Category Archives: SOCIAL COMMENT

WOMEN WHO LIVE IN CARS


 

I recently saw  The Lady in the Van –  starring the incomparable Dame Maggie Smith. The film is a 2015 British comedy-drama film directed by Nicholas Hytner, written by Alan Bennett, with Alex Jennings giving a terrific performance as Bennett. Wikipedia says :

The Lady in the Van tells the true story of Alan Bennett‘s strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her temporarily to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home. She stayed there for 15 years. As the story develops Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild, a former gifted pupil of the pianist Alfred Cortot. She had played Chopin in a promenade concert, tried to become a nun, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped, had an accident when her van was hit by a motorcyclist for which she believed herself to blame, and thereafter lived in fear of arrest.

What a story.  Imagine living in a van!  I certainly could not. Could you?  A camper-van holiday is one thing, even a three month long exploration of the USA in one of those  massive American  RVs is an option, but living in a vehicle for the foreseeable future?  I think not.

We have our own Lady living in a Vehicle, at my local shopping Centre. Not a van, but a white sedan, with a Gauteng number plate. It’s home to Sannie who spends her days wandering through  the Centre, occasionally  to be seen in the Wimpy, or the Coffee shop, exiting the supermarket clutching a small paper bag which obviously contains a meat-pie.

My first encounter with Sannie was early one morning . She was ranting and raving to thin air in the empty supermarket  parking lot. People started to gather aroundto see what the commotion was about . After a while the cops roared up, and attempted to reason with the agitated woman. At which point I had to leave, being en route to an appointment.

Some weeks after this episode, I plucked up courage and approached her one day, having  first checked that she seemed in a calm frame of mind. Due to my poor grasp of  Afrikaans I didn’t quite understand her story, which  was involved and  garbled, and I couldn’t really understand the gist of it. I told her I was worried for her safety, but she assured me she was fine, and slept “somewhere else”.  I didn’t pursue the matter further.  In South Africa, a woman sleeping in a car, alone, in a supermarket parking lot, is a very bad idea. Our national rape statistics are beyond dreadful.

I see her most days when I go to the shops, always neatly dressed in her blue denims, with her blonde hair done up in a plait and  worn around her head, like a Tyrolean milkmaid. Quite often she’s applied make-up, but her face is so weather-beaten from the fierce African sun that it’s not entirely successful.  But she tries. She’s clean and decent. She’s neatly dressed. Somewhat deranged, sure. But she tries.

Shoppers sometimes stand her to a cup of coffee, or a meal. One couple told me she was a schizophrenic, which may well be true. Sannie told me “she was waiting for her kids”. That’s sad. I wonder if her kids know the life their mother leads? Perhaps its been a long rocky road to this point in their family life, and they are exhausted beyond caring. Who knows? Our overloaded public health and social systems stagger along, they do their best, but there’s always cracks through which many people fall, and continue on downwards.

I’m counting my blessings.

Here’s a long distance pic of Sannie and her car. I felt it wouldn’t be right to sneak a close up of her,  but  if you stretch your eyes you can see the top of her head by the driver’s door. Her car is the white sedan directly under the tree in the foreground, with the pole behind it. BTW: I have changed her name to protect her identity.

 

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Filed under EXPLORING CAPE TOWN, SOCIAL COMMENT

A DAB HAND WITH THE BATH SPONGE?


 

One of the many recent political spats in South Africa, and trust me, these happen on a daily basis, is over our new Finance Minister taking his wife with him on an official visit to Paris. Questions are being asked: why was Mrs G in the official party? What did she contribute? Etc.

All good questions, seeing we are talking about apparently  (yet more) wasteful expenditure of our hard-earned taxes.

And somehow my aged brain dredged up the mischievous memory  of a married couple I knew way back in the mid-60s. He was a jockey, so naturally he was a very small man. His good wife was a very solidly built formidable Afrikaans lady, almost twice his size. My husband told me there was much mirth in the Jockeys’ Change-room, when the husband confessed that he never ever took a bath unless his wife bathed with him. Together in the bathtub, you must understand. Given his tiny size and her large size, I’m sure they both  fitted nicely into the bathtub. Despite my questioning I never discovered whether she washed his back? Massaged his aching muscles? Or maybe she saved his skinny little bod from vanishing down the plughole ? Who knows?

Now our new Finance Minister appears to be a very slender man, so maybe his good lady is a dab hand with the bath sponge?  We will never know, but maybe it’s a reasonable pretext for taking your wife with you to Paris on a business trip? Let’s face it, which woman doesn’t want to visit Paris?

But, and it’s a reasonable quibble,  preferably not at the South African Taxpayers’ expense.

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Filed under HUMOUR, POLITICS, SOCIAL COMMENT

MY NEW BOOK-THEMED BLOG


 

I subscribe to a number of WordPress blogs about books and reading,  and after enjoying them for several years, it finally dawned on me that maybe I should identify the book-related material in my  own blog  and start a second blog, devoted to books. Ping! Lightbulb flash.

So: I’m happy to announce the launch of THE BOOKSMITH BLOG  http://thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com .  Thanks again to WordPress.com for their blogging platform.  They really do make blogging easy for  wrinkly writers like yours truly. I hope you visit my new blog, even if you’re not an official Booknut like me.  If all else fails, it has quite a funny header pic.

Despatches from Timbuktu  will continue to act as my electronic soapbox where I comment on modern life, South Africa, social trends, my travels around the Western Cape and Cape Town, plus  anything else that might  attract my butterfly attention.

And not to overlook the fact that Despatches From Timbuktu  is  the one place where Chocolat can express her displeasure at my poor performance as her Personal Assistant. Sorry, Chocolat,  but you have no idea how much work building a new blog entails . I promise there’ll be fish for supper tonight. How’s that for an apology?

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Filed under BOOK REVIEWS, CHOCOLAT: MY CAT, EXPLORING CAPE TOWN, POLITICS, PRESENT & FUTURE, READING, SOCIAL COMMENT

THE FREEDOM OF UNSUBSCRIBING


 

 

You have no idea how liberating it is to tick the Unsubscribe box  and confirm that you no longer wish to receive e-mails from  xyz  site. 

Let’s face it: over time one’s interest can, do and should change. Why not? You’re not dead are you? Life flows swiftly by and some interests prove to have been but a passing fancy, or a big mistake. Did you really think you were going to learn Urdu on-line from Babbel.com?  Get a grip!

So I unsubscribed from the writing sites that were clogging up my Yahoo Inbox. Right now I’m confining myself to blogging and the occasional letter to long-time friends. I’m not writing short stories or working on a novel. So why do I need torrents of advice on 20 Sure fire tricks to get that Novel Finished!  or  Revision strategy?  or  How to Write a Killer Query letter   or Find your Agent, make a new Friend!

My Yahoo InBox should be breathing an enormous sigh of relief. I know I am.  Wading through the advice swamp was time consuming, to say the least of it. Now all I have to do is wean myself away from Pinterest. Think I’ll leave that until next week.  Softly softly catchee monkey, and all that.

And I’m firmly resisting the odd stabs of FOMO.  Do you know what that is? Fear of missing out.  Some genius has identified it as a new trend, symptomatic of our insatiable craving for electronic content.  They may be on to something. But: I will be strong! Subscriptions – be gone!

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Filed under HUMOUR, SOCIAL COMMENT, WRITING

*(JAP)BROWNED TOAST IS DEADLY


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Really?  Is there no end to the health warnings? Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t eat fried foods.   Don’t be overweight. Don’t eat tuna – it’s full of poisonous minerals. Don’t eat processed meats . Don’t eat too much salt. Don’t eat sugar. And now TOAST? Is nothing sacred?  But, the BBC – a source I trust – solemnly advises us that we need to carefully toast our morning slice to a pale golden colour – any browner, and we are at risk. Yet again. I give up. It seems that anything and everything is waiting to ambush us, and the results will be fatal. Pass me the boiled lentils and a nice glass of pure spring water. Sigh. Read the article and depress yourself.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38680622

*(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)

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Filed under FOOD, SOCIAL COMMENT

*(JAP)MY LATEST LEXICAL TREASURE


*(JAP)MY LATEST LEXICAL TREASURE

Dictionary.com has introduced me to a wonderful new word which I’m about to share with you.  I love it! Both for its comical aspect, and for its meaning. But I’m going to preface my discovery with a few general remarks on the topic of the right to free speech. Theoretically, we have this right in South Africa. But oh! the tsunami of outraged howls when a prominent person dares to voice a personal opinion.  It would seem that free speech is fine, so long as it doesn’t contradict political correctness.  Anyway, I will prudently say no more, and I will leave you to join the dots regarding my latest lexical treasure:

THROTTLEBOTTOM noun [THROT-l-bot-uh m]
1. a harmless incompetent in public office.QUOTES
If there was one function that any vice president, even a Throttlebottom, could be expected to perform it was to represent the president and the country at funerals of notables abroad.
— Carl Solberg, Hubert Humphrey: A Biography, 1984
ORIGIN
The term Throttlebottom was formed after the character Alexander Throttlebottom in the musical comedy Of Thee I Sing (1932).

 

*(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)

 

 

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Filed under POLITICS, SOCIAL COMMENT

THE GRAND PURGE


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Not of my body, let me hasten to add. Maybe I chose a misleading title for this piece.

No, no, dear readers: of my overflowing cupboards.  A blitz on the dreaded STUFF, which I have written about before. I’m not a hoarder, but it’s astonishing how stuff accumulates. Gifts, raffle prizes, sale bargains, retail madness. Regardless of the source, my cupboards are overfull.

My friend Emily inspired me to phone The Guys – she used them when she had a mega-purge of her very large house. Result : ruthlessly tossed mountains of STUFF – ornaments, bric brac, travel souvenirs, you name it –into the pile it went . The Guys arrived in their bakkie, armed with cartons, crates and ready cash (yay!) packed it, loaded it, and drove away.

I spent a hot, sweaty Sunday extracting unused item – you never know, one day I might … Sound familiar?  Out came the pristine manual typewriter, in its metal case, that I’d been keeping for the day when I retreated to the Karoo to a farm cottage sans electricity, and sans electronic aids,  to write my award winning novel. Dream on, lady. Never going to happen. Out it went.

Extra flower vases  acquired from florists’  arrangements, sent by daughters. You can always send me flowers for a birthday, I love them  – but what to do with the vases afterwards? You sell them to The Guys, that’s what!

Old, chipped ornaments, which I was definitely going to repair one day . Truly, that is the deadliest phrase in my life: one day I will …   Complete the sentence. The One Day tasks sink below a wave of accounts to be paid, vet appointments, medical appointments, meetings. No to mention the craft projects. Not even going there!  And so it goes. As you well know. And one day  is yet to arrive.

Out went my once prized collection of stone eggs. I went through a phrase when I was intrigued by gemstones, and it was fun to collect them. That phase has passed. Now I’m bewitched by postcards and Postcrossing. Lotsa fun. Can you see the butterfly mind effect at work here?

I assembled the rejects on my dining room table. There was the gigantic electric wok which was so big it wouldn’t fit into any cupboard, so has been sulking, unused, in the garage. Out it went. Here was a box with a new light fitting for the bathroom. Never installed, for technical reasons. And here – a real blast from the past: a box of stiffy disks. Remember those? PC’s are no longer manufactured with a slot in which to insert them, so …

The box of silver Apostle teaspoons that you can’t put in the dishwasher? Sorry. Bye bye. No longer of use.  But the wad of money The Guys gave me is definitely of use. Time, effort and sweat well spent. I plan to spend the cash on theatre tickets. I am definitely not buying any more STUFF.  That’s a promise!

 

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Filed under HUMOUR, SOCIAL COMMENT

SMALL TOWN’s HEART


 

 

imagesSouth Africa is not an easy country to live in.  The challenges are enormous,  ranging from the ever present threat of crime, to rising cost of living due to the drought, to our desperate water shortage here in the Western Cape.

So  I am delighted to share   a heart-warming story  from the  tiny town of  Phalaborwa, situated in Limpopo Province. Phalaborwa is small – population approx 13 500 ,  close to the famous Kruger National Park . It’s bushveld terrain. Hot, dry,  and thorny.

My sister and her husband recently drove up there  to attend her father-in-law’s funeral and help her mother-in-law sort out the paperwork and business affairs that are the inevitable result of a death. . Her in-laws   have lived in Phalaborwa for over 30 years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phalaborwa

Oom* Koos was old, well into his eighties. I never met the man, but always relish  the story of how he opened up his garage early one morning, and was literally bowled over by a leopard charging out, desperate to get back to the bush! A true  Bushveld story. How or why the leopard spent the night in Oom Koos’ garage, I don’t know. But you get the picture.

My sister told me that the town was unbelievably  supportive of the newly widowed woman. Apparently her car needed fixing urgently, and the local garage repaired it, but refused to charge her, saying “repairs were on the house”.

Likewise, when my sister and Mrs Fourie went to the local SPAR to order plates of sandwiches and snacks for the after-funeral tea, there was the same generosity. “No charge”.  Let me be clear – the family did not in any ways ask for discount or assistance, this was the spontaneous response from the SPAR Manager. “No charge – it’s on the house”.

During the week that my sister was in Phalaborwa, she told me that neighbours arrived daily, with cooked meals, forfour people,  three times a day! Not just the next-door neighbour, but different women on a daily basis.

Now that’s true, old fashioned neighbourliness. Wonderful  to discover that generosity and kindness are alive and well in the far North of South Africa! Finally some good news. Let’s all celebrate the notion of neighbourliness, sharing and kindness.  Our country needs it.

 

*Oom – respectful title bestowed on older men . Afrikaans origin

 

 

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Filed under SOCIAL COMMENT, TRAVEL

*(JAP) IT’S OFFICIAL – I’M BATTY!


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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 filled in one of those Facebook quiz thingys, to find out my animal equivalent . I slogged through the questions and waited with bated breath. Bet I‘m one of the cats, I thought. I fancy being a leopard – or  a Margay ?  Hah! Wrong. Very wrong.  The most unlikely creature: according to their algorithm, I’m a – wait for it – I’m a BAT.  Noooooo. Uh-uh. No way. It’s the polar opposite of my everyday life. I’m the irritating person who rises at 05.00 (nagged  by my cat),  and leaps into action, with a smile on my dial, headed towards the day’s To-Do-List.  Everybody hates me. Must admit, I can see why. In short, I am a morning person, de luxe. As the sun goes down, so do I. A night-time person I am not.  Flitting around at all hours has no appeal whatsoever. Never mind the insect diet and the unsavoury blood-sucking aspect –  yuck.  Either I ticked the wrong box in a short-sighted moment, or else they need to dust off their algorithms. At heart,  I’m  still a leopard!

 

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Filed under CHOCOLAT: MY CAT, HUMOUR, SOCIAL COMMENT

MY SURVIVAL STRATEGY FOR CHRISTMAS 2017


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I can hear my readers screaming: Gag that woman! Christmas 2017? Noooooo – we’ve just staggered away from December 2016. Please!  Enough already!

Keep calm. Don’t panic. Make a nice cuppa tea and when you’re feeling calmer, continue reading. Okay. Everybody  take a slow deep breath and we’ll  analyze what makes (most) Festive Seasons less than ideal.

There’s so much to do isn’t there?  The shopping, the  decorations, the enormous lunch, the gifts, the hordes of relatives; the washing up; the clean-up; the family rows that sometimes last for decades. And, last but not least, Uncle George. Every family has one. I can see you nodding your heads. The awkward relative  your conscience prods you to include. And then you wish you hadn’t.

Where to begin?  Here’s my #1 tip:

  1. Shopping: start now in January at the January Sales. I’m pretty sure every country has them. Big money-saver. Bung your bargains into a plazzie bag, write the names of the recipients on the plastic with Magic Marker, and stow in a dedicated, secret  carton in your garage.
  2. Failing the January Sales, make a big diary note around September to start attending monthly Craft Markets and keep a sharp eye out for Church Bazaars. You will discover unique handmade items, often at very reasonable prices.
  3. Immediately after Christmas scoop up markdowns of  gift wrap, tags and bags . Pop into that box in the Garage. Ka Ching! Saving money!

#2 tip : Decorations.  Buy a Christmas wreath, attach to the front door and when somebody moans about the lack of decorations, tell them firmly that if they want more decorations, then they’d better get cracking and provide some, because this is the year you’re on strike. Trust me, the world will keep on turning without tinsel.

#3 tip:  The Enormous Lunch.  Announce around October that this is the last year you will be hosting The Christmas Lunch, and furthermore, this year,  it will be a Bring & Share Banquet.  Circulate  the menu and insist that the diners commit , in writing, to one major item e.g. the turkey. You will provide the venue, crockery, cutlery, one edible item,  plus  coffee/liqueurs/choccies afterwards.

AND, the cherry on top – once assembled around the festive board, hold a lucky draw , the winner of which will be the host of next year’s Bring & Share Banquet. Propose an enthusiastic toast to the lucky winner.

#4 tip: Buy a dishwasher.  Yes, you do need one. Don’t listen to anybody telling you they use a colossal amount of water, they don’t. Or that they will ruin the family silver : actually, yes, they will, which is why you will use perfectly good stainless steel cutlery. Ditto the same dire effects on the bone china. Take that heirloom 60 piece Royal Albert dinner service to the nearest antique shop and flog it. You have other crockery, for goodness sake.  The proceeds will help pay for the dishwasher.

#5 tip: Secret Santa : Hold a draw around October where your Xmas Lunch  guests will draw the name of one person, for whom they will bring one gift, to the value of …  Fill in the magic number:  not more than X.  End of story. Your garage trove of gift bargains is for your nearest & dearest, or people like your hairdresser. You cannot live without a good hairdresser. So give him/her a prezzie.

#6 tip:  Uncle George/Aunty Maud:  Using part of your loot from flogging the heirloom silver and the  EPNS gravy boat, cunningly book a table for the old fossil for a slap-up Christmas dinner at a local hotel. Naturally you will book taxi transport. You will of course break the good news in the form of a fictitious Raffle prize? Anonymous Benefactor?   This way he/she  can’t possibly totter through your front door on December 25th. Fingers crossed.

#7 tip: Buy a large diary now, yes, on 2 January, and map out your Defense Plan for the next Christmas jollies. Work out your strategy, diarise, execute, and relax. Oh, and a P.S. Don’t think you can get away with running your diary system on your mobile phone. Bad idea. They tend to get lost, stolen, dropped and broken. But your hardcover diary stays safely at home, and the Magic Strategy is preserved.

#8 tip: One last essential pointer. At the next mammoth bottle store sale, stock up on a couple of bottles of your favourite relaxant – sherry? (very seasonal), brandy? (warming and cheering) gin? (good for  cooling G&Ts for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere) . Hide your haul in the Garage Box, and start medicating around 15 November.  You should be in a relaxed frame of mind for the upcoming festivities.

Finally: for mercy’s sake,  do not lose that Diary!

 

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Filed under HUMOUR, PRESENT & FUTURE, SOCIAL COMMENT