Tuesday, March 30, 2004

My garden is filled with papayas and mangos 

Garden planning for the new house. The garden is currently a mess of enormous rocks and clay. The first problem is to get in some kind of irrigation, which yours truly has been nominated to do. The next step is to pick the plants. This was last night's task.

I, as you may have spotted, am English. I am also a bloke. These two things make me singularly useless when it comes to picking plants for a South African garden. I don't know what all the English names of things mean, let alone the Latin ones. I just want a lemon tree because I think it's cool to be able to grow lemons in your garden. We also have about twenty chillies in our current garden for the same reason. I got a bit carried away with all the different varieties.

Luckily, as far as choosing plants is concerned, my role seems to be confined to looking up different varieties of bougainvillea, then picking them based on their names. I personally liked Scarlett O'Hara, but we seem to have settled on Danyo. Other than that, my presence is required more as moral support, so I sat there typing this on my Palm and eating a mango.

We're opting for a hedge too. When I say 'we' I'm using the matrimonial 'we', which means 'my wife'. The hedge has a fine history not only in English boundary disputes, but in South African ones too. In sixteen hundred and something, Jan van Riebeek had established the first permanent European presence at the Cape - the sailor's hangout that grew into Cape Town. He reported back to his Dutch bosses that he was having a spot of local difficulty, in that the resident population of Khoi-San herders and hunter-gatherers objected to having their cattle stolen as well as their land. The instruction came back from the gentlemen at the Dutch East India Company that van Riebeek was to isolate himself from the indigenous population by means of a moat, to be dug from table bay to False Bay, turning the Cape Peninsular into an island under Dutch rule. Van Riebeek, being on the scene, took a more pragmatic and less labour intensive route, and opted for a hedge. Given the pervious nature of hedges, this was probably not particularly effective, although the fact that it was a bitter almond hedge probably prevented it being eaten. A section of the hedge survives to this day, and is looked after in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, around the back of Table Mountain from the city.

To continue the digression, Kirstenbosch is a magical place with large lawns and beautifully kept gardens. At the top, it merges into the lower slopes of the mountain, and one of the most popular walking routes up - skeleton Gorge - starts at the top of the gardens. Come to think of it, if I was walking up a mountain, I'm not sure that a route known as Skeleton Gorge would be my first choice.
“Uh, why do they call this Skeleton Gorge, then?”

The start of Christmas each year for us is the annual Carols by Candlelight at Kirstenbosch, run by the local Rotary Club. Thousands of people go along in late afternoon with large, well lubricated picnics, and then when it gets dark, candles are lit and the singing starts. The noise from me is usually loud, but tuneless. My Boney M rendition of 'Mary's Boy Child' will full Caribbean accents is always popular, though.

Back to our garden, and lots of the plant seem to be spiky. Maybe it has something to do with the more hostile environment – even the plants need defences. There is a tree called (and I will probably spell this wrongly) a ‘wag n bitjie boom’, which I think translates as ‘wait a while tree’. I blundered into one once on one of my frequent off-fairway excursions whilst playing golf, and discovered how it got its name. The whole thing, although very innocuous looking, is covered in vicious spikes, so once you are in, it takes about five minutes of blood, scratches and swearing to get out again. Even my favourite lemon tree has spikes. We occasionally find small snakes impaled on them by, I am told, a bird called a fiscal shrike. I don’t know if they leave them there to soften up for later consumption, or if the shrikes just have a thing against snakes, but it is one of those little details that I love about living here.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Pump it up 

What with my sodding back, I haven’t been to the gym much lately. This is a shame, because gyms, especially in Cape Town, are highly entertaining. A gym is a sterile and un-natural environment for exercise, and everybody treats it like a lift, pretending they are alone. There is little noise except for grunts and pants and the clanking weights. Cape Town has a disproportionate number of gay men and models relative to its size, so the gym population splits into several distinct groups:

The gym bunnies: Lycra clad women busily stepping away or kick-box-ercising their way to firmer buns. This set includes the models, trophy wives, and everyone else who likes to look good on Clifton 4 in a G-string bikini. I’m desperately trying not to type something sexist that will get me flamed, but some days just being in the gym without even getting onto the treadmill is enough to get my heart rate up.

The sweaty hordes: men & women battling the onset of gravity and the fact that they eat more and do less than they used to. This is me. Baggy clothes and saggy arses. A subset of this group is the people who have quite obviously been told by a doctor to get to the gym or else. You rarely see them twice. Whether this is because the gym finishes them off, or they take their chances with the heart attack, I don’t know.

The mirror boys: free weights and free love. Almost as much Lycra as the gym bunnies, and almost as little hair. This is exercise as performance art: narcissism for the noughties. The people who run the gym know their market: it is far more important for them to keep the mirrors clean than it is to sweep the floor.

The only other group in the gym with bodies as muscular as the mirror boys is the professional rugby players who pop in from time to time. They are a lot hairier, and don’t ask them out if you are in this group – they wouldn’t take too kindly to it. I used to play rugby with a guy who went on to feature in South Africa’s world cup winning team (my career went in the opposite direction). I remember chatting to him in the bar, and looking at the hair sprouting from under his collar, idly wondering how he decided how far down his neck to stop shaving.


Friday, March 26, 2004

I want power steering and power brakes 

Last week half of the electrical stuff on the car stopped working intermittently, as did the speedometer. It’s amazing how quickly one adapts to a car that’s not functioning properly. I suppose that driving a 30 year old car all the time helps with coping with vehicular foibles, but I found myself quite quickly judging the speed using the rev counter, and checking to see if the fuel gauge was working before I tried to use the overdrive. You need your wits about you. Unfortunately, that and this blog is about the only time my wits get out these days.

The lights are going dim 

I think it was Einstein who defined stupidity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Computers inspire this kind of behaviour, but the trouble with computers is that they always do exactly what you tell them to do, which is usually not what you wanted them to do.

Anyway, I have a new one. Stupidity is sitting and watching a crap movie that you think you may have seen before, that finishes around midnight, just because it's on. Oh, and you haven't slept well in a month. Get a life. The sauvignon blanc went down well though. Maybe that’s the problem.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Long gone 

Newsflash: another fish passed away yesterday. The fish equivalent of ‘passed on’ is presumably ‘floated up’, and there he was, belly up and bloated. The little pal we had bought him is now on his own. My son wanted to show me the deceased’s final resting place this morning, so led me to the bin and instructed me to remove the layers of dog food tins and potato peel so I could find his body. I declined.

I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed with the burial – even the dead frog in the pool got a shallow grave in the flower bed. Come to think of it, I’m surprised that the dog hasn’t found it yet.

Moving on 

My life is currently split in two by our impending impending move. Everything is either Before Moving or After Moving. This makes prioritisation of tasks quite easy, and anything AM is a world away. It’s rather like Christmas feels when you’re about six years old. AM exists at the moment only in the abstract – the concept of actually living in that building site is tricky to grasp. Another reason that AM and BM are so different is that my hyper efficient wife has packed away a lot of stuff in preparation for the move, so there are a lot of empty spaces and heavy boxes. Decision making is simplified:

The drawer it was in is empty? AM.
Paying the builder? BM, or we can't move in.
Doing my tax return? AM. I can christen the new study with my sweat and tears.
Fixing the car? Trickier this one. Quite a lot has gone on the blink lately. Indicators & overdrive BM; speedo AM. Probably, unless it turns out to be easy or fun.

This year, next year, sometime, never.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Whoops there goes another pint 

For anybody who cares about these things, you may have noticed a long break over the weekend. That’s because Sunday was Human Rights Day in South Africa – it’s the anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre in 1969. 69 people were killed and 180 injured when presenting themselves for arrest in what started out as a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid pass laws. These laws required any black person to carry a pass if they were in a white area. The pass would show the details of the job that they were going to or from, and for which they needed to intrude upon the white suburbs. Surprisingly enough, lots of people objected to this, hence the demonstration. And the holiday. Great thing about living in a country with such an interesting recent history: loads of public holidays. South Africa has 13 I think, plus an extra one this year for the election. ALso 11 official languages, but that's another story.

Anyway, the highlights of this weekend were sporting: England’s cricket win in the Windies, and beating the Welsh at Twickenham. The former is out of synch with my time zone, not to mention not being on telly over here. The latter I watched at a bar in Hout Bay which obviously isn’t used to the pressure: the pub was about half full when they ran out of glasses.
“Pint of Windhoek draft please.”
“Would you like a bottle with that, sir?”

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A comfortable bed that won’t hurt my back 

More body stress release. I’m face down on the bench, and through the gap between the two halves of it, I can see the drool pillow beneath. I can see the right hand side of the drool pillow with my left eye, and the left side with my right eye. The ambient falling asleep music has changed from waves to slow jazzy sax: Kenny G on dope. Like the mood music for an Egyptian road movie. I thought at one point I heard the camel fart, but it turned out to be the collie asleep under the desk. The rattle and hum of the ageing air conditioner competes with the soothing sax. It doesn’t do much for me though – I am with the Commitments as far as jazz is concerned: musical wanking.

The prodding and stroking that composes the stress release is still hard to get used to. What he is doing is so gentle that I wonder if I could inadvertently achieve the same results, or bugger things up altogether, by simply leaning against something lumpy. If so little effort is expended in putting things straight, then it must be dangerously easy to crick everything again. Maybe there’s more to it – it feels like I am having runes sketched on my back. Hieroglyphics maybe.

After a spell working on my back, with me lying on my front drooling on the cushion, he turns me over to do the front. There seems to be so little to do on my ribs that I wonder if this stage is just to allow the marks on my face to disappear before I'm released to face the rest of the morning. The whole thing does seem to be helping, though. By no means cured, I am feeling more flexible. Wobbly even.

Listening to: Eric Clapton. All of his best songs belong to someone else, except one, and that's about someone else's wife.

Friday, March 19, 2004

What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good 

I’ve been browsing some blogs lately. My favourites are mostly in the sidebar. What makes a good one? I think it’s a certain hit rate as far as good posts are concerned. Not everyone can post a cracker everyday, so what makes it worthwhile is when a certain proportion of posts are worth reading.

It’s like albums, or movies. You need the contrast to make you realise how good the good bits are. A Blood on the Tracks wouldn’t be so great if you didn’t know that the same guy was capable of releasing a Slow Train Coming. Within the album it’s the same: a Darlington County balanced with a Downbound Train. Yin & yang. Or something.

A little quality can go a long way. Ask Ringo.

Listening to: Chuck Berry. Just realised that Bruce’s “It was bye-bye New Jersey, we were airborne” was nicked from You Can’t Catch Me.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

It's a small blogging world... I was looking through the South African blogs on blogwise, and one of the 20-odd was from a guy in the film industry. Hmmm. Given my recent experiences, I thought I'd have a look, and one of his recent posts is about "our" advert. I'm glad to see that he wasn't rude about my little girl. Then there'd be trouble...

War is declared 

I spent six years living and working in London before I moved to Cape Town. There can be few more exciting places to live, especially if you enjoy spending a lot of the money that you are earning. Having made the move to a saner, more relaxed lifestyle, I now look back at London via the occasional visit, the electronic versions of London papers, and what I hear from friends.

With the recent bombs in Madrid, and the pointless “we’re next - don’t say I didn’t warn you” speeches of senior policemen, I suspect that life in London is a little more tense than it has been for a while. During the time I lived there, the IRA was bombing the capital, and the threat of sudden tragedy was as tangible as the smog. I can vividly remember the surreal shock I felt when sitting in a bar on a Texas holiday, watching CNN, and seeing the remains of the Sussex pub in Covent Garden, where I had been a week or two before.

Shortly after I moved jobs, into my terribly exciting consulting career, there was a bomb about 50 yards from where I used to catch the bus in Docklands. I recognised the face of one of the dead as the guy I used to buy my paper from. Being vaguely foreign looking, he would probably be a suspect these days. It was all very close to home.

The bastards who do this kind of thing seem to pride themselves on the impact that their actions can have, and a bit of symbolism seems to make the blood taste sweeter to them as well. This should be a help. If you have any control over the time you can spend in London, I would suggest avoiding the following dates:

Jan 17 (first Desert Storm attacks on Baghdad, 1990)
Feb 23 (Desert Storm ground attack, 1990)
March 11 (Madrid, 2004)
March 20 (Invasion of Iraq, 2003)
April 9 (Liberation of Baghdad, 2003)
April 21 (Queen's birthday)
April 23 (St Georges Day)
June 12 (Queen's official birthday)
September 11 (WTC, 2001)
October 7 (Covert attacks on Afghanistan, 2001)
October / November (State opening of Parliament, 2004)
November? (around presidential elections, 2004)

Of these, I would be most concerned about the ones in the next few weeks (March 20th, April 9th), on the grounds that we wouldn’t expect anything that soon after Madrid; and the significant ones later in the year (Sep 11th, Parliament), on the grounds that their planning capacity is limited and we might have relaxed a bit by then. In terms of locations, the tube is the obvious one, but iconic spots like St. Paul’s are also a possibility.

While you’re waiting, avoid sweating Arabs with large backpacks. Pubs are also good places to avoid Muslims…

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

My baby don’t care for clothes 

Well, the film shoot was a pain in the arse. We ended up being there all day Friday & Saturday, most of Sunday, and most of Monday too. It was an interesting experience though - it’s amazing how many people seem to be needed to make an advert. There was a producer, a director, a cameraman, a couple of heavy-lifting types (grips??), a general organiser, a make-up lady, a looking after the kids woman, four or five clients, a nappy guy, and about 10 others with no apparent role other than lounging about on sofas looking bored. That little lot doesn’t even include the catering crew and the kids & parents.

Sunday’s jaunt was still photos for the nappy packet, while Friday, Saturday & Monday was action. Looking at the guys behind the camera, though, I was struck by one thing: they all looked like child molesters from central casting. Is this wise? Two year olds that you are filming cavorting around in your nappies, and you expect them to smile cheerfully at a leery old uncle?

Then, by coincidence, I watched a tape that a colleague had lent me from the Oscar ceremony, and it dawned on me. They are all modelling themselves on Peter Jackson. Oh Lordy.

Listening to: American Heartbeat, a compilation of REO-Speed-Foreigner type tracks. How can an album called American Heartbeat start with a song called Africa? Maybe it’s true that Americans don’t do irony.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Isn’t she… 

Memo to Quentin Tarantino:
Dear Q,
Congratulations on getting yourself into a position where a gore-fest like Kill Bill is treated with reverence by movie critics worldwide. Congratulations also on resurrecting the careers of Pam Griers & John Travolta, and giving Bruce Willis back his street-cred.
Here’s a challenge: Molly Ringwald. If you can get her back onto the big screen, then I will be truly impressed.
Best of luck.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Posing for consumer products 

I’m going to be a model. This could be the first step in broadening my earning options. I took my daughter this morning for her 3rd casting for an advert. There are a lot of these things shot in Cape Town because the weather is reliable, everything is cheap, the locals speak English, and the time zone is about the same as Europe. The first of these castings I had gone to was on a Saturday, and I took Jen because the boss was busy with something else. I was about the only Dad there, so had a certain rarity value, we played a bit on camera and they took my details too.

This morning, they had specifically asked for me as well, so I went along. They are trying to cast a baby and dad for a new pull-up nappy TV commercial (nappy = diaper; try to keep up). All the "Dads" there were trendy model types with great tans and cool shades. Then there's me. My hair isn't nearly sexy enough, but I've got a secret weapon: Jen. The cutest 2 year old in the world. And she will not go near any other bloke (let's hope that lasts for another 20 years or so). When it comes to the screen-test, they want her to 'ride' a broomstick horse. No problem. Then they want her to ride on a guy's back. No way. My back? No problem, so off we go. A room full of poncy filming types, and me and Jen playing horsey. Very cool.

This afternoon, they called me back. Can I come for filming tomorrow? This is the actual filming of the actual ad itself. They even pay us for this, because obviously they want Jen too. I think the fact that they won't have to spend 3 hours persuading a kid to ignore all the advice it's been given its whole life about strangers is a bonus. They can just saddle me up and Jen will hop on. So I've given them my measurements, and now I'm waiting for them to call back so I can negotiate a fee.

This all started as a favour for a friend who is starting an agency for kids. Now I could find myself on TV in the middle of Sex & the City. Targeted advertising – you’ve got to love it. I always love the way that the condoms and the pregnancy tests occupy adjacent shelves in the chemist. Cause and effect.

Anyway, Jen is experienced at this stuff: she’s already been on a soap powder box. I’m nervous as hell. Hope she’ll look after me.

Listening to: Don Henley, Boys of Summer: got the top pulled down and the radio on…

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I'm always hoping 

My bloody back hurts. I’ve been suffering with this for about 5 years, on and off, but in the last few months, a stiff and sore lower back has been a more or less permanent feature of my life. In simple terms, it means that I can’t sneeze without first bracing myself against something, and I can’t put the loo seat up without bending my knees. I have been to various chiropractors to try and fix it, but with limited success. The session of painful twisting and cracking of my bones usually results in some improvement, but I am usually tender for a day or two afterwards, and it never seems to do the trick completely.

My latest venture is to entrust myself to something called body stress release. This is apparently a South African invention that is spreading across the globe. The theory goes that certain muscles supporting the spine are permanently tight, which gives you problems. This tightness is caused by physical, mental, or emotional stress. The best way to relieve the problem, so the theory goes, is to gently persuade the muscle to relax so that everything goes back to normal. This all sounds vaguely plausible, and I had heard good reports, so I went along for a session.

The table that the practitioner uses is made up of two (warning: unintentional and potentially messy alliteration coming up) parallel padded planks. When you start, these are almost vertical, and you step onto a platform at the bottom, lean against the planks, and are then cranked into a horizontal position. So far, so good. Face down on the bed, fully clothed, and he went to work. Now I have been attacked by physios and chiropractors many times, and this experience was nothing like as uncomfortable. Beneath my head, under the table, was a cushion. I initially assumed that this was to catch the drool from those who fell asleep, but it turns out that it’s to put your head on when you turn onto your back. The fact that falling asleep was a possibility at all is testament to the soothing nature of the treatment – much more like a massage than a manipulation. Adding to the soporific nature of the whole thing was the soothing music - with wave noises - that he played during the treatment.

The treatment itself is a bit weird. It felt like a series of very precise pokes with his thumb. Every so often he performed a longer stroke, then rushed round to my feet to see what happened. Apparently, the body acts as a ‘biofeedback mechanism’ so my feet can speak to him. Or something. Anyway, I went for the second session last night. This was much the same as the first, except his dog was asleep under the table, and the seagulls had arrived to accompany the waves. He was a bit disappointed to hear that I had felt much the same after the first treatment as I had before it. Still, we live in hope. Watch this space. If this doesn’t work out, I might give yoga a try. Something's got to fix it.

Listening to: The White Stripes, Elephant.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

No bed of roses 

Well, I seem to have survived the anniversary. We opted in the end for a movie – a chick flick inevitably – Under the Tuscan Sun. The only problem was that I had also arrange to go to the rugby at Newlands, so getting out of the Newlands chaos, back to home, then back to the movies in about an hour was pushing it a bit. We made it though, and I just about got away with it.
“How much have you had to drink?”
“Just a few beers.” Five or six, I think. That one for the road wasn’t such a great idea.
A change of scene, some popcorn, a fluffy movie, and everything is fine. The movie wasn’t great – enjoyable enough, and an easy way to spend a couple of hours, but the kind of thing for a Sunday night video rather than a full-on movie-going experience. You have to pick your targets more carefully when, because of kids and logistics, a trip to the movies is such an event.

Of course, if I thought the game at Newlands was crap, which it was, then the game from Twickenham that I had recorded to watch when I got home was awful. Much more engaging as a game, and with a far superior standard of rugby, but a crap result. The English lineout was shockingly bad. Steve Thompson couldn’t hit a barn door with a bazooka. But Belle de Jour was at a rocking party, so it wasn’t all bad this weekend for English hookers.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

There's no way to get out 

I’m in a bad mood today. I had to put on emergency underwear. Let me explain. I emerged, dripping and still half asleep, from the shower this morning to discover a minor crisis in my underwear drawer. To start from the beginning, I’m a boxers man. Me and Bill Murray.

Now most of the boxers that I own are very comfy, suitably loose fitting, and jolly nice. Thanks for asking. On some days however, today being an example, all of my good underwear is in the wash. In these situations I have to restort to the stuff I wish I’d never bought in the first place. The boxers that don’t fit properly: the leg holes are too small, there’s not enough arse-room, the flies have a button (why?!?). This means that I spend the day getting my knickers in a twist - snagged round various bits of my anatomy, cutting off the blood supply and generally making me tetchy.

Too much information? Sorry, I needed to vent.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Got a feel for my automobile 

I may have mentioned that I drive an old car. It’s 30 this year. I love it – the looks, sound, smells – it’s a multi-sensory experience. Apart from the terrific fun I have driving it, it is a big Meccano kit. I never had Meccano when I was a kid, but as an adult, at the grand old age of thirty something, I enjoy having something like this to play with. I derive a tremendous amount of satisfaction from getting something to work properly, on the rare occasions that I manage to do it myself, or from just understanding how it works. It gives me a moral superiority over the regular road users who just put petrol in once a week, then drop their car off to be serviced when the light on the dashboard comes on. Around Cape Town, there are many old cars, often piloted by ex-pats. Sunny Sundays see them being eased out of their garages and driven around the coast to a sunny lunch or drinks at sundown.

It has just occurred to me, though, that in a perverse way I enjoy it most when things go wrong with it. I derive enormous satisfaction from musing over the latest clunk or squeak, tracking down its source, and figuring out how to fix it. Fixing it is not always (OK, not usually) within my mechanical skills, but if it is, then that is the icing on the cake. Another bonus is if the newly discovered problem explains something else that has been bothering me for weeks.

The latest incarnation of this phenomenon was a clunking noise when the left rear wheel went over a bump. Not good. Wheels coming loose makes it very difficult to drive in a straight line. Trust me on this one – I’ve been there. Several times. Anyway, a quick acceleration to deliberately hit the bump coming into our drive, almost running over the dog in the process, confirmed that I have two problems. One: the dog has no road sense whatsoever. Cars are simply couriers of beings that stroke and feed, so we need to get as close as possible. Two: the clunk is definitely there, definitely coming from the rear wheel area, and happens every time. That’s great – the worst things are those that generate their squeak or rattle intermittently. When you try and demonstrate it to the mechanic, it cures itself, only to return, worse than ever, when it’s got you on your own again.

Anyway, in the garage, and bounce the back of the car. Clunk. Do it again. Clunk. Diagnosis time: try and shake the rear wheel – I’ve seen mechanics do this, so it must tell them something. It doesn’t tell me anything except that the wheel is firmly attached. Good. Next, feel behind the wheel for the shock absorber. Ooh – it feels loose. Bounce car again. Trap fingers in loose shock mounting. Success: I have found the problem, and sustained the obligatory daft injury in the process. What is more, I think it’s something I can fix. Drive happily to work, listening to the clunk.

Then: a revelation occurs. For a few weeks, the car has had a funny twitch as I exit a right hand bend, and it has just occurred to me that this could be the same problem. Spring and shock are compressed in the bend, then coming out, the spring bounces back into place, but the shock is loose, so it gives easily, then catches the spring again as it comes up. Hey presto: a twitch! Fault – problem – explanation of additional symptom – success! My day is complete.

The next thing is to get round to fixing it. I find that I can put up with something almost indefinitely if I know what causes it. This is especially true if I know that whatever it is does no lasting damage. In some ways I even prefer it:
“Oh yes, that’s just the shock mounting. Must get round to fixing it.” Our hero gazes thoughtfully into the distance, as if imagining the feel of the torque wrench in his oily fingers.
It’s very satisfying. Next week: what happens when our hero fails to put the wheel back on properly. The adventures of a sports car with wheels that point in different directions.

Listening to: Bonnie Raitt, Luck of the Draw – my favourite car fixing music.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Buy us a dinner and a bottle of wine 

My wife and I have been married for seven years this month. Nobody mention Marilyn. Seven years. We've known each other for nearly ten, which is even scarier. Do we get some kind of certificate? The hardest part of marriage for me are those moments when I think "what the hell is this incredible woman doing with me?" One wife, two kids, two dogs. Those seem pretty good stats for now, so I think I'd like them to remain stable. All bets are off on the fish, his two mates having died in bizarre circumstances. They are - were - guppies, I think, tiny little things which appeared one day in the sitting room, following a trip to the pet shop with the kids, in a small tank with a plastic shipwreck. So we fed them, cleaned them out occasionally, and that was about that. I’m sad to say that these two things that we did for the fish were to lead to the deaths of two thirds of the trio.

I was sprinkling some foul smelling fish flakes on the water’s surface one morning when I noticed a certain lack of activity inside the tank. There were only two little wrigglers in there, wriggling. I finally spotted the third, wedged into the porthole of the shipwreck, eyes glazed, stuck tight and dead as a doornail. He probably thought he could make it, forgot the extra fish flake he'd had for lunch, then whoops. Poor little bugger.

The second was equally strange. In the cleaning process, there is a tricky stage when you have to catch them and transfer them from the tank into a temporary home, usually a large mixing bowl. This operation takes place over the sink, due to the water sloshing around. One washday, the black one (they were all slightly different colours. We didn't give them names or anything though. There didn't seem to be much point) was wrigglier than usual, leaped out of the water at a crucial point in the transfer, and straight down the drain. Way to go Nemo. Watch out for the crocodiles. And the turds. And then there was one.

Anyway, the anniversary leads to the usual dance:
"What should we do?"
"What do you want to do?" (Cunning move that - see how I turned it right round?)
"Do you want to go out to dinner?" (Oh shit, a definite proposal. Yes: pick a restaurant; No: why the hell not?)
"Ye-es, but we are trying to save money, what with the building and everything" (Damn, I'm good. Mr thoughtful and responsible. Hang on what about Mr Romantic? Too late.)
Mention of the building swings things into the latest decision: door knobs or handles? Tough one. Then I realise: she's got me again. The subject has now been broached. No decision made. It's now my role (me Tarzan) to fix things up. Make a decision (uh-oh), make some plans, sort things out. See how she did that? Me neither. Bugger. Seven years of marriage. Want to know what I have learned about these situations? Absolutely nothing. I do know some good florists though.

So we are looking for romantic, cheap, easy to plan, original. Suggestions on a postcard. Quick.

Listening to: The White Stripes, White Blood Cells.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

There’s always something happening 

Did I mention that we are moving soon? Not only that, but we are building a house. Not us, obviously - we're paying someone to do it for us. That's a South African trait, by the way. A South African will say to you "I built a pool", which to me conjures images of sweaty days spent with a shovel at the bottom of a large hole in the ground. To an Englishman, the same activity comes out as "I had a pool built". It is as if the South African would like you to believe that he created this thing from nothing with his own hands, whilst the Englishman would want you to know that he would never sully himself with such menial labour. He has a man to do it for him.

So we have a builder. Mike. Very nice guy, if a bit casual, and so far we have not fallen out with him. That is probably because his slack at the moment is most visible in a very un-builderly attitude towards his bills, and not in a laidback approach to, say, the structural strength of walls. It is said that building a house is one of the more stressful activities to which you can voluntarily subject yourself. The worst in stress terms is probably a wedding, in as much as that is voluntary. At the moment, and as far as I can foresee this won’t change for the next eight weeks or so, the process of building seems to consume all of our time, energy, and money.

It would probably be fun, in as much as someone with a Y chromosome can find these things fun, to redo a room in the house. Choose a new bathtub, say. Maybe one of those bubbly ones. To choose the stuff for an entire house is to subject a master of indecision such as myself to a peculiar form of torture. "What colour should the outside be?" "What colour should the bathroom be? The bedroom? The kitchen?" Shit, I don't know - they all look the same. I like what you like. How about that off-white colour? Fluffy peaches, rancid butter, singed silk, or whatever it's called. Then the fittings. Taps, basins, oven, curtains, help! I need to access my inner poof or something. (Note for South Africans & Yanks: poof = moffie = fag. Don't know which of those is PC. Sorry.)

This leads me to contemplate Things I Will Miss About the Old House:
1. the view of the sunset
2. the big pool
3. the neighbours (except the German guy who wanders his garden in droopy Y-fronts)

Things I won't miss:
1. the fragile tiles we put in, which are now peeling. Yes, peeling.
2. rattling doors, and the nightly ritual of wedging socks in the worst ones.
3. crap layout, and our bedroom being a thoroughfare.
4. the stupid dogs that live next door and howl when their owners get home.
5. the floods under the doors when it rains and the wind blows in the wrong direction.
6. the light on the gate that I didn't install properly, so it only comes on in the daylight. Oops.

Hmmm, looks like moving might not be so bad. Apart from the packing. And unpacking. Whee hee.

Listening to: The Who, Live at Leeds.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The things they do look awful cold 

I’m getting old. Want to know how old I am? I can remember Live Aid, and even thought it was pretty cool that Phil Collins played both concerts. I used to own the first “Now That’s What I Call Music”. On double LP (that’s vinyl, kids). I’m even older than my car, which is a classic. I’ve got children – two!

Still, I reckon the comment I got from a colleague the other day was a bit harsh. In reference to the fact that Counting Crows are playing Cape Town:
“You aren’t going are you? You’re too old for concerts!”
Pah. I went last time they played here, although I may have been the only guy in the audience who recognised the Gram Parsons song they played. As it happens, I’m not going, but not because I’m too old. It’s just so hard to get a baby-sitter.

Monday, March 01, 2004

It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it 

Lots of people don’t like management consultants. Lots of people have a good reason for this. Lots of people have been sacked, screwed around or just patronised by consultants. As a consultant, I am painfully aware of this, and try to behave in a way that kills off a few stereotypes. I also know that the work that we do is truly valuable. Sure, I’ve been on one or two dud projects, but the vast majority of what we do is enormously useful to the client. Unfortunately many people, and by extension clients, are put off by what seem like high prices, and their own concerns over what hiring consultants says about them and their competence. The best clients are those who are secure in the fact that they are not expendable, and are therefore comfortable enough to be open to new ideas. The worst are the kind that think they are open minded, but are kidding only themselves. Or haven’t got a clue what they are doing in the first place.

What brought this on? Well, one long term client just decided, for the second time in recent months, that a project for which we have proposed does not exist. “We’ve decided not to go that route.” Would it not have been better to make that decision before you wasted everyone’s time and energy? How long before your boss realises that you are screwing the whole thing up and pulls the plug? Does the phrase “couldn’t run a bath” mean anything to you?

Listening to: Leonard Cohen, as if I wasn’t depressed enough already.

Do do doo, do do da de do do doo... 

So, I was thanked in an Oscars acceptance speech, how many people can say that? Well, me and 44 million other people in South Africa, plus the entire population of New Zealand, apart from the sheep. What gets me is Charlize Theron's accent. If she spoke like everybody else in Benoni, she'd probably need subtitles for an American audience, but a bit of a South African accent wouldn't go amiss. Has she been completely re-programmed? If she hadn't mentioned it, I bet most people would think she was from Beverley Hills.

Big irony: Monster wasn't released in South Africa until last Friday.

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