A LAMENT FOR THE GORGEOUS HATS OF YESTER-YEAR


Fab-Hat-on-Elizabeth

The other night I watched a TV bio-pic about Coco Chanel. Shirley McLaine – don’t you just love Shirley McLaine ? – gave us the older, chain-smoking, imperious Coco Chanel, always seen wearing one of her signature style suits and  chain-smoking ferociously under a devastatingly simple but oh-so-stylish hat, whether indoors or out. And it’s the hats I want to write about.

Nowadays we don’t seem to wear hats. Well, not stylish ones, anyway, and not in the circumstances of my own modest life. I daresay if I decorated the upper echelons of society I might be seen at Ascot wearing a stylish little concoction of veiling and feathers, or maybe even at our local J&B Met stakes, but I don’t live that sort of life. Floppy sunhats – yes, I own these. Battered straw hat for the garden – yup, tick the box. Peaked sports cap (a  cheesey souvenir of Melbourne with a kangaroo on the front – okay, okay, not cool I know, but dammit, it proves I travelled to far away Oz, so leave me alone) – cap to keep the sun out of my eyes when I’m out walking. In short, my hats are utilitarian.

I do not own a glamorous or fanciful hat. And the Chanel bio-pic showed scenes of her early life, in which all women, regardless of their social class, wore the most divine hats. Big brimmed hats, with cascades of ribbons, feathers, silk flowers, beading – you name it. The hats were frothy extravaganzas of feminine frivolity, style, glamour.

Sigh. Who am I kidding? The sad fact is, that due to my very short stature, when I put on a wide brimmed hat decorated with fol-de-rols and what-have-you, I look like a small energetic mushroom charging through a dense thicket of tall folk. Oh to be tall and willowy! Then I could wear enormous hats with trailing chiffon scarves and leave behind me a cloud of envious glances and whispers ….  I can dream, can’t I?

 

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RECENT READS : TELLING THE BEES  BY Peggy Hesketh


 

At first I thought the novel had been written by renowned American author, Marilynne Robinson, because the tone of the story, the slow, measured delivery of information, the nostalgia for an earlier simpler time, were  redolent of her novel Gilead. A novel, by the way, which I greatly admire.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour and read it soon.

I checked the jacket photo of the author, Ms Peggy Hesketh, resorted to Wikipedia, and discovered Peggy Hesketh is a journalist and author and currently teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of California. Furthermore she definitely bears no physical  resemblance to Ms Robinson. This said, I still think  her prose is in the same category. It’s elegant, lucid,  and paints a  picture of the beekeeper, the solitary Mr Albert Hoenig, who has lived all his life  in the house his parents built, in a small town.  He lives a very quiet life, devoted to his beekeeping and modest activities – walking to the Library, for instance;  reading poetry and his beloved books.

When his lifelong neighbours are murdered, the  past begins to reveal itself ever so slowly, and Mr Hoenig is forced to  revisit his relationship with his neighbours,  and long repressed events and feelings.  At the end of the book – and the finale is quite dark – I needed to remind myself I’d been reading a crime novel, but the crime is so low key and the emphasis of the book is on the technical and historical aspects of beekeeping , together with Mr Koenig’s slow reminiscences. I learnt a lot about beekeeping by the time I reached The End!  What I found fascinating were the snippets of beekeeping traditional lore – hence the title Telling the Bees. A successful beekeeper is attuned to his bees, the hive, their moods, and he (or she) uses traditional rhymes and rituals at certain times – lore passed down over the generations. Mr Hoenig really did tell the bees about important things. Perhaps a little too late.

A strange and unusual book. It’s beautifully written. If you enjoy elegant prose  and would like to learn about the honeybee, then try this novel.

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SHOPPING  WOES


 

 

 

 

demi-bra

Woeful shopping? How can this be? I’m famously the woman who’s always happy to go shopping, be it for cat litter and baked beans, or books and perfume.  I enjoy shopping. I like shopping. Many of my  friends roll their eyes,  groan and say I hate shopping!  But not me.  I think this springs from my shopping-deprived childhood (a combo of boarding schools and  remote homes in  tropical regions minus shops) topped up by years of zero-fun shopping in sanctions plagued shops in Rhodesia.  We could get the essentials, but the shelves were pretty bare during those years, and luxuries e.g. chocolate , disappeared from our shops. Despite this difficulty, we survived.

Consequently ,when I arrived in my new country, every trip to the shops felt like Christmas . So much merchandise  –  so much choice –  to see it all spread out in such a gorgeous, lavish display. Years later, experiencing my first  Sainsbury’s store in the  UK, I found aisle after aisle of vegetarian food – I had no idea so many vegetarian products even existed!  More recently, I nearly had an orgasm when faced with the endless delights of the shelves in Kinokunia’s mega- bookstore in Sydney –  a reader’s paradise on earth.  So much for the highlights of my shopping experience.

Now comes the low point, the nadir, the pits : shopping for a new bra. Just the worst task in the world. Why?  I hear you ask. Just for openers, I made the big mistake of tackling the task alone. If you have an accompanying friend, then she can trundle back and forth between the  change cubicle and the racks of underwear, while you cower in the cubicle, desperately avoiding the unsavoury reflection of your saggy bod in the harshly lit, full-length mirror. I don’t know what it is about those mirrors, but whatever your defects are, they are magnified ten times over, and you vow to starve until you have lost 5 kgs – at the very least – in the vain hopes that those folds and rolls might disappear. And you will definitely go to the gym every single day  from now on.

At which point your helper returns with another selection of bras for you to try on. Naturally, the only one which sort of fits turns out to be the last remaining item in stock, and no, trying one size bigger/smaller,  is not the solution. And why is it that lingerie manufacturers promptly discontinue manufacturing  the one  bra that actually fits you and doesn’t  make you look like a dancer in a Madonna music video?  You prudently bought two of them, three years ago, and now they are as extinct as Queen Victoria’s corsets.

If you’ve been so foolish as to undertake this exercise alone, life is hell.  You hunt up an item that looks as if it might fit (by the way, I’m long past frivolous considerations such as appearance, or sexiness or preferred colour – forget it).   Disrobe, try it on, and it doesn’t fit.  Now you have to get dressed again, hand in your numbered disc to the custodian at the entrance, plus the non-fitting bra, and hike back to the Underwear Department. You look around for an assistant – but no such luck. There’s a chart hanging off a rack that explains how to measure  your mammaries correctly, but no professionally trained lady  wielding her tape measure to perform the task and give advice, or even – radical idea – some help.

Now you’ve lost the rack where you found the  original, wrong-size bra: you dash up and down searching for it,  and collide with two small boys  aged 8 and 10, who are zipping noisily in and out and round about the racks of underwear, gleeful grins pasted on their faces – I mean, come on! Who takes boys into a Ladies’ Underwear Department?  Unisex is all very well, but  hey! Maybe I’m just old fashioned?  Their mother is concentrating hard on the labels of sports bras, and ignoring them.

Finally you locate the original rack, only to find there is no bigger size available. So you start over.  Back and forth you go, undressing, trying on, dressing, hiking back to the racks, searching for an item that is actually hanging on the correctly labelled hangar – you get hotter and sweatier and more and more desperate . The change cubicle gets hotter & steamier, and you break out in a rash due to heat, anxiety and too much scratchy nylon lace.  After half an hour, you succeed!  Now to go and get a duplicate and you can queue at the cash till, and escape. But no. For some inexplicable reason the bra in your hand is priced at R160-00 (which is an outrageous price, don’t you think?) and a duplicate item is priced at R192-00.  Grrrhhh! I feel sure Ladies’ Underwear Departments qualify as one of the  outer circles of Hell.

My poor old boobs headed South years ago, and at this stage, so have my spirits. I give up, go home, brew a gallon of tea, and fume.  And I still don’t have a new bra.

 

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RECENT READS # MY BROTHER’S BOOK – Jo-Anne Richards


Not being fond of Struggle Literature, I’ve avoided her books. I recall a huge hullabaloo over her novel The Innocence of Roast Chicken, (a best-seller in South Africa in 1996). I remember the PC brigade hated it. Quite why, I never discovered. But she has continued to write and this is her fourth novel . It’s a novel of great depth with an unusual format – quite a large part of the narrative – perhaps just under one-third – consists of letters written by Miranda to both Thomas (her first lover and fellow struggle comrade) and his sister, Lily (unwitting trigger of Tom’s discovery, arrest and 12 year jail sentence). The Book is in three parts : Pt 1 – Lily; Pt 2 – Thomas; Pt 3 – Bert (their father). The catalyst is the book which Thomas writes about The Struggle, which prompts Miranda to start writing letters to the pair of them, so there’s an oblique, third-person view and analysis of events already related by the other characters. It’s a complicated format, but it suits the novel about three complicated characters. Lily’s Pt 1 is about a nomadic childhood spent in the Eastern Cape with wonderful evocative sections on the landscape, the people, life as a child, with the shadow of apartheid restrictions on their friendship with the coloureds in the little towns. She adores her father (a complex mix of conman, drinker, trader & preacher), is brought up by her brother, but is much wilder and spontaneous than him. Ironically, towards the end of the book, their roles are reversed – she becomes the care-giver towards her step-brother Arnold and her father. Thomas’ Pt 2 takes us into his tortured soul – he’s tormented by his mother’s abandonment of their family, the fecklessness of his father, his responsibilities towards his kid sister and then her betrayal; his relationships with women, friends, God; his attempted career as a priest …. everything is deeply felt, unacknowledged, and the struggle has twisted him. How Louise, his girlfriend puts up with him, is a mystery. He’s remote, a workaholic, unforgiving, riven by anger that he claims he has left behind – he hasn’t of course, but can’t see it. And of course, despite his impeccable Struggle credentials, he’s abandoned by the New South Africa, when his life’s raison d’etre, an NGO, is swept from under him when the Board insists he be replaced by a Black. A White man, cannot in these new times, head such an organization …. it’s the ultimate cruel irony. Bart’s Pt 3 was quite difficult to read, he’s got Alzheimers and his view of events/people is all mixed up but it’s a short section only a few pages, from which it appears that Thomas manages to stay with Louise who has now borne his child; Miranda is on a visit from London; and brother and sister appear to have reconciled. I’m filled with admiration at the complex structure of the book, the depth of the characters, the subtlety of the book. I wonder why it hasn’t won a prize ? “Richards has an acute sense of place, in it’s small town and big city guises, and a wonderful ear for South African idiom. … Moving subtly between past and present, it casts a searing light on the way we reveal and conceal our truths in stories.” (Ivan Vladislavic) “Few South African writers can capture the complicated magic and cultural confusion of a constantly changing country like JR can … wry, moving and beautifully observed.” (Peter Godwin)

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Reflections on Relationships – FAMILY


The Grey Family (Judging Amy) Tyne Daly 2nd left front row

The Grey Family (Judging Amy) Tyne Daly 2nd left front row

 

I’m a fan of an old American TV series Judging Amy , I suppose it’s in the  soapie category, charting the family life of the Grey family in Massachusetts. Late thirties, recently divorced Amy is a judge in the local Children’s Court; daughter Lauren is cute and curious; grandma Maxine is a magnificent feisty social worker with the Department of Children and Families, There are three other direct family members, but they’re not so central, nor so interesting, to the stories.

Thinking it over, I watch the series chiefly for the pleasure of seeing the redoubtable Maxine in action. Tyne Daly fills the role to perfection.  She first hit the limelight many years ago in a TV cop show, Cagney and Lacey; languished in obscurity for some years, then made a comeback with the Judging Amy  series and quite recently starred in the feature film about Maria Callas.

In her character as Maxine she is a commanding presence who stands no nonsense from anybody and robustly states her forthright views to children and adults alike. One scene shows a confrontation between Maxine and her daughter-in-law Gillian who – for once – turns on Maxine and gives her an earful, starting off with the declaration “I know you don’t like me …” Maxine replies to the tirade by saying “Yes, it’s true, often I don’t like you, but you’re family, and I love you.”

This statement was a lightbulb moment for me. How many of us, I wonder, have had similar thoughts, but have been too tactful/cowardly/nervous to voice them? Just because people enter our family – usually through marriage – does that mean that we will like them? Or have to like them? Or are able to like them? Perhaps, perhaps … And even if we don’t like them, are we capable of loving them, just because they’re now FAMILY?  It’s a big ask.  It’s a huge stretch.

I’m still thinking about this question. It remains unresolved.

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Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki – Haruki Murakami


 

I’m so glad I picked up a brand new copy of his latest novel in Books Galore for only R140 as opposed to the retail price of R360.I’d been  very tempted by pre-release offers from my favourite bookstore,  but had resisted them, and tripped over a bargain instead.  And I will have no trouble in taking this one back to the BG shop & claiming my one-third back on it. It’s not a book I want to keep and re-read.

This said, I have to report that the book has a stunning cover design : vibrant orange, red, indigo, black and white discs – anything but colourless! Plus a large pull-out sheet of small stickers which seem to be related to the story, but are confusing – usually its pre-teen girls who are sticker mad, not adults reading Japanese novels. I don’t know – visualize me shaking my head, shrugging my shoulders, at this point. It’s a mystery, but then this is Murakami.

Suddenly I’m over my Murakami madness. Having now read some of his other novels, I can see how he returns to the same themes over and over again. TT is yet another of Haruki Murakami’s self-sufficient 30-something young men who cook, clean and iron their shirts and lead quiet, modest, regulated lives, apart from a dramatic incident in his early 20s which nearly kills him, but leaves him stronger and even more self-sufficient.

And of course, Music plays a role – a piano piece by Franz List, Le Mal du Pays  seems to be important but somehow isn’t. And there’s the ghostly jazz pianist Midorikawa, who features in Haida’s story, with a maddening clue about a mystery object in a cloth bag, reverently placed atop the piano, prior to playing. Yet another fascinating clue which evaporates  into ..? what? I don’t know: I’m baffled! This is either the charm or the irritation of Murakami’s writing, depending on the reader’s mood.

However, in this book, there are no cats! Often these are a feature of his novels, particularly in Kafka on the Shore.   Also much less of magic realism, or surrealism, or just plain magic, whatever you want to call it. There’s only one magical section where a long story is told to the main protagonist (TT) which – at one point – I thought might be a clue, or a suggestion as to the how & why of  the  murder in the NOVEL; but he never develops this suggestion and the story stands alone – a strange almost ghost story – it’s difficult to pin it down. And the murder is never solved.

Another strange element is the introduction of polydactylism – people who are born with six fingers. Very late in the book there’s a short section about lost property on the Tokyo Metro, and one of the bizarre things in the Lost Property is a mayonnaise jar containing two neatly severed fingers in formaldehyde.  Which may or may not be connected to the jazz pianist and the ghost story.

Despite all my grumbles, I  read on, quite intrigued, and continued to the end of the novel. One of the things I like about Murakami is his intense Japanese-ness. There’s a sort of stark minimalism about his work. Despite the oddness of his plots/story-lines, I keep on reading.

My friend Anita thinks his short stories are better than the novels and she may well be correct. I need to read them.

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GATHER YE ROSEBUDS etc, but in my case:SNAILS


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where’s the Escape Route?

I wonder how you start your day?

I’ll lay you a small bet you’re not out in your garden, poking around in the undergrowth with your trusty braai-tongs, SNAIL HUNTING in the cool, early morning hours. Let me tell you that snails emerge from their shelly homes while the dew is still on the leaf, and they come out brandishing their knives and forks, starving for greenery …. my greenery, my plants – what’s left of them, that is. Those snaily jaws are munching manically every morning and not only on the plants, but on the paintwork on the walls and patio. If my entire house disappears,  it will be due to the ravenous molluscs. So out I go, cursing steadily while bending my aching back, but its Woman versus Garden Pests, and the war is on. My daily harvest fills up an empty 500ml yoghurt carton. Daily, mind you. The reproductive power of the snail is truly terrifying. Sometimes I wonder if my garden isn’t infected with a genus of super-snail that will eventually munch the rest of us out of existence. Forget about changing climate, Fukushima, political mayhem and the rest of it. It’s the snails that have got me worried!

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THE X-GENERATION v.s. PROUST


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I’m supposed to be  reading Proust, but I’m not. I’m  playing hooky.  Instead of slogging through Proust I’m giggling my way through the cult classic by Douglas Coupland The X-Generation.

 During yet another of my tidy-outs in preparation for the annual Cavendish Centre Charity Book Sale, I found the battered little paperback, its screaming pink cover only a little faded, and I thought : must read this again before I turf it into the Donations Box.  And believe me, the escapades of the Silicon Valley ‘90s generation make a welcome escape hatch from Proust’s rural village life, in Combray, France.

I can hear you thinking:”Why on earth is this woman reading Proust?”

Good question. The blame falls squarely on the Norwegian novelist, Karl Ove Knausgaard, he of recent fame – see my blog post titled Making Soup & Contemplating Life. Having finished Vol I of his family saga and reading lit crits of his novel/memoir, whatever it is, I kept finding comparisons between KOK and Proust. My curiosity was piqued.  I’d never read Proust. Which was hardly surprising, given the fact that the 1950s Rhodesian education system did not venture into the dangerous waters of European culture. The closest we came was a route march through a Shakespeare play and Keats’ poetry. I suppose I might have encountered Proust had I studied Literature at University, but my life took a different direction, namely towards earning a living, and not the quiet groves of academia.

So at this late stage of my life, I’m dipping my toes into European cultural waters and I’m not sure I’m a happy bather. Proust is so long-winded! Verbose would be an understatement. One sentence can colonise an entire page. At this stage of my life, I’m definitely a citizen of the blogosphere, a traveller thru the World Wide Web, where short sound-bytes do the trick. Even Wikipaedia has short entries.

So picking up Generation X  and taking a breather was pure relief. And a great deal more entertaining, I should add. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour and do so – it’s fresh, even though it was first published in 1991. Apparently Coupland was tasked to write a non-fiction account of the birth cohort that followed the wave of baby-boomers, but he wrote a novel instead, and voila! Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture hit the shelves. The book follows the lives of three disillusioned and alienated twenty-somethings, living in LA. It sounds grim, but it isn’t.  Slowly it became a cult novel, and one of his catchphrases McJob *  became part of late 20th century language;  *(indicative of a boring, regimented, lowly-paid occupation – do I need to spell out the analogy between this and the famous American food chain? No? Good! I don’t want to be sued by an American mega-food-corp).

As for finishing Vol 1 of Proust’s In Search of  ….   well … umm … maybe. Fortunately a kindly librarian gave me an extended two month loan period on the book. I’m going to need it. And possibly an extension on that. On the other hand, I could also say ‘fuggedaboutit’ and return it to the Library. Time will tell.

And yes, I can see why others have compared KOK to Proust – they both share a passion for trivial detail, but at least Knausgaard looks like a rock star. Weary readers can always rest their eyes on his pic inside the book jacket for light relief!

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WHERE DOES THE TIME GO ? 


 

It’s really quite ridiculous. Here I am, retired, and finding myself without a second to even sneeze. Busy, busy, busy.

Friends phone me up to arrange a coffee date, and we find ourselves one or two weeks hence  into our diaries … because its ten days before I have a free slot – crazy! Anybody would think I was a top flight executive. Any day now I’ll need a Social Secretary to manage my diary.

People often say “You keep yourself so busy!” either in tones of admiration or condemnation (delete inapplicable).  Not so. I’m not deliberately  trying to keep busy.  It’s just that there are so many interesting things to do or see. Plus there are my weekly addictive sessions with Mah Jongg and Scrabble. Not giving those up!

And then there’s the theory that as you age, time speeds up in an inverse ration to your age – or something – I’ve never grasped that. I know I should, but I haven’t.  I remember, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, how it took FOREVER for Christmas and your birthday to come around again, whereas nowadays I’m clutching my forehead and gasping, only another 62 days until Christmas – where did the year go??   Never mind the Christmas juggernaut rolling towards us – lately I wake up in the morning, and find that its Friday again,! Dammit, we just had  Friday! Where on earth did the week get to?

I’m definitely running out of time.

Recently a psychic told me I have another 20 years left to me before I depart this mortal plane. Yes, well, no fine … On the one hand I was immensely cheered because it means I now have time to finish my Fantasy novels. And it may take that long. I felt as if I’d been given a gift: another twenty years! Wow!  But on the bad days, it doesn’t seem like such a bonanza.

There’s an old saying “Man proposes, God disposes”. Perhaps the best thing to do is live each day as best we can. An old song had the line  yesterday is history, tomorrow still a mystery  and all we really have is NOW, just this moment, as the Buddhists would say. And this moment. And this moment.  That old American hippie, Ram Dass, once wrote a book titled “Be Here Now”. Pretty good advice.

 

 

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24 HOUR QUARANTINE FOR MY TIME-TRAP


 

I can hear your response: Huh? What’s a Time-trap?

Here is a brief guide to  help identify the pests:

  • They’re generally rectangular
  • The casing is usually black, grey or silver; but they also come in funky colours, much loved by the young
  • The small traps house their own power supply, but the larger ones require connections to the mains
  • Their tribal names may include Nokia, Blackberry, Sony, HP, Apple, Samsung, Dell, Lenovo – do I need to go on?

Who wouldn’t rather be watching TV, or playing games on their i-phone/tablet, or surfing the net on their PC, rather than dutifully editing their novel? Come on, ‘fess up!  We’re only human, after all.

I’m indebted to my writing friend, Dawn, who acts as my Writer’s Conscience, on writing issues, and she introduced me to this hold-all term. And I thought: Yesss! She’s right (again!) I know just what she means.

So on Saturday I vowed not to turn on my PC which is my biggest writing Time-trap. I don’t own a Smartphone, and my elderly Nokia mobile serves as a useful tool and nothing more. TV? My mother brainwashed me years ago about the crime of wasting daylight hours by watching TV, so that takes care of that.

For me the PC  is a magic carpet to anywhere in the world – or the universe, for that matter. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of entertainment and information, where I’ve spent many happy exploratory hours instead of working on my novel, on my memoir, on my blog posts, on my competition entries – the list is endless. Sigh.

So I resolutely left the PC sulking in its corner on Saturday and accomplished so much without its evil influence – I was quite astonished by the end of the day, when I climbed onto the couch, for some mental chewing gum i.e. TV.  I tidied out cupboards, sorted out my craft material – throwing out a ton of STUFF in the process; I made huge in-roads on a craft project that’s lurked around for months; I wrote a book review;  I mended my favourite yellow jersey; I read 4 chapters of a novel that I’ve been struggling to finish; I made West African Sweet Potato Stew for supper, and last of all, I made my cat deliriously happy by providing under-cat heating once I flopped onto the couch.

All in all a good day. Today I switched the beast on, but it’s been strictly business, including typing this blog post.

Give it a whirl: go on a PC fast – you’ll save power, do a million worthy things, and feel so virtuous at the end of the day. In fact, I’m going to declare one quarantine day every week. I might even finish the tapestry I’ve been avoiding for the last two years. Stranger things have happened.

 

 

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