Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Biltong

As per my title, I'm enjoying the local food - while keeping one eye on my waistline. You get the fattest, juiciest, most delicious Calamata olives here, and you'd think that being in London we could import olives like that from Greece or Italy, or wherever they grow them - but I have yet to find ones as good as these. Saying that, Mags and I had a hard time finding fresh basil today - something we take for granted back home, and eventually we struck gold in the South African version of Marks & Spencers, which they call Woolworths here.
Still no rain, and everything is so very dry - dry and hot. For selfish reasons the weather is a relief from cold and wet London, but it's not very good news for people living here - especially the farmers.

Tomorrow morning Chantell and I are off to have facials - at a fraction of the cost I pay in London, and in the evening we are going to see Nathaniel again. She loves this performer, but I struggle to keep up with the Afrikaans bit of the show (he does it in English too) which is fast and filled with cultural references I am no longer privy to. I was never very good at speaking the language, and now that I haven't spoken it in nearly 10 years, it's bordering on non-existent. I can still understand basic things, but more complex vocabulary is lost on me.

My dad hated the fact that I was so bad at the language - as he was perfectly bilingual and able to speak both English and Afrikaans, switching imperceptibly from one to the other without a trace of the others' accent. He told me, with a disgruntled look on his face, that I spoke Afrikaans like an Englishman - which for some reason always secretly pleased me. Now that I am older I appreciate what a skill it is to be able to speak languages without an accent, and am told that Parisians have been known not to respond when you attempt their language with an overt English or American accent. Personally I've never had this experience, but then again my French is so basic it consists of mainly 'please' and 'thank yous' that only the most hardened Frenchman wouldn't acknowledge - if only out of pity.

Today I tried changing my flight to one day later, and the woman at Virgin told me in a clipped tone that the flight I wanted was full. When I asked if I could upgrade with airmiles she sounded annoyed and told me that there were no air mile upgrades available either. She sounded angry, and being a woman I took it personally and got off the phone feeling a bit upset. Why is it that some of the most maladjusted angry individuals seek out public-facing jobs? I can never quite understand that. There's no need to gush, but simple politeness never hurt anyone. In fact this world would be a richer place if people employed simple manners and a polite attitude.

I am learning a lot from my niece and nephew, and thank god they both seemed to have skipped the passive aggressive gene that runs in my family. My mother made a poor joke to my niece about her not wanting pudding because she was on a diet, thinking it funny because she so obviously didn't need to go on a diet - being a skinny 13-year-old and all. But as we all know, you never, ever, talk about a teenage girls's weight even to point out how slim she is. Lauren, who is not even three yet, responded to my mother in a stern little tone, "Don't say that, that's a mean thing to say." My mother was embarssed and stunned into silence.

I beamed at her - what an assertive little girl to be able to tell someone off for making an inappropriate comment - and how astute to be able to notice that it was inappropriate in the first place. My mother was not impressed - in her generation children who speak like that are being cheeky, but I quickly added that I thought assertion was a good thing to learn from a young age, as I still often become mute with shock when someone is rude to me, and then stew over things later when the moment to retort is long gone. My mother only glared at me, which reminded me that I got called cheeky quite a bit myself when I was a kid.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Send in the rain

So the Oscars - well done Helen Mirren. I started watching 'The Queen' on the plane, but I kind of got bored - not because of her performance, but I guess I just didn't find the content particularly gripping. Saying that, I also started watching 'Snakes on a plane,' but when a snake flew at a women and bit her on her bare breast (she was having sex with her boyfriend in the loo), I decided it required a bit too much suspension of disbelief.

I'm in South Africa at the moment, and they are having a heat wave. Whereas in the UK we can't get enough of the bloody rain, here they are praying for it. Everything is dry, and even the ants are in search of water, and are particularly drawn to the guest loo - my loo. In the morning the toilet bowl resembles a mass watery grave - packed with drowned ants.

Today we were driving along the motorway, and I saw a man systematically throw the debris from his lunch out of his moving vehicle onto the side of the road. A cardboard Kentucky Fried Chicken box, followed by two empty cans of coke. Looking at the side of the road it occurred to me that this sort of thing happens a lot around here.

Littering is one of those things, much like nose picking, that I cannot abide. Nose picking, you may argue, is a habit that doesn't really affect other people - except of course those unfortunate souls, such as myself, that happen to witness someone doing it and have a reflexive need to vomit on the spot. It's ghastly, disgusting, and unpleasant, but unless that person is going to shake your hand, or handle a rail on the tube or buss (which happens all to often), it's not really something that effects the rest of us.

But littering - well, it's just one of those things that strikes me as not only incredibly inconsiderate, but also indicative of someone who doesn't give a shit about the environment which they live in and share with the rest of us, and on a bigger scale, the planet. There's a certain sense of conservation that you'd hope would be instinctive to people, but sadly this is not the case.

When someone litters I have this insane desire to pick up their rubbish, follow them home, and then throw all that crap onto their lounge floor. And when they look at me like I am mad and ask me what the hell I'm doing, I'll respond 'The same thing you are doing by throwing your shit all over the streets.'

In case you missed it, here are People's best dressed photos from the Oscars.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dune bashing

Before I continue, there is something I've been meaning to write about for ages - it counts as one of my pet peeves when travelling:

Moving walkways in airports - the operative words here being 'moving' and 'walk' - are there to help you cover longer distances within an airport quicker, while walking and being in motion. You'll be amazed at the amount of eejits who use them as, I don't know, escalators. They stand there - and not just there - but in the middle of the thing, so you, the person who is walking brusquely along it as you should, cannot get past. Grrrrr. It goes a long way to explaining why there is an obesity epidemic in this day and age. God forbid anyone actually use the legs god gave them and walk somewhere.

Our 'English Patient' experience in the desert had me feeling more like an A&E patient to begin with. Our concierge failed to mention that all the lovely romantic dining and camel riding in the desert would be preceded by something called 'dune bashing'. I should have known that trouble lay ahead by the way our boy-racer driver, Dojeeb (written phonetically), appeared to disregard the basic rules of the road en route. I gripped the sides of the seat as he sped past camels and bits of desert brush as I tried (in vain) to take a series of what turned out to be blurred atmospheric shots. I reasoned he'd get us to our desert camp and we'd be rid of him soon enough, so I tried not to worry about it. Oh, how very wrong I was.

Once we entered the desert - a particularly hilly dune-filled part, he told us and our two companions to fasten our seat belts for a spot of dune bashing. Like us they had no idea we'd be doing it, but all four of us dutifully ensured we were strapped in, and braced ourselves.

Dojeeb turned up the Arabic techno he was playing in the car, and then along with about 10 other accumulated 4x4's (packed with tourists such as ourselves) proceeded at breakneck speed to test the absolute angles at which a Toyota can skim the edges of impossibly steep sand dunes without flipping over. This included driving nose first down almost vertical drops into what appeared to be our certain doom, before he'd level up, stamp on the gas, and we'd be careening around another bend.

Rollercoaster doesn't quite describe it, because on a rollercoaster you have the vague (and perhaps misplaced) assurance that the whole apparatus is built to withstand such contrived danger. Looking over at Dojeeb and the maniacal glint in his eye as he drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other - occasionally handling the gears, occasional floating in mid-air - well, I wasn't so sure. 'This is real life not an amusement ride,' I thought, 'we are going to die.'

The nightmare lasted for an hour and a half, during which we had three or so breaks to vomit or take pictures. On one such break I asked Dojeeb how long one had to train before becoming a desert driver of this sort, and he replied that it depended on the person - some took six months, others ... , and at this point he shook his head as if to indicate some just didn't make it.

I wasn't sure if by this he meant they didn't have what it took, or if these unfortunate souls had died trying. "If you are scared, you cannot do this kind of driving," he said with a solemn, and somewhat proud look on his face. He didn't mention that insanity, and a blatant disregard for the safety of one's passengers and oneself were most likely the other overriding requirements, but he didn't have to.

Had I been a kid, I would have loved it. And I reckon there are a lot of adults who love it too - it is kind of thrilling. But our concierge didn't tell us we were doing it, so we weren't prepared. We also weren't asked basic safety questions such as: Are you pregnant? Do you have a bad back? Do you dislike the taste of vomit? etc. These are pretty important things to ask someone before putting them into a situation like that.

But ultimately we weren't hurt, and it was kind of well, fun's not the right word - an experience. Also, Dojeeb and his ilk seem to be well trained for it - those are some serious off-road driving skills. The Toyota's they use also appear to be large well-balanced vehicles built to withstand a fair amount of punishment - I'm just not sure I was.

Later, on a lot less frightening note, I got my wish and we rode on a camel - and that was a real treat. The advice I was given by Louise rang true - you have to hold on tight because those buggers lurch forwards and then backwards as they stand up, and you have to be careful you don't topple forwards over their heads.

Dinner in the large desert camp was amazing - really good food prepared on the barbecue with lots of Eastern dishes like houmus, oven bread, and the most delicious potato salad I've ever had. Along with about 60 other people - mostly Hong Kong tourists for some reason, I can't exactly describe it as intimate and romantic, but it was fun. The belly dancing entertainment was fantastic too, and she managed to get most of us up on the central dance area for the last number.

It was a genuinely enjoyable way to spend an afternoon and evening - barring the dune bashing thing. If you go to Dubai, I highly recommend it as a way of experiencing something other than the beaches and the shopping, which, if we are honest, one can do anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Photos from our desert safari in Dubai

We're back in London. I wrote a long post this evening, but I'm so knackered (it's four hours ahead in Dubai), that reading it back it made no sense. So until tomorrow, when hopefully all brain cells will be firing instead of just half, here are some photos from Dubai.

The incredible belly dancer


Dune bashing (not for the faint hearted)


Sunset in the desert


I finally get to have my camel ride. Poor Robert had a headache
(read more tomorrow about dune bashing to identify the cause).


While Robert chatted to one of our dinner companions, I got into the
swing of the evening and tried on the local dress ...


then I went over to where we were sitting and stood at the table
until he looked up at me from his conversation.

The dialogue went something like this:
Robert: (Looking at me in a somewhat odd manner) Um, hello ...?

Me: Hello
Robert: (Looking increasingly uncomfortable) Um, yes ...?"
Me: Hey honey - what do you think?
Robert: Jesus Christ, it's you Lucille! I had no idea.
Me: Yes it is, and leave Jesus out of it.

This second picture is a bit odd. I guess it's the cultural strangeness of what appears to be a very western-looking man embracing a somewhat uncertain-looking Muslim woman. I don't know why I look like that - I was quite happy actually. Maybe it's the fact that my face is hidden and you can't see my expression.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hello from Dubai

This place is an architect's dream, or nightmare, depending on what school you belong to. It's packed with amazing futuristic-looking skyscrapers, and where there are no buildings, there's construction going on. Not much greenery - which makes it feel a bit, I don't know, lifeless somehow.

We visited the Gold Souk yesterday - well one of them, which was like Aladdin's cave - back to back shops selling the most extraordinary-looking gold and diamond jewelry. One of the shop owners, a Russian man, told us that there is no import duty, tax, or 'Russian Mafia' to inhibit trade here, and gold is bought by weight, with the result being that things are a lot lot cheaper than back in London and most other Western cities. In between you have to avoid all the chaps who come up to you and offer 'Copy watches, Louise Vuitton handbags, and sunglasses' - basically the kinds of knock-offs you get in Hong Kong. We kept saying 'no, no, no thank you, no.' I felt a bit insulted - I mean, did I look like the sort of person who couldn't afford the real thing? OK, don't answer that.

By the way - big mistake going to the Souk in a knee-length dress, teamed with fair hair . I was openly stared at from start to finish. Not sure if I was a novelty, or my appearance was offensive.


We asked our concierge what we could do to have an authentic experience for this country, and he and the chap next to him simultaneously chimed 'Desert Safari.' Being from Africa, I immediately responded with: 'What animals do you see?' And he looked at me like I was an eejit, and said that we get taken out into the desert where we have a traditional dinner by campfire with traditional dancing, and we get to wear 'traditional dress.'

All my friends know my (annoying to some) love of dress-up, so I am looking forward to that immensely. We will also get to ride on camels - which is another one of those things I've always wanted to do. I have an 'English Patient' kind of fantasy going, though I'm hoping to god there are no Nazi's, plane crashes, or starving to death in a cave. Robert is hoping there will be no Ralph Fiennes.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Baby you can drive my car - well almost

I had my first driving lesson in 10 years today, and my first ever on English roads. My instructor, an upbeat Asian man by the name of Johnny, boasts a 90 percent pass rate. I said to Robert, "Yeah well, he hasn't met me yet."

I went along and made it abundantly clear that I had not been behind the wheel in 10 years. And even when I was learning how to drive all those years ago, I warned, I wasn't particularly good - except at clipping pavements that is. I also pointed out that I was extremely nervous back then, and accompanied this by some convincing jaw clenching to emphasize that this was still the case.

But most importantly, I told him that I didn't know what to do when I came to a roundabout, because we don't have those in South Africa. There are loads of roundabouts here in the UK, and the system relies on the fact that people drive in a civil, considerate, and law-abiding way. This would never work in South Africa. In fact roundabouts would result in even greater instances of road rage, where the driving motto seems to be 'Each man/woman for him/herself' or 'Die muthaf*ka die.'

Anyway, I digress. So I was pretty clear about the fact that I had no idea what I was doing, was pathologically frightened, and that it would probably just be safer for him, me, and the English population as a whole if we just called the whole thing off and put it down to a bad idea.

Well Johnny was having none of it. He drove me to a quiet spot in Camden, got me behind the wheel and assured me I'd be fine. We went around the block a couple of times at a snails pace with me gripping the steering wheel as though I'd recently experienced shock therapy. Eventually I felt myself growing in confidence, which translates into experiencing feelings of terror, as opposed to ones of abject terror.

By 4.30pm (with a few sneaky directions from Johnny) I was driving down Camden high street - in back-to-back rush hour traffic, with a few punks and pierced jay-walkers thrown in for good measure. I tried not to get too phased by all the cars and the jaywalkers, and just kept driving up to Primrose Hill and then on to St John's Wood. Here I was reminded that his driving school would prefer that I didn't ding any hugely expensive parked sports cars.

After a bit more driving around in this area to teach me left-hand and right-hand turns (including one roundabout), I drove us back home again. The old pavement clipping tendecy tried to rear it's ugly head, but Johnny nipped it in the bud. "You don't need to turn the wheel that much Lucille - we want to drive on the road, not the pavement."

Johnny is a very calm person, but he was also having none of my cowardice, which is exactly what I needed. He seems to have a strange knack of being supportive yet firm, and I felt I had little choice but to do what he asked of me, yet felt safe doing so. As a result I drove fairly well (according to him), and got us there and back safely - which is the main thing. Tomorrow we are going to Maida Vale to do lots of roundabouts, and he is also starting me on maneuvers (parking etc). He reckons I can get my license in a couple of months.

This will be a huge accomplishment for me, and hopefully it will also mean I'll stop being a joke back in South Africa - where if you don't drive, well - forget it, it's just unheard of.

Friend: This is Lucille, possibly the only South African adult who cannot drive
Friend of friend: What, you cannot drive? Whahahahahahah! You must be joking?!?
Me (clearly not amused, and bored - having gone through this 10 times in the evening already): No really, it's true, I cannot drive.
Friend of friend: That really is incredible. Hey, babe (motions to wife) - come over here and hear this... .

You get the picture.

Most of my friends were 'loaning' their parents cars at the age of 14 and 15 already, and by the time they were 18 had licenses and were driving us to and from clubs. I was a year younger, and my mother refused to teach me, maintaining I should learn with a teacher when I turned 18 so I wouldn't pick up any of her bad habits. I think she was just terrified at the thought of being in a car with me, and back then she probably had good reason to be.

As it turned out I finished school at 17 and went straight to university, where I didn't have the money or the need for a car in that small town. After leaving university I worked for a couple of years and started learning, but then I came to London, where with the blessed public transport system, I definitely didn't need to drive. Add 10 years of living here to that equation, and that folks is how I came to be a 32-year-old South African / British woman who doesn't know how to drive, or rather, who doesn't have her drivers license yet.

It will be a bright bright sunshiny day when I go back for a visit and am able to see various friends and family members, and even do a spot of shopping on my own steam. Because trust me on this one, you can be as grown-up, wordly, and independent as you like, but few things knock you back to kid status quicker than having to ask your mum for a lift to the shops.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Do not use Bulldog internet providers

No more posts until Bulldog decide to connect us again. They switched us off because we didn't pay. We didn't pay because we sent them two direct debit forms (one upon opening the account), none of which have ever been activated. We were emailed our bill with instructions to go and pay online. When we went to play online, we were told their systems were down. This happens frequently.

After our internet got switched off (no warning), and we payed via phone yesterday, we were then told our Internet would be switched back on after 25 working hours - which roughly translates into three working days. Three days that I cannot work - three days that as luck would have it I have a lot of work and have three clients waiting on things from me as a matter of urgency.

25 working hours is what the accounts people (who appear to be situated in a call center in India) vehemently maintain (read from the script), even though their technical support guy, Neil, informed us it was a matter of them flipping a switch back on.

Another reason I think their call centers are most likely in India - is because when I asked to speak to a supervisor yesterday there was some uhming and ahing before the phone was put down on me. Similarly when Robert asked to do the same he was put back into the queue. Average wait time on the phone is 20 minutes - and if you wait for that amount of time, you consider it speedy.

Do not use this company.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A good reason to have kids

My sister Chantell told me the following story this morning, and because it made me laugh so much it has to be my favourite birthday present so far :-) She has also given me full permission to retell it here, and once you read it, you'll understand what a generous and lovely person she is to allow me to do so.

Before I begin, and to fully appreciate the humour of this, you need to picture Chantell: Petite, very beautiful, and wonderfully stylish. The kind of woman you can't really picture doing the mundane realities in life like having her legs waxed, or bleaching facial hair. She's just kind of, well, perfect, and you imagine she sort of wakes up that way and floats through the day on a cloud of Chanel perfume.

OK - so keep that image in mind, and now read on ...

Her, her partner Gary, and her son Kyle (who is almost 6) recently attended a dinner party, which I believe was business related. At one point she had to go and use the bathroom, and Kyle (needing a wee) accompanied her. This is probably a good point at which to mention that Kyle has just seen a film called 'Over the fence' which apparently features a skunk, with an appropriately smelly bottom, as skunks are wont to have. Kyle, who is a movie buff, and loves to incorporate lines and references from films, has subsequently began referring to anything to do with bottoms and specifically loo activities, as skunk this or skunk that. You get the picture.

So he goes to the loo with his mum, does what he needs to do, and then hangs about for a bit before returning to the dinner table.

In the mean time my sister discovers that the flush mechanism is not working as it should because it's a newly installed toilet. Not wanting to leave any sort of unpleasantness for other guests, or the hosts to discover (she's also incredibly considerate and a neat freak), she nips to the kitchen to find a jug with which to fill the cistern. She then spends about 15 minutes trying to fill it up with water and make it flush.

Eventually, after some success, she returns to the table and notices everyone kind of looking at her strangely, but puts it down to the fact that perhaps she was gone for a bit longer than the average loo visit.

Later, when they get into the car to leave, Gary explains that when Kyle returned from the bathroom, and was asked where Chantell was, he took it upon himself to matter of factly announce to Gary and the rest of the assembled dinner guests that his mom was, "In the bathroom making skunk noises."

She says upon hearing this she was so shocked and embarrassed she burst out laughing. Later she rationalised that the upside to this whole mortifying business was that these were people she was unlikely to see again. A refreshing thought considering that now whenever they looked at her they most likely thought: 'There's the woman who makes skunk noises (whatever those could possibly be) in the loo.'

As luck and life would have it, she has subsequently seen this group of people twice.

Classic.

00:00

It's officially my birthday - exactly 00:00 on the clock. I'd hoped I'd be asleep by now, to awake tomorrow morning looking fresh and well-rested for my day off. But thanks to a car alarm outside, a few drunkards loudly expounding their pearls of wisdom on the street, and our weird new neighbours doing what sounded like the lambada upstairs, I'm awake and pissed off.

I don't know what it is with the people upstairs. We've never seen them, and they seem to keep very antisocial hours. There's a lot of walking and moving of furniture, and then there's that creaky sound, not unlike a swinging chandelier, late at night. Unfortunately whatever it is they're getting up to, it happens to be taking place directly above our bedroom.

As for the street noises, well, it's the downside of living in (central) central London. We're not exactly in what you'd call a residential area, although there are apartments on our streets, including our own apartment block of course. But because of the business's, shops, bars, and hospitals, people tend to forget that there might actually be people that live in the area - people like us who need their sleep, and they make an awful racket with their screaming, laughing, and singing. They'd think twice about doing that in a suburban area, but here anything goes. And I swear the drunken singing gets more prolific around the time the X-Factor is being aired.

Anyway, I'm 32 today, and I suppose I should be in an introspective mood, as opposed to an overly-tired annoyed one. For what its worth, I don't feel any different, though I can say I've enjoyed the two years of my thirties more than my 20's. It's undoubtedly tied in with things that have happened in the last few years (not least of all marrying the love of my life), but I also just feel a lot more settled, a lot less paranoid, and certainly more sure of myself. I still have a tendency to please and care about what other people think of me, but then again those are the kinds of vices that take a lot more than 30 years (and a lot more cynicism) to get out of one's system.

My grandmother is a master when it comes to cynicism and a blatant disregard for other people's opinions of her. She has been going to the shops in her slippers (because they are comfortable) ever since I can remember, and has always been very direct with regards to her opinions, regardless of who's company she is in. Most recently she informed me that there are no such things as friends, and the only true friends one has are one's family members. Clearly she hasn't been watching enough Ricki Lake - which if it teaches us anything, it's that it's precisely one's family members one should be most wary off in the treachery stakes.

She asked me an innocent enough question, which should immediately have alerted me to the fact that she was up to something, and a lecture was brewing:
Her: So, have you got many friends?
Me: I wouldn't say many. I have a group of good friends, yes.
Her: Are those women friends?
Me: Mostly, yes.
Her: Don't trust them. Especially around your husband.

My grandmother is of the firm belief that one can never trust another woman around one's husband. I should have pointed out that perhaps this kind of thinking had a bit more to do with how much one trusted one's husband, rather than the women his path happened to cross. But she'd most likely tell me I didn't know what the hell I was talking about - I mean, at my age, how could I? Or worse, and more ominously, she'd say, "Hmmm, you'll see for yourself."

To avoid these conversations, which invariably leave me feeling uncomfortable and vaguely paranoid (should I be worried, should I?), I've now learnt it's best to keep the subject on her. I ask her about her health, her garden, her digestion, and these things seem to please her and keep her mind far from more dangerous topics like how my friends are just waiting to cuckold me.

Right, and now I really am going to try and get some sleep, and hope to god the car has been successfully stolen, the drunkards are safely in their beds, and the vampires upstairs have completed littering the flat with their native soil, or whatever it is they do up there.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Could you say no?


There's a new book out in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, entitled, 'Blue Shoes and Happiness.' I've happily dived in, and once again I'm enjoying the very pragmatic (and strangely comforting) world views of the bush tea and pumpkin loving Mma Ramotswe.

In the news there's a juicy story about Ralph Fiennes being a naughty boy with a stewardess on board a flight from Australia to India. It doesn't surprise me considering how much porn he supposedly watches. I mean, he must walk around in a chronic state of, how should I say, elevation.

According to the stewardess she went to the loo and he followed her in and got a bit amorous. She told him that he needed to leave and return to his seat, which he did - eventually. Hmm, not sure if that's the whole story, but the worrying thing is I'm not sure if I could have said no. I mean, this is the hotness that is Ralph Fienness we are talking about. And maybe, just maybe, I could have looked past the whole creepy porn thing just that once. It goes without saying all of this would only take place if I were single - naturally.

Photo source

God bless Bravissimo


A friend of mine asked me some time ago why I prefer bikini's - what with the way I go on about being shy of my body etc. The fact of the matter is quite simple really: Support. A good underwire bikini top is essential for my frontage. Bathing suits are effectively one piece of material from top to bottom, and the result is scary - way too much freedom if you know what I mean.

Yesterday I went along to the new Bravissimo shop (off Regent Street), and discovered a miracle bathing suit. It has built-in cups with underwire - but these aren't in the least bit visible. So it looks as though you are wearing a regular bathing suit, but suddenly, for the first time in my adult life, my boobs look like everyone else's and not a tribal woman who has breast fed 12 children and sits around smoking a pipe on a dusty landscape.

Now trust me, I would have bought that bathing suit for those secret cups alone, but it doesn't end there - that cozzie is actually quite flattering too! Must be the cut or something. I was so in love I bought one instore, in a red colour they call 'salsa' (pictured), and came home and ordered their black one online too.

Photo: c/o Bravissimo

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hearts, roses, and viles of blood


I can't help but be cynical about Valentines Day. I think the idea of needing a commercial calendar day (with extortionately overpriced roses and impossible to come by dinner reservations) to remind you that you should act in a kind, loving, and romantic way towards your partner, is wrong. These things should come naturally, and throughout the year. And you should never, under any circumstances, be forced to spend that much money on flowers.

I was woken up this morning by not one, but two text messages from Inteflora reminding me of the various rip-off deals at my disposal. I use them for sending flowers to my mother and grandmother on their birthdays in South Africa, and as a thank you here in London. I doubt I'll be utilising their special offers on this occasion however, because although Robert is a modern and self actualised sort of man, I reckon he'd prefer some PC World kit over a bunch of flowers any day.

This leads me to a question that never fails to stump me - just what do you give someone as a Valentines Day gift? Flowers are easy enough for a woman, as are chocolates, unless she's on a diet, but I've yet to meet a woman who gets upset over receiving chocolates - diet or no diet. But what do you get for a man? Aftershave, boxer shorts, a vial of your blood on a chain? It's very confusing.

The other thing that's always strikes me as odd about Valentines Day, is the amount of couples out on that night - going through the motions. It's feels robotic and creepy being in a restaurant with table after table of twosome clones, with the mandatory long-stemmed overpriced rose (that never opens) on the table between them, and a bottle of the special (read: overpriced) house wine. Any other night of the year and these people would be laughing, chatting, enjoying their food, but suddenly they feel as if they should behave differently somehow - more romantically or lovingly (whatever this means), and the result is strained and uncomfortable. You know a good deal of them would rather be in front of the TV or in a bar together somewhere, but they do it because it's expected of them.

What's worse are the couples who sit staring at each other, and without the sound of football, Emerdale, or Celebrity Love Island in the background, find they have very little to say to each other. That always worries me - that on the one night of the year you should be celebrating your love (well, according to Hallmark that is) you discover you've run out of things to say.

On a separate note, for those of you in the cosmetics industry, especially La Prairie, Yves Saint Laurent, Estee Lauder, Eve Lom, Dermalogica, Clinique, Liz Earle, etc - it's my birthday on Monday. This means I'm in a generous upbeat sort of mood, and therefore welcome any and all hampers packed with wonderful skin, body, and makeup products, that you may need to offload. Same goes for anyone working at Jimmy Choo. Please, don't thank me, I know I'm good that way.

Having a birthday two days before Valentines day generally means I avoid the whole dinner dilemma. Robert is taking me to a nice restaurant on Monday, and I told him (as I tell him every year) that we'll treat it as a combined valentines/birthday dinner. This means the poor man doesn't have to stress about finding an additional booking for Wednesday. Oh, and that no matter how nice they look, a long stemmed rose (that never opens) will not be necessary, really. Chocolates however, I'm open to negotiation.

Photo: happynews.com

Friday, February 09, 2007

Carpe underwear

The blogosphere is going nuts with stories and conspiracies about the death of Anna Nicole Smith, and already the idiot commenters are giving their 5 cents worth to the tune of 'the world is rid of another waste of space', or 'live by the drug die by the drug' etc. That's what you call empathy folks.

I find the whole thing a very tragic reminder of how tenuous life really is, and that you just never know what's going to happen. I tell myself the best thing I can do is get off my ass and make the most of every day, stop bitching, stop sweating the small stuff, and stop expecting things to happen to me instead of making them happen.

I started this morning by not weighing myself, which was a good start. I'm also going to have a shower and not work until lunchtime in my pyjamas. And I'm going to eat breakfast - something healthy like muesli and fruit.

There's a new Bravissimo store that's opened around the corner, and I want to go and check it out. I went to a lingerie fashion show earlier this week, and I was inspired. The men in the audience (who were supposedly there to buy their loved ones stuff for Valentines Day) appeared to use it more as a soft porn experience, and ogled the various models in a fashion not unlike starving dogs looking at raw meat.

The man sitting next to me, and expansive American, took it upon himself to keep a running commentary about all the outfits and the girls figures. "Now that outfit, that reminds me of my ex-wife, only she'd have a cocktail glass and cigarette too." The model in question was wearing high heels and a long silk robe. This guy's girlfriend sat next to him and made scrupulous notes next to all the outfits on her sheet, and at the end of the show, handed it over to him. "So what are you guys going to get?", I asked, noting quite a lot of ticks and circles. "Anything she wants," he said with a satisfied grin.

All of the stuff was a bit rich for my pocket- with things starting around the £80 mark and reaching more than £700 - for a silk dressing gown and matching slip. I like lingerie as much as the next woman, but you can get some lovely stuff for a lot less than that.

A well cut bra and knickers or teddy can in fact do wonders for your figure. I have some stuff, that when I put it on, I look a size smaller, and my body just seems nicer somehow. I guess there's something to be said for packaging, and the art of self delusion.

Photo: Dlisted

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith dies

Jesus, this just in: Anne Nicole Smith is dead. She collapsed and died today from a suspected drug overdose. Her son Daniel (aged 20) died just last September, also from a suspected drug overdose. Continue reading here.

Has the world gone mad?

Update: They don't know the cause of death yet. She was found unconscious in her hotel room this afternoon (USA time). A drug overdose is just one of the possible causes of death.

Photo: thebosh.com

Snow, pina coladas, and the reluctant cow

It's snowing in London. Yesterday they were making all sorts of dire predictions on the radio about the weather causing havoc. God forbid we ever get a bit too much rain or snow, or even heat - and there's widespread panic. Saying that, the reception on my digital radio is pretty shyte today and I had to switch it off and listen to iTunes instead.

In South Africa thunder and lightening storms regularly blow up my sisters electricity and Internet system. They're so used to it now that at the first signs of a storm they go around unplugging things and get the candles out in preparation. They've just come through a heatwave and she tells me it's 34 degrees Celsius there at the moment - "Too hot", she says.

This time of year always makes me think of places like the Mexico or Barbados. I imagine myself lying on the beach looking much better in my bathing suit than I ever could in reality, drinking a PinaColada (the reason I don't look good in my bathing suit), and reading novels and autobiographies. Robert will be lying next to me doing pretty much the same, only he'll be under six layers of industrial strength sunblock and be reading a historical tome. In the evenings we'll drink cold beers or house champagne, play cards, and then go and eat delicious freshly caught fish.

I'll inevitably sulk when we have to go home, and start on with my usual bullshit about how if you can live anywhere in the world, why wouldn't you live there, instead of a country that can't even deal with a bit of snow. Before Robert points out a few home truths about mosquitoes, monsoons, the small matter of work logistics, having good broadband, and preferring to live a comfortable life in a place that's not at the expense of the underprivileged local people. The broadband thing gets me every time, and I reluctantly finish my packing.

Last night I dreamt that Chantell (my sister) told me that I was anorexic, before a shift in the dream, and suddenly I was doing some top notch Spanish dancing. The night before I dreamt an old school friend was having sex with a (reluctant) cow, and I stood by unable to make him stop - absolutely devastated that no one other than me saw this as being fundamentally wrong, cruel, and sick. I might add that to my knowledge none of my old school friends has ever had sex with a cow nor expressed any interest in doing so. Not even a hint.

The me being anorexic bit should have immediately alerted me to the fact that I dreaming, but instead I looked down at my body and back at my sister and said, 'Are you sure?'

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

On the offensive

This Snickers ad has been pulled after several gay organisations complained to Snickers-maker Masterfoods USA, that it was offensive to gays.

I'm not gay, so perhaps I don't have a right to voice an opinion on this, but what the hell - I'm going to anyway. The ad is poking fun at the whole macho thing straight men have going regarding their sexuality. And I suppose (at a stretch) by implication, you can therefore say it infers gay men are not macho or manly. If you had two women up there doing the same thing it would be considered raunchy, but then you'd have feminists complaining that women were being portrayed in a sexist way.

I think the most you can accuse this ad of is being an example of a lazy execution of an advertising idea. It ran during the Super Bowl, so they were clearly targeting men and went for something they'd be sure to get a cheap laugh out of - and weren't particularly clever about it either.

Not all gay people were offended by it, and according to seriouslyomgwtf,
'Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com, a website for gay sports enthusiasts, says he saw it at a Super Bowl party with 30 gay friends — and no one had a problem with it. “I simply wasn’t offended by it,” Zeigler says. “I just don’t see how a couple of mechanics pulling out chest hair because they kissed is offensive.” Still, he thinks that Masterfoods would be wise to apologize. “They’re a business,” he says. “And no company in a free market is in the business of alienating consumers, intentional or not.”' Continue reading.
My concern is that we are living in a world that is increasingly becoming intolerant by virtue of championing tolerance - this said from someone who lives in the UK, a country that is so obessed with being politically correct that it lands up shooting itself in the foot.

At what point to be have so many restrictions on what we say and what we write about, that we are stopped even before we begin? Also, and most importantly, where's our ability to have a sense of humour about things? Surely even gay men can chuckle at how idiotic straight men can be regarding intimacy with other men?

If you can't see the clip click here.

We trust these people in space?

This is some crazy-assed story about an accomplished US female astronaut (Lisa Nowak pictured above) who attempted to kidnap another women at an airport. And after police found an assortment of nasty items in a black plastic sack she tried to dump, including a BB pistol, a new steel mallet, a new folding knife with a four-inch blade, three to four feet of rubber tubing, several plastic garbage bags, and about $600 in cash, they've slapped her with attempted first degree murder too. The reason? They reckon both women fancy the same guy - who is also an astronaut, and it's some weird kind of love triangle.

What's even more creepy is that Nowak left Houston and drove 900 miles to the Orlando Airport, reportedly stopping only for gas and wearing adult diapers to avoid having to stop and use the loo.
Continue reading.

Yep, you couldn’t make this shit up. Watch out for the movie version.

Photo c/o Dlisted

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Body Fusion

This is a very funny piss take of the Jane Fondaeque exercise tapes of yesteryear, entitled 'Body Fusion' with Drew Barrymore.

If you can't see the clip click here.

Tip: Dlisted.

Janice wants her models to "come down with some anorexia"

Controversial ex America's Next Top Model judge, and now the owner of her own modeling agency, Janice Dickinson, says she wishes her models would come down with some anorexia.

Asked on her opinion on the skinny model debate she replied, “I’m dying to find kids who are too thin. I’ve got 42 models in my agency and I’m trying to get them to lose weight. In fact, I wish they’d come down with some anorexia. I’m not kidding. I’m running into a bunch of fat-assed, lazy little bitches who don’t know how to do the stairs or get their butts into the gym.”

According to Dlisted, Janice says she is a perfect size 4 and tries to maintain that.

“I’ve been saying this ever since Brooke Shields squeezed her 15-year-old little ass into a pair of Calvin Klein jeans (in 1980): Models are supposed to be thin. They’re not supposed to eat. In fact, I’m not going to eat for the rest of the day because we had this conversation.” Continue reading.
Janice says some crazy shit, mainly to get a reaction. She claims Tyra fired her ass from ANTM because she was 'ruining the show' with her craziness. More like stealing the show - I don't think Tyra liked the limelight being stolen from her. Twiggy is a lot quieter (understatement) than Janice, and blends nicely into the panel so Tyra can be the star. No one could make Janice blend in anywhere - ever.

But when you got past all the attention seeking stuff, Janice actually seemed to know what she was talking about, and I was sad to see her leave the show. She was a big reason I watched it.

Photo c/o timeinc.net

The world welcomes Super Tonio


For those of you girls bracing yourselves for the prospect of having a little one, you may not want to watch this clip. A woman in Mexico gave birth to a baby boy weighing 6.6kg (14.5lbs). Super Tonio, as he's been nicknamed, is wearing nappies that usually fit six-month-olds and drinking 5oz milk every three hours. Continue reading.

If you can't see the clip,
click here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Getting old and staying on the wagon

It's my dear friend Theo's birthday today - Happy Birthday Theo! That's a photo of the two of us in our third year of university (circa 1995) at a wine tasting society dinner. Theo was very drunk, I was very drunk and very fat. The two things did and still go hand in hand for me.

We exchanged emails and reflected on how quickly the last 10 years have gone - and when you start talking like that, it's evidence in and of itself that you’re getting old.

I remember being about 13 and my friends were all on holiday, and I was stuck at home on a Saturday night. I was out of my mind with boredom and anxiety - sure I was missing out on something, somewhere. My father looked at me sympathetically and said, "I remember how lousy it felt when I was stuck at home on a Saturday night at your age." I hoped he might offer to take me to a movie, but instead he happily sloped off to enjoy something on TV.

Nowadays Robert and I get excited when we have a free Saturday night in our diary. Usually I put the pizza in the oven, and he lines up a recorded episode of ‘Prison Break’. You’ve never seen two happier, more thrilled people. Sad I know.

The other thing I've noticed is that I've started sounding like my parents. “Oh I don't like that place, it's so loud you can't hear yourself think!” or “I don't know how some people do it, come 11pm and I want my bed.” I no longer buy wine that comes in litre bottles, and when choosing a restaurant, the effect on my digestive system is a serious consideration.

Yesterday I tried explaining to Robert's sisters and their partners why I wasn't drinking, and how I worry about such things as binge drinking. There's also the aforementioned historic relationship my body has between alcohol consumption and ability to do up buttons on my jeans, which I stupidly forgot to mention. They looked at me as though I were quite mad and informed me that I had it all wrong - considering not binge drinking, now that was something to be worried about.

My family just aren't big drinkers - they can take it or leave it, and my mother and most of her family are teetotal. In my case however, when I'm in certain social contexts, after two glasses of something I just want more, and then I smoke and smoke and smoke, then it's morning and I'm awake after 3 hours of sleep feeling anxious, sick, and hating myself. After the 368th time of this happening, you eventually wise up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, it's time to change your behavior somewhere along the line.

Being reluctant to give up my partying ways, I tried changing the way I felt about myself the next morning, i.e. the self loathing part, but have failed miserably. I'm remarkably good at self loathing, and giving up alcohol just seems a lot easier and less painful.

I lapsed on Friday night, when, after a severe bout of PMS Robert handed me a glass of champagne and said, "I realise you aren't drinking right now, but if we are going to get through this evening (with me not killing him or breaking the stereo system - which he didn't mention but I knew he was thinking), you'd better have this - even if it's just the one." Three of those and two glasses of wine later, plus about 5 cigarettes, and there I was sitting in bed the next morning berating myself for being such an idiot, and throwing in a few things I hadn't done but might have done, just to make myself feel extra bad.

I’ve learnt that one thing leads to another with me, so it's best to avoid the catalyst – which in this case means booze.

I was told, again by a Smithson sibling, that not drinking at my birthday party would be considered rude to my guests. I’m not sure how valid this is, considering I have friends who are recovering alcoholics and never think of them as being rude when they don’t drink in my company. But I suppose as a non card carrying non member of AA, I may not be able to garner any sympathy from my friends, and I’ll be expected to join in the festivities. Robert reckons there are some great low alcoholic beers out there meaning you can enjoy one or 6 throughout the evening and not get quite so drunk or sick from it the next day. I’ll report back after the fact with my findings.

Naked, Wii Bowling, and Scandals


I am re-reading 'Dress your family in corduroy and denim' by David Sedaris, after re-reading 'Naked' (my favourite of his books) by the same author. If you haven't yet discovered his work, please go out and buy or loan one of them and start reading now.

Sedaris is a genius, and without doubt has become my favourite author. His recollections of time as an elf in Macy's 'Santaland', had Robert doubled over, bright red, and crying with laughter to such an extent that I thought he was going to burst something, somewhere. Between all that laughing and crying he managed to plead that if I loved him and cared for his continued health, I had to stop reading aloud, pronto.

My time as the queen of Wii bowling is over I think. I was beaten (unheard of until now) on Friday and Sunday, and now I hang my head in shame. If you have a Wii and don't have the bowling game, do get it - great fun, but highly addictive. Also I should warn you, ensure you have a strong and solid relationship before playing your partner - as I think it rivals Monopoly as far as games most sited for cause of divorce.

I went along with my friend Derya to see 'Notes on a Scandal' last week. Oh my god, Dame Judi Dench is so going to get the Oscar for her role as the uptight spinster. The film was very good, but Dench was exceptional - quite possibly one of the best peformances I've seen in a long time.

Photo of David Sedaris c/o oreal.de

The amazing N'kisi

This is N'kisi the parrot. So what you ask? Well, this little bird is a lot smarter than Jade Goody. OK, well, that's not particularly difficult. Rather, this bird is smarter than a lot of people, and certainly one of the smartest animals ever discovered.

He has a vocabulary of 950 words, and according to BBC news, he 'invents his own words and phrases when he is confronted with novel ideas with which his existing repertoire cannot cope - just as a human child would do.' He also
'uses words in context, with past, present and future tenses, and is often inventive.'

Scientists studying N'kisi reckon he is one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world. Continue reading.

Thank you to the lovely Roberto for the tip.

Photo c/o sciencenewsblog

Friday, February 02, 2007

Introducing the hypocrite of the weak



Tyra Banks responded to recent magazine and internet articles calling her fat, with this dramatic speech on her talk show. When I watched it, two words immediately popped into my mind: F*cking hypocrite!

Tyra wore the same bathing suit she was photographed in in Australia - the photos of which caused all the 'Tyra is fat' stories to begin with. Her reason? I don't know, to express that she's cool with her body? That it's OK to be bigger? Interestingly enough, a commenter over on Dlisted who watched the full episode said that although it was the same bathing suit, Tyra's body was not the same, and she had evidently lost some weight and toned up for the occasion. Funny that.

Now that Tyra has gained weight and no longer has her model figure, she's all "Bigger women ra ra ra!" It's a great and valid sentiment, but lest we forget this is a woman who has made her name and fortune based on her (thin) cultivated looks, not least of all as an underwear model for Victoria's Secret. She also conceived of, stars in, and is a (big earning) producer on the hugely successful TV show, 'America's Next Top Model'. The show that takes a bunch of skinny girls from the public, slaps a whole of makeup on them, and teaches them how to do Tyra-inspired poses in front of a camera. At the end of each episode one of the girls is sent home packing, and the final one left standing wins. Prizes include getting signed with a modeling agency, landing a cosmetics campaign for Cover Girl, and a featured spread in a magazine.

Historically they've included about three fuller figured women in the series, though when I say fuller-figured, these women are possibly a size 14 and very toned. The kind of plus-sized models you see without any visible lumps and bumps, and who probably live at the gym as much as the skinny ones. However, interestingly, none of them have ever won the 'coveted' title.

I used to like Tyra, but now she just annoys the crap out of me. Yeah Tyra - whateva!