Things we're good at vs. things we enjoy

I went to a primary school athletics meet yesterday to watch my son compete. I didn’t particularly want to go. I had work that needed to get done and it would take hours out of my day and interfere with my productivity. Mostly, I think I didn’t want to go because of the memories it might invoke…

I didn’t realise this until I was sitting there, watching everything quietly from the side. The children running, jumping, throwing things. The rest sitting on the pavilion in the boiling sun, screaming their little throats dry with cheerleaders jumping up and down with boundless energy.

It made me feel rather melancholy. I try not to dwell on the past. Ever. To the point, where sometimes I actively repress any memories about the past. Even the good ones – for fearing that I might feel that the past was better than the present. And probably to the point where I don’t acknowledge how much the past and its memories can affect the present.

I never really enjoyed school and the higher up I went, the less I enjoyed it. Which is odd. I was academically gifted. I never struggled. I was good at school. It was easy. But it still wasn’t fun. The parts I remember as enjoying and that I miss, was athletics.

I wasn’t a particularly good athlete. I wasn’t terrible either, but the only reason I ran was because the truly gifted children refused to run the middle and long distances. I loved it! I loved the practices and the meets, which were the only places that other kids really talked to me on a semi-social level. It was the only time I felt that I almost belonged.

I won a race. Once. I was 17 and it was my last year of school. I think the other schools had their “B” candidates on the track that day, but it didn’t matter. I still won. I was cheered by hundreds as I ran down the last straight and I felt as if I really mattered. For a few seconds, anyway.

Although I was quite glad not to be sitting on the pavilion screaming until my voice was hoarse, I did envy those kids and it made me a little sad. For younger me. Sad that I never paid much attention to the things I actually enjoyed doing, rather than focusing on the things I was told I was good at. Don’t get my wrong. I was never not encouraged. My mother was at every meet. She brought energy drinks and fed me pasta the night before a race because she had read somewhere about carbo-loading (never mind that I was running a mere 1500m). But no-one told me to focus on the joy of doing something instead of the achievement of it.

I never really thought about running until I couldn’t do it anymore. Thanks to a well-meaning, ill-informed friend I ran a half marathon without the proper preparation and have messed up a knee that has never wanted to co-operate since. I ran that half-marathon in 2 hours 5 minutes. If I had focused less on the achievement, and more on the enjoyment, and slowed down I might still be running today…

Sadly, I see this trend only getting stronger in this generation. I watched some of those kids yesterday. Some were distinctly more athletic than others. I even thought that the practice of having kids compete in their age groups was rather unfair, as some 9-year-olds are big and strong, while others obviously have some growing to do. They will catch up. But right now, they are being overlooked on the field. Because they are not achieving. Kids are being pushed harder than ever before. To be faster, stronger, smarter…but not happier…

I listened to the parents next to the track; Analysing kids’ running styles and criticising coaches and officials. I watched my son while he was waiting in the starting lines – clowning around and playing with his friends. I hope he had fun.

I am not one of the advocates of “everyone-gets-a-medal-just-for-competing”. Winning does matter and achievement does have its place. But it doesn’t mean we have to suck the joy right out of the act of doing something. Somehow, we need to find a balance.

Sometimes, we should do things just because we enjoy it, despite the fact that we may not be good at it…

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Death and the meaning of life

My maternal grandmother passed away yesterday. She was the last of my grandparents that was still alive and in February, she would have been 90 years old. Her death wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it’s not exactly welcome either.

I was fortunate to have seen her for the last time on Christmas day. And I knew…something inside me knew that it would be the last time I saw her… It was sad and upsetting and something about the visit awoke an intense rebellion inside me. She was basically bed-ridden and her mind wasn’t always clear. She was old and frail with a body that was failing her.

Her roommate was totally “out of it” most of the time. They lived in the frail care unit with medical staff to make sure they don’t fall when going to the toilet. She forgot to brush her teeth most of the time and she didn’t realise the phone ringing next to her bed was her phone and she was supposed to pick it up.

Ouma Baby on Christmas Day 2019

I hated the place. I didn’t enjoy the visit. The whole place had that acrid “old-people” smell. The one that reminds you that in the end, no matter what you achieved in your lifetime, you lose all dignity anyway and become as helpless as a baby. It is no way to end life…

Especially not the kind of life she lived. She grew up during the Great Depression on the banks of the Orange River, on a “water scheme”. She never lost that inclination that nothing should go to waste. Everything was saved, sometimes to the point of hoarding. But she lived a hard life. She loved telling us that when she was seven years old, she would be sent out to watch over the grazing goats – a bit like Heidi, I suppose, but instead of green mountains and snow, she had the hot, dry Northern Cape and very real African predators to deal with. Yet, she was always grateful and I distinctly remember her telling me that even though they were in fact very poor, she never felt it – they always had something to eat and she never went to bed hungry.

She married my grandfather at the tender age of 17 and managed to raise six children in one of the harshest farming climates – Kalahari – on the edge of the Namib desert. They didn’t always live there. Sometimes, during very dry years, the animals would be moved halfway across the country where they could hire grazing.

Their wedding day

She was always busy. She had a coal stove and only limited supplies to work with. She started cooking breakfast before dawn, and started on lunch right after breakfast was finished. In between, she was skimming milk, making butter, baking bread and doing washing (not with an automatic washing machine I might add!) As kids, we avoided her as much as possible – she believed that children should work, and if she couldn’t see an immediate task, she would invent one to keep you busy. So when grandpa started the old Land Rover and went out, all the kids would pile on the back as quick as we could!

Yet, some of my fondest memories will be of harvesting figs early mornings or feeding the chickens and collecting eggs. And occasionally getting chased by a goose, or her rogue rooster! In the afternoons, the two big mountain tortoises would come looking for her so that she could feed them scraps of lettuce.

She lived in a time when gender-roles were intensely defined. She didn’t have the luxury of choice. She was the wife and it was her duty to look after the man of the house. She had an almost reverent love for my grandfather who could tease her mercilessly. At night, around the table when we didn’t want to eat our supper (because he had fed us biltong, dry wors and sweets all afternoon) he would take a bite and proclaim: “No man, Baby, a dog couldn’t eat this food!”

She looked after him day and night the last few years of her life when he was dying of emphysema and lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking. She still lived for another 21 years, but I wasn’t always sure she had a purpose after my grandfather died. I could be wrong of course…it has been known to happen! But these last few years, especially, I wonder what her quality of life really was. She always smiled when you visited but later even stopped telling the stories that she had been telling us over and over and over for so many years…

To see a strong woman who faced so much in her life, fade away into a frail old shadow leaves one feeling ever so slightly relieved that she had been released from existence…

Her 80th birthday

We all die. At some point. We know this. Why is it that we feel only at the end, that our lives should have meant something?

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Murder on a Monday Morning

It is the first day back at work after a lovely holiday. I haven’t had to set an alarm clock in a few weeks and I’m not quite rested enough to be excited to go back. So when the second thing I see after making my cup of tea is a dead body, I know my day is not about to get better any time soon.

The torso is torn open with some of the organs hanging out. Bits and pieces are strewn everywhere and there are feathers all over my lawn. As if that isn’t bad enough, the furry little murderer is sitting right there purring with his eyes half closed. I swear if cats could smile, that self-satisfied little shit would be grinning from ear to ear!

The first thing I saw after my morning tea, by the way, was a half-dead cockroach which one of the other furry little bastards had brought in.

I never really thought of myself as a cat person. All of that changed once I actually got a cat shortly after my divorce. They make great companions and are every bit as lovable as dogs. Soon, I was collecting them and was well on my way to becoming a crazy cat lady – and I was quite happy with that.

There is one thing I can never get used to – all this killing! One of the many reasons I would never actually commit a murder, is because I know how hard it is to clean up blood splatter. Even the 5ml of blood in a standard-sized pigeon has the ability to make a room look like a scene from a horror movie once a cat has finished with it…


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Friends, family and holiday fun – part 2

Continued from part 1

For New Year’s I was treated to a quick overnight getaway to the Hangklip Hotel. I use the word “hotel” in a very loose sense, and only because that is the actual name of the place. The picture normally conjured up by the word “hotel” does not quite apply to the health hazard that is the Hangklip Hotel. The boyfriend had been there before – many times – and wanted to share it with me.

The crumbling buildings were erected in the mid 1900’s and the the place has a rich history which I don’t have enough time to recount, but you can read about it here. The main reason for our stay was to climb the hill to the old lookout point.

The state of disrepair is such that one is almost lead to believe it is made to look like that on purpose. From the uninviting (closed) front door, to the half-hearted greeting by the apathetic barman / owner, you are continually thinking WTAF is going on here? It has similar entertainment value to a freak show or an accident scene and you can’t help but be in a constant state of disgusted awe. The whole place is littered with debris from bygone years that have been left to rot away quietly all over the place. It is a perfect place to spot a ghost or two…The most interesting feature however, is the patronage. If you are a keen watcher of people, as I am, the Hangklip hotel (on New Years Eve anyway) offers a smorgasbord of characters!

We were informed that there were no more rooms available but we could pitch our tent anywhere. There were a number of other campers in all shapes and sizes. From around 10pm the camp ground became eerily quiet as everyone migrated to the famous “Plankies” pub. I am told that this is a favourite venue of many artists on the South African music scene, but sadly for this party, there was a DJ tinkering away at some electronic beats and we only stayed briefly. The party had started long before we managed to get there and the party-goers were about two stations north of where we could hope to get, even if we had all the alcohol in the world.

The nice thing about getting older is not feeling that you are missing out by not being at the actual party and we were quite happy to retreat to our tent to see in the new year. Besides, thanks to the lack of city lights the night sky was beautifully lit up with millions of stars piercing the black velvet sky; the “moonset” was the most beautiful I had ever seen. So it was in this state of bliss and peace, in a warm embrace that I entered 2020.

Hangklip translates to “hanging rock” and indeed the little place near Pringle Bay gets its name from the large rock formation looming over the little bay and lighthouse. Halfway up, is a derelict little building that used to be a lookout point to spot German submarines during WW2 and early on the first day of 2020, this was our target.

sdrDespite the wind howling the entire night, and fellow campers blaring (HORRIBLE) loud music at 3am when they eventually came back from Plankies, we were up early. I had my revenge in an act of utmost passive aggression and proceeded to blast them awake with the loudest rock I could find at 7:15 – Happy New Year (insert choice swear word here)! I do believe they got the message – thank you “Mon Amour” for throwing me under the bus when they asked who played the music!

We started at the bottom of the trail and soon lost sight of our target, due to the steep gradient of our ascent. Judging by the amount of whinging that was coming from behind me, I didn’t believe we would reach the top. I am not very fit at the moment, but the boyfriend was soon panting harder than the dog, who with her little legs was not to be deterred. We slowly made our way to the top, stopping frequently to enjoy the view.

The going was quite treacherous with loose gravel and dirt along a very steep incline, making it even harder to navigate coming down the slope. At least we were treated to a marvelous wind-free climb and the views were simply magnificent. It took us about two hours, but we made it!

It was a good way to start the new year.

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Family, friends and holiday fun – part 1

Today is my last leave day. I am spending it at the table of a restaurant with a sea view. The weather is perfect – not too hot, with a slight breeze and the sea is a bright turquoise reminiscent of a tropical island. All around me are people coming and going from the beach, surfing, kite-surfing, SUPing and just generally enjoying the summer and the sun.

I do love Cape Town. It is one gorgeous city to live in. The service at said restaurant is awful. I have been sitting here for almost two hours now. A waiter attended to me only after twenty minutes and a lot of scowling and gesturing. He has since only been back once to bring my order. I am so relaxed right now I don’t even care. I am watching all the weird and wonderful people on holiday…

It makes me think of the boyfriend’s scornful remark about the fact that we had to go north, inland, upland to spend Christmas in the city where most of these holiday makers are trying to flee from en masse during December.

It was a good trip nonetheless. Our initial travel plans didn’t pan out and we ended up flying up and back, but I think it was a blessing in disguise. Everyone was tense and nervous. It was our maiden voyage travelling as a “family” and the first time the boyfriend met my parents and siblings, their spouses and procreations. It was good to see them all. In the absence of the ocean, many hours were spent in the swimming pool instead. We had wonderful weather and some spectacular thunder storms to boot. Mostly, it was just nice spending time with my family that I never really get to see anymore.

Flying back we hit a glitch. Thinking (knowing how it goes at Christmas time and both my children having their birthdays in December and the excess gifts we would be coming back with) to put a spare suitcase inside another suitcase on the way there, I managed to pack three suitcases for the four of us. Only to be informed at  weigh-in that I would STILL have to pay excess, because even though we were FOUR people (with a baggage allowance of 20kg each), traveling with THREE bags, no one bag was to be more than the allowed 20kgs. This, despite the fact that my other two bags were well UNDER weight. Like Rumpelstiltskin I had a little footstomp and unpacked two bags, redistributing the weight, right there, at the counter. The smaller one of the two was now packed to bursting and as I watched it make its way down the moving belt, I told the boyfriend it would never make the other side in one piece and he had better grab it again.

Kudos to the boyfriend. He handled my tantrum in his stride and stayed calm from his side, proving that this relationship may well go somewhere.

What troubled me however, was the state of airport security, or rather, the lack thereof! We simply grabbed our bag from the belt – after it had been checked in, mind –  and stomped around the corner with it to have it wrapped in plastic so it wouldn’t explode all our Christmas presents over the runway as the baggage handlers threw things around. After having it wrapped, we calmly came back, put it back on the conveyor belt and walked away. No-one bothered to check it again – we may very well have inserted whatever contraband we wanted to at this point. It’s no wonder people get away with smuggling things in and out of countries with such ease.

Another troubling observation was the fact that I realised I had three stainless steel straws in my handbag which metal detectors failed to pick up – these could in fact make rather intimidating weapons if you ask me! This, after they confiscated my daughter’s scissors which she had unbeknownst to us, put in her back pack on the way there. On a previous occasion I had also had a pair of nail clippers taken away and in my opinion, if anyone can highjack a plane with a pair of nail clippers they ought to be allowed to keep the damn plane, because that would take some talent!

Landing in Cape Town well after 10pm we were left waiting for our bags for another 45 minutes. Luckily, we were entertained by the baggage handlers’ tricks outside the building where they were trying to see how much damage they could cause to people’s luggage by throwing them around.

Also, standing there in her full glory, was the woman with the most self-confidence I have ever seen. Everyone else was dressed appropriately for a late-night domestic flight…But there she was, dressed in a red outfit that looked like she had escaped from a cabaret show, with a hat and heels to match. I felt somewhat under dressed for the trip once I had spotted her.

Anyway, we managed to get home safely and thanks to the plastic wrapping service, so did our suitcase. Even if it was slightly deformed from the rough treatment, at least it hadn’t spilt any of its contents and Christmas was saved!

It was not the end of our holiday fun though. Read more in part 2

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Rocking the “blended-family-thing”

The cake that nearly caused disaster!

On Saturday it was my daughter’s birthday party. Once again, it was held at granny’s house – because she has the biggest pool! I feel I deserve a pat on the back, along with everyone else who banded together to make the day as much fun as possible for the girl-child.

Last year was dismal and depressing to say the least. The EX didn’t even invite his then new girlfriend (even though I fully expected her to be there) and nerves were still pretty frayed and raw. The other children’s parents didn’t know how to deal with the fact that we were now split up and it was a rather uncomfortable affair. (I trust the kids didn’t pick up on it!).

The year before that, although things had already been falling apart between us for a while, we were still living in the same house and very few people knew how precariously I was hanging on to my sanity! I remember the day vaguely, but most of it is packed away with the rest of the trauma from 2017.

I baked cakes in 2017 and 2018 and thought this year we should do something a little different – so I bought (at great expense!) an ice-cream cake. (I had always wanted one as a child, but it was never quite warm enough on my autumn birthday; I finally got one at age 21!) I thought it would be a nice treat and change. So after work, before picking up the children I had to pick up said cake and drop it back off at home, seeing as it would melt in the very seasonable heat wave. This just added more angst to an already rushed Friday afternoon – I had not taken into account that it would be friggin “Black Friday” when I ordered the damn cake, and I would have to walk into a shopping mall! As a general rule, I avoid places of mass consumption on this demonic day of trade!

But woe betide the mother who tries to do something nice…

Upon telling the girl-child that she was getting an ice cream cake she promptly burst into tears while getting into the car at aftercare. The deluge of tears didn’t stop until long after we stopped at home and I had been thoroughly rebuked. She didn’t want an ice cream cake. She wants a chocolate cake! I had better go shopping and buy a cake because she wasn’t going to eat the ice cream! It had been a really rough week and I just didn’t have the emotional capacity to respond. When she was cried out, she asked to see the cake. I showed it to her and she was placated because she “didn’t realise that an ice cream cake wasn’t just a blob of white ice cream”! Phew! That was one small crisis averted!

We bundled everyone into the car early morning – brother, sister and unsuspecting new boyfriend whom I never gave a choice in whether he was going or not. Luckily kids are easily motivated to get out of bed when there is a party involved at granny’s house!

There was a slight mad rush to get everything done before the guests would arrive, but for the most part, EX and his now-not-so-new-anymore-girlfriend (we shall call her “D”) had put up all decorations and set tables and things. She even made a whole lot of decorations with her daughter. Mostly, there were a few snacks that had to be completed. Even the cake arrived in one piece!

The children were in the water even before their friends arrived and I left the BF to his own devices, hoping he would find something to keep himself occupied, which he duly did by appointing himself life guard at the poolside.

Guests soon started arriving, and with it being much the same bunch as previous years, everyone knew where to go and what to do. Kids headed straight into the pool in any case. The atmosphere (to me at least) was much more relaxed and if people did still feel strange around our blended family, no-one let it show. A number of them had been allocated to the EX in the divorce in any case and have spent enough time with D to feel comfortable with them as a new couple.

So, we all partied together and chatted away like there was nothing unusual to the whole situation. I even found D and BF chatting away at some point, although I suspect he was trying to hide from the noise, never having had children of his own. He did go off mid-party, after having consumed rather vast amounts of mother-outlaw’s famous peppermint crisp tart, in search of some beer and managed to get lost – that’s his story, anyway. I suspect he didn’t mind not finding his way back too quickly!

Either way, he did well. He managed to keep it all together nicely for someone who was thrown in the deep end of having children by acquiring an instant family with two half-grown children. Apparently if I were to tell his former friends and family that he had attended a kiddie-party (SOBER, at that!) they wouldn’t believe it! I’m proud of the guy!

And I’m grateful to D and the EX and the OUtlaws who all banded together to make it a wonderful day for my baby girl. We all deserve a pat on the back for managing to let bygones be bygones and try to get along for the sake of the children! We have taken a terrible situation and made the best of it.

Thanks everyone, the day left me feeling all warm&fuzzy and ready for the silly season! Next year we can all do Christmas dinner together…

Fun in the sun!

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Money, money money…

I apologise in advance if this post lacks its usual oomph. My audience (of one) – you know who you are – complained about a lack of posts on this blog. Therefore, I must oblige and write something. Have to keep the fan happy!

I have a little nightly ritual in my house; we go around the table and name three things for which we feel grateful. A while back, my daughter said she was grateful that we were not poor. It made my heart skip a beat. Because let me tell you, I feel fucking poor! Things have never been exactly smooth sailing, but there was a time in my life where I was at least self-sufficient. It was a short time. But it was there!

Since getting divorced, nothing has been easy. Although all has settled down now and we are swinging with the new rhythm of things, it feels as if financially, I have gone from bad to worse to dire! I am so tired of telling my children “No, you cannot have that” Or, “No. I can’t buy that right now”. It feels as if I am forever denying them anything they want! It is an awful feeling!

Last year, we went on holiday; for the first time just the three of us. It was the worst holiday of my entire life! Although my father kindly paid for the accommodation, SARS and divorce payouts managed to mess up the rest of my cash flow so badly, that I was sure every time I swiped that piece of plastic, it would be declined! Luckily we were in the quaint not-so-little-anymore coastal town of Hermanus and we could spend a lot of time walking on the beach or watching whales, or just enjoying the beach! I was as tense (if not more) after the so-called break as I was before. It felt to me as if the whole thing was a grande disaster. But if the kids noticed I was more tense and irritable than ever (although with all the drama of 2018 they probably didn’t) they generously didn’t say anything and proclaimed it the best place ever and they both wanted to move there with immediate effect!

The point is, things are more hopeless now than they were then. I used to make it to a week before payday before I started panicking about where the last bit of money would be scraped from for petrol and groceries. Now it seems I can’t even make it to the second week of the month without that same feeling of utter despair and defeat. And I am not alone. Everyone I speak to shares my sentiments (or they are over exaggerating liars!) and the money does simply not stretch along with the expenses. I have sold everything I can sell. I no longer have a horse. I no longer do anything that is not absolutely necessary for survival. It is a miserable state of existence and to quote Smeagle: “I hates it!”

Last week, there was a knock on my door. When I opened up, expecting to find a lost “trick-or-treater” there was a woman and a small child. The woman, presumably the mother, told me that the little girl had something to ask me. The child mumbled something about a ballet function that she wanted to attend and showed me some beaded bracelets and necklaces that she was selling to make money for said ballet function. Now, mere moments before this little pantomime at my door, I was freaking out about not having enough money for all my debit orders to go off without paying a penalty and here was this disheveled pair with their sad story. I promptly burst into tears. The boyfriend saved the moment and went to fetch some coins to buy a necklace. Despite telling me that I had just been conned, he still held me while I cried and cried and cried. I am not even sure why I cried. Was I feeling guilty for bitching about something that seemed so irrelevant and small compared to their problems, or was I scared that I was headed that same way! I don’t know.

Money (or rather the lack thereof) seems to be an overwhelming theme in my life as of late. While I’m awake, it seems to occupy my mind more than what is necessary. Where will the next few rands come from to buy groceries, or to put petrol in my car? How will I get to work if I don’t have petrol? I don’t earn mega bucks, but I make a hell of a lot more than a hell of a lot of people out there. Where does it all go? How do other people make it work? My daughter is grateful that we are not poor. And she is quite correct. We are not poor. Just like the fact that they enjoyed our little holiday, it gives me comfort to know that not all of my angst is transferred to them, despite me always saying “no” to them.

And then, in the wee hours of the morning, wrapped up in my lover’s arms, with promises of love being renewed and plans being made for the future, I can forget about those worries for a short while and focus on the things I do have. I am loved. I am supported and most of all, I am not alone…

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