November 2012 Archives

Blog Like Nobody's Reading

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(Hahaha, because in my case, it's true!)

 

As National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) draws to a close today, I am following today's NaBloPoMo prompt to say what it was about blogging every day that I have been struggling with the most. For me, it was DEFINITELY the whole "quantity over quality" thing. That to me has even been MORE challenging than making the time to blog every day, or finding topics to write about.

 

Since I write for barely-a-living, I take it extremely seriously, no matter WHERE I do it. Sometimes, in fact, I take it so seriously, that I end up writing nothing at all. (That old perfectionist’s excuse that non-perfectionists find so hard to swallow.) Just as Gustave Flaubert so famously once described his writing process, I’ve also been known to spend “all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out”. My nitpicking can sometimes be crippling, making the task of even posting to my blog so daunting, I often just leave it altogether instead.

 

But I really wanted to participate in NaBloPoMo this year. With serious work-related writing deadlines hurtling towards me, I’ve had several legitimate excuses NOT to do it. I knew that I wouldn’t have time to sit here and carefully craft posts of epic proportions. (I would have loved to, but I wisely decided to rather save the internal squabbling over commas for my work writing, otherwise I’d still be stuck around day 2, which would have totally defeated the purpose of this exercise, no?)

 

This kind of free-styling scribbling that I’ve forced myself to do here has been liberating. Difficult, sure! (Hard to teach an old dog new tricks, after all.) But it definitely has been freeing – and more than a little refreshing - to just WRITE for a change.

 

Of course, if I were to go back and reread what I have posted on here this past month, I would probably cringe and then just delete the whole batch in one fell swoop. But I’m going to leave it up and proudly pin this badge to this here blog.

 

I don’t know if I’m going to be keeping up this daily blog revival. Probably not. But hopefully I will be blogging more than just twice a year in future.

 

 

 



I have never forgiven the French Huguenots for not wielding more influence and forcing their language on the natives when they settled in D’Afrique du Sud. Maybe the heat was shocking to their systems (which, hello, but what then was their excuse in so much of equally hot Afrique where the natives were forced to become native French-speakers?), but they seemed to not be bothered when the Dutch took over the Mother Tongue department and allowed the creation of Afrikaans.

Forward to me at age 14, when I heard that I had successfully passed my audition and that I was going to be attending the performing arts high school in Pretoria. The thing that thrilled me the second most was that I would finally be able to take French as a subject – never mind the fact that I was barely able to speak English then.

Unfortunately, my plans were soon foiled when one of the teachers advised my parents that, since I was starting school almost in the middle of the school year, I should rather take German, as it would be easier for a native Afrikaans speaker to catch up on.

Grateful to at least be in the school of my dreams, I heeded the advice and took German instead. Perhaps (and more likely) it was because I had no interest in it, but I did NOT find it easy to catch up on at all. Whenever I walked by the French class, I looked in with longing at all the lucky students as they “ecoute et répète” the flowery aural delights that so effortlessly flowed from the young, beret-wearing teacher’s mouth.  

I finally had my chance in college, when we had to take a third language for a year. My choice was French, of course. It was basic, conversational French, but I totally immersed myself in it. The result is that I can now, almost 20 years later, say: “Pardon me, I can’t speak French. Do you speak English, please?” in French, with a perfect French accent.

I can do the same thing in Egyptian Arabic, German, Italian and Spanish. It’s a nifty and impressive party trick and especially with the Arabic, I managed to score a few free cab rides in D.C.

Last year, during a trip to Taiwan, I had the amazing privilege to stay with a host family in Taichung City for about a week and a half. The mother was unable to speak any English, and I was unable to speak any Mandarin (except for “good day”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “South Africa” - accompanied by a gesture of pointing towards myself - and enthusiastically shouting - because there’s really no other way to express it - “I love Taiwan!”). She would speak in Mandarin to her daughters, who sometimes translated, when it was necessary for me to be privy to what was being said. One day, during one of the non-translated conversations, I suddenly piped up and said: “Yes! I KNOW!” And then I added something that was completely relevant to the discussion. 

I was met by incredulous stares and stunned silence. It almost seemed as if I had learned to understand snippets of Mandarin, here and there. But it wasn’t true comprehension, because honestly, I know NO other Mandarin except for those four things stated above. So it was more like somehow – possibly via osmosis - catching the basic gist of what they were talking about. Of course, they were far more sceptical about my continual denials that no, I REALLY could not understand Mandarin.

And sadly, I don’t think I would ever be able to.

I’m not done romancing French though. I desperately want to wrap my brain and tongue around that language and read and even possibly, one day, write in it. 

For now, though, I have to focus on whipping L'Anglais into proper submission. 

Cheating

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This is a cheating post. I'm uninspired, tired and still ill.

But at least I'm posting. Quantity over quality.

All for NaNoBloPoMo.

(I don't think this is quite what they had in mind, but there ya go! I can't mess this up on Day 28.)


There once was a little girl from Canada. 

A special spirit, she was always amazing to those who knew and loved her, but then one day, after getting a wonderful and noble idea and - more importantly - acting on it, she unintentionally began drawing attention to herself until the rest of the world recognised her awesomeness as well. 

In fact, her story is featured in a newspaper today in Nanaimo, the Canadian town where she resides with her mom and her older (and equally special and gifted) sister. 

I'm writing about this today, because I am so proud and lucky to count her incredibly creative and talented mom among my "real life" friends. I haven't seen this kick-arse little girl since she was a wee babe, but time and distance apart haven't changed how deeply this remarkable trio of girls have burrowed into my heart. 

And this? Is just the cusp of the amazing things that are in store for all of them. 
On a Friday afternoon in mid-March, as I was getting my car washed (which is probably why it began pouring at that moment, but never mind...), who would show up next to me but a major South African celebrity: Haas Das* himself, the legendary Riaan Cruywagen

Riaan Cruywagen.jpg

For my international imaginary readers, 
he is one of South Africa's most veteran and famous television news anchors and a total legend in his own right. (Americans, Riaan is basically our version of the late, great Peter Jennings and Tim Brokow.) 

Despite a disguise of sunglasses and a cap (so, sadly, no sighting of the infamous, "alleged" toupee), he was almost immediately accosted by another fan, so, since he was already disturbed by another fan and didn't bite the guy's head off, I eventually worked up the courage to also go over, shyly say hi and ask for a photo op. 

He was incredibly gracious and - rather surprisingly - deadly funny. (Which is why the resulting picture of the two of us is of me all puffed cheeks and squinty-eyed from cracking up!) I told him that I'm a journalist as well ("but only in online media, so really, it's No Big Deal") and he said: "Well, what a coincidence, so am I!" 

No shit, Sherlock.

He was SO lovely to me. Chatted to me for about 30 whole minutes. Of course, he didn't have much of a choice. I kept on incessantly quizzing him (if he hadn't believed that I was a journo, he believed me by the end of it!) and he couldn't really escape, since he was essentially held hostage there until they had finished cleaning his car. 

The interroga... conversation was about all sorts of things, from what it was like to live in Washington, D.C. almost a decade apart (he was foreign correspondent there from '81-'84), to journalism, his first big scoop in D.C. (Hinckley's attempted assassination of Reagan) BlackBerry phones, iPods and cars. It totally made my day! 

And from then on, whenever he came onto the TV and said: "Goeienaand, welkom by die nuus om 7 op SABC 2", (Translated: Good evening, welcome to the news at 7 on SABC 2), I pretended (in a Nurse Betty kind of way) that he was speaking JUST TO ME. Because we’re now BFF and therefore thisclose.

But I'm rehashing this story tonight, because earlier this evening, exactly 37 years (to the day) of anchoring his first news broadcast, Riaan retired. To great fanfare and sadness. 

I sat in front of the television, absolutely rapt throughout his entire final broadcast, waiting to see if he would get emotional during his last goodnight. 

And? I ENDED UP MISSING IT. Right at the crucial moment, the satellite decoder somehow decided that RIGHT THEN WOULD BE AN EXCELLENT TIME TO RESET ITSELF and so it first had to warm up and rescan all the channels. Meaning that I missed his very last goodbye. 

Utterly bereft, and going to campaign the SABC to put the final broadcast on YouTube. Or something. 

*Haas Das was a fluffy rabbit puppet who read the news out of animal land to kiddies when I was little. Riaan voiced Haas Das, even before he assumed that same position as human (or robot, if you care to believe some for his continual excellence and unchanged hair) anchorman. 

I just feel genuinely lucky to have crossed paths with him. 

Enjoy the break, ye legend! 

And on the 25th day, she was ill.

When asked what is wrong, I would ordinarily be all tough and answer dismissively and airily (or as airily as one is able to be when half of one’s airways are obstructed), using the rasp in my voice to lend the toughness just that bit of a rockstar edge: “Oh, it’s just a cold.”

But this? This monster? Isn’t just a cold.

Oh, no. After careful consultation of my trusty and beloved, dog-eared edition of the Time/Life A-Z Medical Encyclopaedia, I have come to the alarming conclusion that I have… the Man Flu.

Why that particular strain, you ask?  And how does this Man Flu differ from your run-of-the-mill cold and flu?

At first glance, all the symptoms are identical: scratchy throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing with such force that you can blow your neighbour's hair back from where you are curled up in a pathetic bundle in bed, feeling lousy, feverish, and achy. But in the trusty tome, it says that when you are feeling particularly SORRY for yourself on top of all of that, and act to your loved ones as if you are on the brink of death? It’s definitely the Man Flu.

Yes, it IS mostly just a male affliction. But in VERY rare instances, such as this, even the strongest women sometimes get weak enough to be overcome with it too. It’s horribly shameful, which is why I would never have admitted to it unless I WASN’T DYING AND FEELING ALL CONFESSIONAL DUE TO THE FACT THAT I'M DYING.

a-a-a-a-A-A-AAAAAAA-CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! 

Was that my last breath? It sure felt like it should've been. Can't see anything, 'cause it blew the glasses right off my face. 

Updated to say: No, I also have NO idea why and how the font managed to change colour halfway through this blog post. (Yeah, got my glasses back.) Unless... I have given it my highly contagious and fatal form of Man Flu too!?

The Axe Factor

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And suddenly, there he is. Simon Cowell, in the flesh and looking JUST as he does on TV. (It’s remarkable, that uncanny resemblance people on TV or in the movies have to their on-camera countenances when you see them in real life, innit?) Complete with his trademark, fitted T-shirt.

“And what’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Red,” I stammer.

“And what will you be singing for us today, Red?” By now I should’ve caught on that there is clearly something suspicious about this whole scenario, but unawares, I bravely push on.

“BlackBird/Bye Bye BlackBird.”

“Okay, let’s hear it. Good luck.”

I sing. Flawlessly. My voice oddly sounds JUST like that of Sara Gazarek, the amazing jazz songstress whose rendition of that very song happens to be one of my favourite tracks ever.

Since I don’t sound like me at all, it’s no wonder then that he lets me sing it the whole way through.

Afterwards, he looks towards the other judges, but I’m only waiting for HIS opinion. I think Randy Jackson is there too, which slightly niggles at me, since that wouldn’t be right.

Finally, Simon speaks again, about to hand down his career-altering verdict.

… And then I wake up from the dream.

Could it be time to axe all that obsessive X Factor viewing from my TV watching schedule?

P.S. Okay, okay, I didn’t actually wake up before he told me. He said no. But he DID say that he loved Sara’s voice, but just didn't think the "time was quite right for me" (never tell a procrastinator THAT, Si!) and so I left feeling elated. And then I woke up for realz.

P.P.S. It was really the dream I had last night and not just another of my incredibly amateurish writing tricks, honestly. 

After almost a year of not blogging – which is a long stretch, even for the self-proclaimed World’s Laziest Blogger - those two of you imaginary readers who are still hanging around (the third one defected at around July this year) may have noticed that there has been a slight spike in blogging activity on this here blog lately. 

Okay, more like a major surge; like the kind you get when you jumpstart a heart that has flat-lined.

It’s not that I’ve been possessed by more inspiration or that I suddenly have more time than usual. And no, I’ve not been abducted and my productivity been taken over by a bunch of hardworking aliens. There is in fact a rather simple explanation for this newfound enthusiasm. Scared that I would jinx myself, and not sure that I would be able to stick to it, I have merely been holding out on you. However, now that I’m on day 23, I think it is relatively safe for me to finally come clean and tell you who/what is to blame for this blogging over-enthusiasm. Why it has been all about quantity and not quality around here lately. (Hahahaha, as if it has EVER been about quality!) 

This. That’s right. NaBloPoMo (or, in English: National Blog Posting Month). November might be a time for Thanksgiving to the Americans, but to writers the world over, it has also been the most feared and despised month, since it is also NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), in which the participants accept the downright insane challenge to try and write a novel in the 30 days during November. NaBloPoMo is the somewhat easier alternative for those among us who might not be quite dedicated enough for a novel.

In all the years it has been in existence, I have always wanted to give NaBloPoMo a shot, but always (conveniently?) forgot and only remembered a week or two too late. No such luck this year. Don’t quite know what came over me, but here I am, three weeks in.

Let’s see if I can keep at it for the remaining week, shall we?

No pressure… 

As promised last night, here's the story: 

It was a mid-winter's night when I was about 14 years old. The Pretoria Show (sort of like the US equivalent of a State Fair combined with a trade show) which ran for a couple of weeks every year, was in full swing.

I got to hang out there almost every night during that time, because my mom was working for a sewing machine company and running their stall at the show. The show hours were brutally long – from early morning until about 10 at night – so I had no choice but to tag along, help out and sometimes also to explore the enormous show grounds on my own. There were several massive exhibition halls, tents, fields (where equestrian shows, pop concerts and other outdoorsy type things were held, with pavilions for spectators) and of course, the large amusement park with the roller coasters, merry-go-rounds and all the other rides.

The sprawling show grounds are located in the western part of the city. Right around that same time, girls my age had been disappearing in that very area of town; vanishing without a trace. Sometime after this particular night, the man who had been identified as the kidnapper shot himself and his lover (who happened to be the aunt of one of the kidnapped girls) while being chased by police. None of the kidnapped girls were ever seen again, nor were any remains ever found to give their distraught families closure.

Back to the Pretoria Show: so on that particular night, I must’ve been wandering around again on my own for ages. Eventually, I saw a poster advertising some sort of magic show. Intrigued (and probably somewhat chilled too from being outside), I decided to enter the theatre and see what it was about.

I don’t remember many details surrounding this particular show, but I do remember that I found it dead funny. The magician/hypnotist’s routine included the usual shtick of randomly pulling rabbits from hats, and then eventually, pulling people from the audience and hypnotising them. He made grown men crow like roosters and dignified ladies act like little girls. The audience (myself included) was screaming with laughter.

When the show ended, I followed the rest of the audience out into the now-almost deserted show grounds. I still remember telling the woman next to me that the show must’ve run overtime, because all the other stalls and halls seemed to have already been closed down for the evening. I was a tiny bit alarmed that my parents would possibly be worried, but was soon distracted from that thought when I heard the sound of a helicopter and saw a blindingly bright search light.

I looked up. It was a yellow South African Police helicopter and it was flying low across the grounds, sweeping the search light back and forth. We shielded our faces as the chopper flew over us, kicking up a gust of wind and a swirl of dust.

Moving towards the gates, we rounded a corner and suddenly I saw a few hundred police officers. And police dogs! The dog lover in me squealed with delight: “Oh, look at all those gorgeous Alsations!” I remember telling the lady who was still walking next to me.

I wondered aloud what on earth was going on, what they were all doing there, when suddenly, from a distance, I glimpsed someone vaguely familiar standing in the middle of this massive crowd of cops and canines. When we moved closer, the figures became increasingly clearer and even more familiar. The recognition finally dawned and I told the woman next to me, with some amazement and not a bit of excitement: “That’s my parents! And oh… wait, is my mom CRYING?”

It turns out that all those cops (almost every single one who was employed by the Pretoria City Police Department at that time) and that helicopter? They had been searching for ME! As I had suspected when we left the theatre, the magic show had indeed run overtime… by about an hour! So knowing that I fit the profile of the kidnapped girls, my frantic parents immediately called for help when I didn’t appear at closing time, as I had dutifully done every single night until then.

Even though I had done nothing wrong and it wasn’t actually my fault, I was in so so SO much trouble, it wasn’t even funny. Not with the cops, understand – they were just happy that the case of one “missing girl” had for once just been a misunderstanding, and that it had a happy outcome. I could’ve handled trouble with the cops, I think. No, it was far worse: I was in seriously hot water with my parents.

They were certainly NOT happy. Especially not my dad. He was FURIOUS. In fact, technically, I believe I am probably still grounded. That’s what “you'll NEVER EVER EVERRR leave your room EVER AGAIN, young lady, except for school and church” means, after all, right?

So, that then concludes the true story of how a whole city’s entire police force was once looking for me. 

*Bows*

Teaser

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This is a total cheating post, since I'm seriously on deadline (done with the financial article I told you about yesterday - phew! - but now I've been unleashed upon the subject of network deployment in South Africa...), so instead, I'm going to pretend to be a TV preview and tell you, in a hopefully enticing manner, what I'll be blogging about tomorrow. Okay? Okay. (And if you're not okay with it... tough luck!)  

When you read it, pretend that it's narrated by that American guy with the somewhat raspy, deep voice who does all the voice-overs for the movie previews and who makes everything - from an almost uneventful, predictable, cheesy rom-com to a thriller -  sound so brilliantly dramatic. 

"Coming SOOOOOON to a URL near youuuuuuuuuu." (Remember to roll the r's.) "A blogger reminisces about the night that a few hundred cops from a South African city's police department were looking for her..." 

Curious? You'd better be! Otherwise that dude is so firrrrrrrrrred! 
So I can't count very high, right? I lost interest in Maths the minute I found out that Pi doesn't actually involve eating anything. 

There's just something about numbers that make my brain seize up and immediately misfire. Yet, I am writing, tonight, about something having to do with stats, facts, finances and figures. For work! It's about something financial and luckily I don't actually have to count, subtract, add, divide or multiply anything. But I have to wrap my mind around some new concepts and keep the numbers straight enough to at least quote them correctly.

Incidentally, the subject of finances came up with a friend as well today and I reached the following epiphany: One should never EVER launder money. Because, duh, everyone KNOWS it's dry clean only! (Especially these brand new Mandela notes that we now have here in South Africa.) 

*Rim shot* 

Thank you, thank you. I'll be here 'til now-now (South African term for anytime between now and a few centuries from this moment). 

And yes, astonishingly, people do actually take me seriously at work! 

Conspiracy

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The scream may have been earth shattering, had any sound managed to actually escape from my mouth. I only realised later that I never actually screamed out loud, even though I’m sure my lips assumed the oh-shape it would have had to make to form that sort of terrifying sound. That the faint echoing that was bouncing around in my mind later on was simply a remnant of a deafening thought.

 

Several minutes before, I had been slowly, furtively making my way down the aisle, like a huntress. 


My heart was pounding and the sweat was beading on my brow. My eyes were thoroughly sweeping the shelves for that one, crucial object.

 

“Come on; come on; where ARE you?” I muttered under my breath. A lot was riding on me finding what I’d been searching for. I needed to locate it in order to save face.

So engrossed was I in looking, that I never saw the woman until she spoke behind me, causing me to jump a metre high. “Is there anything I can assist you with?” she asked. It was soon her turn to be somewhat unnerved when I spun around, startled by her voice.

When I finally composed myself, I decided to take her up on the offer of help. “Yes, please. I’m looking for this.” I reached into my handbag and whipped out the mocha mechanical eyeliner.

She shook her head. “Sorry, the manufacturer has discontinued that particular brand and colour. May I interest you in anything else?”

That was when the scream of frustration exploded in my head.

In case you think that I’m slightly overacting, consider this: this sort of incident hasn't been the first of its kind for me. Whenever I find a product that I like, that somehow, magically, works for me, it gets discontinued.

I’m still mourning the loss of the liquid foundation that was a perfect match for my horrible skin colour (or lack of – I make albinos look tanned). That foundation turned my skin translucent and glowing. So of course, the manufacturer ruthlessly axed it from its product line, making it very clear to the world that maybe I WASN’T born with it.

The list of products past is in fact so long, they could all easily populate an entire section of a store. Among them are sweeteners, mascara, medication, hair products, body lotion, bras (just like that, my chest was divided, conquered AND lifted!), nail polish, stockings, gum, coffee… you name it, I’ve loved, loyally supported, and cruelly lost access to it.

I’m really starting to think it’s some sort of cruel conspiracy aimed at one particular consumer.

Me. 

Despite Friday night's rumours, we are all still fine and - touch wood - unaffected by the violent riots and strikes that have been plaguing towns and farms throughout the region this past week. Hopefully it is all over now - although it might not be

For those who would like to know more about the whole saga, this is by FAR one of the best op-eds/columns I have read about it, offering a competent look at the positions of both the farmers and the labourers. 

Chew on this

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So, while having a hectically philosophical discussion with a friend earlier tonight, the following question occurred to me: 

Do they serve snacks at Over-eaters Anonymous meetings? 

It's absolutely eating away at me,.. 

Tell me what YOU think. Yay, or nay? If the latter: really? Not even finger food? 

P.S. By the way, last night's text messages and so on were based on rumour - which turned out not to be factual, thank goodness. I'll write more about it later. 


The violent riots that have been plaguing the region where I live for the past few days might be inching closer to us - if it's not already upon us. 

A short while ago, my phone beeped with a message, warning everyone in our picturesque, quaint town of Stellenbosch to stay indoors; that truckloads filled with rioters have apparently arrived in town and that all access roads into and out of the area have been blocked. 

It is difficult to discern rumour from fact, but last night's message, about an uprising on the outskirts of town ended up being true. Hundreds of rioters burned tyres, threw rocks at passing cars and vandalised traffic lights - amounting to millions of rands in damage. It remains uncertain what their motives were, though. Some claim it was about providing free electricity to the town's informal settlement (AKA shantytown/township), while others think it is also about the labour dispute involving the labourers who work on the wine farms in the area.

When will people learn that violence and destruction solve absolutely nothing? 

This post is dedicated to cat person LB and his own two feline guardians, Oubaas and Vlooi.

I adore all animals - some from a respectful distance - but when it comes to dogs and cats, I am firmly and unabashedly in the canine camp.

However, more than a decade ago, there was a moggie that marched its way into my heart with great chivalry. At the time, I was living in the United States and working as a live-in Au Pair for a family with three adorable girls. The parents were unhappily married though, so whenever they were home, the atmosphere in the house became almost unbearably thick with tension. Even when they were not audibly fighting with each other, the very air was coiled tight with the unspoken resentment between them – almost like the heavy humidity that chokes the air before a violent thunderstorm during summer.

At night, when I wasn’t required to babysit, I jumped into the nanny car and escaped for a few blissful hours. The house was one of about six identical McMansions that were grouped together in a small development in suburban D.C. The family I lived with had no pets – the mother hated animals. Having grown up with dogs around, I severely missed an animal presence in my life. Alas, my only “fix” was the black and white cat I sometimes glimpsed walking around outside the house across the way.

One night, not long after I began working and living there, I returned from one of my nightly excursions. I parked the car in its designated spot next to the house and, when I opened the door, that same black and white cat was right there, at the car door. “Oh, hey!” With some surprise, I greeted it and reached out to touch it, only to have it jump away. “Okay, okay,” I said and let it be. It didn’t run away though. Instead, it patiently waited for me to lock the car doors and when I walked around to the front door, it walked alongside me, every step of the way.

When I got to the front door, I kind of expected it to try and sneak into the house with me, but it didn’t. It merely waited for me to unlock the door, let myself in, and then I watched it through the window as it bounded straight back home.

This became a nightly occurrence, no matter whether it rained, snowed, sleeted, or was too hot to move. Every night, as soon as I parked at home, the cat would be there, poised to fulfill its obligation. On nights when I tallied too long, it jumped onto the hood of the car and impatiently pawed the windshield until I got out, before proceeding to walk me to the front door. It never allowed me to touch it; it never tried getting into the house with me. It simply walked me up to the front door (up some steps), and waited for me to get safely inside, before turning around and walking straight back to its own family’s house across the way.

No one believed me until my mom and my then-boyfriend witnessed it with their own eyes when they dropped me back home. The fact that I came home with others, in different cars, didn’t deter the cat. Nor was it thrown for a loop by the fact that I was sometimes dropped off in different places around the house. As long as I was in the car, my little feline bodyguard was there, waiting to walk me to the door… It was flabbergasting.

This went on for the entire year I stayed there. It became a highlight of my day/night during a time that I was deeply depressed. I never learned the cat’s name, but I believe that it sensed how incredibly unhappy I was, which is why it took it upon itself to become my furry little guardian.

Needless to say, this self-proclaimed dog person was utterly charmed. I’ll never forget what that kitty did for me, way back then. With the simple act of walking me to the front door, it ushered me through a very bleak time in my life. 

The Voice (Final Act)

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The Voice, whom I at first was told was all in my head, but who ended up being very real and very talented, is about to move out and on. 

After being my neighbour for three and a half years, he has finally reached the final year of his opera studies at the University. Last night, I attended his final voice exam.

For him, a nerve-wracking affair in front of an audience, a panel of moderators and lecturers. For me, an opportunity to sit back and marvel at his talent.

He sang ten different, challenging arias in five different languages. It was incredible. He delivered a flawless performance. 

He is now off to conquer the world, but not with music just yet. He is, understandably, a bit exhausted after eating, drinking, and sleeping opera for four years. 

But he has made me a promise that, even though he is taking a break from music for a year, his singing voice will not be silenced for good. 

Until I see him somewhere on a stage again, I will miss him (and his voice) very much. 

(The next person who decides to move in will have a tough act to follow when it comes to singing in the shower! No pressure...) 

 

Creative Spaces

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Writers are often asked the following questions: Where do you get your ideas, and where do you like to write. 

To the latter, the response of a famous novelist has stayed with me. "Anywhere," he replied. He went on to say that he used to think he required solitude to get "in the zone", but that, as he has grown older, alone time has somehow become more elusive. So he has since learned to write anywhere, even while bouncing a baby/toddler on his lap. 

Another writerly friend of mine says that he likes noise in the background when he works, which is why he writes in cafés. 

I tried the café writing thing when I lived overseas, because it seemed so awfully Hemingwayesque. But I would too soon become distracted by the people around me. I ended up watching them, imagining what their lives were like. 

Then, just as the aforementioned novelist used to, I began isolating myself in order to work. But friends and relatives always found me, eventually luring me out of my quiet place. So I have since learned to write with the buzz of incessant chatter around me. 

Besides, I have finally realised that the most creative space I have to work in is in my head. And for better or worse, that goes with me wherever I go. (Probably for better, since a headless version of me would undoubtedly scare people even more than I already do, with my head fully intact.) 

So now I write wherever I can sit down and plug in my laptop. It's sheer coincidental good luck that the cord reaches the outlet from bed! 

Six most wanted

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The visit to the dentist was painless. Chompers are fine. 

Afterwards, I still felt a visit to the amazing secondhand bookshop was in order as a reward for... well, not having any pain.

I requested a book from the kindly old shopkeeper. I thought he would get up and go look among the endless rows of shelves, deliciously heaving with books of all shapes and sizes and thickness. Or at least point me in a general direction though. Instead, he decisively said: "Sorry, we don't have it currently."

Then he told me that it is among the six most popular books at his shop. "Whenever these books come in, we don't have them for long again before they are sold." 

"What are the rest of them?"

He told me. Now, out of the six that he will mention, which is the one you think I want? 

"Winnie the Pooh, The Little Prince, Alice in Wonderland, The Prophet, To Kill a Mockingbird and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull."
I have a dentist appointment tomorrow.

I'm not scared. (For all my neuroses, I'm not scared of docs, dentists or any other needle-wielding types.) Merely blue, because - no offense to South African dental docs - but no dentist will be as magical as the one I had in the States. The dude did card tricks with a deck that contained pictures of the FBI's most wanted on it. Osama bin Laden was the ace, if I'm not mistaken.

I usually laughed so much when I went to him, people in the waiting room must have thought that I was pumped up on laughing gas.

Hopefully I will leave smiling tomorrow too.
Today, exactly 17 years ago, I set foot on U.S. soil for the very first time. 

I'll never forget the date, because I left South Africa the day after my mom's birthday (I still remember telling her that leaving the country and thereby getting out of her hair was my present to her).

I still recall the flight over too, almost in vivid detail. It was nerve-wracking, exciting and very very VERY long. Sade's album, the one on which No Ordinary Love appears, was one of British Airways' selections way back then, and I pretty much kept it on a continuous, repetitive loop. (Hearing her voice today still chills me out to the extent of jetlag. Probably not quite the listener reaction that she'd had in mind when she set out to become a musician!)

I wonder how I would have felt if I had known that once arriving there, I would not leave again for nine years. 

I think I would have totally freaked out. (To the point of not actually going in the first place.) And no one (including myself) would have believed that I would actually go through with leaving. Let alone ending up not coming home again for almost a decade. 

And if I had never gone? I wonder how life would have turned out differently for me. Kind of like a Sliding Doors effect. 

Do you have any times like that in your life where you keep on quietly wondering "what if"? Asking yourself if you would have done anything differently, how your life would have turned out instead? Would it have been better or worse? 
Spent the better part of today on a road trip. 

During a necessary coffee stop, the waitress was kind and maternal. "You girls should try the cheese cake here. I am not in any way affiliated with the baker, so this is a totally personal endorsement. Try it."

At protestations and feebly offered vague excuses along the lines of "figures being watched", she leaned forward on the back of the empty chair and dramatically stage whispered: "This is the only restaurant in South Africa where the cheesecake is entirely DEVOID OF CALORIES," thereby expertly twisting our (rubber) arms.

I've tasted heaven. It resides at a farm stall/coffee shop in rural South Africa (towards the bottom of the country) and it is certainly NOT calorie free! 

Birthday

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Today. Not mine.

My mom's. The woman who gave birth to me.

Love her. So so much.

Happy birthday, Mom.
*Title to be read to the melody of "Sweet Home Alabama" (any version). 

Congratulations on your re-election, President Obama! I didn't even mind that my sister woke me way before the crack o' noon here in South Africa to watch the last few nerve-wracking hours of CNN International's coverage of the final vote tallying to determine who had won it, this morning. And despite my fatigue, I was even a bit amused that CNN  remained too cowardly to just call it already, instead sticking to a cautious projection long after all the others (even FOX, apparently!) HAD already announced that Obama had been re-elected. 

I understand, CNN. Once bitten, twice shy.

So Virginia turned blue, Ohio turned blue and I believe Florida did too, in the end? But what a mighty surprise to see that Colorado had turned green! I've always suspected that the grass was much greener there... Gives a whole new meaning to "Rocky Mountain High", doesn't it? 

As my friend Syd, who is still back in the States, would always say: "Now the people there will have "altitude problems". When I corrected him (since English is my second language, I always felt I could take liberties like that) and asked: "Don't you mean ATTITUDE problems?" He answered dryly: "No, altitude, because not only do they have attitude, but they're high too!"


The shoes? Those torture devices with their towering, sky high heels that I had to shove my hooves into for an entire day in order to look respectable and girly enough to hang out with the upper crust a week and a half ago? And which I've lamented about just a few days ago? They redeemed themselves just now.

But before I tell you how, I just have to say that I’m not a shoe girl. I’ve never understood other women’s sometimes feverish, obsessive love for shoes. Perhaps it would have been different if I’d had “easier” feet. (As if it’s not terrible enough that I’ve been cursed with an odd, fashion-unfriendly bod!) But alas, finding comfortable shoes for my flat, wide feet with their gnarly toes is usually a terrible, even painful ordeal, which is why I only buy shoes when it is absolutely necessary. And then I avoid the heels at all cost.

Yes, I understand the appeal of standing about seven metres taller almost immediately. I also grasp that the correct pair of high heels can magically shape your calves, erase centimetres from your thighs, wax your legs and make you an espresso.

I don’t care. The pain is just too unbearable. For me, comfort always beats aesthetics, hands (feet?) down. I’m tired of trying to squeeze my feet into dainty, pretty shoes that refuse to fit. It makes me feel like one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters.

However, this particular pair that I ended up buying for the recent soiree actually (and rather astonishingly) DID fit. AND I managed to teeter one step forward without promptly falling flat on my face. AND my feet didn’t burst into flaming blisters immediately upon contact. (Mercifully, that only happened after two steps.) Which is why I bought them and wore them. (Even though it can be argued that THEY wore ME. Out. And down. I’m not a fashion victim, but I did become a victim of fashion on that painful day.)

So as soon I as I limped home, I kicked them off and have not even looked at them since.

Until tonight.

I needed to reach something up high, towards the back of the TV cabinet. (The TV remotes, if you must know. To watch US election coverage. Yes, I AM masochistic, but only in instances when the suffering can’t actually physically be felt.) Standing on my tiptoes, I was able to touch it with my fingertips.

After looking around for something to stand on, my eyes fell on the discarded shoes. So I slipped them on… and voila. I reached the remote controls and here I am… floating on Cloud 9, with Wolf Blitzer chatting in the background. 

From now on, I’ll keep them in my car. Not to pound all the odd sounding bits in the engine with it if I should ever have a breakdown. But to slip them on my feet and flag down a man to fix it for me, of course! 

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My nephew and I slip out onto the balcony and into the cool night air. It's already way past his bedtime, but since I do have my sister's permission, this isn’t an illicit outing. 

 

We hear another dull boom in the distance and crane our necks to look across the neighbouring rooftops and through the trees, squinting for a glimpse. No luck.

 

"When I was little," I tell him. "I thought everyone was talking about someone called ‘Guy Fox’." 

 

He giggles, after I explain why this is supposed to be funny. (Which is sadly not a phenomenon only reserved for when I speak to kids. The only time people of all ages EVER react to my lame jokes - and not always favourably - is when I explain the punchline at length.) 

 

“But who was this Guy Fawkes and what did he do to get fireworks?”

 

“He was a British man who, along with a group of 12 other men, tried and failed to blow up Britain’s Houses of Parliament, because they wanted to kill the king, since he didn’t like their religion. But some of the other men got cold feet. Guy Fawkes still wanted to go through with it, but then he was caught and ended up being killed instead. So the bonfires and fireworks that go off every 5 November is to remember that the king was saved. And to kind of make fun of Guy Fawkes. They make bonfires to burn pictures of him. We celebrate it here in South Africa too, because we were a British colony for a long time.”

 

After failing to see any of the fireworks that we can hear going off in the distance, my nephew loses interest and wanders back inside.

 

In a decided role reversal, I plead: “Just a little while longer, please? I’m sure we’ll see something any moment now. And hey, there! I can even smell it!”

 

Without missing a beat, he says: “Naah, that’s just your coffee.”

(Because I always say that I am so useless in the kitchen, I even burn water…) SEE? There I go explaining the punchline again. AND YOU DIDN’T EVEN CRACK A SMILE, DID YOU?

P.S. Close to midnight, and crackers are still exploding all over town – heard, but not seen. I really think it ought to be the other way around, don't you? Silent fireworks will be so much kinder towards poor, petrified pups and cats everywhere. 

Stage Fright

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It must be like child birth. Because those women that have suffered through it claim that all memory of the excruciating pain vanishes as soon as they hold that babe in their arms, which is why they have seconds, or thirds, or - heaven forbid - even fourths or more! 

I performed today.

And no, I don't mean the usual drama queen moments I have at home on a daily (hourly?) basis, but a bona fide, you have to know your part, performance. Where real people are watching and listening to you! (EEEK!) Not too unlike when I did this

This, despite the fact that I suffer from terrible stage fright. Which I had apparently (inconveniently!) forgotten about in the eight years since participating in that

Actually, I have been performing for a while again. Today's was the fourth performance since the end of September and the third in just under two weeks. (NOT due to increased confidence on my part, I assure you. Merely because all the others who are up there with me are insanely talented, so because of their strengths, it is very much a matter of "by popular demand." I'm simply riding coattails here.) 

Very few people in my real life know, because I'm just too shy about it. I'm so completely and totally WAY out of my league and comfort zone. However, being a glutton for punishment, I've decided I'll stubbornly stick it out. Not to nobly try and conquer my fear or anything like that, but actually just in the vain hope that the incredible skills of the others will somehow, in time, rub off on me too. 

Or until someone dreams up performance arts enhancing drugs. 


This is the headgear I ended up wearing to the fancy-pants (and hats!) do I attended last weekend. 

In the end, despite Google's helpful hint, organza beat out aluminium (or aluminum, as the Yanks say) to become the headgear of choice. 

I believe this particular hat was a success, because number one, it cast a wide and flatteringly dark shadow across my mug for most of the day; and two: I'm sure it was the only reason why I secured a photo op with a South African celebrity. (The shoes would be pissed to hear this... they think THEY were the sole reason for the hobnobbing, since they provided me with the necessary height required to rub shoulders with the country's rich, famous and infamous. Sorry to say that you lose, shoes, because the hat didn't give me painful blisters!) 

So hats off to The Hat! 

Stellenbosch-20121103-00394.jpg

It’s a quiet night. The first breath of summer is in the air at last; the windows and balcony door are flung open to let in the coolness. The breeze brushing my face is like balm on my hot skin.

The only light in the room is the soft glow coming from the laptop screen. I’m lying on the couch, my sister is surfing the web.  

Suddenly, the serenity is shattered by a brief, deranged growl. (Just so you know: there is no animal on the premises.)

“What the hell was THAT?” my sister whispers, pale with fright.

“I don’t know; probably the TV in your room,” I say, unconvincingly. Outwardly, I probably appear calm, having not even budged an inch from the couch. Actually, it’s only because I have been completely frozen with fear.

Then we hear it again, and it sounds decidedly closer this time.  

For a moment my sister goes just as motionless as I am. However, seconds later she turns in her chair and lunges at something towards the right hand side of her.

This time, it’s my turn to squeak: “What the HELL..?”

She grabs the offender and starts to laugh.

Seeing that I’m still a tad perplexed, she holds it up to the laptop screen’s glow. It’s her iPad.

As if on cue, it emits another growl. “It’s that stupid game!” my sister laughs.

Turns out my niece had played Talking Fred (the pig that imitates and responds to the player's voice) on the iPad and never turned it off. If you leave Fred on without playing with him, he sulks by, every once in a while, making attention-seeking growling and grunting noises.

Yes, indeed. Two adults were spooked by a game for toddlers…

In our feeble defense, despite the microphone in his hand, Fred IS one scary-looking pig, complete with an “Eat Me” tattoo across his belly, a red Mohawk, a bad-ass, spiky dog collar around his neck, a nose ring, cut-off camouflage trousers and combat boots…

 

 

 

I was recently invited to attend a very chichi soiree. The type of do that requires me to dress like a proper girl, shove my hooves into torturous footwear and cover my head with... well... headgear. 

A hat was essential, because the presence of one on one's head was actually specified in the dress code portion of the invitation. 

After sending out a panicked e-mail to some female friends pleading for help in finding a fancy enough hat to wear to the event, Gmail used its algorithms to offer me the following morsel in the top ad spot of my mail the following morning: "Recycling tip: You can make a lovely hat out of previously-used aluminum (sic - American spelling) foil." 

Really, Google

In theory a tin foil hat sounds terrifically sparkly, sure, but I can't help but wonder if you weren't perhaps throwing a hint about my sanity there?


















about
is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
Or you can stalk her send her some love via e-mail at: redsaid[AT]gmail[DOT]com

The Wish List (Because yes, she really does need more how-to books. Honestly!)

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  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Terra: YES! Wait... you didn't think that I would be this possessed to post for NO REASON, did ya???... [go]
  • Terra.Shield : OH! ... [go]
  • Marco Author Profile Page: Be a bit like serving drinks at AA?... [go]
  • Marco Author Profile Page: I personally think it is a mindset that has been cultivated over the years, and one, if not stemmed,... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Ms. Crazy Cat Lady Pants!!! Squeeeee! Sooo good to see you! (I thought NO ONE was bothering to read ... [go]
  • Ms. Pants : Kitties don't get enough credit sometimes. (All times, if you ask me, but I'm a Crazy Cat Lady.)... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Hey Tamara! I know, right?? That is a tough act to follow indeed. I adored that dentist. He used to ... [go]
  • Tamara Tipton : Well, I am not sure how any dentist could live up to that standard! LOL! I hope your appointment was... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: I'm really really glad that I'm not the only one, Po! Sometimes I drive myself mad with all the what... [go]
  • Po : Those questions run through my heads for various times in my life too, that is for sure!... [go]
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