Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The old man

He was old. The kind of old that squishes up your face with wrinkles that tell a million stories of a long and difficult life. He was crippled, limping along with a crutch to help him, up the long hill to the hospital where he’d sit all day, waitingwaitingwaiting for somebody to see him.

We stopped in our big-comfy-car-with-just-two-people-in-it, he struggled to get in, his one leg stiff and sore. Close up, he was even more wrinkly, his face filled with stories I’d love to have time to hear. We glided up the hill, dropping him at the entrance. He quietly thanked us, unnecessarily, as we helped him out, asking for his little plastic bag which he’d left on the seat. Inside: some dry bread, to keep hunger at bay on the plastic chairs while he sits waitingwaitingwaiting.

And again my throat constricts at the great divide as I try to swallow my priviledged tears and try to think of how to make it better.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Sometimes I disappoint myself. I know that at the beginning of the year I promised to try to be easier on myself, more gentle. I promised to try, and it’s not working. I am also perfectly aware that my standards for myself are sometimes impossibly high, but being aware of it and being able to stop myself from beating myself into a pulp about it seem to be unrelated. Reading that sentence back I realize it’s so full of ‘myself’ that I should really stop right here. I’m not a fan of navel-gazing.

It’s just that I have some pretty big stuff going on in my life, things I need to organise, things I don’t want to organise. If I don’t organise them, though, I’ll land up in a puddle in the corner. In between organising those big things I need to do Real Work, and keep up with Other Work (the deadlines loom and growl over there, in the corner, where the puddle might land). And in between those I need to make sure my household runs, people get paid, there’s petrol in the car, electricity in the machine. Slogging admin stuff that bores me to tears. I don’t have time for tears, though.

And I don’t have time to disappoint myself either, so why do I? Crapsticks.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Operation Action

I had to wait outside the door of our office the other day because I lost had a mishap with my keys. While waiting, I decided I’d make the most of my time and read the nicely printed out note on the wall on emergency procedures for our building. It’s a very big, five-storeyed building full of people and laboratories and all manner of ‘potentially dangerous’ things, so it was probably a good thing for me to read. In losing themselves having a mishap, my keys were just making sure I keep up-to-date.

But. And there’s a huge but, I was horrified by a certain aspect of the (very long) procedures to be followed, in case of fire. It necessitated my writing one of my ‘letters I should send.’

Dear Safety People,

Firstly, thank you for trying to look after our safety, a thankless task I would imagine, involving much sitting around tables discussing and getting agitated and making procedures. I’m not a fan of meetings, or making procedures for that matter. Beauracracy makes me yawn. So, really, I’m thankful that you guys do it.

I must, however, make a suggestion. In the case of fire, you recommend that the person alerting everyone should shout “Operation Action”. Now, had I not lost had a misshap with my keys, I may never have read the whole procedure and known this. I do realize that we’re all supposed to have read it but, honestly, when faced with a choice between reading the Health and Safety Policies and, well, pretty much anything else, I’m afraid many of us would chose pretty much anything else. It’s just the way it is, I’m afraid. So, other people who have not lost had a mishap with their keys may not have read it.

Back to my point. I did read it, and was horrified by the “Operation Action” signal. Honestly, if I were to see some panicked soul running around the building shouting “Operation Action” I would fully suspect that he was either (a) escaped from the psychiatric unit, or (b) pretending to be in a computer game, or (c) part of a film crew filming an action adventure in our building. It would not cross my mind that there was a fire. At all.

May I suggest, therefore, that perhaps it’d be better for the alerter to shout something more simple and understandable to mere mortals like me, who are not part of the Health and Safety Board. Perhaps something like:


Just a thought, take it or leave it. I do realize you’re the experts. Again, thank you for trying to look after our safety. It is appreciated.

Love, Shiny x

Even I couldn’t make this stuff up. “Operation Action.” Seriously?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"I want to marry an oyster"

That’s what she said, in Chinese-overtoned English: “I want to marry an oyster. Then I can wake up in the night and nibble on him.” With this, she made little eating motions, a bit like a hamster really. It's an understandable statement, the market oysters being of the most delicious I've ever tasted. In her little grey dress with a flower on the left breast and pearls, she and her husband sold sushi to the market’s hoardes and she wished he were an oyster.

That’s what I did on Saturday, to temper my claustrophobia. I went to the market filled with bustlingbusy people, eating and drinking and being noisy and fascinating. I watched a lot and felt hot tears in my head, deep inside. And we spoke to the market people, who each have a story, and who we’re getting to know and growing to love. The honey guy had a baby with the (I think) herb lady last year, the first market baby... See? Stories. I’m involved by proxy, courtesy of my lovely friends, who are market people themselves.

I’m not sure it did my claustrophobia any good. That spiralled into a massive torrent on Sunday, but I don’t want to talk about it.

The market was worth it, for many reasons, the main one being the sentence, which has reverberated since, creating fabulous little stories in my head:

”I want to marry an oyster.”

Saturday, April 9, 2011


It's not that I wish to be ungrateful. I suppose nobody 'wishes' to be ungrateful. I know I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We've got a mountain on one side and the ocean on the other and vineyards just over there and, oh wait, some more ocean yonder and then... more mountains. I can't deny it, it's gorgeous. But it's the city.

Between that mountain and that sea are claustrophobic house after house after flat block all cut through with two-lane, three-lane, four-lane roads filled with shiny cars pushingandshovingandrushing places. From one big building with reflecting windows (the mountain showing itself again, in reverse) to the next, filled with glitzy shops and the sound of tills guzzling money for useless things that are pretty. While there, below the bridge, people sit on stained matresses, eat tossed-out leftover chips and watch those shiny cars filled with useless but pretty stuff pass, pushingandshovingandrushing places.

Oh yes, I know those people are in Small Towns too, some worse off than those below the bridge. It's just that there, over there, the four-lane highway doesn't exist, the lady at the guzzling till knows your name and when you step out of the shop, still with some useless but pretty stuff, there is air. And it just seems that, with that amount of air, and not too much pushingandshovingandrushing places there may be a little more time to care.

Claustrophobic, me?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Not okay, just not

Sometimes I want to scream and cry and shout at humanity. They’re just a crap lot a lot of the time. Let me back track. I don’t often talk about Real Work here because, well, I just don’t. My Real Work is fascinating, excrutiating, depressing, ecstatic at varying times. I work in HIV, and that’s all I really need to say to quantify my previous statement.

I try very hard to separate work and the rest of my life. I try to leave the stories I hear while I'm at Real Work there. I have to, otherwise I’d throw myself from a bridge. Some/many of the stories are just tragic. Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible, inspiring, wonderfully happy stories too, I just don’t get to hear those very often, due to the line I’m in. I do get to help, though, which I like.

So back to trying to leave the stories behind. I’m not very good at it, because they’re unfortunately, not just stories. There are people behind them. Often people who are trying really hard to survive in a world that just keeps on kicking them – on the shins, in the back, on their faces.

Mostly, I manage, but then I hear something that makes me want to scream, and cry, and shout, and hit out. Like this morning. A 6-year old girl, who had been raped. There are no words. My faith in humanity shatters a bit more every time I hear of these things. Hers, I’m pretty sure, is broken terminally. How could it not be? She’s 6-years old. Six. If I knew the fucker responsible I could not be held responsible for what I’d do. Instead, I do what I can, and do my tiny bit to help mop up the mess that he’s left, as my heart breaks for her.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Frieda, the flappy insect

And then there was Frieda. One of those big, flappy night insects, she was seated quite comfortably on my curtain, in front of the open window (note: open window... this is an important point in the story). I said "Hello", politely, as my mother taught me to do on encountering visitors. She was a big, flappy insect, as I said, but not quite big enough to see her little head nod in acknowledgement, but I'm sure it did.

From then on, we got on with our own things - me getting ready for bed, her doing whatever it is that big, flappy insects sitting on curtains do. Maybe flossing her teeth? Only later did I work out what it was she had done. And then I turned off my light to go to sleep. And sleep (oh delight!) I did, after my abortive night the night before.

That is, until my alarm decided, at about 2:23am, to throw a hissy fit, for no reason. It woke everybody up, including half the neighbourhood I'm sure. After much fumbling and cursing, the plug was pulled out. Alarm guys came today. I don't want to talk about it.

I slept again until, through my dozy haze I heard flapping and bumping and flapping. Frieda. Trying desperately to go somewhere. Obviously not out, as the window was open (see above) and she was throwing herself at the walls, one at a time, then ignoring the (open!) door and throwing herself against the ceiling. Her poor flappy wings bashed loudly against each of these (very obvious) barriers, but Frieda continued.

And it was then that I realised. Frieda had not been flossing her teeth while she sat sedately on my curtain... She'd been taking out her contact lenses. Doh.

Monday, April 4, 2011


I couldn’t sleep last night, at all. First my body turned into some kind of roaring furnace. I was so hot I thought I might explode. Then I was just awake. And when I’m awake in the dark I get to thinking and over-thinking and those shadows, you know the ones, flit about and try to suffocate me. I got to a point where I was so tired I just wanted to cry. But I was too tired for even that.

I’m not good without sleep and there are some big, important things I need to deal with that I don’t really want to deal with and they weigh on my mind. Which makes me not able to sleep. Which makes me unable to think straight. Which make things seem even more impossible. And then I can’t sleep. You see how this works?

So I’m a bit miz really. And I fear if anyone prods me, physically or metaphorically, I may dissolve into a puddle on the floor and drip away into nothing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Sunday. Coffee with varsity friend, of many, many years. Easy, cafe latte conversation while cute child distracts us. Then admin, bill-paying, shampoo-buying, rewarded with drink with in-love boy moving cities for love, even though he thinks he's not. Admirable I think.

Delicious sausages and German beer with Pop and Shuzie for lunch, comfortable.

Bumping into work friend, joining her for a glass of wine while her husband looks after the baby, her sweet, new, flannel pyjamas with lady bugs on in the trolley next to us.

G looks on quietly and we laugh in the car on the way home, a happy day

Lucky Shiny.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The man at the bar

I wondered why he was staring, from the other side of the well-designed, super-interior-decorated smoking lounge of the smart new hotel that we were having a drink at. It was Friday, I was splashing out and having a cocktail to celebrate the end of a long week - the ominous sounding Strawberry Haze. It was sweet and pink and in a champagne glass. I thought, perhaps, that's what he was looking at. But it wasn't.

He was a round man, a typical-looking South African man. He didn't quite fit in with the bright young things at the next table in their designer clothes and put-on animated expressions. They were talking about a company golf day, cars with big engines, girlfriends who have facials. He wasn't talking about anything, being alone. And staring. I decided to smile.

A minute later he came over and offered us a drink. G mistook him for the waiter, very funny. We fumbled our way out of that and he joined us, apologising for staring. Not some mad, starey, stalker, just a small town man in The City Beneath the Mountain for a conference. Alone, lonely, and sweet-as-can-be.

I can't remember when last a man offered to buy me a drink (oh, except that rugby lout occassion, which hardly counts), or met a stranger in a bar and made friends with him, exchanging numbers because he knows a guy who knows a guy who could be a great help to me. It just doesn't happen all that often in the city. I miss Small Towns and their Small Town People, like me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Roundhouse

I was very surprised to find, on arrival, that The Roundhouse is really round. I hear you sniggering in the corner there, it shouldn’t have been surprising, I know. It’s been a long week. So, it’s a round house that was used by Lord Somerset as a hunting lodge. He used to hunt lions there. Lions! I was surprised by that, too. I didn’t realise we had lions down here. Had being the operative word.

I am always rather scathing of (mostly American) tourists who have the very skewed idea that lions and giraffe roam our streets (how disappointing it must be to find they don’t). I must now bite my tongue, because I had no idea that, in fact, until quite recently, they really did. I thought lions were only found further north.

They are now, of course, due to nice people like Lord Somerset and his cronies who shot them, all dead. And then some other bright fellows came and deforested the beautiful hillside skirts of the Twelve Apostles (mountains) to make way for the millionaires of Camps Bay to build their cocktail bars and showy houses over which The Roundhouse looks.

The view is spectacular. It must’ve been even more so before us humans planted our bricks-and-mortar-and-electricity thumbprint on it. Or maybe not. Watching the lights come on as the sun set behind the grey cloud over the bay was very pretty and twinkley indeed. In them olden days I suppose the view was just, well, dark, when the sun set. And possibly quite scarey, with the roar of lions. Oh, it must’ve been wonderful.

It was wonderful last night too, though. It’s a Very Expensive restaurant. One of those where you pay a set price that could pay for a small car and then choose four courses from four options for each. Everything was delicious. I started with a Blumenthalesque organic garden starter complete with ‘soil’ made from reduced/dried/some-other-fancy-word-for-dessicated mushrooms and the tiniest, sweetest, whole mushrooms.

Then I had smoked tomato risotto with crayfish and parmesan. Yum. Smokey tomato is good. Interspersed with sweet pieces of crayfish: even better. For my ‘main’ course I had the slow roasted pork belly with an apple brandy gravy. Succulent and fatty (as pork should be). I’m started to sound like a food crit. I’ve been spoilt this week with eating out.

Pudding, my best part, was a beautiful chocolate nut mousse concoction served with tiny cinnamon doughnuts. It had a larney name that I can’t remember and tasted like heaven.

On taking our orders, the waiter asked each of our names. At the end of the meal, he took my plate and said: “How was that, Shiny?” Of course he didn’t really say Shiny because that’s not my real name (my parents aren’t that cruel) but called me by my real name, which is an uncommon and not particularly easy one. Impressive to say the least.

The staff were incredible. It always makes me slightly uneasy having people rush to my every whim, it’s not my thing. It’s wonderful to be treated to an extravagant meal like that in such a beautiful setting with fabulous company but I can’t help wondering what goes through the waiter’s minds as they serve beautiful but little food for exorbitant prices to perfectly manicured people with lots of gold jewellery, present company excluded.

Somebody jumped to attention each time anybody got up to go to the bathroom, opening the interleading door, then folding their napkin while they were there. Shuzi, one of our party, made it her mission to rush off to the loo as soon as nobody was around. The maitre’D came running, but missed her. How we laughed (him too).

I did wear my pretty filigree silver earings in honour of the occasion, and enjoyed it thoroughly and slept like a baby thinking of those little, tiny mushrooms frolicking about in my tummy. It’s lovely to be treated every now and again, isn’t it?