Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Heard on the company tannoy this morning

'Ladies and Gentleman, you may have noticed that the toilets and vending machines aren’t working. The engineers are working on the problem at the moment and hope to sort it out soon. Toilet facilities are available for use at Bewer House and a shuttle bus has been allocated for Colleague transport to and from Bewer House to access these facilities. The pick up point for the shuttle bus is directly outside main reception. For Colleagues with special needs taxis are also available from outside main reception to take them to Bewer House.'

This is a building with over 2000 employees!

What happens to those people with that particular special need, ‘when you gotta go, you gotta go’?

I have a desperate special need – where’s my morning coffee?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Red wine will be my downfall

On Friday, for the first time in ages, I actually got to go to NG1, a place that I’ve been known to visit more often than twice a week. The place wasn’t that busy but there were enough men to keep my eyes busy.

A tall, good-looking, dark-haired guy caught my eye at some stage and we soon established a rapport that promised more than just a friendly chat. He looked vaguely familiar but I dispelled the possibility of having met him before as he told me that he was South African and, until very recently (two weeks ago) when I met another one, I was sure that I was the only South African moffie on the local gay scene.

Later, trying to find his place (unsuccessfully), I remember him looking at me incomprehensibly when I spoke to him in Afrikaans. Trying to get home was of more importance to me than wondering why he couldn’t understand me so I didn’t give it a second thought. After two wrong turns, I suggested going back to my place may be a better idea. He agreed.

Lying in bed together in the morning, both of us holding mugs of hot coffee that I’d just made, I asked him his name.

‘You know me,’ he said.

‘Sorry, I’m sure you told me your name last night but I've forgotten it,’ I said, slightly embarrassed.

‘My name is R,’ he said, ‘but I didn’t mean that. You know me.’

‘I don’t think so. How?’

‘I’m B’s boyfriend,’ he said.

I looked at him more carefully and realised that, indeed, he was B’s boyfriend. Oops!!

B is quite a good friend of mine but he's been out of circulation for a while since meeting R. Although I’d been introduced to him before and probably seen him out with B on two or three occasions, I’ve not actually socialised with B since R's been on the scene. Now I realised why he’d looked familiar the night before but I'd genuinely not recognised him. And his pulling my leg about being South African (he’s actually from Derby), hadn’t helped my alcohol-addled mind recognise him.

Oops, oops, oops!

He left about an hour later, forgetting his socks at my place. That afternoon we had two intense text conversations in which he asked me not to mention our having gone home together to anyone, let alone B.

I have no intention to.

For those of you who've read my previous episodes arising from too much red wine (*) before going out for the night, you are right if you’re wondering if this particular episode can be blamed on too much red wine.

(*) My troubles with too much red wine:

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sanctimonious are us

Re-reading my previous post makes me sound excessively sanctimonious. I wasn't drunk, I promise!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Maybe God exists after all

Watching and listening to Eugène Terre'Blanche and his followers on TV tonight, the worst aspects of the apartheid years came flooding back. Watching those queues of people, some of whom queued for days, voting for the first time in the April 27 elections of 1994 filled me with emotion.

It choked me up.

I don't believe in God but when I see how things were and how they turned out, I thank God.

But, more than that, I thank Mandela and the people of South Africa.

south african election 1994

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Bedding the bed

I think the sofa has been dumped in favour of the bed.

Last night was the third night in a row that I’ve slept in my bed. Well, it’s more like 2 ¼ nights as I only moved to the bed at about 4 am on the first night to escape my laptop that was humming loudly at me from the table next to the sofa. But, on every occasion, I’ve been perfectly sober, gone to bed knowingly alone and woken up knowingly alone.

I’d forgotten how much more comfortable it is than that sofa.

I wonder if it will be any more comfortable should I wash the bedding?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Surely he sees the irony in it?

tsotsi"But when you buy a DVD you are giving your money to criminals who are in the business of investing in nothing but their greedy souls."

Gavin Hood, the director of Tsotsi, is pissed off that the tsotsis (*) are selling pirated DVD copies of the film.

I'm full of admiration for what he's achieved with the film but, by all accounts, his Oscar acceptance speech was a bit cringe-worthy. The sort of performance often associated with those lacking in a sense of humour.

Perhaps he doesn't see the irony in it after all.

(*) a Sesotho word for a thug or robber that refers to an urban thug

Saturday, March 18, 2006


I don't make a habit of dissing the Americans as it's so easy to do, I don't like cliches and, more importantly, I was always told that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. But this is too good not to share:

Can it really be for real? I found it here.

Update: Having just read the smallprint (you're always meant to, aren't you?), I realise that it may just be a clever spoof.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Thank you

Many thanks to all of you who voted for me in the Best Overseas South African category of the SA Blog Awards 2006 .

Thursday, March 16, 2006


For those of you who don't like sport, probably the majority of you as most of you are queer or female, look away now (*).

First it was the cricket and now it's the swimming. 'Nuff said!

(*) Hey, leave me alone, I like perpetuating stereotypes!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Going out with more than a bottle of red under the belt

south african winesDrinking too much the night before and waking up with someone whom you think is someone else or not remembering having taken someone home with you is bad, right?

Of course it's bad, that's why I resolved not to go out having consumed a bottle of red beforehand after having done both in the space of a couple of weeks.

Bunged up with a heavy cold, I thought of staying in on Friday even though Mike and Michelle were going to be out after going to a gig together. So when James rang me about joining him for a drink after work, I turned him down. Two hours later, at about 7, we exchanged a few text messages:

James: I'm bored, let me bring round a hot toddy to make you feel better.
Alan: Wine sounds like a better idea, what time will you be here?
James: Half an hour from now.

By the time we left the flat to meet up with Mike and Michelle, it was 10.30 and we'd finished 2.5 bottles of red between us. A joined us at some stage. By closing time, James and Michelle had decided to call it a night and Mike, A and I went off to the club. It would have been the first time that I'd been there in almost a month but the doormen were turning people away as there'd been a powercut. We went off to the Central instead.

It was crowded, really crowded!

With no club to go to, everyone had decamped there for the night. For the first time in its sorry life, it was pumping. The atmosphere was great! I don't remember leaving but I'm sure that it was before closing time at 3.

I woke up at about 10. I was in my bed, alone.

Walking through to the bathroom, I expected to see D either sitting or sleeping on the couch. There was no sign of him. Although it would've been unusual, I wondered if he'd gone off to the shop but noticed that there was no sign of him having been there the night before. D isn't the sort of person to leave without having told me he was going.

I started re-playing the previous night's events and realised that he hadn't been there at all.

Unusually for a Friday night, D hadn't been out and spent the night with me. Unusually, I'd spent the night in my bed and not on the couch - I've mentioned before that, these days, I never sleep in my bed unless with somebody.

I think that I need to re-visit that list of resolutions of what not to do over a weekend.

Beware the Ides of March

ides of march
Having drawn your attention to Pi-day yesterday, I felt tempted to draw your attention to today being the Ides of March. And since Friday is St Patrick's Day, I'll feel tempted to draw that to your attention too. If I continue doing this, I'll become known as the talking calendar, so I won't say anything about today.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Osama hanged

Following on the earlier dry post of the week, I now give you a health and safety warning:

Emails with pictures of Osama Bin-Laden hanged are being sent and
the moment that you open these emails your computer will crash and you will not be able to fix it!
This e-mail is being distributed through countries around the
globe, but mainly in the US and Israel.
Don't be inconsiderate; send this warning to whomever you know.
If you get an email along the lines of "Osama Bin Laden Captured"
or "Osama Hanged" don't open the attachment.

Not sure what to make of it - it could be a warning about a genuine threat or it could just be a ploy to clog up the web.

If it is genuine, it's a resurrection of a previous virus emailed in a similar fashion. This BBC report gives further information.

Today is Pi Day

piFor those of you whose eyes glaze over at the mention of numbers, be warned that this is the dry post of the week. Everything beyond this sentence has been lifted from Wikipedia.

Written in the USA date format, March 14 is an unofficial celebration for Pi Day derived from the common three-digit approximation for the number π: 3.14. It is usually celebrated at 1:59 PM (in recognition of the six-digit approximation: 3.14159). Some, using a twenty-four-hour clock rather than a twelve hour clock, say that 1:59 PM is actually 13:59 and celebrate it at 1:59 AM or 3:09 PM (15:09) instead.

Pi Approximation Day is one of two days: either July 22 (written 22/7 — in commonwealth/international date format— 22 divided by 7 is an approximation to π), or April 26 (April 25 on leap years), the day on which planet Earth completes two Astronomical units' worth of its annual orbit: on this day the total length of Earth's orbit, divided by the length already traveled, equals π (that is, the Earth has travelled two radians in its orbit).

Another day of approximation is on the 355th day of each year at 1:13pm, based on the approximation value of 355/113 derived by Zu Chongzhi.

Another Pi Approximation Day is November 10 (or November 9, depending on whether it is a leap year or not.) This is the 314th day of the year on the Gregorian calendar.

Many mnemonics have been devised for remembering the digits of pi, consisting of phrases or verses in which successive digits of pi are obtained by counting the number of letters in each word. (Fortunately, the first thirty digits of pi contain no zeroes). Some are:

  • "How I wish I could recollect pi easily today." (3.14159 265)
  • "How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!" (3.14159 265358979)
  • (Alternate version of previous) "How I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!" (3.14159 265358979)

Monday, March 13, 2006


toadI thought of telling you about Friday night but I don’t feel like it right now. I considered telling you about the time I was intimidated by dassies (yes, you read that right!) at the Zimbabwe Ruins but thought that could wait for another day. I know you’d like to hear about the lost tribes of Israel and their connection with the Lemba people of the northern parts of South Africa but that would take too much effort.

Are you beginning to wonder if this blog is becoming a travelogue about gay-land and southern Africa? It’s understandable if you are.

Anyway, instead of those things I won’t be telling you, I’ll leave you with a poem, ‘Toads’, by Philip Larkin:

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison -
Just for paying a few bills!
That's out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don't end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
they seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets - and yet
No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.

I don't say, one bodies the other
One's spiritual truth;
But I do say it's hard to lose either,
When you have both.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

What makes a Fag-Hag?

In a comment to my previous post, Terri asks, 'So does being a Fag-Hag qualify as 'hobbies and interests' d'you suppose?' Of course it doesn't, it's a full-time occupation! Or, rather, vocation.

To support that statement, I thought I'd have a look at MissMish's (aka Drama Queen, Fag-Hag, JAP) blog, my favourite, truth be told, only fag-hag, for some pointers on what it is that makes a true fag-hag. Unfortunately, while I found her list on 'How to be a Drama Queen', I couldn't find a similar list on what makes a fag-hag. I had to look elsewhere.

As always, Google came to the rescue.

Just in case any of you aren't familiar with the term, here's one of the definitions, my favourite, taken from the Urban Dictionary:

urban dictionaryThis is a woman who prefers the company of gay men because she recognizes their effervesence, incisive wit, and sheer brilliance regarding the human condition. This woman appreciates the fact that gay men know how to drill down to the bittersweet core of an issue and make light of it where necessary, and simultaneously make dark humor of it where otherwise necessary. It is a gift that comes from being an outsider: rather than lying down and taking a beating, as some do, the exaulted gay man rises from the ashes and finds the ridiculous glory in being an outsider. In this endeavor, he seeks the company of a woman, and she of him...because regardless of intentions, women and men enjoy the company of those who feel "right" to each other.

No surprise why I chose that as my favourite!

It may interest you to know that 'Fag-Hag' has a number of synonyms, one of which, 'flame dame', has only recently been discovered by MissMish. Here are a few more: fruit fly, sissy missy, fairy godmother, gay goddess, princess with a pink wand, ribbon clerk, queer dear.

There's a lot of stuff out there discussing fag-hags and what makes them tick but here's one of the best pieces that concludes with this paragraph:

'In researching this topic it would be easy to critique fag hags as psychologically looking for things they can't have; mascochistic in a sense that they look for rejection. It would be easy to simplify the facts as a response to gay men being "woman-like" and therefore associating with women. It would be easy to criticize the choice. But I find that being a Fag Hag is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a way of life. It is finding one's self through whoever you feel connected to, and if they happen to be gay men, so be it. When I first was labeled "Fag Hag" I was ashamed. But it is nothing to be ashamed of. I am proud to be a Fag Hag.'

I also discovered that fag-hags exist in the world of comics. In this piece written byUltrasparky, he proves that Wonder Woman is a classic fag-hag:

'Wouldn't you want to lure her into your web of fabulousness and make her your new best friend? Seriously — everyone knows what Thomas is up to when he goes for those "walks" down by the piers, so why shouldn't you find yourself some sassy lassy to gossip with when you go for a cocktail? Those other queens will be so jealous they'll scratch your eyes out when you waltz into Studio 54 with this glamazon on your arm! If only she weren't always disappearing when you least expect it.'

By now you'll have a good idea of what makes a fag-hag so you may be interested in knowing if you qualify. Take this test and let me know how you fare.

I scored a paltry 53% but I'm a fag, not a fag-hag.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Straight Person's Guide to Becoming Queer

steve irwinThere are many millions of straight men throughout the world who hold a secret desire to become homosexual.

Tired of women and the inevitable babies/debt/Vauxhall Astra that follows, many heterosexuals have found the queer alternative to their liking.

If you're having trouble coming to terms with your sexuality or you'd like a change from shagging women then read, enjoy and put into practise the advice found here. In no time at all you'll have become an upstanding member (!) of the gay community.

kenneth williamsAnd once you've mastered that, you may want to get yourself a fag-hag. Vist one of several Fag-Hag Webrings (no kidding!) and find yourself a woman to attend to your every need. Apart from shagging of course.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ten Thousand Maniacs!

A few minutes after midnight last night, this site got its 10000th hit. 10000 hits! Are there 10000 maniacs out there? Ok, a lot of those hits are repeat visits from maniacs who are mad enough to come by more than once but that's still a lot of visits. Rather appropriately, I thought, that 10000th hit was made by Frog with a Blog, a truly maniacal Frenchman. With Frenchmen like him around, ‘La gloire de la France’ remains a phrase with lots of meaning albeit quite different from that attributed to the phrase by the likes of de Gaulle.

However, France isn’t a country that I want to dwell on today. Within the past few days, I got a visitor from my 75th country, Botswana. Another milestone of sorts and, in a way, quite an appropriate one since Botswana is in southern Africa.

botswana flag

Botswana is the only country in southern Africa that I haven’t visited. Not only is it an anomaly by African standards, it is spectacularly beautiful, two reasons why I’d really like to visit.

Since independence from Britain in 1966, Botswana has had Africa’s longest continuous multi-party democracy, making it one of the continent’s most stable countries. Before independence, Botswana was a British protectorate that was formed in 1885 to prevent territorial encroachment of the Boers from the Transvaal and German expansion from South West Africa (Namibia). Diamonds were discovered in 1967 and have transformed Botswana into the world’s largest producer of diamonds, bringing in sufficient wealth to transform the country into a middle-income nation. It has enjoyed very healthy economic growth rates for four decades and is acknowledged by corruption watchdog, Transparency International, as the least corrupt nation in Africa. It has a good human rights record and was a source of refuge for victims of apartheid during the apartheid era despite needing to be wary of its actions owing to its economic dependence on South Africa.

okavango deltadusk on the deltaBotswana protects some of Africa's largest areas of wilderness. The Kalahari Desert, home to a dwindling band of Bushman hunter-gatherers, makes up much of the territory and most areas are too arid to sustain any agriculture other than cattle. This area includes the spectacular Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta, an area that is carefully managed yet promoted as a prime destination for ‘eco-tourists’.

So far I’ve painted a rosy picture of the country but there are some problems worth mentioning.

The country needs to diversify its economy away from its dependence on diamonds, something that it's putting a lot of effort into. Until 2004, Botswana had the world’s highest rate of HIV-Aids infection and it's estimated that one in three adults is infected. This is being tackled with one of Africa's most advanced treatment programmes. And despite being known for its good human rights record, Botswana has had some very unwelcome publicity in recent years as regards its treatment of the San (the preferred term for Bushmen). Botswana has been accused of forcibly removing the last remaining San from their ancestral lands in the Kalahari.

‘The bushmen, or San, were hunter gatherers who lived in the desert of southern Africa for thousands of years. Their traditional way of life has all but disappeared in recent years, and the Botswanan government wants the few hundred still living in the vast central Kalahari game reserve to move to nearby towns.‘

Survival International, a British-based group, say that the government wants them to move so that they can exploit diamond reserves in the Kalahari. On a different rights issue, while Botswana, not known for its clubs, bars and shops, is not your typical gay destination (spot the homophobic stereotyping!), it must be remembered that as with many African countries, homosexuality is illegal. The most recent case of homosexuality to be tried before the courts in Botswana arose in 1994 but was only finalised in 2003.

okavango delta
Gaborone may have changed a lot from its dusty, desert beginnings in the last 40 years, but Botswana isn't a country that you visit for urban delights - you go there for the Kalahari and the Okavango Delta.

the no.1 ladies' detective agency
On the literary front, Botswana has been in the news a lot in recent years with the massive popularity of Alexander McCall Smith's ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series, a series of books featuring Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's leading, and only, female private detective.

But while Alexander McCall Smith was born in neighbouring Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), he’s not Botswanan. Botswana’s most famous literary figure, despite having been born in South Africa, was probably Bessie Head. She was the daughter of a wealthy white woman and a black servant. Her works deal with issues of discrimination, refugees, racialism, African history, poverty, and interpersonal relationships. Other Botswana authors are listed here.

Have I encouraged you to visit the place? No? Well, if these things matter to you, you may be interested to know that the BBC has commented on the fact that the AON Insurance company lists Botswana as one of a handful of countries where the threat of terrorist attack is low. You can see how Botswana compares to other countries on their Terrorism Risk Map (it takes a while to load). Low threat of terrorism or not, I know that Botswana features high on my list of countries to visit.

Since this post was all about the 10000 maniacs that have visited here in the past 6 months, let me leave you with The 10000 Maniacs:

Candy Everybody Wants
By 10000 Maniacs

Update: Previously, I had 'Because the Night' playing here but the link no longer works so you now have a different song.

Blogging Etiquette

etiquette lessonsWhile adding another link to my blogroll the other day, I was reminded of the fact that I’ve divided it into two categories, ‘Places I like to visit’ and ‘Places I’ve started visiting’, a division that seemed quite sensible at the time of giving life to this blog. In the first month or so, I actually used the division as it was intended. New blogs that I liked but was unfamiliar with would land up in ‘Places I’ve started visiting’. After a while, they’d ‘graduate’ to ‘Places I like to visit’. Now, on finding a new blog I like, I’ve dispensed with the division and will put it straight into ‘Places I like to visit’ if I think I'm going to read it regularly. Not only is the division irrelevant, it could be viewed as slightly insulting and discriminatory. Surely a good enough reason in itself to remove it? But if I’m going to remove it, should I replace it with another form of categorisation that is both relevant and not insultingly discriminatory?

I think that dividing a blogroll into categories is only appropriate if it’s informative and can’t be interpreted as a mild insult to blogs relegated ‘second-class’ status. Several of the blogs that I read have what I’d consider appropriate divisions that are informative in a largely neutral way.

Anchored Nomad divides her blogroll into ‘Chicago Blogs’, ‘Blogs all over the Place’, ‘Portuguese Photo Blogs and Blogs in English’ and ‘Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor Area Blogs’. These categories reveal her interests and say something about her. In a similar vein, Joe divides his reads into ‘Cool New Yorkers’ and ‘Cool Elsewhere’. Piece by Piece divides hers into ‘Saffas’, ie South Africans, and ‘Blogroll’, ie non South Africans.

They all use an element of geography in distinguishing blogs but there are other ways of categorising your blogroll without applying a degree of status to the different categories.

Rob divides his into ‘The St8s’ and ‘The Gays’. Mike takes a different approach: ‘we mingle’, ‘we’ve met’, and ‘we read’. Although Caroline and Andrea don't categorise their blogrolls, being art-related blogs, they could choose to distinguish 'art blogs' from the rest as an informative yet neutral way of linking.

The way you categorise your blogroll is a minor part of blogroll etiquette. A more obvious aspect concerns adding links to and deleting them from your blogroll..

At what stage do you or should you link to a regular read? And if someone has linked to you, should you feel obliged to link to them? Personally, I’m not too fussed if someone doesn’t link to me even if I’m linked to them. Obviously it’s appreciated, but I’m not going to need a visit to a therapist should there be no reciprocal linking. Now that I’ve dispensed with a trial period in ‘Places I’ve started to visit’ before shunting blogs into ‘first class’, there’s no need to retain the category. At the moment, however, I still have a few blogs that remain there but I’ll change that soon. If any of them is a regular read, they should simply be classified with the rest. If there are any I don’t read, I should simply de-link them.

That takes me on to the thornier subject of when/if you should de-link blogs. So far, I’ve never felt the need to as I read and enjoy all the blogs I’m linked to. But were I to be linked to a site I no longer enjoy or, even more importantly, actually dislike, it would make perfect sense to remove the link. Herein lies a potential minefield if you land up de-linking someone who appreciates the link. The blog-owner will be offended, especially if they’re unaware of the reason for de-linking.

Is there a polite way of going about this or is the very nature of the act an impolite one?

keeping quietIn real life, our connections with friends and acquaintances wax and wane in a natural ‘evolutionary’ way (barring the occasional dramatic falling out with a friend) so links between people are less obvious. In the cyber-world, especially in the realm of hypertext links, connections are much more obvious, as are the absence of links that once existed. The simplest way to circumvent the offence caused by de-linking is not to create the link in the fist place – some blogs dispense with blogrolls and achieve just that. Since most of us resort to blogrolling, that method isn’t applicable.

There are probably three ways of approaching this thorny issue:
  • Not consider it a thorny issue at all and take the thick-skinned approach where you de-link and ignore any communication that may arise from it. You don’t actually know the person so why give a fuck?
  • Where you know that the de-linking will be noticed and possibly regarded as an insult, let the blog-owner know your reason.
  • Where you think that de-linking won’t be noticed, simply de-link. Should you be contacted about it, explain your reason.
While we bloggers may be a self-centred lot who voluntarily make our lives public to a far wider audience than non-bloggers, I think that most of us are pretty good-mannered when it comes to our interactions. Arguments over issues sometimes develop but, largely, they’re handled with maturity and respect (maybe I don’t read the more inflammatory blogs?!) so most of us probably approach de-linking thoughtfully and not wish to cause offence.

Another area of blogging etiquette that I’ve not gone into is the whole subject of what you can and can't blog about. That aspect of etiquette is the one most blogged about as it’s the one that tends to cause most offence when breached. I’m not going to get into that now except to give you a comment made by Marie (someone whose blog is new to me - I must get to know it better!) on Clare's blog: "I chose to compromise my privacy by blogging, they didn't."

This long ramble arose from my realising that I want to get rid of ‘Places I’ve started to visit’. Perhaps I have too much time on my hand or not enough important stuff to think about? Or perhaps I’ve initiated an important debate on a very pertinent subject? I seriously doubt it as blogs have been around long enough for these issues to have been debated many times over. Well, whatever the merits of rambling on about this, you can be sure that ‘Places I’ve started to visit’ will be going soon.

I’ve yet to decide whether to dispense with categorisation altogether or whether to create some that are appropriate to this blog.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The tale of two wives

Some of the most high profile casualties of the ANC's fight against apartheid were white, largely because they were white. Even the reporting on the war against racism was racist!

Two of the most prominent figures that spring to mind are Ruth First and Albie Sachs.

Ruth First and her husband, Joe Slovo, were both members of the South African Communist Party, an ally of the ANC, and spent many years in exile. She was assassinated by the South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS) when she opened a parcel bomb sent to her by them in Maputo in 1982.

Albie Sachs, now a justice of South Africa's Constitutional Court, was car-bombed by South Africa's security forces in Maputo in 1988. He lost most of his right arm and the sight of one eye.

At the time of both murders, being fervently anti-apartheid and having spent the first 12 years of my life in Maputo, I was very taken up by the circumstances surrounding these attacks.

So, what's with the history lesson you may be asking?

Well, there are two reasons for it. Firstly, South Africa has just held its municipal elections in which the ANC has got more than 70% of the vote so talking about the history of South African politics isn't entirely inappropriate. Secondly, and more pertinent in a personal way, is the connection between Sally (mentioned below) and Albie Sachs.

There’s a possible third one in that today is the last day for voting for the SA blog awards. Posting a very South African story today may prompt you to go vote for me but I’m not that much of a hooker.

Sally and Norman were our next door neighbours in Kenilworth, Cape Town. Norman introduced himself to me and my wife at about 2am one morning soon after we’d moved into the flats next door. We’d just returned from a party and were taking our dog for a walk.

'Come in for sundowners,' he boomed at us after he'd established where we lived.

A strange invitation at that time of the morning made even stranger by the fact that Norman was obviously way beyond retirement age. It was the start of a very close friendship that lasted many years.

Norman was a retired french horn player who'd spent most of his life playing for the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra. His life revolved around music, literature, politics, current affairs and gossip. He was one of the most sociable people I've ever met and was constantly entertaining and making new friends. All of this was oiled with liberal quantities of beer and wine. Having been a musician all his life, he'd never had much money but he was never short of alcohol with which to ply his many guests - he was a master at making home-made wines from the guavas and oranges that grew in his garden and brewing beer from specially imported hops.

Sally, his second wife, was very accommodating towards the crowds of people that constantly flowed through their home but she'd sometimes get tired and irritable. Twenty years earlier, she'd been badly injured by one of the ex-RAF men who depended on the charity that she worked for. Although she could be very sharp and lucid at times, friends who knew her from before said that the head injury from the attack had badly affected her.

Over the many years that we knew them, we became very close and got to know a lot about their lives. Neither had had children and Norman had been married before.

His first wife was Albie Sachs's mother.

Had it not been for Sally, we’d not have known about that part of his life. Norman died before Albie Sachs was allowed to return to South Africa but he never talked about him or his previous marriage. Sally told us that it hadn't been a happy one and that he'd not gone on well with the Sachs children.

After Norman died, Sally's family put her in the Jewish Old Age home in Vredehoek, on the slopes of Table Mountain. We visited her regularly and soon noticed that she was especially friendly with the woman who occupied the room next to her, a woman we got to know and like.

She was Norman's first wife, Albie Sachs's mother.

A year after Sally died, during the time that South Africa was still getting used to the unbanning of previously banned political parties, I was on a plane to Johannesburg. Sitting across the aisle from me was Albie Sachs. He was an object of great curiosity amongst his fellow passengers - one of those evil communists was sitting in their midst! There were several times during the flight when he was interrupted by passengers who wanted to talk to him. He was friendly and relaxed and talked politics with them. I also wanted to talk to him but I wanted to talk to him about Norman.

I didn't.

I regret it now, of course!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Geek stuff

Have you ever worried about losing all those pearls of wisdom you've written on your blog?


No, I can't say I have either.

However, I recently stumbled across a great free utility that backs up your blog to a pdf (Adobe) file. It backs up all the text in book format that can be edited if you have the right version of Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Download Blogcollector Lite from here.

If you want to see what it does for you, go here.

Out of the mouths of babes

Scene 1: A garden in Claremont, Cape Town, overlooking Villagers Rugby ground about 15 years ago.

Son (annoyed, upset shouting): Dad! Dad, it’s not working anymore!
Father (walking out back door): Let me have a look.
Son: It won’t work, Dad, fix it.
Father: That’s a beetle, it looks dead to me.
Son: It was working, it won’t work anymore. What’s dead, Dad?
Father: If you push a beetle too hard, you can hurt it enough until you kill it.
Son: What’s dead?
Father: All living creatures die eventually. Creatures are born, then they grow up until they get old then they die. Sometimes they die if they get sick or hurt. Like that beetle.
Son (puzzled, thoughtful expression): Oh.

Scene 2: Son’s bedroom 2 days later.

Father (walking into son’s bedroom): J, what’s the matter, why are you crying?
Son (sobbing quietly): I don’t want to die.
Father (kneeling and putting arm around son): You aren’t going to die, what makes you say that?
Son: You said that all creatures die.
Father (sensing a tricky situation): Yes, I did. But you aren’t old or very sick. People live a long time before they die.
Son (less sobbing but not convinced): Are you going to die?
Father: Yes, we all have to die one day but not for a long time yet.
Son: You are old, I don’t want you to die.
Father: Not that old, I’m still not going to die for a very long time.
Son (holding father tightly): I don’t want any of us to die. Not you or Mommy or me.
Father: Don’t worry, J, none of us is going to die for a very, very long time.

Scene 3: Six months later. Father (A), mother (E) and son (J) are sitting a bedroom at an old age home in Vredehoek visiting an old family friend (S).

S: It’s teatime, let’s go to the sitting room. A, will you help me get up please?

S is helped out of bed and puts out her arm.

S: Thanks, A. E, let me hold on to your arm.

All leave the room and walk very slowly down the corridor. S and E, S holding on to E’s arm, are ahead. They are chatting to each other. A and son, hand in hand, are walking a few paces behind.

Son: Dad, when can we go home?
Father: Shhh, J, we’ll go home after tea.
Son (raising his voice): S, when are you going to die?
Father (crushing son’s hand and frowning angrily): Shhhhhhhhhh!
Son (pained look, eyes filling with tears): Ow, that hurts, Dad!

How it all ended:
S was a bit hard of hearing and was engaged in conversation with E at the time so it was very unlikely that she'd heard the question. A felt a bit of a bastard having crushed his son's hand like that but it seemed to be the only way of stopping a barrage of death-related questions. Later, going out to the car, he tried to explain that other people, especially old, sick people, are also very sensitive about death, just as J was, and that it wasn't good manners to ask them questions like that.

S died about a year later.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Three bad signs

dog in the rubbishI stopped sleeping in my bedroom months ago. Alone, that is. I'll sleep there if I have someone with me but if on my own, I sleep on the couch. I'm not sure why I do as the bed's a lot more comfortable but sleeping on the couch feels how I imagine a dog feels when it climbs into its kennel.

It's very cold here at the moment but that's really no excuse not to go out to the late night convenience store, only 5 minute's walk away. I wanted some bread with my soup tonight and found none in my freezer. At first I was going to do without it and then I remembered throwing some away last night because it was stale. I fished it out of the bin (it was wrapped in plastic!), managed to cut it into two slices, toasted them and ate them with the soup.

A very good friend from South Africa was in the UK for two weeks until a week ago. He tried to get hold of me often to arrange meeting up but apart from once (he was out), I didn't bother to return his calls.

Tag cloud overkill

I've found yet another word thing to clutter up my sidebar!

This one is a 'true' tag cloud that emphasises common words on my blog and takes you to where they're found unlike the 'swiki' which is a search engine that looks here first before going elsewhere on the web.

I've yet to decide if I'm going to keep both or, even, either. But, having looked at the words that the new tag cloud emphasises - 'gay sex', 'vagina', 'lubrication', 'penetrate', 'shock' - I may decide to remove it. I don't want to come across as a confused, sleazy, flashing heterosexual in a dirty coat, do I?

That'll learn me not to flash fleshlights all over the place!


Apologies for the silence but I've been a bit blogstipated of late. A steady diet of fags and coffee should have got me over it by now.

Normal service will resume soon.