On the Beach

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Euro 2012- a female perspective (from Africa)

In short, I'm over it.

That doesn't really cut it as a blog post, does it?

OK, the long version. So, I live on the (almost) very end of Africa (I was going to say arse-end but Cape Town is far too wonderful to have the word "arse" used in any description of it) yet a European football tournament has taken over my house. The TV remote seems stuck on the sports channels and for 1 or 2 ninety minute periods every day for the last 2 weeks, adult conversation is limited. Clearly, once football grips a man's soul, geography is no obstacle.

I feel that UEFA, FIFA, Sepp Blatter and all other football related power houses (c.f. killjoys) have, in their planning and marketing, largely ignored the female population of the world who are NOT interested in 22 men getting far too emotional and upset about the placement of a ball sewn together from small, black and white pieces of leather. When I say 22, I refer to those on the pitch, not the trillion watching ,who are at their most emotional when their team is playing.  Wanna make a man cry? Show him footage of his team winning or losing some game for some trophy they consider important.

Anyway, in the interests of a more harmonious world (in respect of gender wars) I have a few tips for the organisers which they may wish to implement in future football events. It will keep the (billions) of  uninterested females much happier and therefore your mostly male audience much more rapt and less anxiety and divorce prone.

1. Cancel the whole thing. I know it sounds crazy but rather than keeping the organisers in plush accommodation deals around the world and a bunch of thugs in tattoos, tricology and bling, you could instead spend the money on, I dunno, maybe helping world poverty? Or anything else nice and altruistic!

No? Don't like that one. OK...

Suggestion 2: Make it all low key and old school. Small grounds.  Think pub football. Last minute announcements as to where matches will be. To bring the passion back to football, that playground joy, rather than mansions in Epsom and Grazia front pages as the  ultimate goal. So much more authentic, close up, interactive and would save the huge salaries, the constant demands from SKY for more airtime.

Sponsors and players not keen on that one? Alright...

3. Change the timing. My TV access has been severely limited during the tournament and I am beginning to feel resentful. I know you've already rejected my plea for cancellation, so I am now just asking for a change of timing. Perhaps one match a day on at 2230?  And if you must be outrageous and  have 2 a day, I feel it is only fair that the second is on at 0100. You know the real fans will always watch anyway, so what's the problem?

I'm still not detecting much enthusiasm for my proposals, but I will persist.

4. Why not cram the while tournament into 5 days- or less? Kind of like speed dating: "speed football?". The players are so knackered already at the end of the season that a short, sharp tournament won't do them any harm. And while we're at it, why no shorten the games to, say, 20 minutes in total? Imagine the excitement  crammed into a mere 20 mins!

5. This is my final offer. Absolutely final. If the FA, UEFA, FIFA and all other sporting bodies that are determined to diminish the quality of my life persist in going ahead with tournament upon tournament, then please, I beg you, at least only use players that are good looking and outfits that are pleasing on the eye. What you may lose in men being dismissive about the quality of the game, you gain in female viewing. I'm thinking Bradley Cooper in goal in a royal blue uniform and Ryan Gosling up front in aquamarine. It would make the whole thing so much less stressful on the eye than the current bunch of eyesores in all manner of disturbing attire (cf Croatia).

I hope you take my suggestions in the spirit in which they are meant and consider applying them to other sports.

Rugby's beginning to get on my nerves, for instance. I mean, do these people EVER have a break. They even go from one hemisphere to another to play when season is over on their piece of planet. What is it with these people, some kind of OCD about constantly having to play rugby..?

But that's a whole other conversation..

Monday, 11 June 2012

Staying warm in winter- a revelation

Dear South Africans,

My 2 year anniversary of living in the beautiful city of Cape Town is coming up. Can you believe it? It's been a roller-coaster ride of pleasantness and delight. You've been so kind, so welcoming and made me feel at home. We're friends now, right? Yeeeah. I thought so- great!

And friends must be honest, mustn't they? I feel the time has come to be honest with you. I couldn't have said any of this before, a Johnny come lately. But now, things are different. My whole family say "ja" instead of yes and my children's vowels are all messed up. I'm almost one of you. Almost.

There are several topics upon which I feel we need to have a discourse, but today we'll just start on one.

The subject of heating and insulation.

I can feel you all tense up, start whining and saying: "but the winter's so short". Short it may be, in comparison to many other places in the world. But there is a winter and you know it. I know you know because of the clothes you weather (c.f. fur lined coats and winter boots in April) and because of the whinging you do when I see you. You wrap up like human sausage rolls from the moment you roll out of your icy bed, you refuse to go out at night because it's too cold (for readers from overseas, if the night time temp hits 7C in the dark hours of the night, that's really very low). I come to your houses and there you are, all padded at all times of day(if someone didn't know it was cold, they'd think you were wearing an outfit to make sure you didn't catch yourself on any sharp edges in your house) or, alternatively, shivering because of your winter/heating denial. And I'm not talking about middle-income people who might not be able to afford it. I'm talking about people living in homes that Middle Eastern dictators aspire to. Really.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not denying that 15C (a revolting low in winter!) feels very chilly after 27C for 3 months straight. I'm just suggesting you do something about the chill. The winter is "only 3 months"- a quarter of year wearing extraordinary amounts of clothing. Indoors.

I introduce to you the concept of...drum roll.... insulation and heating in your home!! As hardly anyone seems to know about it, I reckon a lot of South Africans are googling the terms as we speak! I reckon I could be the market leader on this. Make my fortune, retire early, perhaps. The possibilities are endless.

Or maybe they're not. maybe you've thought about it and decided against it. Maybe you feel that living in Africa, it would be an affront to international perception to suggest we sometimes get chilly here in South Africa.

Linked to this, I have a theory as to why so many South Africans live in London. Nothing to do with worries of political stability, economic opportunity or the lure of living in Europe. And we know it's not for the weather (especially at the moment, yikes!). I reckon that a certain percentage are so overawed on arrival by British engineering  (central heating) that they feel they must stay (warm) surrounded by such invention. They need never be cold again(indoors, anyway)- imagine that!

This letter to you is really saying: it doesn't have to be like this. You CAN be warm without looking like a sumo wrestler for 3 months. Waddling due to over-clothing is optional in the modern world. Give it a try!

Speak soon,

Me (sitting in my warm, insulated home wearing an acceptable amount of clothing for indoor purposes).

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Tradesmen- London to Cape Town

I have always been fascinated by tradesmen. We seem to be (loosely) the same species but somehow oh-so different.

One of the subsidiary aims of my blog is to help people who want to move or are considering one.

To this end, I have decided, purely for the benefit of those people to do a comparative analysis of tradesmen in the south-east of England and in Cape Town. I have divided up my analysis into what I feel are helpful categories.


South African tradesmen are mostly on time. They will arrive and, even if you have just asked for a quote, a swarm of people will arrive, the purpose of most them in relation to the quote will be unclear to you. However, at some point during the quoting process, the "main" man will bark (probably in Afrikaans) at one of the army of minions. I can only assume he asking their expert opinion.

When the job starts, they will arrive on time- all 50 of them. The "supervisor" or driver will greet you politely, establish what they are doing and then bark randomly at the assembled mass (in Afrikaans, mostly) and leave. He will return throughout the day and the process of polite greeting, then bellowing will be repeated. They do start very early and will always stay until 4/430 (although please see later comments under productivity).

English tradesmen's timekeeping is not so good. "I'll be there at 9 on Wednesday" translates loosely as any point in time a few days around that. If they're late, they won't call, won't  \apologise and will seem rather put out when you mention that you have been waiting for them and as a result missed a doctor's appointment and failed to pick up your child from school because they said every time "I'm 5 minutes away". The fact that you are not happy to revolve your life entirely around a builder's work schedule is perplexing to them. And that's just the quote.

When you instruct them (and you will instruct the only person who turned up, the others having never made it to the door despite you pleading with them) they will generally turn up within an hour, then leave to go to another job, have tea, have a chat, then have to leave because of the traffic. And early on a Friday.


South African tradesmen have regular breaks. And by regular, I mean the speaking clock sets its time by them. Break from 10-1030 and again from 1-130. No compromise, no leeway. That's when they break is. Doesn't matter what they're doing, they'll stop. Finish painting that 10cm of wall? NO WAY- it's 10am. They will never trouble you for a drink or a snack.

And, at break time. They collapse. No, really, they do.It's like the  clock hand hits ten and all their bones and cartilage vanish, because one minute they doing something, next minute (10am, say), they're all lying down. Doesn't matter where. They lie down- on the lawn, on grass verges, in the car port, the garage. And at 1030, some force from above replaces their bones and we're off again until a repeat at 1.

And they balk at tea. It's either coffee with 6 sugars (the amount of sugars is normally directly correlated to the amount of teeth missing) or Coke. Coke is hard currency among tradesmen here.

With English tradesmen, breaks are difficult to distinguish from the working day. They come straight from a breakfast at a greasy spoon and tradition dictates a cup of tea is offered when they arrive which, tradition dictates, they must accept. They may then ask for more. Then, they go back to the greasy spoon for lunch. This takes at least an hour. Tradition dictates a cup of tea is offered after lunch which, tradition dictates, they must accept.  And then maybe a mid afternoon one? By 330, they must leave. So, I feel with English tradesmen it's more of a pattern than a fixed timetable.

And, if you employ an English tradesmen, go to Tesco and buy tea in bulk. I feel that but for English tradesmen, many tea plantations in India would fold.


Productivity is directly linked to breaks, so please factor that into the analysis.

However, please do not assume because South African arrive in small armies and have limited breaks that they must be more productive. It is sometimes amazing to see how little can be achieved by so many. Studies should be carried out to investigate this phenomenon. That said, if a job is running over, the foreman will being more men, but given what I have just said, it doesn't necessarily result in more work. Just more collapsible people at your house.

Please note there is a direct correlation between the amount of work done and the presence of the yelling driver.

Productivity in England is affected by breaks too and by the fact that tradesmen are often the most loquacious "Y" chromosomes. So you may have a deep knowledge of his father's problems with the council, but your fence ain't getting any higher.  

Another problem in England is that they may arrive in the morning with quite a few workers, only to spirit most of them away during the day to "finish another job". This does not help productivity.

Friday afternoons are least productive for the English, the pub beckons. For South Africans, it's Monday morning where, occasionally, babalas and sore head will keep them in bed.


Here, most people call me "Ma'am" which makes me feel like an old lady living in the American Deep South. In England, they call me "luv" which makes me feel like a barmaid.

Excuse my being graphic here, but tradesmen in Cape Town can seem to go for an entire day without using the facilities. In England, this was not my experience, one particularly cultured gentleman leaving such a gift in the guest toilet that it made me eyes water for 2 days.


Generally, even taking into account the disparity in earning, work is cheaper here which undoubtedly will be to do with the oversupply of labour (cf. swarms). People also expect you to negotiate the price.

In England, I advise opening some smelling salts before opening any quote and contacting your mortgage company for options on increasing on financing, even just to paint your bathroom. Before discussing any specifics on price, an English workmen will suck in air through his teeth, shake his head and declare: "It'll cost ya, luv."

Builders Bum.

Prolific in England, to the point I expect it forms part of the job spec. This is combined with virtual stripping down to underpants when the sun shines and the temperature is over 14 degrees C. I feel it only fair to warn, that most often these men's bodies are not their temples.

Mercifully mostly absent here.

There you go, a comprehensive comparative analysis of tradesmen in south-east England and Cape Town. No need to thank me.