Monthly Archives: July 2015

The stuff nightmares are made of

In the last few days I have heard personal anecdotes from people of a spate of burglaries and robberies at a very personal level all across South Africa. It seems a result of load shedding and desperation.

Only last year my mother was attacked in her home, the robbers lying in wait in order to get through a security gate. The man who was specifically assigned to deal with this poor fragile woman carried her through the house while they demanded she show them items of value or they would cut/burn/beat her up.

He somewhat apologetically explained that they had no work, they had tried, they lived in a squatter camp and they needed to eat. He made sure he tied her up tight but not so tight that she couldn’t escape once they left and although they shut her in a cupboard on leaving, ensuring that that too could open from inside. On the one side one thinks one should be grateful because beyond being scared to death, she was essentially unharmed. I am grateful to this burglar no harm came to her. But I cannot excuse what he did, breaking into a house and threatening harm.

The other night I dreamed a dream. I am often people who are not me in my dreams. I was a middle aged white couple in a lower middle class neighbourhood, new, devoid of many trees and fences, almost like an Edward Scissorhands landscape without the sculpted shrubbery.

These little dark children belonging to staff in the neighbourhood played in the front garden. They wanted to come into the house. They were desperate to see in it and just play in it they said, not one in the ten or so of them above the age of eight. My middle class white self in my dream shrank at the thought of the mess they would make, that I did not know these children and I feared they would break or steal small items. I tried to tell them that it was my house, to placate them. Even as I let a slightly older group of many nationalities into my kitchen. These children, I tried to explain, were my domestic helper’s child and his friends, white and black, I knew them.

Then I felt guilt, historic guilt, me and my imaginary husband and we let the rabble in too. They rushed up the stairs in the house in joyous delight. In my dream I floated above them but I could feel their thoughts. Today they would see privilege, they would play amongst the wealthy and the great. Bottles of cleaning product sat on every stair going up to the bedrooms of this house. There was a massive walk in closet – in actual fact a bedroom for this childless couple had more space than they needed. But there were barely any clothes in the cupboards. There was no television. There was nothing special or extravagant in this house. My dream self felt this couple had all they needed, it was basic and sufficient but actually they could not really afford much more. The house echoed emptiness in terms of belongings.

The children felt disappointment, they felt cheated. Where were the riches they thought they had been promised they could see outside? They wanted to see this, they demanded it. All these white people in their white houses with red roofs must have more. They grabbed what little they could find. A ragged book, a bottle of perfume. The lady of the house in frustration tried to retrieve her belongings as each child tried to leave with something, if anything, egged on by the others. She felt shame that she had and they did not but the more she conceded a belonging, the larger the object the next child demanded.

I awoke to a feeling of sadness. That these dream children were future children born in ignorant belief that it is a birthright that wealth be shared, that it existed even when it didn’t through some delusion of what the white walls hid. That one day they would grow up angry and insistent for what they had not been allowed to take immediately on request. I felt the same sadness I’d felt when I read Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country and Rian Malan’s My Traitors Heart for the first time. I cried a few tears for my beautiful country and prayed a silent prayer this was just a dream as sleep eluded me in the wee hours of the morning.

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On equality gone mad

I read a blog the other day and left a comment that perhaps the ‘troll’ who had acted all snippy to the blogger was simply feeling frustrated at being left out of the process of being a woman. Because, of course, all men want to be part of uncomfortable high heel shoes, stress about grey hair, once a month cramps and bleeding and childbirth. Apparently there was a woman in action event in the States and although a few men did go, they were obviously outnumbered. I thought the person who was against the writer was being rather unfair as men had been invited to the event, just not encouraged. I thought my current office was a bit unfair when they had a women in industry lunch they didn’t even let the men sit in if they wanted to for a free lunch. (Believe me, those men who would have dared to turn up would have been very quiet as there are some real dragons in this office who would have eaten them alive for sexism)

She wrote back a statement that she felt that women had been discriminated enough in the past and we deserved to have all women events with no XY chromosomes present – or something to that effect – because of what had happened to us in the past. Excuse me? Her past? My past? We are both fortunate enough to live in first world countries who have hopefully evolved far enough to realise what the word discrimination means even if the XY chromosome earns more than the XX one.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been trying to hold regular weekend lunches with my old team every few months. Although the team had men in it, they are mostly banned from attending or don’t want to. Additional extras in the forms of plus ones are definitely discouraged. As the one girl put it, she didn’t want smugly attached with significant other attached while we bitched about work and men. This was OUR time.

Neither do I want men in my change room at the gym or helping me out in the lingerie department. And to be honest, I would prefer if it is a full body massage you have boobs, real ones that might lactate, not just because you are fat.

But I didn’t agree we need formal all women clubs. I want to be able to go to the old all boys clubs, so how can I then exclude them from the womans’ ones. And lets face it, the boys clubs are more fun. They have single malt whisky and leather chairs and maybe strippers. The womens ones will just be about where to get botox and look how fat she’s got since she had kids in pastel colours with dainty china teacups and slender infinitely thin wine glasses instead of satisfying clunky crystal tumblers.

Likewise, I believe there ARE certain tasks better suited to certain sexes. Honestly, men are usually taller and stronger than women. That is why I keep them around. They can reach the top shelf in the kitchen and lift the heavy boxes for me. In return, because I have longer nails, I’ll unpick the knots on the rope that have been too tightly tied and even if I have a fear of heights, suffer to be the idiot on someone’s shoulders changing the lightbulb in the absence of ladder because I am lighter. I will ask for directions when we are lost so you don’t have to admit you didn’t know.

I don’t know why more jockeys aren’t women (probably as I don’t know enough about horse racing). We are naturally smaller with a lighter muscle mass. I prefer male fitness instructors. They are generally more engaged with their clients and push you harder while having a better sense of humour. (of course, I am GENERALISING)

The fact of the matter is evolution has meant we are different. If we weren’t we’d have to multiply like amoeba or earthworms which is not nearly as much fun. Of course women shouldn’t be considered less than men. But use your brain. Don’t confuse chivalry for sexism, keep everyone included and celebrate the differences.

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Slightly odd

In the last decade or two book stores have undergone a revolution. In an attempt to try seize back sales from online giants like Amazon and a host of charity shop/second hand book stores where one can feel ‘smug’ one has saved a volume from being pulped while regaining a piece of ‘history’ at a discount cost they have had to try attract people to them.

This chiefly seems to take the form of instore coffee shops. These subcontracted cafes serve quality franchised coffee in the middle of the store, the enticing smell of roasting coffee beans wafting across the scent of new paper and ink. The chairs and tables themselves tend to be the grotty standard fare of the franchise or these upholstered things that are supposed to be a poor man’s version of a wingchair belonging in a Victorian study.

I find these coffee shops slightly offensive for a number of reasons. They always lack natural light, being in basements or in the middle of the fourth floor in the furthest point on the floor plate from a window. (While the BOOKS which should be sun allergic can see daylight.) This oppression partly caused by the fact that book shelves surrounding the area create a certain claustrophobia even if the whole store had no windows to start with. The coffee tends to be slightly overpriced. People take books from the store and read them in the coffee area like it’s their personal library, oblivious to the fact that they have not purchased aforementioned book and are now breaking the spine of it (nothing worse than receiving a new book with a creased spine) and risking coffee and crumbs on it.

My biggest issue though is someone has clearly thought about lifestyle and the type of middle class person who they think regularly likes and buys books and how they would like to rest between bouts of retail therapy. BUT if they had really thought about what these people wanted, more of these coffee shops should be licensed. Only a few of them carry wine for example. And what ladies who lunch and buy books and bake and knit really want is a nice Chardonnay yes? While the gentleman who gardens and plays golf and wears tweed and polished shoes and read the Economist and Wilbur Smith would like a whisky. And maybe there are actually people under the age of forty who would like to sit in the coffee shop and not have it be so dreary but a little more funky.

Or maybe that’s the point. We want you to feel like we’ve changed for you and adapted for you. But actually we are pretty much as we were twenty years ago with a few frills. And we don’t want the coffee shop overrun because we are actually in the business of books not beans.

But if you are going to do that, just carry on being what you were twenty years ago. There is nothing more pleasing than racks and racks of beautiful book covered scented in new paper and dust motes. This is a bit like when granny died her hair from lilac rinse to auburn with pink streaks and thought she was down with the kids who were now all dyeing their hair white and lilac (which they are!)

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When were you ever truly lost?

So one of my friends has set off on an epic almost slightly absurd journey going from England to Mongolia in a very very small car. Routes I think are limited – you almost have to go through Russia because some of the parts on the alternative route you are almost guaranteed to die as opposed to just being seriously stranded with bottles of vodka and people going ‘da da da’ at you. He’s even started a WORDPRESS blog to record this (must really check if he will let me repost it as it is probably more interesting reading than me).

The idea is to raise money for two charities but frankly, I am just fascinated that one can literally leave the rat race for about a month and just race – in a funny little car. This is not quite the same as Footloose and the camper van which was an entire different long term lifestyle change that was even more beyond me. Where do all the untidy bits of your life go when you pack up your life like that? The family jewels (no, not THAT kind), the picture albums, the many pairs of shoes, the little bits of this and that which you accumulate somehow trying to prove to yourself that you have ‘become’ something in life through the random acquisition of vaguely nice or substantial items.

The fact of the matter is I am not good with lifestyle changes. I’m not actually good with change. It’s not an old soul thing, it just an old crabby thing. I can tell because the photocopier/printer was testing me yesterday and it has proven consistently to be the downfall of all people in this office over a certain age. The fact that it now thinks I am next in line is a bit worrying.

I can also tell I am against change because I bought the new Harper Lee book. I am not happy. Not so much because of the ‘shock’ plot line but because it is written in third person instead of first. It’s a first edition but a crummy one on cheap paper that just has odd punctuation and the occasional I am sure unintentional grammatical error that will be resolved on the next issue. And more importantly, after removing a number of key characters, Scout herself has grown up so much the only thing left of her is her stubborness. So much for show me a child at the age of seven and I will show you the (wo)man. Perhaps that is realistically what happens but I couldn’t see the girl at all through the third party eyes or the things she said or did.

Growing up is bittersweet.

Probably why I have never really successfully done so.

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