CHOCOLATE IS THE ANSWER


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(Just a Paragraph:  when I’m short of time and/or inspiration, I keep my blog ticking over with ‘just a paragraph’; random thoughts, reflections, comments, ideas … little snippets)

2016 will go down as the Year I Made Cocoa. On a chilly, wet, grey day, nothing beats a cup of hot cocoa. Not your instant stuff. Proper cocoa, that comes out of the tin in a rich brown fine powder, that has to be carefully sprinkled into hot milk, and has to be stirred briskly to mix. Then boiling water is added, followed perhaps by a healthy dollop of tinned Ideal Milk – I adore   Ideal Milk, it’s one of my many weaknesses. I think it stems from childhood, when my Mum made jelly, and whipped a tin of Ideal milk into the jelly, to produce a divine, fluffy, light as air pudding – what a treat that was. But a summer treat, that’s for sure. Right now it’s mid-winter in Cape Town and because we live in a Mediterranean type climate, our winters are mild and wet.  After our dreadful El Nino induced drought, the wet is very welcome, but it’s chilly and damp, so hot cocoa fits right in.  As my fridge magnet sagely observes: Chocolate is the answer! Who cares about the question?

 

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STATION ELEVEN – by Emily St John Mandel


  Book Review

I waited  nearly two years for the book to surface in a bookstore or library in Cape Town. In the end I succumbed to Book Depository’s excellent prices and bought it on-line. It was worth both the money and the wait.

The book is a dystopian novel set in Canada after a world ‘flu pandemic kills 99% of the population.

A small group of actors and musicians band together to form the Travelling Symphony. Not only do they perform music, but also Shakespearean plays, which have proved to be the most popular items in their repertoire. Despite the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know it,  Shakespeare’s work proves to be enduring!

Twenty years later they are still travelling on their well established circuit in the Great Lakes region, visiting the tiny settlements where people are gamely starting over.

What was so good was that the story didn’t haul out the tired tropes of Mad Max, or a pack of Zombies!  However, a religious polygamous  cult who provided the  danger element to the story, which affected lead character Kirsten. Both  Kirstin and the cult  proved to be linked directly back to the pivotal character,  Arthur Leander.

The book is beautifully written and  elegantly plotted. Despite the grim premise, the story is engaging and the characters likeable. The theme of Interconnectedness is cleverly woven through the narrative, via the life of Arthur Leander, a famous actor; we see him before and during the pandemic, and the reverberations of his life continuing to affect survivors  in the post-apocalyptic world.

The interesting issues were:

What the world lost (apart from inhabitants) : technology and science – there’s no electricity and therefore no Internet  – imagine the effect of these losses on daily life?

And a big question: what – or even who – would you save as you fled to the wilderness away from the plague?  Lead character Kirstin grabs seemingly inconsequential items and stuffs them in to her backpack, and escapes. The objects play an important role in joining together the puzzle pieces of the story.

A wonderful 5 star read. I loved it.

 

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THE WEDDING VENUE CATS


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Chocolat calling. Yes, AGAIN.  Twice in twelve days. I know it’s a bit much, but you’ll just have to put up with me. I have to get this off my chest. Actually, my whiskers are severely ruffled, I don’t mind admitting it.

Ever since my Personal Assistant  returned from The Wedding, she’s been burbling on about Fuggly the FarSide Farm cat. Apparently this Fuggly person made a big impact on my PA. I can’t think why. Here’s Fuggly  lounging on a Persian carpet at FarSide Farm.  Kindly note, she’s a portly person, wearing  common old tabby stripes.  No comparison to my sleek lines and rich brown coat. The prettiest thing in the picture is the magnificent Oriental carpet, don’t you agree?

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It seems that Fuggly was rescued by Noble Hero, Graham, when she was an abandoned kitten.  NHG was driving way out in the sticks. Luckily the dirt road forced him to drive slowly, otherwise he would have driven over the scrap of a kitten lying in the road – burnt, dehydrated, flea infested, starving, a whisker away from death. NHG picked her up, nursed her back to life at his FarSide Farm, where she now supervises weddings. As you can see from the picture below she is checking out the table decorations and keeping a close eye on the preparations.

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Due to her exacting standards, the tables looked very striking once they were completed.

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Fuggly didn’t stay for the wedding  reception. She doesn’t care for loud music and dancing feet. Little cats tend to get trodden on, in all the excitement. However, Gulliver, a very grand person also in residence at FarSide Farm, graced the festivities with his presence, by lounging just below the bridal couple’s central table. Unfortunately my PA didn’t take a picture of him, so she’s begged a studio portrait from Olivia, the unflappable FarSide Farm Events Manager.

Iphone pics Nov 14-3

Gulliver likes to try and lord it over Fuggly, because he’s an Abyssinian , and I must say, as another purebred person, I agree with his attitude.

I don’t t understand why my PA keeps on talking about Fuggly and Gulliver. I mean, she has me in residence, 24/7, devotedly providing hot-water bottle services under the duvet nightly; singing her awake on cold winter mornings; bringing gifts of mice, birds, grasshoppers, lizards.  Really, there’s just no pleasing humans! I think I shall retire to my cat cave and sulk.

P.S. If you’re wondering why my picture at the top is so big? of course it is. I’m the most important person. Surely I don’t have to remind you ?

 

 

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A WINTER BULLETIN FROM THE CAT’S CAVE


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Chocolat here.  I’m speaking to you from my cat’s cave. See pic above. I’m in there, trust me, it’s the warmest place. Because my fur is such a rich, dark brown, you can’t see too much of me – maybe my two eyes, and not much else.  Human eyesight is so feeble, compared to mine. I’m perched on my warmed grain-bag . I’ve trained my Personal Assistant to warm it in the microwave during winter. Because my fur is so short, I feel the cold dreadfully.

Since returning from The Wedding my PA hasn’t been very productive. She seems to spend hours with her nose in a book. I have never understood humans’ fascination with those things. I think they’re terribly dull, they don’t move, or run like lizards and mice. I can’t see the point of them. Anyway, my meals are still arriving at regular intervals, as well as early morning milk, so that’s the main thing.

I’m in good health and spirits as you can see from my pic at the end of this post. No doubt my PA will return to her keyboard. Perhaps when it’s warmer? Watch this space – Chocolat.

 

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*AFK/FAMILY WEDDINGS


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I’m going to be AFK, en route to another Family Wedding. A juicy topic for blogging.

Who gets invited?  Distant family  members who only appear at Weddings and Funerals, and are mortally offended  if they’re not invited.   Then there’s the gossip about those who were/were not invited, the whispers about long-standing feuds – excursion into tribal history. Most of it unedifying, all of it fascinating.  Families!

And then the vexed question of What to Wear?   As the matriarch of my small family, I cannot lurk in the back pew in a comfy pair of trousers and my Skechers .  So I’ve been combing the shops for something – anything ! – that doesn’t cost the earth, and which I will be able to wear on other occasions. My clothes have to march bravely on for years and years.

Additionally, I don’t lead a life filled with dressy occasions, so I don’t have anything in the cupboard to fall back on.  Apart from my beautiful simple white jacket, made for me by my dear Mother at least 17 years ago. It gets hauled out for infrequent grand events. Because its a polyester linen it washes like a dream – thanks Mum – I wish I’d asked you to make me a black one, and a navy one, and perhaps a yellow one too. Alas: too late now.

So:  the cat-sitter is organised, the suitcase is semi-packed. I’m scurrying around like a demented meerkat tying up loose ends, crossing off lists, adding diary notes –  aaarrgggh … I’m my own worst enemy – too many projects, despite my 2016 resolution not to be so busy.  Note to self:  After Easter – say ‘NO’, and relax on the couch with your tapestry.  Okay. Will do.

Meanwhile, dear readers  Chocolat is holding the fort, terrifying the house-sitter while I gad around the Republic.  Toodle-ooo!

 

*afk –  Absent from keyboard

 

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 MILNERTON FLEA MARKET


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The ferocious wind blasts straight off Table Bay, over the tangled grey concrete dolosse , doesn’t even pause at the barrier, roars into the market ground, driving a stinging curtain of sand, that patters on impact and abrades exposed human skin. No wonder the vendors are dressed in long sleeved shirts and windcheaters, despite the blue skies and sunshine.

The wind tears at vendors’ hats, but they’re  secured by elastic under the chin, regardless of appearance or fashion. So the wind swirls papers and plastic bags up, up and away; it thrums through  guy-ropes on gazebos,  and whistles keenly around the corner of bakkies. It whisks playfully around the blue flames on the gas braais, but doesn’t quite succeed in extinguishing the flames. The mounds of onions are browning in the frying pans,  teaming up with the aroma of sizzling boerewors on the braai grids. Oom Chris ‘s khaki fishing hat is jammed low over his ears, his red face a study in concentration as he guards his wors against over-cooking. Tannie Marie is flitting between the onion frying, and scraping minimal marg onto hotdog rolls. The smell is intoxicating.

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Down the line the Muslim ladies are setting up their stall.  No spicy daaltjies today, worse luck. Only  sweet, sticky, pink coconut-coated koeksusters. Next to the foodstalls there’s a display of shiny silver pressure cookers, obviously new, laid out in a neat row on a tarp spread on the ground. Did they fall (conveniently) off the back of a lorry, into enterprising hands?

Another suspicious display is an entire stall of branded cleaning products – no wonder those red, white and blue labels look so familiar, they’re well known products that are standard supermarket merchandise.  Hmmmm. How did they arrive at the market … perhaps best not to enquire.

Many of the vendors have rickety trestle tables piled with bric-a-brac, rusted cake tins, baking tins, tarnished egg beaters, odds and sods: in a word – junk. There’s mechanical junk laid on tarps at ground level:assortments of nuts, bolts, washers, rods, rusty tools, lengths of piping, angle-iron off-cuts, bits of this and that. Most of these items are beyond second-hand, and only fit for the scrap heap. Maybe that’s where they came from!

A man picks up a battered pick-axe, and bounces it experimentally up and down on the ground, over and over. Donk-donk-donk. What’s he testing? The strength of the handle? Or to see if the metal head is cracked? At the rate he’s going, it soon will be! His actions are driving a nearby Jack Russell absolutely nuts. The little dog is straining desperately against his collar and the rope that’s attached to his owner’s bakkie wing-mirror. The dog is dying to race over to the man and do something – anything – about that bouncing pick-axe, but even his manic terrier strength cannot break a nylon rope.  But the wing mirror strut may well break before the rope does!

Striding through the market is a lady in full purdah get-up, with only a narrow slit for her eyes, and they’re hidden behind dark glasses.  She’s even wearing black gloves but  surprisingly, white ankle socks and cream coloured shoes.  Tall, black and mysterious,  she’s a complete contrast to the shopping couples – the men in shorts, tees and shades; the women in strappy tops, cute short skirts, flip-flops displaying varnished toenails  – summer holiday gear for the shoppers,  but not for the traders who have to withstand the buffeting wind all day.

The Parking Attendants are all senior citizens – weather beaten and tanned to an inch of their lives, puffing gamely on their cigarettes, despite the gale force wind. Two sunburnt, wrinkly women are sheltering behind a big double-cab 4×4 having a smoke, and engaged in a  dramatic recital of a complicated family saga that is punctuated with So I said, Charmayne, you can’t do that! And she said … but the wind blows away the tale of woe, along with streamers of cigarette smoke.

Two young guys roar away on their motor-bikes, spinning up loose gravel as they plunge onto the R27.  The noon gun booms from Lions Head.  Seagulls are squabbling over a discarded boerie roll. Time to get out of the wind, go home for lunch and come bargain-hunting again next week!

 

http://www.milnertonfleamarket.co.za/

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PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov


 

Book Review

I hunted for this book for years. In the end I gave in and bought the Penguin Classic on-line. I’m so glad I did.  I wanted to get beyond the wretched “Lolita” which I’d never managed to read, despite several attempts, finding it heavy going.  I felt sure there must be more to Nabokov, other than his notoriety after Lolita, and I was correct.

The book was not a particularly easy read but every page offered  dazzling prose, magnificent language – and this from a native Russian speaker. The language is extraordinary . I found I had to read with my notebook and pencil at hand, to record the words I didn’t recognize or understand.  I later hauled out my huge Shorter Oxford Dictionary and even that august tome let me down a couple of times.

The scope of the novel is super-ambitious. Nabokov wrote  a detailed foreword, followed by a poem of 999 lines in 4 Cantos, followed by a Commentary on the poem of 173 pages, which is the narrative of the story, as well as  supplying a genuine commentary on the poem! He finished off with an index of nine pages : A – Z of infinite detail – a huge amount of work!

Furthermore, the actual story has two parallel threads: the story of Charles Xavier, King Charles the Beloved of Zembla (a fictitious Balkan country) who flees to exile in the USA. The second thread is the account by, Professor Charles Kinbote, neighbour and friend of John Shade, the poet.  Kinbote lands up  becoming the editor and custodian of Shade’s monumental poem. Are the two threads connected, or are they not?  The plot is intricate – reminiscent of a set of nested Russian dolls.

And – a big plus point! – Nabokov is very funny, which in the setting of academia , literature and murder, is unexpected. He’s droll, he’s witty.

An anonymous  reviewer wrote “ One of the most original and creative novelists of our time”. I don’t think this comment does justice to the novel.  But the following comment by Martin Amis does do justice:  “The variety, force and richness of Nabokov’s perceptions have not even the palest rival in modern fiction – the nearest  thing to pure sensual pleasure that prose can offer”.

If you’re in the mood for a modern classic, something different, then read “Pale Fire.”

 

 

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THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO – Junot Diaz


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Book Review 

I finally caught up with this 2008 novel which was greatly acclaimed at the time.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction – deservedly so. It’s original. There’s a nerdy anti-hero (Oscar); feisty Dominican female relatives; the history of the Dominican Republic during the years of the dreadful Trujillo dictatorship and post-dictatorship into the 90s.  We get a picture of expat Dominican Republic (DR) people fighting to make a new life in the USA. I enjoyed the book despite seriously grim DR historical content, which was in lengthy footnotes; normally long footnotes annoy the socks off me, but the slightly  droll tone of the account made them palatable.

I knew absolutely nothing about the DR and  had to consult my atlas to locate the country.  I  discovered DR was in the Caribbean. The Island of New Hispaniola, was divided into two – Haiti and the DR.  Haiti having an even darker, more violent, grimmer history than the DR if that can even be possible.

Reading the book certainly puts the Republic of South Africa’s dismal history  into perspective.  Sometimes we tend to forget we’re not the only country with a difficult and dangerous past. Man! those South American dictators were something else – torture was their middle name.  Urrggghhh!!

The black DR women were ferocious survivors – loud, harsh, sexy. Their child-rearing methods would not go down well in today’s p.c. climate. Despite this, their kids survived, although the book title might give prospective readers a clue.  A recommended read,it has warmth and humour,  but not for the faint hearted.

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The  Christmas Gift  –  by A M Smith ©


This short-short story was my entry to our Writers’ Circle monthly writing exercise.  The prompt was, “underneath the Xmas tree…”  which starts off  the story. Read on!  

Underneath the Xmas tree lay the long box, the contents of which would end my marriage, remove that which I held most dear. I didn’t know it at the time of course, and hindsight is hardly useful after the event.

I noticed Pam’s expression when she spotted the long box  under the tree on Christmas Eve. She looked at the box, and turned to me with an odd expression. A mixture of despair and anger, I suppose.

“If that’s my gift,“ she said slowly, pointing at the box, “you obviously didn’t buy me perfume, like I asked you to, did you? You just don’t get it, do you?” she snapped, and left the room, slamming the door behind her.

Women! What can I say? I was accustomed to her seemingly eternal disappointment. I shrugged, and went outside to brush stray leaves off my front lawn. Although small, it was perfect in every respect.  Edges neatly trimmed, grass evenly mowed; glowing  emerald green, despite the deepening dusk. I surveyed it with pride, and felt my customary  warm glow of satisfaction.

Christmas Day came and went. Pam’s  lukewarm reception of  her Christmas gift  was unsurprising. I can’t bear wasting money, and perfume – I ask you? An   overpriced product with over-elaborate packaging; a few squirts and it’s all gone. Whereas the new Hoover I bought  her for Christmas would last us for years. A five year guarantee on the motor, the latest technology, light and easy to handle, and only a subdued hum when you switched it on. I gave it a trial run on the lounge carpet. It worked like a dream, as I knew it would.

Returning to work after the Christmas weekend came as a relief. To say the domestic atmosphere had been  frosty would be an understatement. But I bore it with my accustomed cheerfulness. These things are sent to try us, as we all know.

I walked briskly from the station, down our street towards home, a nice cup of tea, and then some  lawn maintenance – the perfect end to my day.

Hello, I thought, what’s a taxi doing outside our house?

And: why is there soil on the pavement outside our property?

   And then: What’s the new Hoover doing on my  lawn? why is my long extension cord running out  through the lounge French Doors?

As I hesitated by our gate, trying to make sense of  these unusual  factors, Pam burst out of the front door, wearing her coat, and yanking her biggest wheelie suitcase behind her.

She pointed to the Hoover in the middle of my lawn.

“Seeing you’re so keen on the Hoover and your bloody lawn, I thought I’d put the two together and make life absolutely marvellous for you – now you can Hoover your lawn and have the most perfect grass in the world!”

I stood there gaping.

“Watch!” she commanded, abandoning her suitcase, marching onto my lawn – in high heels,  in high heels! How could she? My lawn …

Pam grabbed the Hoover, kicked the start button and it purred into life, moving smoothly and efficiently over the grass.

“See?” yelled Pam. “The perfect combination  – you and the Hoover on your ruddy lawn. Now it can be spotless. You love spotless, don’t you?  And don’t worry about  the grass mucking up the Hoover engine, I’ve taken care of that too, don’t you worry!”  She shot me a malevolent glare as she barged through the gate, wrenching  her suitcase into the waiting taxi,

How could the Hoover operate on grass? My grass! My precious lawn! I rushed over to the Hoover and suddenly it hit me.

Astroturf .

 

 

 

 

 

 

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*A PASSION FOR PISTACHIOS


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