Expat-ish

Expat-ish
On the Beach

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

What passes for conversation around 4 children

I want to give you a loose transcript of a conversation that I had with a friend the other day. Our kids had just finished an  extra-mural (I still can't get my head around that phrase, but have been forced to use it like it's normal. It makes it sound like my kids are painting another wall. It just means extra curricular).

At the time of the conversation we had 4 of the 5 kids we have between us there (ages-3-5).We were on a grassy area on the edge of a dirt car park and I was attempting to impart to my friend my enthusiasm for buying a sewing machine (don't judge me). To preserve her anonymity, I will call her kids "W" and "X",and mine "Y" and "Z".

Me: "So, I'm thinking of getting one to share with my mum! How cool...HEY Y!! STOP RUNNING IN THE CAR PARK!...is that? I'm not sure what brand but I'm looking around.

Friend: "Where are you looking? Have you....W, X, STOP DOING THAT. I ASKED YOU TO GET YOUR BAG....spoken to the people in Cavendish?

Me:" No, not yet. Just the ones in...."

Z:"Mu-u-um, I can't find my baby panther."

Me:" Have you looked under the bench? Y CAN YOU HELP X FIND HER PANTHER!...in Claremont, On Landsdowne Road, they.....Y DON'T IGNORE ME, YOUR SISTER IS CRYING, PLEASE!"....seemed really very nice.

Friend: "My sister has one but......X, PLEASE COME CLOSER, NOT SO NEAR THE ROAD PLEASE!...I'm not sure how much she actually.....PLEASE, NOT SO NEAR THE ROAD...uses it."

Me: " Yeah, I guess you have to..."

Y:" We can't find the panther, we've looked everywhere..."

Z: *sobbing* "I can't find my panther..boooooooooooo...hoooo......hoooooooo..."

Y:" Can we have chocolate?"

Me:" No, you've had enough chocolate, please find your bag.......factor in how much you use it, but I'm quite excited about......Z!! AWAY FROM THE BIN! YOUR PANTHER'S NOT IN THAT BIN!!...it. I'm looking forward to the lessons."

Friend: You'll have to tell me when you.... W, X WILL YOU PLEASE GET YOUR THINGS? I HAVE ASKED YOU SO MANY TIMES! .....get it. It'll be good for costume making."

Me: *opening car door*  I know, we have so... LET YOUR SISTER IN FIRST PLEASE!! SHE'S UPSET ENOUGH ABOUT THE PANTHER......many dress up days ahead of us."

Friend: *silence* then.."Listen to us...talking and....X, PLEASE JUST GET IN THE CAR...admonishing children in between."

Me? I thought we just had a conversation. I told her about my sewing aspirations, she listened, added her own nuggets. Do people talk differently...?

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Simplification without permission

There is a general assumption in the world that all progress is good, that nothing must stand still, that everything that exists can be improved.

I disagree, things are being redesigned around me, made faster and simpler and no one even asked me.


Toilets.

I think the flushing toilet is a miraculous invention. It needed no improvement. Really- sit, flush and leave. What more could we want?

Apparently there are very clever people out there, who- rather than going into professions where their skills could be well used- go into redesigning toilets. I'd say it was to spite me, but I know I'm not that important.

Toilets in shopping centres in Cape Town are amazing. Weird thing to say, but they are. Beautifully designed, clean. Actually far too good for most people that go in there. They're probably around the right standard for J-Lo and the Queen of England. Marble, glass, light..and they're free! I feel quite guilty using these divine facilities as I come rushing in with a toddler that just dipped half their head in ice cream and chocolate sauce.

The aesthetics I can handle. It's he redesign of what I will call "the toilet process". Which, I must say, causes me no end of anxiety.

Example 1: you enter the cubicle and a sign proudly states that "this toilet flushes automatically on exit". Which I read as: 'Every time you exhale too deeply or even shift slightly, Victoria Falls is going to be reenacted behind you". Toddlers, not know for their ability to sit still, do not fare well on these toilets.

Example 2: you enter the cubicle and the sign states "Touch/ wave in front of  the light to flush". This is all very well and good if the light is on and if it feels like responding you your touch/wave. If it's not feeling in a good mood, you end up waving repeatedly or slapping the wall like the village idiot, all the time anxious that it won't flush.

Wasn't life simpler when we just pulled a chain or pushed a button?

The anxiety and humiliation doesn't end there. Step up to the sinks, which are no longer sinks but slabs of marble, inclining towards the wall. There is no tap to turn but a stainless steel wedge where you invited to put your hands under the "movement sensitive" tap to wash your hands. If it works, it works briefly and gushes. And you must hold your hands in exactly the same place but move them slightly all the time to keep the "movement sensor" happy. Alternatively, they don't work at all and you are left jabbing repeatedly at the air under the wedge, like a mime who never made it big.

Was life so hard when we pulled the chain, pushed the button or turned on a top?

Phone Apps and Mobi Sites

Smart phones have revolutionised life in many ways. My daughters take it for granted that if they have a question and I can't answer it, I can simply look on my phone and find out. A mine of information in your hand: the Internet wherever and whenever you need it. Wonderful.

Except someone tried to simplify it for me. Again, without asking.

For the last few months it seems I am unable to do anything as basic as checking the weather or the news headlines without being ambushed by a bright and energetic screen inviting me to "GET THE APP!! FASTER, SLEEKER, SIMPLER" . I don't want an App- if I have many more apps I will need a separate App to provide an index of my apps or carry an index the size of the yellow pages with me. I just want to check the weather. Please, can I just?

OK, so I shut down the App offer (not before struggling to touch the screen exactly in the place and inadvertently almost installing the damn thing). And, lucky me, I'm on a mobi site! "Welcome to our mobi site! "SLEEKER, FASTER, SIMPLER!! This site has been simplified for use with smart phones. Content is reduced, the options simplified- perfect if you've been recently lobotomised and prefer one syllable words!" I might have made that last part up. The assumption seems to be that if your screen is smaller, then your brain must be smaller and there is simply, absolutely no way your pea size brain could ever, ever handle the FULL weather forecast. Just keywords with odd symbol. We can't be overloading you now, can we, you poor simple soul!

I wouldn't mind if it was easy enough to get to the "full site" but in some cases, it won't let you do so at all and, in others it is such a mission that I have lost the will to live and  forgotten what it was I was looking for in the first place.

Was Internet on phones not enough?

Predictive text

...is my final bugbear (for today anyway).

I see the point and, at times, it can be very helpful but, I think what gets me is its arrogance, its assumption that its suggestion is somehow superior to what you have in mind. Once it has made a suggestion, it sticks with it to the bitter, bitter end, even if it is a word that obviously doesn't fit in the sentence. And the little cross to shut down the suggestion is so, so small, so hard to  to shut down like it thinks its chances of being wrong are so minor that shutting it down is really unlikely to happen.

It's not good if you're in a hurry- which I always seem to be.  And it can lead to results that, at worst, are insulting and, at best ridiculous. The other day, I received an SMS from a friend asking if I was happy being a plate. She's nuts, but not that nuts. I vote for a return to spell check.

Next time you want to simplify something for me, please ask first.


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Not South African yet

The other day I had a problem. My internet access was non-existent and then intermittent. Had I never heard of the internet before, this would have been NOTHING to me. Seeing as I am an internet junkie, it was a real problem for me.

To the surprise of many South Africans, this was the first time the internet had gone down in my house since we moved here almost 2 years ago. On this basis (and a couple of calls to them) my opinion of Telkom was pretty good. Not amazing as they're pricey but OK. I have since discovered that they are a source of some hatred among South Africans.

As an aside, I think I have decided it takes a while to really hate something like a service provider. I mean really hate. You can dislike them for a one-off here and there, but it takes a decade or more of feeling let down and ripped off to get that hatred that sits in your belly and makes it hard to breathe. I'm sure some people that have lived in the UK for maybe one or 2 years think that BT are fine. After 22 years of a "relationship" with BT,  I left UK shores bitter and twisted having spent my last 2 weeks dealing with BT. These dealings culminated in a richly worded and detailed  letter (6 pages) telling them the best thing about emigrating was that I would no longer have anything to do with them. I may have overreacted.

Similarly, I had an exchange with friends who went to the UK and said how wonderful the London public transport system is. I disagreed. A lot.. But that is what 22 years on riding those trains and tubes (11 as a commuter, for my sins) did to me. I cannot be objective about it. Years of being late, being ripped off and left standing because of leaves on the line make their mark.  I'm sure most people who are in the UK short to medium term think its fabulous. I thought the NY subway was a fabulous ride! Now sure many New Yorkers would agree but I had fun. Loved going over the bridges!

Anyway, so I logged the fault complaint and the next day, completely unannounced, the engineer dude came over. Unannounced, of course, because tradesmen here assume that you're either in or your domestic is (that's a whole other topic!).

He showed me the problem. Now, this is something I would not have experienced in the UK. There is a wire that runs along my roof, off the edge and into the trees. If my kids were a bit taller they'd love to use that wire as a tight-rope or something else I wouldn't let them use it for. Apparently, this wire- just hanging there, through the wind, rain, scorching heat- is my link to the outside world. I was amazed that I had had any internet or phone at all. It seemed more likely that I would have used tin cans with string in between to communicate. The specific problem was that this wire which I had always nonchalantly assumed just went into a tree (never wondered why- why?)actually went into a post which had become overgrown in such a way that I thought it was a tree. So this lovely gentleman went around the neighbours to access the post ("Full of bugs!" he said) and plugged me into something else. By the way, this is IT on a level my brain understands: physical plugging in. So there we were, my very un-First World internet connection was back. Phew.

After this, this super engineer stayed for an hour sorting out all the not-physically-plugged in IT stuff that I wasn't coping with and set up all manner of passwords and accesses that went straight over my head. He was so helpful and so nice that when he left, I felt a warm glow for Telkom and its employees.

A friend who has been having internet issues was not so full of love.It seems my engineer had arrived at work first that day and taken all the helpfulness with him, leaving almost none for the other employees. When I told her- delighted- that I had it all fixed, she asked whether I had his number. No, why would I, I can just call Telkom....

Yes, I could call them. And not get the same telecommunications superguy. I've missed a trick. The South African way is to nab a good tradesman where you can. Get your expert in your phone book because you never know who the monopolistic monolith will send to you. Proof, if any were needed, that a green ID book does not a South African make.

For the record, it never occurred to me to get a BT guy's number in the UK. Because I actually cannot remember anyone ever turning up at the allotted time. Or otherwise. The hate hasn't died down, time hasn't been a healer.

Now I know where my internet fix comes from, I shall watch it like a hawk. Treat it with respect. And take a much harder line with those pesky birds casually perching on it.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Cape Town winter- again.

So, I feel a little foolish posting this, given that my last blog post about the Cape Town winter said: "was that it?".

As I sit here, by my fire (20cm away) with rain cascading like a waterfall out of the sky, I feel aggrieved. I've forgotten the fact that it was 19 degrees yesterday and we spent the day in the wine lands, the fact that I dried 3 loads of washing outside today. I am JUST SO OVER THE RAIN. It's 12 degrees and raining. OK, it's almost 9pm at night but I am so over it.

There are 3 explanations for this:

1. The honeymoon period with CT is over for me.
2. Someone stole my rose-tinted specs.
3. This winter was worse than the last one.
4. It has taken me less than 2 years to become an ungrateful Capetonian.

This winter has most certainly been wetter than the last and, I am reliably informed by fellow unhappy CT dwellers, that this has been an exceptionally cold one. But last year was exceptionally warm. So, am I speaking to people prone to hyperbole or is CT unable to produce a "normal' winter for me? What'a the deal?

My heaters and fire have been - in my view- excessively used. This is Africa. Excuse me, bringing my British educated preconceptions into play, but isn't it supposes to be warm here?

I have found myself, without me even noticing, wearing too many layers indoors, not taking a coat off when I get inside and having a good old grumble about the weather at the school gate. Somehow, umbrellas have found their way into my boot along with raincoats- on a permanent basis. Often, I find myself saying: "Can you believe this weather?". The sunny days between the cold rainy days are lost on me. I  want summer back.  I want warmth.

Sorry...what was that English Me? Yes, the lowest temperature I've experienced in the day this winter is around 7 at night and 11 in the day (once)? What's your point, English Me?

Oh, crap. I've become ungrateful. Sorry, English Me, but when you have a summer that has pretty much no rain for 4 months and then you suffer 3 days of rain followed by 2 days of sun, followed by 2 days of rain...oh, you don't get it?

Get back in the box, English Me, we're living in Cape Town, we have standards now.

Could it be that we are becoming Capetonian?

Roll on summer, or at least spring. There are ponds and lakes in parks in where no body of water has gone before. There's a message there- enough with the rain. I don't like hail. And you can keep the wind that makes the rain into a horizontal mist. For a while I thought when it rained like a dam had burst in the sky that it was the end of the world, now I'm just bored. I feel like I joined a cult that says the world is going to end on a set day but it didn't. Now I'm disillusioned. I'm over the rain. SO over the rain.

Even my kids are over the puddles- that's s saying something. C'mon...please?


Monday, 6 August 2012

Mummy Olympics

The 2012 London Olympics are well underway and London seems to be giving its doubters a big old slap in the face. Things (mostly) seem to be going swimmingly and none of the gridlocked by a hundred millions people dressed in national tracksuits seems not to have happened. The rather superbly eccentric opening ceremony boded well and the goodwill (and even the good weather, mostly) seems to have remained with the event.

I was quite excited to begin with but it's all a bit much for me. Wall-to-wall sport for days and days on end doesn't float my boat for very long. I did briefly become obsessed with the medals table (although therapy helped with that). The only thing that has stayed with me, Olympics-wise, is a fascination with what I consider to be "obscure sports".  Or maybe just "Weird sh*t". I was briefly unable to stop watching a women's judo match (? is it called a match?) as it seemed to me the purpose was to bounce around a small area on stiff legs whilst batting stiffly with your hands at the opponent. Then someone would tell them to stop and we'd be back to the stiff bouncing dance. The there's dressage which is completely bizarre to me. Making an a poor trussed up horse dance and then pause mid-move. And again. Like watching a DVD that keeps stopping.

And then there's shot-put which is ludicrous. Giant, GIANT people throwing what looks like tiny balls (but first bending backwards in a move that looks like you're trying to put an ear to the ground- "Sorry, did I hear something? No? OK, I'll just throw this ball then.). I shouldn't laugh because my fellow countrymen (the Poles) seem to excel at this. I should be proud. But then I should also be proud of the weight-lifting at which they seem to do well. Lifting a weight, whilst doing a little skip with a constipated facial expression? Not my idea of a good time, but each to their own and it's nice to be good at something. Even if it's..er...that.

So I got to thinking that if all this weird stuff can qualify as Olympic Sports, all us mummies who don't have enough time to practice and shine at the these things at the Olympics should be afforded our own Olympics where we can show what we're good at.

Some ideas:

"The dining table lunge": this is the movement where you sit across the table from your child and keep having to half rise to feed them/water them/wipe them. Great for the thighs. Gold would go to the mother who gets the child to eat its meal in the shortest period of time without flying off the handle. Harder than you think!

"The adult dinner time half-sit": This event would be conducted after all small children had been put to bed and the mother was under the impression she could eat her dinner. She attempts to sit but is prevented from doing so by constant spurious requests for random sh*t. Again, great for the thighs because you're never standing or sitting. Gold would go to the team that could finish and meal and carry out most random requests in the shortest period of time. This would be a team event and persistent children with whiny voices make the best younger team mates.

"The Corridor Relay:" This is an event for both parents and is linked to the half-sit. The child yells out ever more desperate requests for stuff and the parents must rush to deliver. Mum and dad must take turns (hence the relay). There is no baton here: "your turn to go" said in a bitter voice must however be uttered between events. Gold goes to the team who delivers 10 requests in the shortest time. For advanced teams, an extra child is thrown in with no extra time allowed.

"The puke sprint": this is the sprint that every parent does when they realise that their child is going to vomit but there's no receptacle in the room. Gold goes to the parent who catches the most vomit in a bowl.

"The "I can't find it" bend: this is the move you do when searching for a toy that your child desperately needs (normally at bedtime) but cannot find. The toy would be hidden amongst a mountain of useless crap while your child wails and weeps in the background. Gold goes to the parent who finds  the toy in the fewest bends. This event is not recommended for those with bad backs. There is a special prize (a platinum medal maybe?) for the parent that shows the most patience (ie doesn't lose it within 3 minutes).

"The "getting dressed" chase: each contestant is given a perky and uncooperative 3 year old who they have to undress (from pyjamas) and dress in time for school. The course is an obstacle course consisting of toys, bits of breakfast, slippery books and discarded clothing. Gold for the child most quickly caught and dressed. Extra points given for patience and lack of swearing. During this event, the phone must ring at least 3 times and one must be a cold calling salesman.

I think it could work- don't you? No weirder than watching people bounce stiffly in a small area whilst wearing a dressing gown, surely?