Friday, June 25, 2010

Water Tight!

I have a dirty confession to make - I bathed last night!! So unpolitically correct to admit it considering our dam levels are at a critical level here in Port Elizabeth, but frankly I couldn't give a dam!
I care about our water situation but last night I needed to relax, meditate and pamper myself and I can only achieve this result in over a foot of steamy, foaming, scented bathwater surrounded by candlelight.

I can't remember when the bath tub and my sanity became linked. I was born into a home without a bathroom - baths were taken in front of the fire in the front room. Thankfully I have no recollection of this as we moved out to the suburbs when I was aged three. I remember being taken to see the building progress of our new semi, climbing the wide stairs and finding myself in a pristine white bathroom. I hopped into the empty bath and sat there fully clothed trying it out for size.

Most of my childhood was spent trying to avoid water - particularly soapy water. Moving to the country from the cobbled streets and Victorian terraces of town was like moving to a new world. We tramped through fields to school and dawdled on the way home collecting natures treasures - sycamore wings and conkers, wild flowers and blackberries. Weekends were spent climbing trees, making dens in the farmers fields or swinging from ropes over water. We took our shoes and socks off and waded through the muddy brook looking for tadpoles and sticklebacks. We came home dusty and dirty in the evenings and when bedtime came, most nights it was a quick wash in the hand basin with a soapy flannel. Baths were something that happened reluctantly on Sundays.
Once at, primary school, when we were learning about graphs, Mrs Hamilton decided to demonstrate bar graphs by doing a classroom poll on how many of times a week we bathed. She asked,"Who bathes 7 nights a week?" then counted the raised hands and noted the answer as a block on the blackboard. I was amazed at the response. Then she asked who bathed six nights,then five ect. I realised at this point that I was in a definite minority and when it got down to three nights my arm shot up - there was no way my nickname was going to be Stinker!

Sunday night was for baths and hair washing there was a strict routine and pecking order as we all shared the water. The three girls bathed individually in age order - I was third as I am the youngest sister. Then the three boys jumped in together. After their bath the murky water went down the plughole and we watched TV in our pyjamas shiny faced and squeaky clean.

When I got into my teens, baths were an occasion to be planned. We had an immersion heater and with such a big family, hot water a precious commodity. You had to make sure that the immersion was switched on and that no one stole your bathwater. We had one bathroom that served a household of eight so baths were usually interrupted by loud door knocking and desperate shouts of "Hurry up - I HAVE to go NOW!"
The weekends were for partying so Thursday was pamper night for bubble baths, hair washing, facials and manicures. Thursday night water was Holy Water!

Married with young children, baths were rushed affairs fitted in between childcare, chores, cleaning, cooking and collapse. No leisurely soaks - there wasn't time - and often there was an uninvited guest to share the experience.

So just when I think I have earned the right to chill in a bath full to my chin with bubbles, I find myself living on a dry continent. The planet decides to change its weather patterns and its raining in the wrong place at the wrong time. The dams are drying up and my precious bath water is in jeopardy. A shower is a wonderful thing in the morning or when you have spent time on the beach or in the garden but a bath - sigh - I would love to relax, meditate and pamper myself in some steamy, foaming, scented bathwater surrounded by candlelight every single night. Mrs Hamilton would be proud of me!

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I have only been to three live soccer games in my life. Two in one day in the UK - 26December 1998 - I sat frozen to the spot and watched Blackburn play Aston Villa and Bolton play....some other team. Cold, Grey, Damp! The chanting crowd stood huddled in their beanies and jackets - their scarves hanging limply. The clocked ticked slowly!

All I can say is third time lucky! My experience last week was more like a carnival party - a sea of bright colour moving, flapping, laughing, waving and of course honking! I was lucky to be given tickets to the Portugal and Ivory Coast Game and our preparations started days in advance as we searched for flags and soccer shirts, then there was vuvuzela practice - and what is a soccer game without a silly hat. To say we were a colourful as we set off is an understatement!

We decided to do the park and ride from Kings Beach and arrived to a sea of activity. FIFA volunteers cheerily directed us to parking and then to the l-o-n-g queue for the concertina bus. Flags fluttered everywhere red, white and green of Portugal and the orange, white and green stripes of Ivory Coast all mingled side by side. Painted faces in the same colours, hats of all sizes and shapes with soccer balls, feathers, bells a plenty. Vuvuzelas blared - some more tunefully than others and we had one member of our party who just couldn't get it right! We learned that it's impossible to get the right result when you are laughing.

In no time at all we were at the front of the queue to find out - horror of horrors -that we were supposed to have a bus ticket. Not to worry we were just ushered on by the official, "too late now - enjoy the game"! I just happened to find myself in the concertina section and as we went around corners I realised how flexible I was! Such a fun bus with the Portugal fans singing and the Ivory Coast fans vuvu-ing!

Our Port Elizabeth stadium greeted us like a great white pumpkin and everything was run like clockwork. No pushing, no shoving - a steady flow of excited people - 36,050of them. Entering the stands was like entering a noisy party in full swing. We found our place and made instant friends with the Portugal fans to our left and the Ivory Coast fans to our right. Introductions were made and biltong was passed around then a huge cheer as the players were escorted out with their flags and a respectful silence as the anthems were played. A whistle blow and the game was on.

The Portugal side - not a hair our of place! Each man the height of physical fitness and the great Renaldo looking lovely in white. The Ivory Coast team were like giants in comparison - they shimmered in orange! Living up to their nickname 'Les Elephants' - Strong and surprisingly fleet of foot,the crowd cheered every time the mighty Drogba got possession of the ball! Vuvuzelas blared but the noise was no where near as ear splitting as the press has made out - it just added to the throbbing atmosphere. Mexican waves fluttered around the stadium - what Fun!
It was not the best soccer played and resulted in a goalless draw. As we left the stadium there was sense of disappointment - whether it was because of the result or because the party was over for now, I'm not sure. The crowds made their way to the buses in the crown filled streets - chaos reigned but everyone was well behaved.

I couldn't believe that it was all over - where had the time gone? It was an experience that I will never forget - I was so proud of Port Elizabeth and our part in making the 2010 dream a reality.
I now fully understand why we are called 'The Rainbow Nation'.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Grim Eater

I had to laugh the other day when I read a news article about an individual in New Zealand who was attending funerals in order to get a free lunch. He must have some African in him, I thought. Apparently the food bill at funerals in the Xhosa community is astronomical as the recession bites - literally. I did some diversity training last year and the Xhosa delegates were complaining bitterly about the cost of the feeding frenzy that follows a traditional funeral.

Apparently it's big business in the townships with funerals being attended by hundreds of people, many who didn't even know the deceased - a funeral is a meal ticket. They shared that, apart from the immense financial burden that they suffer, the quantity and quality of the food is also scrutinised. I was told that you can order it in polystyrene containers to be distributed to the hundreds of mourners.

It got me thinking of what sort of eats one would serve at such an occasion. Finger snacks? Spare ribs? Black Mushrooms? Death by Chocolate?

Death is no laughing matter really, but there is something about it that brings about an irreverence in some people. I love this clip from the series Coupling:

My British family share a black sense of humour and are at their wittiest at a funeral, strange, perhaps its the Irish in us! Just as we were getting ready for my mothers funeral there was a knock at our front door. My sisters and I grabbed our bags thinking it was the hearse to find a scruffy man standing their trying to sell us manure! We just killed ourselves laughing – as we knew my mum would have seen the humour in the situation!

My fathers funeral ran late and the funeral procession was whisked to the church at great speed. As we bobbed about in the back of the limousine we laughed ourselves silly and thought my dad, an retired pilot - who often confused driving his car with piloting an aircraft - would really have enjoyed this car chase!

As for my epitaph – perhaps – ‘She died laughing’ would be appropriate I think?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Desperate Housewife or Domestic Goddess?

I think that people generally fall into two categories - those who like, and those who don't like - Cooking! These days it's quite a sin to be the latter. Food has become the new entertainment and it really is not kosher these days... well not to know what's kosher!

Jamie has taught us that hamburgers are hip, tarts are trendy, cold cabbage is cool as is everything, as long as it's mixed with Extra Virgin. Speaking of which - Nigella sashayed into the kitchen and has taken making spotted dick to an all new level. Cooking is now sexy! A tactile, finger-sucking, lip-licking, breathless activity for those with serious libido and a wonder bra. Nigella has taught us that life is not worth living without a daily decadent dessert, cream is the fountain of youth and who needs a whisk when your fingers do the job just as well.

These super-foodies all live within walking distance of the most amazing delis with seventy odd different cheeses or even better, huge markets where you can virtually butcher your own meat or where fish is presented on a marble slab still flapping - excited at the prospect of the fresh dill sauce you are going to drench it in!

They also have simply marvellous friends who come laughingly into their dinner parties with much air kissing and arms of flowers as an offering to the Domestic Goddess. They chink glasses and threw wine back and no one ever gets drunk or fat or spills Merlot on the tablecloth. There are no heated discussions or inappropriate advances to other peoples partners nor does anyone play with the candle wax occasionally setting fire to their serviette, or yodel the National anthem, nor do they eat out of the serving dishes.....unlike my world!

I was a desperate housewife for many years although I have worked hard to become a fairly recent domestic Goddess. On my journey I have burnt boiled eggs, burnt baked items (several times), and blackened many dishes that were not supposed to be Cajun. I have even burnt the plates that were put in the oven to warm.
I had no idea that you had to thicken gravy and served my new husband meat swimming in meat juices to which I had added a tasty stock cube. It took me a while to get the hang of gravy and sauces, and my tea strainer came in very handy as a de-lumper for many years (and still occasionally).

I have roasted chicken a-la-plastic with the giblets still inside. I have served garlic apple crumble which I baked in the oven with a garlic bread - that was quite interesting and perhaps was the inspiration for the latest nouveau herb deserts. Speaking of which I have made a cheese cake with chive cottage cheese - quite different although the little green flecks went well with the lemon jelly colour.

I once made a complicated orange dessert which involved scooping out the middle and folding something whipped and custardy into the centre. These were great for dinner parties as they could be made in advance - which I did - not banking on my young son knocking one off the platter and riding over it with his sit-and-ride at the eleventh hour. I rescued it and made a note to serve it to myself and not eat it - except my very helpful husband insisting on bringing them in and placing them in front of our guests while I sat in silent horror as a friend ate it.

My journey to goddess has not been plain sailing and as a true warrior I have the scars to prove it - several burn marks on my lower arms, a few from knife slashes on my fingers and I once slipped on melted butter resulting in a dislocated shoulder. I have had several small fires and managed set the smoke alarm off in my son's apartment in Shanghai causing a small international incident.

I think that I have earned my title of Domestic Goddess and will be defending it daily - I think Nigella would cry in ecstasy at my Pavlova and Jamie - well I could also show him a thing or two with whipped cream!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Oops - that didnt come out the way I intended it to!

I laughed last week when an acquaintance commented that it was lovely to see me and that I had such an infected smile! I am sure her compliment was not meant to undermine my dental hygiene - she obviously meant infectious! She wasn't embarrassed because she didn't know she had made a faux pas.

Unlike my embarrassment, when my father enquired about the homework I was busy with, and I replied that we were learning about orgasms in biology. He gave a nervous cough and looked intently at the TV - I blushed bright red as I knew that what I had meant to say was organisms and I also knew what an orgasm was - although I didn't want my dad to know that I knew!

I was once stopped by a traffic officer - in those days before cameras when a mustached and sun glassed uniform would jump out of the bushes at stop streets. When I pleaded my innocence and said that I had in fact stopped, he said my wheels were definitely revolting! When I laughed hysterically, he threatened to arrest me for assault!!

My grandmother arrived in a panic one Monday morning with Sunday paper, The News of the World tucked under her arm. She was very perturbed by an article about 'Lebanese' women and shocked that she had "lived on this earth for seventy years and didn't know that women who loved other women existed!"

I had 7 years of French lessons at school before I realised that I was born without the part of the brain that allows me to learn a second language (apparently we use a completely different part of the brain to learn language as adults to that we use as children) During a French oral exam I managed to tell Mademoiselle Wood that "je suis fou!" (I am insane) instead of "j'ai froid" (I'm cold). A bit like Lauren!

Sometimes it's not the speaker who gets it all wrong! I once took a telephone call inviting me to a special opening at Bhiso - WOW I thought - with a picture of myself in traditional dress stood with Mandela - as I asked for more details - Only to find I was talking to a lady from 'Be Sure' Security who was telling me about opening specials!

And those of you on Facebook who recently offered advice to my friend regarding her neighbour's cock - she was referring to the rooster on the property next door. Shame on you!!!!