Expat-ish

Expat-ish
On the Beach

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The West Coast Flower Phenomenon

Normally, my posts seem to be rants.

For this one, I just wanted to share with you the beauty of the West Coast of South Africa at this time of year. The normally dry and windswept coast  undergoes a stunning transformation every August and September, when normally arid land explodes into a huge blanket of wild flowers. It is one of the most beautiful and happy sights that I have ever seen: the view into the horizon- stopping only at the sea- is flowers and more flowers in every imaginable colour.

Depending on the year, they can blossom as early as July or as late as October, but the famous Postberg Reserve opens only August to September and there can be queues to get in! One day, we went specifically to see the flowers and another time, we saw them by-the-by as we drove up the West Coast. My younger daughter- whose love for flowers is second only to her love of dogs- had an especially fantastic day.

The season is a short one and it is now almost over. It fades almost as quickly as it blooms but they'll be back again next next year.

Here are some photos:


Flowers, flowers everywhere!



My favourite flowers of the season- and there were plenty to chose from.





Lost in flowers.



Thursday, 20 September 2012

I'm just trying to pay a bill

I absolutely cannot abide bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy is the fertile ground for administrative blunders. Petty little rules that empower petty little people to spoil your day.

Life is short- way too short -to spend in queues or on hold waiting to be attended to by an untrained, disinterested, incompetent  person who with one fell swoop of their clumsy paw, can reduce you to hours and hours of queues and hanging on.

So my latest foray into this misery started with trying to open a bank account. I won't bore you with misrepresentations by the bank, the time wasted, the misleading website because if I dip even into the memory of that mire of hopelessness, I may never haul myself out again.

The snippet I will reveal is that I needed proof of residence. The proof I had was not ideal- my utilities bill stated my address but the "address section" had my PO Box address (just don't ask, OK?).

I receive my utilities bill by email, which is great. So, I e-mailed them asking very clearly and simply to please put my address in the address section. Not rocket science, right?

Simple. Or so you'd think.

Except for the auto-reply- nothing. Radio silence. The day when I normally get my bill passes. A few days go by. I- being an EXTREMELY good citizen- try to call. Sadly (or not), I cannot afford to give up 3/4 hours of daylight being on hold, so I hung up and emailed them again on the basis that the auto-reply had absolutely assured me they would respond within 3 days. But they hadn't. Is anyone surprised?

So, 3 days after my second end email, I am very anxious. If you don't pay, you get cut off and the process for getting reconnected is enough to send anyone into therapy or on a plane to anywhere but here.

I call again and after some 30 minutes of the menu in pretty much all of South Africa's official languages and some especially aurally jagged muzak, I hang up. My kids are at home while I try to make this call and- for some reason- holding the phone immediately makes me the most interesting things with a 4km radius for them and a magnet for their noise. They really are like flies to you-know-what. So, I really think 30 mins on hold with children welded to my body screeching makes me eligible for sainthood. Or something close, at any rate.

3 days ago I receive an email entitled "Your Bill". Rarely, have I opened such a dull email with such delight and relief. Then I read it. I owe some money for this month under this bill, apparently, but R13,000 in arrears (say, around GBP1000.00). Horror, disbelief, wishing I'd never messed with them about where my "address" was located...

Upon further inspection, it transpires this is not my bill. Yes, my name is on it and my address is now in the right place (someone must be very pleased with themselves- only an eon to effect that mammoth change). But the payment dates don't tally, the amounts are wrong. The temptation to cry is overwhelming as is the urge to dig my own grave and just go and lie in it.

I wanted a bill. I have a bill but someone else's bill. Someone else's HUGE bill. I feel both suicidal and homicidal at the same time. The payment deadline looms.

So what did I do? I sent them an email. I received an auto-reply in all the official languages thanking me for my email and saying they'd respond in 3 days.

Whoever dealt with my query at the Council really took some time to get it wrong. It's a very special talent that really shouldn't be allowed to blossom.

I can't pay my bill even though I really want to. The Council won't get the money it needs, the money it really needs. It's incompetence on a basic level- it slows everyone down by wasting their time and there is far too much of it.

Pointless nuisances that ruin your day. Do I really have to beg to pay my bill? Should I attempt a reverse hold-up whereby I burst into the office of the City of Cape Town, desperately thrusting money at the cashier whilst flashing my account number? I can just see me ending up in the holding cells at Pollsmoor STILL not having managed to pay my bill.

I may blog again. If I'm allowed to pay my electricity bill.....

Monday, 17 September 2012

Blogger Idol 2012

In a pique of vanity and self-delusion, I have decided to audition for Blogger Idol 2012.

Auditions close tonight (I have sent them my audition piece already!) and after that, they choose 13 blogs to take part in a competition that goes on all the way into  December. Weekly assignments are set and each week an elimination vote takes place.

I must be missing my school days or something because I'm actually attracted to the idea of a weekly assignment and a deadline (if I make it that far..).

Check it out and, if you feel so inclined, please support me!

http://writersarethenewrockstars.blogspot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/bloggeridol

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Crappy Weather Capital of South Africa

Dear Reader,

Today I write to you- on a day in early spring where the temperature hit over 30 degrees C- from the Crappy Weather Capital of South Africa.

It's officially spring here and, this weekend certainly, you can certainly feel it.

Last winter- either because I came from northern Europe or because it was an unusually "good" winter- I  didn't really see the fuss. A bit of rain, slightly shorter days. Whatever. This year- over winter- I was griping like a life-long Capetonian about the wind and the rain. I was very much ready for the change in season.

I also can't be sure whether I have been affected by media coverage of the weather. In the car I listen to the radio a lot and many of the stations are based in Jo'burg. So when discussing the weather I have heard things like this:

" It's gloomy and dark in Jo'burg today, the weather came up from Cape Town. Shame, you can't blame them, it's been like that for months down there."

" I went to Cape Town this weekend and the weather was great. Not the usual rainy Cape Town weather."

"The weather's been so rubbish in Jo'burg this weekend, it's been almost as bad as Cape Town- which must be the crappy weather capital of South Africa, hey?".

These reports have bothered me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they are obviously working from a different definition of "crappy" to me. I concede that we have a winter here, yes. But I think all that lack of rain and constant sun in Jo'burg must just be melting their brains. I'd love them to review a November in London- if they could last a month.

Secondly, I take it as a personal affront. I feel wounded. Why? Because, I moved here (partly-largely?!) because of the weather. I considered it a considerable upgrade from the deal that I was getting up north. And, frankly, it upsets me that having made such a momentous decision and feeling that I was right, at least in terms of the weather- someone comes along and p*sses on my parade. Someone tells me that I've moved to the London-weather equivalent in South Africa.  My FB claims about the weather sound hollow and false. Because I live in the Crappy Weather Capital of South Africa.

I have decided that cape Town has 2 seasons: 9 months of summer (3 cooler momths to start- everything is green and gorgeous. Then 3 hot months. Then 3 months of getting less hot and everything is brown.) and 3 months of on-off torrential rain with wonderful sunny days in between (aka winter).

Or, put differently: Cape Town has  9 months where I don't really bother to check the weather and 3 where I do. Summer seems to have an on/off switch: when "on" is hit, the rain peters out, suddenly stepping out you feel the warmth of the sun (today I went for  30min bike ride at 10am, came back with a suntan-no bad thing really, my legs were about to be entered into a translucency contest). The "off " switch seems to be a sudden bout of heavy rain fall, from nowhere (in the period of the 3 months where it is getting less hot and everything is brown) which signals "The End" [of summer].

Anyway, the "on" switch seems to have been engaged: today and yesterday we had gorgeous days which (for us) involved lagoons, flowers, sea views and braais with fabulous friends.

I think I can live with residing in the Crappy Weather Capital of South Africa after all..

Expat-ish

PS Just heard a fly buzzing around. My totally worst thing about summer. They're gross carriers of filth and make the most irritating noise possible. And if they touch you- yuck..

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A Good Idea Gone Bad

There are lots of things that we know are bad ideas: swimming too soon after eating, drinking too much coffee, not looking when you cross the road. Some other things are bad ideas, just not such obvious ones.

Firstly, let me tell you what is a good idea: make friends with a fabulous person. When, around of the time of your birthday, you start whining to this person that you don't want to do anything for your birthday because no one will come, you can't cook for that many [insert extra whinges as appropriate], this fabulous friend declares that, nah, now worries, they'll invite all your friends over  for you and, further they'll all bring food. Just buy booze.

And, then, as if by magic on the allotted day (almost) all your favourite people in Cape Town arrive at your house carrying the most delicious selection of food. The evening is brilliant and everyone has a drink. Or 2 or maybe more. Not too many per se, mind. Just too many if you have kids (which is more than 1/2 a glass- yet a day's parenting can sometimes feel like it deserves at least a bottle. But, of course, you can't drink that much EVER because there needs to be at least one sober parent, which normally means both, because otherwise the non-sober one is really a drunk who drinks on their own, and that's just too tragic to contemplate.).

The fabulous-ness doesn't end.You go to bed at 1am. Which for a parent with little children is actually just CRAZY. NUTS. The unadulterated joy and bliss ends at 730 the next morning when your 3 and 5 year old storm your bedroom with their delight and enthusiasm for the day which is absolutely beautiful and you are grateful for, but you went to bed at 1am and anything above a whisper and being stroked by a feather is far too much to even contemplate.

At this point the previous seems like a bad idea, especially as it is drizzling outside so you can't release their energy outside. You suggest seeing Tinkerbell at the movies, but your husband- having also gone to bed at 1am- will not entertain the thought of Disney  3D in Dolby Digital in his frame of mind.

So, instead, he suggests the Cape Town Aquarium. Out loud. The bouncy, happy children seize on this idea LOUDLY and EAGERLY. You shoot him a hateful look. You know it is A Bad Idea.

Let me clarify: the Cape Town Aquarium is an amazing aquarium. It is fun and interactive. It is educational. There are some amazing displays, arts and crafts for the kids, puppet shows, a sandpit, animal feeding times. It is easily the best aquarium I have been to.

It is also where anyone with a child under 7 goes on a rainy day in Cape Town. So, if you are desperate, that's where you take the kids on a rainy day. And is where I was compelled to go the day after the Good Idea. Now we were really in Bad Idea territory.

So, imagine if you will, a depository in a major city for every child under the age of 7 who hasn't had enough of a run around to burn off all that small person energy. A seething mass of children muscling in to pose in the middle of the clown fish tank for the billionth time. The tiny elbows jutting at your shins, the mass freaking out as they can't see their favourite crab or shark for the crowd, the tired undertone of bewildered, exhausted parents trying to instill discipline and keep an eye on their offspring as they bugger off as they please into the throng. Then, at the the end, you have to navigate the gift shop. They really should provide children with blinkers before they walk past the slimy fish toy or fluffy dolphin but I suppose that would defeat their point- if help my sanity.

My husband and I have  promised one another that, one day, when the kids get older we will go to the aquarium (and all other places of educational interest that we have been to with them) and actually read about the exhibits rather than taking the "toddler express tour" (jogging, pointing, briefly stopping, then sprinting tour).

In the end the experience was not so bad as we missed the puppet show (which on the 14,567 occasions I have seen it  previously seems to consist of an unfortunately scratchy-voiced woman screeching whilst holding a water life puppet of some description whilst 40,000 infants howl and scream in delight).

Also, I got to observe one the things I find most fascinating: people taking photos of the stuff in the tanks/exhibits. I can never understand why. It's going to be a rubbish photo and there's a better one in the leaflet. Nonetheless, they are persistent in lining up shots of tanks of seahorses or starfish in a darkened room. What a waste of memory card space.

Next year: party to be held on a day before a sunny day...

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Mummy's Bag

Women's handbags are a frequent topic of conversation.

All women have one and the world is always trying to sell us more. A different one for each outfit, to match another pair of shoes, to fit the occasion. A big one, a small one, a beach one, a plane one, a travelling one, a work one, a weekend one.

When you have kids, things change, bag-wise. Your daytime bag (even your biggest beach bag) cannot fit all the things that you need  the bag, Yes, of course you can have your own bag and then have a change bag as well, but I'm willing to bet that you'll soon give up that idea as it is pretty much just another thing to either a) forget; or b) get hacked off with carrying.

So you end up having a huge sack which (at the beginning) carries:

1) All manner of feeding paraphernalia;
2) Wipes (6 packs- at least);
3) Several changes of clothing (you never know which part will leak) for baby (and sometimes yourself);
4) 400 nappies;
5) Nappy Cream;
6) A selection of toys that you always carry even though they never pacify your child; and
7) Your wallet, keys and phone (in a teeny compartment).

It is an unspoken rule of life that you will forget the one item you actually need on the day.

So you have this gargantuan bag- so big that Santa Claus calls and offers to lend you the reindeer and a sleigh.

As the kids grow up though, the bag size diminishes- you no longer need nappies, feeding paraphernalia. Eventually, you just takes snacks and water. You're so proud. You're almost back at a normal bag size.

Then, if you're me, you think it's a good idea to have 2 children in 2 years.  So you have to upscale your initial baby bag to one that provides for a newborn and a toddler. I may as well have attached a tow bar to myself and dragged a caravan behind me for a good few months.

But, you know, life gets easier- the kids grow up.

So, where I am now is that I have a larger bag than is ideal but it can accommodate the odd My Little Pony, a bottle of Water and other small stuff.

From the outside, it looks pretty smart. It is roomy and has lots of pockets for hiding all manner of sins. If you didn't know you wouldn't know I had kids just by looking at the bag itself.

I have had a few close calls though- recently I reached into my bag at a business meeting and almost pulled out a pair of panties with Dalmatians on them. Once, when looking for my wallet I first had to pull out a monkey, a pink feathery pen and wipes. Fortunately, this was at a dinner with mums so no one batted an eyelid. My crap didn't stand out among the dummies, ponies and tissues that everyone else had put on the table while looking for their wallets.

Today proved to me, however, that having a (big-ish) smart bag is not enough. I'm still in child-world. I can't deny it. It appears I have to pay attention and be organised too. Anyone who knows me will know I'm not very good at zipping up the pockets of my bag which contain all manner of things. Things that are prone to dropping out.

And, today, as I walked my daughter into school I left a trail of...sachets of toddler stool softener in my wake. A bit like Hansel and Gretel, just, well, much grosser and more humiliating.

It looks like I need to work harder on my bag image. I clearly haven't graduated back to the adult bag just yet.