Thursday, July 29, 2010

The singing mug

Wow, I'm just a little bundle of joy, aren't I? That's what comes from being a bit of a sensitive soul, dealing with lots of things, in a state of flux/confusion. Life, I guess. Oh, and the PMS. Yes, that could have just a little bit to do with it. But don't you tell me that, or I might bight your head off, chew it up slowly, and spit the bits into the gutter. Or something. Yes, perhaps that is a small influence on my mood. Maybe.

There is an ad on TV at the moment with a whole bunch of coffee mugs that sing when they get coffee (and a particular brand of powdered creamer) in them. They all have different, but sweet, smiley faces and sing "So happy together..", or whatever it's called, in chorus, while sitting on people's desks, looking friendly. I want one.

Just imagine how much more fun the office would be if, when you got in in the morning, and made yourself your first cup of coffee, your mug looked up, smiled, and sang "So happy togeeetheeer..."? Hmm, ok, thinking about it, maybe I need to find one that has a slightly bigger repertoire. I have that song stuck in my head from seeing the ad last night, and I'm not sure I want that ALL the time.

So to all of you, my hundreds of two readers (this is especially a challenge for you, Catherine, I know you're good at theses things), please could you find me a singing mug, with a relatively large repertoire. Preferably a stripey one. I like stripes.

For who's life could be incomplete with a singing mug?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fear again

My mind ambles, no, drags its little mind-feet from one place to the other, dead weight. As I start to latch onto one thing I am rudely forced to another, never quite getting a grip on any idea or thought, slowly trudging through a swamp of them, none more enticing than the next, all rather dreary really. A bunch of tadpoles in a muddy puddle, the wind whipping around it, threatening any hopes of them becoming frogs.

I received a joyous SMS from an old school friend, a lovely girl who deserves every ounce of happiness coming her way, announcing that she is expecting her second child. Not an unusual SMS for me to get, being of that age where people are getting into second (and third) sprogs. Happy families.*

Today, though, with my dreary, dredgy mind, it just slammed me on the back of my head and made me wonder when it was that I got left behind. How did I miss the queue for Finding a Husband and where was turnoff to the First Baby (and Second etc)? Which pathway did I accidently stumble away from? I realise I am not alone in this mid-30’s status, and also that the whole marriage thing has never been a huge focus in my life (I’m not one of those who has dreamt of my princess bridal gown since I was 6 years old.)

It’s none of that fairytale stuff, it’s that fear of mine again, rearing its ugly, sharp-tooth-filled head, red eyes glinting. Loneliness. It’s biting at my heels, its teeth bared, waiting. A fear that makes me do silly things and makes my head spin until I feel physically ill.

A fear I need to fight.

*For the record: I did not send a horrible, dark reply because I really am glad for her. It’s fabulous news and received the joyous reply it deserved.

Flaws, and more flaws

Admitting that one has some serious characteristic flaws is really hard. Well, it is for me. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, I guess. I have a whole bunch some character traits that are really crap. Like seriously crap. I’m not kidding. They’re crap for me, they’re even crapper for those around me. It’s just, well, crappy.

And I’m not talking about my just-now-seen-above inability to come up with decent, grammatically-correct and socially-acceptable adjectives to describe my character flaws, I’m talking about real stuff, horrible things. Sometimes they make me feel like a hideous person. The real problem lies, then, in the fact that if I’m feeling hideous, I prickle towards everyone, making them feel hideous too.

Crap. I told you. See?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I work in the healthcare sphere, my Real Work, that is. Monday to Thursday I deal, in a roundabout way with people’s lives, in a clinical sense. I try to distance myself from it because the stories I hear are often heartbreaking and they make me lose faith in humanity so, in a way, each day as I leave the office, I put on my blinkers and pretend all is right with the world, despite what I have heard during the day saying otherwise.

Perhaps this is a wrong approach, burying my head in the sand, pretending, but I fear that if I didn’t do this, I might not be able to drag myself back to Real Work each day. You see, it is fulfilling what I do, I get to help people, make a difference, do something in a field where so much is needed and, often, resources are slim. So I keep at it, blinkering, opening up, blinkering, opening up…

But then, every now and again, I deal with something that is too raw, too real. I just had a call from a woman who has, in effect, received a life sentence, and her voice told it all. Fear, sadness, chill. My heart broke. Not just for her, but all the others too, the one’s I try to push to the back of my mind, deep down, far below, where I can’t see them.

You see, while I faithfully put those blinkers on, hide my head in the sand, push those souls where I can’t see them, they are still there, watching silently, waiting to jump up and yell. Because this disease we’re trying to deal with in this beautiful country at the tip of Africa is a monster, creeping in, not-so-surreptitiously anymore. It wraps its cold hands around our people’s throats, tightening slowly and cruelly. HIV – monstrous megalomaniac.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Another letter

I tend towards completely mildly absurd stalkbook statuses. Mostly they are vaguely (or cryptically) related to what’s going on in my life but, sometimes, they’re just nonsense. Those angst-filled Facebook statuses irritate me. You know the ones? The ones that are shouting “Look at me! Look at me! I need sympathy! Ask me what’s wrong.” Ones like: Poppie van Complainer is so cross.

Anyway, let me not get off my point. At some stage last week I had a completely nonsense one and a cousin of a friend of mine (you’ve got to love Stalkbook for its ability to make you ‘friends’ with all sorts) commented thus: ROFLMFAO.

You know my affinity for text-language. I have had to compose a letter which I should send.

Dear Cousin-of-Friend,

Thank you so much for commenting on my Stalkbook status. As much as we don’t like to admit it, acknowledgement of any kind is always welcome, even if it is of an incomprehensible kind on a vacuous platform such as Stalkbook. I just have a little thing to say.

While I am also of the kind that opens Stalkbook, then wanders into the kitchen to make myself a nice sandwich (cheese and gherkin, with a smattering of chutney is currently my favourite) while it is downloading, one should not fill one’s mouth with said sandwich, just before commenting. As my mother (and I’m sure yours) always said, it is rude to talk with one’s mouth full and, generally, also makes what you are saying unintelligible.

This was obviously the case with your comment: ROFLMFAO. I spent a long time (while eating my delicious cheese/gherkin/chutney sandwich), trying to work out exactly what you were trying to say. I’m going to go with: You are wonderfully clever, witty, and beautiful too. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Thanks, again, for commenting though. Please don’t let this put you off. As I said, I’m a sucker for acknowledgement.

Shiny x

I am getting old, aren’t I?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A confession

WARNING: This post may be slightly over-dramatised*

I have a confession to make. It is very hard for me to admit, as I fear excommunication, or at least mild shunning, from contemporary society. I have been hiding it for years and years, since the first showing of it. It was just so “order of the day” and everybody loved it, I couldn’t reveal my dark secret.

I thought, perhaps, when it first showed its face in the early ‘90s that it’d be a passing phase, that I could get away with my terrible truth. I endured occasion after occasion, smiling sweetly and making the right noises, while inwardly I felt my bile rise.

I have realised now, with ever more daring versions of it constantly being thrown in our faces, that it is here to stay, and now I feel I must clear the air, be honest, and tell my truth…

I really, really, really don’t like pesto. In any form. Its green mushiness does nothing for me. There, I said it.

I wonder if I’m alone on this?

*See? I wasn’t kidding. That’s what boredom at Real Work will do for you on a Tuesday afternoon.

A cocktail party, sans cocktails

A sticky silence pervaded the small, strangley decorated room. It made me think that possibly the interior designer in charge of this one was suffering from some acid flashback at the time of decoration and thought people might feel comforted with carpets up the walls on two sides and a completely mirrored wall on another. A mirror which everybody was avoiding, in case they caught a glimpse of one of the other’s eyes.

There were about ten of us, all strangers, standing about, a tiny cocktail party but with no cocktails. I looked around for one of those pineapples with sausages and pickled onions on toothpicks sticking out of it. A snack hedgehog. But there wasn’t one.

Three well-dressed, middle-aged men stood together at the back, looking like overgrown schoolboys in their shirts and ties. I imagined they might have marbles or catapults in their pockets, and perhaps a half-chewed toffee.

In the mirror, I surreptitiously watched a flash of lust pass through the tallest man’s eyes as he looked at the pretty young girl standing next to him. She was wearing jeans that she must’ve put on when they were wet, so tight they were, and a low-cut t-shirt, the top of her bra peeking tantalisingly out above the neckline on one side. She smelt like Issey Miyake.

The frumpy lady in the corner was looking uncomfortable. She rummaged around in her bag for nothing in particular, avoiding eye contact with the fat man who was standing in her space. I felt claustrophobic for her. The silence was getting thicker as our time together lengthened.

Then the young girl sneezed. A chorus of “Bless you” and a ping to announce our arrival on the ground floor. The lift doors opened, a rush of fresh air, and our little cocktailless cocktail party was over.

Lifts. Strange places aren't they?

Monday, July 19, 2010

A transluscent moment

I stayed in the car while she put wild flowers on her grandmother’s grave. It wasn’t a planned visit. We were on our way to breathe fresh air in the hills on a blue sky Saturday. It was unseasonably warm, despite the storybook snow-capped peaks in the distance. She had told me stories of her grandmother in the car, love-laden, childhood reminiscing, perfect for an open-skied, back route road trip.

It was an unknown experience for me, not the graveyard, but visiting someone I ‘know’ in a graveyard. My mother is a social anthropologist and is fascinated by graveyards so I spent hours as a child trailing around behind my parents in any graveyard we happened to pass by. My family, however, are of the cremation sort.

It was a typical small town South African graveyard (I am, due to the above-mentioned fascination of my mother, a well-seasoned graveyard connoisseur, for lack of a better word), slightly dilapidated, a mix of small, simple headstones and huge granite monoliths, all with heart-wrenching inscriptions. I stayed in the car while she walked through them to her grandmother’s and laid wild flowers on it. I was taken aback by my rush of emotion watching her bend down at the grave. And then I just felt priviledged. To have been allowed to be there.

Sometimes it’s the tiny transluscent moments that make one step back and look properly, isn’t it?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A fishy tale

On Sunday G and I braved The Monstrous Shopping Mall (MSM) to get my phone upgrade, pay bills, and do (generally boring) shopping-type things. During the course of the afternoon we paid a visit to the toilet, as one does. We visited the ‘Moms-and-tots’ toilet, a small room in which there is an ‘adult’ toilet next to a ‘kiddy’ toilet, and the same with basins. As is fairly usual in MSM-type places, the toilet is an airless place with no outside light or air. Behind the side-by-side toilets, I kid you not, is a fish tank, set into the wall. A narrow little space, with a photo of waterplants stuck at the back and glass at the front. With fish in it.

I was horrified. I felt my latent-Greenpeace-hippy-activism rise, like bile, into my throat. Fish, swimming about, with nothing to see but mothers and tots (and me), peeing. Seems a little unfair to me. I decided to be a good citizen of the world and e-mailed them. This morning my phone rang (impressively), and on the other end was the MSM’s liason officer, or whatever she is. This was how our conversation went:

LO: Good morning Shiny, it’s LO here, in response to your mail.

Shiny: Hello, thanks for getting back to me.

LO: About the fish… Thank you for your concern. They are not actually anything to do with MSM and are looked after by an external fishy specialist.

Shiny: Right, but they’re in the MSM so, surely, you are ultimately responsible for them and it seems cruel and unnecessary to keep fish in an environment like that?

LO: They are fed and looked after by the fishy specialist who says they are perfectly happy there.

Shiny: I’m sure he does. He gets money from you every month for keeping them, as you call it, well-fed and ‘happy’.

LO: Yes, well, um, we have only had compliments from mothers before whose children can watch the fish while they finish their ‘business’.

Shiny: [sigh] Oh, right, well, as long as the moms and tots are happy, let’s forget about our finned friends. Thanks for getting back to me.

LO: Pleasure. Have a lovely day.

So now, I’m afraid, I am plotting. Human selfishness makes me cross. Children the world over have got along just fine for thousands of years while their mother’s finish their ‘business’ without putting little fish in tiny airless rooms behind glass, why the need now?

I have visions of G and I, balaclava-ed, leopard crawling through the MSM, Tupperware and net in hand, scooping our little fishy friends out of their tank and taking them down to the seaside to be released. I know, I know, they’re tropical and would probably freeze their fins off if I dumped them in the exceedingly cold Atlantic Ocean, but I’ll think of a better follow-up plan.

In the meantime, anyone know of a shop that stocks balaclavas (or maybe those Presidents of America rubbery masks)?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Help, please?

I need help. In all manner of ways, but let me just ask for it from one direction first. I need to work out how to protect myself. I have spent a lot of time thinking about things and have come to the conclusion that I am too sensitive and I have no cooking clue about how to fix that. Honestly, I feel rubbed raw by it, like all my nerve endings are exposed and they keep making me really, really sad.

I just want to be one of those people who can turn away from stuff and carry on with life and not feel ripped apart by the cruel things in the world. My heart breaks too easily, and I’m struggling to keep all the little pieces together to keep it beating and pumping blood, and doing the things hearts are supposed to do.

Isn’t there some kind of protective gear I can put on, to feel less?

Monday, July 12, 2010

A flashback and an old friend

My mother sews, beautifully. She made all of our clothes as children, much to our chagrin as teenagers, when all I longed for was just one item of clothing with a label (the ingratitude of adolescents!) She still sews for us if we are specific about what we want, years of experience having taught her that.

It was with a pair of pants in mind that I found myself, reminiscent of my childhood, in a material shop with my mother this morning. She can spend hours, possibly days, in those places so I had prepared myself mentally for some people-watching while she ambled about touching, stretching, experienced-seamstressing the hundreds of rolls of material.

My father drove us to the edge of the city where the enormous, warehouse-like material shop lives, two buildings down from the lap-dancing place where young Eastern European beauties trade their ware (apparently) and my mother and I went into the Aladdin-like cave (the fabric place, not the lap-dancing one.) As expected, my mother went into her Material Hunter mode and I sat quietly watching people.

The thing is, though, I had this funny feeling from when we walked in. You know that feeling when you meet someone and you feel like you know them, but you don't know where from? I looked at my mother's fellow hunters - the elderly sisters dressed in clothes too young for them, trying to find the perfect blue chiffon to go over the pale violet satin they'd chosen; the movie-type blonde wanting metres and metres of white fabric for a set; the gentle Xhosa lady going through the cordurouy for the perfect colour for children's dungarees (with my mother, momentarily distracted by possible fabrics for dungarees for the fabulous twin grandsons) - nope, none of them seemed familiar (other than my mother, of course.)

Then I suddenly got flashbacks of dark, smokey corners, flashing lights and loud music and I realised that behind me, where there were now shelves and shelves of buttons and zips, there used to be a bar and there, on that huge floor covered in rows of material was a dancefloor and up there, where the material shop owner stood talking on a cellphone, surveying the room, was the DJ box.

This here material shop used to be a club, it was the building that was the familiar person I'd been feeling, having been there once, in it's previous life as a nightclub, before it had retired into the more sedate phase of fabrics. I sat thinking of the night, the people I'd been with, that time of my life.

It's always nice to bump into an old friend, isn't it?

Stars and questions answered

The lovely Mud over at Not Enough Mud gave me an award thing which I don't know how to put here but I feel terribly proud of, in a gold-star-on-forehead-at-nursery-school kind of way, which is why I must brag mention it here. It also came with one of those fill in things about yourself things. Having been struck down by a desire not to talk about the rather dark swirlings in my head, it came at a very opportune time. Thank you Mud.

1. Which do you prefer city or country?
Definitely country, although I live in The City Beneath the Mountain. I love big skies, where you can breathe in large gulps-full of country air.

2. Do you feel old?
If you count 9-year old (boy) old, maybe.

3. What was your most embarrassing moment and can you share it?
Hmmm, there are so many. Nope, don’t think I can share, but thanks for asking.

4. What was the best thing you ever did at school?
Slide down the banisters at high speed. It was a definite no-no at our prim All Girls School. I NEVER walked down the stairs.

5. Who do you most aspire to be like?
Tinkerbell. She can fly. And grant wishes. And has that lovely sparkley light around her all the time when she’s flitting about.

6. Do you think you are ambitious?
Not really. I would like to be able to fly though, if that counts (see above.)

7. If you didn’t do what you are doing now what would you like to have done?
Travelled the world writing stories about people I meet in small towns in the middle of nowhere with big skies.

8. What would be your most perfect meal?
Spagetti bolognaise (my mum’s.)

9. Have you ever broken the law?
I’m just going to say yes. And leave it at that.

9. What songs would be in your Top 3?
Oh, that’s a tough one, I have a Top 100. Three of them are:
They Might be Giants – Birdhouse in your soul
The Shins – New Slang
Snow Patrol – Set fire to the third bar

Anything else you'd like to know?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Flickering ballerinas

It’s a wonderful fire, made from aromatic wood that crackles like storybook fires should. The flames flicker and dance, orange ballerinas, warm and welcoming. I am entranced. I need to move away though, before it sucks me in completely and I fall into it and burn to ash.

I back away slowly, not looking behind me, the heat lessening. I bump into something, a bed, lose my balance, and fall onto it. It is warm, inviting, all in the purest, whitest linen, a feather duvet so light it feels as though it might flap its wings at any moment and fly away. I snuggle into it and it wraps itself around me, a cocoon of safety. I know I must get up from this too, it is wrapping itself tighter, smothering me. I push up, away and it lets go suddenly, propelling me into the fire.

I am suddenly covered in a layer of thick bark, impenetrable, over my whole body. My foot lands in the crackling fire and catches alight. I move away again, this time frightened. There is only the fire or the bed. I dive under the bed, into the corner. It is dark. I fold in on myself, my tears flow, dousing my foot, leaving just a smouldering ember, glowing beautiful orange in my huddled corner.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The cycle of life

He was a real boy. There were five of us cousins on my mother’s side – four girls, and him. My sister and he were the eldest, and there was always some kind of ‘sibling/cousin-rivalry’ between them. Then there was me and the middle girl, close in age, we got on well. And then the baby cousin. She is six years younger – poor thing, we taunted her terribly as children! Basically, my sister and the boy clashed whenever we got together. He, admittedly, did turn into a bit of a spoilt rich boy teenager and went through a particularly annoying stage.

We didn’t see them often, probably once a year because they lived far away, up north in The Desert Country, on a beautiful, vast game farm, in a castle (I kid you not.) I loved it there. My uncle was not welcome here on the tip of Africa during the nasty Apartheid years because he had been outspoken during his university years here, so we had to visit them there mostly.

So we grew up together, apart. Joined by genes, separated by distance. As one does, we grew apart, but whenever we got together it was like no time had passed. He grew out of his adolescent arrogance, stayed on the farm and became a well-respected game ranger (he could see animals where you’d swear there were none) and married a wonderful, young American girl and they had two baby boys. They visited us with the two little ones here in the City Beneath the Mountain about five years ago, staying with my parents.

It was my birthday, and I was having a party in my garage. My mother was insistent that I invite them, I was reticent – they didn’t know my sister was gay (or so I thought), I was worried they’d be judgemental of the gay people there. Eventually I gave up aruguing with my mother (as one does, it’s pointless) and said they could come, with a fluttery nervous feeling in my tummy.

Halfway through the evening I looked across my garden to see him, beer in hand, arm around one of my favourite gay boy friends, swapping e-mail addresses, as he invited him to stay on the farm up in The Desert Country, anytime. A while later I saw him and my sister talking animatedly, laughing together like old friends. I realised at that moment that I had read him so wrong for so long. Wonderful boy.

I am eternally grateful that I gave in to my mother's insistence. Yet another occassion where she was right, despite my teenage tendencies to try and deny it.

Him and his lovely wife proceeded to produce another two beautiful boys, bringing their happy little brood to four. When the baby was four months old, he was killed in a car accident, leaving his wife and four boys under six. There are no words to describe the devastation of it.

His funeral, attended by hundreds, was testament to how wonderful he really was, and he was buried on the farm, down by the dam, where he had fished throughout his life, a peaceful place looked over by the enormous blue African sky.

That was two years ago, almost to the day and this morning I was greeted with a mail from my Aunt to say that my youngest cousin, his sister, (she who we taunted) gave birth on Saturday morning to her second child (the first is a girl) – a little boy, who is named after him. I cried big, fat tears – raw sadness (still) mixed with unadulterated joy.

I guess that’s what they call the cycle of life?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dark places

As we stepped through the door from the fresh, icy winter air outside, it hit me, almost forcing me back into the street. It trickled down the stairs, invisibly thick and gloopy. I tried to turn away but it was too late, up the stairs we went, my lungs filling with it, almost choking me. At the top of the stairs, through the gloomy blue light, it hit me at full force. An air of desperation, not of the quiet type, but of the loud, in-your-face, shouty type.

On the dancefloor some people moved self-conciously to the crappy music – monotonously belting out a techno-beat – watching to see if anybody was looking. At the bar, three pretty girls drank shot after shot of children’s-coloured-too-sweet-shots, presumably in an attempt to convince themselves (unnecessarily) of their beauty, looking around, mascaraed eyelashes fluttering, lipsticked lips pouting, waiting to be picked up.

In the corner, a table of egos sat, talking too loudly, too fast, while they wiped their noses free of traces of white powder, a boring conversation made marginally more interesting, but only to the participants, their eyes bright, on the outside, the induced-shininess hiding a blankness behind it.

I felt my soul being sucked out of me by the desperation. I kept waiting for a pack of wild dogs to come out of the bathroom or from behind the bar, ripping a small animal apart, blood spurting. It was at that point I realised I needed to get out of that meat market, and quickly.

Do you think I’ve got too old for the clubbing scene?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pedro Almodovar

I love him. Well, I guess not really him, but his films (I might love him, too, if I met him, but I can't be sure.) I went to see Broken Embraces today. Fabulous. Just what I needed to let me look through those bars of the cage I spoke about earlier. Escapism. There's nothing like a dark cinema, the smell of popcorn, the carpetted walls, a bunch of quirky Spaniards on screen, to get you away from the dark passages in your own head.

It's the perfect mix of drama, romance, tragedy and dark humour that he somehow always manages to get. And the colours! There is one scene with tomatoes, beautifully plump ones that you can just imagine grew wildly in somebody's gorgeously unlandscaped Spanish garden. Penelope Cruz splashes a plump tear on one which could be such a schmaltzy scene, but it's not.

I cried and cried, and smiled, and was entranced.

Who doesn't love the movies?


It's the cage that gets her. The bars are too close together. The shell around her, inside the cage, isn't good either. She's building it up to a point that she is struggling to breathe. She keeps feeling herself gulping, but still not getting enough in, it's making her dizzy. It causes her to want to creep into a corner and dissolve. Then she'd just be a puddle, in a shell, in a cage.

She sits amongst them all, hears them talking, but it's like background noise, a TV warbling away to itself in another room. Somehow she manages to respond sufficiently to any interactions that nobody notices her distraction. Her mind is swarming.

She doesn't want to be asked those questions. She knows the answers, she knows the advice, it is what she would say too, but she doesn't want to hear it, not now. Instead she has another drink, toasts to another thing, laughs with them, knowing what she's doing, spiralling. Her laugh is hollow.