and hobby shows, and generally had an entertaining, enjoyable time. So there was no reason for us to expect any less from Sexpo, particularly since sex is something that, unlike home decorating or jigsaw puzzles, appeals to almost everybody.

While I like these various shows and expos, I’m not terribly keen on crowds. I don’t know if the Convention Centre’s air conditioning is inadequate to the task or if the staff simply doesn’t want to spend the money to actually cool the space, but if it’s crowded it is invariably overheated in there. So, when we entered the parking structure and found it full…the parking area for the adjacent office tower had been opened for the overflow…I got a bad feeling.

It didn’t get better when we entered…the area leading up to the entrance to the show space was just a little OTT…a roped off red carpet leading to the ticket area and then to the venue, and glitter-framed posters, for all the world looking like a cut-rate movie premiere…although I must say the flasher in the trench coat popping out from behind a pillar was a cute touch. And the entry fee…well, let’s just say that when you charge a premium entry fee—roughly four times the price of Decorex or the Home Fair—an increased level of expectation is created in the minds of the attendees. And when we couldn’t use a credit card for the unusually high entry fee…alarm bells began to softly clang in the back of my head.

There must have been something else going on at the Convention Centre that day because there just weren’t enough people in the show to account for all those cars. Half the huge space was set aside for booths, but the array of items displayed was disappointing…not a lot of variety (how many sex-toy booths can you look at before complete boredom sets in?) and a surprising lack of imagination.

When we first entered Sexpo, there was a roped off circular area inside which there were two large swings, each swing holding a bare-breasted young woman. Now, if I was the organizer of this event, I would have made much more of this “set the tone” opportunity. As it was, the girls were unremarkable in any way except that their boobs were naked. The space they inhabited was bare. The swings were unadorned. The whole thing screamed “cheap and tacky.” Not the message I would want to slap all my customers in the face with, the minute they stepped inside the door. The bare-breasted maidens were completely ordinary except for their lack of a top. They were not particularly pretty or curvaceous, their outfits unremarkable, they wore no make up, jewellery, or costumery, nor had they bothered to fix their hair. What different message could have been sent by having them provocatively dressed, glam makeup, sexy hair, tall spike-heeled shoes, feather boas or glitter on the breasts, and carrying some interesting props like long gloves, fans, or even some of the exotic toys on sale in the booths. The swing seats could have been draped with a fluid fabric, the ropes garlanded or festooned with lamé ribbons or some other kind of decoration. Their circle could have been defined by some decorative fencing, and another young lady, provocatively dressed, could have walked around inside the fence, distributing literature from the various booths (the vendors could pay the organizers to have the distribution made). If you walked into something like Sexpo and were immediately greeted by two sexy, nearly naked women on fancy swings and then approached by a beautiful young woman in a formal gown, the top of which was cut so as to reveal her breasts, what would you think?

One thing that struck me was the dearth of condom representatives. In a country where HIV/AIDS is a scourge, one would think that any show with a sexual theme and aimed at the young and horny would have an abundance of “safe sex” messages around. Not a one!! And only one condom manufacturer…Durex…had a booth.

It wasn’t particularly entertaining, either. There were several interactive “stations” provided…an adult “jumping castle” kind of thing with a 10 or 15 foot tall erect penis in the middle ,was empty, and the “Gold Member”—a giant gold penis on a supermarket pony ride mechanism—was empty. The mechanical bull had a small…maybe five people…group in attendance, but here the organizers missed another great opportunity. Instead of a mundanely clad man sitting off to the side with the controls, why not a beautiful woman in cowboy boots, denim “boy shorts” showing the lower cheeks of her bum, a short leather vest playing peek-a-boo with her breasts, and a cowboy hat? Surely she would have attracted more people to the bull?

Then there was Miss Nude SA who lounged around on a sofa in a booth wearing stretch lace broekies (boy shorts). Sorry, but if her claim to fame is nudity, she should be nude. I am not sure what she was supposed to be doing, but she was beckoning people into the booth like an Amsterdam window girl. Yes, this is Sexpo, but is this the association the Miss Nude SA wants with their pageant? I don’t know, but if I were them, I might be concerned that potential entrants might be put off by the idea that they would be equated with whores after this.

I don’t know why Miss Nude SA was being so modest about showing her nether regions…there certainly was no prohibition against it. One of the main advertised attractions was Pricasso, a fellow who paints using his manly bits as his paint brush, and he was there giving live demonstrations of his talent. I must confess to disappointment, however, as both Hubby and I were under the impression that the man used his erect penis to render his masterpieces…and we expected a much younger artiste. The gentleman does have some artistic talent…his portrait of Paris Hilton as the Mona Lisa was recognizable…but somehow we did not expect him to be taking his flaccid penis in hand—literally!—and painting with it! You can see him here http://www.pricasso.com/

And then there was the live stripper… I have long since given up expecting South African strippers to have a sense of rhythm or any inkling of what it means to move sensuously for the titillation of observers, but this girl was just pathetic. The organizers had erected a huge stage complete with cameras and gigantic monitors—big enough for a rock concert—and across this massive expanse of stage there pranced a single stripper, dwarfed by the space around her. The space in front of the stage was without seating and stretched interminably back towards the retail floor. A small group of people…perhaps three deep…clustered in front of the stage where this young woman gyrated clumsily and without regard to the music pumping loudly behind her. Those of us on the retail floor who couldn’t make out what the bouncing blob on the stage was could look to the monitors to see what passed for action on stage. The high…or low…point of the strip show was when the stripper stepped down from the stage, removed her clothes, and then went back up on stage to awkwardly gyrate some more, this time in the buff.

The best part of the show was the incongruous presence of the Baptists. Seeking to trade on (or induce) guilt in the patrons of this supposedly salacious event, a local Baptist church rented a booth and set up a donation station for the hungry. Since few people come to a sex show with tins of soup in their pockets, the church was soliciting funds and had the foresight to set up examples of what your donations could buy. I don’t think it was coincidental that their booth was located such that their view of monitors for the stage was blocked by the other booths! But their sober presence was a deliciously ironic counterpoint to what could have been a delightful meander through the joys of human sexuality.

Sexpo’s website claims it is “…the entertainment festival of the year, packed with continuous stimulation and is the ultimate adult shopping experience…” but I’m going to have to disagree. It lacked subtly, it lacked sensuality, it lacked imagination, it lacked fun, and it was waaaay too expensive. Up in Durbanville there’s an adult shop located next door to a strip club called Teazers…pretty much the same offerings as Sexpo but a whole lot cheaper.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Don’t mess with success

When I first moved to this town more than five years ago, there were two “white tablecloth” restaurants, both worthy of note: Dale’s Place and Chaplan’s.

Dale’s Place was situated in a charming old house on the “right” side of the highway (meaning the side nearest the beach), conveniently located next to a traffic light that allowed patrons easy access to the side street parking. You couldn’t get a table without a booking, the menu offerings ranged from the prosaic to the exotic, and preparation was sublime. It was the kind of place where you reserved a table for celebrations, special dinners, or to treat yourself to a fine meal accompanied by fine wines, followed by a shock to your credit card.

Chaplan’s, located on the other side of the highway but too convenient to a posh suburb to be ignored, had a different sort of menu and somewhat more subdued pricing. It didn’t require bookings, but it was not uncommon to wait at the bar for a table as it was always busy. The innovative menu…tempura prawn or mezze platter appetisers, champagne sorbet for dessert, for example…kept our taste buds alert and our wallet open.

You may have noticed that I have referred to both establishments in the past tense… There is a reason for that: Dale’s has been consigned to the mists of history and Chaplan’s is barrelling headlong down the same path. In both cases, the owners and innovators of the venues have sold up, taken their profits and run, leaving ignorant Philistines in control of what were once fine dining establishments.

We actually ate at Dale’s shortly after the handover: we had no idea Dale was no longer at the helm and we were baffled at the unexpectedly poor service, puzzling menu additions and deletions, and the decline in the quality of the food. We never went back, feeling we had been charged premium prices for seriously substandard food and insulting service. Obviously we were not the only patrons who felt this way, as Dale’s began a slow, agonizing, embarrassingly public decline. It stood on a prominent corner where we were forced to witness its painful demise each time we drove past. At first, we noticed that the veranda, an area usually packed with patrons, was without diners. Then one of us remarked on the emptiness of the parking lot. A deli…which I visited and found virtually without stock…opened in part of the unused space, and then a piano bar sign was prominently posted on the outside of what was once a fine dining establishment. The deli morphed into a café, and then a gift shop, and big signs offering specials went up on the august façade of what was now a failed restaurant. Drive by today and you will find a small office building where, only five years ago, a venerable old residence housed a first rate restaurant that delighted the palates of local fine food aficionados.

A couple of months ago we visited Chaplan’s and the first thing I noticed was a change in the menu: many of the things I liked were missing. Hubby soon remarked on the indifferent service and, reminding me of Dale’s, wondered aloud if the place had been sold. Last night we returned and we noted that the place was uncharacteristically empty for a Friday. We took a table, ordered drinks, and opened the menu only to find it had been stripped of everything I liked and nothing new and tantalizing had been inserted to take up the slack. In fact, only one new menu item was discovered…an appetizer that, somehow unsurprisingly, had been misspelled. We paid for our drinks and left, but not until determining that, indeed, the restaurant had been sold and the new owners had reinvented the menu to “personalize” it a little. We won’t be back and Hubby opines that in a year or less, Chaplan’s will either have changed hands again or will be as defunct as Dale’s.

Obviously the new owners of Dale’s Place, an Italian couple, knew their business was in trouble. They implemented a dizzying array of changes in at attempt the stem the flow of red ink, all to no avail. But did they ever bother to ponder the reason for the decline and target their efforts in that direction? I don’t think so…and I think if they had, they could have turned it around.

You see, Dale’s was well-regarded for its menu, in particular its game dishes, local seafood and “Cape cuisine”…local Cape Town traditional foods. Our disastrous last meal there revealed many of the original dishes missing and, in their place, Italian food. Sorry, but Italian food is not what Dale’s patrons came to eat, so changing the menu was a really stupid thing to do. Since the new owners retained Dale’s kitchen staff, it would have been a very simple thing to keep the menu intact and the people whose patronage made Dale’s a local landmark would continue to come in to eat it. But they had to put their own personal mark on the place and introduce dishes that were not in keeping with the restaurant’s traditional cuisine. They took away things the patrons liked and substituted things they didn’t like…Italian food, aside from pizza, is not a big hit here in South Africa…and the patrons reacted predictably…they went away and stayed away and the restaurant eventually had to close its doors. They bought one of the most successful, well-regarded restaurants in Cape Town and killed it, all because of ego.

Sadly, the same thing seems to be happening at Chaplan’s, and I don’t understand why. If the venue is successful, if it has a following and the patrons like the food, why change it? Sure, a slow introduction of new things may ultimately add some favourites to the menu, but to take over a thriving restaurant and immediately change the menu, to remove customer favourites and substitute unknowns, is just business suicide! It is arrogant and stupid and counter-productive and business buyers who engage in such foolishness deserve the financial drubbing they eventually take.

Common sense would dictate that the diners who mob a restaurant specializing in prime steaks and game meat are not there for Italian food! If your heart is set on running an Italian restaurant, buy one of those that is in the tank and make things better, or open an Italian joint from scratch! And in a more eclectic venue like Chaplan’s, cheapening the plates by removing garnishes and sauces, and forgetting the importance of presentation, serves only to make patrons nervous about the restaurant’s future and impels them to seek new places to eat. Changing the menu to “inject a personal touch,” as we were informed at Chaplan’s, is a really dim-witted and egotistical thing to do: if the restaurant is turning a profit on the existing menu, in what world does significantly changing that menu equate to increased revenues? People are funny about their food, and when you change it…especially when you take away the things they like…they don’t cheerily embrace your substitutions, they go find another place where they can get what they want instead of what you want to give them!

As Jeff Foxworthy likes to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Good bye, Dale’s Place…we miss you. Good bye, Chaplan’s…we already miss the place you used to be, the menu you once had. Let’s just hope that Alexia’s doesn’t change hands next!


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