Thursday, August 14, 2014

Random stuff and some YouTube clips

Herewith a random collection of observations and things that are not necessarily related. Stuff I would ordinarily post as and when on FB were I still on FB, or Twitter if I could remember my Twitter password and get my head around the whole hash tag thing. (PS: If you cannot see the YouTube clips try viewing this page in a different browser like Safari.)

This afternoon I was grocery shopping with the kids. This is always a big mistake because my kids, normally fairly even tempered and only somewhat crazy, become absolutely manic in the grocery store. God knows why, but they run around wild, and usually pick their moments (when I am talking to the butcher or ordering something from the fish counter) to engage in a kind of wrestle mania performance with each other or run down the aisles shrieking. So there I am telling my son off for being wild and making shouting noises at the checkout only to look up and see a very tall, very willowy Uma Thurman looking at me. I tried to appear nonchalant as I continued my lecture on how his behaviour was inconsiderate to others, but it's not everyday that you have an A-lister watching you reprimand your kids. The girls working the tills got all giggly and started showing each other pictures of Uma Thurman on their phones. She looked tired and in that moment I felt like inviting her back to mine for a glass of wine, but obviously I didn't and she almost certainly wouldn't. What with me being a complete stranger that was dressed in dirty shorts, crazy unkept hair, no makeup and lest we forget the wild kids.

Recent conversation had with my children about my daughter's upcoming birthday party:
My daughter: Mum I would like to have 'One Direction' play at my party
Me: *Sigh* I'm really sorry, but 'One Direction' would cost a gazillion bucks and we just don't have that kind of money
Daughter: Pleaaaaase Mum? Even if they did just one song?
Me: I'm sorry but even that would cost too much money. What if Daddy were to sing a 'One Direction' song instead?
Daughter: Oh yes, that would be brilliant. And we have to play 'Eaton Style' because that's one of my favourite songs. It's by the same people that did Gangnam Style, but it's about Eaton, the school. And apparently, when the headmaster saw it he thought it was hilarious! That's what Dad said. And we could make it a disco! Although there isn't a theme, but everyone has to come dressed very fashionably. And I will be dressed as a peacock (?). And can you fly me through the air so that I land in front of my friends on a pillow, because it is my birthday right? Maybe Dad can attach strings to me and lift me up and then swing me into the party?
Me: Er...
Her four-year-old brother (noticing a small window in one of my daughter's many spitfire monologues) interjects: Yes! And Buzz Lightyear will be there and he will have rocket blasters that will blast fire and he will zoom up and into the air!
My daughter: No, no, no, I'm sorry this is my birthday not Christmas. There will be no Buzz Lightyear, but you can be a butler if you want to
My son: I am not going to be a butler at your party

Yesterday a person overtook me on a winding country road on a double yellow  - the American equivalent of a solid line in the middle of the road that you are never, ever, supposed to cross because you will be facing on-coming traffic. I was doing the speed limit as he/she (the person passed so fast I couldn't determine gender) overtook me on a particularly dangerous bit of the road. 

The same happens a lot in London where I live. The speed limit around my house is 20 and people continually tailgate me because I stick to it. My feeling is that they can get stuffed - the speed limit exists because it's a built up area and there are children and animals that could cross in front of you at any time. And don't get me started on people who talk or text on their mobile phones while driving. Put the f**king phone in your bag or cubby hole and leave it alone until you reach your destination! I like to think of myself as someone that tries to look at things from all angles and who tires to understand the other person's perspective, but I think all of us, no matter how tolerant we are or think we are, have certain things that we rightly or wrongly cannot relate to.  Along with my revulsive reaction to smoking during pregnancy, and domestic violence, people using their phones while driving is something I just cannot wrap my head around.  This documentary short by Werner Herzog, created to try and abate the enormity of the problem, is a must see for everyone that thinks to themselves 'Well I'm an experienced driver and I can do both at the same time' or 'I'm just quickly going to send this text.'

Two of my mid-year resolutions are to do cookery classes to expand my repertoire past the same three or so things I make pretty well, and to introduce myself to popular music so that my children don't have to be subjected to my antiquated music taste for much longer. So for the holidays I bought a 'NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL MUSIC! 50 (all uppercase font) CD to play in the car, and have been listening to '100% Top 40 Summer 2014' on Rdio. I thought I'd get protestations from my husband (a big National and Midlake fan) but surprise surprise even he's got into it and his favourite summer track is 'Selfie' by The Chainsmokers. I kid you not.

My summer anthem has to be Talk Dirty by Jason Derulo (Featuring 2 Chainz)

My children are huge fans of 'Track 9' aka 'Turn down for what' by DJ Snake and Lil Jon. Having just YouTubed it - it's a pretty insane and probably NSFW video, and for the record my kids have not seen it. I can see that it's catchy, but why they love it so much is one of those mysteries you experience on a day to day basis when it comes to kids.

Another big favourite of both the children is Katy Perry's 'Roar'. 

On the subject of Katy Perry's 'Roar' (a big hit with the six and seven year old girls in my daughter's summer camp class), the kids have had a couple of talent shows at camp this year. It's very hard not to laugh in these things because some of the kids come up with some very weird stuff. Yesterday two boys, approximately seven-years-old, put on a play they said was about the environment. This involved one of them holding aloft what resembled a wooden weather-vein bird while his friend stood around for a long time looking a bit lost, and then he proceeded to make a sandwich wrap with a large sweet orange pepper he had brought along, taking care to slice off little pieces of the pepper with a plastic knife, and place it in the wrap. There was no dialogue and only some strange music being played in the background. I kept waiting for something, a point I guess, but it failed to appear. Maybe the pointlessness was the point? The children and handful of parents in the audience clapped gingerly, and I wondered if like me they were thinking, 'Wtf?' It reminded me the Dude's Landlord's performance in The Big Lebowski.

Another group of boys around the same age, perhaps a year older, did a skit which involved them using pogo sticks as large guns and shooting each other while making shooting noises in what appeared to be a robbery gone wrong. There was some dialogue relating to shooting and (I think) betrayal, and then the last man standing was himself 'shot' by someone (who we all thought was dead) with the last bit of energy he could muster before properly dying. More nervous smiling and unsure spatter of clapping followed.

The girls mostly got up and sang popular R&B songs with accompanying dance moves while the boys in the audience rolled their eyes.

My daughter came home this week asking us if 'dick' is a bad word and says the girls in her class say it is. My response was: Well, Dick is short for Richard, in fact I worked with a Dickie, and it is also refers to a man's penis, and in that instance it could be construed as a rude word. My son thought this was funny.

On a final note, like everyone else I was deeply saddened to hear of Robin William's death. Just last week I had happened to watch the standup show he did in Washington in 2009 on Netflix. I remarked to my husband that I had never seen a stand up show like that before, not even Jerry Seinfeld is that good. Williams had remarkable timing and energy and pace and if you have Netflix do watch 'Robin Williams - Weapons of self destruction.'  There are a lot of actors out there we think of as comedians but doing stand up and having the wit, intelligence, stamina and timing to pull it off in front of a live audience is something entirely different. To see Robin Williams doing standup is a remarkable work of artistry and reveals the comic genius he was and always will be.

Here it is on YouTube

Monday, August 11, 2014


Our neighbours, who live across the street, fight a lot. Quite loudly, and more often than not these arguments take place in the early hours of the morning and peak with one of them slamming a car door and driving off quickly and noisily. I could be wrong, but I think alcohol plays a part in things. Their house has a stone gargoyle on the porch along with a 'Beware of the dog' sign, and indeed one can usually hear what sounds like a large dog barking from within its shadowy confines. I was telling this to a friend of mine who said it sounded like a classic drug dealing house. He said, conspiratorially, "Just think about it right? Potential customers are told to look for the house with the gargoyle on the front porch and the large dog is there to make sure everyone behaves themselves and to keep a look out for the police."

A few years back, I ordered one of those cots that turns into a cot bed for my son. We were on our way out, when I noticed a very large, very heavy box on their porch which read: 'Three in one cot/cotbed'. I looked at my husband and said, "Oh dear god, either those crazy people have a baby, or that's our cot bed. Irrespective, it's bad news." The thought of a baby in a house full of fighting was obviously the worse of the two potential evils, and if it was our cot bed, I didn't see it making its way to us. They just didn't strike me as the kind of people that would knock on our door and say: "Hey neighbour, we got your delivery by mistake. Here it is, along with some brownies we made you. Welcome to the neighbourhood." Although if my friend is correct about them dealing, those may have been some interesting brownies. But I digress. So my husband put on the breaks, walked onto their porch, and checked the address label. And sure enough it was our cot. Good news for the baby that wasn't, bad news for us.

My husband jumped back as their dog barked and popped his furry head between the broken blinds glaring menacingly at him. But being the decent chap he is, my husband rang the doorbell to inform the couple that it was our parcel and he would be taking it back. Mercifully they were not home, and he single handedly dragged the extremely heavy and cumbersome item across the street and to our house while I waited in the car with the children who were strapped in. Later, upon unpacking it, we saw the warning label which said the item required at least four men to move it for health and safety reasons. 

For the remainder of the holiday each time a delivery was delayed, we'd joke that our warring neighbours were now enjoying watching TV in the evenings with my son's dinosaur lamp lighting their lounge, or that their psychopathic dog was using our daughter's pink bedroom rug as its bed.

One day I actually saw one of our neighbours (up until this point we'd only heard them: a man, a woman (aka 'you fucking bitch') and their dog. In the cold light of day, as opposed to the early hours when I lay awake at night somewhat terrified listening to their shouting and the sounds of car doors slamming, the man didn't look so threatening. And what was really surprising is just how young he was. I waved and said hello, and he waved back from his vantage point under the tree where he sat smoking a cigarette.

This year we have not heard a single fight. I realise this is tempting fate, but I do wonder if perhaps they have split up. The car is the same, the dog is the same, so one of them still lives there but perhaps they are in a healthier relationship these days, or maybe they entered into couples therapy? One can hope.

Our other neighbours are the congregation of the Triune Baptist church across the street from us, which dates back to 1840 when this was still a whaling town. We've been told there is a pew and secret hiding place in the front of the church where slaves, liberated by the whalers, would hide when there was a raid. One day the ladies of the church were having a yard sale and my daughter and I wondered over and introduced ourselves and were invited by Mrs Jackson, the Reverend Michael Jackson's wife, to look inside the church and to attend a Sunday service which looks to be very musical and festive. 

The people behind us never fail to have company over. I don't think they have children, and almost every evening they appear to get home from work and have drinks around the pool with their friends. It reminds me of years ago when I had just left university and I visited a good friend of mine who lived in Cape Town. My friend and the people she shared a house with didn't wait for weekends to socialise, and almost every evening involved drinks and a barbecue or a picnic on the beach. Funny how for some reason these things stop and we live our lives in a gloomy regimented weekly existence longing for each weekend as though our very salvation depended on it. Why can't every day be fun and relaxed? Oh yes, that's right, we have kids and we have serious jobs. And that means preparing meals, helping with homework, bath time, story time, and collapsing into bed by 11pm after we have checked our email for the umpteenth time, if we are lucky. I know for certain my children would love it if we forget about the schedule and had a more relaxed weekday existence, but in their case this would involve a ton of TV and all meals consumed in front of the TV with not much in the way of vegetables or homework.

Growing up all the kids on my street used to play in the street. Tennis, football, imaginative games, and games with our toys on the pavements. Very few cars came down, usually only drivers that lived there, and then one of the kids would call out: 'Car!' and this would be acknowledged by the others 'Car!', 'Car!' 'Car!' we'd call to each other in turn, and everyone would step onto the pavement while the car slowly moved past. It was a motley crew of kids of various ages and dispositions, but somehow we all sort of hung out together. No one was ever run over, no one was ever kidnapped, approached or messed with. At least not in the 21 years that I lived here, and not to the knowledge of my family. At five in the evening our various mothers in curlers or aprons would come out of the front door and call their respective children in for dinners and baths. 

As kids we'd always be at each other's houses, or hopping over fences and walls to get in and out of each other's yards. Balls were thrown over and sometimes returned. Cups of sugar were borrowed, flowers were stolen from our garden (my mother kept a beautiful garden), and there was the requisite gossiping and the occasional short-lived spat. But I was very fortunate to grow up with neighbours in the true sense of the word and the ready-made friends this allowed me. If I forgot my key, I knew I could go to Aunty Dawn (who suffered from a lot of headaches) and she'd give me something to eat and invite me to wait in her cool dark house and play with her Siamese cat Ming while I waited for my mother to get home. My good friend Christie lived next door and had the best comic collection ever that she generously allowed me to read. And along with my friend Kim and her sister over the street, we spent a lot of time swimming at each other's houses. And my best friend in the whole world Caroline, who I met on my first day at school aged five and am still friends with, lived just a street up. And Caroline's home was my second home.

This was a street we rode our bikes on, and then later, learnt to drive on, in my case once with my mother and once with my father who is gone so many years now. Once was enough for them by the way - they decided to leave teaching me how to drive to the professionals. Then as my friends got older and got their licences, they'd pick me up and drive me home.  Ours was a street I had walked down so many times tired and hungry after school with a ton of school books on my back. A street I had kissed on, been sick on (too many forbidded teenage drinks). A street I had met my friends on in the middle of the night (dressed in black and armed with spray paint) to play war games in the veld at the end of our street. 

Two years ago while I was visiting South Africa, my mother and sisters and I took a drive past to see the old house. I believe it was Douglas Coupland who wrote that the house we grow up in is a kind of hard drive and we return to it in dreams when we need a kind of reset mode to ground us. I lived in our house on Uys Krige street for the first twenty one years of my life and often dream of it. And I can still mentally walk through it and describe in detail what it looked like and how it was decorated even though I haven't seen it in 18 years.

As we approached our old home, I was genuinely surprised and if I am honest, a bit pissed, to see that there was a security station and a security guard we had to report to and state our business to before he'd let us through to actually enter our street.  Unfortunately these kinds of private road situations have been springing up in Johannesburg over the past few years because of rising crime and car jackings. 

The trees we climbed as children on the pavements are now very grand and established looking and most of the houses have tall walls surrounding them - the front doors not quite so invitingly accessible any more. And a lot of our old neighbours have moved on or have passed away. We couldn't quite see our house from the street because it has a wall, but then it always did, and didn't feel comfortable ringing the door and asking to look around given it was a Sunday afternoon. But it felt different, everything felt different, alien somehow. And along with the bored-looking security guard making us feel like strangers who didn't belong on what was always (in my mind at least) our street, I realised with great sadness this wasn't home any more and realistically probably hadn't been for quite some time.

I suppose it was unfair of me to expect everything to stay the way it was and for things to effectively freeze in time when I had moved on. And perhaps the alien otherness I experienced was not just our street that had changed, but a reflection of the changes that I myself had experienced through early adulthood when I left, to middle age when I returned. But wanting things to stay the same is the selfish nature of nostalgia I suppose, and I am always somewhat envious of friends who talk about 'going home.' I ask: "How long have your parents had the house? Did you grow up there? Did your parents keep your room the same? Are the neighbours still the same? Oh, man, you're soooo lucky."

Saturday, August 02, 2014

You couldn't make this stuff up

My daughter, who is six and a half, loves makeup. When I told her we were going to New York City for the weekend she gushed: "Oh Mum, I LOVE New York. You and I can go clothes and makeup shopping," like this was something we did most weekends. I stared at her open mouthed for a second, and then remembered, oh yes, this is my daughter after all, why am I surprised? But she's only six and a half and I'm increasingly realising that my daughter is growing up - a lot faster than I had anticipated.

My sister recently told me that as a child I was always in my mother's closet and specifically at her high heel shoes. I could even do cartwheels in them. And I also loved her makeup and would regularly apply the blues, silvers, golds and green eyeshadow colours that were fashionable in the late 70's early 80's. My father was fundamentally against younger girls wearing makeup, wearing mini skirts (which were hugely popular in the early 80s) or getting our ears pierced. But with three daughters it was a tidal wave of what appeared to be hard wired femininity and soon he realised he couldn't fight it. 

I'm beginning to realise this with my own daughter, and also having been through the battles with my dad, I know that you have to give your children leeway to express themselves. I believe it was Carl Jung who (very) accurately said, 'what we seek to suppress seeks to express itself.' One only has to look at the amount of homophobic preachers and politicians that bang on with their anti-gay propaganda, only to find themselves at the heart of some or other gay scandal - almost always. But that's another subject for another time. But this sentiment is true for children - the more you make a big deal out of something, the more they want to do it. At this stage, wanting to wear makeup is not a case of that uncomfortable tween thing of wanting to be attractive to boys, but more so it's an artistic or creative expression of self that's very much tied in to my daughter's love of illustrating. I also appreciate her enjoyment of makeup and clothes almost certainly comes from my love of makeup and clothes, and she wants to be like me. I guess it could be worse - at least she's not talking about Sauvignon Blanc.

This morning she told me she needed a chair and more light so she could apply her makeup for camp. I told her she didn't really need to wear makeup for camp, but she told me she knows that, but she likes to. Then I told her that we were leaving the house in two minutes and she quipped, "Yup, that's all I need", and I responded: "Really? I can do mine in about two minutes too" before stopping and wondering if I was encouraging her. Later we paused downstairs as her brother put on his shoes, she ran back upstairs, came down again and said breathlessly, "Oh I'm relieved, I had time to put on my lipstick." 

Earlier this week I told the children we were going for a swim. Cue: grumbling and groaning and protestations of wanting to stay in the house (despite it being gloriously sunny and beautiful outside, and the fact that we have ready access to a pool that we just don't have for the other 10 months of the year). So I said: "I am giving an official order - we are going to swim!" And my daughter looked at me with a smile on her face and said: "Mum you cannot order someone to swim - that kind of thing should be a choice." 
Me: "Um, er, yes that is correct, so let me rephrase it. In my professional opinion as your mother it would be a good idea for all of us to enjoy this opportunity of beautiful weather and go and have a swim."

When I was a kid my parents didn't believe in a democracy. We feared my father and obeyed my mother (who was actually a big softie) if only to avoid my father's wrath. What they said went. We are trying to raise our own children to question things and think for themselves, and as a valued part of our family know that their vote counts and they have a voice. But occasionally it backfires when you just want them to get on with something because it makes your life easier and the whole  'Because I said so' stuff you try,  just doesn't wash with them. If this is what I am dealing with now, I can only imagine how their teenage years are going to be, which seem a lot closer now than I would ever have imagined. Being the youngest of four, by the time I became a teenager my parents were, I think, exhausted and fed up with fighting against teenagers. I got a fair amount of rope and therefore didn't have much to rebel against and never really went through the whole "I hate you" thing with my parents. I appreciate that not all children are the same and with some kids a lot of rope can result in a lot of problems. But for me the independence (within reason) was fantastic and apart from a handful of stupid things, I was a pretty responsible kid and never really got into anything seriously bad. Although I do recall relishing the moment ahead of going out and saying goodnight to my parents (and getting my spending money) their shocked expressions in response to whatever weird and wonderful outfit I had put together. It never failed to please me. Teenagers huh?

Yesterday my son, who is four, attempted to lick my breasts (through the clothes I was wearing) at lunch in a restaurant. I tried to look nonchalant and surreptitiously move him away with my hands. This kind of subtle approach never works for him, and soon it became a game and he became more determined and obvious, until eventually I almost shouted: "Enough already, stay away from my breasts!" Which got me a couple of suspicious glances from other diners. He responded matter of factly with: "Dose are not your breasts, dose are your booboos!" As though that justified the whole business. Given some people like to nurse their children until they are old enough to get a driver's license, I hoped that they'd just assume I'd recently stopped nursing him and was in the process of weaning him with an admittedly hard line approach. In truth I stopped nursing him when he was approximately nine months old, but his fascination with my breasts has prevailed. Somehow, in the embarrassing moment,  me being perceived as a harsh mother denying her four year old son her her breast to nurse seemed a smaller vice than them assuming, probably correctly, that despite his diminutive size, he is likely a future breast man. He regularly sticks his hands down my shirt or tries to kneed my breasts in public saying 'cupcake cupcake'. I've told him repeatedly that they are a part of my body, and more so a private part of my body, and he does not have license to touch me there whenever he wants. I imagine one of these years, probably not too far in the future, along with the inevitable distate for girls most little boys develop, he will be disgusted by the very thought and deny ever having gone through this phase. With a compulsive documenter/writer for a mother my kids are getting away with nothing! *Maniacal laughter*

On the subject of breast men, I picked up a copy of The National Enquirer this week. I love this magazine because it makes me laugh with its crazy over the top stuff and is often a much needed form of escapism from the regular news which is deeply depressing. But unlike the Daily Mail which is also full of crazy offensive shit, it doesn't masquerade as a reliable and reputable source of world news.  The Enquirer usually goes after the Queen of England with some or other insane story about her, or O.J Simpson (probably true in this case because he is genuinely crazy), and this week it was about President Obama who they say is a lecherous man. They 'support' this claim by including various pictures of him with younger women (at graduation functions etc) and then state that he is looking obviously pervy and lecherous in the pictures, even though he appears to just be smiling or looking interested in what they are saying. They maintain that his marriage is on the rocks, and his wife Michelle (accompanied by photos of her looking a bit sour - probably just attempting to extract a piece of food from her teeth with her tongue in an unnoticeable fashion) is just biding her time until his second term is over before she leaves him. Oh and that most of this information is coming from a Japanese politician?! I actually looked this up and surprise surprise the first link to corroborate this was from none other than The Daily Mail.

I do wonder if people working at The Enquirer believe the stuff they print, like there's this team of crazy conspiracy theorist types who collect these stories and see it as their duty to tell the world. Or if they know it's all a load of crazy made-up stuff, but it sells, and they have fun with it. I'm going with the second.

Back in London my mother took our now six month old kitten to have the snip. She told me if all animals recovered from surgery with the same gusto as he has, the vets would be out of business. Apparently the vet warned my mother that our cat may have a reduced appetite for a few days because of the anaesthetic, but my mother informed me that a few short hours after getting back from the vet he wolfed down a large piece of cooked salmon that was meant to be her dinner. Why my mother was feeding the cat her dinner is not clear.

Today she took him in for his post surgery checkup and the vet informed her that at 4kgs he is now ready to eat adult cat food. My mother told the vet that that's all he's ever eaten, having eschewed the not inexpensive kitten food we bought for him at 9 weeks. Back then he sniffed at it and then proceeded to wolf down our older cat's food instead and continued to do so until I stopped bothering with two different kinds of food. Plus of course he steals our human food off of the kitchen counters and our plates when he thinks we are not looking, and eats flies and other unfortunate creatures he happens to catch in the garden. So basically he eats everything except for the food he was meant to eat. The animal is a trooper though and tough as nails. We feel it has something to do with the fact that he is a pavement special with multiple blood lines of the street cat variety, and perhaps there's a kind of genetic memory for dealing with what life throws at your with optimism and resilience. 

We're hoping that his neutering will make him less likely to level violence at us and our older resident cat, but I'm not holding my breath. The crazy Burmese that used to visit us was as violent as ever, repeatedly attacking my poor mother once to the point that her hand swelled up and she required a tetanus shot. When I asked her what happened she said he had jumped on her lap and was enjoying having a scratch until he decide it might be a good idea to sink his fangs into her hand, narrowly avoiding a rather large and visible vein. His family blamed his psychotic behaviour on the fact that they had builders at their house and this prompted a distinctive character change in him. That and the fact that his first castration was botched and he had to go in for a second time to remove the remaning bits, and somehow this had pissed him off permanently. I think if I had to go in twice to remove my masculinity I'd be pretty pissed too. While I was having this conversation with the cat's very earnest owner I had the dawning realisation that cat people are all somewhat nuts. I guess I have to include myself in this.