Thursday, 7 November 2013

Genetically speaking...

I’ve never much understood how personality traits are shared from one generation to the next, but it completely fascinates me to see how physical features are shared among family, and how they come out in the wash, so to speak. I’m not talking obvious things like facial similarities, or a family hair colour, or similarities in shape though – rather quirky little things that are obvious at first glance.  For example:

-      I have a wayward thick long hair in my left eyebrow, just like my dad did.
-      I have a white splash birthmark at the base of my skull, under my hairline. My mom’s sister has     this (my mom doesn’t), and both my boys have it too.
-      My older son has the same gum-line that Brett and his mother have.
-      I have a divot in one of my ears at the top – as do my cousins (from the same aunt)

I love how these funny little things, that nobody would notice otherwise, link me to the generations that precede me, and how they link my boys to their ancestors too. 

What genetic quirkinesses have you noticed in your family? 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Woolsworths responds to #WWRipOff

Last week, I blogged about how I feel that Woolworths, much as I love the brand and its shops, is a ripoff on some products - and I suggested that anyone who felt the same way should tweet the details, along with #WWRipOff.

There were quite a few people, in the blog comments, on Facebook and Twitter, who agreed with me, and said that they would be using the hashtag. There was Hilton Tarrant who commented extensively, citing free market etc etc...

Babs from the Woolies Press Office contacted me, and sent through this response: 

“We've read your blog post and are happy to respond. I'm sorry you didn't get a response from our team sooner. If you'd like, you can post this as a comment to your blog post — please attribute any quotes to the company, i.e. To Woolworths.

I'm sure you'd agree that it is a bit tricky to compare prices without comparing quality. For instance, we sell only whole free range eggs, which cost more to produce than conventional eggs.
However, there's the animal welfare issue, which is important to us, and to many of our customers.

In terms of the specific products you mention:
§  The hake - Our input costs are higher because we select the best local hake that is MSC certified, and this sustainability certification does come at a cost. Our hake is also carefully prepared (deboned etc.) to our specification, which naturally incurs additional labour costs.
§  The Krone product – The local supplier of this product has explained that some retailers have put this product on promotion ahead of the festive season. We don’t necessarily share the same specials as other retailers. However our wine buyer has promised to take a closer look at the increased promotional activity linked to this product.
§  The Chicken and avocado sandwich on low GI bread – The deli’s recipe is different and it is costlier to produce. E.g. The deli sandwiches are made using speciality bread. They also contain more chicken (roast) and avocado.

While we always aim to offer our customers value for money, we are not resting on our laurels.
That’s why, we’ve rolled out on-going promotions including “Eat in” specials, the Daily Difference, This Weeks Save and Great Value.
Further our WRewards loyalty programme offers Woolworths and MySchool cardholders many instant savings in store every day.
We also compare the prices of a range of common (basic) products against our competitors every week, and are conscious of the need to stay competitive.
The last thing we want to do is compromise on quality. We believe we offer our customers good value, and we get feedback from thousands of customers regularly that helps us make sure we do.
We’d like to thank your honest feedback and for helping to keep us on our toes.”

I asked Food Lover's Market for comment on why they're only committing to MSC-certified fish products from 2015 - and have yet to receive a comment, even though they promised one on Facebook.

So. What do you think? 

I think that Woolies does some pretty awesome stuff, and again, I don't mind paying a premium for superior quality and all the feelgood stuff... But I still feel that a premium of 30% - even if it's just on some products - or more is not ok. 

So I'll continue to shop around for the best deal (last week's one was 2ply loo paper at WW for R69 for 18 - PnP has similar products for more than R80). And I shall continue to be unhappy (perhaps even noisily so) if any of my favourite retailers charges ridiculous or inconsistent prices. Because hey, we're all consumers, right? And isn't this whole social media thing supposed to be there so we can help one another out? 

Monday, 30 September 2013


Social media has given us the power to talk directly to retailers, more so than ever before. In fact, I've heard tell that it's the brands that talk (and listen and respond to) to their consumers are the ones that are going to last.

Now, I'm sure you'll agree that everything to do with the Woolworths brand is beautifully created and immaculately executed, whether its instore, online or in social. I'm ok to pay a premium to shop at Woolies. Their food stores are beautiful - I'd even go so far as saying they're a "happy place" for me - huge variety, beautifully presented, and a little bit of everything. I'm a good customer there - I have a gold card, and I shop enough there to get my free W magazine (that's full of revoltingly thin people. But that's another post entirely). They Get It, and they do it well. And, I guess a part of me knows that all of this wonderfulness, to make happy customers feel loved and appreciated and listened to, comes at a price. 

But I do fundamentally object to being ripped off. 

Some examples: 
- A chicken and avo sandwich on low GI bread out of the fridges: R26. 
- A chicken and avo sandwich on low GI bread from the fresh deli: R35. 
Why? Because it's freshly made, and head office said so (I asked). The sandwiches were exactly the same size, and even if the one had a little more filling than the other, surely that doesn't justify a R9 price difference?

- Fresh hake - R121 per kilogram at Woolworths, packaged into portions 
- Fresh hake - available in packages however big or small I want them - R69 per kilogram at Food Lover's Market. 

- Krone pink bubbles - R130 at Woolworths
- Krone pink bubbles - R99 at Pick n Pay.

If I give more examples, you'll think that I've got nothing better to do with my time... ;-) 

But here's the thing. On all three of these occasions, I've tweeted the @WOOLWORTHS_SA account, trying to get a response from them on why their prices are so out of whack. 

Not a response. Not a word, not a DM, not an anything.  

So, because I'm fairly price aware, I'm going to start tweeting #WWRipOff when I come across a pricing anomaly. I'm not going to be petty and do it for a Rand or two's difference - I get that it costs to be awesome. But when Woolworths is charging upwards of 30% for something than their competitors (or they're charging two vastly different prices for the same thing in the same store), I'm going to make a noise about it. Because if Woolies really wants to be in touch with its customers, it's maybe time for them to start listening (and acting) instead of just talking at them. 

Join me?

#WWRipOff on Twitter.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

House rules

You've seen the House Rules around, I'm sure. There are lots of fairly similar variations, and I confess to having lusted after my own copy for a while. I even have the perfect wall for it in my kitchen, but in my natural aversion to actually spending money on anything that isn't food, or a household essential, I've never gotten around to buying one. 

And I'm glad I haven't, because I think it's worth having your own house rules. Now just to find somewhere to make these for me... although that part shouldn't be difficult... it's the part about actually spending money that should be the hard part. 

Anyway, I reckon that our house rules would be: 

No whining (this is a universal rule)
No tale telling. 
Love your brother with all your heart. He's the only one you've got. 
Mom is always right, even when she's wrong. 
You don't have to win at sport. But you do have to play fair, and play hard. 
Books are truly magical. Read as many of them as you possibly can. 
We're allowed to disagree with one another, but nastiness is banned.
Always tell the truth. 
Don't tease the dogs. 
The light of the sun is so much warmer than the light of the TV. 
Follow your dreams. 
Care about your family, and stand up for us all, no matter what. 
Be kind, be courteous, be generous. 
Believe that you are the most powerful being in your world. 

What would your house rules be? 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The end of an era - a tribute.

Last Sunday, 25 August 2013, my grandmother, Marie Elizabeth Cochrane, passed away. She was born on 1 April 1916, which made her 97 and then some when she died. Pretty amazing, hey?

I've not shed any tears at her passing, although it is extremely sad that she is no longer with us. She lived for a very, very long time, and her very sharp, very active, very ordered mind was trapped in a body that stopped working, step by painful step, a while ago. While her last few days were very traumatic for her, she is at peace now, and is no longer suffering.

We attended a memorial service that was held for her - more a celebration of her life -  and there were a few things that struck me during the proceedings.

My grandmother was born in the middle of one world war, and gave birth to her two daughters just before and during the next. When her husband, my grandfather, came back from being a Major in the British Army after WW2, they were very unaccustomed to one another, I'm sure. She had been a single mother, raising two young girls in war time austerity - he was used to commanding the company of men in theatres of war in North Africa and Italy. They were both particularly strong-willed people, so I'm sure that it wasn't easy to pick up where they had left off when he went off to war - in fact, it was probably impossible.

But, as my uncle said in his tribute, back then, you didn't give up. If something was breaking or broken, you worked damn hard to fix it, because there was just no way that you could walk away.

We've never lived close to my grandmother - she and my Oupa lived in Welkom while I was growing up, and then they moved to Cape Town in 1987, to be closer to my aunt and to the very specific health care that he needed.

I remember her being extraordinarily house proud - no matter how many people were in the Welkom house over Christmas, everything had a place, and everything was in its place. Every precious possession was kept spotless, and protected from any possible damage. Every item of crockery, cutlery, glassware, and ornament was treated as an investment, rather than an easy-to-replace disposable thing.  I guess that also came from the years of austerity, when there was no buying things on credit, when you went to Stuttafords once a month to buy a single place setting of the crockery or cutlery set you wanted, until you had the full collection. And you bought no more than what you needed - because you just didn't have the cupboard space to store anything more.

And then you looked after it, really, really well, because you had worked so hard for that precious item, and you had planned your life so carefully around it.

There's a lesson in that. Gotta love Mr Price, Woolies etc for home fashion - but there are lessons to be learned here about money, time and clutter.

On clutter - my gran lived in a bedsit in a retirement spot in Cape Town. She was also mostly blind, with a condition that literally meant that she had tunnel vision. This combination meant that she planned a place for everything that she needed - and she refused to have anything in her space that she didn't need. Only one cardigan. Only one hanger per blouse -  no extras. The black pullover in its place on a particular shelf. In spite of these strict limitations on the size of her wardrobe, she always looked elegant, with her fine hair styled to the best of her abilities. No need for a packed wardrobe, no need for one in every colour...

The Methodist minister who conducted the memorial service spoke of his monthly visits to her, because she could no longer get to church. A man well into his 70s and with many years' experience of ministering to the faithful, he spoke of how he learned a spiritual lesson from her, every single time he visited her.

The former manager of her retirement complex spoke of her grace, of her thoughtfulness, of her gentle ways of asking for things to be done around the place - and of her careful thank-yous whenever her requests were met. These are the old ways, the ways of old people, but they are ways of treating others that really should not be forgotten - having respect, remembering the details of people's lives.

I met her neighbour, who told me that although she had never met me, she knew everything about my life - my husband, my children - because my grandmother had told her, and that she was so particularly proud of all of us, of my mom, my aunt, and her family. There's something in this too - how often do people talk about their families - not with pride, but derision, or nastiness. How many mothers talk their children down - how many children say nasty things about their parents? And how many grown siblings talk badly about one another? The lesson here - tell the good stories, tell them with pride, be excited for people's achievements. We all screw up. If someone in your family screws up, don't go telling the world. Find something good to say when you're asked about their health.

Getting all preachy here. That wasn't my intention.

But this, I guess, is my own tribute to my grandmother. She was an impressive and commanding figure who had the respect and love of so many people. She loved her children and her husband, so very much, and treasured her brothers, sister and their families too. She knew who she was, and never wavered from that. She knew what she believed, and wasn't afraid to shout it from the rooftops. And she took care of herself, and every little detail of her life- even beyond what anyone else would have thought humanly possible - right to the end.

Rest in peace, Nanny.

Friday, 12 July 2013

A few pics from Glasto

Here a few pics I took on my phone as we went around - in no particular order. I debated taking my DSLR, but decided against it - it's heavy when packed with the lenses I would have wanted to take with, and I already have back issues. Brett took some amazing pics though - have a look at his blog for more of the performers. 

Hug a troll, for free! 

 Meta: an overhead shot of an overhead shot

It rained on the Thursday, this was Friday's mud

Brett and Lionel, cycling to keep the stage powered

Every picture tells a story... 

Even though there was no ocean, there were still pirates...

These folks 'won' an online competition to play Twister in the Rain. With Power Rangers. "Left Hand On Yellow Power Ranger" did get amusing... 

The six of us at Kenny Rogers' performance, which was a surprisingly awesome event!

Glamping. The only way to do Glasto, IMHO

Not us. 

This intrigued me - babies and small children, and lots of them at that, were pulled around the Festival in wagons like this, done up and decorated. Until all hours of the night, all over. Not something I would have done.

The Miniscule of Sound - the world's smallest night club.

Who needs a dancefloor to dance? 

So many people dressed up, it was such fun! Caused us to start plotting and scheming costume themes for if we go again. 

A random stage, with random performers. Who were really good!

See what I mean about dressing up? 

These guys had little buzzy instruments that would have sounded awful alone, but they actually managed to make music! 

At the Of Monsters and Men performance - easily one of my favourites! 

On Glastonbury

We were extremely fortunate to attend the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts (its posh name) this year, as the guests of a (really awesome, incredibly kind and generous) friend. I must be honest, it's not a thing-to-do that was top of my bucket list, but I've heard so much about it, and, once I was reassured that we would have accommodation a little (read a LOT) better than a tent in amongst the masses, I was excited to go. 

Wow. What an experience. One hundred and seventy seven thousand people, 900 acres, more than 100 stages, countless performers, four days. Think about those numbers 

I learned about a bunch of new bands - Brett is very into music, and so knew far more than I did - so I went with the flow. We saw the Rolling Stones, Foals, The Vaccines, Kenny Rogers, Rufus Wainwright, Jake Bugg, Haim, Portishead, Editors, Of Monsters and Men, The Lumineers, Phoenix, the nice man from Deacon Blue, The Proclaimers (who do sing more than one song), and a bunch of guys who were playing on a stage powered by members of the audience pedalling madly on a tandem bicycle. Each performance was neatly an hour, and packed full of awesome music. Even though we saw so many performers, I'll admit we probably saw less than 2% of what was on - the lineup was so huge, even without the odd surprise act thrown in - that I think trying to do more would have worn anyone out. 

There were a few things that struck me, over and above the awesomeness of the music. 

Hunter Boots would probably be only a quarter as profitable if it wasn't for Glastonbury. Easily 80% of the women were wearing Hunters in various shades. 

I've never seen so many flags in one place. The farm itself had flags everywhere, but then members of every audience showed their allegiances, true colours, senses of humour etc. Lovely. Really! Until the Rolling Stones concert when there were so many flags in the audience that you couldn't see the stage. 

The Brits we spoke to were moaning about the 205 pound ticket cost, which would convert to around R3200 at today's sorry exchange rate. Yes, it's a pretty penny, but have a look at that lineup link again, and think again (!). 

Apart from the absolutely flipping incredible lineup of performers, famous and un, the logistics at this event were so well done. Yes, the public loos were pretty grim, but they were there, and there were plenty of them, and they were cleaned out regularly. There were enough police and security officers for there to have been little or no drama. 

There were free shuttles from to and from the event, to get revellers from and to the closest train station and various drop off points in the area, in order to limit traffic in the one-horse-wide country lanes. Further, the festival is very focused on recycling, so it actively encourages people to take their own water bottles in - and there are filling stations with free fresh water at regular intervals. 

Feeding the 177 000 is also a task that's not for sissies, and there were literally hundreds of food stalls, serving everything from Tibetan to English food, and all sorts in between. And here's the thing that struck me: while the prices, converted into Rands, made it expensive, those prices were the same as they would have been on any English High Street. 

I'm just going to emphasize the last few things here, for our South African friends at Big Concerts and the like. These are the things that struck me as being the biggest lessons local organisers of big concerts and events could learn from: 
Good value for money in the ticket price
Free shuttles to and from the venue
Abundant loos that are cleaned regularly
Free water - no ban on water bottles (or water bottle caps - WTF?) to force people to spend R15 a small bottle of water, with associated plastic waste and litter
A range of food that is priced the same is it would be outside the venue. 

I'll put my pics up on another post (I didn't take nearly as many as I hoped I would), but you can get a great idea of the event by looking at the Daily Mail overview. I also loved their article about the Rolling Stones concert, which was called "Night of the Living Dead" in the print edition - those guys are incredible, but my goodness, they really did look like zombies! Brett's pics (which are fabulous) are up as well, and you can get a great feel of the Saturday and Sunday, from the Glasto site

Here are links to a few of my favourite peformances: 
Rufus Wainwright
Jake Bugg
Of Monsters and Men
Kenny Rogers
The Lumineers

Long and short of it - if you ever get the chance to go to Glasto, grab it with both hands. But pack your wellies, and if you possibly can, glamp rather than camp. There is no measure (for me) of the importance of a hot shower, a flushing loo, and the ability to take time out from the seething crowds. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Visiting Othandweni with Chevrolet's Ute Force

I visited Othandweni, a Child Welfare facility in Soweto on Monday, as the guest of Chevrolet's Ute Force. Sjoe. So many thoughts, so many emotions after the visit, that are difficult to put into words, even for a professional wordsmith like me. I'll  save them for another time, when I've figured the words out. 

But. I will say this: Othandweni was spotless. The children were happy. The children were healthy. The children were friendly. And the people that were caring for them, clearly really do care for them. And much as it completely does my head in to think why these 80 or so children are living in a facility like this, it made my heart happy to see that Othandweni is clearly Getting It Right, with the limited resources at their disposal. 

And it's in supplementing those limited resources that the Ute Force team comes in. They've put up the cash for Be Sharp Beetles to visit the under fives at Othandweni every week for the rest of the year, so that these precious littlies can benefit from some extra stimulation. The Be Sharp Beetles programme sets out to "develop happy children through music" by developing their rhythm (crucial for reading and writing later on), developing fine and gross motor skills, and that all-important developmental achievement: Crossing The Midline. 

The Ute Force team took me, @MissStaceyVee and @NickiDadic to see the programme in action, and I took the two little Haggards along for the ride too. I want them to grow up knowing that they are privileged, that there are people out there who need help, and sometimes, the best help to give is your time and your love. And cupcakes. Because cupcakes have the power to make everyone smile! 

I will be honest, my heart  nearly broke when one of the older kids said to me "Auntie, are you coming to visit us again?" when I knew perfectly well that the chances of me going back there are not huge. But I do know that the Be Sharp Beetles will be going back, for the rest of the year. 

And it's reminded me again that dip-in-jump-out charity is not how it should be done. So I consider myself well and truly nudged to find an ongoing project or relationship to build, closer to home, that is more than just about chucking money at a problem. Chevrolet has done that with the Ute Force. I hope you'll do the same. 

Here are some pics of the day - the children's faces may not be shown, but the pics will give you an idea of what we saw on our visit. 

Pics were taken by the very talented Eunice Driver 

Monday, 6 May 2013

The tricky issue of charity

I'm blessed to have all that I need - more than, actually - so I make an effort to share some of my fortune with others. I won't go into detail about what I do here, apart from the one instance that has me puzzled, and a quite angry, to be honest.

There's a man called Dennis Mitchell who has been coming to our gate for probably about three years now. He's mute, illiterate, and I think has had brushes with gangs - judging by the tattoos on his fingers. He first rang our gate bell way back when, and gave me a letter to read, I can't even remember what the story was back then - but he's always armed with a letter, that I think is written by friends or acquaintances, because it's a different handwriting every time. When I've asked him questions, he's tried to write the answers, but struggles to form letters and words.

The stories have been many over the years - there have been two children (of ages that are constantly changing), there was a girlfriend that died of TB just before Christmas last year (please can we help with food and Christmas presents), the children have been sick (please help with medicine), the children have needed school uniforms for KEPS (please help with money for uniforms), then they needed school fees for a school far away because they were sent to live with their granny (please help with school fees), then it was a child's birthday (please help me make a little party)...

I've long stopped believing the stories, mainly after the KEPS story, when I really thought there was an opportunity to help two kids make their way out of what is clearly not a great situation. Maybe if I took on their school fees, he would have the resources to sort out the uniforms. I've helped kids with school fees before - and have learned that any money for this should be paid directly to the school - to make sure that it is actually used for that intention. KEPS took a couple of days to dig through their records, ask around, and check their registration - but there was no record of Dennis or of his children.

There was another instance where the letter told of the two sick children, begging for medication to help break their fever. I gave him a bottle of Lotem, warm clothes for the kids - a big bag of stuff, including food for him. We left home shortly after that, and I saw him chatting to a lady on the street corner... clearly trying to sell her the stuff I'd just given him.

So. My new rule became that I don't read the letters. I do however, always give him food when he rings our doorbell - usually a can or two, including something with meat in it - and whatever bread is in the bread bin. He's usually at our gate once a fortnight or so, sometimes every week.

Yesterday I was out, and Brett phoned - Dennis was at the gate, with a letter asking for money to help him buy formula for his nine month old twins.

At which point I lost my rag fairly significantly. I get that it's completely none of my business, but what the hell is this guy doing procreating AGAIN if he is in such dire financial and life straits that he is compelled to beg for food?  Actually, that's when it does become my business - because he's asking me to support them! And, here's the next judgmental opinion from me: if him being disabled is not a barrier to snagging himself a girlfriend and getting her pregnant with TWO children - why is it a barrier to him finding work?

Or are the twins yet another fabrication?

I guess I'm also quite jaded about this - there are just so many people at every turn, standing with a hand out, asking for help. There are the ones that clearly do need every bit of help they can get - there's a guy who begs on Glenhove in Melrose who literally has nothing below the hips. I have no idea how his body mechanics work, but he sits (can you call it that?) on the road at the traffic light. Him, I will, and have, given money to, and food.

But there are the guys near Montecasino, and others, who contort themselves into all sorts of caricatures of disability to gain sympathy - and then walk up straight as soon as the robots change. There's the young woman in Norwood last night, who looks completely able to be a receptionist, a waitress, an admin clerk, even a cleaning lady - but there she was standing begging for money.

I work hard for my money, as does my husband. We do it honestly, and with a focus on creating good environments for other people to work. We help where we can, with what we can, to make our little corner of the world a better place.

But it makes me so angry when people lie to play on our sympathies to weasel money out of us - when if they were prepared to work just a little bit, they could sort themselves out.

I know this is an emotive issue, and there are all sorts of reasons that people beg,that so many people just do have perpetual bad luck,  and that if everyone helped someone else, the world (and more specifically this country) would be a better place.

However, I'm so tired of so many people looking to me to fund their lives, and lying to me when they do so.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Review: EnMasse Massage

Brett and I both enjoy massages, but we visited enmasse for the first time as part of a package we took for our wedding anniversary in March. We've just been back for a second time, and I hope we'll return several times more! 

What's special about this spot, in a city that is littered with spas offering all sorts of massage, manicure, facial and beauty treatments (where sometimes deciphering the menu is so much effort you just move on to the next one...)? 

There a few things that we love about this spot. 

Firstly and most importantly - the massages are fantastic, maybe because they've kept their focus on that - enmasse only offers massages, not a confusing array of other stuff. It offers Thai massages, which as Brett says is a bit like having yoga done to you. There's no lying about on a table here - you're taken to a room sectioned off with waist-height blinds, and you lie down on a huge, comfy mattress on the floor. Your therapist asks if there are any particular areas that need attention, and then sets about working them. Once she's untied the necessary knots (and my back has more knots than a macrame piece), she gets to the stretching. Much as you're still lying there being massaged, this is a far more active massage than the ones we're used to - and it's great. You emerge feeling like you've been tugged, pulled and pushed - in a good way - and that all the tightness, stress and exhaustion has been firmly banished. 

Secondly - this is a dry massage - so there are no gooey oils involved. When you arrive, you're handed a set of cotton pyjamas that are loose and comfy, and you change into those for the massage. There's no compromising of any modesty - you're completely covered at all times. And you're not covered in goo, having to wash your hair and take a shower when you're done - you can literally put your clothes back on and carry on with your day when your massage is complete. 

Next - one of the things that I hate about spas is the plinky plonky pan flutey music that they all seem to think is so calming. It's not. It's awful. And it's the same wherever you go. enmasse plays a wide selection of chilled but interesting music - think along the lines of Morcheeba, for example, and at just the right volume too. 

Once you're done with your massage, there's a wide selection of leaf teas that you can choose to indulge in - most are free, but others come at a small charge. You get to enjoy a bit of a tea ceremony in the comfortable lounge, which is all part of the relaxing experience, and read an international magazine or two. (My only complaint? The magazines are all quite old. Some new ones would do nicely)

You can also purchase the teas, the beautiful glasses that it's served in, and the cotton pyjamas, if you choose. 

An hour massage at enmasse costs R395, but there are monthly memberships available that see the cost of each session reducing. For us, it's incredibly centrally located, on the corner of Corlett Drive and Oxford Road, and you can use their private off street parking, accessed on Corlett Drive just next to the Greek restaurant. 

Now. Go and do it. You'll thank me later. 

The money business: This is not a sponsored review in any way - we paid our own way for this one. 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Review: Jersey Boys at Montecasino

Last year I told you how I love musical theatre, and how so many of the traditional shows hold great memories for me. Well, a week or so back, I was privileged to see a 'new' show that created a whole bunch of new memories - Jersey Boys, on at Montecasino until Sunday 9 June 2013.

I'd heard of Franki Valley and the Four Seasons, but didn't realise just how much of their music has made it into just about every generation and genre of music - and its in this that I think much of the show's appeal lies: even if you weren't around in the 50s or 60s or even 70s yet, you will recognise the songs, and you'll be heard pressed not to tap your feet or get up and jig along wildly along with the music. 

The show is more than just music though - it's the tale of four young men who drag themselves out of one of America's toughest neighborhoods through their music. It's not as simple as it sounds - there were several bands that didn't work out, several name changes, several women, several disastrous events - but clever lyrics, simple but catchy tunes, and Franki Valley's sheer determination to sing, all make a great story. 

We were lucky enough to be taken on a backstage tour before the show, and I reckon such a thing should be compulsory for every theatre guest! If you've ever wondered why tickets to productions like this are a tad on the pricey side, having an understanding into what goes into putting them together will make you think that they're cheap at the price. 

This production of Jersey Boys is one of nine running all over the world at the moment - and every production is tightly managed to be exactly the same as all the others - whether it's the set, the costumes, the voices, or the music. Everything is authentic - so the 1950s TV cameras you see on stage are actual 1950s TV cameras, that have been hunted down and restored, for example. The outcome of this almost obsessive attention to detail? The show at Montecasino is right up there with Phantom of the Opera, and other international standard productions I've been lucky enough to see. 

Backstage is a veritable labyrinth of technology, wardrobe, instruments and props, with everything timed literally to the second, to tie in with the music. Interestingly, in order to get the best sound quality possible, there is no orchestra in the orchestra pit - the musicians do their work from two very sound proofed rooms under the stage, and their sheer talent and scope is quite something to marvel at. One gentleman we spoke to plays five woodwind instruments during the show - some of that from their room, and some on the stage. 

My only criticism of the show - and it's a common one with international productions here - is that the casts' American accents slipped quite often, leading to an odd mix of New York and Johannesburg. I completely understand the quest for authenticity in this show and others, but I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't just be less complicated for the actors to keep to local is lekker when it comes to enunciation. I must confess to missing quite a few words because of this. However, given that each of the three female actresses has up to 11 roles to play during the show, with the quickest wardrobe change being seven seconds, I reckon it's pretty acceptable for the occasional accent slip here and there. 

Overall, Jersey Boys is well worth checking out - the voices are incredible, the music is great, and the set is very cleverly done. It's a great treat night out for music and theatre lovers of any age. When it's done at Montecasino's Teatro, Jersey Boys heads to Cape Town, where it will be open from 19 June 2013. 

Disclosure: I attended Jersey Boys as a guest of Tsogo Sun. My views and opinions are my own. 

Monday, 4 March 2013

South Africa: my heart is broken

How selfish that title seems, coming from a privileged woman who lives in a safe home in the suburbs, with her wonderful husband and two totally awesome, healthy  sons. What could I possibly have to be heartbroken about?

The last few months have seen a barrage of bad news hit us – lists of women who have been raped and/or murdered, men who have died at thehands of police officers, children who have been let down by their parents and then the system that is meant to protect them, the thousands of people who have died on the roads because of others’ irresponsible driving, corruption in government, bullying by politicians, in-party political murders and victimisation... the list is already too long for me to carry on – and I probably could for pages.

I’ve always been one of the most South Africa-positive people I know. But I have to be honest: I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve used up our already generous allocation of miracles. At every turn, we hear how South Africans are raping, torturing, cheating, murdering other South Africans – and they’re getting away with it, day after day, while our government sets up commissions of inquiry that don’t achieve anything other than wasting more of my (and your) tax money.

There are beacons of light. There are good folks out there working hard to change things and do things differently, but the beauty of their song is drowned out by the cacophony of bad news. It struck home last week when I clicked through to a coverage link of some work Tribeca did for the Put Foot Foundation. In the middle of the page – an artful shot of the school shoes the Foundation gave to kids who didn’t have any. Every single other story on the page – and there were many – was a story of murder, mayhem and mishap.

How on earth are we supposed to stay positive about our country and its future when every little bit of good news is drowned out by bad! (And, it’s worth noting, that the good news just mentioned only happened in an attempt to address the tragedy of township children who have no shoes or socks to wear to school, in a country that spends more per capita on the education system than most others).

I know that the call should be for us all to rise up, raise our voices, donate our money, and take action to improve the lot of our fellow citizens. I’m happy to do that, but, South Africa, where do I start? How do I choose whether to volunteer at a children’s home, or whether to buy care kits for rape victims, or whether to start or participate in YET another movement that sets out to change things for the better? The thousands of well intentioned movements, foundations, organisations that have been launched off the back of similar despair seem to be fighting a losing battle against the overwhelming tide of lawlessness, anger and violence that is washing our country’s future away.

Right now, I want to go home and hug my children close to me, because the best that I can do right now is to protect them from this crazy place we call home, and to instil strong values in them so that they see the wrong of what surrounds us, that they can stand strong against it, that they can try to find hope in what increasingly seems like a situation that is simply beyond one of the miracles that we in South Africa keep on holding onto for salvation.

But who is going to protect South Africa’s other children? Who is going to fix this place so that it is safe for all of her children – regardless of their age, colour, religion or lifestyle choice? I wish I knew – because even if there was a saviour somewhere on the horizon, I really don’t know how they could possibly fix things.

For the first time in 40 years, I despair for my home, my country.


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Here's to 2013...

I'm sitting at the beginning of 2013 with a sense of some trepidation, and not a small amount of relief that 2012 is over. 

The last two months of 2012 were particularly sucky, with with my mom being diagnosed with a return of cancer that we all thought was 10 years banished, Daniel chopping his toe off in a freak accident at a birthday party on my mom-in-law's birthday, and Brett having to go into surgery for a kidney stone between Christmas and New Year. Yes, Universe, I think my character is built quite enough for now, thank you very much.

So, here's looking forward to 2013. Here are a few things I wish for, a few things I'm excited about, and a few things I've got planned. These are not New Year Resolutions - because those always fall by the wayside, no matter how honorable your intentions...

  • I wish for a complete recovery for my mom. She's been incredible since her diagnosis, her usual practical, pragmatic, quietly determined self, focused on getting through the radiation and chemo with dignity and grace. 
  • I wish for Daniel's toe to be properly attached, and this particularly detour on his journey to be over soon. We're seeing Dr Mia again this afternoon, and will find out more. 
  • I wish for Brett's health to be restored quickly, once the next part of the kidney stone episode is over in the next week or so, with as little pain and discomfort as possible. 
  • I'm excited for the beginning of the Littlest Haggard's St David's journey - he starts Grade 00 on 16 January, and is SO ready to be a Big School Boy.
  • I'm looking forward to the four of us going back to that fabulous cottage on the North Coast in April. Last year's family time - just the four of us - was incredibly important to me. 
  • I'm looking forward to going to Glastonbury in June. I'm not a festival person so much, but thanks to a very special friend, we'll be doing Glastonbury in a little more comfort and style than the rest of the sticky muddy masses... 
  • I'm looking forward to seeing my brotherfriend while we're in the UK for Glastonbury. I was lucky enough to have two visits with him last year, after not seeing him for several years, but there are some people who will always be exactly the right ones to sit and catch up over fine coffee and cheesecake. 
  • I'm planning to spend time differently this year. I need to disconnect from social media more - taking a social media sabbatical over the holidays was very insightful. I want to spend more time on myself, doing things that I want to do. Like go back to yoga, and read. 
  • I love what we've done with our house over the holidays - cleaning, tidying, painting, moving rooms around. I'm hoping it will give us the space we need, and more functionality to our home. 
  • I'm looking forward to nurturing and cherishing some special friendships that have grown over the last couple of years - ladies who Get me. 
  • I'm looking forward to exploring a couple of ideas I've had for blogs and websites - all around the day job, of course. That's for the copious free time I have, you know, all - what - 15 minutes once a week? ;-) Refer back to the ones about spending my time differently this year, in the different spaces we've created. 

What have you got lined up for 2013?