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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. 

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… 

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! 

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. 

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.
*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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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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