Thursday, September 30, 2010

A liitle sad story

She was running, as fast as she possibly could. She imagined that, to someone watching her, her legs would be a blur. She breathed raggedly, sucking in lungsful of the freezing air which felt like it slipped down into her lungs and created tiny icicles falling and piercing her insides excruciatingly.

Attached to her wrist was a red helium balloon which was bobbing comically in the air, trying its hardest to escape from the humdrum of this running-as-fast-as-you-can-standing-stillness. She’d flown away with it, into the bright blue sky, over green fields, but that was before she got concreted. Each time a growling car passed, the balloon bumped and pulled.

Looking around she realised that, in fact, she wasn’t moving at all. She tried to run faster, but she was concreted in that one spot, surrounded by suburban houses trying to outdo each other with higher walls and shinier doorknobs. Cars and taxis whizzed past her, growling, baring their teeth, and coughing their poison gases over her. She smelt the rot of the city.

On the verge was a small patch of grass upon which five children sat, a steps-and-stairs bunch, playing. They seemed to be conducting some sort of experiment with some snails and two ants. She tried to run towards them, her breath shortening, but she remained rooted and they started to blur, first losing their outlines, then their entire beings, until all that was left was a small shadow on the grass, an outline of love.

Her heart was being strangled by the whole scene and she began to realise, while she was concreted to that spot, the balloon wasn’t, so she began to bite through its string until it flew up, carried by that icy wind into the bright blue sky.

She watched it twist and turn and dance and as she watched she felt her substance draining away. A gust of wind blew down the street gathering her fluttering shell up in it, blowing her along the gutter to the rain drain at the corner, next to a Simba chip packet which fluttered disconsolately as she landed on it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The bigger picture

Every now and again I clumsily climb out of my body (my spirit or maybe my so-called intelligence?) and flit around above my head, trying to gain some sort of ‘bigger picture’. I keep hearing mention of this bigger picture thing and I want to see it too, thus the attempts at flitting about to look. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, this is the type of report back that I get:

Dear Shiny,

Wake up and smell the coffee. You’re being a fool. Stop it.

Shiny x


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A letter to the computer geek

This one needs no introduction.

Dear Computer Guy,

I have spoken to you about this before, but you seem not to get it. I realise that you are superbly clever and sophisticated in a technological way, but I am not. I keep telling you this. While I am incredibly impressed with your prowess when it comes to computer talk and eternally grateful to you for updating our database, I honestly couldn’t give a rat’s arse as to the intricacies of how you did it.

To be honest, when my eyes glaze over as you start explaining in minute detail, your face close enough to mine for me to count the pores on your nose, it is not from gushing lust (as you seem to think), but pure, unadulterated boredom. Your careful explanation, to me, sounds like “blah, blah, blah”, possibly in Japanese, but I can't be sure.

Thank you, again, for your help, I honestly couldn’t have done it without you, but please, in future, can we keep our communications in English, and at a respectable ‘personal space’ distance?

Shiny x

P.S. About those pores… I’ve got a fabulous face-wash at home. Shall I bring you a little sample? I stole some urine sample collecting vessels from the pathologist when I was there having blood taken, which are just the right size for a little face-wash sample. Let me know (in English, not computer Japanese.)

I wonder if it's just me that glazes over at the mention of 'visual basic'?

The most unfortunate Uncle Jack

I’d heard of him before. Uncle Jack. The one everyone refers to as the ‘Black Sheep’ in quiet tones at the end of the Christmas lunch table. He was my mother’s great uncle, brother of her granny (my great grandmother.) My mother’s side is prone to snobbery, I fear, as this story will illustrate.

Oh, wait, let me catch you up. We went to dinner last night at a shush jush juj smart hotel in town with my uncle (mum’s brother) and aunt who are in town for a short stay from up in the wilds of Africa. My parents are still looking for turkeys (I hope) in Turkey so I dragged G along, hoping that not too many dark family secrets would be discussed. Fat chance.

My beloved uncle, after getting us drinks, and catching up on current family affairs, launched into the Uncle Jack story with glee, allowing me to tell the one I know first, and then trumping me with a second one.

The one I know:

Uncle Jack was always a ‘bit of a strange bloke’ and had some social problems that the family couldn’t abide so that, at some stage, they all lost contact. There is a time in Uncle Jack’s life that seems a little hazy (probably was for him too, by the sounds of things) and nobody knew where he was for some years.

Then Great Granny C went shopping, to the smart department store (we’re probably talking late 1940’s, early 50’s here – the time of kid gloves and hats being worn to go shopping) in The Big Smoke. The one with the elevator, into which she primly stepped to go upstairs (I wonder what she was going to buy… frilly knickers?) The lift man asked her which floor and she looked up… into the face of Uncle Jack.

“First floor, please,” she said politely. And no more. She stepped out on the first floor and went off to buy her frilly knickers (I assume), not even glancing back.

Isn’t that terrible?

Then my uncle told his story:

One Christmas… we’re a family that likes Christmas, and do the full deal ALWAYS, despite the sweltering African heat at that time of year. Nothing will stop us from roasted turkey, replete (is that the right word?) with stuffing, all the roasted vegetables, chipolatas, a Christmas pudding drunk on brandy from being fed it for at least three months before, lit and coin-infested.

Anyway, yes, so one such day, many many moons ago, before Uncle Jack ‘disappeared’, they all sat around the table, Christmas hats on heads etc. It came time for the flaming pudding and Uncle Jack was serving it when the family cat came mewling around his legs. Uncle Jack, poor guy, tapped the mewling, twisting cat on its little cat nose and the cat promptly stopped mewling and fell over. Dead.

What more can you say but: Oops?

Monday, September 27, 2010

A weekend in the country

I went away for the weekend to a funny little house on a baby dam overlooking a big dam with a huge sky above it. The sun set behind the big dam each evening flinging beautiful pinks and oranges across said huge sky. There were five of us, old friends, and the Big Black Dog (BBD) who C kindly sat squashed up with in the back of the car. She thought she’d died and gone to heaven (the BBD, not C.) It was lovely. On Friday we went into the little village across the valley for lunch and Shuzie wondered what I’d blog about. There was much blog fodder.

I could blog about the little house, with its neighbours sitting on top of us, their bathroom just on the other side of Pop and Shuzie’s bedroom, providing them with late night irritation entertainment of the bath/toilet sounds variety. Or the fact that the other three of us slept in the lounge, allowing for cosy five-in-a-bed lazy mornings of tea, chat, and impromptu Thirty Seconds challenges.

Or I could blog about the delicious lunch we had at a hidden little restaurant where a simley (moon-faced) Zimbabwean waiter served us cold beers in salad dressing bottles, ‘beautiful baby potatoes’ and risotto with ‘delicious pea sprouts’ from the restaurant garden and ginger beer out of a can which the barman swore had bits of ginger in it (as opposed to the rust it really was.) The BBD fell in love with a very elegant golden retriever and whined like a teenager to be set free to go and snog (or whatever Big Black Dogs do to their loves) around the corner.

Or I could blog about the prawns on a braai supper we had, followed by a Thirty Seconds competition as the most enormous wind storm buffeted the funny little house on a baby dam overlooking a big dam with a huge sky above it for the whole first night. I thought the roof would blow of. It didn’t.

Or I could blog about Pop, and her hair falling out in clumps from the chemo (she goes for her second session today) and our discussions of hats and scarves and healthy eating and how brave she’s being and how I want to wrap her in cotton wool and put her safely in a bejewelled box where she doesn’t need to go through all this, but that’s her story to blog.

Or I could blog about lunch at the place where the frogs live where we saw no frogs, ate not-particularly-good food but admired the deep blue of many, many peacocks and then went home to sit in front of the funny little house on a baby dam overlooking a big dam with a huge sky above it and looked at the dam and the sky and watched G and the BBD swim in the baby dam while fish jumped out around them, checking to see who was invading their territory.

Or I could blog about the revitalising feeling of spending a weekend with old friends who require no explanations, no airs and graces, no pretence. And then, a donkey to wave goodbye as we headed home toward the City Beneath the Mountain, a little cherry on top.

Or I could just not say anything about it, couldn’t I?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Backed in a corner

It’s October next week. No, I’m not lying… it really is. Can you believe? I know it becomes such a monotonous cry of ‘how time is flying’, over and over but, um, it’s just true. The older you get, the quicker it goes. Last October I did this little daily writing experiment thing (on another site) and I am going to try and be better with my writing this October. I feel like I’ve been ignoring myself and writing about other people. Okay, it’s not just a feeling, it’s a truth. I had a privacy panic. Perfectly normal Shiny behaviour really. There are things I just can’t won’t talk about here.

Spring is here and it’s new leaf time. I feel a little proud and very scared that I just sent a (very tentative, putting out feelers) e-mail to a place in The Big Smoke, asking about jobs there. I’ve been in my Real Job for 12 years and we are currently being under-appreciated so I’m thinking maybe it’s time I ruffle my feathers a bit. It’s very much tentative though, a move from The City Beneath the Mountain being a big thing. The twins (my lovely one-year old nephews) are there, though. Maybe I should make a Stay/Go list.

I am just feeling a little like a hissing kitten backed in a corner in oh-so-many facets of my life, like I need to flee. Hopefully it’s a fleeting feeling. Hopefully it’s just that time of year. Somehow, as the months creep (fly) toward December I tend to get it. Bleergh. Must remember: new leaf. Spring.

We all have them feelings, don’t we?

A table of men

I went out for dinner last night with my friend C, just around the corner to a little place I frequent owned by a very Grumpy Man with a big heart. I love going there because he treats me like a favourite. Last night he threatened to fire the waitress who was trying to turn us away because they were full if he ever heard her sending me away again, while he arranged a table near the kitchen for us. Love it.

We were sat next to a long table (empty on arrival) that gradually filled up with old men. Turned out it was a 50th school reunion from one of the boy’s schools. Fifty years and they managed a table of sixteen of them, amazing. It was wonderful to watch as each one arrived, a little unsure at first, some introductions necessary (I guess one changes just a tad in 50 years), the telltale cock of their heads giving away the age of their ears.

One of them had brought the school album from the year they’d left and they passed it around, laughing, talking up a storm, almost schoolboy-like. I was chatting to C, but suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I could see it. Those sixteen boys, in grey schoolboy shorts and long socks, satchels on their backs, marbles in their pockets. You could see, still, which of them would’ve had perfect, straight, ties and which would’ve been slightly more dishevelled – shoes scuffed, white shirts not tucked in properly.

It’s weird that I felt such a sense of loveliness because, honestly, I have no desire whatsoever to go to any school reunion of my own. Varsity? Sure. And there are a couple of people from school I wouldn’t mind catching up with but the thought of a full-on reunion fills me with dread.

Maybe in another thirty years time I’ll feel differently?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The unlonely man

I went for a follow up X-ray this morning but don’t fret, this post has no gory details of innards and such, it’s about the people I saw there. Mainly one of them. G took me, which made it much more fun. We decided to go a bit earlier and have some breakfast at the hospital canteen. I had Eggs Florentine for the first time in my life. It was delicious, other than the fact that the cheese sauce (I thought it was meant to be Hollandaise?) was made from processed cheese. Let me not get into a food review though, I am (again) straying.

I am always struck in hospitals by the invisible fog of emotion. As the electronic doors open, the fresh air from outside rushes in to dilute the flitting-about emotions inside – sadness for sick loved ones, ecstatic happiness for new beings just born, worry for unknown ailings – it swirls and twirls.

We sat at a table on the edge of the canteen, listening to the three ‘older’ ladies two tables away discussing last night’s episode of Survivor, something they obviously do every Tuesday morning, each one religiously sticking up for their favourite animal in the cage contestant.

As we sipped on our café lattes, chatting about all manner of things both of us looked toward the edge of the canteen area as an impeccably dressed man arrived, arranged his filofax and book neatly on a table, folded his jacket neatly on a chair and sat down. He ordered coffee from the waitress and sat with his hands neatly clasped on his lap. She brought the coffee and he ordered some toast and anchovette and ate it, also neatly.

In between his foodly orders he made a few phonecalls (one to the lady he was waiting for, to check he had time for the toast before she arrived, one to somebody (a friend perhaps, or a patient) to see if she was feeling better and had a good night), he received a call (I think from his lover, but that’s just my imagination running away with me) who he told he was waiting for a rep, having some coffee and toast. I sound nosey, don’t I? This was all done loudly, in a coffee shop, at a table near us, so I figure he wasn’t looking for privacy.

This all sounds pretty ordinary doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. You see, throughout all this (between his waitress interactions and phonecalls) he conducted a solid conversation. With himself. Just below hearing level. It was amazing and, as I said to G, what a great way to be! He must never be lonely, having himself as a constant companion, somebody who understands him fully and who he gets along with oh-so-very-well. I guess some people would call him mad.

We should all be so lucky to be that kind of companionable mad, shouldn’t we?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Spring cleaning... from the inside

Urgh. If you are squeamish about... erm... toilet things, then go no further. You have been warned and I can now take no responsibility for spoiling your Sunday lunch if you choose, despite my being very clear, to continue.

Normally, these are not things which I write about, them falling into that file underneath all my others, the tatty brown one with the torn cover that says UN ENTIONABLES on the spine, the M having been covered by a splat of coffee from the mug which I bumped one misty Saturday morning while trying to coordinate my limbs before fully waking up. It's just that it was something that was so horrendous and, in a sick way, hilarious, that I can't not write about it.

Let me begin at the beginning (I keep trying to read up on how to write properly and there is one thread that goes through all the words of writing wisdom: Start at the Beginning. I'm trying.) Here goes:

I've been feeling just a tad under the weather for a while - bloated, vaguely nauseous, very tired and I decided last week to stop ignoring it and see the doctor.

I love my doctor, he's like a grandfather and often tries to persuade me to go to whiskey tastings with him. He prodded me and sent me off to have an X-ray, the report of which I read on my way back to him. I hate the way X-ray people seal the envelope with the report and disc (no longer do you get a huge envelope with enormous negatives showing your innards) as if it's a secret you're not allowed to read. They're MY innards.

Unfortunately, the report said something I didn't like. I have faecal loading (ugh... a medical way of saying a blockage in my intestine, a.k.a. severe constipation.) Wierdly, my normal 'routine' had been, well, normal, but inside me, there it was for everybody (who saw the disc or read the report) to see. And it certainly explained my malaise.

My dear old doctor smirked at me as he said: "You'll have to do a major washout. Best you set aside tomorrow. You won't be going anywhere," as he wrote a script for a melodiously odious sounding Golytely. Honestly, who names this stuff?

Things I learnt on Friday, on my date with said Mr Golytely:
  1. Drinking four litres of what tastes like salt water over four hours can not be likened to cocktails on a Friday afternoon.
  2. Adding a vaguely vanilla-ish aroma to said salt water just makes it more sickly (but thanks for trying, manufacturers.)
  3. Looking 6 months pregnant due to the 3 litres of vanilla-aroma'd salt water in your poor tummy makes one feel sicker. And silly.
  4. Expelling four litres of vanilla-aroma'd salt water from your nether regions over a period of approximately 8 hours, which feels like 8 days, is not fun.
  5. Being phoned half-hourly by your sniggering sister for running commentry on 'how much has gone in and how much out' does nothing to improve one's mood.
  6. Having one's stomach sound like a cross between a coffee percolater and a tractor is disturbing in the most disturbing way.
  7. When having to go through such an ordeal, plan it for a work day, so at least you get a day off school in return for your pain and suffering.

Problem, is after it all, I don't seem to be feeling better and my tummy (poor thing) is still not a happy camper. I am holding thumbs that this doesn't mean that I suffered this ordeal for no better reason than to regale you with my sorry tale, I shall speak to my kindly doctor tomorrow. Blegh.

I told you to stop reading if you're squeamish, didn't I?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Small Town Sadness

There's something about Small Town South Africa that is dusty. Even a little town in the greenest, lushest valley has a layer of dust over it, like a house that needs a featherduster. The shops in the main street (and I'm talking generically here) generally have sparsely stocked shelves where you can find handcreams still in the bottles they were made in in the 80's and sewing kits with those little silver threaders in them. All made slightly dull with the layer of dust.

It's not only the literal dust, though. The buildings and, often, the people have it too. They don't gleam and shimmer like city buildings and city people. They don't knock down the ugly 70's shop that houses the Pep store (another Small Town requirement) to replace it with a steel and glass architectural monstrosity where beautiful people can sip cocktails while pouting their collagen-filled lips and blow air kisses at each other, falsely. Pep stays, it keeps the same stock of cheap and cheerful clothes, homeware and TV bars at the counter, as it did in my Small Town when I grew up. It still smells exactly the same.

It's real. I think that's why there's the dust. People are just humans, there is no need to silicone, liposuck, extend one's eyelashes because people here know who you are, they've watched you grow up, they've seen you fall, pick yourself up again. Good grief, they've talked about it on a Friday night at the bar. You've talked about them. It works both ways.

Our little town we went to had that dust and the Pep store. We drove through it on the Monday evening when we arrived, the wide main road looked at us quizzically in the afternoon sun. It was quiet but we thought that was just Small Town. The vaguely sad, still feeling was there each time we went into town (from our cottage on a farm next to the river) during the week.

We decided to have our hair cut while we were there, entranced by the local hairdressing salon: Hair by Me, opposite the garage. Me seemed a good person to give one's hair a trim. Stopping outside the shop on the Thursday, we noticed a small bunch of flowers, and a poster with a girl's name on it saying "In loving memory. 2010/09/06". The Monday we'd arrived. Me, the hairdresser was not there. She'd be back next week, according to a sign on her door.

On the Friday we stopped in for a beer at the bar. And there we heard why the little town was so still. A little girl, she was to turn 11 that Thursday, had been knocked over by a bus that was coming out of the garage opposite Hair by Me on her way to school on Monday morning. She had looked the wrong way and stepped in front of it. The funeral had been that morning.

The stillness of the town was not just a Small Town thing, it was a palpable sadness, the heart-wrenching brokenness of a place that had lost one of its young, way before her time.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The girl in the bar

She could be fifteen or thirty-five, it’s hard to tell. Her hair is two-tone – blonde above, black below, and a little greasy. Standing up in her aubergine-coloured velvet tracksuit as we enter the bar, it is obvious she needs to lose a little weight. Her smile is sweet and kind, but her eyes hide something. The bar smells of smoke, as if the windows (which are all there, eagerly awaiting) haven’t been opened since 1976. In fact, bar the enormous flat screen TV in the corner blaring E!, nothing much has changed in this bar since then, with it’s stained carpet (each one, I’m sure with a story to tell) and fake leather chairs.

It’s early Friday afternoon and the place is desserted. She fetches us two wonderfully cold beers from behind the bar. It’s a typical small town South African bar – an enormous bottle of brandy half-full (she says the farmers come and drink five litres in a night) amongst multi-coloured bottles of too-sweet-headache-inducing-shots, the essential array of foreign notes stuck to the walls and a couple of ‘bar joke gimmicky things’ strewn about the place.

She plonks herself next to us, at our table, and first explains what’s going on with the Playboy-Bunny-Types on the TV, my inquisitive soul asks questions, encouraging her tales. Her family bought this hotel four months ago and she lives here, alone. They visit at weekends sometimes. She is essentially a small-town girl, who has had flashes of city life. They didn’t agree with her, you can tell, but she doesn’t elaborate. Her loneliness spills over our table in a sweet stream of strangely naïve but street-smart stories of her life. This girl has seen things she wishes she hadn’t.

The boys who manage the golf club arrive and they greet her by name, in a brotherly fashion they tease her. There is no question that they will join our conversation. They get their drinks, and do. It’s friendly, it’s small town, and it’s Friday afternoon. Then the local mechanic and his sullen wife with their two children (!) arrive. The children have a pack of cards and they sit at the next table and play Rummy. He turns his back on his wife, talking to the golfing boys as she sips on her alchopop. The Jukebox is cranked up to a volume where conversation becomes difficult.

We’re hungry so we leave them to it. The Friday afternoon sun shines on the dusty main road outside as we leave, loud music following us down the street.

Her eyes are haunting me still.

Friday, September 3, 2010

300th post... Well sort-of

Oops, I missed it. I'm not sure how, because (I thought) I was watching so carefully, each time I signed in and wrote a post, seeing the numbers click up... 298... 299... and then, whamo!, this morning... 301. I was planning a great 300th post. 300! That means I spilled out words onto a screen 300 (and 1) times. Sheesh. Obviously a pretty cloud scudded by or a hadeda flapped and shouted over at me, or something, which distracted me, and made me miss it. It's not serious, though, because this 'centurial' birthday, I don't think I have anything momentous to announce. No great blurts, like the 100th and 200th. You know my Tragedystory... you know pretty much all. Well, all of the things I'm willing to write in a public forum. Oh, the privacy thing, yes, it's still there.

So what to say on this, my 300th (+2) post? I think the thing I want to say is Thank You. To the world, really, to Blogland and the real one. I realised while thinking about this post this morning that both the real and the 'unreal' (blog) realm provide me with so much entertainment and just stuff to write about, be it sometimes just inane rambling. Had I not got into this blog thing I would be neglecting my writing even more than I do already. And I really do love it, once I start.

This all sounds a bit like an Oscar acceptance speech except that nobody is starting to play music so that I’ll shush and leave the stage. I am back from my break in the countryside to a little place on a big river in a village with an aching heart. We ate, we slept (a lot!), we played Trvial Pursuit (a lot), we read books, and we stared at the stars and the beautiful new moon. And it was quiet, except for the sounds of birds and the occasional tractor. I was meant to write while I was there. I didn’t open my laptop once. It was bliss.

I have lots of stories to write now – of the village with it’s sad tragedy that happened, unbeknownst to us initially; the young girl Heidi-like, up in the hills, doing wine tasting; the old man, youngest of eight, at the bottom of the hill, making wine; and the talkative girl at the hotel bar, fixated on E!’s inane ramblings of blondes drinking too much and taking their clothes off, her story too dark to tell in our fleeting meeting, but I could feel it was there.

Best I get to work then, isn’t it?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Moments away from holiday

We're going away. To the country. Next week. To get there we will mount the silver-winged unicorn and she will carry us gently away from The City Beneath the Mountain, with her fast cars and fumes, bright lights and loud people. Through the dark tunnel where gnomes mine for precious gems we'll travel and out the other side to unpolluted blue skies and fresh air, the mountains towering above us, watching as we trot along the narrow black strip at their feet.

And then toward the gentler, greener, hills, vineyards dotted about (and hopefully a donkey or two) toward the big brown river that meanders through, creating an emerald landscape. On the banks of that river, our silver-winged unicorn will come to a stop and it is there, in that peaceful place, that we will rest. For the better part of a week. No internet access, intermittent cell-phone reception, and oodles and oodles of air.

A place to read, to write, to breathe and think. To look up at the stars, an uninterrupted upside-down paint-by-numbers, no city lights to dull it. A fireplace to stare into, not just at night, but at 10am, if we feel like it. And with a glass of red wine too, if it takes our fancy. It is only just coming in time, before I murder a colleague or jump out of my fifth floor Ivory Tower window myself. A holiday. Away.

Is it obvious that I can't wait?