A Scary Story

My Family’s Fears and Phobias

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Fun Game to Play:

Write a scary story in just four words. Mine is: Children drive my car. But most people will confess to a fear of monsters, whether they are Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton with a finger on the nuclear button, Chocolate or Coffee thieves or your common or garden sort ghouls.

Shannon used to be terrified of the Garden Service, yelling, ‘Weediteaters; Weediteaters,’ whenever they arrived to trim our lawn in Batten Bend. Indoors, she would race to me and need to be picked up where she became a human koala bear,  until they left. Once she wrapped herself in a curtain to escape their savage threshing sounds.

Liam has developed a clown phobia (now this one makes sense) – coulrophobia – which the experts link to the distortion of familiar humanoid features. I’m convinced this can be related to his gaming habits which have him spending hours shooting zombies which frankly would frighten the life out of me. (Ha ha – funny – then I could frighten him!).

Lizzy used to hate having ‘Happy Birthday’ sung and thought Imagination was a monster because the Teenies used to say ‘ it’s your imagination’ when they were afraid of billowing curtains.

Andrew hated Father Christmas as a child, quite rightly. What right-minded parent encourages a beloved offspring to sit on the lap of a strange old man in red and says to him to tell him what he wants?! And then we wonder why they won’t smile for the photograph! What were we thinking?! Not to mention the fear inspired by this hulking geriatric invading our safe homes in his Wellington boots and fannying around in an ill-fitting red suit in the lounge – especially  one inebriated by the obligatory alcohol left out for him.

As a littlun, Sean hated the dark and slept with the bathroom light on for years.

On the other hand, Michael is afraid of washing up and has to leave home when it’s his turn and Mika can’t eat real food. True story; we have tested it. But that is another story.

How many of us remember racing back up the passage to the living room at night, fleeing from unimaginable darkness and ‘things.’ I have distinct memories of nightmares from watching a film called The Mummy, which we watched on a reel at the CBC Welkom Friday night ‘bioscope,’ about an Egyptian mummy which emerges from its sarcophagus and steals around the submarine transporting the stolen artefact to America. It has periodic psychotic moments when it stalks and kills the sailors. To this day, I am not a fan of Egyptology.

I am more scared the kids will never leave home now however.

The girls don’t like to fall asleep without their laptops playing series. Now personally I think that is worse and probably feeds ongoing other issues, but hey, I’m just the mother; what do I know. Tonight my adult munchkins were ensconced under blankets watching Game of Thrones’ White Walkers. I am wondering who will call out at 3 am, ‘Mommy, I had a bad dream!’ as they did when they were little. Mind you, Shannon confessed recently to fibbing about bad dreams when she was little just so I would let her sleep with me (an experience not unlike sharing a bed with a rotating bicycle).

I am convinced that many of these fears are caused and fuelled by film and television and raise the issue of the effects of the media on our mental health. And the studies bear this out, including the continuation of childhood ‘scary movie experiences’ into adulthood.

The bottom line is: heed the warning in the prologue to DVDs. Make sure your children are asleep before you watch horror films or gory movies. We worry so much about exposing our youngsters to sex, but violence is way worse. Better still get to grips with a witty romcom or intense drama) and re-consider allowing the teen sleepovers to revolve around the latest spooky spirit movie. None of my children report being willing watchers of this fair and yet they all ‘happily’ went along to the all-night-frighters.

But never mind, they’ll grow out of it. Having children of their own will soon make them realise that the other fears were NOTHING. There is nothing the screen can show you that equals parenting for the fear factor. I have birthed and raised five children and now ek skrik vir niks[1]!

And they’ll blame me for all their issues!

 

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[1] I am afraid of nothing.

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Dear Fitting Room Designers:

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I made the mistake of trying on a pair of pants for size in Woolworths, yesterday in their brand new shiny change rooms. Too shiny. I didn’t buy the trousers. And it was the place’s fault.

If I were asked to survey fitting rooms in clothing stores, I could really give them some pointers.

Firstly: subdued lighting is a must. Harsh neon lighting just doesn’t do it for my skin. The last thing you want if you’re trying to flog clothes is for me to be so grossed out by my own face that I cannot look in the mirror. I do not know anyone who looks good under fluorescent lights. For me it is certainly not my best look – the freckles stand out, surrounded by pasty, creamish blahness, no matter how many layers of face paint and contouring have been applied. I have dark rings under my eyes too which make me resemble a nagapie at the best of times. I do not need stage lighting to assist. Also if I am tired, the little critters are Gucci-carry-on-luggage- sized bags, so they definitely detract from the garments I am fitting on.

And it’s not just our faces that we have to see in this light: it is our derrieres, which are normally…well…behind us, where we can pretend they are smooth discs of even, beach-ready roundness. Instead we are confronted by massively cratered moons which are nothing like Queen imagined in ‘Fat-bottomed Girls’ – multiplied by three – going all the way to infinity if the looking glasses are angled into Alice’s bizarre world. Personally I believe the dark-side of the moon is a better look.

Mirrors should also be artfully angled so as to make one be longer and slimmer. Even if we know this is a clever illusion, we still want to imagine ourselves looking a bit like the impossibly slim wax mannequin, adorned outside on the shop floor in the garment in question. (Have you noticed that they are always on tippy toe – probably so they can show off outrageously uncomfortable high-heeled shoes too – but that makes them seem even taller.) Every film study student will tell you that a low angle shot makes one look taller and more powerful. I’m happy to go with both those delusions.

Curtains versus doors? Definitely doors (which lock, please). So often, one ends up with a faulty door latch. One that bolts is preferable. While sumptuous curtains look good, draped dramatically across the opening in oh-so-elegant boutiques, I am always terrified that some over-eager stick insect assistant will just pop her head in and reveal me in my big panties so that the creepy chap lounging outside will have an eyeful of the rear end of the Bentley.

The door should fit all the way to the floor, I beg you.

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For those of us who have had divide clothes into ‘Not-in-this-lifetime,’ Maybe-if-I-lose-10kg’ or ‘Oh-Baby-You’re-So-Hot! hooks (there must be at least three hooks) while dodging a pair of boys playing with a car, and hopping on one foot as you attempt to free the inside-out trouser leg from the shoe you should have removed first, it is no fun then to have said vehicle be sent down the back strait and under the door, out of reach of the soon-to-be screeching boys (even men-children hate shopping).  Then you have to twist around quickly, with your boot still caught in the once neatly ironed pants, to prevent over-helpful big sister from lurching out to fetch it for them, at which point, once again the dodgy oom outside is treated to a gander of your moon broekies.  If it’s not your own children who reach under those awful saloon-style doors, it’s other matrons’ sticky fingered brats whose fingers appear like tentacles of slimy, Nik Naks goo tempting you to injure said digits with a healthy tap dance. So, dear retail outlets, given us full-figured doors I beg you.

While pondering whether objects in the rear view mirror are closer or really just as large as they appear, you realise it is the fault of those disturbingly deceptively sized numbers that are the right size, but too small:  You could swear they will fit you and then you get the bodice on and your arms half in and ‘gasp’, you can’t breathe, and – worse – it’s not on properly and no matter how much you attempt to make like Connie the Contortionist, you can’t get it off. Inevitably it is at that moment that Shannon will have put a Jelly Tot (the bribe to ‘behave’) in Liam’s ear or Caitlin will have swallowed yet another R2 coin. And you are, like ‘Chad’ in Charlie’s Angels – well and truly STUCK. ‘Ripping your clothes off’ takes on a whole new meaning, but the temptation is real.

And you can’t really leave the cubs outside the cubicle because then just as you are realising that  what appeared to be stylishly loose fitting on the rack merely hugs all the unmelted baby fat, you hear Michael’s infectious giggle becoming louder. And you just know something is up out there. Dreading that it is your children’s paws which have invaded another patron’s shopping nightmare and which are about to be pierced by a suburban stiletto heel, you burst out to check/glare/chide so you at least appear to be in control of the five worms lined up against the wall, catching the eye of the petite assistant who frowns at the sight of you balancing a dress on your hips and once again there are those knickers for the old man who is seeing more of your skin than a Russian dancer at Mavericks.

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She shakes her head knowingly as you hand her the unpurchased hangers of clothes as you leave shamefacedly, wondering why you can never find anything to buy. Or else you avoid the body-shaming experience entirely and just buy whatever looks attractive on the hanger, only to end up with a cupboard full of ill-fitting clothes.

Well that’s my excuse anyway.

Of Trolls and Rolls

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My husband is a clever man. I mean really clever. He has a Master’s degree in Musicology and half a PhD. But for fun he has been known to sit in his Man Cave, playing GTA and cackling to the Red Neck humour of The Cable Guy, having the cheek to tell me he looks like my game ranger cousin. Of course he also loves more edifying humour like QI and laughs at The Trump and Clinton Comedy Show, despite the chilling consequences of the election of either to the presidency of the USA. He relishes the debates of Mehdi Hasan and delights in provoking conservatives. Bigots who don’t enjoy his stirring the pot call him a troll.

Andrew’s Music pupils adore him because he is cool. In fact he has a ‘Cool/Uncool’ Wall in his office. He is on Snapchat and rocks it. He is in with the gamers in the house and up to date on urban slang.

But he has a thing about his age, which is really funny, because besides …um… having an ‘extended crown’… he doesn’t look old. But he keeps on pretending to be younger than he is. And people believe it. If you present the evidence of his passport or ID document, he will tell you there were administrative errors when they were issued. If you plead with his mother to indicate when he was born, she confirms his actual age, but he blandly says you can’t ask her because she has Alzheimer’s (which is true, God bless her). So that is his secret: denial; denial; denial.

In a world where women complain that men don’t have issues about ballooning beer boeps, grey hair or sagging ‘stuff,’ it’s quite refreshing to see that actually they do care/ have insecurities/ feelings/ issues.

As a woman, for example, I have never had to worry that I might go bald (well – until I realised I might – if I keep pulling out the silver strands from my fringe); we can skip over the articles on prostate cancer and console ourselves that in general we outlive our spouses. (Hence my devilishly clever move to cougardom (only just though, hey.) We don’t need knee surgery from our days on the rugby field or feel the need to pretend we’re not aging and make a down payment on a fancy car and keep pulling in our stomachs when the new secretary sashays in (hell, we have girdles and full body stockings to slow down our undulating Sunday lunch excesses. And even Kim wears one – I read it on the internet so it must be true.)

In fact, if anything, women are opting for less hair – some even go all the way to Brazil to ensure that they are smooth (not me of course, but I do know someone who does); our surgeries include popping out the uterus and goodbye monthly worries. And we: Just. Do. Not. Care. We can laugh until our mascara runs; we no longer worry about embarrassing ourselves and in fact have perfected the art of mortifying image-conscious teenagers. We laugh loudly and heartily in restaurants without worrying that our double chins are showing. We have learnt to stand up for ourselves and not buy into society’s nonsense.

Sure I wear make-up to fill in the odd crinkle or cover the sunspots. It is depressing that I’m not thin after starving myself of chocolate for three days, but I am really not too phased.

However we have survived tight skinny jeans before there was stretch denim (and still managed to go on and have babies!); we were raised on Queen and Journey (with Freddie and Steve Perry); we had to actually break up in person, not on Whatsapp or Skype. We grieved with Demi in Ghost and watched American shows dubbed into Afrikaans. We have earned the accolades of the youth.

Besides which, I have an ageless man and we all know what they say about how old you are…

He is not the only clever one.

Read to know; not right to know.

Image result for the right to know celebrity privacyAuthorship:

The ‘unmasking’ of author Elena Ferrante’s, who has been writing under a nom de plume since 1991 begs the question of the ‘whether the public has a ‘right to know’ as the journalist who set about discovering her identity claims, and calls into question the cult of the celebrity as well.

I write autobiographically and I use my own name and those of my family members liberally. That is my choice. I’d love to say that I have stretched the truth about what goes on inside our home, but seriously you couldn’t make this stuff up. It does restrict me as a writer somewhat because I have to remember I have a public persona at school and one doesn’t want to reveal too much dirty laundry, especially the teenage boys’, but knowing my name doesn’t mean my audience owns me or has a right to pry into my mail.

I invite the reader into the bedlam that exists around us for the vicarious enjoyment of other war-torn parents not quite coping with the tumult of raising a family, in order to make others look anew at their lives and think, ‘Thank God I am not as bad as Colleen.’ I don’t mind if unknowns ‘know me,’ (It’s hard to hide when you drive a large, noticeable bus around town with 4 ?/2 redheads) but I am certainly not inviting Joe and Julie Public and their awful kids to picnic on our lawn (It’s full of prickly weeds and windblown pollen from the neighbour’s tree, which is guaranteed to irritate your allergies anyway).

I do not have the talent to create worlds and characters as a creator of fiction might. Elena Ferrante does. I do not have the desire to keep my name unknown. Elena Ferrante does. That is surely her right. If you buy her books and enter her world, you have not bought her. Your relationship is with her characters only. While you may be intrigued by the mystery behind her anonymity you do not own her or her personal story, because her personal story is not what she is selling. The public does not have a right to know.

I’m reading Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare at the moment. If I have learnt anything from it, along with my years of English teaching, it is that we don’t know much about old Willem Wikkelspies. Personally I think Marlowe wrote all that stuff, but that’s another story, which serves only to irritate Shakespeare’s purists who can’t prove he did because we don’t know anything about him. The art must speak for itself whoever wrote it and it does. That is what has made his work so durable. The characters tell the human story no matter who put quill to paper.

Actors and even reality television entertainers are entitled to privacy. They participate in a film or programme and after that we do not own them. We pay to watch a film, not to know that Brad Pitt may or may not have been drunk on a plane or that some emaciated Survivor star is bonking an Idols finalist. Unlike the royals who frankly are owned by their nations (yet still are entitled to tan topless in the peace of their homes), celebrities are private citizens. I don’t want to know the details of Kim Kardashian’s ordeal during a robbery, despite having been invited into her onscreen world (and gracefully declining). In fact that robbery is perhaps an extreme result of some folk thinking they even have a right to the possessions of famous people. Not even the trashy Osbournes want you to or let you see everything.

This is not about censoring the right to know what our governments are doing or the l’art pour l’art view, because for me, all art clearly comes out of and is part of a moral and historical framework. But, unless a novel is written by a criminal who is profiteering from his crime or a politician who should be spending the time in office serving the people not selling books to them, I say we should leave the jolly author alone!

However, you are welcome to send me money and flowers. Then I’ll show you my new toenail polish if you like. The girls say it’s ‘a bit bright, you know!’

Crocodiles, Librarians and Unicorns

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Driving with Shannon is always a treat. When she is not fiddling with the radio or air conditioner, she asks truly random questions. Today, for instance, as we were sailing past Milnerton, out of the blue she asked what kind of animal I would be if I were a beastie. She was not satisfied with my instinctive ‘a dragon’ response, but I managed to appease her with ‘okay so a big cat – one of the big five so when I get to the waterhole all the other wildlife gets out of my way, unlike in my very own kitchen, where ungrateful buffalo stampede past, steal my kettle water and I am forced to wait for my tea…’

Methinks she might have zoned out during the kitchen rant because her eyes glassed over behind her dirty (as usual) lenses. However she must have been listening when I went on to say that as a predator I couldn’t just lie in wait quietly with only my eyes on display like a lurking croc, because she came back at me with gusto by suggesting that librarians are like crocodiles: they pounce on you from nowhere and snap, ‘Quiet!’

Now I am not surprised that one of my children should be admonished for noisy behaviour. I have done a fair job of raising socially acceptable humans, but my own school reports were littered with far too many  ‘Colleen talks too much in class’ type comments for me to moan at the saplings for volatile volume. So I was more amused by her accurate description of what for me are the scariest of professionals: the keepers of books.

Perhaps this description resonated with me also because of my guilt about unpaid library fines and the tongue lashing I received recently for a book so long outstanding that I needed to pay R220 for it. And Library week with its attendant fine-amnesty is long gone. The librarian who confronted me though was a six foot Idris Elba lookalike so I was sad to have disappointed him (very sad) rather than afraid, but still. Ironically the book in question was hiding in plain sight on the bookshelf of my travelling companion’s bedroom; even more ironically it was named Indulgence in Death, something which should stand as a warning to all children who do not put their books back on the library shelf at the front door.

But I digress. I was contemplating the concept of kids saying the ‘darndest things’ like those clangers the two year old drops, used succinctly and correctly in front of either your maiden aunt, the local priest or in the middle of Woolworths.

The funniest birthday card I received this year, notwithstanding my (older) sister’s (paltry) attempts to age-shame me, was one snuck into a pack of cards from the Grade 6’s at school without the teacher’s knowledge, I hope. It read:

Sugar is tart

Lemons are sweet

I love you more than a unicorn’s FART.

So odd; so inappropriate; yet so funny it made me laugh till I couldn’t breathe. The poor educator would be mortified that this slipped through the censors and was delivered to the head’s office.

There is something so remarkably life-giving in the creativity of children and I love spending time with young people to hear a fresh take on the jaded, clichéd world. Some might call this sass. I like to think of it as originality in a society that takes itself too seriously.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe there are two kinds of parents in this world: those who think the little boy on Youtube debating with ‘Linda’ (his mother) is cute and those, like me, who believe she is making a rod for her own back by encouraging him. Generally I am not amused by cheeky children, but this one at least attempted the rhyme.

Back to Shannon: she thinks of herself as a fox (cute and furry – probably because she hasn’t shaved her legs again) and suggested I am like a bunny (sweet and hopping). Hopping mad after that! I mean really, bunnies just sit there and wiggle their noses. I am way scarier. At least as much as spinster librarians, surely.

Maybe children should be seen and not heard after all.