Not quite


It is that time of the year all right, and in spite of it being Monday, I am glad that it is. Only because I finished and dispatched my 3000 words to PP, and I only have one more programme to mix (code for “my work is just about done”) – tomorrow. So, it’s like being not quite on holiday,  which helps one cope with the end-of-year madness that would otherwise frustrate one if one still had serious work to do.

Like, for example, the fact that everybody and their aunt is forever out-of-friggen-office having a celebratory booze-up somewhere. Our little open-plan broom cupboard felt a like a tomb this morning – one where the corpse had come back to life and is off somewhere sucking the blood out of people with deadline stress. Not like me. Monday has never been so rosy.

In anticipation of this halcyon dream and because I have not seen them for ages, I had lunch with the girls at Ciro’s  yesterday.  I have not really been there much since my last birthday supper, perhaps three years ago, when the duck was dry, and Ciro unapologetically put it on the bill. Before that I went there regularly. Not anymore.

And yesterday I remembered why not. Look, it’s hard to find a better place to have good food under cool trees made cooler by that fine-mist cool-down spray contraption in the summer. The tables are prettily laid with cloth tablecloths and real serviettes. And mostly, Ciro’s food is still very good. Jacques says that Ciro makes the best risotto in Johannesburg after mine. (OK maybe he did not say that, but this is almost certainly the case.) But I do not think that the food in a restaurant that charges R110 for a starter that does not – at the very least – contain truffles and foie gras or Alaskan king crab, should be “mostly very good”. It should be consistently excellent, and Chiro’s is not.

I had the chicken, stuffed with couscous, crumbed with polenta and served with a delicious cream sauce of some kind (but not too much). The chicken had a great range of textures (the polenta really crisps on the outside) and was sufficiently full of flavour. I chose the chicken, perversely, because I knew the cost-to-labour ratio was low. I know how long  it takes to make little roulades out of chicken breast, to crumb them, and deep fry them.

By comparison, slapping a curry-like sauce on top of a piece of salmon is a one-hand-behind-your-back job.  And I did not like the salmon. I thought it was a waste of a good piece of fish, and other than the curry splat on the top, did not really taste like R175,00.  Ruth shared a bit with me, and she said she liked it. Jules, lactose intolerant, had pizza with prawns and capers. That was also excellent, not a crumb remained.

And  then it was time for pudding. I ordered the tarte tatin and Jules the crème brulee. Ruth likes to share when it comes to dessert. The crème brulee had separated: none of that silken, dense, melt-in-your-mouth vanilla custard stuff. I took us quite a long time to get someone to take it away, and by then the bit where we dipped our spoon was looking quite watery, as if you added some scrambled egg to dishwater. The tarte tatin was a pleasant apple-tart kind of a thing, but not quite a tarte tatin, which, as we all know, has golden, deeply caramelised apples, rich and moist, on top of a crisp pastry. To see what a beautiful mini tarte tatin should look like, go here. Or even  here. What a beautiful tarte tatin looks like is no mystery.

Ciro’s version is more like  a small stack of sweet, pale, slightly dry slices of unpeeled apple on op top of a crisp pastry. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the pastry. It was served with some custard, and it was, as I said, a pleasant apple-dish-thing.

I felt vindicated, a little, that we took our own bottle of bubbly. (Has anybody noticed that when you take your own MCC to a restaurant that they always give you the most amazingly cheap glasses?)

I know Ciro’s is very popular in spite of the dazzling price tag, but I suspect, nay, FEAR, that the bulk of Johannesburgers may not always have palates equal to those of our snotty compatriots of the mountain. There really is no other explanation.

Anyway. I am off to PE on Thursday, where I will practice mini tarte tatins in my mother’s kitchen and put pictures on the blog.

Aluta Continua.

According to the Daily Maverick this morning, most people spend 12 minutes every Monday complaining. Just saying.


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.

And foie gras

You know, I really hate to go on and on about Hayibo, but today’s illuminating (and relieving, I promise) piece on Mrs Zille’s “wild whore libido” really made me think twice about applying for that SAPPI job in Nelspruit.

I spent some time this morning with the guys, trying to instil in them valuable production tools such as the twin principles of Independent Thought  and Common Sense as entry-level operational devices. Then I came home.  Mary was here so I put a lovely pot of lentil soup on the stove. While it was cooking,  I proof-read a chapter of a book chronicling the history and likely future of the Great South African Education Debacle. So far so good.

Then we ate. And in that moment I had a real longing for a time when I could drive to Corné Delicatessen just outside Alexandra to pick up a lobe of foie gras and marinate it in black pepper and cognac and poach it in a bain marie and have it with a some baguette and wooded Chardonnay. Look, of course the lentil soup was good, but sometimes practical food really bores me. Oh! The thought of something so spectacular…

So, honestly, by 15h00 the day had already been a crap one.

The thought of the foie gras did inspire me to make a concerted job-search effort, which is when I came upon the SAPPI vacancy, where the “focus will be on providing an efficient Public Affais (sic) service to Ngodwana Mill, Nelspruit – Mpumalanga”. It was instantly attractive. I had not seen the papers today, being so caught up in the joys of underpaid economic activity and so on. But I glanced at the IOL headlines and would-you-believe-it, Mrs Zille and the ANCYL were right up there. That, and the lentils, and the production principles, really just made me wish I could run away to place not even remotely connected with what we reasonably experience as reality.

SAPPI’s suggestion to “conduc[t] communications training, managing and improving exiting (sic) communications conduits (sic) as well as the management and publication of in-house newsletters and communique’s, (sic) the production of publicity material, local press relations (sic) and representing the Mill (sic, I think you get it now) at external events…” was incredibly appealing.

I ran this thought past Boris (we had a quick catch-up on IM) and did not, even when he reminded me that Ngodwana usually smells like a decomposing pack animal, stop twiddling the idea in my head.

What IS this indulgent and determined connection to the sordid every-day morass of Johannesburg and its culture, and its people, and its childish fixation with impeccable grammar? (Okay, maybe that is not a Jozi thing, maybe it’s just a my-life-in-Jozi-thing. But perhaps you understand what I mean.)

And then I read Hayibo, and laughed out loud. They sometimes struggle to finish properly, a little like your average guy-over-45-on-viagra, but today’s issue was faultless. Really. Go there. Things turn rose-coloured at the click of a mouse.

I wonder if they write from Cape Town.  I wonder if that is far enough removed.

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.

Way retro chocolate fridge cake

I just realised that in the “love your smile” Dentyne ad, there are almost only white people. It has a cast of about 20, and I think there may be one coloured girl in the “group photo” scene on a beach.  And the cop may have been black, but it is impossible to be sure unless you have PVR. Any clarification would be appreciated. The overall impression is white, though. Was it shot in this country?

It’s very retro for us, that. We had happy lifestyle commercials depicting a homogenous, colour-free society long before 1994, or even 1990. Lies lies lies, my art teacher confirmed to our rosy-cheeked, if not necessarily -spectacled, class somewhere in the middle 80’s, staying our brushes and alarming our futures.

The commercials in which mothers-and-daughters do merry bake-offs (have you noticed how they STILL recycle those – clearly AI (the ad industry) only has sporadic inspiration from its master) was not something that really resonated with me. In my mother’s eyes, the microwave was a gift sent directly to her kitchen from God, and we rarely had a meal that was cooked in more than ten minutes.  Not that this was necessarily bad. She made, for example, a chocolate oil cake in this very microwave that was truly heavenly – or truly evil, if you like. My mother understood the dangers of the “devil’s food” lurking in a tin of cocoa. She passed on both this knowledge and the understanding that it is imperative to ignore it.  Even so, she no longer makes this legendary cake, which really is a pity.

I guess, in the light of this, it makes sense that the only actual recipe that I managed to take with me when I moved into digs without a microwave was for something she called sjokolade yskaskoek.  The recipe was in a little blue book. I am not sure why I think that a chocolate fridge cake is retro. Maybe because while it is ridiculously easy to make, it is decadent in the extreme. Also, it does not require a single ingredient that you could not find at the shop at the garage, (Thrupps… what?) most notably, two packets of marie biscuits. I think that is it. In this country, anything with marie biscuits is retro. At a time in my student life when I called myself a vegetarian, I survived on slap chips and salad rolls from Bambi’s, toasted sandwiches from Kaif, beer, and chocolate fridge cake.

(Okay, I exaggerate. I did get dinner at the Cathcart Arms when I was on shift, and I did walk to my parents’ for lunch from time to time.)

So here is the recipe:

  1. A cup of butter (it looks like about 250g)
  2. A cup of sugar (250ml)
  3. 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  4. 2 tablespoons of cocoa
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 2 packets of marie biscuits

 Melt the sugar in the butter over low heat. If you make sure the sugar is melted, it will be better, but it’s not imperative. Add the two tablespoons of cocao, stir in until dissolved. Take off the heat. Add the vanilla. Lightly beat the eggs, add to the hot cocoa mixture. The eggs might cook – this is good, I think.

Crunch up the two packets of biscuits roughly. Stir in. You are going to think that two packets are too many but they are not. You will make a very thick, sticky mess. Keep on mixing until the biscuits are covered in the cocoa.

Butter a dish with a low – 5cm-ish – rim. If you choose a round/oval one, you can eat all the off-cuts when you eventually portion the cake into squares, and that, like, doesn’t count.  Press the mixture firmly in. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, until firm.  (It gets very very firm. You may want to portion it before it is completely set.) Cut in squares and eat. Even though it is hard, try to share and not to eat everything in one day because one does get quite sick.

Too little too late

It is not a good thing when Friday inspires the kind of dread in you that is only matched by dreaming that you need to run away from terrible danger and you cannot feel your legs.

It is already after lunch, I am going for drinks at Giles at 4.30-ish, and I aim to squeeze in a session at the gym before I go (on account of the fact that I have become enormously fat since I turned 40 and alcohol consumption is simply one area of my diet where I cannot reduce my calorie intake because whisky makes me feel better than chocolate).

That leaves me 45 minutes in which to completely plan a two-day TV shoot next weekend, make a sizeable dent in the reading I have to do for my assignment due on the 9th, prepare for class next Thursday, write a blog and speak to Barbara about holding the fort while she goes away next week. Fortunately I read all the TV documentary treatments for the mentorship progamme this morning, or I really would have had a lot to do.

This is clearly ridiculous. What can anybody achieve in 45 minutes? Forty-five minutes cannot possibly claim to be AN ACTUAL amount of time, honestly. Nothing meaningful can be achieved in its duration. In fact, things you can do in 45 minutes should not make it into the history books and probably not even onto the list of things you will remember when you are old.

For example, it is barely enough time to have impromptu sex on the dining room table, if there was anybody around to have such sex with. I could call someone, but he is likely to promise to be “five.. six minutes”, and only arrive an hour later after continually swearing on the phone that he is “on his way” and “already in Parkhurst”.

I suspect that randomly available 45-minute instalments in the course of the average day is the reason why Continue reading

The end of the world all over again

It was like Armageddon. No, really. It was just like the movie. A meteorite the size of Table Mountain (as opposed to the size of Texas*) hit a huge inland lake around the area where Vredefort is now about three thousand million years ago.

The effect was that of multiple atom bombs going off. It was Hiroshima, but vastly more destructive. Some rock shattered, some melted, of some only powder remained. The meteorite made a hole 90 kilometres wide, and radically shifted the crust of the earth in concentric circles another 200 kilometres in diameter beyond that.

In spite of the fact that the rock landed in the water, the dust fallout from the impact covered the atmosphere of the entire planet, and remained there for four years.

In the cold darkness most plants died, then the herbivores died, and then the carnivores died. The only cold blooded animal that survived was the crocodile, which, apparently, is amazing. Some small rodents and other warm blooded minutiae made it as well.

There was a sort-of-an ice age, long before life as we know it existed.

A thousand million years later, almost the same thing happened in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. Bam wham thank you m’am, and life as it was, was over, again. There have been other such events. And I think one can reasonably assume that there will more.

A recent BBC documentary made the point that, as human beings, we are not actually busy destroying the earth. We are simply making it uninhabitable for our own race. Regardless of the consequences of our actions the earth will be here, and it would seem, absolutely fine, long after we have gone. The natural disasters that the earth, and life on it, have survived WAY surpass anything we can concoct by not recycling glass and plastic in a world economy driven by fossil fuels.

(Just out of interest, at this juncture, is anybody other than me impressed by the fact that you can score more carbon brownie points by simply eating local brie than by eschewing the driving of a gas guzzler? Continue reading


“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.