WINTER WOES  – from Chocolat


Chocolat the Literary Critic

It’s been terribly cold this winter. With my short coat, I feel the cold dreadfully. Fortunately my house catches the winter afternoon sun, so when possible I sunbathe on the bed in the spare bedroom. As you can see from the photo, its fairly comfortable.


In the mornings, if the weather is dry and the sun comes out, I relax on the patio table, soaking up the rays. Its sheltered from the wind, always a good thing on a Cape winter day.

My attendant has been quite good this year, heating up my personal hot-cushion and putting it into my Cat House (why are you sniggering? It’s a standard blue foam igloo. Hah! Humans!)She also provides under-cat-heating, in the evenings, while she watches her moving pictures. She has her uses.

At night I make a beeline for our winter feather duvet, which is lovely, if my attendant remembers to switch on the electric blanket. Life can be hard for a cat.






I’m still shaking my head.   Chiefly in bemused bafflement. Why?

Last night I watched a BBC programme entitled The Naked Village. The title says it all. The documentary dealt with a 12 acre Village called Spiel Platz . I watched – drop-jawed, initially, I must admit, but it was amazing how soon I got over my initial – what? astonishment? shock? distaste? Believe me, elderly wrinkled genitalia are much better of hidden behind clothing!

The tone of the programme was matter-of-fact and not a hint of innuendo, humour, bias, or anything whatsoever other than straightforward reporting on a small group of villagers going about their daily round – painting fascia boards, gardening, sunbathing, swimming, working in their kitchens, reading the paper over a pint in the pub. Except that everybody is stark naked.

Spiel Platz village in Hertfordshire is the home of Britain’s oldest naturist colony. Situated a few miles outside St Albans, and is a permanent home to the owners of 34 of the little bungalows. There are another 24 houses ­available to rent to summer visitors.

The mainly two-bed bungalows come with all mod cons, including mains ­electricity, water and sewage.

Splashing in the swimming pool, mowing the lawn, even enjoying a pint in the local, its inhabitants are always stripped for action. The village was founded by Charles Macaskie, who bought the leafy 12-acre site for £500 in 1929.

The heart of the village is its club house where the residents get together in the altogether for discos, karaoke sessions, quiz nights and pool tournaments.

Firstly I’m amazed that the famously changeable British climate hasn’t put off the naturists. They all had nice tans, and the documentary showed gorgeously sunny scenes – all well and good in summer, but what about the remainder of the year, I wondered? Visitors to the village may remain clothed, and the villagers refer to them as ‘Textiles’.  However, when the  Villagers venture into the outside world which they do periodically (shopping, dentists’ visits and the like) they turn into Textiles, like the rest of us. Mercifully. Imagine geriatric shoppers in their birthday suits in Tesco?

Secondly, Spiel Platz needs to recruit new members. The current community in middled-aged to very elderly. As part of their recruitment drive they hosted a Naked Yoga Day and about half the participants appeared to be in the 20 – 40 age group, but whether any of them signed up as residents, wasn’t revealed. One of the residents was of the opinion that today’s youngsters were so influenced by peer pressure that they were not inclined to even give Naturism a try.

When Spiel Platz was started way back in the late 1920s, Naturism was seen as a fad, or a daring declaration of rebellion. But nowadays? I think its time has passed, what with the proliferation of Nudist Beaches, topless beaches, and scanty revealing clothing. Not to mention the relaxed attitude to nudity in Art, cinema and so on. I remember back in the 1960s a gentleman called Beau Brummel started a Naturist resort in South Africa, which was (mainly) seen as sinful, sexual and/or disgusting at the time. The apartheid government closed it down, but it resurfaced years later. Definitely under the heading of nudge-nudge, wink-wink, har-har.

Times have changed, and it seems Naturism is alive and well in our country : .

While I’ve enjoyed skinny dipping on the odd occasion (swimming nude is a delicious sensation) but going about your household chores, or gardening, or DIY, well, I can see practical difficulties arising.

So: to each his own, but on this topic, not for me.










I learnt a marvellous new word early this morning: petaflop. Do a Miranda and repeat out aloud several times: petaflop. Petaflop. Isn’t it a satisfying word? I picked it up in a BBC article ( on Shaheen II the new Saudi supercomputer – snappily named KAUST – King Abdullah University of Science and Technology   – for short, which crunches data in petaflops i.e.  “A petaflop is equal to about one quadrillion calculations per second. One estimate suggests it would take a human about 32,000,000 years to complete the same task “ . So how about that? Petaflop .

P.S. Miranda – a hilarious BBC sitcom featuring the tall, ungainly Miranda, who is quirkiness personified, and revels in the repetition of odd words.







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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)

Recently I found a till-slip doing duty as a bookmark inside a second-hand book. The slip was written in Portuguese and told me the book had been sold by the Sodiler Livraria on the 23rd June, 2003. Presumably in Brazil, because that’s where the website led me – to a Brazilian bookstore. How about that, for a well travelled book? I would love to know how this particular book landed up in a box of donated books, in Cape Town, South Africa. Seeing the book in which it was lodged was The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, I suppose I should not be unduly surprised – Mr Ripley being a man of surprises, mystery, illusion and delusions.


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Just a Paragraph; these short snippets appear on my blog when I’m pushed for time and/or inspiration.)

There I was, en route to the shops, driving slowly through the entrance to the parking area, when I almost collected a mascot for my front bumper. Fortunately for the young guy using at the raised pedestrian crossing, I’m a slow, old lady driver, and I gave a tootle on my hootle, otherwise it would have been my Toyota Yaris v.s. Kid. And the score would have been Kid – 0, Yaris – goal! The kid had his head down, utterly absorbed with the screen on his mobile, totally oblivious to his surroundings. I mean – really! Hello? Earth to kid: there are cars on the roads & pedestrians need to keep their wits about them. While you’re crossing a street in a high-density traffic area it’s a brilliant idea to put your mobile in your pocket, and watch the traffic. Revolutionary plan, I know, but as a Survival Tip, it can’t be beat.






In early February I realised I kept coming across articles dealing with facets of the same theme : living frugally. For example, in a most unlikely local publication, the YOU Magazine, there was a feature article on Living Frugally. Somewhat ironic considering the desperate poverty afflicting many of South Africa’s citizens, but not everyone in SA is living on the brink. We have a nice thick layer of fat cats, purring contentedly, insulated by corruption; but that’s another story.

The article  featured an American woman, who is famous in the US for promoting thrifty living. I didn’t note her name, but she’s married, lives in Utah, and has four kids. Seems she‘s often on American TV explaining the principles. I read  her suggestions and didn’t find any hints that were new to me – I’ve been living frugally for years and could teach her a thing or two! But that’s by the by. The point is: thrift is headline news.

De-cluttering is another current buzzword. I’ve seen blog posts and print articles, as well as TV programmes urging us to either Keep it if its precious, Donate if its excess, or Turf it out if it’s well and truly finished.

 I had an interesting conversation with a German friend  on this topic, and she said that as a ‘War Baby’ i.e. born in the early to mid 1940’s, she tended to hoard possessions, because “I might need it one day”.  She attributes this mind-set to early childhood when everything had to be kept, ‘just in case’, because of war-time rationing and shortages.

I can relate to this, as I was also a War Baby. We were living in Central/East Africa, and suddenly there were no imported goods, due to war-time disruption of shipping. Our mothers had to haul out their sewing machines and knitting needles and get busy, making clothing for the entire family. Our Clarke’s sandals had the toes carefully cut out, so that our growing toes could spill over the edge of the sole. Going barefoot wasn’t an option, due to the dreaded jiggers in the sand.

Another minor trend, has been blog posts on Minimalism for Writers. When I consider some popular blockbusters like the Game of Thrones series, or the Ken Follett novels, or gigantic novels like the Goldfinch, this might not be such a bad idea!

A  book-related de-cluttering tip is this one: every time you acquire a new book you must donate or sell a book from your shelves. Hmm. I’m not quite so sure about this one. I love my books, and enjoy their presence in my home. I loan them out and share them, but they need to come home to Mama at some point. I’m prepared to re-cycle, live on lentils, wear hand-me-down clothes, but this book-turfing idea fills me with horror! Not for me.









59c5c304fa6265ce88b15e0e6d7e1497Book Review 

Tim Winton is one of my favourite Australian writers. He writes strong, muscular prose – his writing is very physical – and because his writing is pared down, it works at a straightforward and powerful level.

Breath is about two boys who catch the surfing bug. Winton captures the breathless rough and tumble of 12 year olds, living in a small, boring Australian town near the coast – you’re THERE, with every page you turn. It’s a coming of age novel that moves from surfing Nirvana, into sexual adventure, the repercussions of which morph into a lifetime of adult struggle.

I’m forever reading respectful praise of Hemingway’s writing – how unadorned it is. I’m no Hemingway fan, all that macho posturing leaves me stone cold, whereas Winton, equally unadorned, delivers breathtaking novels, every time. To me he’s the Australian colossus – telling it like it is, with memorable characters, and landscapes that dance before your very eyes.

I wish I could write like Winton does! If you’ve never tried his books, do yourself a favour and read Breath. I’ve read it twice, and am quite sure I shall read it again in a year or two.



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It’s official. I have now decided – once and for all – I am not going to try reading any more of Howard Jacobson’s novels. He and I just don’t get along. I always have the feeling he’s waving a flag saying look at me! I’m so clever – look at this literary trick!

When he won the Booker Prize for The Finkler Question I eagerly dived in, and emerged defeated, three quarters of the way through. I became weary with the middle-aged male maunderings about identity. I abandoned the book, deciding I wasn’t  a clever,Literary, Londoner and that his book wasn’t aimed at me.

And now it’s happened again, this time with Zoo Time. The blurb was encouraging –  the word ‘funny’ was writ large.  I must admit he is, well, not funny,  but witty, when he discourses on the dearth of readers, the demise of the novel, the despair of publishers. But these literary disasters are a sub-theme.

His protagonist is – you’ve guessed it – a middle-aged male novelist, obsessed with erotic ideas and plans centred on his mother-in-law, for goodness’ sake. This, despite the fact, that the narrator is married  (for over 20 years, mark you!) to her flaming haired mercurial daughter, Vanessa. Yet again, I wearied at the interminable mental writhing over his fervid fantasies.

Menopausal mens’ sexual hang-ups don’t do it for me. So: an abandoned book from the TBR pile. Oh well: I tried.


GAME CONTROL Lionel Shriver

Another abandoned book from my TBR Pile : I see a pattern emerging here.  Maybe those books are lurking, unread, in the back of my cupboard for a reason?

The book was too dire. I read one-third of it. Novel is set in Nairobi, Africa, and the themes are Family Planning, AIDS and demographic issues. It outlines Africa’s awful socio-economic problems very neatly – I just could not face reading about these issues again ,  it was too close to home. I face them daily in my local media.  Lionel Shriver is never an easy read, and this one was a lulu, in terms of being a hard read. The male central character – I wanted to kick him; the female central character I wanted to shake violently and tell her to get a backbone, shed her Liberal guilt.  Aaarggh!!

This said, I am admirer of Lionel Shriver. Her We Need to Talk About Kevin  is one of the most powerful, shocking books I have ever read.


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Turns out that my day of birth was a Wednesday: I discovered this when doing a fun Internet thing  that asked you to “Click to see which was the Top Hit song on the day you were born.” (BTW: answer was “Daddy” – a song I’ve never heard of.  I’ve always  liked  “My heart belongs to Daddy “ – as growled by the magnificent  Eartha Kitt, but not just plain “Daddy”. ) Now I wouldn’t mind Eartha Kitt as a role model – love that purring voice, love the risqué limericks – I still own an LP – yes, genuine vinyl, of Eartht Kitt singing the  songs from the soundtrack of the 60s movie St Louis Blues.  Fabulous blues and jazz singing, and oh! that voice ! Not to mention the sexy chassis that housed it …

Anyway: this must mean I’m ‘Wednesday’s Child’ which the old rhyme tells us  ‘Wednesday’s Child is full of Woe’.  Oh dear! Not what I was hoping for. I’ve always aimed for chirpy and cheerful – well, on the whole: we all have our blacker moments, don’t we? When we get that envelope marked SARS (South African Revenue Services) or we open the phone bill and wish we hadn’t; or when we read in the newspaper that some horrible person has been shooting cats with his/her pellet gun, in the neighbourhood. And so on.

I’m half-Scottish, on my Dad’s side, and sometimes the Scots have a dour streak in them. On the downside I can be terse and too forthright.  Maybe this is  due to  being born on a Wednesday?

However, thinking about Wednesday’s Child reminds me of a child named Wednesday, that is, the fictional Wednesday Addams – from the Addams Family cartoon/film/TV series. That vengeful child: she of the rigid pigtails, black clothing, lowering expression and grim determination. A child not to be trifled with. A child filled with implaccable determination to achieve her (usually) black ends … Well – there’s nothing wrong with willpower and determination, is there? Good qualities, wouldn’t you say? Maybe I am Wednesday’s Child, after all.




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THE MOLE PEOPLE  by Jennifer Toth

Book Review

Who needs SF/Fantasy when an alternate universe exists right under our noses? Provided you live in New York  City, that is.

An extraordinary book  by an extraordinarily brave young woman: 24 year old Jennifer Toth, who explored the sub-culture living below the streets of Manhattan in disused (but also  in currently operational) subway tunnels, closed/abandoned Metro Stations, in caves and natural caverns underground.  She went into the tunnels for 2 years – a dangerous project, which she stopped when Blade, a tunnel dweller, threatened her life.  Two common threads emerge in the book: drugs as a frequent cause or reason to drop out, and it sounded as if the majority of Tunnel Dwellers (aka The Mole People) were  black – a  big indictment of the American social and educational system.

The Tunnel Dwellers should not be confused with  the street-living homeless, who live aboveground.

Toth interacted with the Metro Transit Police, – often mostly policing search, harassment and eviction operations, down in the tunnels. Other NGOS,  and Social Agencies,  had  projects with the Mole People. But  Toth found them to be ineffectual, or in the case of NGos, sometimes self-surviving. The Metro Transit Police ‘s methods and attitudes she found to be questionable.  Official estimates of the numbers of tunnel dwellers ranged uncertainly between 4 000 – 6 000. In short, nobody really knew.

Below ground are established, organised communities, some with ‘Mayors’ as community leaders.  The Mole People care and look after their own, one community even had a designated nurse, and a teacher!

Apart from the groupings, she found  singles, pairs or trios. Some  dwellers are completely mad (literally chucked out by the Health & Welfare system). There are the drunks, the druggies, plus the plain dis-functional, who are unable to live in ordinary society;  criminals on the run, refugee children , for Heaven’s sake, fleeing abusive families or the awful Child Welfare/Adoption system. And then the Libertarians who reject taxes, Government, and every aspect of society and want to do it “their way.’ Jennifer Toth also met a couple of PhDs, living underground with their small store of treasured books.  Go figure.

Some Mole People even had low grade jobs above ground,  e.g. in the fast-food outlets, or janitorial work, but chose to live rent free underground, because they could not afford the rental on even the most modest accommodation in NYC.

Toth met the Graffitti artists, who choose the tunnels or walls of embankments on which to inscribe their art. Yet another, different semi-underground group.

A darker group were a formal Gang who undertake contract killings (sometimes for as little as $20! How bizarre is that?)

America is  definitely not the land of golden opportunity that we might assume it to be.  The book will feature on my 2015  Top Reads, that’s for sure! Read it if you can. I read it, wide-eyed, counting my blessings.


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