Parallel universe

Okay,  somewhere in between the weekend in the bush, the period during which my brain stopped working (Monday afternoon/Tuesday), the all-nighter getting my essay in and the restless night in my niece’s bed before hunting-weekend I have entered a parallel universe. It is a very strange place.

I have attributed the low-level depression I have felt in the last few days to lack of sleep and lack of an immediate long-term employment prospect, but now I suspect I might be suffering from the alienating effects of culture shock. Everything is slightly surreal, but I think now that I understand the cause of this perception discord I may be able to snap out of it in, oh, the next few months or so.

For example… right now I am sitting at a table in the far end of Doppio Zero in Rosebank, in that little area with the two sliding doors that create a private dining room of sorts. I am here because I needed electricity for the laptop, I had a few hours of work to do, I was famished and was tired from walking around a museum for two hours. I ordered beer and bruschetta with hummus and roasted peppers. It was delicious, and I started working.

Behind me there were two very French looking women speaking French. I absolutely love the sound of the language, and I never hear it without renewing my resolution to learn. The Italians are less fond of it: some guy called Cesare once told me that “French is like a man speaking with a woman in his mouth.”

Well, as a woman I can only say that the sound of it is lovely. Make a note to yourself there, Cesare.

But back to Doppio. My blood sugar levels rose, I was busy, I had soothing incomprehensible conversation in the background. The girls left, the battery ran out and instead of plugging in right there, I moved to the table that they had vacated, to the very back of the restaurant.

On the tablecloth was a film of very fine, short black filaments. It looked as if someone had a quick trim… of sorts. I found it slightly incredible that the waiters would be doing their grooming in the restaurant, as opposed to the bathroom on the opposite end, but there was no real mistaking the fibres on the white cloth.  I wondered if this happened after the women left, or if they simply did not notice. I toyed with the idea that I might be imagining things. I was not offended, at this point, just slightly curious. As I was not going to eat, and not being the squeamish type, I plugged in and sat down. On the other side of the window the grey, sunless afternoon turned to early evening, the streetlights came on the red lights of traffic and cars gave the street a little colour. There was the distinct feeling of the change in shift. A whole new bunch of people streamed in, popping into the kitchen before peering at me around the curtain.

I was beginning to feel slightly irritable, when I realised that right behind me, against the wall, was a wall unit in which the staff obviously stored their bags, and that my presence at the table, at that time of the evening, was inconvenient for them. They seemed to make a different plan, and I ignored the slightly exasperated stares. The guys going home had no choice, however, but to mumble an apology and get their stuff. One guy was very sweet – he squeezed his bulk in behind me, took his bag and jacket out of the unit, dressed and packed before he shuffled off. In that moment it was not inconceivable that, before going home, he might well pull a comb through his hair before stepping into the street. I asked my waiter for another beer, and to change the table cloth, which he did. Ten minutes later another guy hovered for a second before squeezing past. This one, a new arrival, took time to peel off his top layer, pack it in his bag, store his stuff and tie on an apron.

“Excuse me,” I said. “If you have to get dressed, please do it in the bathroom.” He ignored that and ducked. 

It is the parochialism of the act, I think, that made me feel slightly divorced from the world. In a restaurant, where people cook, serve and eat food, one would imagine that personal grooming, especially the kind that leaves behind swathes of DNA, would be expressly forbidden in an area where customers are served.

Now I look at the table and I wonder if it really happened. It hardly gets more bizarre, I think.

Short cuts #1: good advice

# 1 Standard Wank

Earlier this afternoon I wished I had one of those T-shirts that Justin Nurse made, and which him made so unpopular with Standard Bank. I discovered today that they have been allowing an unknown person/entity (not MWeb, because I checked my account with them, and although they will also be losing my custom in the next 18 months or so, did not appear to be culpable here) to charge a monthly debit order against a credit card account that has been closed for more than two years. According to my statement I paid twice for my 3G/HSDPA contract this month.

I felt deeply injured, furious, in fact, and was determined to be satisfied, preferably in a duel to the death with someone from their customer service department. Weapons? Bare hands. I ranted on the phone, using terms and phrases such as “protection for the consumer inherent in the FICA regulations” and “ABSOLUTELY no proof of ANY such agreement between myself and the third party” and “isn’t there a banking ombud? There should be, because I have a story to tell him”. It was all at least as emotional as it sounds.

It took a perfectly reasonable woman called Venice (not like in Italy, but pronounced like Denise with a V), only a few hours of digging to discovered that MWeb had not been double-charging me. Since I knew that already, this nearly aggravated me even more. “This is absolutely certain,” Venice said, and it was hard not to throw down a glove. Turned out, however, that MWeb HAD been charging the old account and that “someone in the bank has been transferring the cost manually to the new account” but neglected to transfer a credit for the debited amount this month… or something like that.  Nothing is simple in banking. That’s why they drive their customers crazy. She sounded a little like that SABC journalist reporting from KZN during the ’94 elections who said, “somewhere, votes are being counted” after a couple of boxes went astray. Anyway. Venice also said she was going to credit my account, but will I phone MWeb and change the banking details? Which I did. All sorted out. So I had no beef with SB in the end, but I did get very worked up, which was exhausting.

# 2 Black dog

So after the extremely tiring event of sorting out my credit card statement, the black dog came, mainly because I actually had to look at said statement and realised that I was in quite a bit deeper than I thought. I must have suspected this all along, which would explain why I have been igorning it in the first place.  It was not only that, probably. I worked hard on my essay, I finished at 5.30 on Thursday morning, slept, woke up at one and proof-read it before I dropped it off. All good, one could argue. But it has been such a protracted and intensive event that I should have expected the Big Dip. I am going to make a new page and call it “Academe” and put that stuff there. Just so that you don’t think I am making all this shit up.

# 3 Europe’s funniest commercial

Unfortunately for the black dog Mandy sent me this… which cheered me up enough to pour myself a gin.

 # 4 Good advice to self

1. Check credit card statement every month. It is empowering and can save money.

2. Cancel party dates when it is cold and preferable to stay on the couch and watch the e-tv Friday night action flick.

3. Remebember never to have children. Be especially wary around folks who have very cute and well-behaved kids.  They can easily dupe you into thinking that all children are like that.

On writing

I was once friends with a sweetie-actor called Evan Klisser. This was many years ago, when I just moved to Johannesburg and was still figuring out how to get into the film industry. Evan referred me to my first ever crew agent. Now that I think about it, he may have a helluva lot to answer for.

But I guess I did really dream of being a film director back then. Considering that at the time I also wanted to have many (5-6) children with a man who adored me and whom I regarded as my absolute equal, I can be only grateful that a woman is allowed to change her mind about anything whenever she pleases. Although on that last one it was not so much a case of changing my mind. It simply turned out to be yet another example of how Theory and Practice, like Mars and Venus, are usually different planets.

The reason I am thinking about Evan today is he had a passion for writing, and was the first person who told me that “a writer must write every day.” Which is why I am here, I think. To write every day.

The problem with “writing every day” is that one has to suck both witticisms and wisdom of quality out of one’s goddamn finger, and express these in original English. On a daily basis, it becomes an extremely laborious process. Sometimes one just does not feel witty or wise. And NOBODY likes a moaner. So there I would be, in my best Polly-Anna, trying to whip up something entertaining for the netball team who reads my blog. And myself, of course. One could argue that all jobs have a slog-element to them. There are very few professions that do not require some paperwork, so to speak.

I look at other blogs, 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

Happy fucking new year

I once read that Gabriel Byrne also wrote, and that he found the sight of an empty page in the typewriter (yes, that long ago) intimidating. Or depressing. Or something, either way, not good.

(Look, a whole paragraph.)

When I decided that I could make a living as a writer, and be free (more important than the actual profession, I suspect) there were many things that I wanted to write about. Now it seems all a lot of hooey. (I think hooey is a word.) Last year the world was more absurd, more acerbic, brasher…. funnier. Bolder, even. It inspired a desire to comment on its quirks. What happened between January and February this year, hell only knows. But it was not good either.

It was a little depressing to be told by one of the publications that DID take my stuff without fiddling with it too much that they are cutting down on freelance submissions. That might have had something to do with… whatever happened. But a simple “maybe” is hardly enough to flick the big switch at the end of the tunnel, and plunge the whole damn road into darkness. Feels dark, whatever it is, so I thought Betty Noire would be a good nom de blog… fun, but black. And with stockings and suspenders.

Having decided on a route forward, the trick, however, was to start writing again. Like I used to, for the hell of it, for the real joy of saying whatever I want in as many words as I think I need. To use Capitals where I see Fit in the Middle of sentences, to never employ the exclamation mark in a text unless Somebody was talking, to refrain from underlining words for emphasis, and to generally do as I damn well please, seeing how damn happy that makes me.

So this is a start. Thanks Gabriel. I thought of the article about him after I had spent an hour screwing around in my new blog space, changing my “theme”, wondering what “categories” would suit me, or at the very least, inspire me to write.

A thought on inspiration: Dirk Bogarde, another thespian whose relationship with words extended well beyond learning his lines, wrote a wonderful description of his muse while he was working on his first book, or autobiography, and trying to save his newly acquired olive grove in the south of France from drowning at the same time. She was a sulky bitch who crouched in the shadows and refused to yield a single idea unless he dragged her into the light by her hair and beat her within an inch of her life. Or something like that.

It’s how I remember it. It was also something I read very long ago, when I still took books out of the Melville library. (Now I think if I just manage to read all the books I have on my shelf, and never buy any new ones, I will have lived well past a hundred.)

But enough about inspiration, and back to writing. I have written nothing other than e-mail this year, and have had one idea for a story, which I am not going to end up doing any time soon if the local paper and its economic crisis has anything to do with it. (I am pleased that I have alternative methods of earning an income.) Still, I think I can get over the rejection.

“If you want to write, write.” This was Advice for Men, in one of those little books they sell lieu of sour space worms and wine gums at the Exclusive Books checkout. I often wondered if Advice for Women included “if you want to stab your faithless, cheating, son-of-a-bitch lover in the heart when you know he is lying to you, rather have a shot of tequila and throw his collection of vintage Batman comics out the window.” But there was a queue behind me so I moved along, and now I will never know.

Tonight was the 3rd or 4th time that I have taken the “writing” advice all over again, and I suspect it will not be the last time. It’s OK. I look at the page and it is no longer empty, and even in that there is a little triumph.

Finally. Happy fucking new year.