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

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!

Click on the wings!

and look for me under the Violet Burroughs tab

Friday, May 08, 2009

In defense of earthquakes

American accents are pretty distinctive, especially in a country where most of the television programming is imported from the US. So, it is not surprising when people ask me “what part of the States are you from?” when they hear me open my mouth. What is surprising, however, is the reaction I get when I reply “the San Francisco area.” An astonishing number of people respond, with a little quiver of horror in their voices, “Oh, where they have all the earthquakes!”

I’ve checked and between 1906 and 2009, the San Francisco Bay Area has suffered two…and only two…earthquakes that caused loss of life. Those quakes were the notorious 1906 quake and the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. There was a quake in The City in 1957 that cause some significant property damage, but no deaths, bringing the total number of major quakes in the Bay Area, over a 103 year span, to three. That's right...just three.

So what is the big deal about earthquakes? I lived in the Bay Area for 30 years and actually experienced the Loma Prieta quake, and I just don’t get it. The horror people express at the thought of a quake baffles me. I mean, it’s not like earthquakes level a major American city every year, right? The frequency of deadly earthquakes in California is low, and in the Bay Area, numbers only two in the last 103 years. I mean, c’mon…you are more likely to get hit by a car while crossing the street than to be injured or killed in an earthquake!

As deadly natural disasters go, I think earthquakes get a bad rap. Their frequency, after all, is significantly less than tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. In fact, the Gulf Coast has suffered 40…forty!...significant hurricanes in the 107 years between 1900 and 2007, and loss of life in the 1900 Galveston Hurricane alone was double that of the estimated death toll for San Francisco's entire 20th century quake history!

Then there are tornadoes. In the 44 year period ended 1994, Texas alone suffered 5490 tornadoes! That’s an average of nearly 125 tornadoes per year just in Texas. The top ten tornado states, including Texas (the leader), suffered a combined total of 19, 511 tornadoes during this period, averaging more than 440 tornadoes per year… that’s an average of more than one per day! And since it is unlikely that tornadoes that cause no property damage are even reported, it’s pretty safe to assume that these tornadoes damaged homes and businesses…and we know that some of them cost lives, as well. How is this…an average of 1+ tornadoes per day…less frightening than an average of three damage-inducing earthquakes per century??

Okay, I know I am comparing the expanse of ten states against the smaller region of the San Francisco Bay area and that Southern California suffers its fair share of quakes as well, but the fact remains that such natural disasters as tornadoes and hurricanes occur annually in other parts of America without triggering irrational fear in potential visitors. Truth is, you are more likely to get swept up in a tornado than buried in an earthquake simply because tornadoes happen multiple times per year and the frequency of earthquakes is considerably less. The Bay area has had only two “killer” earthquakes in more than a century: Middle America suffers more killer tornadoes in an average year.

One of the things about earthquakes that I appreciate, vis-à-vis tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods, is their brevity. The moment of impact to the moment of cessation is measured in seconds. There are no hours of stressful anticipation, waiting for the hurricane to hit or fretting over whether or not the waters will rise enough to get into the house, no long minutes of hiding in a cellar or in your bathtub…with an earthquake, it is just WHAM! and then it is over and you can get on with the business of cleaning up.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that most earthquakes are unfelt and cause no damage at all. Even quakes that rock the bed and roll under your feet ordinarily don’t cause any property damage, let alone injury or death. Compare that with a tornado that, even if your house escapes destruction, will most likely destroy somebody’s property and possibly inflict personal injury or death. Ultimately, photos of the aftermath of tornadoes, hurricanes and floods show no less destruction than earthquake-stricken areas, and deadly earthquakes happen with dramatically less frequency.

After decades of living in earthquake country…more than 45 years in total, having been raised in Southern California…and a few years living in places given to blizzards, lightning strikes, windstorms, and flash floods, I have to say that earthquakes really do get a bad rap. Given a choice, I’ll take my chances with twice-in-a-century odds over a 440-times-a-year certainty any day of the week!

For more info about these natural disasters and photos of their consequences, see:

I write for Angels Weekly. It’s full of great articles from terrific writers, and I’ve recently published a pair of articles about foods that are toxic to your dog. You can find it here:

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Free sewing pattern!

PLEASE NOTE: Angels Weekly is no longer on the web. You can find the pattern here: . Print it out so that the largest pattern piece fills the page from top to bottom. If you have a larger dog, print out the pattern and take it to a copy shop and have it enlarged.

If you would like to make the cute little doggie diapers that I use on Puddin' to prevent her from wetting on the bed and furniture, you can now download it in a .pdf format from Angels Weekly Just go to the site, put "diapers" in the search box (it is in the upper right quadrant of the screen) and it will take you to an article on doggie diapers written by yours truly (Violet Burroughs is my nom de plume).

Scroll to the bottom of the article and click the download button and when the pattern shows up on your screen, save or print.

Enjoy and may your pup look as cute in them as Puddin' does!