Saturday, 21 December 2013

Merry Middle-Class Christmas

4 days till Christmas everybody!  Gosh the excitement! The anticipation! Who can resist the lure of a morbidly obese, elderly man nipping down your chimney to top up his alcohol levels with a schnifter of brandy and stuff one more mince pie down the hatch (will this be the one that pushes him into a diabetic coma?) before depositing plastic trinkets of an Asiatic origin under a plastic/balding Christmas tree drowning in tinsel and likely to go up in flames at any second due to badly wired cheap fairy lights.  Could there be a more exciting time of year?
I think not.

Here in Church Road, Myvanwy and I are abuzz with festive anticipation.  I have developed carpal tunnel syndrome from wrapping the numerous presents procured for her 13 great/grandchildren.  The back room looks like Santa’s grotto every surface covered by festive gifts. 

Well, I say we’re abuzz with festive anticipation but really Vanny is a bit concerned that we might not get through the week without running out of a) food and b) light bulbs.  This is a strange siege mentality as a no other time of the year would one worry that you might be unable to purchase a 60w bayonet bulb should the need arise.  To ease any festive worry we have purchased a light bulb multipack, which should see us through the darkness of the Christmas week even if every bulb in the house should inexplicably combust. 

As for food I have failed to waylay her festive fears after recounting that when I got to the veg market this morning, as I/we do every Saturday morning, the veg man (who is a genuine London barrow boy ‘O’ight there darlin’ character) had been completely cleaned out of carrots, parsnips and potatoes! Poor Vanny is a tad concerned that we might be unable to lay our hands on a root vegetable until after the festive season despite my protestations that supermarkets will continue to trade during the following week. 

I find Vanny’s Christmas anxiety quite strange, as she is usually a pretty chilled character.  However she did share with me the tale of how her mother used to come for a little day out with a pack of candles and box of matches in her handbag in case of an emergency.  She concedes that, in this her 94th year, her festive fear has finally turned her into her mother!

For our festive treat we are off to her lovely daughter’s for Christmas lunch, where we will be joined by some of her great/grandchildren.  Vanny has already warned me that her grandson will inevitably get completely morosely drunk at the end of the table and the great-grandchildren will work themselves into a teary-frenzy over too many presents/too much sugar.  Her deaf son-in-law will refuse to wear his hearing aid, which may cause his irritated wife to stab him with the carving knife midway through Christmas lunch.  Vanny has declared that she won’t be able to hear a thing with all the background noise during lunch and will invariably find the dining room chairs so arse-breakingly hard that she will want to come home the minute it is politely acceptable to do so.

Any who I am off to represent the household at the neigbour’s Christmas drinks party.  Such fun darlings!  With champas in hand I will discuss important middle-class issues like the banning of tracksuits as leisurewear and compulsory prison time for anyone with a tattoo.

Merry Middle-Class Christmas Everyone!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Stop the clocks

The day that I wrote about with dread 5 long months ago finally came to pass, Madiba has died.  I was waiting to catch a night bus from London to Edinburgh when I heard the news.  Strangely it was via twitter that the news broke and I hastily tweeted others for confirmation, yes it was true.  Zuma was addressing the nation.

Sitting on a cold bench in a cold country surrounded by foreigners I felt horribly far from home.  I looked around me and no one seemed to know.  Nelson Mandela had died but nobody around me seemed to care.  The line that kept repeating through my head was ‘stop the clocks, cut off the telephone’ from W. H Auden’s poem of the same name:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

I messaged a friend back home.  He cared.  He was a grown man crying tears last seen when his own grandfather died.  And then I checked my twitter feed and realized that I was wrong not that no one cared, everyone did. Out of all the thousands of people I follow on twitter – politicians, journalists, pop stars, actors, companies and regular Joes - everyone was talking about Madiba.  When the occasional vacuous tweet did escape through the wall of humanity it made me roar with anger. I felt so many emotions; trepidation, grief, relief but mostly I felt proudly South African.  I wanted to turn to my neighbour and hug away my bursting heart.

Scrolling through a microcosmic twittersphere I marveled at the power of this one elderly man to unify the hearts of thousands of strangers in this bitter-sweet moment.

There were epic words:

President Obama remembers Nelson Mandela: "A man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice."

And simpler truths:

South Africa needs a hug. RT: ‪@MsLeloB: I need a hug

And poignant reminders of the giant, gentle space left unfilled:

There I was sitting on a cold hard bench waiting for a bus, I didn’t want to stop the clocks and cut off the phone.  I wanted to grab a vuvuleza or ululate. I wanted to walk outside and feel the breath of the universe on my face.  I wanted to look up at the stars and thank God for the beautiful people.

I am reminded why I can’t settle in Britain, because I am African.  I was lucky enough to grow up in a beautiful, complex and challenging place.  I was blessed to expend my teenage years with Nelson Mandela The Educated Man as the head of my country, not Nelson Mandela The Terrorist or Nelson Mandela The Prisoner.  I never felt anything but optimism for my beautiful country and I refuse to stop believing in it now.  I didn’t plan to leave South Africa for so long.  I have spent 7 long years coming home.  As a wise-cracking journalist with a jaundiced eye remarked ' … whenever people assess Africa, they underestimate the nuttily fanatical believers, like you.’

I do believe, nuttily and fanatically because people like Nelson Mandela have lived to show us how.

It always seems impossible until it’s done
-Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

You're having a giraffe.

Gosh hello November, where the hell did you come from?  It’s how many days till Christmas? You’re having a giraffe*

 (*Aka Tin Bath i.e. laugh for those unfamiliar with cockney rhyming slang).

Somehow weeks have passed me by and all I have to show for it is a penchant for animal print in the form of an Ocelot print faux fur coat that I have taken to wearing in and outside the house in the manner of ageing rock star/drunken lush. 

The obligatory selfie

Oh and Vanny turned 94! To celebrate I brought her a cheese baker (basically a ceramic heat proof dish in which an entire block of camembert can be melted, for the purpose of dipping foodstuffs into melted cheese).  She was delighted, as it will enable us to really focus our smelly French cheese obsession in a new direction.  Unfortunately her daughter bought her new bathroom scales for her birthday, as the old one’s were out by a good 2kg.  The new digital bathroom scales are so frighteningly accurate that Vanny and I have a renewed fear of ‘gaining’, so much so that the cheese baker remains untouched. Ignorance really was bliss.

As part of her birthday celebration she and I ventured to London to watch ‘War Horse’, which was epic and emotional – the fat man next to me was in a flood of tears by the end, sobbing like a little girl and the teenage girls further down our row where flapping their hands about air drying their tears in the manner of beauty pageant contestants.  Frighteningly Vanny and I remained rather dry eyed.  She thinks she is becoming hardened at 94, I think I’ve used up a life time supply of tears recently and am physically unable to produce more. 

I was thoroughly impressed that the puppetry behind War Horse is created by the Handspring Puppet Company, who are proudly South African.   Shall attach a little preview for any culture vultures interested…

To further increase our cultural kudos I took Vanny to see the filmed live-version of the National Theatre production of Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein that was being broadcast at our local cinema (which was fantastic!).  When we parked the car I noticed to young 20-something girls pull in and park in a disabled only spot and here I found myself saying the most remarkable things:

Me: Look at that Vanny.  Do either of those girls look disabled to you? [Watch 2 able bodied 20 year olds saunter past flicking youthful long hair over their shoulders.]

Vanny: Well, no, why?

Me: They parked in the disabled space. I very much doubt that they are going to watch our show – I’m assuming their cultural literacy is very low if they behave like that.

Vanny: Chuckles.

Me: Wow, listen to me all judgmental.  I really have turned into ‘Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells’.  It must be an age thing.  That really would not have bothered me a few years ago.

Vanny: Just you wait, if you’re so incensed now, when you’re my age you’ll be chasing them back to their car with a walking stick.

Vanny is right of course, I’m on a slippery slope to crotchety old chicken lady-dom.  I the middle-class Britishness of my surroundings is starting to take its toll. The Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells reference is a local British joke that inevitably a complaint letter in a UK paper was often written by a disgruntled member of the middle-classes and signed, “Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells”. A case in point the other day I came home to find that someone had parked in the disabled spot outside our house specially reserved for Vanny.  One of neighbours had been so incensed by this violation that they taken the time to write this, A4 sized note, and sellotape it across the offender's windscreen:

My only criticism of this note would be the complete lack of punctuation.  This blatant disregard for the rules of grammar is the thin end of the wedge as far as I am concerned.

Of course the other great news in my life is that I have been accepted into the post-grad Copywriting course starting next January in Cape Town.  Which means I am going to be a penniless student (again) in one of the coolest cities on earth.  My classmates will all be a good 10 years younger than me and probably be so achingly hip that they will no doubt be speaking a foreign language to me.  I’ll be as uncool as their mothers trying to fit ‘amazeballs’, ‘totes’ and ‘obvs’ into conversation.  Still it will give me a chance to put on my Ocelot coat and get my cougar on by pursuing younger toy boys, as it seems to me that a penchant for animal print is a frightening predictor of cougar type tendencies later in life.

-Disgusted (but totes amazeballs, in an Ocelot coat), Tunbridge Wells.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Bird & The Fish

I’ve been in the U.K  for nearly 3 weeks now.  It really is as though I never left.  My life with Vanny continues in a happy cycle of meal planning, food shopping, wine drinking, cinema going and clothes shopping.  We are both currently obsessed with Waitrose muscles in Thai sauce and ripe and fatty goat’s cheese.  I have morphed (and that really is the best word for it) from someone living on a diet of crackers and back of the cupboard pickled goods to a complete obsessive foodie. Vanny and I scour the papers for new recipes and spend many a happy hour wandering around Waitrose/Lidl/the Fruit and Veg market looking for new and exciting food adventures.  We are back on the evening glass of pink Californian rose with olives and other pre-dinner snacks.

Our latest gourmet extravaganzas are duly eaten in front of the telly, usually to the visuals of Eastenders after which we will scrutinize the T.V listings for the evening entertainment.  We really are a little old married couple, quite content in our domestic routine.

Love is about sharing.

Of course I’m not married to Vanny.  My real Husband is out in the void. Silent.  Unable and unwilling to speak to me.  I can’t say I blame him really.  What do you say when your wife phones you up to discuss future plans and in the middle of a fairly routine conversation utters the wholly unimaginative words, “I just can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to be married.”  I imagine the Husband wanted to scissor-kick me in the back of the head or punch me in the ovaries.  Instead he muttered something about getting his suit back at which point I dissolved into tears and we duly imploded.

I think I was as amazed by the turn of events as the Husband was.  It was like an out of body experience my mouth was suddenly forming these words that I felt powerless to stop and once they were out, well there really wasn’t any coming back from that.  And so we are now trapped in silence.  Removed from each other and our marriage.  My Husband is, I think, too angry to talk to me and I am too cowardly and inept to explain myself.  I know we can’t go back to the way we were living, all that distance slowly growing bigger between us, but we don’t know any other way -it is how we have lived through 5 years of marriage.  

We both heard the ice cracking under us, we even stopped to acknowledge it, but neither of us made a move towards solid ground.  In our 7 years together we have repeated the same pattern of apart and togetherness, but it always seemed temporary, sustained by love and hope that one day we would live together in our happy or at least mildly conventional ever after.  But somewhere following my 30th birthday and 5 months of living on my own as a single-married -eating meals for one, changing light bulbs and making new friends - I awoke to the desperate feeling that time was running out.  I lost my hope; this was never going to end.  We, our marriage is/was the embodiment of Einstein’s quote, ‘Insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’.

I think of my Husband with a dull pain in my chest.  I am amazed that the person most precious to me could become such a stranger so quickly.  I want to phone him up and reassure him.  I want to hear him call me ‘mushroom’, but there is no point until there is an answer to the riddle ‘A bird may love a fish, but where will they build a home?’

So our marriage dies in silence, with distance.  There are no plates smashed in passion against a wall.  No heated snotty arguments. No voices raised in protestation and recrimination.  No way to say I still love you, I just don’t know how to live with you.  Instead it seems we will slip away from each other into the Ether in tacit agreement until a continent rests between us.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Inbetweeners

I am firmly ensconced back in the heart of suburban middle-England that is Tunbridge Wells.  It would appear that since I was last resident here, last December, very little has changed.  Saturday night TV viewing appears to be exactly the same – Strictly Come Dancing and the X-Factor.  The contestants might well be that same one’s from last year for all I can tell – particularly in the X-Factor where a sob-story about life in a council estate being raised by mum is followed by on camera sobbing and then belting out an 80’s hit a tad off key, whilst half-naked dancers cavort nearby.  Last night’s televisual entertainment was so dire that Vanny (Myvanwy) and I attempted to dull the pain with our favourite Californian rose, but even this could not take the edge off the shrill screeching that will potentially be a Christmas number One.

I also made the mistake of paging through the OK magazine whilst waiting in the queue at Waitrose.  I learnt that 35 year old, Jordan, aka Katie Price (a glamour model-cum-saucy novelist who was once married to Peter Andre, of that catchy pop song ‘Mysterious Girl’ fame) has in my year long absence married and had a boy child with a 26 year old plasterer-cum-stripper.  The phrase ‘plasterer-cum-stripper’ captures the essence of Mrs. Cougar-Price quite nicely, as her previous husband was Alex Reid, a cross-dressing cage fighter with an alter ego called Roxanne.  When I discussed this shocking discovery with 93-year-old Vanny she wondered if perhaps I was misinterpreting the ‘stripper’ in the new Mr. Price’s title and suggested that he is he perhaps a ‘plasterer-cum-wallpaper stripper’.

Alex Reid a.k.a Roxanne

The highlight of my Saturday night was that Alex, the spotty, newly gravel-voiced teen from next door was having a party and came to warn us that it might be a little noisy until midnight.  I immediately pictured scenes from the Inbetweeners and so was quite pleased when I had the joys of encountering some of these young partygoers as I popped outside to put out the recycling at 11pm.  

The Inbetweeners

Perched on the low front wall were two couples formed of twitchy male youths slouching about, hands in pockets, attempting to impress two impressively maned twiglet thin blondes.  Twiglet Blonde 1 was a tad slurry and while squinting up at Slouchy Youth 1 had the following conversation:

Twig Blonde: So you’re Matthew James?
Slouchy Youth: No, I’m Matthew Johns.
Twig Blonde: But do you know Matthew James?
Slouchy Youth: No.
Twig Blonde: But you’re sure you’re not Matthew James? You look like him.
Slouchy Youth: No.

I sauntered inside and returned 5 minutes later with an empty milk bottle that had escaped my first round of dutiful recycling and heard Twiglet Blonde saying, “So you’re sure you’re not Matthew James?”

Poor Matthew (Johns, not James) was clearly trapped with a drunken teen poppet stuck in her own goldfish bowl.  Were it not for the biological imperative to propagate I’ve no doubt he would have headed indoors to central heating and smoother flowing conversation.  I admired his hormonal tenacity as he stared hungrily at his long empty bottle of Stella and attempted to work the conversation away from his identity crisis through the exclusive use of monosyllables.
Is there, I wondered, anything more vacuous than a drunk 15 year old?  Ah, yes… Katie Price.