Sunday, February 26, 2006

Words, patterns and maps

It's been a lazy day of doing nothing constructive apart from a bit more editing of my sister-in-law's thesis. I didn't get out at all so there were no Sunday papers for me to read but I got through the rest of yesterday's Guardian before I did a bit of pointless web-surfing. As pointless as it was, I managed to find a few things that appeal to my interest in words, patterns and maps.

If you look at my sidebar, you'll see a new search facility, known as a swiki, that is tailored for this blog. I'm not sure how comprehensively it looks at this blog before searching elsewhere but it definitely works. So, for example, search for 'cape town' and one or more of my blog entries as well as websites linked to me will be returned at the top of the search results. According to eurekster who developed it, a swiki is 'a search engine that learns from your community'. The 'buzz cloud' of search words is updated dynamically to show which words are popular in searches using the swiki. I still need to check to what extent this is true.

(If anyone knows how to open a new window from a script in a sidebar, please let me know - I can't get my swiki to work that way.)

I find 'clouds' ('buzz clouds', 'tag clouds', 'word clouds', etc) rather visually appealing so when I saw a link on Xmichra's blog on how to create your own word cloud extracted from the words on your blog, I immediately created my own.

reluctant nomad's word cloud
Even more visually appealing are maps so I was really chuffed to find the perfect site for indulging my liking of them. I lost several hours exploring the Atlas of Cyberspaces. One of the most fascinating links you'll find there is one for TextArc where you'll have access to 'an innovative way of visualising the structure of a corpus of text'.
textarc from alice in wonderland
The above image is a static one taken from TextArc's 'reading' of Alice in Wonderland. It's fascinating watching the creation of links between words as the software processes the entire book.

TextArc is a totally interactive piece of software that is linked to Project Gutenberg so you are able to 'read' thousands of a famous works.

It doesn't look as if the site has been updated for quite a while now so although it says that a facility for reading other texts such as web pages is in development, there is no indication of when it will be available. I'd love to be able to get it to read this blog.

Build your own fleshlight

It was freezing yesterday so I was happy to remain ensconced in my little box all day. Also, it gave me no excuse to delay proof-reading my sister-in-law's thesis, something that I'd have happily put aside had I had an urge to play. I eventually completed putting the finishing touches to a case study on organisational change at about 2 this morning and opened my email to send her the fruits of my labours.

There were two emails waiting for me. One was an automated acknowledgement from my daughter telling me she'd picked up the birthday card I sent her. What the fuck was she doing up at that time? I shall have to give her some stern words, I will! And there was this one:

build your own fleshlightHi, Dear

The Vagina Fleshlight recreates the velvet texture of a young woman's vagina, and, with proper lubrication, feels like the real thing. Comes in five shades (Pink, Mocha, Chocolate, Lavender, and Ice). Lubrication sample included.

Dude, this one's for your private use.

First, place the gel insert (the "vagina") in hot water, until it becomes warm. Next, place the Vagina Fleshlight back into the canister, and lubricate your penis, as well as the entry and canal of the product. Finally, penetrate the toy as you would penetrate a woman.

For cleanup, simply take the gel insert out of its plastic case and run hot water through it to remove your semen. Disinfect it with alcohol. Towel or air-dry it and place it back into the canister. Re-powder it with cornstarch in order to restore its silky feel.

It looks like a flashlight, but feels like a vagina. No one ever has to know what it is.

come be in Shady's world
Your Francis

Want to know/see more? Go here if you don't want their video to play immediately. Go here if you don't mind it playing on entry.

Look, I may not be a heterosexual, but do the hetties really like this sort of thing? Apparently they do if you trust these 'testimonials':

I am an ordained pastor, PHd, successful businessman, martial artist, father of seven, satisfied husband. The product was a challenge for me intellectually and morally until I thought it through, then I realized that a quality surrogate was a great solution to an ancient problem - the feeling of freedom, the release of guilt, the incredible sensation - just telling it like it is.

I am a widower, and generally disappointed with new attempts at relationships with women. Being a total heterosexual, I have searched and tried many different artificial vaginas. Of course, the hand is great, but it is an entirely different feeling than vaginal sex. All the cheap and fake rubber and plastic artificial vaginas that I have ever tried have found their way into the garbage can. The first time I used it was a learning experience, but when I had more time I used it twice today to an almost indescribable effect. This device demands time to enjoy properly. The control over orgasm is not so easy, but I can assure you will leave so satisfied that you just might go to sleep afterwards. This product is the real deal and worth every penny.

I just got my FL today, couldn't wait to get home and try it. I got the pink lady super ribbed. This thing does not let you down. I almost came upon entry! Those ribs... OMG. I thought I was going to explode when I tried to pull it out. Being a bare back type of guy, it has been a long time since I have came in my wife. Let me tell ya, this product is all it claims to be and more. I cant wait to order and try a different insert as well! Thanks Again

Actually, who am I to point fingers at the hetties, the homos probably have a wider range of odd sex toys!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

And the nominees are....

SA Blog Awards
There are some kind, loyal readers out there - I've been nominated for best overseas-based South African blog. So, now it's time for you to go and vote for me! But, Terri’s Web, a relatively new read of mine, has been voted in the same category.

Oh dear, choices, choices!

And while you're there, cast votes for some of my favourite blogs:
You can vote once a day between now and Friday, 3 March.

Wodehouse and the Indians

stiff upper lipI was weaned on Janet & John and Winnie the Pooh, steeped in Rudyard Kipling and Richmal Compton's William books, and saturated in Enid Blyton. In my early teens I must have read everything ever written by Agatha Christie while plundering the rest of my grandmother's library of English authors, some of whom remain famous but many of whom have long been confined to the dustbin of passing literary fads.

Yet I confess to never having read any Wodehouse.

There was a time when I thought I'd try one but that passed. Then I thought I must try one but that passed too. Today, I have no desire to read Wodehouse but his reputation and enduring appeal intrigue me. Even more fascinating, is the Indian love-affair with Bertie Wooster that shows no sign of fading.

'Most Wodehouses are bought by middle-class Indians whose public school-like “English-Medium” education arguably equips them to appreciate the author’s verbal virtuosity and literary allusions better than many Brits.'

Having just read another article about this love affair with Wodehouse and having read other articles on the flowery, often formal, English used by many educated Indians, I was suddenly reminded of my Indian project manager.

He's very bright and highly educated but I don't think I've ever come across anyone else who sounds as if he's quoting from four textbooks simultaneously while not actually saying much.

The other side

And that, in the end, is the dismal fate of blogging: it renders the word even more evanescent than journalism; yoked, as bloggers are, to the unending cycle of news and the need to post four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, blogging is the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence. No Modern Library edition of the great polemicists of the blogosphere to yellow on the shelf; nothing but a virtual tomb for a billion posts - a choric song of the word-weary bloggers, forlorn mariners forever posting on the slumberless seas of news.

There's that sort of blogging and then there's this sort.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Which celebrities do I most look like?

According to this fun link sent to me the other day by Michelle, the celebrities I most look like are:
  • David Blaine 66%
  • Dan Quayle 57%
  • Christopher Lloyd 56%
  • Alain Delon 51%
  • Kenneth Branagh 51%
  • Ethan Hawke 49%
  • Jake Gyllenhaal 48%

To find out who you most look like, you need to upload your face to the site and their face recognition software does the rest.

Those results are from the most recent pic of myself but I tried it several times using different pics. Unsurprisingly, the results differed wildly even though Ethan Hawke featured several times.

Ok, now that I've done it, you do the same and let me know who you most look like.

alan aka reluctant nomaddavid blainedavid blainedan quaylechristopher lloydchristopher lloydalain delonalain delonkenneth branaghethan hawkeethan hawkejake gyllenhaaljake gyllenhaal

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Brokeback again

Brokebank Mountain has gone and won a whole lot more awards at the Baftas on Sunday night. Is it a sweep of the Oscars next?

Despite my rather underwhelmed response to the film, I acknowledge that it's a 'big movie' with a classic, timeless theme. And, with its relatively unconventional theme of gay ranch hands set in the sixties, it wouldn't be long before the jokers and cartoonists brought it down to size.

I found some funny cartoons at bigric's place and the Brokeback Mountain shopping list at queerfactor.

Grocery lists for Ennis & Jack, summer 1962 on Brokeback Mountain
Beans, Bacon, Coffee, Whiskey

Beans, Ham, Coffee, Whiskey

Beans, Bacon, Coffee, Whiskey, K-Y

Beans, Pancetta, Coffee (espresso grind), Whiskey, 2 tubes K-Y

Fresh Java beans, Jasmine rice, Prosciutto, approx. 8 ounces, thinly sliced, Medallions of veal, Porcini mushrooms, 1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream, 1 Cub Scout uniform, size 42 long, 5-6 bottles good Chardonnay, 1 large bottle Astro-glide, dildo

Yukon Gold potatoes, Heavy whipping cream, Asparagus (very thin), Eggs, Lemons, Gruyere cheese (well aged), Walnuts, Arugula, Unsalted Butter, Olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, 6 yards white silk organdy, 6 yards pale ivory taffeta, Case of Chardonnay, Large tin Crisco and tub of Albolene, gloves, moisturizer, toner and cleanser

Lowering the flag each day

Thank you all for the considered, thought-provoking comments in response to the suicide of my friend Felicitas. She is being cremated today. In a few week’s time, her friends will scatter her ashes in a small ceremony at a favourite place accompanied by a bottle of Jamieson whiskey and the Rolling Stones.

Ironically, this blog, which she read regularly and found so egotistical, will remind me of her daily.

Each time I look at my ‘flag counter’, something I do every time I log on, I’ll notice how many hits I've had from Ghana. As I’ve said before, neocounter misinterpreted Felicitas’ ISP as being from Ghana as opposed to Mozambique. At one stage, the only countries ahead of Ghana were the US, UK, South Africa, Canada and France. Since her death, the number of hits from Ghana has stayed static at 35 and Australia has moved ahead of Ghana. As time goes by, unless someone else using an ISP identified as Ghanaian starts frequenting this blog, Ghana’s flag will dip lower and lower.

The irony of the constantly dipping flag being my daily reminder of her is the sort of thing that would have appealed to Felicitas’ sense of humour.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Suicide note in my email

Dear Alan,

When you get this email you can strike me off your contact list for I will be no more. I just wanted to let you know, and wanted to tell you that our ‘friendship’ or mail relationship or whatever you might call it was really special to me. I enjoyed most of it.

I spare you explanations because, let’s face it, you are not really interested in anything or anybody but yourself. So why bother. Know what? Your blog was a real eye-opener in this respect. I think I have never met or known anyone so totally self-absorbed as you seem to be. Or, the others have concealed it better. Yes, probably that, because deep down I believe that everybody is just interested in themselves, and screw the rest.

Well, whatever, enjoy and keep well. And perhaps you might even remember this silly grumpy old German woman in Mozambique from time to time.


I received that in my email yesterday. It was attached to the second of two emails I received yesterday morning when my head was pounding with hangover toxins. The email read as follows:

Dear Alan,

I believe you may already know that Felicitas passed away yesterday, Friday. My friend G has been trying to contact all Felicitas' family and friends to give them the sad news. If you do not already know then I have to inform you of this sad fact.

Felicitas left a 'memory-stick' with personal letters to all her friends and it is my duty to send these on.

I hope you will forgive me for not writing more at the moment. I am still in shock trying to face up to losing my dear friend.

Kind regards

Reading about her death was shocking. Reading her opinion of me was shocking. For most of yesterday, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I felt saddened and depressed. This is the reply I sent to her friend.

Dear A and B

It was a terrible shock to receive those emails telling me about Felicitas’s tragic death. Thank you so much for letting me know and sending me the letter she wrote me. I am very sorry that you have lost a good friend and have had to go through such a trying time in the past few days.

In the almost three years that I’ve ‘known’ her, we got to know a lot about each other and I regarded her as a good friend even though I’d never met her in person. I first got in touch with her when I was looking for information on how to get a copy of my Mozambiquan birth certificate. I found her name when I was doing an internet search for contacts in Maputo and emailed her.

At first our emails were very formal but over the space of a couple of months, they became more personal and we maintained a very regular correspondence in which we discussed all aspects of our lives. About a year after beginning our correspondence, she very kindly got copies of birth certificates for my brother and I at some expense to herself as well as time and effort. I offered to pay her but she would not accept money so I said that I'd try to visit her one day in Maputo to thank her in person. About a year ago, I was going to send her some books as a token of my appreciation but was unable to as I lost my job and was without money for a long time. Now that she has gone, how I wish that I had done that at least.

I know a lot of personal information about her as she was very open about herself and told me a lot about her past and present circumstances. So I know that she was very unhappy about her life. There were several times last year when, on discussing the possibility of my visiting Maputo, she said that I had better do it before the end of the year as it would probably be too late after that. When I asked why, she implied that she would not be alive beyond the end of the year but would not be drawn into discussing it. I tried to find out more and to tell her that she must not think that way. I really didn’t expect her to take her life but, not knowing her in real life, perhaps it is not so unexpected after all. I know that she was lonely and that she was sometimes in great pain as a result of the motorbike accident she had many years ago but there must have been much more that was troubling her than just that.

I so wish that I had been able to prevent this tragedy. I am sure that all her friends think the same way.

You will have seen that the letter she sent me was rather harsh even though it was also affectionate. Whether she is right or wrong in her assessment of me, it is sad, depressing and hurtful to think she thought of me in that way but such concerns are irrelevant now that she is gone.

I will miss her a lot as I am sure you and all her friends will.

When you have the time and have recovered from the shock of Felicitas’s death, I’d appreciate knowing a bit more about the circumstances of her death and any thoughts you have on why she chose to end her life.

Kind regards

felicitas - stellenbosch 2005Some of you may remember a post of mine from last month when I was wondering who my regular reader from Ghana was. A few weeks later, I discovered that it was Felicitas – sitemeter and neocounter identified her ISP incorrectly as being from Ghana as opposed to Mozambique. Once I realised that, I could tell when she had been reading my blog.

The only time she ever commented on the blog was when I posted some pictures of Avenida 24 de Julho in Maputo and she asked where I’d found the one picuture as it appeared to have been taken from the place she’d first lived in when she moved there in the late eighties.

She recently emailed me a lot of old pictures of Maputo from the twenties that she thought I’d like for the blog. She also emailed me the window-cleaner clip that I posted a few weeks ago when I blogged about the TV programme on the world’s biggest penis. The last time I received word from her was a few emails on February 1st. I had been enquiring how she was. This was her reply:

Grumpy, what else. My depression is getting high-grade, and getting worse each day. I drink half a (litre) bottle of whiskey a day, that doesn't help either. I feel absolutely totally completely awful.

I last emailed her 3 days ago suggesting she have a look at the picture of the Mozambique showjumping team that I’d posted that day as she used to be a keen horse rider.

There was no reply.

I wasn’t sure if I should blog about this as, in a way, it seems to confirm her opinion of me that appears to have developed from her reading of my blog. That seems especially true when you consider that I've told you how we came into contact and a bit about her state of mind but I've not really told you much about her. I can do that another time. But, whether I've validated her opinion or not, Felicitas needs an obituary and this is the best I can do.

I will miss her. A lot.

Friday, February 17, 2006

An Interviewing Divide

Although quite a bit of effort is involved in doing a good job of being an interviewer for the Interview Meme, I rather enjoy it. It’s especially enjoyable if the blog-owner being interviewed owns a blog that's a relatively new read as it gets you trawling through all of the blog’s archives so as to be able to ask pertinent questions. So often when you discover a new blog that becomes a regular read, you don’t have the time or, possibly, the inclination to read everything that has been written since the blog started.

Apparently this meme has been doing the rounds for a few years now but I first discovered it on Gay Banker's blog. He puts a lot of effort into his interviews so his questions and the answers to them are great to read. So far, he’s interviewed 5 people including me.

I’ve just finished my second interview and have another in the pipeline. In comparing our interviewees, there's a distinct difference. All of his are gay males whereas all of mine are straight females.

Both of us are gay, so why the dramatic divide?

I suppose the answer lies in the subject matter of our respective blogs.

His is almost entirely devoted to sexual matters, his ‘illicit’ sexual encounters in particular. Although mine often proffers relatively explicit evidence of my rather promiscuous ways, it covers a wide range of things such as my past, my present, my interests, commentary on current affairs, etc. I have a diverse readership that includes lesbians, gay men and straights of both sexes. All of them make comments from time to time, including the straight males when I’m writing about gay sex. I wonder if they’re gritting their teeth when they read such stuff? *insert smile here*. But, despite Gay Banker’s blog mostly being about gay sex, his readership is pretty wide too. I don’t know if he has any straight male readers but he certainly has quite a number of straight female ones.

Why do you think only gay males volunteer to be interviewed by him?

Why do you think only straight females volunteer to be interviewed by me?

Incidentally, I’m not heterophobic, homocentric, misogynist, sexist or whatever so treat the above as an observation and not a complaint. And while I enjoy interviewing, it’s also not an invitation for a flood of volunteers asking to be interviewed.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Interview questions for Caroline

As per the rules of the Interview Meme, after answering the interview questions posed to me by Gay Banker, I made myself available as an interviewer to anyone who chose to be interviewed.

Xmichra was the first person to subject herself to an interrogation and did a great job of it. Since then, Caroline and Buddess have also chosen to be interrogated, I mean interviewed. As interviewees, the three of them make a pleasantly diverse threesome with personal circumstances and blogs that are quite different from each other and coming, as they do, from Canada, England and South Africa.

The next one to sit under the spotlight is Caroline.

collage - self-portrait by carolineCaroline is my age (not to be divulged purely out of good manners, of course, but it’s easily found should you want to know) and lives in Bristol with her husband, Jim. She’s only been blogging for 6 months but has two blogs (Caro's words and 100 Things About Me, a collaborative blog) in addition to Caro's lines, her art blog where I discovered her. So there’s enough interview fodder for me to find it difficult to decide on five pertinent questions.

I think I came across Caroline via Andrea’s blog but, blog-readers being rather incestuous creatures, there are a number of other blogs that may have led me to her. Some of those are South African but most aren’t. However, one of my first comments on her blog, in reference to her father who spent many years in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before Caroline’s birth, was to ask if she knew of the term ‘when we’, a term that South Africans often call whites who left Zimbabwe. She did, of course, and pointed me to an entry of hers from a few months ago where she wrote about her father and mentioned how often he’d say, ‘When I was in Rhodesia…’ There's nothing extraordinary about me asking that question but I suspect that it may gel with her ideas on synchronicity, something she’s a strong believer in.

mandala by carolineHer academic background and part of her career were mathematical/scientific but her belief systems and interests seem quite removed from such logical pursuits in that she’s very artistic (something she gets from her mother) and spiritual. Her artistic pursuits are very evident by regular postings of her artistic creations. These often reflect her spiritual interests (eg various personal interpretations of a mandala) but you need to delve into her words to find out more about those. She’s had two bad bouts of M.E. and, since then, has been advised not to return to work.

And now for the questions.

As with Xmichra, they’re quite probing and could take forever to answer if you think too hard so either take your time or just note down the first thoughts that cross your mind on reading them. And, because I found it difficult to restrict my questions to five, there’s an extra one for good luck. It would be great if you answered all six but feel free to restrict your answers to the five you feel most comfortable with.

Question 1: You love seeing faces in things. And you have always been very sensitive about texture and how things feel. You also love colour and, at times, you’ve arranged your books according to the colour of their spines. If someone were to ask you for a preference, would you pick shape, texture, colour?

morning glory flowersQuestion 2: You are a trained practitioner in flower essences and you talk of morning glory being a power plant that claimed you with great strength. Besides being a very beautiful plant, the morning glory is a powerful psychotropic. Many artists are very open to experiencing as much of the world as possible. Have you ever taken mind-altering substances? If not, why not? If you have, do you still take them?

Question 3: You met Jim, your husband, between your two bouts of M.E. the second of which first affected you in 1996. So you will have known him from your mid-thirties, if not before, years in which many women choose to have children. You make no mention of children yet you strike me as a person who would make a very good mother and, in fact, would like to have had children. Am I right in thinking this of you? If so, why have you not had any?

self-portrait by carolineQuestion 4: You read various ‘fortune-telling cards’, to use a rather inexact term and you have read books on dream interpretation. Many of these have different ways of interepreting signs and information based on keys, principles, and methods laid down over time. But, as I understand it, to be a good reader, much of your power is reliant on your intuition and an ability to open yourself to external influences. Do you think that if you were able to simultaneously read various types of cards (eg Tarot, Dream cards) or simultaneously apply different dream interpetation techniques to a dream you’d had, you’d land up wth conflicting interpretations? How would you interpret/handle that? Alternatively, if you believe they would not conflict with each other, how would you explain that?

Question 5: Many people, especially artists, are very receptive to music and, given a bit of encouragement, will be very passionate about their likes in music. Yet, in your blog, you make no mention of music even though Jim is the base player of the Macaroni Penguins, your favourite band, and you talk of your much greater than average ability to hear high pitched sounds. Why?

Question 6: Unless my research is flawed, it would appear that Jim is a very keen climber and cyclist, activities that your ME would preclude you from. Is this difficult or are they activities that don’t interest you?

For those of you who may want to be interviewed in this fashion, here are the Official Interview Games Rules:

  • If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying, "interview me".
  • I will respond by asking you five questions - each persons will be different.
  • You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
  • You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
  • When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Update: Caroline has produced a a great set of answers to my rather probing questions. I was impressed to wake up this morning and find that she'd managed to answer them so thoroughly in such a short space of time.

Raised on horses

mozambique showjumping team circa 1967Mozambique show-jumping Team circa 1967
(my mother second from right)

For those of you who haven’t followed my meandering stories over the past few months, you may want some context to ’Beetle Brooch’ :

I was raised on horses by a mother who probably loved her horses more than anything else. Our garden in Matola, just outside Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), was large enough for a paddock and four stables, not unusual in colonial times. At various times of the year, when there was a major show-jumping event at the Centro Hipico, she’d spent most of the week there, sometimes sleeping in the stables with Liberette, her favourite horse, rather than returning home in the evening. Much of my weekend at those times would be spent at the showground where I was mostly left to my own devices. I’d spend time in the stables, wander around the grounds and buildings, talk to stable hands and show-jumpers, watch show-jumping, visit the Maputo Zoo next door, play with other kids ‘abandoned’ there by their parents, etc. I had a great time - the sort of time that comes from total freedom of a sort most kids aren’t allowed to enjoy these days.

So-called 'international' show-jumping events were held there several times a year. The three countries represented were Mozambique, South Africa and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). The South Africans always won and the Rhodesians were usually second. My mother was a member of the Mozambique show-jumping team for several years. Spending so much time there, I got to meet some of the most famous South African show jumpers of the time. People like Bob Grayston who taught my mother to ride (his name will be familiar to those who know Johannesburg’s northern suburbs), Gonda Betrix (Butters), Mickey Louw, the Myburgs and Wendy Cochrane who later married Bob Grayston. Many years later I discovered that Wendy is my wife’s second cousin.

I’ve deliberately not made any obvious puns about horses, stable-hands and riding even though it was difficult not to.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My morning routine

5.45: alarm rings
5.46: kettle and TV switched on
5.50: back under duvet watching news on TV
6.05: ablutions and shower
6.20: get dressed and get things ready to go
6.29: walk downstairs to get my lift
6:30: get into lift’s car

Usually the lift is there a bit before I get out of the front door so he waits for me outside the door. If I get down before he arrives, I walk to the corner which makes it easier for him. I’d been waiting there for just over a minute this morning when the sleek Audi whisked past me and parked outside my flat. At that time of morning, it’s still very dark and I was standing next to a large skip so he must have not seen me.

I strolled over at a brisk pace and opened the back door, placing my briefcase on the seat as I tried to sound bright and cheerful.

‘Good morning, David!’

I closed the back door and was ready to open the front to jump in when my slowly wakening mind registered something different.

I opened the back door again. A very bemused man, not David, was looking at me.

‘Oops,’ I said, ‘wrong car. I’m so sorry!’

He didn’t say a thing as I removed my briefcase, closed the door and crossed the road to go back to the corner where I’d been standing. About a minute later, I was still waiting for David when he got out of the car. He looked long and hard at me.

I can’t be sure but I think he was smiling.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Pick me, pick me!

Until a week or so ago, I’d never heard of the SA Blog Awards. It seems to be run along very much the same lines of many of the other Blog Awards you see on the net but is restricted to blogs with a South African connection.

Kyknoord and Queermind have both resorted to shameless self-promotion in asking for nominations from their readers so I shall follow suit.

Go on, nominate me, you know you want to.

Oh, and hurry up about it - nominations close at the end of the week.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Beetle brooch

My mother had just joined me and my father on the crowded grandstand, a series of concrete steps that stretched up into the blazing sunshine. She’d finished jumping about twenty minutes before and was still slightly flushed from the sun and exertion. I was sitting on the step behind her, leaning forwards so that I could get my arms around her neck. It was slightly damp with sweat. I could smell traces of her perfume mixed with the rich smell of horse. She was telling us how disappointed she’d been with her round and that she hoped she’d fare better in the later event.

We noticed some people waving to us from the bottom of the steps and she called them over.

They climbed the steps and stopped at a level where their faces were level with ours. I’d met the Portuguese couple before. He was a keen rider and sometimes rode with my mother. His wife, very petite and fashionably dressed, was not the sort of person you’d imagine riding horses. She didn’t. The other couple were strangers. Most people there were Portuguese but there were always a lot of South African riders and visitors around when the Centro Hipico was having an ‘international’ show jumping event. These people didn’t look Portuguese nor did they look South African. Once they opened their mouths, I realised they were American.

How exotic!

I’d never met an American before. Well, not a real one. Mr Lehmann from next door was American but he was hardly ever there. And, anyway, the Lehmanns weren’t rich. He definitely didn’t count as a real one.

These people looked rich.

He was tall and slim and wore a pale safari suit. Lots of men wore them in those days. Not that many wore white hats and big black sunglasses like this man did. She was also tall and slim and wore a yellow blouse tucked into tight dark trousers. Her hair was pulled back by a scarf and she was wearing the most amazing cats-eye sunglasses that sparkled in the blazing sun. Diamonds, I thought! I was disappointed later when I found out that the shining bits were bits of glass. Rhinestones to be correct.

They were introduced to us and the grown-ups got chatting while I got staring. They were fascinating, especially the woman who looked just like a movie star. She was probably quite a lot older than my mother but she was so much more glamorous and looked absolutely beautiful. I wished that I could see her eyes behind her glasses. While she talked, she kept smiling at me, aware, I’m sure, of the way I was looking at her. I tried not to stare but couldn’t help it.

scarab broochEach time I looked at her, I drank in more of her exotic glamour. This was better than the movies, it was like being in the movies! She wasn’t wearing as much jewellery as I’d have expected on a rich ‘movie star’. In that regard, she was slightly disappointing as I’d have loved it had she dripped with jewels like Richie Rich's mother. All she wore were two yellow bangles on one arm, a few rings and her brooch, a dark golden beetle with big green jewels on its back. It was beautiful and almost made up for the lack of jewellery.

My eyes had taken her in several times by the time I noticed her brooch move, some five minutes after they’d joined us. At first I thought it was just my imagination or that it had moved as she moved while talking. I watched it very closely.

It was definitely moving on its own!

I started whispering into my mother’s ear, loudly and insistently, ‘Mom, mom, mom.’

My mother hated being interrupted if she was talking to someone. She tried to ignore me at first then, irritated, she tried to shush me. I carried on.

‘Mom, look at her brooch,’ I whispered loudly, ‘it’s moving!’

By the time she’d heard what I said, the American woman knew that I was fascinated by her brooch.

‘It’s alive, sweetie, that’s why it’s moving,’ she said.

‘Alive?’ both my mother and I said, almost in unison.

‘Yes, it’s a real beetle. See, its attached to my blouse with this little chain. When I’m not wearing her, I put her in her cage.’

In the Victorian era, there was a fascination with the natural world that manifested itself in some very weird fashions such as wearing stuffed humming birds as earings and real, live insects as brooches.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Bizarre baubles

A few weeks ago, I read about a couple who are cementing their union by swapping bits of bone. Each will have a bit of bone from the other grafted on to their jawbone.

Apparently this will bring them closer together.

serenity broochYesterday's Metro magazine carried a short piece about a woman who is having her mother’s ashes turned into jewellery (*). For her, an urn on the mantelpiece isn’t as worthy a way of remembering her dearly departed.

Apparently mother’s ashes in some jewellery will keep them forever close together.

Bizarre? Yes, I think so. Well, maybe not bizarre but definitely weird. Definitely not as bizarre as the brooch I saw as a child.

(*) for those of you who haven't realised this by now, it's always a good idea to click on the pics - you may be nicely surprised.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I never learn!

That rant about religious fundamentalism was part of the pub conversation I was having with Mike last night. It was very much a spur-of-the-moment decision to meet up as he won’t be around much for the next few weeks while he’s working in London. Before going out to meet him, I got a few text messages from D asking to meet up. I told him I was meeting Mike but that I’d be able to see him about 11 if that were not too late for him. He said it may be but that I should ring him when I got home.

After one drink at The Peacock surrounded by several very large, loud women, we moved on to Lord Roberts. D was there, sat at a table with a friend. We went and sat in our own corner. D joined us about half an hour later.

He was rather drunk and in full flow.

Not really the best thing to be faced with at 11 on a school night. But, I’d said that I’d meet him and despite apprehension about how I’d feel in the morning, lust overruled common sense.

We got back to my flat just after midnight.

It was almost 2am by the time I was ready to fall asleep. That would have given me four hour’s sleep, not a lot but something I’m not entirely unused to. David, however, was enervated by excess alcohol, sexual afterglow, a need to tell me how lovely I am (I kid you not!) and a need to caress me all over. Yes, I know, that sort of combination should be a recipe for rapid sleep but it seemed to keep him awake.

The light went off at 2.30.

I’m usually very happy to cuddle up close but I was starting to get anxious about how many hours left I had for sleeping. Having his arm under my neck and his hot body drawn up close to my back was not going to help me fall asleep quickly. Despite my not responding at all, he kept saying things to me. I could feel the anxiety levels rising. I also knew that he’d be snoring before long.

I was right.

For the next hour, I had some very vivid dreams that blended into each other each despite the many moments when I was obviously awake. D’s arm was still underneath me, he was still too close to me and his heavy breathing and intermittent snoring were still too loud.

I moved to the couch.

The vivid dreams broken by regular waking periods continued. At times, I’d be aware of a change in his breathing and expected him to walk into the sitting room and ask me why I wasn’t in bed with him. Fortunately, he didn’t.

I was fully awake at 5.30. In the shower at 6. Climbing into my lift’s car at 6.30.

For someone who probably didn’t have much more than two hour’s sleep last night, all of it interrupted by frequent waking moments, I’m strangely alert. Thank God that some sense prevailed last night and I only had three pints even though I was tempted to go for another with Mike at The Central.

Incidentally, it was Mike who pointed me in the direction of that excellent post by Religious Policeman.

Ranting against religious ranting

The Asian tsunami was blamed by some Muslims on Allah’s punishment of errant Muslims and Western pleasure-seekers. Some Muslim clerics went further and heaped the blame on fornicators, usurers, homosexuals and others, noting that its occurrence during the Christmas holiday period had some sort of special significance. But it wasn’t only the Muslim clerics that were attributing the disaster to God’s wrath – various spokespeople for the other major faiths were also blaming the sins of Mankind for the disaster.

Just last month, the mayor of New Orleans provoked outrage by calling Hurricane Katrina God’s punishment for invading Iraq. But, before that, various conservative Christians were blaming it on a whole multitude of sins. Some of these opinions are summarised in the Medical Leader:

Rick Scarborough, president of Vision America, argued that the hurricane was God’s punishment for homosexuality, bestiality, pornography, the removal of Ten Commandments monuments, and the United States’ support for Israel’s withdrawal of Gaza.

Michael Marcavage, who leads the anti-homosexual group Repent America, argued that the hurricane struck just before Southern Decadence, the annual gay rights parade in New Orleans. Marcavage also linked the destruction with Mardi Gras and the “Girls Gone Wild” videos.

The group, led by antihomosexual preacher Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., said, “New Orleans, symbol of America, (is) seen for what it is: a putrid, toxic, stinking cesspool of fag fecal matter.” And they concluded, “It is NOT a sin to rejoice when God executes his wrath and vengeance upon America.”

Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, also thanks God for Hurricane Katrina. “New Orleans now is abortion free,” he explains. “New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free.”

The next major disaster to be attributed to God’s wrath was the earthquake in Pakistan. Some Islamic fundamentalists blamed it on ‘immoral activities’, some suggested that the ‘first gay marriage’ in Pakistan was to blame. Extreme right-wingers in the West said ‘Allah decided to punish you during your very holy month of Ramadan’.

There is just no end to the way in which religious zealots and bigots will manipulate information and events to suit their own agendas even though their opponents will be manipulating the same material to suit their own agendas. You have to wonder how they manage to convince their supporters to go along with their transparent manipulations. If all their followers were poorly educated and lived in parts of the world with little access to balanced opinions, you’d be able to understand it but significant numbers of their supporters are well-educated citizens of the developed world.

And now, with the explosive worldwide situation resulting from the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, you have Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stating that the publication of the cartoons was an Israeli conspiracy motivated by anger over Hamas’ win in the Palestinian elections.

Is he deliberately missing the point that they were originally published in September last year whereas the Hamas victory is a mere few week’s old? Will any of the people listening to him be aware of that insignificant little fact the next time they’re blaming the West for all the problems of the Middle East?

And while we’re on the subject of those cartoons, it incenses me to hear that there seems to be evidence proving that the whole situation was deliberately manipulated to create maximum discontent in the Muslim world. It appears that extra, more offensive cartoons were added to the original 12 by Danish Muslim activists then systematically distributed to mosques and governments around the world, starting in Egypt.

If you think that I’m not too keen on religious fundamentalism, you’d be perfectly right.

For an excellent post on the cartoons, have a look at the Religious Policeman

Monday, February 06, 2006

You can't hide from Google

Despite not being so keen on Google's censorship policy as regards China, I'm quite a fan of Google. All that information, mostly trivial, at my fingertips! But a downside to its power, is the lack of anonymity, particularly if you have any sort of presence on the net. It adds an extra dimension to the old saying 'Publish and be damned'.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a lot of Google activity coming my way from Germany with search terms such as 'fotocommunity', 'Herwiga Peters' and 'stolen from Herwiga Peters'. I also noticed that the pages retrieved were being translated into German. Could it be that Herwiga Peters was so pleased by my use of a photo taken by her on one of my 'All I want for Christmas' posts that she wanted to read what I was saying? That's an obvious conclusion, don't you think? I was, after all, giving her photo lots more exposure than it gets lying buried in the fotocommunity site. But, it seems not.

She was actually very pissed off by my unauthorised use of the photo.

About a week later, I got a comment from fotocommunity's site adminstrator telling me to remove it and any other photos I may have used from the site. To say that the comment was totally unexpected would be a lie even though I'd have preferred being told how nice I was to use their beautiful photographs of Cape Town.

We exchanged a few emails in which I apologised for 'stealing' and told him I'd remove them at once. In my defence, I told him that they were not being used for any commercial purposes and that I had credited the photographers concerned. I also pointed out that had I not credited her by name, she'd never have come across the theft. Everything was sorted out very amicably and he even suggested that I contact the various photographers concerned to authorise my use of their photos. I considered that for a while but thought it too much effort for posts that are no longer current and that should people want to see the photos, the links are still there for them to be seen.

It just goes to show - you can't hide from Google!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Brokeback to the Future

I must be getting lazy if I'm resorting to strange bits and pieces I find on my surfing adventures. But, hey, it's the weekend and weekends are meant to be lazy.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Posting just for the sake of it

In between being very busy and very bored at the office today, I was trying to think of something interesting or intelligent to say. Not that I ever do, of course. But fantasising can be fun even if futile.

In the absence of any interesting fantasies, I had to resort to other methods of alleviating my boredom. I landed up scraping the bottom of the barrel by 'analysing' what search words led various people here over the past few weeks.

Quite a mixed bag, I’d say.
While this was hardly the most interesting post I've come up with for a while, it may prompt you to read some of the things I've said which now lie buried in the archives.

'Ah, so there was an ulterior motive behind this pointless post', I can hear you all say.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Too much penis

michelangelo's davidFor the past three days, Channel 4 has been showing a series on the male appendage. Monday night's program was called 'The Perfect Penis' and concentrated on penis enlargement and some other oddities like injecting testicles with silicone. As odd as that sounds, the results are even odder. I didn't catch last night's program about John Wayne Bobbit, entitled 'The Man Who Lost His Penis' but I'll watch tonight's one called 'The World's Biggest Penis'.

As I've said before, I'm no size queen but I'll make a point of watching it.

My friend in Maputo sent me something that is a bit appropriate to all this - I hope you like it.

Interview questions for Xmichra

It’s taken me a long time to get round to this but better late than never as the saying goes. After answering the interview questions set to me by Gay Banker, I posted the rules of this interview meme (see below) one of which states that the interviewee (me in this case) is willing to interview anyone else who requests to be interviewed.

I got one request.

xmichraXmichra is a relatively new read of mine. I came across her when planting my flag on Rob's map and then went on to plant my flag on hers. Talk about spreading one's seed, I mean, staking one's claims! Xmichra has been blogging for a few years now, firstly on livejournal, then blogspot. But, in the past few weeks, she’s grown up and gone all fancy by using Wordpress on her own domain.

There’s a lot of quite personal information to be found all over the place, some of it easily found in posts such as ‘100 things about me’. In many of her posts she is not afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve and she reveals many of her beliefs, desires and worries. As you go through her archives, you get a sense of the real person behind the writing slowly developing a relationship with her as you would with a new friend. So, in a way, asking her five pertinent questions for which the answers don’t already appear on her blog, is not all that easy but I’ll do my best.

Before I do that, let me summarise Xmichra into a few sentences, a sort of pigeon-holing exercise that, by its very nature, cannot do justice to her but is helpful to readers who haven't read her blog:

Xmichra is a Canadian woman who's rapidly approaching 30 and is married to Mike with whom she’s been with for almost 10 years. Although she has a fulltime job, the major focus of her life is her 2-year old daughter, Kira. While being a deeply spiritual person, Xmichra isn’t a Christian and, in fact, does not believe in God or the devil. Interests of hers include music, computer games, celebrities (particularly Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie!), going out dancing and having fun (doesn’t happen that often), etc. She comes across as someone who’d make a very true and loyal friend but who would distance herself from those whose actions show them to be undeserving of her friendship. Just recently, as she approaches the big Three O, Xmichra seems to be having a few self-doubts related to where she is in her life.

Ok, now for the questions.

Xmichra, they’re the sort that could take forever to answer if you think too hard so you may just want to note down the first thoughts that cross your mind on reading them. However, don't let me influence you, approach them as you want.

Question 1: You don’t believe in the Christian god or devil but you believe in magic. I can see that your interests while growing up and the interests you have now make you a sort of ‘new ager’, someone who believes in forces and spirits intrinsic to the earth and universe. This strikes me as a very undisciplined/unstructured religion or set of beliefs. There isn’t anything wrong with that but don’t you think that a moral and spiritual framework based on such a set of beliefs is lacking when compared to the traditional religions?

Question2: I think that you believe in the equality of men and women and don’t believe in following traditional roles yet you seem to be the person who does most (all?) the cooking and cleaning as well as tending to Kira. Is this true? If true, why is this the case? Does it bother you?

Question 3: Your life has been fulfilled by Kira but you talk about being scared to have another child. It seems that some medical issues may prevent you from conceiving easily. If you can’t conceive another would this bother you? Would adoption ever be a consideration?

Question 4: You were really cut up by your friend Rob’s inconsiderate druggy behaviour in March 2005. Have things changed or are you estranged now? At what point do you let old friends go when their lives take a radically different path to the one you follow?

Question 5: You seem really taken up by computer games although there are times when you don’t have as much time for them as you had in the past. It may be too early to think of these things but how are you going to limit Kira’s desire to play them should she get really addicted? Or maybe you won’t?

For those of you who may want to be interviewed in this fashion, here are the Official Interview Games Rules:

  • If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying, "interview me".
  • I will respond by asking you five questions - each persons will be different.
  • You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
  • You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
  • When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

UPDATE: Go here to read Xmichra's excellent replies to my rather probing questions.