May the fourth be with you

I had a groovy birthday. Ruth made kick-ass oxtail for lunch, by way of celebration the next day, and I baked a cake. Many wished me happy birthday on FB. I was against FB for a very long time, suspicious and dismissive, reading all the conspiracy theories and other alarmist propaganda journalism literature. But I succumbed, and am happy that I did. FB reminds you about people’s birthdays – sometimes, and then I can wish them happy birthday in return. This is good. Sometimes you get a request for birthday info from a friend and the request turns out to be some app that demands all your information – email, phone, sexual-, medical- and institutional history, ID number, literacy level and whether or not you can make mayonnaise without a recipe, so I often just cancel the whole process half-way. It smacks of the rampant invasion of privacy that early sceptics warned about. I no longer wish to be reminded of that. Besides, now when I post, the link goes onto my FB page and then, sometimes, more than ten people read the blog.

But back to my birthday. I share the 4th of May with an unsurprisingly long list of people, but not many famous ones, which makes one wonder how Wikipedia decided who to include. Although, I guess if you were a Greek football fan in the 1970s, you might have known who Antonis Minou was. Robbie probably knows who he was, but I don’t think that makes him famous.  (No, Robbie IS famous.) Their general anonymity, on the other hand, is surprising because a large number of these people were actors and musicians. I was pleased to see that I shared a birthday with Audrey Hepburn and Pia Zadora. Better than Hitler, Wouter Basson or Britney Spears, I say. At the turn of the previous millennium there were a couple of heads of state, and in this millennium, one scientist, one mathematician, one trans-gender surgeon-pioneer,  one bishop and Hosni Mubarak. But mostly the list consists of artists, writers, sportsmen (no sportswomen, actually) and a couple of politicians. I am no exception to this rule. Like most of the people on it, I am also not famous. Which I think is OK. Famous people really have to watch the shit they write – just ask Helen Zille.

I am not going to muse more about turning older, except to say that I find it gets harder as you go along, mostly because of constant improvements in medical science and face creams. Combined with the current fashionable tendency to live healthier lives, innovation in these fields means that we are never ever going to be able to afford to retire: by the time we die the annuity would have been kaput for two decades or more. That stuff is expensive, as I am sure you know. Anyway. I had a good day. Thanks for the good wishes, and may we all turn a wonderful age this year.


Well, maybe

I have always been a great fan of the saying, “if you keep too much of an open mind, your brain will fall out”. I do not have many principles, but this aphorism has been useful and encouraging for at least a decade (I cannot remember when I first read it, but it feels like a decade ago) at the grindstone, so I have embraced it as such. Still, now, with age and other wrinkles at the corners of my eyes, another thought, or question, keeps niggling at me. How much is too much? How open is too open?

The question is not the result of idle speculation. I am not a philosopher, even though I sometimes wonder if my true love was that guy who thought I knew a lot about Nietzsche when I did not twenty years ago.  Of course I am not calling the demanding, even gruelling academic discipline of philosophy “idle speculation”. I have tried to read Thus Spoke Zarathustra a number of times since that first bunch of actual roses on Valentine’s Day, but have not managed, to this day, to live up to the expectations I created by randomly quoting cool-sounding adages. I think you know what I mean.

Anyway. I honestly believe that we get smarter as we get older. This is, of course, assuming that we were smart to start off with. Without some initial smarts, this theory is just a theory.

When I think of myself at seventeen I don’t feel a great fondness for a braver, more innocent and more energetic version of myself. There are glimpses of the bull-headed naiveté that made it possible for a small-town girl to make a 30-minute fiction film in a big city when she knew virtually nobody, but just thought it was possible to do so. There is no nostalgia in the act of looking back, only small moments of horror. It’s no sentimental journey, no sir, just trip to Cringeville: the details are too harrowing to go into here.

But I should not be so hard on myself, or in fact, young people in general. I turned out OK, you can take me anywhere, for sure, and just because I could read and write full sentences in two languages by the time I finished school, it does not make me better than the average high school graduate in a post-apartheid South Africa.

But back to the open mind. How open is too open? One of my other favourite quotes that I hesitate to use since the disappointing Nietzsche incident is by Albert Einstein: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. Although it is tempting for an exceedingly smart person to believe that the world is wrong and she is right (as a rule) eventually she must be overwhelmed by the volume and duration of idiocy she will be confronted during her lifetime, and she must see the sense in capitulation as a practical alternative to shuffling off the mortal coil in sheer exasperation. I exaggerate of course.

It will be hard to embrace the idea that in spite of knowing how the world should be, I should try to live in it as it is. That is – for me – incredibly open-minded. It may sound like a step in the the right direction, but even so, as I go, I think I will be holding my head. Just in case.

Losing it

When my brother Douw was a little (like six or seven, I think), and I was a teenager and constantly on diet, he once said to me… “I know how you can lose ten kilograms of ugly, useless fat overnight.” It was never going to be a solution to my utterly imagined but nonetheless ghastly obesity, but I had to ask, “How?”

“Cut off your head,” he giggled.

I reminded him of this when Jurie and I went to his wedding in Taiwan two years ago, and he thought it was at least as funny, then.

I have a vague notion* that I have started losing my mind.

On Monday I locked myself out of my flat at 07h00 and I had to wake up the caretaker to let me back in. The caretaker is about seventy and wears a sexy white see-through nightie. It was very traumatic. I could not stop saying how sorry I was and she tried so say it was not so bad but really she wasn’t looking at it from my point of view.

Yesterday I walked halfway between the parking lot and my office three times because I kept on forgetting things in the car. My access card, the books I wanted to return to the library, and once because I was sure I forgot to lock it.

In the afternoon I missed my writing class because:

  • I completely lost track of time, both of the day and the hour (I thought it was still Monday for most of the day, actually);
  • Even when I told people I could not make meetings, etcetera, because I had a class on Tuesday afternoon it did to register that THAT day, was indeed Tuesday; and
  • On the way to class, forty five minutes late, (my neighbour asked me, “Are you going to you studies?” when I was, in fact, going to gym, so I screamed off in the opposite direction) I convinced myself that there was no class on that particular Tuesday, so I turned around in the peak-hour traffic and came back home.

I did an extra 20 minutes on the bike to pay a penance of sorts.

Later Ruth phoned and in answer to the question “how are you” (early on in the conversation, as you can imagine) I spent 20 minutes telling her how I missed my class, what an idiot I felt and how I thought I was going nuts. “What? YOU?” she asked, in THAT tone of voice. I feel I should use the capitals here just to underline the fact that my best friend finds such behaviour in me incredibly surprising. “Stress,” she declared. “You are stressed.”

And then I think I spent another 20 minutes agreeing with her. (One can tell, I have decided, that I am stressed when I don’t update the blog for two or more weeks.)

So I forgave myself for the current flurry of madness, and resolved to no longer go about the place like an absolute airhead. I am smart and together and in control of my life. I am smart and together and… etc.

Today, however, I completely confused a member of my Reading the Media class with someone in my Investigative Journalism class, and did so in his presence, and unambiguously. “Margaret has been looking for you,” I said after we chatted for five minutes, and then Margaret walked past and I said to her, “Margaret, haven’t you been looking for Wale, here he is!” upon which they both looked at me like I had lost it and she said, “This  is not Wale.” And he said, “I am not Wale.” And then of course, I knew that he was not Wale. “That was unbelievably embarrassing,” I said to him and he was kind enough to point out that black people often also thought that all white people looked alike.

Which of course made me feel much better.

Anyway. I had a story to write so I had to get over the squirm pronto.

But driving home this afternoon I had to muse over the alarming events of the last few days. I wondered if I was in the grip of early-onset Alzheimer’s and/or menopause, and if anything could be done about it. Should I go to the doctor? And if he confirmed my self-diagnosis, how would that help? These conditions are not reversible and the former is incurable. And frankly, who can afford to get THAT sick these days? Would I have put stickers in my shoes that say, “Toes first?” Would I have to listen to a looped soundtrack that reminded me to “breathe in, breathe out?” Would I start putting stamps on faxes? Would I have to lose the blonde hair colour to hide my shame? At what stage, I wondered, should I shoot myself in the head in order not to be a burden on someone who would feel sorry for me? How long before I forget to do even that?

I didn’t think of these as dark thoughts, actually, I thought of them as practical ones. Really, who wants to be less than the sum of their whole memory? (Although I could really do with forgetting the last three days forever.)

And then, as I sat down at the computer at home and opened the web page of my food diary (I started keeping one as I could not FATHOM why it was impossible for me to lose the (#) kilograms I gained in the last three years – now I know, and it makes a difference) and something wonderful was revealed to me.

The little weight I lost in the last three weeks came from my brain. Except that it was, unfortunately, not “ugly useless fat”, but working brain tissue, which is unfortunate. On the brighter side, however, I am an exceedingly smart girl with brains to spare, so I am confident that regardless of the loss, it will require only a short period of adjustment and rewiring for my smarts to come back and then I will be thin AND clever.

If the “adjustment/rewiring” period is shorter than two weeks, it would have been totally worth it. If not, well, perhaps at some stage I may get used to being thin and an idiot and forget what a smart cookie I used to be.  As a bonus I will then also be sure to find a man who would want to marry me.

So, having discovered the reason for my current diminished capacity, I am relaxed enough to write a missive on the blog and clearly, for the moment, relatively stress free. It was Douw’s birthday on Sunday. Sometimes I miss him a lot.


* It is impossible for me to use this phrase without thinking of my best Calvin and Hobbes strip ever. Calvin meets Lucy at the school lockers, and he asks her, “What is it like being girl?” She is surprised. “What?” And he continues, “Is it like being a bug?” She is taken aback. “WHAT??” And then he explains: “I think both girls and bugs have a vague notion that nature has played a cruel trick on them, but they lack the intelligence to understand the magnitude of it.”

 Then of course she beats him up and he gets the last word in, “I must have put my finger on it.”

My all-time favourite, really.

A very good year

It was my friend Tony’s 50th birthday party tonight. It was at the Troyeville Hotel and he had a fantastic band called Them Particles. And I wore high silver heels and it was a little painful, but I shook my booty with great tentative vigour and felt like the almost tallest person in the room, which I was.

And now I am home. I feel the last, retreating waves of buzz from the evening, from seeing people I have not seen for ages, and in spite of the fact that I am sitting in the chaos of my own recent activity: books papers pieces of dress patterns fabric some pins overlocker sewing machine cotton reels more books still in the bags from Exclusives, I have a sense of order and… reason.

I wonder if it is natural that the significant and recent life-choices I have made should come back to tease me in the form of people I hardly remember meeting but who were embedded, somehow, in a universe that drove me crazy. And then I ask myself, what is natural these days? And really, does it matter? (I should write up my thoughts on In Defence of Food soon. But this is an aside.)

Tony made a great speech, based on Sinatra’s It Was a Very Good Year.

And quite rightly, he pointed out that on his way to… fifty, he did not have (passing seventeen) small town girls on the village green on soft summer nights. Neither did he know those city girls up the stairs with the perfumed hair that came undone when he was twenty-one. OR the independent girls in of independent means driven by drivers in limousines at thirty-five.

He was a bit indignant that the song stretched from “thirty five” to “vintage wine” without any additional possibilities that he might have lived up to, but he was funny, and people laughed, and after all, we bought the fact that fifty was a good vintage wine year.

Happy birthday to me

So I had a birthday.

Seeing that I do not have a real job, after my mother called at 07h00, I could stay in bed. I had some tea, I finished reading a novel. Then I made some calls about work.

I paid most of my outstanding bills, I negotiated with Julian (my neighbour above whose plumbing problems are causing fungus to grow on my bathroom wall) and his plumber, did some  actual work, made headway on the rewrite and styled a beetroot ring so that my incredibly talented little brother could take some photographs of it.

That was fun.

Then we went for lunch: same as last year – fish cakes and a bottle of Graham Beck Brut at FSH. (I think their fishcakes are gradually less and less spectacular).

Later I watched The Bank Job on DVD (honestly, get it, it’s fantastic). And Ruth I went out for dinner at Ciro’s. We saw some lesbians, and had a lovely chat with them on the way out.

I really do like getting older.

Minor surgery

It is inevitable, once you pass forty, that the image in the bathroom mirror will become a steadily ghastlier sight to behold every morning. All the healthy common sense in the world… in the universe… cannot prevent one’s thoughts from drifting to those magic words that offer possible solutions to this horrible inevitability. Botox… dermafillers… collagen injections… (and then, the most radical)… the face lift.

I will not be getting anywhere near these in the near future (I have the wrinkle iron, am in love with it, and it seems to be staying nature’s course), but I felt the clip needed and introduction.

Shit. It’s APRIL again already.

I am beginning to notice that I my preoccupation with time is more than just the average, casual unease of a woman who has turned forty without making millions or marrying a millionaire. Being neither in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease nor peri-menopausal (that word is so new it does not even exist in my Office 2007 spell check) the panic that the minutes in the day inspire in me whenever I must make a decision on how to spend them is inexplicable. In the back of my mind there is something vastly more important and lucrative to do in any given moment, and I can never quite remember what it is.

The fact is that since I have given up working for a weekly fee to pitch my lot in with freelance writers and other poor people, the fiscal value of 60 seconds has acquired new meaning. And it is agonizing. I hardly start doing something without thinking that I should be doing something else. Except when I am working on my masters, which I will return to as soon as I have finished writing 700 words for no money whatsoever. I think of my masters as a weird form of  punishment for resigning from a real job, and for the moment, not as something to improve my credit rating.

The past year has been one of both struggle and success. 

I managed to get stories published without the editor in question being a member of my circle or friends or my alma mater, but learnt that it is impossible to actually make a living writing as a freelance journalist for websites, newspapers and magazines. You also have to do some copy editing, some teaching, and slide back into the odd TV job just to keep yourself in Crabtree and Evelyn body butter.

I discovered that the adult WASP male is unadventurous in bed and both surprised and ridiculously pleased when a woman doesn’t just lie there.

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Barrel of fun

 First of all, I have to say that the Captain Morgan ad with the guys resting their feet on imaginary barrels of rum irritates the bejesus out of me. (I think that’s how you spell bejesus.)

Then, about the movie Hanging Up with Meg Ryan and Diane Keaton and the very funny stupid one from Friends… it’s a pretty good comedy. Sometimes, being from the Hollywood factory, it cannot help itself from slipping into moronity, but there are hilarious moments. Walter Matthau as the malicious, spiteful father is great.

Not being a sentimental person, the end irritated me almost as much as the Captain Morgan ad. The nasty father dying peacefully in his sleep and the sisters loving each other and getting over the sibling rivalry is neither realistic nor attractive. And the long skirt look on Meg was a serious fashion faux pas, although the witty hair I think almost made up for that. Diane Keaton had fantastic legs.

There is a great moment in the film when the cover of Georgia’s (Diane) magazine is revealed and in the picture she is sucking on what looks like a Cohiba Splendido and the caption is “Is 40 the new 30?”. I don’t know about 40-being-the-new-30. On the one hand I think it is true. I certainly feel thirty. (Ahem.) And with the wrinkle iron I don’t look… my age, but I don’t want to BE thirty (or thirty-five), I swear. The thought of living one single year longer than destiny has written for me in the stars is completely exhausting.

I love the cigar in the picture. I have not had one in years, but I loved them. Smoking ages you, you know.


“I suppose running a restaurant is not the same as retiring and never having to work again,” Ruth said. “No, too much work,” I replied. We sipped our wine. I could see that we were going to order some food soon.

“I think winning the lottery… the Euro Millions, means never having to work again,” I said then. I don’t even think that winning the Lotto, even if it was at like R7million, would mean never having to work again. Ruth had that look on her face. I had to revise. “Ok, but one would have to live carefully. I mean, we are going to live for another, like forty to fifty years.”

We ordered and talked about other things.