On the Beach

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

More Victor Matfield or: Is it me, or did Zuma's team not think through the photo op?


Ignore, the article, look at the picture. The president of our great nation, when photographed, with THE MAN: Victor Matfield, and his colleagues at the Springboks, did not think to ask them to sit down or for a crate to stand on even though the preceding conversation must have been conducted entirely with the navels of the Springboks.

Not so regal and presidential, Jacob. Next time do a Tom Cruise from "Interview with the Vampire"- stand on a crate throughout shooting and insists the session be entirely shot from the waist up. You might look a little less like a tortoise mascot then.

Holidays with kids

I’m one of those people who has always had the travel bug- it’s in me, passed down the generations.

But things used to be different. Or putting it another way: I now have kids.

I remember the heady days when my husband and would, on little more than a whim, book a plane, a train, pack a couple of backpacks and head off. Sometimes we got lucky (Kandy in Sri Lanka- a taxi driver took us to an idyllic house on the outskirts of town where we ate Onion Stars and drank beer on the balcony while monkeys swung through the trees). Sometimes we got unlucky (Cordoba in Spain- a room with a single (open) window on a communal staircase, the décor making a prison cell look like it has been designed by Elle magazine. Bare light bulbs, metal beds and scratchy blankets. Not quite the lap of luxury).

And the thing was, it didn’t matter- it was always a great adventure and we were together: adults with a sense of humour (mostly), street smarts and a great love of exploration. New York, Provence, Rome, Madrid, Havana, Sydney, Ho Chi Minh, to name but a few, we always had a great time- just us, our passports, books and a couple of rucksacks.

In the midst of all this travelling and working, I found out I was pregnant. Equally thrilled by and petrified of what the future held, we set about ensuring that the best travelled foetus ever. Panicking that we would possibly never, ever travel again (we’d seen what happened to people with kids) we took the growing bump to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, New York, Copenhagen and finally, Suffolk (by then I wasn’t allowed to fly anymore).
As the due date approached my pace slowed and I occupied more and more space on transport.

Buoyed by the experience of the globetrotting person within, we thought: “Hey, how hard can it be? It’ll be just the same. We’ve taken the pregnancy in our stride. The baby will JUST FIT INTO OUR LIVES”.

So in the last weeks of my pregnancy, we booked a holiday in Cornwall, England (we lived in South-East London at the time).
We thought we were being cautious. We decided to wait until baby was 3 months old.  It was near the beach (“Won’t the baby LOVE the beach!?” we said, thrilled with our insight into baby world- and not yet parents!)  
Looking back on it now, it’s like watching a car crash in slow-mo.

After the baby was born, nothing was as it had been before. Nothing. But, foolishly, we really looked forward to our first family holiday.

The first indications that all might not go smoothly were when we complied the packing list (yes, now there were lists). The list grew by the minute and it quite quickly became apparent that the amount of luggage was inversely proportionate to the size of the traveller.

High chair, travel cot, toys, bouncy chair, nappies, wipes, formula. Steriliser, bottles, washing powder, 50,000 baby outfits, bibs, baby toiletries, baby bath, baby towel. Calpol, Baby Nurofen, thermometer….Wars have been won with less equipment.

 And the list went on. Somewhere at the very bottom were our clothes and toiletries. No books- the last 3 months had made it abundantly clear that reading was just not going to happen.

Having compiled the list, it was obvious we needed a lorry. Fortunately my parents were kind enough to lend us their SUV.

We set off, the baby had been unwell but we figured it was a car journey and she’d sleep. Perhaps that would have worked better in practice had it not taken us 8 hours to get there. An abiding memory of that trip is seeing my husband in the rear-view mirror, feeding the baby as we inched across Bodmin Moor in a traffic jam in torrential rain.

How did the holiday go? Well, the baby screamed every time we went on the beach because she wasn’t too keen on being sand-blasted. She also didn’t like her room that much. Or the rain cover on the pram which was almost in constant use (have I mentioned yet that this was a summer holiday?). And then she started teething (why does no one tell you about teething before you have kids?). The only thing that stopped her was my husband singing to her in a particular spot in the garden (cf torrential rain).

 A combination of, a tiny teething baby, another sodden English summer, traffic and a heavy dose of naïveté on our part did not serve us well.

Fast forward four years or so and now we have not one, but two girls. We’ve learnt a lot over that time– don’t take them away at 3 months, let them stay up as long as they want watching TV on the overnight flight to London – but most of all we have learnt how to enjoy holidays as a family. 

 As they have grown, their capacity to occupy boot space has decreased and their capacity for wonder has increased. We don’t try to cram too much in and we’re guided by what all of us as a family enjoy. There isn’t too much writing in the journal in street cafes or pounding the streets looking for the perfect bar or restaurant to plan the next day’s events in.

 And now that we have moved to South Africa, we even love the driving - the empty roads and the huge skies – even if we do have to listen to Disney classics on loop.

Sometimes the world moves too fast and it’s no bad thing to slow down. Sitting in the garden of our holiday cottage in Plett in the afternoon sun, looking at bugs in a bug catcher after a day of exploring rock pools is a huge adventure for my girls. And watching them, infected by the enthusiasm, astounded by the observations and questions, it’s certainly an adventure for us as parents.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Victor Matfield and South African males

A while after moving to South Africa, I started going to the gym regularly. So now you think you know me? Vain and a fitness freak? Guess again: cheap membership and the most plausible and constructive reason I could think for being out of the company of my children for an hour or so a day. I could just as happily go and sit outside my gate and just drool blankly for an hour, but I think the gym is more acceptable and less likely to have me sectioned.

So this is how it goes when I get to gym; firstly, I spend excessive time adjusting the fancy equipment to my size.  For some reason, every time I go, the person who used the equipment before must have been a person of unusual proportions judging by the settings. Yet somehow I have never seen a dwarf  with remarkably long reach or a giant with T-Rex arms sauntering around the workout floor. Generally, I'm working up a sweat doing simply this while the beautiful people of Cape Town glide effortlessly against the backdrop of Table Mountain.

Equipment set and I am ready for Phase 2:  switch brain off entirely (not hard) and hope to burn as many calories as possible whilst staring aimlessly at one of the giant TV screens. Actually, I absorb an alarming amount by mere osmosis. I now have a head full of facts about golf, that I have no need or desire of. I have found myself contributing stats and figures to previously alien conversations about golf in a manner befitting Rain Man.

So what does this have to do with Victor Matfeld? Whilst gazing blankly at the TV with no obvious brain activity, I suddenly became aware of his VERY MALE face on the screen. VERY MALE were the first words that sprung to mind. Judging by his outfit, I assume he works for the Springboks.

I remember once, years ago, I read somewhere that the more testosterone a male has the more craggy his looks (think Sylvester Stallone), the more pronounced the brow- you get the picture. But this was different- and please don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say he's "hot". He just looks so male.

I went to the dictionary to seek a definition of male (can't shake that legal training all these years on). To cut a long story short, it's not very helpful, it goes around in circles (suggesting male characteristic, masculine etc) but I did find one site that ventured to say that male characteristics are "strength and boldness". Is that what defines a male?

If so, does Victor Matfield look "bold and strong? Well, yes, I rather think he does, towering over mere mortals with a Herculean head of hair, a beard to match and hands the size of garden spades and a voice that would probably boom across the heavens.

It's almost as if when "maleness" was being handed out, the adminstrators were too busy discussing their evening plans to note that they had given Victor Matfield the entire days's quota. The men who missed out on their dose? They're easy to spot: their wife is fixing the puncture roadside while he strains under the weight of the warning triangle.

 And perhaps Victor feels a little hard-done-by too. I am sure people ask him to fell trees and move inconveniently parked vehicles with his bare hands all the time. Can't be easy to fit in around working for them Springboks.

I must say though that I have found South African males (not all, mind) to be very male.  For a start, there is their size, especially Afrikaaners. In the right company in Cape Town, it is possible to feel Liliputian, and I'm not small.

The city folk are male not necessarily in a bold and strong way, but more in a making shelves and building fences kind of way. Whilst braai-ing and having a beer, kind of way.

And the rural folk, well, they're whole book unto themselves. Over Sir Lowry's pass and into Elgin, they start to show. Rhino thick skin that has neither seen nor needed sunscreen. Frayed safari shirt and frayed safari shorts. There is no style of dress, except maybe a hint of the eighties. This is not to indicate a love of the decade, just it's the last time they bought clothes, seeing it as frivolous to buy new clothes when at least a few threads of a pair of shorts are left to be meshed together. The manner is brusque and men who do not hunt AND fish are dismissed as sissies. Animals are braai'd whole.

A couple of the latter specimens can be found behind the Boerewors Curtain, in the Somerset West area where they dismiss the effete city men with suspicion and disdain.

Which one-city or rural- defines "male" more? I can't speak for anyone else, but if an alien ever asks me "what is a man?", I shall find a picture of Victor and point them in the direction of the office of the Springboks.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

There's a first time for everything..

I have, until this very narcissistic moment, been very suspicious of blogs. No, actually, I was downright dismissive of them; I have seen them as a way for celebrities to promote themselves even further (in some instances, where one actually thought no further exposure was possible- or desirable) or for nobodies to unleash their opinions on an unsuspecting world: mad, or worse dull, diatribes on topics of no interest to anyone but themselves and few fellow psychopaths or bores. 

Why have I changed my mind? Well, having actually read some blogs (yes, previously I was dissing them without having read them- those who know me will not be in the least bit surprised),  I realise that some are quite interesting and, in some cases, allow people to express an opinion ore reveal information that they cannot express elsewhere. Also, why should what we write and read necessarily be decided by editors and agents? And while I might not find the topics to be engaging or the blog well written, well, it's my prerogative not to read it and the writer's prerogative to keep writing.

Plus, I decided I wanted one. And if I wanted one, then they must be OK, right? So I now just have to try and justify my previous opinions and brush under the carpet the ones that no longer fit my blog-view.

Why did I want one? Tough one to answer. Well, globally-speaking, I am a nobody with an opinion on pretty much everything, so might as well join in. Why not just have a journal in my drawer and keep my thoughts to myself? I have asked myself that question, but my house is absolutely cluttered with stuff and my children would probably rip it up and use as part of an origami house or something. And maybe I should be honest and admit that maybe I am seeking  some kind of audience. I don't know. Maybe I just felt like it today and I won't tomorrow.

OK, let's begin. What's this blog about? Anything I feel like!  I am an expat living in Cape Town. 

Except, actually, I don't think that I am. i just looked up the meaning of "expat" in Dictionary.com  and it said the following: first, that it is an abbreviation of the word "expatriate" and has the following meanings:

1.       to banish (a person) from his or her native country.

to withdraw (oneself) from residence in one's native country.
to withdraw (oneself) from allegiance to one's country.

I don't believe I have been banished as per no.1- although who knows what the future holds. I have withdrawn myself from the country which issued my last passport. Have I withdrawn allegiance- I don't know.

What makes me think most that I do not fit the definition of expat is the expression "native country". I just don't feel that I have one. 

I was born in Poland to Polish parents.My mother tongue is Polish. Well, technically only, because from the age of 5, or thereabouts, I was educated in English (mostly). I have lived in South Africa, England, Norway, England again, New Zealand, England again and now I live in Cape Town, South Africa where I have wanted to live ever since I first visited.

So, what's my native country? Am I a "native" anywhere? As I moved around so much, I don't have a complete set of cultural references for any country so in any "do you remember?" conversation among my peers in any country I have lived in, there will always be a song, a TV programme, a magazine that means nothing to me. It doesn't bother me, it's just a fact.

I don't "feel" like any nationality. In sports games, I am mostly indifferent about who wins and I tend to support the team more on "outfits" I like, than nationality.

I left Poland when I was 4 and a bit and although I am close to the family we have there, I don't feel Polish. Not really Polish.

Despite 22 years living there (with breaks) I don't feel English. I don't know why, I just don't. Maybe I blame England for taking me away from my wonderful life in South Africa. I think, also, the way my family is, we don't possess many English  characteristics. England  is cosmopolitan, especially London, but English society is a hard nut to crack. I find it quite opaque and I don't really understand the unwritten conventions and rules. I often feel like I've walked into a game where no one will openly discuss the rules, expect me to know them, not tell me when i have transgressed but acted silently peeved anyway. Baffling to an outsider- and I still feel like one.

And 2.5 years in Norway cannot possibly qualify Norway as my "native" country. I loved living as a child there but, boy, that's a tough society to crack, not helped by the language barrier.

For a long time, I thought I was South African. I spent my formative years here and  had the most blissful childhood here. I was devastated when we left and I always wanted to come back and bring up my children here if I was able to. But coming back, like a disappointed child, I realise I am not South African; 6 years of living here as a child does not, sadly, qualify me as a native. My wonderful new friends talk about things that I do not know and did not experience. And, actually, that means more in South Africa than most places, given its turbulent recent history.

But, you know, I love living in Cape Town and I feel more at home here than I have done at any point in my adult life. So maybe it doesn't matter that I don't have a native country after all.

Back, to the point I started with: am I an expat? Probably, possibly not. I'm not even sure I want to be- more on what I think of the "ex-pat scene" another time, I'm sure..

So this blog will be the occasional musings of a stateless soul on any topic I feel like, although I suspect my lame attempts at parenting will feature heavily.

Thanks for listening.