Somebody Help Me, I Have No Heritage

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So, to celebrate National Heritage Day which happens tomorrow whatever date that is because my watch is consistently wrong, our kids get to go to school dressed in clothes which honour their heritage. Lovely in theory, let’s celebrate a thing, less lovely when it’s 7:20am and you have to leave in 3 minutes and everyone is still in their pyjamas having back-to-back panic attacks because nobody knows what the hell our heritage is. Well, we sort of do, but as white South Africans sending our 9-year-old to school dressed as a colonising rapist and plunderer feels a little wrong.

Also, being white South Africans, chances are excellent that a sizable portion of our gene pool is Khoi San and while I’m much prouder of sharing ancestry with indigenous Africans than whatever skollie relatives managed to escape the doldrums of England and Germany and survive the voyage across the Atlantic with vrot teeth and dirty underwear, and I even have a leopard skin in the cupboard (don’t ask and also don’t skel, it’s ancient and inherited) and a knobkierie which would make a nice outfit for one of the girls there’s the thing of the #blackface so that’s not even an option. And as we stood there in growing dismay I was reminded of the strangeness of being a non-African African and I realised that that is why the white people call it National Braai Day – because we don’t know what the hell else to do, but God knows we understand a marinade.

And the thing about us white people, even those like me whose relatives haven’t seen a sniff of Europe in 300 years, we have to be extremely cautious about claiming an African heritage because, as we know, this matter goes much further than what a swab of saliva might reveal. Africanness is about a lived experience, a history and a past that I will never be a part of. Worse, my kind added significantly to the kakness of black lives in South Africa which pretty much precludes me from laying claim to common ground. At the same time, the first time I put foot on British soil, late into my twenties, while the place was vaguely familiar by virtue of Kathy and Mark books from Sub A and Fawlty Towers, it was still deeply foreign and I felt no sense of belonging at all. They talk funny and still have vrot teeth.

And while I am pale and blonde and look Scandinavian, that is where the similarity ends. I lived in Sweden for a long time and loved much about it, but those were not and never will be my people. But the rainy Saturday morning I walked through the town square and encountered a group of gumboot dancers who were visiting Malmö for some or other reason… well, my husband had to hold me quite firmly by the arm to stop me from rushing over to the nearest person and flinging my arms around him. Instead I looked on quietly and cried. Because, right or wrong and shared experience or not, these were my people. And the fact that every Marc Lottering skit and every Nandos ad made me howl told me that I needed to go home. And I did. And I live here now observing the daily madnesses and sadnesses and beautifulnesses of this country.

Like, a few hours ago in front of me in the queue at Checkers was what you’d call an old school Xhosa umakhulu, a granny. Someone just like her worked in our home, invisible as a ghost. She was bent and her hands were arthritic and no question she had seen her share of suffering in this lifetime. She was buying two small kerosene lamps, probably to save on the cost of electricity. I was buying a range of overpriced things from the kosher deli because it’s Friday and I can’t be bothered to cook. Just before that I’d been for a wax. I’ve become quite friendly with the woman who keeps my legs smooth. She is recently married and they are trying for a baby. She said, ‘The only thing is, my husband is dark-skinned and looks very black, whereas I’m nice and light. I really don’t want my children to get his dark skin.’

I thought about all of this as I drove home. So many layers of wrong, so much history behind it. But still I want to think that the intensity with which I love this country and how home-home-home it is and will always be for me means I’m not just a visitor and a coloniser. Even though I have no idea what to do tomorrow to celebrate my history but braai. Happy Heritage Day, everyone. We’ve come a long way and we have a long, long way to go.

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Chicken, Chorizo and Butter Bean Stewois (another French dish)

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As it cooks the chorizo lends a fabulous smokiness to the sauce.

As everyone in my family knows, I’m somewhat of a cheat. I believe cheating wherever possible is an intelligent way of getting where you need to be with a minimum of hassle and stress. I cheat at things like boule and Monopoly and now and again I forget to tell MyFitnessPal about the chocolate croissant I inhaled on the school run because anyway food that isn’t eaten on a plate doesn’t count. The thing is, if I didn’t cheat I would regularly lose at things which would negatively impact my self-esteem, and since I’m so kak at games of all descriptions, it’s a survival mechanism I’ve had no choice but to hone over the years.

Like this past July in Copenhagen when we went for Sunday lunch at some friends who were spending the summer in a fancy house by the sea where the rich people of Denmark live. After a wonderful lunch of steak and fried potatoes (our hostess was French where they not only eat carbs but fry them and yet remain as thin as mist), we did what rich Danish and ordinary French people do and went out onto the lawn to play boule. I’m not great at boule, and while I’m not a bad loser as such it just gets embarrassing when you’re competing against a wafer-thin French girl who wears silk lingerie and not beige broeks like me (I know this because I snooped around and found a clothes horse hung with tiny, diaphanous items of underwear, like Barbie had one hell of a night) and you’re coming totally stone last, being beaten even by young children.

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Rich people of Denmark.

So, when the players ahead of me were distracted and talking about the various merits of a la-la-Pinot Noir I would subtly use my foot to get the ball into a more favourable position, significantly hoisting myself up in the rankings. The fact that I’d had several glasses of the above-mentioned Pinot Noir which impacted my balance somewhat and made me fall over once or twice alerting everyone to my tricks we don’t really need to go into, but they were polite enough to let me pretend I really came fourth.

Also when we play Monopoly, even when I try really hard to save and make sound financial decisions and not be like I am in real life somehow I end up alternately in jail or on Regent Street at the doorstep of the hotel my husband has yet again unkindly purchased and keeps laughing meanly when I land there round after round. So you can’t really blame me for taking advantage of the times my fellow players are momentarily distracted by the loud gwang of a hadeda landing on the roof and everyone gets up to look out the window to see if it’s a baddie come to kill us and I pilfer the money of the other players and hide it under the board so the theft is not immediately apparent. Because this is the only way I’m not bankrupt and out of the game within 15 minutes. And I know it’s not ideal that the people I’m stealing from are my own children, but on the other hand they need to learn that the world is full of robbers and swindlers and nobody should be trusted, least of all their own kin. But enough about that.

This French dish (which possibly isn’t even really, but it goes with the cheating theme and it does contain French tarragonois) is so ridiculously easy and yet appears quite fancy and sophisticated when you serve it to guests, so naturally it’s a hit with the likes of me. There are one or two things you can’t cheat with, though. It has very few ingredients, so you must buy good things. Pay more for your chicken and don’t even think about buying Chorizo from a poofy shop. It’s going to ruin everything and nobody will think you’re Nigella anymore which defeats the whole object of cooking for anybody ever. This is what you’ll need.

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No filter on earth can make raw chicken look appealing. But see how few ingredients 👍🏼

Ingredients:

  • Several chicken pieces
  • Chorizo
  • bacon
  • 2 tins of butter beans
  • 2 tins of tomatoes
  • dried French tarragonois
  • chicken stock
  • an onion
  • garlic
  • rosemary
  • a bay leaf

Method:

Fry your chicken in olive (or any damn) oil and season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with flour if you feel like it. Remove browned chicken pieces from the pot and in the lovely, chickeny fat fry your bacon, then add your onion, garlic and chorizo not whole but sliced, obvs. When you’ve fried that for a while add your tomatoes, a tablespoon of tarragonois, chicken stock, fresh rosemary, 2 tins of butter beans and the chicken. Put the lid on the pot and let it simmer gently for a couple of hours. Serve with rice and/or crusty bread and a nice bottle of white. It’s very tasty and your friends will be impressed with your cooking skills. Also, the amazing thing about this dish is that halfway through cooking it you’ll find that you are thinner and also able to speak fluent French even if you didn’t speak a word of that language before. That surprised me quite a lot, but then life is full of surprises. Bon appetit!

How to Not Fuck it Up When You Meet a Guy You Like

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When I was in my twenties, fresh out of university with an impressive list of degrees to my name and dumber than a box of hair, I was lucky enough to land a job at a glossy women’s magazine. Only the tea girl was lower in the pecking order than I was, but coming straight from the hallowed walls of my ivy league-ish university and having read every hard book ever written twice, I fancied myself to be rather smart, and also believed that I had something of great significance to contribute to our monthly features meetings where we (they) decided on the content of the next mag.

It took me about five minutes to realise that you can quote Germaine Greer till you’re eleventy shades of purple, but when it comes to men and courtship (yes, we are still in the fifties) well… we are still in the fifties. All that stuff about equality of the genders is deeply true and correct, but it doesn’t help a sister one smidgen of an iota when she is Dating Seriously and trying her damnedest to not fuck it up with The Guy.

Through the one decade older and entire lives wiser women I worked alongside I learnt some deeply important truths, truths that have, over the decades, proved themselves to be truly true. And their trueness is ridiculous because we should be above all this by now and able to be honest and upfront about what we want and how we feel. But, you know how little boys at playschool show up in their pyjamas and dribble and hit things while the girls wear matching outfits, have good hair and make complicated social arrangements? It kind of stays like that forever (sorry, boys, and also sorry for what’s about to come, I know you’ll tell me off properly in the comments section).

The truth is that, for the most part, we women meet a man and want to marry him and also breed by about next Thursday. Men, for the most part, are still wondering if it’s strictly necessary to change out of their pyjamas that day. Which is why, in the early days, we girls need to manage ourselves and our expectations of fledgling relationships if we don’t want said guy to run away crying in fear. And managing ourselves and the situation requires a bit of self-discipline, but is actually much easier to implement than one would expect. You just have to pretend you’re a character in a Jane Austen novel for a while and everything – including Mr Darcy – will go your way.

  1. WWJAD (What Would Jane Austen Do?)

What indeed (see, I knew all those hard books would pay off somehow in the end). What Jane definitely wouldn’t do is sleep over in the first few weeks. It’s soooo tempting because all that Mulderbosch and tomorrow’s Sunday and he made lamb shank for you and everything’s so cosy. This, by the way, does not mean not shagging. You can shag to your heart’s content (if you are a few weeks in, that is. Never, ever do that thing on the first or the second date. I promise. Take it from Jane). But staying the night is too familiar and what’s going to happen is that after coffee and a walk to the bakery the next morning the temptation to stay the day is going to be enormous and next thing you know three days will have passed and you’re still in his t-shirt, only he’s gotten a bit jittery and has developed a nervous tic and keeps gazing longingly out the window because The Spookery has set in and all he wants is to GET AWAY. Do not let things get to this point. Get in your car and go home directly after the shank and the shag. Even if he begs you to stay. If you absolutely must stay the night, leave very early next morning. Because you know better than him what he needs. Go! Voetsek! Hamba! And don’t phone him either. Stalk him on Facebook and go to bed.

The Spookery 

Here’s what that is. On the whole, young men are not as eager to settle down as their female counterparts, ie within the first week of meeting. For this reason they tend to be skittish, excitable and easily spooked. These are the things that spook them:

  • The idea that you might need them for anything, ever.
  • The idea that their personal freedom might be curtailed in any minute way at any time in the near or distant future.
  • The idea that somebody might make a suggestion regarding their laundry and/or personal hygiene/lifestyle/eating habits and that they will feel obliged to change some aspect of themselves.

But The Spookery is really easy to avoid. All you need to do is not be scary. Being scary is knitting toilet seat covers for his digs, being available to hang out with him all the time and sending whatsapps asking him where he is and why he hasn’t whatsapped you. This last thing is very, very spookery-inducing, so I’m going to devote a whole paragraph to that.

3. The WhatsApp Thing

This is a zone of pure treachery, as is the whole social media domain. How people remain in relationships and get married in this era of who-the-fucks-that-girl-in-the-pic and the damning two blue ticks is a mystery and a miracle to me. I can tell you for free that I would be single and living amongst cats had I been dating in the time of Facebook. Again, the rules are simple and have to be adhered to.

  • you never send the first text. Let him send it. He needs to send it. If you don’t let him send it by sending yours first he’ll get confused. They are like that.
  • you never send the last text. If he says, ‘cool! Look forward to seeing you!’ You don’t say, ‘yes! Will be so awesome! Look so forward to seeing you too! You’re so adorable! I love you and I want to marry you! xxxx.’ You don’t say that thing. You say this thing: (               ). Nought words. You think the other things, but you put your phone away, eat some raisins and go for a walk. He might check his phone and think, hmmm, she didn’t answer. Did I come on too strong? Am I too much? Does she even like me? LET HIM THINK THESE THINGS. If he’s a little unsure of you he’ll be much less likely to dribble and show up in his pyjamas, metaphorically speaking. Let him work for you. He wants to. He likes that. It’s his job.
  • You never, ever send a second whatsapp. I’ve said this before here. If he doesn’t answer you, scream into your pillow, phone a friend, go for a run, slap yourself with a Havaiana but whatever you do, do not send a follow-up whatsapp. He will answer you in due course or he won’t. If no reply comes, he doesn’t like you enough. Move along swiftly and don’t humiliate yourself anymore.

4. Be a Green Birkin

Present yourself in increments. Like in the olden days, when you like the boy go slow. Not just for him, for you. This is not about giving up your power, it’s about stating your strength and acknowledging your independence and knowing that not for one second do you need a man to give your life meaning. It’s about not giving all your plans and your friends and everything else up the minute he crosses your threshold. We were all fed that nonsense about being half people without a man in our lives. And don’t berate yourself if you want to walk down the aisle so badly you can taste the tulle. It’s not a weakness, it’s just the way we were raised. But with all your being resist the urge to drop your life and move into his. Be who you were before you met him: fabulous and busy and a little bit unavailable. It’s the same with shoes and bags and apartments. The second you can’t have something that thing becomes insanely desirable. Remember that you are a rare creature of astounding magnificence, and any man would be deeply lucky to have you around, so don’t sell yourself cheap. Be that Birkin bag everybody wanted but nobody could buy. Allow him into your life. Take it from this lady who knows what she’s talking about.