Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Things I learned in 2010

This year has been one of highs, lows and lessons. I know that there are still 10 days left of the year, but here are my thoughts anyway...

The World Cup was a bigger part of my life than I thought it could possibly be. I was proud of South Africa, I was proud of what we achieved, and I loved the tangible atmosphere of excitement that lasted for a full month. We were in France for the final, and it was only the fact that we were at my best friend's wedding that made that ok.

Changing jobs was far more stressful than I thought it would be. However, I'm really glad I did it. I am much happier where I am, I enjoy the people, I feel challenged, and I feel valued. In spite of all the drama with the Stupid People in HR and my daily swearing at the antiquated technology we use, I am glad I moved.

I was heartbroken when friends of ours died in a fire in July. I didn't realise how heartbroken until I fell to pieces at the most unexpected times. Through the process, I learned that it's ok to be angry, that in a situation like that, there is no normal response to such an abnormal situation. I learned that there are no wrong feelings, that suppressing feelings and responses is simply a bad idea. I've learned to articulate my feelings more, and Brett doesn't have to drag my thoughts out of me kicking and screaming any more. I can drive past the property without dwelling on the details that did my head in, but I still think of them, so often. No more melting into little puddles of tears though. Or big ones.

I have been disappointed in friends, for different reasons. I know that I have probably also disappointed two of them. Something I still have to figure out is how to be a better friend, because this irony is not lost on me: the friends that I keep in touch with the most, that I trust and 'talk' to the most, all live in different cities to the one I do.

I have learned to pick my battles. Or my crusades, for that matter.  Brett's half brother (12) moved onto our property at the beginning of the year with his dad, and for a while, I made the situation my problem. Difficult not to take responsibility for a troubled 12 year old who eats meals in your home, and who is idolised by your own children. But the thing is - you can only help someone who wants to be helped. He didn't, his father didn't, and who was I anyway to try to interfere. So l let go...

Growing vegetables is a great idea, but there's something I'm missing - I haven't yet been able to grow enough to cut back on how many I buy. But it's lots of fun, and the boys love picking the fruit and eating veggies straight off the plant. The simple things are the good things. A lesson that should be applied in all sorts of situations I guess...

It's not a new lesson, but something I've been aware of all year. I am blessed, very blessed indeed. I have a husband who loves me, and who I love. I have two magnificent amazing boys. I have a beautiful home. I have a great support structure. I have a loving and incredible mom, and a great mom-in-law. I am healthy. We live a comfortable lifestyle. There are so many people around us who are struggling with so many things. I am blessed in so many ways, and for these I am so grateful.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Sharlotte's traditional Zulu wedding

Last weekend we attended my colleague Sharlotte's wedding in rural KZN. We were originally supposed to go to the 'white' wedding on the Friday night, but then her family over-invited guests and we were uninvited from that... After initial anger, we quite enjoyed our peaceful night at the Little Switzerland hotel, and then we headed off the next morning to the traditional event, at Sharlotte's Gogo's house. 

I got to play with the Sony Alpha digital SLR, which was loads of fun - particularly the panorama feature, which in its own right, is a good enough reason to buy the camera... 

This is a panorama shot of the view from Gogo's house. Very rural, but the marquee on the right is where the bulk of the festivities happened. The sheep was slaughtered in the patch of veld to the left of the pic... 

I didn't know that Sharlotte could sing so beautifully - but she can! When we got there, everyone was in the lounge having a prayer service, and then she led them in singing some hymns. 

So much joy, so much excitement. It really struck home how much pressure there must be on people like Sharlotte and Mpho (her husband, who also works with us) - they have such strong roots in rural tradition, but their families invest everything in their future. There is such pressure for them to succeed, everyone wants to be and is so very proud of them. 

This was a bit later - the families exchange gifts. Well, the women seem to do all the marrying part - the men were sitting outside watching. Sharlotte is Zulu and Mpho is Sotho, which made this a bit of a blend of cultures. In Zulu tradition, apparently, you give clothes to the bride's family, and in Sotho tradition, you give blankets. 

This was one of Sharlotte's aunts...

And this was one of Mpho's aunts - she has the most joyful face! 

The lady in green with the crutches is Sharlotte's Gogo who raised her, and sitting in front of her is Sharlotte's mom, who lives in Bryanston and has her own staff. I found it fascinating how traditional roles are re-assumed as soon as people get back to the rural setting. 

These are local youngsters who came to 'fight' Mpho off. They were incredible, lots of singing and drumming, and were very disciplined. 

Each warrior took his turn demonstrating his prowess, with lots of footstomping and hurling of selves onto the ground. Gogo's house is in the background - probably the best appointed home in the whole village. 

The problem with stills is that you don't get the sound and the action... 

Sharlotte joined in and did her own bit of jigging around... 

As did one of the aunties... 

Mpho's family gave the women in Sharlotte's family dresses - all were of the same red fabric, but each dress was unique. 

Everyone was very proud of their new outfits...

Sharlotte then went inside to change from her 'maiden' outfit into the clothing of a woman married to a Sotho man.

While she was changing, there was lots of singing and dancing. And the slaughtering of the sheep. The bit that I found most distressing about this was the slaughtered sheep's friend, who got to watch the demise of his mate, followed by his skinning and dismembering. There'd be a lot of money for animal shrinks in the rural areas, methinks... ;-) 

Sharlotte emerged in her 'married' clothing. Complete with heavy blanket in the 36 degree heat. 

More singing and celebration... 

The ladies in their new dresses (which were over the dresses that they arrived in ... in that 36 degree heat...)

The two families then sang 'at' each other - lots of joy and happiness here. Note the technology - the only place I've seen more Blackberries in one location is at a 27 Dinner... ;-)

More singing, with the presents in the foreground. There must have been about 25 thick fluffy blankets... in that 36 degree heat... ;-)

This is the oldest lady in the village. She apparently often tells Sharlotte that she wants to go to Joburg to work and look after children. 

What is a wedding without a DJ? This was the DJ's setup... 

The handing over of blankets to Mpho's family. My memory card ran out at this point, so this is about as far as I got. We left shortly afterwards, so that we would be home in Joburg before sunset. 

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Caught between a rock and a spooky place

When I was growing up, Hallowe’en was a thing we saw on American movies – it was never a big deal in South Africa, probably because our parents were concerned about the security of children wandering around the streets after dark, and because dressing up in black was probably against some apartheid law or other. While I think most parents still have security concerns, the advent of security estates and boomed off areas has created safe pockets for trick or treating – and then of course there’s the business opportunity for everyone from Pick n Pay and Woolworths to China City to make extra income from costumes and themed sweets.

Playschools, crèches, primary schools and communities have Hallowe’en themed parties across the suburbs now, commemorating a Celtic festival (or a selection of festivals, depending on your choice of origin) that they have little knowledge or insight about. Children whose parents have spent a small (or large) amount of money on costumes compete to see who is dressed the best, and who can liberate the largest haul of sweets from willing neighbours. Mostly, the ‘tricking’ is pretty harmless, but those houses who choose not to participate are at risk of the displeasure of mischievous participants.

So why am I particularly ‘omgekrap’ about an extended fancy dress party?

Hallowe’en is not a part of my culture, just as Makar Sankranti, Purim and Hola Mahalla are not part of my culture – and interesting though they are, I don’t celebrate them. Hallowe’en may have been a part of the culture of my Celtic ancestors, but it has never part of my culture as a Christian-raised South African. I don’t see why we celebrate summer’s end at the beginning of our summer (which is one of the backgrounds to Hallowe’en), and seeing as we are blessed with electricity these days, we don’t need to consider the intricacies of old fires and new ones. 

My children are blessed to want for nothing. They have all the toys they could ever need, they have a warm bed at night, and while I’m sure they would say they could never have enough, they have plenty of sweets and treats to break the monotony of good healthy food!

Yet, each year, the note comes home from playschool – please dress your child up for Hallowe’en*. We see neighbourhoods organizing trick-or-treating – which in my (admittedly rather cynical) point of view is nothing more than door-to-door begging for something that you really don’t need.

So what do I do about Hallowe’en, without making my children the odd one out? Every year, I remember at the last minute that I need to buy a costume of some sort, and I tear out to the nearest shop and make a plan (adding stress to an already pretty full calendar). I put my boys in costumes because I don’t want them to be the only ones in ‘civvies’ at their school, completely left out of the fun of dressing up and shouting ‘BOO!’ at their friends all day (and I will admit – it is fun for them). Peer pressure is a wonderful marketing tool, isn’t it?

But I will not have my children begging for sweets when there are others not so far out there who don’t even have food for one meal a day, never mind three. If that makes me a horrible mother, then so be it.

*In all fairness, it is never an instruction from the schools my boys attend, it is always a request.

This blog post originally appeared on www.jozikids.co.za

Monday, 13 September 2010

A child's guide to dealing with death

 You know when you become a mom that there are going to be times when you have to deal with the really difficult stuff with your child – the stuff of life, and of death – because both of these can be really hard, and both of these are inevitable.

It came sooner than I thought it would though, when three people that were part of our lives died in a fire. How to tell my big boy that the friend whose house he and his brother spent the afternoon with three days before, the boy he had shared a birthday party with the previous month, had lost his life in the bedroom that they were playing in, and that the boy’s mom and his baby sister had perished too?

I did what any chicken mom does. I delayed the inevitable, and called in an expert to tell the difficult tale. I dodged the question when my son saw the picture of the inferno on the front page of The Star, and asked whose house had burned down, holding off the terrible answer until someone else could give it, because I was too scared and too broken to do it myself.

The psychologist was amazing with Daniel and his friends at school. She asked about their friend, their favourite games with him, and what he liked the most. She then gently explained that he, his sister and his mother had been in an accident, but that they were safe now, and happy, and that they couldn’t be hurt any more. She explained that they weren’t coming back ever again, but that we could hold them all in our hearts.

Daniel was solemn, but calm, and only cried when I did. We wrote a message to his friend and his sister on helium balloons, and released them with the other children.

When my mom drove past the house later that week, not realizing where it was, he saw the burnt out shell and went quiet. “It was my friend’s house that burned down, wasn’t it, Nana?” he asked. “Yes, my boy,” she said, bracing herself. “It’s ok Nana. He’s safe now, he’s in heaven,” said my amazing boy.

I realized in this that the simplicity of his approach is what is helping him deal with the loss. He doesn’t know the details – although one day I’m sure he’ll figure it out. I’ve promised myself that I’m not going to delegate that explanation, one day when it happens. In being unaware of the details, he really is dealing with the simple facts. There was an accident. They are not here any more. They are safe. They cannot be hurt again. No more information required, really.

He’s not said much about it since, although every now and then he’ll mention a favourite game he played with his friend, or he’ll see something similar to a toy that he played with at his friend’s home, but he’s never sad or tearful.

Last week, he was all about tattoos, as some of the other children had some stick-on transfer tattoos. I hate them, but eventually gave in and got a pack of 35 (yes, 35!!!) tattoos for him and his brother to share. He wanted one on his chest, and just as I magically revealed the circular tattoo, he asked if that was near where his heart was.

“Yes, my boy,” I said.

“Cool. Then my friend can see it too. He’s in my heart, you see.”

 I first published this piece on JoziKids.

An update on the Third Thursday and Gill Marcus fundraiser

A while back I told you about the fundraiser that we're planning on 13 October, in aid of the Big Shoes Foundation. Gill Marcus, Governor of the Reserve Bank will be talking about the big shoes she's filled in her career as a struggle icon, business woman and politician. Since then, the ladies in Third Thursday have been working their networks, and we've been offered the most fantastic goodies to either auction off or give away as prizes.

You see, that's the thing about our events. Not only will you leave with that good warm-hearted feeling that you've given a bit of time and a bit of cash to help someone else out - you're likely to leave with a gift or a purchase that will make you downright glad that you took the time out of your busy schedule to help us give back to our community.

So, if you were wondering whether or not you should join us on the 13th of October, here are a few more reasons (apart from the feel-good ones) that you should:

- Fairlawns Boutique Hotel and the Valley Lodge have sponsored getaway prizes for the lady and gentleman who wear the funkiest shoes on the night.
- Eliza Kentridge, sister of William and no artistic slouch herself, has donated a work currently in progress for us to auction.
- Jonathan Shapiro, aka Zapiro, has donated some signed limited edition cartoons, in line with the theme of the evening, for auction.
- Clarins has very kindly sponsored some Thierry Mugler men's fragrance gift sets for table giveaways.
And there's still more in the pipeline!

So... have you booked your ticket yet?! :-)

If you haven't, contact Helen on info@thirdthursday.co.za to book your place. Tickets are R500 per person, and the event will take place at the Indaba in Fourways.

See you there?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Restaurant review: Munch, in Parktown North

As a point of principle, a while ago I refused to go to the Twigs restaurant at the Garden Centre on the corner of Jan Smuts Avenue at the lower side of Rosebank – even though it has one of the nicer kiddies’ playgrounds in a restaurant near my home. The food was good when they got your order right, but the service was indifferent at best and shocking at worst. Apart from my own bad experiences, I could no longer deal with my husband’s grumpiness about the place, as it was his orders that they seemed to mess up the most. 

So when I saw that the restaurant had changed to Munch, I took a deep breath and arranged to meet my friend and her grandlets there on Saturday afternoon. What a pleasant surprise! 

The covered patio now goes around two sides of the building, and the décor is mostly white with touches of lilac. All very elegant, and very Parktown North. The menu is much smaller, but I think that allows the chef to be more focused. The hamburgers are still to die for, the roasted butternut and beetroot salad special was hearty and tasty, and my friend’s fish and chips looked outstanding. They still have the pizza oven, and although pizzas are not on the menu, it seems that they have pizza specials each day according to inspiration or available ingredients. 

Munch also has a kiddies’ menu, with classics like toasted sarmies, fish fingers and baby pizzas (which looked big enough to satisfy my appetite) – basic food, but the kind of food that little people love. 

The staff are interested, attentive and friendly, although it took a lot of waving to attract enough attention to get the bill. 

Main courses for adults are between R50 and R70 per plate on average, while the children’s food is around R30 per portion. 

The good: The playground has been updated a bit, and is still a huge hit with the littlies. 
The bad: There isn’t a bad – we had a great time, ate good food, and look forward to going back. 
The ugly: The loos are still dingy, dark and far away from the restaurant, and there are still no changing facilities to cater for littlies with junk in their trunk. 
* I have since learned that the toilets belong to the nursery, which refuses to upgrade them. Shame on them! Have you got any ideas on how the restaurant can get around this? My thought is for them to find a nook and set up a changing station with a changing mat, wet-wipes and handwash for moms, somewhere in the restaurant. Not sure how that would sit with the health guys though - but it's worth investigating. If you've got any ideas, post them below, I'll forward them on.
** This review was originally written for JoziKids

Shameless promotion of a fundraising event.

So, about four years ago, I was invited to join the most phenomenal group of women. Calling themselves Third Thursday, the group was comprised mostly of part-time working moms who met once a month (no prizes for guessing when) to plot and scheme ways to make a difference in the world. LeadSA, long before 702 came up with the idea, if you'll forgive the indulgence. 

In our time, we've raised funds for Habitat for Humanity (two houses worth, actually), the LEAP School for Maths and Science Excellence for pupils from Alexandra, the Tsolofelo Baby Sanctuary on the West Rand, and various other schools, creches and children's homes, on a smaller scale. We've done it through hosting events with appealing speakers, from futurist Graeme Codrington to Ruda Landman, Debora Patta and Deshun Deysel, South Africa's leading female mountain climber. 

When we raise funds for a charity, we give them every penny of profit once the costs (such as catering) have been paid. Nothing disappears into the 'admin' that is the black hole of so many worthy causes. And our leader used to be the Head of Treasury at Nedbank - so she knows how to do things right. 

We beg, borrow but definitely don't steal to get amazing sponsorships for prizes to say thank you to our guests. We've been sponsored by Bill Harrop, Lion Sands, Clarins, Clico Guest House, Ina Paarman and numerous others (who I hope won't be offended that I'm not listing them all for fear of making this post too long).

This year, we decided to go BIG. We're hosting a dinner event at the Indaba Hotel on 13 October, and our speaker is Gill Marcus. Yes, the Gill Marcus that's the Governor of the Reserve Bank, the one that's been at the helm of ABSA, the one that was one of the leading lights in South Africa's struggle against apartheid. She's talking about the shoes that she's filled in her career, because the charity that we're supporting this year is the Big Shoes Foundation, of whom Judge Edwin Cameron is a patron. (He was going to be joining us, but rather inconveniently has to attend the St Mary's Valedictory Service that evening). 

Here's where the shameless promotion comes in. We've got 450 tickets to sell, at R500 per ticket. That gets you an evening with one of South Africa's brightest woman achievers, a three course meal, an opportunity to network with some pretty amazing people, and the chance to contribute to a charity that is making a difference in the lives of children who don't have anyone to stand up for them. 

We'd love you to come. We'd love your whole family to come. We'd love you to ask your company to take a table (or two or three) of 10, to say thank you to you for a job well done this year - and to show that they care about the future of some very special children. We've got some great prizes for lucky draws, and we've got some wonderful items up for auction. 

So. Click right here info@thirdthursday.co.za to tell Helen how many seats you want to book. She'll get back to you with more details. 

C'mon. You know you wanna!

Monday, 9 August 2010

If we met in real life...

So, I'm not one for memes, but I like this one that I found on The Gypsy Mama's blog, and I like it. So, here are my thoughts - please comment and leave yours, even if we have met in real life already!

If we met in real life:
- You'd see just how much I love my boys, and how proud I am of my husband.
- You'd find that it takes me a while to come up with smart things to say. Much easier to do so when you can plot your 140 characters before you blurt them out!
- You'd see my flashing my nails. My very not-real nails that really make me feel like a lady, but that are just so not tough enough to be at the fingertips of my life.
- You'd understand that family is so important to me.
- You might find that I'm bitterly angry about a couple of things at the moment. Some things that were total accidents, some things where the Stupid People just don't seem to get it.
- You would get a lengthy explanation of the tragedy of not being able to choose your in-laws. One of mine is great. The other one? How long have you got?
- You'll see that I'm a jeans-and-Tshirt kind of girl. But I do love stilettos and dressing like a smart, sassy woman.
- You'll learn that I don't do war movies, or slapstick comedy.
- You'll figure out that I'm not nearly as tech literate as you might think I am. I kind of get the tech by osmosis from my resident Alpha Geek, and I play with the toys, but asking me about the really hardcore stuff? You'll get a blank look from me, followed by "You should ask Brett".
- If you get to taste my cooking or baking, you'll learn that I'm pretty good at it. I don't do recipes much, and although I have all the Jamie Oliver books, I hardly use them. Unless it's for a bit of inspiration.
- You'll learn that my best friends are guys, and that they're now scattered to the four winds. One of them passed away nearly six years ago, and I still miss him.
- You'll get smartly told that no, we will not be trying for a girl next. See: Two arms - one for each boy. If you can figure out how to give me a third arm, I'll consider a third child. Maybe.
- You'll be told that I should have been writing an iPad review for @ExMi instead of writing this. Sorry, @ExMi!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Ways of grieving

My last post expressed just a sample of my devastation at the loss of a family in our community. We weren't enormously close, but we shared a birthday party with them in June, some playdates, a great bottle of wine, and coffee. Close enough that I really liked them, and really wanted to spend more time with them. But they're gone now, ripped away from us all. And there's not even a criminal to be angry at, or a negligent anyone to blame. It just happened.

This has hit me far harder than I thought it would. I still choke up in tears at random times, and while I want to print out pictures from the birthday party for Shane and the family, I can't bring myself to go into that section in my photo library.

I have spent some time contemplating grief today. I have only had a handful encounters with death, and they have all been very different.

My grandfather died of cancer when I was 16. He was ill for a long time, and my greatest regret that my last attempt to show him that I was there by squeezing his hand turned out to be extremely painful for him. He was gone the next morning.

My dad died five weeks after our wedding, after a brief but grim illness with cancer of the pancreas. My dad was my counsel, my foundation, the person I turned to for advice, the person who I could trust no matter what (along with my mom), and the person who surprised me with spots of spontaneity in his very measured and accounted for life. We spent his last day with him in hospital, even though he was unconscious, caught between the stark reality that he was never going to wake up, that those ice-blue eyes were never going to twinkle again, and relief that his suffering was over. I miss my dad every day, I wish he was here to know my boys, but he was sick and in pain and he was old and it was the way of life that he be released from that. My heart doesn't ache for him, it treasures his memory.

Andrew was my best friend at varsity. For a while I was in love with him, but I soon saw the folly of that, and we went back to being buddies. A successful law practice, a huge inheritance and a failed marriage later, he was a drug addict and an alcoholic. I watched him destroy all that he had created, I and others tried to intervene, but we learned the hard way that no-one can fix an addict unless they want to fix themselves. After some particularly harrowing encounters, I remember driving to work one morning sobbing my heart out, because I believed that it was a matter of days before someone found him dead of an overdose. As it turns out, he semigrated to Cape Town, disconnected from everyone he knew in Joburg, cleaned up, and became a pretty awesome photographer. A month short of being clean for a year, he died in a kloofing accident. It felt like I'd already mourned losing him, like his death came as no surprise. We'd seen him the month before when he was here to photograph a friend's wedding, and he told me the root of his addiction. It was an intense and shocking conversation that started about 10 minutes before I had to leave for work, and we never finished it. My mourning for Andrew is more about the conversations I wish I'd had, the apology for judging him when I had no right to. It's about missing the sunsets on atop his roof, and how he challenged me to push limits. It was with him that I drove a Porsche at 256kph, and with him that I climbed to the top of the water tower at Knockando. He knew how to pique my defiance, and I miss that. Besides, now I'm all responsible and stuff, being a mom.

And now Monica, Rogan and Milla. Three beautiful people, young, precious, gentle, so full of potential. Taken in the most cruel and dreadful way. I cry for what could have been, for them, for their husband and father, for her parents, the children's grandparents. I drive past that house every day on my school run, and I can't help but be reminded of the detail. It's some comfort that they didn't even know what happened, but we do, and we can guess just how little was left by the time the fire was extinguished. The raw tragedy strikes me at odd moments. I'm the tough one, the calm one, the one that just deals with stuff. And even though these three souls were not a big part of my life, they were ripped from it in the most brutal way, and I am grieving for them and for Shane's loss, for his future that was torn from him. It catches me when I least expect it, and my heart aches, and I become overwhelmed with a sense of grieving that I'm not quite sure how to deal with.

Perhaps I need to keep it simple and embrace Daniel's take on what happened. We had a psychologist come and explain what had happened to the children at his school, all of whom were fond of Rogan - he was destined to be Popular. She told them that Rogan and Milla had been in an accident, and that they would not be coming back to school. That the children were not to worry about them, because they were safe now, and happy. Daniel's a smart kid, and he's figured out that the fire he saw all over the front page of The Star was Rogan's house burning.

"Don't worry, Nana." he said, when she drove past the house, previously unaware of where it was. "Rogan is safe with God in Heaven."

Oupa, Dad, Andrew, Monica, Rogan, Milla. You're safe, and you're happy. But I still miss you, each in your own way.

Monday, 19 July 2010


Today was a day when my already tenuous link to faith in a God was pretty much broken.

My sons' friends, aged 2 and 4, and their mother, died when their house burned down last night. Their father and husband survived - he has lost his wife, his children and his home. My children spent the afternoon at their home on Friday last week. I sat and drank tea with Monica while our children played and built jigsaw puzzles. Now, they are gone having died a terrible death, their house is a burnt out shell, and a good, kind, loving, young man has lost his world.

What possible higher purpose explanation could there be for this? How could there be any need for this man to learn any lessons that are THIS hard to start with? Why does my son have to lose his innocence about life and death at such a young age? Why do we all have to deal with images of how these three precious people died - in print and in our minds' eyes?

What possible higher purpose could there be out of this?

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Things I learned in France

So, after the travelogue of this post, I thought it worth putting a few notes down, about the things I learned in France - and on the way there...

1 An Airbus A380 is a very very big plane. It freaked me out totally that SO many people and their luggage could fit on one aircraft, that it could get up in the air and then stay there. For 10 hours. And then land in one piece. Although the landing in Paris was a bit hectic. More like the pilot was throwing the plane at the ground. A bit scary when you're in it...

2 Air France is pretty cool. Well, they weren't when their suggestion connection between Charles de Gaulle and Orly totally failed because of traffic through Paris... but they put us on a later flight at no extra charge. I guess because it was their stuff up, but when we wanted to change our flight from Bordeaux, they also did it for free.

3 France may be one of the big economic powerhouses, but they have windscreen washers at robots, and shacks occupied by squatters too. The windscreen washers were gypsey ladies, and they made the guys on Grayston Drive look like pussy cats. And the architecture of shacks is universally desperate.

4 The houses in the French countryside are very basic on the outside - just raw brick or stone. Apparently, way back when, you were taxed on how rich you looked, and the postman decided that. So, nobody did anything to the exterior of their home - they just decorate inside. The houses are all very simple, decorated outside with geraniums and other very pretty flowers. If it wasn't so far away from home, I'd have moved there in a heartbeat.

5 The only boy to ever break my heart (a very long time ago) was at the wedding, and we saw him and his wife every day. I learned that time takes away the awkwardness, and that, just as I thought, he and Brett would get on really well, once the awkwardness was done and dusted.

6 Much as I love my boys to total distraction, and I missed them while we were away, it really was totally awesome to have a grownup weekend away with Brett. I am blessed to have my mom so close, and grateful that she's so ready and willing to babysit for us.

7 Paris might be the city of romance. It is very clear that an afternoon there is not long enough. But I think we figured out that it's the city of romance if you have a LOT of Euros in your pocket. Like, a LOT. And you probably have to have a cold too. Because a blocked nose would help you deal with the appalling smell in the Metro.

8 Just because a person is not afraid to overshare on their blog, doesn't mean that they're not afraid to overshare in public. I didn't mean to offend, really I didn't! Even if it's in a fun way. Next time, I'll stick to fridge magnets all round as holiday gifts... or perhaps even a toaster... :-)

9 Laughing Cow cheese is cheap at the price, when it's R15,99 in Pick n Pay (I've always refused to pay more than R12,99). It was more than two Euros in a local supermarket we visited.

10 Travelling is fun. Lots of fun. But there's no feeling more awesome than coming home, and getting the biggest hug in the history of ever, from your boys. That is, until the next hug comes!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

About my trip to France...

Believe it or not, I've just been best 'man' for the second time - this time for my friend Thomas, the best brotherfriend a girl could ask for. I hope that this marriage lasts longer than the other wedding I was best 'man' for - that lasted all of three months. The bride this time is not a psycho though, so things are looking good. :-)

The wedding was at Chateau Rigaud, about 45 minutes out of Bordeaux, in between a couple villages. It's beautiful. Totally. Think 11th century (and younger) chateau, done up like a boutique hotel. Filled with cool people for the weekend...

We arrived on the Friday, and had (lots of) French champagne and canapes (not snacks). I learned a valuable lesson: French champagne doesn't give you a hangover...

On the Saturday, we visited Saint-Emilion, a medieval village perched on a hill in the middle of some wine estates.

Before and after lunch in the village, we visited wine estates. Learned that in France, an estate only makes one wine per year, unlike in South Africa, where the estates are much bigger, but they make a variety. Herewith, the obligatory gratuitous chin touch pic...

I loved this graveyard (weird, I know). Was intrigued to notice that most are crypts above ground, and that not all of them face East. There's something in Revelations about Christ returning from the East, I believe, which is why most Christian gravestones face the East. And criminals' gravestones, like the Robber's Grave in Pilgrim's Rest, don't.

On Saturday night, I learned that French wine doesn't give you a hangover either. No, really! 

The wedding was on the Sunday, in the steamiest heat I think I have ever experienced. Here's proof that the past and the present can be cool together in the future: 

The sun only sets after nine, and the chateau was even more beautiful by night, with the simple addition of some candles. 

One day when I grow up, I want to do proper long exposure photography. These will have to do for now though.. 

Monday was mostly recovery time, and then Brett and I spent the afternoon in Paris. Which is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. It was hot, crowded, dirty, and all the cool sites were messed up by preparations for the Bastille Day parade set to take place the next day.

The Metro was efficient, but was literally a hole. However, the architecture was beautiful. Beautiful enough that I can understand why the peasants revolted against the nobility. I would have revolted too, I guess.

So, that's a brief snapshot of one of the best long weekends of my life. Spent some awesome time with my gorgeous husband, got to catch up with my best friend in the history of ever (apart from my gorgeous husband, that is), got to meet some new people, and got to be amazed at how time really does mellow us all out.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

So proud of my boys

I know every mom thinks her boys are the best, but just so you know, mine really are.

I think today Daniel finally finished celebrating his birthday - his birthday which was on 17 June, nearly two weeks ago. He had his birthday ring at school today, which I am now devastated I didn't attend (it would have been worth going to Samrand and back twice in one day). They seem to have a whole big birthday ritual - something far bigger than I would have expected from his somewhat reserved teacher.

They get to choose a song for the group to sing, one for each year. So he got to choose five songs. The first song he chose? Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. His second song? Waving the Flag - the K'Naan song for the World Cup.

I baked cupcakes, and he got to give the five cakes with candles to his five best friends. His first choice? His little brother, who is attending his school for the holidays (and thereby hangs a very long tale).

Matthew, on the other hand, paid his brother the biggest form of Matthew compliment. Each of Daniel's friends got to make him a wish for his birthday, and Matthew wished him a lion, complete with big growl. Gotta love brother love...

I would love to list all their awesomenesses - in fact I probably should somewhere, so that I don't forget these moments when they're all grown up and I need to make a speech at a wedding or a 21st. But I will tell you now, that I know of no other five year old who knows what the word 'suffocate' means, and how to use it, or any other child who loves and understands the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky - and has done since he was three. I know of no other two year old that eats with a knife and fork, and resists any attempt to help him do it. This is the child that we thought would be our thug but he's just as soft as his big brother, although far more independent, and unrelenting once he has decided what he wants to wear for the day. They are both so very affectionate, and although sometimes I feel like I've been mistaken for a jungle gym, there is nothing that comes close to being loved by your two totally amazing sons.

I love my boys, so very, very much. More than words could possibly say - and I'm not one to run out of words...

Monday, 28 June 2010

SAA is apparently getting its s...stuff together.

So, thanks to my fabulous husband and fabulous friends, Matthew and I joined Brett and Daniel at St Francis this weekend just past. How beautiful is that part of the world? I have thoughts on the canals, but will post those up another time, in another mood.

This post is to offer a bouquet to SAA and to ACSA, although I might just have to take the ACSA one back as soon as I've dished it out.

My mom dropped us off at the airport - me, a toddler, a suitcase, and a car seat. Having no idea which level we were supposed to come out on, I was wondering around a little aimlessly looking remarkably like a tourist. A few people even asked me where I was from - that's how dof I looked. I didn't want to do the escalator-trolley thing with Matthew perched on top, and was looking for a lift or something, I'm not sure what. Anyway, next thing, a porter comes up to me, and offers to do the trolley-escalator thing - which he did all the way from the parking garage to the check-in desk. No tip asked for or expected.

Then, when we checked in with our Voyager Miles-purchased tickets, they upgraded us to business class, sommer off their own bat. My son, the two-year old, and his first flying experience was business class... Don't think the business people were too impressed, but the FIFA referees that surrounded us thought he was very cute.

Anyway, on landing in Port Elizabeth, I waited and waited and waited for the car seat to come through. All the other fragile luggage had already been and gone, and eventually I went to the baggage queries desk. Where I suppose I should have gone earlier, instead of standing around like a fool for half an hour. Anyway, I digress.

The woman behind the counter was friendly and patient with the non-English-speaking travellers ahead of me, and she treated me with the same grace and respect. She looked up my luggage slips, and took a detailed description of the car seat. While I and Brett (in varying degrees) were stressing about not being able to strap Matthew into a proper car seat for the more than hour-long trip to St Francis.

Next thing - out comes a car seat, FAR nicer than ours, for us to use until ours came to light. No charge, no papers to sign, just a request to return it to our departure airport when we were done with it.

She took our address in St Francis and by 9h00 the next morning, our own carseat was delivered, and the SAA one collected. Was quite sad to see it go, actually...

Now - why do I want to withdraw the ACSA bouquet? On returning to Jozi via George, we were told our luggage was on Carousel 8. So the whole flight stood there for about half an hour, waiting like fools watching the same two bags go around and around. Then one bright spark took a look over to a few of the other carousels - and saw our luggage, having a pleasant trip around Carousel 3 - clearly marked for the Bloemfontein flight. And our confusion didn't even make it to the announcements, which were discussing a similar confusion with two other carousels!

So - shot to SAA for being truly world class - just like most of the rest of the World Cup stuff I've seen. Pity ACSA can't keep up with them...

PS What really tickled me was that EVERY SAA aircraft had "GO BAFANA" stencilled onto the body of the aircraft, just under the cockpit. Cool, hey?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Sex and the City 2 - why you shouldn't waste nearly three hours of your life

Last night, I attended the South African premiere of Sex and the City 2, courtesy of HP, who are one of the sponsors of the movie. They and their co-sponsors did an awesome job of transforming Hyde Park into a New York vibe, although us plebs were decidedly miffed that only the fashionably fabulous folk got into the Moet lounge... but let's not be petty here, it was a free movie.

I'll maybe blog about the event itself later, but for now, here are my thoughts on the movie.

I've been a Sarah Jessica Parker fan since LA Story (which is still one of my favourite movies in the history of ever), and although I didn't watch every episode of the Sex and the City TV series, I really enjoyed the ones that I did see. The first movie was a chick flick of note, but it was still fun, and oh my word, that Vivienne Westwood dress...

But the second movie is proof that too much of a good thing is, well, really appalling. The movie drags on for close on two hours and 45 minutes - it might have been more bearable if they'd contained themselves to an hour and 20. But clearly Abu Dhabi threw billions at them to create a suitably glamourous ad for the emirate, so they needed to stretch it out. A lot. Every time I thought it might be heading for a wrap, it sashayed off into another extended orgy of self-indulgence... or should that be sponsor-indulgence?

The plot line was more diaphanous than Carrie's curious outfit that she wore to sing karaoke (yes, apparently karaoke is tired in New York, but it's alive and well in Abu Dhabi), but what was strong all the way through was the American disdain for cultures other than theirs. It's no wonder Islam has such a problem with our friends across the water - judging by the oohs and ahs from the young women in the audience, these careless ignorant creatures are role models for an impressionable audience.

The Samantha character is really longer in the tooth than anything I've ever seen, although to give the scriptwriters credit, they do point this out a few times. She really is everything that I aspire not to be in a woman, and then some. Describing her as a slut isn't strong enough, and I'm sure respectable whores are offended by her behaviour - so I think you get my meaning?

What the movie does excel at, is at providing a showcase for a vast array of fashion and fabulous shoes. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the parts of the movie that weren't dragged out to show off Abu Dhabi, were dragged out purely to give the four friends more opportunities to wear different clothes - or the fashion houses more time to show off their wares. The fashions were interesting, colourful, exciting and intriguing, and there was probably a wardrobe full of clothes that I would happily embraced.

I totally get that this kind of movie is all about escapism, about seeing how the rich and (in)famous live. I get that fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry, and that women need role models to follow, icons to inspire them.

However, Samantha is the furthest thing from a role model that there is, Charlotte is pathetic, Miranda is clearly only there to show off the clothes that no-one else will wear, and Carrie really should get it that she's onto a good thing with Big.

As an entertainment experience, it left me stone cold, and wishing there was enough light to read my new books from Exclusives Books that were huddling in sheer horror, under my chair.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

About tweetups, strangers, and making a difference: the #TBD

So a while ago I started following a prolific tweeter on Twitter: @MelanieMinnaar. She always has interesting things to say, or funny things, or really thought provoking things. One day, I'd really like to meet the person behind the avatar... and the Twitter Blanket Drive, or #TBD is just one of those reasons.

She started a Thing, it seems, in the #TBD - South Africa's first national tweet-up, which is all about the people in South Africa's twitterverse meeting up to chat, and to give something warm over to charity.

I know the logistics that go into organising a coffee date for a few people who you've known for years- so you can imagine the logistics that go into planning a nationwide event for a bunch of people you've never met... And one doesn't usually get media partners for a coffee date...

She's had some great help from all sorts of people - just another instance that makes me proud to be South African: when there's something good to be done, the good folks just get up and do it, and they make it happen. Big ups to all of you.

Anyway - the short and skinny of it is that the first #TBD national tweet-up is this Saturday, 29 May 2010. We're going away this weekend, to a fishing lodge thaaaaat side of Machadodorp, so I won't be attending (much to my disappointment), but if you're keen to participate, here is more information about the #TBD. And no, you don't have to be active on Twitter to participate - you just need to want to meet some interesting people, and to want to warm up someone less fortunate than you.

*For those not on Twitter - don't be alarmed at phrases like twitterverse and tweet-up. I too think they're corny, but in a pat-on-the-head-it-s-cute kind of way...

Monday, 24 May 2010

Ten things I've learned about corporate life

So, in this post, I had a lot of bad things to say about my decision to move jobs. I must be honest, there are still some things that I am completely pissed off about, but here are a few things I've learned in the last three weeks, that have tempered my anger. Just a little bit.

(For the record, I am not by nature an angry person. I'm usually one of those irritatingly glass-half-full people, even when there's no wine on the table to make the glass full, and not half-full).

  1. There's a lot to be said for bonding with your new team mates over a good lunch and a glass of wine. Well, a half glass. I seem to have become a cheap date. 
  2. There's a rather significant measure of satisfaction to be had from standing your ground in a verbal war with a very very big company... and winning. 
  3. Things are never as simple as they seem. I am learning a lot about the science behind fires. Not because we've had one, but because some of our products are sold on the basis that they limit the spreading of fires. 
  4. On the days that the freeway is uneventful, it's great. Last Thursday, it was vile. Completely, totally vile. I took an unplanned for, unasked for and unenjoyable trip through Buccleugh and various other suburbs, in a futile attempt to ratrun around the shmangle on the freeway. 
  5. I miss Dorothy and her regular supply of beverages. 
  6. It's really great having people around to chat to. 
  7. Not having to account for every hour actually means that I get more work done. Strange, I know - but the whole timesheet vibe just freaked me out totally. 
  8. The corporate vibe seems to be more about finding reasons why things can't be done, than why they can be. Especially if you work in the IT department, and you're STILL holding onto the excuse that bandwidth is the problem. No. It is the solution... 
  9. Working for a company that's big enough to create a vibe about an event like the World Cup is great. Working for a very small company in an area that doesn't allow signage on the road means that you don't get to commission any public displays of affection for your flag (we're doing a 30m one along the N1...) 
  10. When applying for and accepting a new job offer, don't let the lazy HR person fob you off with vagueness in any form. I have learned this the hard way (the same hard way that we bought our house, but that's a blogpost for another day), and will never fall for this one again. 

So, each day I hop onto the freeway, and look forward to the stuff I'm going to be doing that day. Because although I am angry about the way I've been treated on entering the company, I can see that there's great opportunity here for me to achieve some great stuff. Although I'm not even going to TRY and tackle the revolting IT department (their lords and masters are in Paris) about the ridiculousness of us using Office 2003...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

No more Mr Nice Guy

 I’m always the one who smiles sweetly, asks for things politely, and understands when people can’t make it for a meeting. I’m always the gentle one who smoothes things over, calms things down, and that blindly accepts that there are greater forces out there.

I don’t like swearing online, in case my mother reads this, but I’m going to say it: Fuck that for a game of soldiers. I am done with being a doormat.

If you arrange to meet with me, it is rude for you not to pitch. It is disrespectful of me, my time and the help I want to give you for you just not show your face at the time and place that we agree on, together. It is unacceptable for you not to send me a message of some sort that you will not be able to attend our meeting, if indeed you have been held up by a logistical nightmare.

By disrespecting my time, you are preventing me from doing my job. I don’t care who you are – we are both human beings, who should respect one another, and the time that we would like committed to our common cause.

It’s not for nothing that I have been given the Wooden Spoon award, even if it was in jest. I am happy, and committed now, to earning it in earnest.

Enough already. My years of practice at the DBS (see here) are now going to be put into good use. And yes, I’m not going to just blog about this. I am going to speak to the people (note, not person) who have shown this disrespect for me.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Corporate life so far

I left a small company to join an international corporate, and started here on 3 May. I left the Garden because I wanted/needed to earn more money, and the opportunity to do so in an international company that seems to be doing really well was appealing. 

So far, I must be honest, the experience has not been great – apart from the four half-days I worked last week. But that’s a bit of a mixed blessing, I guess.

Day 1 was induction, which was in Germiston, and lasted half a day. I wasn’t convinced – for a company that makes such a big noise about safety, the safety induction was laughable. The people that were there to answer questions couldn’t answer any of mine, but at least they could refer me to people that they thought could. Turns out, when I called them – they couldn’t.

Day 2 I reported to my site, to meet with my direct report, who informed me that she would be leaving at 12 to go on study leave for a week. She gave me a few bits and pieces to do, and set up a few meetings, but pretty much told me to do what I thought was best for the rest of the week. I thought it best to leave at 13h00 to go and jump through some more admin hoops set up by the Germiston crowd.

Day 3 was a bit of faffing here and there, reading up some stuff, and chasing my computer – the only device with which I can do anything in this company. No, you cannot connect your Macbook to our network they say, it’s not safe. WTF? Yes, we do understand that you can’t do your job, and if you try to, it will cost you your own money, but tuffies. Maybe you’ll be able to have a computer by next Wednesday, but you won’t be allowed to use it until we’ve trained you. No, we won’t set up training until you’ve got the computer, and then we’ll see…

Days 4 and 5 were a bit more interesting – spending time with the Technical team as they brainstormed Stuff. Full day on Thursday, and half day on Friday. Refer to lack of connectivity to anything, and I left at lunchtime to go home and replant my veggie garden.

The other theme through all this is a refusal to budge on the company pension fund. I already contribute a very significant amount of my earnings to an RA, but they are insisting that I contribute to the company’s provident fund. Not negotiable. If I stop or reduce my RA, I will literally lose millions in the long term. If I don’t reduce my RA, and contribute to it and to the company’s provident fund, I will be putting around 40% of my income into my retirement planning. Not a bad thing, in the long term, but the main reason I left the Garden was to take home more money.

Yes, I should have insisted on a dummy payslip a long time ago, but the HR lady kind of fobbed me off when I asked for one. And in all honesty, with the increase in my total package, I thought I would be more than covered.

Right now, it’s feeling like I made a significant mistake in leaving the Garden. Thankfully I left on very good terms. I must be honest, it is occurring to me more and more that I should phone the boss of the Garden and humbly ask if she’ll have me back. 

Thursday, 6 May 2010

In which I shamelessly wish to win a competition

So, I’m not the biggest fan of Montecasino, I must be honest. And it seems just a tad bizarre to enter a competition to win a weekend in a hotel in my very own city.
But then it is a Southern Sun hotel, and everything in the Montecasino precinct is pretty spectacular.

What’s most spectacular is that they’re celebrating their opening by giving away a weekend stay at the new hotel. All bloggers (any bloggers have to do is complete the six steps below, and they stand a chance to win.

Whatever I feel about Montecasino, I would feel spectacularly wonderfully outstanding if I won the weekend away – even if it is in my city…
Here’s how you can also stand a chance of winning:
1. Blog about the Southern Sun Montecasino opening, on your blog -
2. In the blog post mention that this competition is open to all bloggers.
3. Answer the six easy questions.
4. Send the blog post link to sheenag@aquaonline.com so she can count and verify all entries.

These are the six easy questions -
1.       What is the opening rate special?
2.       Where has the latest Southern Sun opened? (this would be the 24th April, just fyi)
3.       Who is the General Manager of the hotel?
4.       How many rooms are there in the new hotel?
5.       When is their room service available? [How many hours a day?]
6.       Which item would you most like to order off the Punchinello’s menu?
If you're wondering where to find the answers, I'm pretty sure that they'll all be here: 
On Friday 14th May, one blogger will be chosen to win a weekend stay at Southern Sun Montecasino for 2 adults sharing, bed and breakfast and dinner to the value of R200 each.
Terms & Conditions:
Subject to availability, not applicable during 2010 World Cup
Children under 18 sharing parents’ room stay and eat breakfast free
Valid for 6 months from date of issue
Winners need to make their own travel arrangements to the hotel.

PS You can tell I’ve been watching too much Charlie and Lola, can’t you?

Monday, 3 May 2010

Mrs Johnson’s daughter

My mom was a teacher, and she was one of those teachers that EVERYONE remembers. Some of them remembered her because she was determined to stay in control of her class, but most of them I suspect because she was a damn good teacher. I used to sit in her class after nursery school, and then I joined her school in Grade 1, for the rest of my primary school career. That combination stuck me with the label of ‘Mrs Johnson’s daughter’ for much longer than I would realise.

When I went to high school, and was dealing with the inelegance of Standard Six initiation, I had matrics asking me if I was Mrs Johnson’s daughter. It happened at university too – and when I moved to London for 18 months, it happened on tube station platforms, at a concert, and even at a braai at the neighbour’s house.

THAT’s how far my mother’s influence as a teacher reached. And I used to hate it, that I wasn’t Kerry, rather, I was Mrs Johnson’s daughter.

But you know what? Now that I have a little more wisdom and a lot more appreciation for what it takes to be a mother and a teacher, I couldn’t be more proud to be Mrs Johnson’s daughter.

There were times when I really was a horrible teenager, and even into my 20s, I made some really stupid mistakes and I spent too much time with some really wrong people. But she supported me through all that, confident that she had given me the tools to figure stuff out for myself. She stood her ground when I was being completely unreasonable, standing strong through my tears and one memorable (or forgettable!) night when I think she and my dad locked me in the house to stop me tearing out to visit my prove-my-point boyfriend. And when I felt that I had to persist in something really silly, she stood by and let me figure stuff out for myself. And I’ve never once heard her say “I told you so” when she turned out to be right. Which was most of the time. Well, all the time.

My mom is in her late 60s now, and lives in a lovely cottage in a retirement village, 10 minutes away from us. She has the most beautiful garden that I suspect would win a gardening competition hands-down. She adores my sons, and I know that they adore her. She plays the organ in her church every Sunday, and is very active in the church community. She supports my family and me in so many ways that I couldn’t possibly list them all here, and is available at the drop of a hat whenever we need her. She is strong and independent, and is never afraid to try new things. She has a wicked sense of humour, and a vibrant group of friends.

I love my mom, so much, and I must tell you, I am PROUD to be Mrs Johnson’s daughter. 

This also appeared on JoziKids

Monday, 26 April 2010

Grief, hiding in the woodwork.

I'm normally a very calm person, I take pretty much everything in my stride, the really really good things, and the bad things. When my dad died just over six years ago, I dealt with it. He was very ill, he was in great pain, and he was completely miserable, uncomfortable, and it was his time to go. I knew all this. I still know it.

He died on Easter Saturday. On Good Friday, he was still at home, but was in pain, was vomiting, was extremely uncomfortable. Late that afternoon, my mom, Brett and I took him to the Linksfield Clinic, where we hoped that he would be able to find some relief. The staff there hooked him up to morphine and I don't know what else. By the time we left that evening, he was awake, reasonably alert, and not in so much pain.

When Brett and I found my mom there the next morning, she'd had a brief conversation with him, before he fell asleep. That was sleep that turned out to be unconsciousness, and he did not wake up again. The three of us sat with him in that room the whole day, knowing that we were watching him die. The nurses explained that his organs were shutting down, and that the cries he was making were morphine nightmares. Those stopped too.

By early evening, we were exhausted, and agreed to go home, get some clothes so that Brett and I could stay with my mom, and that we'd have some supper at home, and then go back to the hospital. As Brett and I pulled up into our driveway, my mom phoned to say that the hospital had called. My dad had died about 10 minutes after we had left. The nurse apparently said that it happens often, that terminal patients almost seem to 'wait' for their family to leave, so that death doesn't happen while they're there, so that they don't witness that flatline moment,  as happens in just about every hospital death scene produced by Hollywood.

I coped. I dealt with it. I'm still amazed that I could keep calm when the hospital called me to ask what to do with my dad's body. I didn't cry during the funeral, I just held onto my mom and Brett very very tightly. I dealt with it. And have done so for the last six years.

And then a sodding episode of Grey's Anatomy undid it all last night. We watched an episode called "Suicide doesn't hurt". I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it, but it came crashing in (although it's been there all along, not causing any drama) that we left my dad to die alone. We didn't intend for that to happen, we had been sitting with him all day. But when it was his time to let go, time for his face to relax into the peace of being pain-free, we weren't there.

And it broke my heart, into a million tiny pieces, six years later.

I still miss him, every day. I wish that he had the opportunity to know my gorgeous boys. I know that there is no way that I would wish him back, if he had to carry on suffering the way he was. But I really wish that we had just stayed there for a little longer, to witness his freedom from pain.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

A return to the Doors

So, last night at the request of a really good friend (a REALLY good friend), I went to the Doors in Edenvale last night. It may or may not surprise you to find out that I spent every Friday night there, for about three years. We even went one Christmas night - THAT's how much we loved it there. Every Friday night, Zelda, Jamie, Gavin and Lionel and I would be at the upstairs bar, and sometimes Jamie's brother Andrew. Gavin would drink until everyone thought he would fall over, and then he'd drink some more. Jamie would find someone and play pool with them all night, and Lionel, Zelda, Gavin and I would chat at length about all sorts from the looming spectre of picket fences to the details of our romances, and everyone else's.

I even dressed the part - head to toe black, high platform boots, a long skirt with a thigh-slit slit revealing fishnet tights... I even did arty things with black eyeliner...

We'd people-watch, point and laugh (not too conspicuously) and crack ourselves up at our witticisms - and although I'm biased, we were really very witty. And then, the DJ would play Closer or Temple of Love, and we'd troop down to the dancefloor and jig around wildly for hours on end.

And then life happened. Jamie and Zelda moved to Cape Town. Lionel got involved with someone who didn't like the Doors. Andrew died in a hiking accident. Gavin met a girl, married her, divorced her and married another one. Brett and I got married, and then the boys arrived - when you're sleep deprived already, you don't want to be out jigging around in The Dark Place until the wee hours.

I've been back a few times in the last few years, and every time I go, I swear it will be the last time. Without the glow of that circle, I can see the place for the hole it really is. The cleanest nightclub I have ever been to, from the dancefloor to the toilets and everywhere between, but it's a hole. With angry music and very angry people. You must be angry at life, and your own self,  to pierce yourself all over your face, in my opinion!

Anyway... back to last night. Lionel is going through a bit of a rough time, we had babysitters anyway, so agreed to meet him there. Here are some things I learned, in my return to the Doors:

- The lady cleaning the toilet has got to have the worst job in the world, but she does it brilliantly. Her job is only slightly worse than the people picking up bottles and stompies - although I can't think how much they must hate the very very loud music.
- The Doors has changed its music style. They were playing WEDDING music last night: Life is Life, and THE YMCA - and what freaked me out the most: everyone on the stage DOING THE ACTIONS!!!
- The drinks are cheap, and they taste that way.
- Even the Doors has caught up with social media - it has a Facebook Fan Page
- In spite of the fact that the place looks like a hole, the bouncers keep it safe.
- I listened to some of the lyrics properly for the first time last night. (Yes, I know. We talked a lot, ok?). Some pretty scary stuff in there.
- It still is the only nightclub I've ever been where people really don't care about what you're wearing. They're more interested in the person you are, and they're the friendliest scary people I've ever met.
- It's also the only nightclub I've ever been to where you can dance EXACTLY as you want to, and nobody stares. Lionel 'hatches', he doesn't dance. This soothes my Standard 4 soul, which was irreparably damaged when I didn't dance the 'right' way on school tour.
- There's even a class divide at the Doors now - part of the upstairs bar is segregated, I know not what for.
- The birds are still tweeting - after all these years, they still haven't figured that there's got to be somewhere quieter to catch a few z's.
- Even though we're nearly 40 (eep), jigging around wildly to music that makes your heart thump and your soul soar is still a great way to work through a rough week.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

First steps in freelancing

Once upon a Mac keyboard, I had a moderately successful freelance writing career. I mostly wrote for PR companies (yes, selling my soul, I know), but the pieces I really enjoyed were the ones where I got to do Real Writing. 

I'm not entirely sure why, but friends keep on referring their friends who want to start freelancing to me for advice. Rather than write the same email over and over again, I've decided to turn it into a blog post - see below. 

My best advice: Deliver on-topic clean copy, on time (or even better, ahead of time). Editors will love you, and use you again and again.

Disclaimer: I certainly do not claim to know everything about freelancing. But these thoughts are based on my experiences. 

The best I can suggest, when it comes to building up your freelance portfolio, is to start by buying different magazines - everything from Women & Home to Your Family to Engineering News or whatever, getting a feel for who their reader is, and then pitching an article to the editor that you think will be interesting to their reader. 

Maybe send a sample of your work with the pitch, but they're more likely to take a story idea that talks directly to their reader, than a random article that's been written without a brief and sent to a lot of magazines in the hope that someone takes it. 

A friend of mine has had some trouble with people sitting on her ideas for months on end, meaning that she's lost out on opportunities, so it might be an idea, in your pitch, to include something along the lines that if you haven't heard back from them in one month, you reserve the right to pitch the idea/angle elsewhere. Just a thought. 

These are just suggestions - virtually none of my freelance work was for articles in magazines, it was mostly PR writing and corporate stuff - and there's no small measure of that kind of work available out there. 

As far as contacts go - I don't have many any more. 

A good place to start is also to build your own blog - not only will it keep you writing (and you can never get too much practice at that), it will be a good place to showcase your work. If you do this, make sure that it's not just a diary of what you did and where you went though - make it interesting, challenging, insightful. For eg, you could build a bit of a portfolio of travel writing examples based on your experiences abroad, or you tackle a theme that is close to your heart (my pet project is organic gardening, for example). Don't scoff at this - my husband recently employed a writer I found through her blogging.