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.

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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.

Order in The Disorder

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There is a can of Wonder Set Hairspray on my dining room table. Of course there is also an abandoned artwork with accoutrements (Sean having realised he’d better mark his 80 First Year tuttlings’ essays.); a Lego spaceship which Liam uses to imagine his fantasy game and Andrew’s music books and car keys (The latter will be sought frantically when he wants to leave.); not to mention assorted mail, uncollected laundry (I don’t deliver), shopping lists (directed at moi) and a derelict coffee cup. The mess explains why we have recently taken to eating at the kitchen counter and not at the designated expensive Coricraft dinner table anymore.

But it is this royal blue aerosol can which captures my attention. You’d understand the anomaly it represents if you knew my children: Three of them have been gifted with the Celtic splendour of rich, curly (to die-for in the eighties) red curls, which challenge all attempts at taming. The teenage boys sport foppish New Romantic locks which must flop into their eyes or be tied up in whimsical knots which explode like sweet stringy fountains on their crowns , napes (or foreheads), depending on the length of fringe allowed by Mom or girlfriends. And Lizzy couldn’t care about what her locks look like so long as her ‘do’ is healthy. Andrew hasn’t enough to spray and I have been banned from ‘big hair’ by the Carlton Hair Police. So what is it doing, lurking on the table?

This tin of hairspray is a random misfit even in the world of sprawling eccentricity which is our home. I wonder how many other houses have toiletries so prominently displayed in their living areas. Do other folk possibly sport toothbrushes in their lounges or rolls of toilet paper at their front doors; or are we alone in our mixed grocery household? It is of course used by Artist Number 2 to protect her charcoal sketches I think or possibly to protect the Pastels Prince’s creations. And truth be told it is at times kept company by a roll of toilet paper. In some ways it is symbolic of the acceptance of weirdness in our family.

But the Neat Nut in me rebels at the sight though and screams to return all items to their rightful places. Before I can work down there, I have to sweep and mop and tidy. That’s how I survived when my 14 year old marriage began to crumble. I cleaned. Everything. I had the cleanest house in Cape Town. Seriously. I did skirting boards, window sills and light switches every day; windows inside and outside once a week. I changed bedding for 6 people every week (every day for three weeks when I saw three nits on one child’s head). All before 12 0’clock so I could feed Liam and then fetch the others from school. I was like an anorexic bringing order to my world in the only way I could control: instead of mastering my appetite, I had a perfect home.

When I met Andrew, on his inaugural visit to our house with Lizzy and Mika, the first thing he asked with surprise was ‘Where’s the mess?’ Now he falls over it (largely because he made it of course) and I remind myself that it’s ok for a place to have a lived-in appeal. I’ve never told him about the mad clean up that happened that day because the Bentleys were coming for tea. And mess has become a reminder for me that I do not need to remain in such rigid control of things anymore.

However I think I may have passed this disorder about order onto my children: Caitlin, the accountant, is a natural organiser, but the day (yesterday) Michael entered my boudoir uninvited and told me to tidy up the mess (ok so a few of my clothes were chilling with the clean linen – all right the coats had brought out the beers and it was quite a party on the chairs in the room), I knew he was as damaged as me.

Perhaps he sprayed his hair with Jane Seymour’s Firm Control?

Thoughts on thoughts

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Sometimes I make the mistake of asking my family members what they think I should write about. More than anything else, it gives me a glimpse into their thoughts.

‘Write about me,’ one giddy teenager proclaims, while spilling toothpaste on herself, next to her pyjama clad twin, who at least suggested the more mature topic of the crisis in higher education. That tricky topic was echoed by an older sibling who maintained I should consider the debate around decolonisation of universities.

‘Explore why one moment they (our offspring) are watching Barney and Noddy and the next they have rejected their childhood,’ said Andrew, ever conscious of the aging process in others, ‘or sadistic teenagers’ (corrected by one to ‘edgy’ teen) without taking his eyes off FIFA ’16, handed down by Michael who is now on to FIFA ’17.

I won’t ask him, the footballer, I thought, because he will either suggest how they have not yet solved the FIFA cheating glitch with the new version, or something like the vagaries of the English Football transfer window. And the only thing I know about that particularly confusing aperture is that it is now closed.

Sean believes I should review a book and I just might dissect one of the Jeffrey Eugenides novels I have recently finished (if you haven’t discovered this writer and need a chuckle, while coming to grips with deep stuff, he’s your man – Jeffrey, not Sean). Sean’s first suggestion was a self-conscious exploration on the writing of a blog, but, as you can see, I’m way ahead of him.

Liam is MIA tonight, but he told me to stop writing or I would be late for mass (such a good boy! I can say that because he is at the Marais’ house annoying them). Mika on the other hand hummed and hawed and suggested ‘cooking.’ Mwahahaha. But I could mention that Lizzy is now baking banana loaf which smells sublime.

I eventually broke down and asked Michael who merely said ‘I don’t know’ – I hope that is not what he is thinking, but I do have a fair idea now about what each of my other beloved relatives is contemplating. Which begs the question: What am I thinking about and why do I not have a topic of conversation at hand?

The answer is a trifle sad, I must confess: other than worrying about my school’s upcoming Umalusi desktop submission and my own inertia in beginning some of the policy writing I need to do, and wondering whether eight o’clock is too early to go to bed and read my book in the school holidays, I’m not really having any deep insights on life or personal epiphanies. Teasing out the semiotics of such thoughts, what I have realised is that my whole focus generally is on the needs and interests of my family (which is good but can be a bit Betty Crockerish) and my school (Yes, important during term-time); yet I have not cultivated any actual hobbies of my own which often has me getting caught in the middle of trying to please everyone and ignoring my own self.

So, to my horror, on a Sunday night I am having to admit that I am suffering from housewife’s angst. It’s disturbing to admit that even executive women can subjugate their ‘self’ to the vagaries of external views (even though in this case, to be fair, I actually asked the family what I should be sharing in my blog). But I think we women, all too often fall prey to a subversion of self which we mistake as Christian kindness, but often erases ourselves and our own interests or needs, as we try to please everyone.

No more of that. (Even though from time to time – I must remain a bit of a martyr in order to use that against the progeny) I shall employ  a new philosophy which I cannot politely name (it rhymes with ‘bucket’). I shall indulge my own thoughts and share my own ideas.

After that I shall ask my family what they think about my blog.

Pokémon gets kids Go-ing

Picture by Pawel Kuczynski

I had a surreal (get it?) conversation with my son on our drive home last week. It went like this:

Me: How was school? (I’m not very original)

Youngest Offspring: Fine. (Teenagers are not original either)

Except me and my friends [sic] had to keep re-taking the tuckshop. Did you know there is a gym at Cobblewalk?

Me: Yes, but I can’t afford it.

L-Shaped Child: I’m a Mystic.

Me: I am glad you are growing spiritually, my boy.

Techno Spawn: Mom, please will you drive less than 20km/h or else they’ll think I’m cheating.

Me: No.

Needless to say Mom’s own little pocket monster was not too impressed with his parent. Sigh. Goes with the territory, I suppose, along with having to remind school children that there are no squirtles on the grass at Meridian Pinehurst.

This craze (and I use that word deliberately) has certainly had a galvanising effect on global anti-social sedentary adolescents. It is entertaining to sit at my desk in my bedroom which overlooks our street, and see youngsters tearing down the pavements in search of close encounters of the virtual kind. However, I have warned my younger boys of the dangers of the ‘lures’ being for humans – and that they may be the prey so they should be alert, but that they should also be aware of the danger of roaming around, heads down with smart phones in their hands – again, they are targets for thieves. I am also concerned that in their desperation to capture that elusive Pokémon that they blindly traverse busy roads and get hurt or cause an accident.

As an English teacher, I am aware that the lines between real and imaginary have become even more blurred and have resigned myself to the fact that my son may NEVER use the word ‘literally’ correctly.

Just off to ensure Blanche is washing the dishes…

Pizza

Favourite meal: pizza (must have avo – none of this ‘in season’ nonsense.)

Now Andrew’s favourite restaurant, Mitico, offers winter specials at R65 for any pizza plus a carafe of wine. He has taken me there once or twice because then he gets two carafes of wine.  He loves the place so much that he manufactures reasons to go there for his midday prandials and is not fussy who his date is or how far away he must park. He is so undiscriminating in whom he takes with him to dine there that this holiday the owner’s eyes bulged out when he sheepishly admitted I was his wife.

The restaurant is a unique experience. Andrew is welcomed by the jovial Italian host who is always present with ‘Welcome to your dining-room.’ (Kind of true because he eats there more often) and the waitrons are friendly and also know him. Move over Cheers, everyone here knows his name. The street view is also entertaining: Hardy tourists with white ankles in shorts on ‘safari’ to see the wildlife of Africa mingle with business folk on route to luncheon meetings and students on their trendy way to general sloth. We watched an emaciated, string-haired dame wander up Kloof Street, carrying a sign which read, ‘My husband was abducted by aliens…’  Clearly the aliens sent her back. (but probably many a hausfrau around can relate, because several stop to chat): Tamboerskloof’s own Kruger Park.

Oh and the pizza is good.

At our home trattoria we make our own pizzas from scratch – well Shannon takes out her issues of the week on the dough, although in desperation (She can be fickle) Michael and Liam have taught themselves to mix them too. Fortunately no one has thought to ‘toss’ a pizza because with Shannon’s lack of ball skills we would have to clean the floor afterwards too.

It doesn’t end once the bases have been cooked (a process which requires several hours and the latest in my arty child’s music files, mixed with raucous singing – especially when Lizzy is here at her coastal residence – and young people in various stages of either  sleepwear or going-out evening attire). Preparation involves much flour, bacon and various combinations of cheese, spinach, mushrooms and feta. If I am lucky no one has nicked the last pepperdews. And of course there must be avocados. Then the bun fight starts, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor. You see if we’re all at home that means 9 pizzas need oven space (more if there are visitors) and heaven help the upstart who nips in to put the starving waif’s personal masterpiece in when another famished adolescent is waiting. Michael needs to be watched because he hides bacon under his cheese as well – and let me tell you there is no respect for age or beauty – it’s push in or be last – jungle rules.

It is no wonder poor Andrew escapes to the Bo Kaap to get away. My husband needs to escape the aliens.

Grocery Shopping in the RSA

Did you know that the inflation rate on food in South Africa stands at 12.5% for the third quarter of 2016 and that is not factoring in the inflation of an additional 5% per growing (and therefore gobbling more) child permanently resident in our household. (I dare not say which one is not growing further for fear of reprisals.)

So grocery shopping is not fun anymore, if it ever was. I suffer from terrible trolley envy when I stand in queues, wandering how that man in the mesh vest behind me can afford the box of prawns and all that tinned coconut milk, or the aging prune in front can even begin to pay for 2 ply toilet paper and lamb, not to mention my veritable outrage that someone else won the free shopping spree at Spar, when I deserve it more!

When the munchkins were small, shopping was even more of a mission and they each had their ‘positions’ in, on or around the trolley. I’d bribe them to behave by buying the cheapest biscuits I could find and I’d do our weekly shop of R500 for all 6 of us (and that was including nappies). Now of course that’s what it costs every second day in the supermarket, but in those days I could feed us all on a tin of baked beans, a chunk of cheese and half a loaf of bread (well everyone except Michael who used to flick his beans on top of the kitchen cupboards when no one was looking. It’s no wonder the kid had hypoglycaemic issues.)

My beloved gannets eat well when we are poorest though and they all know that when it’s Woolworths food then Mom is down to her last few shekels. The problem with buying where the beautiful people shop though is that it is just iniquitous to spend so much on ordinary items like mince and cheese.  Mind you, the price of dairy products has reached stratospheric heights. I am seriously considering hooking Maggie’s tail up to a churner so we can make our own butter (after all Dr Tim says butter is all good now) and I’m sure there are enough germs around the old homestead to ferment our own cheese and let’s face it, the foul language that flies around here at times is certainly enough to turn the milk.

Eggs also seem to be costing the earth these days, but I draw the line at keeping chickens in the yard. Besides, Maggie’s Labrador innocence deserts her in the face of feathered wings and she has been known to brutalise a pigeon or two over the years with frighteningly savage precision.

Then there are avocados: now have you EVER been able to find three ripe ones out of a pile of the green rocks they usually offer without having to donate a kidney for the ones in the fridge which are specially ripened? And those ones are always black. I wonder if they cook ‘em a little to soften them – it would explain their crispy skins too? We have discovered to our great joy that we have an avocado tree in our garden which from time to time drops mango-sized scrumptious avos onto the lawn like …well…avo from heaven. So this earth mother thing may well work.

Now shopping for my husband’s favourite delicacies is an exercise in Russian-English translation because he insists on scrawling unintelligible items on the shopping list. What, pray tell, may ‘spinyhjatyi’ and ‘tuhmatyi souz’ be? And ‘buzzy’ water? Trust me at 6pm on a week night I have no sense of humour and even less desire to be a UN translator.  What are ‘tjops’ or ‘Barbie Q Spices’? I do not care to purchase ‘limmon wyatr’ or ‘lzzaneya shits,’ never mind that this has all played havoc with ability of the children in the house to spell correctly, not to mention contributing to the vulgar language use.

And when I get to the till and the burly chap who is built like a side of beef himself has selected enough racks of pork ribs to fill an entire sty also wants to pay for his telephone bill and his City of Cape Town Services accounts for the last three months when he was vegging in front of the rugby instead of paying his dues., my temper graduates to DEFCON 2 readiness. Then the sweet cashier politely asks whether I am collecting ‘the stickers/ other random Stikeez (more Slavic giveaways) supermarkets throw at unsuspecting shoppers with kids. Did you know that as we speak, Checkers is generously throwing in doll-size plastic groceries for every R150 you spend? Seriously?! (I wonder if they have Barbie Q spice)

‘Hell no,’ I say, even though the delightful Gabriella, Michael’s girlfriend, is collecting the said stickers (why, I didn’t ask!). I want the points on my loyalty card – for when the Woolworths card is full.

And when you pay they ask you if your card is for a cheque or savings account. More like ‘check out or spendings.’ Who can save anymore?!

Andrew says we should shop online to save money, but where’s the fun in that?