Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Make a Wish

For silly season, I took a little break. In a way, it was a bit of a silly break, but I wasn’t to know that the weather would consist of pea-soup fog and drizzle so that plans for walks, drives, and photo’s of fabulous vistas failed to materialize.

No harm done. I relaxed and did nothing much, and it was probably just what I needed. The only problem with that, is that instead of visiting the wide open spaces, I now have them between my ears so that it’s a wonder my head doesn’t implode.

I close my eye for inspiration: and voila – all I can see is blackness. Nothing there at all, which is odd because I’ve read any number of books, mostly non-fiction, and my head should be bursting with ideas. Maybe I read too much, and all the words have congealed into an amorphous mass, much like the fog.

When the details finally return to my consciousness, they will probably be all mixed up, and I’ll be thinking that America’s founding fathers traveled from Cape to Cairo using public transport… In fact, yes, I’m sure I read that somewhere. What a wonderful world.

Tonight, there will be carousing and.. er… camping – at least the clouds are closer to mountain top level than ground level today. With luck, it will wake me up a bit and I’ll be back on form again.

I haven’t got any New Year’s resolutions, but I’m wishing for a good 2011 – as good as I can make it. I’ll wish you the same. It's the best wish I can think of.

Today's pic: the sort of weather we didn't have.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Suicide by Faith

In South Africa, one of the largest tribes is the Xhosa – an offshoot of the Zulu tribe – or rather, a group that was expelled for following the wrong side during a succession war.

They could have been bumped off, and they knew it, so they put distance between themselves and their erstwhile brothers, traveling down the East Coast and eventually becoming the first black tribe (lucky them) to encounter the whites, who were putting distance between themselves and the British by moving up the East coast.

To say that the relationship was rocky, especially after the British annexed the territory, and began to colonize it, would be an understatement. Little or no love was lost between them.

One day, so the story goes, a young girl whose name I forget (it’s now extinct, and small wonder) had a vision of the ancestors while fetching water at a nearby pool. She immediately went to her uncle, who was the medicine man of her particular clan.

Whether she was put up to it by the uncle (who stood to gain great power through such a vision) or whether she really did go to him with that claim, I cannot say, although I have my suspicions.

At all events, the message from the ancestors was this: ‘Destroy your crops and cattle – every last one of them, and the ancestors will rise up from the sea and throw the white sea scum into the ocean from whence they came.

By the way, the racist term for a white person in South Africa remains ‘Umlungu’ which, I am told refers to the scum found on the beach after a storm. This is a bit bullshitty since history says that white and black arrived in SA pretty simultaneously – the only difference being the mode of transport… but I digress. Back to geno-suicide we go.

The Uncle proceeded to spread the young girl’s tale abroad, possibly producing her for occasional ‘proof’. Don’t laugh, European history is full of the same sort of nonsense – Joan of Arc is just one example.

So the great cattle killing began. For a time, there was great feasting and much meat, but certain clans refused to destroy their means of livelihood. This resulted in divisions and occasional skirmishes, but at last the appointed day arrived and a great crowd gathered at the ‘hole in the wall’ a famous landmark where, it was said, the ancestors would first emerge from the ocean amid the thundering of waves etc.

Uncle what’s his name put up a fine performance, but no ancestors rose from the deep. It was decided that the reason for this was the dissenters – those who had refused to destroy their cattle – and there was much bitterness.

This didn’t help to fill any tummies, as you can imagine, and the faithful died in their thousands. Many of them survived because of the intervention of white missionaries: a bitter pill to swallow – but thousands and thousands died of starvation. The nation all but wiped itself out.

Ironically, the girl who had the vision in the first place, survived. Until her death, she still vouched for the truth of her story, and one of the great conspiracy theories was that the whole thing had been engineered by the then British governor – Napier, I think it was, although I’m a bit shaky when it comes to British governors.

I think it unlikely. Faith has killed thousands before, and it will doubtless do so again.

And that is probably the moral of the story. Beware of Faith, she can be ever such a bitch.

Today's pic: some sea scum. PS: if you don't believe me, google 'Great cattle killing'. I didn't, so there might be some minor omissions and inaccuracies.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

About revenge

When I was about nineteen, I took proper revenge on someone for the first and only time in my life.

I’m not talking about something small like pushing a prefect into a pot plant because he was bullying me (why, oh why did I pause to admire the effect?) I’m talking about something that had serious repercussions for someone else – serious from their perspective at any rate.

The fact that they did something that affected me in the long term doesn’t matter in this case: it’s an excuse, no more. Let me explain:

When I was young and foolish (you can tell I was young and foolish because I actually got busted), I was arrested for possession of marijuana. I was at home at the time, engaged in nursing my ailing grandmother who’d had a stroke.

To say that I was surprised to see the narcotics squad, is putting it lightly: I was relatively low-profile. I didn’t get out much, but there they were, and how they came by my address, I would very much have liked to know. I did know, and this is how:

A certain couple of my acquaintance, the female half of which had taken me in considerable dislike some months earlier because I refused to dislike someone she disliked, approached a friend (who happened to be with me) for a little bit of the weed. They didn’t have any, I did. I gave them some. They thanked my friend because they weren't talking to me. I laughed like anything.

They got busted, they said where they’d got the weed and voila - the cops raided me as a 'dealer' which I definitely wasn't. I had three days in jail without being allowed to phone home (state of emergency, it was legal) the family was going spare because they thought I'd been kidnapped, and I got a criminal record to lug through life with me. All this at the supposedly tender age of nineteen.

So what did I do? I told everyone my suspicions of course! It emerged that the couple had told all their friends that they had given their names to the police. They never told me. That's because I wasn't a friend of theirs and besides, they weren't talking to me.

People liked me. They were upset about what had happened. So was I. Folks put two and two together and shared my suspicion. The couple were duly shunned. She came and cried at me.

I didn’t exactly feel bad, but I didn’t feel all that good either, so nowadays, I don’t do revenge. Might be a different story if I could get hold of a flame-thrower, though.

Today's pic: me in my teens - very eighties, hey?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Calculating cats

I used to have no cats and my life was my own. I was In Charge. Ah, the mastery of those bygone days when no-one slept on top of me unless I asked them to.

Then my mum departed this mortal coil leaving me in possession, or rather, possessed by the following:

There is a rather striking and demanding Tom. ‘Attention please’ is a phrase that he communicates quite easily and occasionally with claws. One respects him: he is large and aristocratic-looking and has yellow eyes.

In addition, there was a pair of luminous green eyes that lived under the bed. They lurked. They blinked. Later, the pair of eyes grew some whisker, or seemed to as their owner got nearer to the edge of the bed.

The metamorphosis was a slow one, but in time, the pair of eyes under the bed has become an entire cat (though a very tiny, slightly tatty, very old one), and of late, a cat all over the house

Now she's a cat on my computer. I came in off the veranda this evening, it being cold (16 centigrade - eat your hearts out Northeners) and found that the cat had been interrogating my computer.

She was right in the systems menus, and browsing away through some directory I didn’t even know was there. She had also typed a word document. It was in code. I’m not sure if she managed to email it to anyone. She probably knows how to cover her tracks, she’s forever doing that after using the cat litter. Nefarious, I tell you!

Anyway, Ms Shy and Retiring is currently saying ‘Yeeow!’ in her cracked, old-cat voice, so someone had better attend to her.

I shall have to watch that cat.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day of the Whatsit

So today’s a public holiday, or supposed to be, and it’s a holiday with an interesting history.

When I was a child, we called it 'Dingaan’s Day' – 'Dingdong’s Day' to the irreverent. It commemorated the Battle of Blood River, which consisted of the impis (Zulu warriors) storming down on the lager (circle of wagons, not beer) of the trekkers (like American pioneers, only more Dutch-ish) and getting shot.

The Zulu warriors were told by their sangomas (like shamans, only Zulu) that they would be bullet proof, but it didn’t work, and the bullets got them anyway.

Their faith probably wasn’t strong enough – not even approaching mustard seed size, which allows for geographical alterations to the location of mountains (as we all know). Relocating bullets must be simple by comparison.

Suffice to say, they didn’t get it right, or they redirected the bullets in the wrong direction and the river ran red with blood (hence ‘Battle of Blood River’).

Anyway, it used to be a huge shindig in South Africa in the old days, and involved various expressions and celebrations of white supremacy like parades, barbeques and langarm dancing. For me, it was just a day off school.

At some point, it was decided to change the name to ‘Day of the Vow’ since the Voortrekkers had sworn to God that if they won the battle, they would forever commemorate the day. It must be handy to have God on one’s side, although accounts of the battle fail to mention the deployment of thunderbolts.

The name change didn’t alter the nature of the celebrations one bit, but it did sound a bit more polite, although only marginally so.

Then we had a bit of liberation, and Afrikaaner nationalists (something like rednecks) were in a state of near revolt (as opposed to being revolting, although in some cases it’s a near thing) because they thought Nelson Mandela would take away their ‘religious holiday’.

Either Nelson, being Xhosa, wasn’t too fussed about a holiday commemorating a massacre of Zulus, or else he was just being magnanimous, or both, but the name got changed to ‘Day of Reconciliation’.

This is a bit of a wheeze, because reconciliation is fairly new and hasn’t anything to do with the 16th of December. Quite the contrary, except in that Mandela reconciled himself to keeping it as a holiday and the nationalists reconciled themselves to yet another name change.

So that’s today. I’m working. I am reconciled to it. Today's pic: something black and white.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I learn a new word!

I'm still a bit stoned after what happened today, but perhaps I should warn anyone who is... um... extremely sensitive to avoid this post. Is there anyone like that? Thought not. Off you go...

I joined the shuffling, seated queue that zigzags along at a less-than-snails-pace in the hospital outpatients hall. There I met the same unrufflable pink-clad pillar-to poster I encountered on Wednesday.

Every now and then she pops out of her office and interrogates the queue. People scatter in her wake. Admirable lady- stops you from waiting in the wrong place for too long.

She helped me herself and vanished into the endless rows of files in search of mine. She was gone so long that I thought the archive might really be endless, and that she was retrieving my file from Antarctica, but then she reappeared and made me a new file because she couldn’t find the old one.

The doctor didn’t fancy my new file, because it didn’t have my test results in it, so he settled me down to wait, possibly, I thought, till kingdom come, but before the kingdom could come, or even get a bit worked up, I got called in.

‘I’m going in, chaps’ I thought, momentarily becoming a fighter pilot zooming intrepidly into the unknown, but then I thought that perhaps this might be the doctor’s line, and I shouldn’t steal his thunder.

I eventually persuaded him that two doctors had told me I needed the biopsy and he was going to do it, so he did. They just give you a local for this one, and my! It’s a bit close to home, if you know what I mean. Not as sore as you’d think, though.

Next time, I’m going to tell the darned doctor I don’t WANT to know what he’s doing, really I will. I don’t. He must just get on with it and warn me if its going to hurt. He can tell me afterwards.

While the doctor rummaged about, I occupied myself by trying to say ‘Colposcopy’ which is something I have to make an appointment for. It’s a very difficult word. I asked the doc if ‘Compostomy’ would work, because I know about compost and maybe if I say it really fast, no one will notice, but he insisted that I get it right.

In the end, he hoiked out a thing that looked like a pink walnut, as happy as Tom Thumb in the nursery rhyme when he pulled out the plumb and said 'What a good boy am I'.

Which is more-or-less what he said, although not in those exact words. I suspect that medically speaking he’d achieved no mean feat and was rather pleased with himself. I was happy for him.

Then my leg began to twitch like a dog’s does when you scratch its tummy, and the doc said he’d cauterize that which I really didn’t want to know about so I closed my eyes tight and didn’t get a dekko at the flame thrower or whatever it was he next attacked me with.

I did feel a bit upset once I was on my own again, but all in all it wasn’t too terrible. I’m glad its over, that’s sure.

I hope you enjoyed my visit to the hospital, and that you will understand why there are no pictures with this post.

Monday, December 13, 2010

An excuse to post some nice pictures

So these city slickers came to visit. Well, I wasn’t expecting them, and I pretty well knew they’d find the camping ground full, so I let them pitch their tent at the farm dam. My house is small, and both of them are motor mouths, so it wouldn’t have done to have them in the house.

As it was, I had to feign interest in something he called ‘The Human Pin Code’ – maybe it wasn’t explained to me all that well: it seemed to consist of sweeping statements that one’s hardly likely to disagree with like ‘You think about things and then act on them.’

I also did a good job of feigning interest in a gym program aimed at reducing her thighs which I couldn't see anything wrong with in the first place. She has a personal trainer. She has hundreds of pairs of earrings. She’s… well, she’s nice and has lots of personality, but she’s ‘city’.

Next day, they wanted to ‘do’ the forest, and accompanied this with tales of how they’ve ‘done’ this or that mountain or hike. I’ll confess to a twinge of mischief when I recommended the loveliest (and slipperiest) walk I know.

Well, I don’t know it so much as know someone who knows it well enough to do it: it’s pretty tricky and involves more scrambling over undergrowth and climbing up waterfalls than strolling. Just look at this:

I’m afraid it was a bit rough on her in particular, and he was rather scared in places though he tried not to show it, but after all the boasting about intrepid outdoorsmanship, they could hardly start complaining.

To be honest: parts of the walk scare me a bit too, although the worst one’ll get for a fall will be some grazes and bruises. I can say this because I’ve tried it: it’s well worth the risk (and the grazes).

In the end, they were quite pleased with the walk and were last seen heading off in search of beaches.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Down Under - an illuminating visit to the hospital

This week has been a bit surreal. Fragments of strange dreams cling to my consciousness every morning. Last night, I dreamed that Mom was still alive. I was at a party, and there she was. She’d been pretending to be dead. I was so angry that it hurt.

The hospital visit was a damp squib. It was interesting nonetheless. First the runarounds from pillar to post to get a file: queue here, queue there, upstairs, downstairs then upstairs again.

At last, I settled down for the hours of waiting. Women of all ages and conditions waited for their gynecological examinations looking nervous, shuffling their feet like schoolgirls waiting outside the principal’s office.

I read most of Bill Bryson’s ‘Down Under’ while I waited - an amusing title considering what I was waiting for, and an amusing book into the bargain. I recommend it (the book, not the waiting).

I was eventually seen by a short Frenchman with a heavy accent. In private care, they didn’t bother to tell me anything about the sonar. He explained everything very well, and convinced me that I don’t have too much to worry about... yet.

There was also a nasty examination involving a torch – the same sort of torch you can get at the Chinese shop for about 50c US. It had a picture of a soccer ball on it.

They couldn’t do the biopsy. There was something wrong with me that needed clearing up first, and there was something wrong with ‘the machine’. I didn’t look at the machine too closely. I’ll see enough of it on Tuesday.

At the dispensary, it was more relaxed. Strangers struck up conversations, the woman behind me was laughing about something till tears ran down her face and I had to laugh too even though I didn’t know what it was about.

Verdict: crowded, but clean and efficient. Not worth paying ten times the amount for private care which, as far as I can see, only eliminates the queues, gives you piped music and lino. Oh, and their machines probably work, and they have very likely got more expensive torches, but I bet no-one laughs till they cry in the pharmacy.

Today’s pic: something illuminating

Monday, December 6, 2010

How to Baffle Everybody

Cor, did we ever have a thunder storm here! Its not usual in this part of the country, so of course the infrastructure - ADSL lines in particular, just couldn't take it. HOW I've been missing blogging.

Good news is that I've bought a USB modem, and my boss insists on paying for it because I'm using it for work (at least a bit). Yippee!

We proceed: today, you're getting culture of the SA sort, whether you want it or not - here goes:

I’m pretty good at American slang, one is exposed to it, one learns it. I even, very occasionally, use it. Naturally, everyone knows what I’m saying. Being a proud South African, I feel it incumbent on me to promote SA slang. You should try it. You will baffle everyone!

To greet, you say ‘Howzit!?’ both punctuation marks are needed since this salutation combines the greeting exclamation as well as the ‘how are you’ question very neatly.

If you are ‘cool’ you will add ‘eksa’ to the greeting. It is a corrupted form of an Afrikaans phrase meaning ‘I say’. You can chuck it in at the end of every sentence, if you like. I do not know why this should be cool, but it is.

Then, in return to the greeting, you might say ‘Na bru’ which combines mining slang from Zulu (I think) with the Afrikaans version of ‘bro’. Very rock and roll, or more appropriately….

Sakkie-sakkie: the Afrikaans version of bluegrass, but more concertina orientated and with less exciting dancing called ‘langarm’ (long arm – you can picture it. It is danced, in certain circles (and they move around the floor in circles too), to everything including AC/DC. I could write a whole post about langarm, it would slay you.

Of course, we’re inclined to say the Dutch ‘Ja’ for yes, and we say ‘Agh’ (like the English ‘Aw’) and that’s pretty decipherable, but I will lead you once more onto foreign ground.

The word I find the most difficult to exclude from my vocabulary when talking to foreigners, and the one they find most baffling, is ‘Lekker’. I could write a whole post about that word. It goes everywhere. It means ‘nice’, and in South Africa, everything is nice.


‘Lekker, bru’

‘Lekker day ne?’ (‘ne’ is a questioning phrase, something like ‘not so?’)

‘Blerry lekker’ (‘Blerry’ is the SA way of pronouncing ‘bloody’)

‘That’s a lekker car’

‘I’ll take you for a lekker spin’

‘Oh wow! Lekker!’

And so on, and so on.

Thunder and Lighting are swearwords, though in Afrikaans: ‘Donder’ and ‘Bliksem’. I know that for some cultures they are the names of Santa’s reindeer, but in SA, they are naughty words. They also mean you might beat someone up as in: ‘I’ll donder (or bliksem) you’. So do be careful while naming Santa’s reindeer in South Africa..

There. That was very cultural and enlightening. Class, your project for the week: use one of the above words (preferably an obscure one) in public, at least once. Thank you / Dankie / Ndi ya bonga / Nkosi / Ke a boga.

Today’s pic: Something very South African: A rock hyrax or 'dassie'. Its closest living relative is, according to biologists, an elephant. Something to do with the toes. That's biologists for you!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Poised to ride the rapids (or fall off waterfalls)

The road less traveled has always appealed to me – not for me the suburban life, the ‘usual’ sort of career, the security of family. When I married, I married someone who wouldn’t contribute at all because I wanted to do it all myself. Twenty or so years later on, I decided that this was a mistake. Silly me.

I wanted to do stuff in ways that other people don’t usually try. I didn’t want to be helped or supported or interfered with in any way. I was ‘too big for that’ as I informed my dad once when he asked me to sit on his lap. As a grown up, I was too big for everything including my own boots.

Of course, the school of hard knocks beats some sense into one at some point, and one realizes that the road least traveled is unfrequented for very good reasons. Its rocky and winding, you can’t ask for directions because no-one knows the route and, in the end, it might just lead off the edge of a cliff.

I have, in the past, rather ruefully referred to this as ‘A love of doing things the hard way’. Don’t get me wrong: I’m proud of lots of the things I did the hard way, inordinately and sometimes perversely so.

I love the fact that I’ve succeeded in building a lifestyle for myself outside of the mainstream, but instead of heading into the fiercest part of the current with a determination to succeed regardless of the odds, which is what I used to do, I much prefer being in a quiet backwater just drifting along.

For a long time, one of my favorite things to say was ‘Why spoil the beautiful now by focusing on a beautiful tomorrow that may never come?’ but I think its time I got off my delightful bottom and started having a few goals other than just being happy which I do quite well anyway.

Now it’s just a matter of deciding what I want, which is more difficult than one might think it would be, because I’m rather contented as I am. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything…

Today’ pic: a quiet backwater. Are you wondering if there's a waterfall ahead? Yes, there is. I fell off it, so I know. Anyway, it seems appropriate.