Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Brutality to Aliens

Karl commented that he's recently seen the film 'District 9' and jokingly remarked: 'Is it true that South Africans were so awful to aliens?'.

So I got to thinking about South Africans and why 'District 9' was made. You'll probably know some of this, but I'm hoping to give an insider perspective.

Violence against foreigners from elsewhere in Africa has been with us for many years. It was believed (though why I can't say) that it would decrease after liberation (1994). Perhaps I could have told them something different, but that's in retrospect, and hindsight is a wonderful thing.

South Africa is sometimes called the 'Europe of Africa'. We have the strongest economy, the best infrastructure, a concentration of natural resources. Its no wonder that we attract a lot of immigrants and refugees from elsewhere in Africa.

At the moment, for instance, we have over three million refugees from Zimbabwe alone. At the same time, we've got 40% unemployment, and once these foreigners are here, they want to work. Not only do they want to work, they're also willing to do so for less than the locals. So who gets the jobs?

Its no wonder that African immigrants are seen as 'cuckoos in the nest'. The other side of the coin is that some of these immigrants are good businessmen. They open shops especially in the poorer areas. They're helpful, they make life easier for people - Somalians are particularly well-known as shop-owners. Because they're good businessmen, they offer better prices. They're well-liked, but there are jealousies involved.

All of this festered into an almighty explosion in 2008, when riots in various parts of the country cost 60 lives, shops were looted, buildings were burned and African immigrants went in fear.

Give people a 'reason' to riot and loot (especially the looting), make it appear 'justified and noble' and there's no shortage of folks who'll participate. A worker on this farm related that she had to restrain her children from joining in the 'fun' during 2008. This is a woman who has raised her children to respect others, a person whose values are unsurpassed. How many others couldn't resist the urge to grab some free goods from the Somalians while the grabbing was 'good' and everyone was doing it?

When the 2008 xenophobia riots happened, I was in Sweden on an international course. Its one of the times when it was really hard to be proud of being South African. My co-delegates grilled me about the violence as if I was the sort of person who actually approved of setting people alight to make a point. I'd like to assure you that most South Africans don't approve of this sort of thing (in case you were worried).

The long and the short of it was that it fizzled out and there hasn't been any big trouble since, but its touch-powder. The wrong event involving the wrong people could set it all off again.

It was against this historic background that 'District 9' was made. Apartheid history was involved too (segregation and suchlike). It was about xenophobia SA style, and for once it wasn't only based on the intolerance of the apartheid years - it highlighted the intolerance of post-liberation South Africa - the oppression inflicted by the previously oppressed.

I suppose that such resentments will always be with us in one form or another. Most countries don't love their immigrants, do they?

Today's pic: I suppose one could say that it was taken between a rock and a hard place.

Monday, August 30, 2010

More Self-indulgence

One of the books I bought this weekend (Pamo, hwfarber, Karl and the rest... its all your fault!) was a volume entitled 'How to draw'. Sounds good. I also got a sketch book and a number of pencils, only I didn't know about water-soluble graphite pencils yet. Darn! They sound like fun!

Sunday was nice and peaceful, and so I settled down to exercise one: 'Make a simple line drawing of a household object'. So I did that. It wasn't quite right, but you could at least see what it was. Then I had a go at exercise two: 'reduce a complex shape into simple geometric shapes' (Something like that, anyway).

When I got tired of drawing coffee cups, pepper-grinders and suchlike, I ventured onto something way out of my league. Of course, its all wrong, but it does look just a little bit like the person I tried to draw.

The eyes were skew so I extended an existing scar to give the skewness some sort of reason. I think this is very arty. Your picture doesn't work, so hack up your subject's face. Creative! Scary! Brutal! Perhaps I'm the next Van Gough (only with a penchant for mutilating others rather than myself)!

In response to 'Struggling Girl' I'm also posting this picture of myself with a BB gun and a gorgeous dog. Oooaw. Isn't he sweet? The bowl, in case you were worried, belongs to the cats!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Play time!

After spending most of my life being terribly serious and working awfully hard, I decided that it was time for my mid-life crisis. I took a bit of a run-up to it, but now I'm really enjoying it.

Thing is, I decided it was time to have some fun. Haven't done enough of that, have I? I'm also comfortable enough with myself not to be too worried about what other people might say about it. When I was a teenager, for instance, I'd have played with a yo-yo or a bottle of bubble mix, but only if I was sure no-one was watching.

So now I have a whole toy box and a collection of bubble blowing things, and a kite and three yo-yo's, and guns that shoot ping-pong balls and a collection of water pistols and... Its infectious too! If I invite people for a cookout, it invariably degenerates into water-pistol warfare. The thing I've noticed about that, is that the older people among my friends are by far the most enthusiastic water-fighters!

I've also started 'spoiling myself'. I was in the mood for a spoiling today, so I took a walk through the shops in town. I looked at clothes - not interested. Shoes - ditto. Make up - I own tons of the stuff and I hardly use it.

I ended up in a terrible, terrible shop. It was a bookshop. There were too many things I wanted. I felt like a proper consumer - you know - the one with unlimited wants and limited resources that economists always talk about. I think I've had my retail therapy for the month! Just as well I didn't even enter a computer or music shop - they're even worse!

Yes, its wonderful being middle-aged and irresponsible - well, not irresponsible as such - just not responsible for anything other than myself.

Today's pic: MM :) I labelled Gertie (my tummy) to make sure you'd notice.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Birth of a Rural Legend

Its not often that one is present at the birth of a rural (or urban) legend. I witnessed such a thing once, and I think you'll enjoy the tale:

Some years ago (quite a lot of them, really) I worked on a farm near the Atomic Energy Corporation in Pelindaba near Pretoria. Because of the plutonium enrichment and other stuff I don't know much about, they used to test the cow's milk on surrounding farms for signs of contamination. It was something we were all aware of. It was routine.

My second job was working as a barmaid at the local bush pub, and one of my favorite 'regulars' was a retired army Colonel called Danie.

I've never known anyone who could drink like he did and remain upright and lucid. He drove a rusted pickup with more cracks in the window than I've ever seen, and he used to spend most of the day propping up the bar and chatting to anyone and everyone.

One day, Danie was remarking on the price of Oxtail and Tongue and at some point, the other patrons started speculating that it'd be jolly profitable to breed cows with multiple heads and tails. Danie joked that irradiating a pregnant cow might produce a calf with three heads and four tails, and we all had a bit of a chuckle (after all, it wasn't all that funny) and went home.

It must have been at least three months later that a client at the pub, with the air of one who is making hair-raising and true revelations said in a low, shocked tone of voice: 'Have you heard about the mutant cows in this area? Its shocking! Nuclear radiation has made them mutate so that calves with three heads and four tails are produced!'

Danie laughed so hard that he nearly fell off his chair, and the legend of the many-headed, many-tailed cows remained alive for years thereafter, much to the amusement of those of us who had been present at its originating. We weren't even able to persuade the chap who'd repeated it to us that it wasn't true! In fact, I think he suspected a 'cover-up'!

Today's pic: one can almost imagine that something sensational is under discussion here. It needs a caption, doesn't it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Help! The rich need flowers!

As horticulturist, manager, HR 'specialist', PR and general dogsbody, I often get to handle oddities on the farm. Yesterday, I was asked for help in replying to a request for a donation of goods from... wait for it.... a multi-million rand, five-star golfing estate.

It wasn't because they'd become involved in a community greening initiative or anything - just a matter of tarting up the parking-lot so that their wealthy, golf-playing, five-star-hotel clients could see some flowers when they climbed out of their BMW's.

Everyone at the office was so horrified by the sheer chutzpah of the request, that they didn't have a clue what to do about it. Of course we donate products (or money), but then its to non-profit organizations, clinics, underfunded schools and the like - certainly not to five star recreational estates! They're clients. They're supposed to pay. Everyone knew this. No-one could work out how to say it politely.

I wrote a masterpiece of courteous refusal, of course. What else? Their request is the equivalent of me going to the supermarket and asking for the donation of a loaf of bread. Perhaps I should try that someday, just to see how they handle it! Of course, I should be as well-dressed as possible - borrow some gold jewelery, look affluent - who knows? They might even accede!

People. Go figure.

Oh: and the cream of the jest is the little 'concession' that I made them. The plants they want are currently on a 20% off special, so I added the following:

However, we would like to be of assistance, and therefore have obtained permission to offer you a 10% discount should you acquire funding from XYZ estate for completion of the project.

Heh heh heh.

Today's pic. A flower that millionaires will beg for....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Inappropriate Laughter

Last night I nearly repeated the 'killing of computer keyboard' exercise I conducted with the coffee a month or so ago. Never, ever, ever play 'chicken invaders' with someone who might make you laugh when you've just taken a swig of some or other liquid!

I had just handed over the controls after accidentally shooting the first of the mutant alien egg-laying poultry belonging to my opponent. I apologized for this, remarking that the screen was 'no longer virgin'.

The game re-started in a shower of eggs as I took a deep draught from my cup and 'The way they lay, they can't be' was the response, at which point aforementioned swig of liquid was carried forth on an overwhelming and irresistible explosion of laughter. You know, I don't think I could have held that laugh in, my head would have exploded.

Fortunately the product was a spray so fine as to be almost atomized, and a timely shutting down, daubing with paper towels and other tender indications of concern seem to have done the trick (as you may have noticed, all the letters are still working).

Oh, and I also daubed my erstwhile opponent and apologized (after I'd comforted my laptop, of course) but I think perhaps I oughtn't have, since my inability to suppress laughter will doubtless make me a fair target for practical jokes in future. In fact, I was told so. Watch this space for accounts of the public beverage-spraying incidents that will follow...

I wonder if I can do it through my nose too? I'll surely find out!

Today's pic: something suitably splashy. Fresh too, since I'm feeling well for the first time in weeks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Load up the Rubber Bullets

I'm malignantly amused by a recent incident regarding a Health Workers' strike. Normally, these things make me very angry: patients don't receive proper care in what are often literally cases of life and death.

I do understand that nurses are underpaid, and I'm not sure how such negotiations should be conducted, but indirectly killing patients seems a bit extreme. The worst cases occur when access to hospitals is blocked by the striking workers. Those willing to help patients can't get into the hospital, and sick people are prevented from getting into the building where they might (or might not) get attended to.

After a fiasco in 2008 that cost the lives of some babies and elderly folk, the police adopted a new policy: strike all you like, but at least don't block access to 'essential services' (Such as are still available).

During a recent picket, access to a hospital was deliberately blocked, so the police tried to clear the crowd. I'm not sure of the ins and outs, but rubber bullets and teargas were fired because things were getting out of hand. It didn't clear the access, but some strikers were injured and... ta-duh... (A fanfare for the really stupid) they couldn't get into the hospital to get treatment. What a wheeze!

I said it was a malignant sort of amusement, didn't I?

Today's pic: A preying mantis. Famed for devouring its husbands. Seems malignant enough to suit the mood? I'll have a go at being nice when I feel better.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gertrude's revenge

I'm writing this to inform the world that Gertrude or no Gertrude (that's my tummy), I'm still in pretty good shape. I rode my non-state-of-the-art bicycle from the farm to town in thirty minutes flat. Its mostly uphill, too. Pauses to admire thighs. Good thighs. Powerful (but not too thunderous) thighs. Sighs.

It didn't work out well, though. Although I was spared any stiffness of the muscles, Gertie (the tum) and Jenny and Penny (the lungs) conspired in a revolting revolution and I am shamed. Yes, shamed, I tell you!

Thing was, I thought I might impress and surprise the DBF (delicious boyfriend) by arriving at his work around closing time. We could then go for drinks and a snack (treat's on me), chuck the bicycle in the back of the pickup and meander home in a well-fed haze.

However, the best laid plans of mice, men (and more often than not, MM) are often foiled. DBF's gorgeous colleague wanted to come along. Fair enough. Then DBF's gorgeous colleague wanted to do some workaday bitching (and lotto dreaming), which wasn't at all what I had in mind.

It was around about then that Jenny and Penny (lungs of fame and endurance - you don't know what I put them through) started to play up causing MM (that's me) to become tetchy. MM (see how I distance myself from this!) proceeded to inform DBF and gorgeous colleague that they shouldn't pin their hopes on the lotto and should stop complaining about work and actually do something about the situation.

She (The silly bint, MM) then compounded this faux pas by adding that since they weren't doing anything about it, they probably were exactly where they wanted to be (At least for the moment). 'The time is now!' she declaimed 'Live! If you are where you want to be, be happy! If you aren't, move on!' - something like that, anyway.

As you can imagine, this went down like a lead balloon. So while DBF and gorgeous colleague were expostulating about how very dreadful things are, and how they can't do anything about it, Gertie did a little wriggle and MM had to run for the loo and throw up the dinner, returning to an atmosphere of constraint.

Good one, MM!

Went to the doctor on Saturday and spent the weekend in a medicated daze. Relapse caused by excessive exertion. Smart move, MM...

Today's pic: an interestingly textured sky, because I can't think what will match this post other than a pic of me throwing up which a) I don't have, and b) you wouldn't want to see. If you use your imagination and add a few colours, it might be fairly accurate, though.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's to be done about Gertrude

Gertrude is starting to get slightly vexing. She's placed me in a quandry. I didn't invite her, although I might have created conditions that are attractive to her. I've decided something's got to be done.

Gertrude, to the uninformed, is the little belly I seem to have acquired in the last year or so. Since I was sixteen, I've weighed the same most of the time. I've had an active job that required physical strength and fitness, and I've been in good shape, even great shape. My only weight problem in the past, has been getting too skinny so that my bones stick out. (Yes, you hate me already, I know)

Of late, my habits have become more sedentary. I'm given more office work and I spend more time in the office. I've also been eating well, which is something I'm unused to. Hence the arrival of Gertrude.

I've been trying to ignore her, I've never dieted in my life and I've always scoffed at the idea of exercise for its own sake. Its a bit like dying my hair, which is another thing I don't do. In the 'I don't do that' (with twinge of pride) sense.

So I started by giving my hair a colour rinse. Goodbye grey, I sort-of liked you, really. One down, two to go. Then I came up with an exercise program and a diet. It goes like this:

Take Gertie for a spin on my bicycle at least three times a week. That's the exercise. Stop drinking beer and start drinking whiskey. That's the diet. I feel triumphant. I'm also pleased that I'm doing more girly stuff, because sometimes I think I'm letting the side down and ought to be more feminine.

Today's pic: a very feminine shop I saw in Stockholm. 'Mum's underwear'. Mind you, I mightn't get as feminine as all that!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lowveld: the dark side

As you may have gathered from my previous post, I had a great deal of liking and respect for the staff of the Lowveld farm, and I think that it was, by and large, reciprocated. There were times, though, when we just didn’t understand each other, and not only because the hundred workers there (with a few exceptions) didn’t speak English.

During the time I worked there, a small child strayed from its mother’s supervision while she was busying herself with housework, fell into the irrigation canal and drowned. A tragedy. Bad enough in itself, but the tragedy was compounded as follows.

There was a widow-woman who lived with her children in the compound, and who worked on the farm. Now, in African tradition, a widow is ‘bad luck’. Then too, this particular woman was… unlikable. Bear with me: her role in this becomes clear as my tale unfolds.

Some of the ladies of the farm requested a ride to see a sangoma (witch doctor or traditional healer) subsequent to the tragedy, and I, like a fool, took them there, blithely thinking that they had a need for comforting and this might do it. They took along a tape-recorder and held some sort of séance, the tail-end of which I witnessed when I went to fetch them.

On the Monday, I found the entire staff waiting outside my office with the following tale: the child had been murdered by the widow and thrown into the canal. How did they know this? The sangoma had told them, and they had a tape-recording to ‘prove’ it. Ninety-nine people waited for me to arrive at work so that they could demand that I dismiss her.

The police had declared the accident to be just that. There had been no marks on the child’s corpse. It was a simple drowning. The accused woman was a good worker, I had no legal cause to dismiss her. I couldn’t. It was as simple as that. I couldn’t fire a woman based on the assertions of a sangoma who had been 100km away at the time of the drowning, nor could the police arrest her.

The demands intensified, it began to become more than a little intimidating. At last, I raised my voice and announced that I was deducting every minute they weren’t at their work stations from their pay and that this was an illegal strike. I threatened that I would dismiss the lot of them if they continued. They melted away, rumbling angrily as they went.

Of course, they got the widow and her children off the farm. If I was frightened, she must have been terrified. I remember angrily asking if the death of one child was, perhaps, not enough of a tragedy for them. Must the widow’s three children starve in order to satisfy them? They shook their heads and said I didn’t understand.

I didn’t. I still don’t. The incident was alienating: me and ‘them’ and neither party understood the other.

In a simlalr vein, there was a belief that Malaria is not caused by Mosquitoes, but by a curse. It didn’t go as far on my farm as on some others. I heard dreadful stories of farm supervisor’s houses getting burned down because workers had become ill, and sometimes, the indunas (supervisors) who worked under me would be very afraid because it had been claimed that they had cursed someone.

It was as if it was impossible to believe that ‘shit happens’. Someone had to be to blame. Sad. Sometimes sick. Shit wold happen, and then it would be compounded: a cesspool of tragedies and misfortunes.

So: are you feeling judgemental? ‘I’m not so superstitious’, you may be saying… and yet… and yet… I know I believe some things that are unprovable: is that not superstition?

Had I been born two hundred years ago (what’s two hundred years in the scheme of things?) I might have held even more dicey beliefs. Some of them may have been ‘antisocial’ by modern standards, but they’d still have been acceptable.

I have the advantage of education to make me skeptical. What if I’d grown up without one? I might have believed that the world was flat and that bad things happened because of curses.

Today's pic: Something wet and sexy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lowveld memories: the good

When first I moved to the lowveld, I was really broke. I mean REALLY broke. After doing some sums, I worked out that I’d survive the month if I ate nothing but rice.

The house that came with the job was a sprawling old farm house. It was huge. I only ever used two rooms of it, and each room was about as large as my entire cottage is now. It had three bedrooms and a massive lounge-dining room that I never used at all, and the whole thing had parquet flooring.

Anyone who has ever had parquet flooring will know how much work the upkeep is, and part of the deal was that I would take good care of the house - it was a daunting task. Within the first week I was approached by a man whose wife needed a job, even a part-time one, but I turned him away since I didn’t have the money to pay for help.

Eventually, he persuaded me to take her on for two days a week under the understanding that I’d only pay her at the end of the month. She worked her first day, and boy! Those floors gleamed.

The very next day, I was stopped on my rounds by an elderly lady who was employed on the farm. She wanted to give me a pumpkin. I was touched by her kindness, and privately thought that she had no idea how grateful I was to have that pumpkin to vary my diet with.

A bit further along my round, I was stopped by one of the section supervisors who gave me a shopping bag full of home-grown tomatoes. I became thoughtful.

I was presented in rapid succession with paw-paws, a bunch of spinach, an offer of credit from the farm store and some carp caught from the dam and nicely cleaned.

It didn’t take a genius to work it out: young Nomsa had seen the dismal state of my grocery cupboard and had mobilized the compound to come to my aid with food. That night, I feasted on fresh-caught fish and garden vegetables, and after two weeks of rice, it was the best meal I ever had.

I’ll always be thankful for the kindness of these country folk who gave of the little they had and with no particular expectation of return. Of course, it wasn't all roses... but that's for another day.

(Today's pic: more messing about in the dew)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Things with teeth

I mentioned the 'Lowveld' in a previous post, and I think I shall tell you a bit more about it. Its a steamy, tropical area and its earlier nickname 'The white man's grave', and my personal nickname for it 'The Armpit of Africa', reflect the climate and tropical diseases one experiences there.

It lies at the foot of the Lebombo mountains near the borders with Swaziland and Mocambique: almost at sea level, but many miles from the sea. Malaria is common, and the Tsetse fly has to be controlled regularly to keep the area free of 'Sleeping sickness'. If you go to the doctor with a headache, you immediately get tested for malaria, bilharzia and Hepatitits B, especially if you have contact with irrigation water from the slow, muddy streams that meander across the red and green sugar cane and citrus infested plain. (Everything in the Lowveld is an infestation. Its that kind of place)

There are lots of historical monuments, and almost all of them are graves, and all of them bear the legend 'Died of Fever'. It used to be plain that settlers passed through with speed. Your oxen had a certain amount of days, and then they'd be dead of Sleeping Sickness. Louis Trichardt's trek ended there. They traveled from the Cape to the far North and then to the far East of the country and then 'Died of Fever' in the Lowveld.

Never before or since have I spent so much time in front of an air conditioner slathered with mosquito repellent. There's no swimming in the rivers. Apart from the legion of water-borne illnesses (including, on occasion, cholera) you may be exposing yourself to, there are more obvious dangers: crocodiles and hippopotami. Don't laugh - the hippo is a dangerous animal, despite its rather goofy looks and vegetarian habits.

Both of these animals are inclined to submerge in the impenetrable red murk that is a lowveld river. It might look empty - but don't bet on it! An English tourist once did. All they ever found were his clothes, neatly piled under a 'No Swimming' signboard that listed all the dangers (great and small) that the water concealed. He must have thought we were joking.

... and the snakes! You've never seen such monsters! Gaping-mouthed, rearing, spitting cobras are two a penny. On the whole, cobras aren't aggressive. I like the way one usually finds them heading off with alacrity - but sometimes one has them cornered without even realizing it. Once, while I was working in the garden, I bent to pick up the hose and startled a cobra who'd been sunning himself next to it. It headed straight for me and I actually jumped over that one, whilst yelling 'Snake! Nyoka!' as is the custom when one is found.

I liked the lowveld people: Swazis. On the whole, they're proud folk with strong values and very beautiful with their dark complexions and high cheekbones. They know it too, and take extra care with their appearance, more so than any other group I've worked with. Of course, there are always exceptions, as in the case of Robert who always managed to look ragged and unkempt, even in new clothes. I liked him too: there's a certain charm in a genuine reprobate. I wonder why? Do I see some element of myself there?

Today's pic: some cooling dew.

A luke-warm spot

I recently discovered that I have a 'luke warm' spot on my veranda. That's not a 'hot spot', oh no. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

I recently got accused of being 'dishonest' because I failed to mention it to a 'friend'. I denied it hotly. What would you do? Truthfulness in commission and omission (although that's the hard one, how am I supposed to know what you think I ought to divulge?) is a virtue I set much store by.

But oh! The irony! I AM dishonest. The same person pointed out to me that the connection I'm using from home allocates different IP addresses to the one I usually use at work, the same network I thought I was picking up from home. So, unbeknowst to me, I have been pinching someone else's Internet connection.

From today, it is beknowst to me, and so I can't use it any more. No pic today, folks. This is someone else's cap, and I'd better stop pinching it until I can find out whose it really is!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A flower grower's tale

I've dredged up a snippet I wrote some time back. Its based on the sort of thing that used to happen to me in the Lowveld which is pretty deep in the countryside by anyone's standards. The conversations were actually conducted in Swazi, and they didn't happen on the same day. Poetic license.

She walked the farm in the afternoon heat, checking this, checking that. All well. The boss wasn’t due to visit for days either, so it was just her and the staff. Nice farm, couldn’t understand the boss not wanting to live on it. She stopped suddenly. Something out of place. A plant. Ah, but here was Moffat, the section supervisor.

‘Hello, Moffat.’

‘Hello. How are you?’

‘I am well, Moffat, and you?’

‘I’m well too, thanks’

What is this?’

‘It’s a plant’

‘Yes I can see it’s a plant. Someone’s been looking after it too.’

‘Yes, I can see that someone’s trimmed it. Perhaps it is a nice flower?’

‘Moffat, I am not a fool.’

‘Erm. No.’

‘There will be trouble if the boss sees it. She is also not a fool. It must be gone when I pass here again.’

‘I’ll see to it.’

‘Stay well, Moffat’

‘Go well.’

The grower strolled on ignoring the giggles from the ladies on Moffat’s team. Nothing like maintaining discipline.

She passed by the compound: a collection of cottages for the live in workers. One of the families had a little shop too. What was this? Beside a rock, a flowerpot with the drainage holes plugged and filled with liquid. She picked it up and sniffed it. Sorghum beer. She strolled over to the shop and knocked on the window clients were served through.

‘Hello Nomsa!’


‘How are you today, Nomsa?’

‘Oh, I’m well, and you?’

‘Very well. Tell me, Nomsa, honestly. How many of these has Zita had?’

‘Its his second one.’

‘He drives the tractor, Nomsa, he mustn’t have more, it could be dangerous. Besides, last time he fell asleep under a tree.’

‘Yes, I remember.’

‘So you won’t sell him any more, will you?’

‘No, I won’t.’

‘Tell him I said so. I’ll have a Coke. Ah, thanks. Stay well’

‘Go well’

Sipping her Coke she turned her steps towards the largest of the greenhouses. She liked the mass of green palm trees, and she should stop by Ta’August while she was on her round.

‘Hello Ta’ August!’

‘Hello! How are you today?’

‘Oh, I’m well, and you?’

‘Very well’

‘Those are jolly nice palm trees you’re taking out’ she stepped back to admire them and jumped, skittering away a few steps. Something large and nasty underfoot: a dead iguana and a large one too.

‘Good Lord! It’s huge! Was it in the greenhouse?’

‘Yes, and there’s good eating on one of those.’

‘Stewed or on the grille?’

‘Stew. It tastes like chicken.’

‘Oh. You’ll need a big pot!’

‘I have a big pot.’

‘Oh well… stay well’

‘Go well.’

Just for safety's sake, she made sure her round included a chat with Zita. He didn’t seem any the worse for the sorghum beer, so it was onwards to the office, with a stop past Jacob.

‘Hello Jacob, how are you?’

‘Hello. I’m well, and you?’

‘Who is minding the plants this weekend, Jacob?’

‘Grace and Goodness will do it’

‘Goodness gracious, that sounds like a good plan! Stay well, then’

‘Go well’

And it went well.

*Today's pic: a flower of course!

Friday, August 13, 2010

A picture of misery

These darned water colour thingies are fun! Best of all, you have to ‘work’ quickly, so it suits my level of patience with the finicky (a level somewhere close to zero).

I had a beastly week – conflicts at work with attendant drama and on top of it all, I’ve got bronchitis again. Suffice to say that I felt miserable, so I settled down and daubed my ‘Picture of Misery’ which I quite like (to my surprise). I even like the accidental splash of red that landed where it shouldn’t.

It might just be a fluke that I’ve produced something I’m quite pleased with, but I’m wondering if I mightn’t carry on with the new hobby and get a decent paintbrush or two and the correct paper. I might even study up on correct technique. Well… I might.

Thanks to all the artist bloggers. Really, thanks. Watching you all having fun with your creations is inspiring, and that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Fun. Enjoyment. Expression. Even if I throw my pictures away afterwards (which I won’t) it’s the fun of painting them that counts – watching the colours spread onto the paper, taking shape. I like this!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cuckoo jug jug

Ho there you Northern Hemispherical people! Here’s a gloat from the South: Its spring! Yup! All you jammy folks who’ve been speaking of lovely warm summer’s days while I shiver (oh alright, it doesn’t get all that cold here, but we think its cold) will soon be subjected to the same treatment from the Maunderer.

What’s that? Too early for spring yet? Pish! You are speaking to the observer of vegetation here, and if the Jasmine’s in flower and the trees are in bud, its spring alright.

Yes, and I can feel my sap (which is green, except when I cut myself) rising, and soon I’ll be in full and glorious bloom, radiating vitality and other disgustingly cheerful and healthful attributes.

A brief digression here: I was reading yet another advert for a 'health and wellness' program. Why does the word 'wellness' make my skin crawl? And what, please enlighten me, is the difference between 'health' and 'wellness' other than a few extra letters? Silly word.

Anyway, spring: ‘Cuckoo jug jug’ as Shakespeare said, although why on earth he should want to say it is beyond me. I think it had something to do with birds, although I’ve never heard one say ‘jug’ yet. I hope its not obscene in bird-ese. If so, apologies to those of you who are of an avian persuasion.

This summer, I intend to practice my photosynthesis. I haven’t got it right just yet, but when I do, I shan’t have a worry left in the world, believe me.

Of course, I was born in summer, and with one or two exceptions, most people I’ve come across seem to like the season they were born in best of all. How about you?

Today's pic: proof positive: a sunbird (related to humming birds) in full breeding plumage.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A career in contrariness

Schooldays are, for me, not something I remember with any great pleasure. What I do remember with glee though, is the number of schools my mother was asked to remove me from. Now that is something I am rather proud of!

It started in pre-school (aged five) when I latched onto the security gate on entering the place, grabbing onto the bars with something like a death-grip and yelled blue murder.

The teacher, talking over my head as if I wasn’t there and couldn’t understand (adults often do this) assured my mother that I’d get tired of it and let go, so I didn’t. I stayed there and howled at anyone who tried to detach me.

After a few days of this, my mother was so traumatized by my routine, that she was quite relieved when the teacher suggested that I ‘wasn’t ready’ for pre-school.

The following year I entered grade one, ready-equipped with a reading ability that extended to taking in the newspaper and doing basic maths (my mother had taught me from the cradle). I was promoted to second grade as a result, but it was awfully boring.

It was then that I discovered that I needn’t have a single schoolbook. I was kept in after class, lectured and remonstrated with, but it made no difference at all. Besides, it was fun baffling the grown-ups. I never argued with them, just did (or didn’t do) as I pleased. So mum was asked to remove me from that school by the time I reached grade 4.

I was in such trouble about that, that I toed the line for a while, but Grade eight saw me at a school that required me to wear a beret, name-badge and house badge.

It wasn’t deliberate, but I succeeded in being without at least one of the three at any given time and my mother was informed that I ‘refused to obey the school rules’. This, together with my academic habits (which rapidly re-surfaced), saw my mother once again being asked to take me out of the school. She did, which brings me to grade 9.

At that school, I was taken to a school psychologist for reasons similar to those mentioned above. I was declared depressingly ‘normal’ by a bored looking psychologist. Thus I was not only recalcitrant but uninteresting. My mother was once again required to move me.

It was then that she lit on the idea of placing me in a school that would offer maximum freedom. There were no uniforms, or silly rules, or compulsory activities and passing or failing were entirely up to you. I thrived. I did really, really well for the first time in my entire school career and was allowed to do grades 11 and 12 in one year.

It was private school which accepted children no other school would touch: children with multiple expulsions behind their backs, pregnant school girls, children with police-records. I couldn’t possibly be as ‘bad’ as the other children there, so I marked my individuality by being the very best student.

Its fun being contrary, don’t you think?

Todays pic: a cat - the model of contrariness!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Computer games make me evil!

No, really, they do – and I’m not even talking fancy stuff like ‘Grand theft Auto’.

I recently downloaded a free game called ‘Chicken Invaders’ – much like the old ‘Space Invaders’, except that the aliens are cartoon chickens. When you shoot them, they squawk very satisfyingly, and when you ‘kill’ them, they drop drumsticks. If you pick those up, your space ship makes a lovely, disgusting burping noise and you get extra points.

It’s amazing how addictive it can be, and I caught myself thinking how cute they are when they die – an extra loud squawk – some feathers and a drumstick. I am overwhelmed by a hitherto unprecedented urge to kill chickens – me! One of those people that goes out of their way to rescue moths and whose first thought on finding a field mouse sharing my bed is that it shouldn’t be hurt.

Suddenly nothing will do for me but to spend a large chunk of my weekend (which was mostly cold and wet) committing mass chicken murder – crowing when I get better guns and relishing each death-squawk with indecent glee. I wasn’t like this before – promise!

Today’s pic: a rather bad watercolour of the view from my house – my first attempt since a bit of daubing over a year ago and done with a cheap box of water colours and a shedding paint brush on the wrong sort of paper. It was fun, though.

Friday, August 6, 2010

More names - I hate Linnaeus, I love Linnaeus

Linnaeus was an eighteenth century academic and adventurer who is often regarded as the ‘Father of Botany’ as we know it today.

There are times when I hate botanists. Example: the Cocos Palm Tree. First, it was called Cocos plumosa. Simple. Easy to remember, but Botanists don’t do ‘simple’ and they certainly don’t do ‘easy to remember’ either so it became:

Arecastrum romansoffianum. Right, so I remembered that, but then it became…

Syagrus romansoffiana. Sigh. So I remembered that too. I suppose botanists need to earn a living, even though everyone else is still calling the blessed thing Cocos plumosa . I gave up on that one and I’m not sure what its latest name might be.

But of course, there is more than one botanist on this planet, so while that lot was going on, some of them got hold of the genus Cassine and divided it into no less than five new Genera: Lauridia, Mystroxylon, Elaeadendron , Maytenus and I-forget-what, with the result that I never can remember which of the saffronwoods are which these days. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

The plants remain unchanged, but the names keep changing. Why? There already were perfectly acceptable, internationally recognized names. Of course, botanists can tell you why the old names aren’t perfectly acceptable and why new ones are absolutely necessary (their lives depend on it), but you’ll go to sleep just as you’re doing now. Bloody Linnaeus.

Be that as it may, I’m quite fond of Linnaeus, even though there is evidence that he was a pretentious git (he even gave himself a Latin name). He invented the concept of botanical gardens (nice places that they are) and popularized the ‘power nap’ - probably as a result of thinking up Latin names for plants and then changing them until he was exhausted.

Yawn. I’m off to have a nap under an Afrocarpus falcatus (which used to be Podocarpus falcatus, but still remains a Yellow wood tree) in the garden. Fifteen minutes will do.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Names, names, names

Names are proving to be a fruitful topic, so today I’m off at another tangent and thinking about people’s names. The Xhosa people here have some interesting naming traditions, and unlike us, who have to look up Latin and other origins, the meaning is very clear.

I understand calling your daughter ‘Thandiswa’ or ‘Noluthando’ (meaning ‘loved one’), but it’s a great shame to call some poor little girl ‘Daniswa’. It’s a pretty name, but it means ‘disappointment’ and is generally given to a girl whose parents had actually wanted a boy.

Mind you, some English names shriek ‘We wanted a boy’ too, although I’ll absolve my mother of that even though she called me ‘Andrea’ which means ‘manly’ and ‘Patricia’ which means ‘noble’. (forget this rapidly, please: my name is MM!)

When a Xhosa woman marries, her new family gives her a new first name which, though it doesn’t appear on her official identity document, she uses from then onward. This will usually be representative of some domestic virtue such as ‘Nokaya’ (lady of the house) or ‘Nomathemba’ (peaceful one). In a way, it’s a pretty tradition, and the ladies I’ve worked with seem to like it very well.

The men don’t escape the naming game. One unfortunate old gent in my employ was called ‘Malayiko’ (no money) – and unlike the ladies, he had no hope of changing it at marriage! I never had the heart to call him that, I just called him ‘Uncle’ which is perfectly polite to do in this country.

‘Siyabonga’ (we are grateful) is a charming name, and quite common in this part of the world. ‘Ncinikaya’ (protector of the house – the ‘c’ represents a click that sounds like ‘tch’) was a particularly interesting name to come across, especially since its bearer chose the profession of security guard!

By the way, did you know that there are a disproportionate amount of people with the surname ‘Fish’ who choose Marine Biology as a field of study?

It makes me remember a few other appropriate surnames such as Major Tricky who used to run the police anti-fraud unit, and Vincent Bath who used to manage Rand Water Board (they supply Johannesberg’s water). We also used to have a chief justice Paijola (payola?) – I don’t want to think too hard about that one! One of the most highly regarded dentists in town is ‘Dr Payne’ and so it goes…

So I challenge you: add to my collection of interesting names or surnames! Bet you know a couple…. Gimme!

Today's pic: a woman named 'Beauty'.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lost in Africa

With liberation in South Africa, as is often the case when liberation happens, people decided to change some place names. That’s all very well, but it does mean that one can get terribly lost.

Some years ago, I was heading for the town that most people still call ‘Bloemfontein’ and nearly missed the turning, because I’d forgotten that it was now called ‘Manguang’. This incident motivated me to learn all the new place names and to remember that maybe the old ones are offensive.

About two years ago, I went to Sweden on a training course. There was another course running at the same time, and at one point the organizers decided that the delegates should meet. Of course, I made a beeline for the South Africans and we did the ‘Well I never! Fancy meeting you here!’ routines that countrymen do when they encounter each other abroad.

One of the ladies (a black one, as most South Africans are) told me that she came from a research institute that I knew was in Pretoria. No… not Pretoria… new name… so I said:

‘Oh! You’re from the town I grew up in, Tshwane!’ and she said

‘Yes, I’m from Pretoria’

So much for being politically aware and sensitive to people’s feelings! I must say that Microsoft has a bit of a problem there since spell check recognizes ‘Pretoria’, but not ‘Tshwane’.

I bet Bill Gates gets lost on the way to Manguang!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What's in a name?

My friend spent some time visiting friends on a ‘Guest Farm’, so I’ve learned something new: this is where guests come from, is it? I wonder if she went to help with the harvesting, and how that’s done. Hope its not too messy.

My thoughts drift from there to the rows and rows of B&B’s, guest houses, guest lodges and the like (not sure what the distinction is, but I suppose there must be one) that stand, almost cheek-by-jowl in all the prettiest spots around here.

A house built in the seventies will sport a name like ‘Wilderness Manor’ – it just doesn’t seem right. It certainly isn’t a ‘manor house’ in any sense that I understand the word. What manner of manor could it be?

Then there’s ‘Tuscany Guest House’ a fake-Tuscan monstrosity situated on Wilderness beach. Nuts. If you want Tuscany, go to Tuscany. This is Wilderness with miles of unspoiled coast – haven’t they heard of ‘sense of place’?

There is a ‘Long Island – style’ development on an island in Knysna Lagoon – you couldn’t think of a location more perfect – at least until they piled row on row of little boxes on it, tight as sardines, painted them blue-grey and sold them for millions each.

Was the ‘Long Island Style’ supposed to encourage one to swallow the size, proximity to neighbors and the price? I don’t get it. Why bring Long Island to Knysna? Not having been to Long Island, I can’t say if they got the effect right. To me, it just looks like one of those huge townhouse complexes.

Oh, and thinking about complexes connects immediately to the word ‘exclusive’ often used in the marketing of such places. It’s a beastly word. It stinks of snobbery and it surely adds a few hundred thousand to the price of what is quite likely a jerry-built, characterless unit among many others just like it. What’s ‘exclusive’ about that?

Heavens! That reminds me! There’s one of those things in George itself – ever so expensive, a fantasy (nightmare?) of clipped lawns and face-brick, walled in against the real world and called… wait for it… ‘Earl’s Court’! How’s that for pretentious? Definitely a complex for people with a complex

I suppose names aren’t really important and I should be more tolerant of people building fantasies with words: being ‘Earls’ and living in ‘Manors’ in ‘Long Island’ or ‘Tuscany’ and suchlike. It seems odd that people should need such fantasies in this beautiful place, but then again its human nature not to be satisfied.

I feel rather proud of the fact that I am.

Today's picture: sometimes reality is difficult to improve upon!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

People pictures

I spent a little time looking through my picture folders this weekend. Its going to be a massive task mucking that lot out! Herculean, really, because as in the stables of legend, fresh material is deposited on a regular basis. Its also going to be quite difficult deciding which ones will get the chop.

Although most of my pictures are of plants and landscapes, I’ve got masses of people pictures. They’re not really my strong point, but I love it when personality shines through.

There are happy-go-lucky people and pensive people

Laughing ones and lugubrious ones

Large people and small people

Old ones and young ones

People with something to say

People who are, for one reason or another

really, really cool.