Tsek, Tsotsi!


Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 11.50.30 AM
Did you hear the one about the president who wouldn’t resign?


Isn’t it so typical of how things work down here: one minute it’s business as usual and you’re going to bed gatvol because President Zuma is hanging on with the tenacity of a gazonkelnut and whyfor must he resign just because eleventy zillion South Africans are up to here, and next thing it’s morning and you’ve barely bitten into your Bovril toast when you see there’s a party happening on Facebook that you didn’t even know about. And then Cyril is hugging the rabbi’s wife on Sea Point promenade and everyone’s high-fiving everyone at the Spar and the people who’ve just emigrated to Australia are feeling deeply conflicted.

Shem. I’m not going to tell them I told you so because they’re sad enough as it is. And then, the cherry on the cake, there’s the pilot refusing to fly that skelm Atul Gupta out of Lanseria airport and he’s sitting lekker sipping his Vida E, flipping through the in flight magazine wondering why it’s taking so long to take off and did they lose the keys to the plane, only the truth of the matter is he’s going nowhere but onto a poster put up by the Hawks saying Fugitive on the Run. As we speak he’s hiding in his cousin’s cupboard in Lenasia because Jacob is too busy trying to keep Duduzane out of Pollsmoor to answer him on WhatsApp. Yoh, how things can change in a day.

And yet you still have the lady at the gym putting on lotion and watching the news in the changing room at 10am finding something negative to say about South Africa. And I want to take her straightening iron out of her bag and actually just bliksem her with it because yussus, people – this is a good day for us! Can you not see how astonishingly well things have turned out? It’s better than we dared even to dream. Also, by the way, you’re at gym at 10 in the morning, and not because you’re cleaning the toilets. How about a bit of perspective for the amazingness of your life?

A classic South African moment happened a few weeks ago at that same gym when we asked one of the managers if they no longer get the paper delivered in the morning. Because it’s quite nice to distract yourself from the fact you’re drinking coffee instead of doing interval training. And he shrugged apologetically and said, ‘No, I’m afraid not. It’s the government.’ Now, the government can be blamed for many things. Many. But, hard as I’ve thought this through, the fact that there isn’t a Cape Argus for the white people to read while they eat their eggs and avo I cannot trace back to the inefficiency of the ANC. But that’s the manager’s story and he’s sticking to it.

So here’s a thought. Since things are looking pretty peachy for us right now (we even have Thuli back on neighbourhood watch), and – try as some people may – it’s quite hard to put a negative spin on recent political events in South Africa, let’s do a little personal inventory on ourselves and what really motivates the gratuitous grumbling about our country. It doesn’t take a psych degree to work out that much of what we attribute to our environment is a projection of what’s happening in our inner lives. Except honestly assessing why you’re depressed is a lot harder than posting vitriol on social media.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the knee-jerk way many of us respond when things aren’t going our way. When someone in government does something kak, you hear about it all day. When someone in government does something good, it’s crickets and we post pics of our kids. How about we try to be more fair and a little more balanced in the way we assess what’s going on politically? Jacob Zuma’s governance was a bad time for us. Hendrik Verwoerd’s governance was worse. But we survived both – the former, due in no small part to our robust and extremely hard-working democracy.

We didn’t sit back and wait for things to change, we took to the streets and protested. Many people with placards were scorned and ridiculed for being white and entitled; they showed up anyway. There was more uniformity, more mutual respect and affection at those events than I’ve ever seen anywhere before. Nobody gave a hoot what anybody else looked like or where they came from. We were South Africans – mixed, mad, purposeful, indignant. How dare they try and steal our country from us again? How dare they let us down now after all we have been through as a nation?

Our courts, our journalists, our opposition parties, our whole judicial system worked hard and determinedly to fight the corruption and to prevent the state capture that would have been a tragic ending to a beautiful beginning. We did it. He’s gone. But we can’t rest on our laurels because there is still much to be done. It’s early days. Let’s be positive and generous in the thoughts and intentions we send out into the world. Let’s not wait for this magical government to bring the Argus to the gym. There is only so much one man can do. Now we have seen our strength and exercised our might. Let’s use it in this new era: make friends with ones who are different. Greet people in their own language. Be kind, generous, tolerant, and in your own capacity do whatever you can to make South Africa the kind of place where you want to live.

Right now our house is a building site because we are lucky enough to be able to afford to renovate. There’s a Zulu and a porta loo on our stoep and it’s noisy as hell all day. What the builders don’t know is that we hear almost everything they say. They speak mostly Kaaps. It’s hot as hades up there in the roof and they’re covered in dust and grime. They work really, really hard. Also, they tease each other and laugh a lot. Sometimes I stop and just listen. What they say I can’t even begin to translate into English, but it’s fricking hilarious. The banging drives me mad but the banter makes my day. And I guess that’s a bit of a metaphor for South Africa. Cheers to that, and to us, and to watching SONA this evening with pride instead of dismay. It’s been an extraordinary few days.


Shap Shap Shanana

cape town pic

I love Cape Town this time of year. Spend enough Decembers and Januaries in the soggy greyness of Europe and you’ll stop moaning about the south-easter and the Vaalies (well, maybe not the Vaalies) and feel a deep, abiding gratitude for the fact that when the table cloth stops tumbling over the mountain and a still and clear blue morning awakens, get there early and you have the whole beach to yourself. And as you wade into the water it dawns on you that the summer is yours, all yours. In fact, the whole place is. Cape Town is the kind of city you own if you’re a local. I used to walk around the icy streets of Malmö, already dark at 3:30pm, dreaming of Clifton 4th. I knew what was going on there: that the sun was not even close to setting yet. That people were navigating the cold, clean waves on SUPs. That a granadilla lolly would, indeed, make you jolly.

And as the sunbathing crowd marches up the steps to wherever it is they came from, the picnic crowd would be marching down with white wine and blankets and things from Giovannis. And the knowledge that all this was happening on the other side of the planet while I pushed a double baby pram through slush was almost more than I could bear. And I’ll never take it for granted again: the girl crossing Buitengracht street yesterday in a strappy sundress and converse high tops, holding her skirt so it didn’t blow up around her head. She was just so Cape Town. The guy in the airport parking lot a few mornings ago who, to pass the time while he waited for his load of tourists, had opened all the doors, put his favourite song on loud and was dancing like nobody was watching. The bergies on High Level road wearing Christmas hats with flashing lights. iKapa.

It’s too hot inside the restaurants so patrons spill outside into courtyards festooned with fairy lights. Summer nights black as ink, balmy, alcohol-steeped, humming with the energy of the season. Midnight in a swimming pool underneath a blanket of stars. Carols by candlelight. Sunrise walks up the mountain. A friend recently arrived, coming home from Australia where he tried to emigrate but nearly died of dismay. He calls it ‘a dusty rock where souls go to die.’ Sometimes I sit on a bench at the Waterfront and watch the tourists go by. It’s easy to tell who is who. Nobody on the planet is as pasty as the Brits. Nobody wears uglier shoes than the Germans, and even though the Swedes have only been here for half an hour, they’ve already managed to turn themselves a deep shade of mahogany. But, come! Come! Spend your Kronor and your Euros. Heaven knows we locals can’t afford the seafood platter.

The thing is, you’d be hard-pressed to find worse whiners than we Saffers. Here we are actually living in the city the whole world rushes to in the summer and we still find things to complain about. Cape Town – like the whole of the country – is not without its problems. But actually it’s pretty amazing, as places go. And, as I’ve said many times in the past, sometimes I wonder if it really needs to be ‘fixed’. Like life, South Africa is messy, unpredictable and full of contradictions. Some days you’ll be frustrated, others you’ll be delighted. It’s the human experience presented in sharp technicolour. It’s like all the bad and all the good you can ever imagine has been crammed into this one little corner of the globe. Pour yourself a rooibos gin and enjoy the ride.

This year, despite the drought, hotels have been fully booked since July. Restaurants are crowded, main roads crawling. I know some folks get grumpy about actually having to plan in advance and make dinner reservations (the horror!) but I love it – the bustle, the vibe, the money pouring in which keeps the machine oiled and the wheels turning. And there’s a reason why everyone on the planet wants to be here. This city really does have everything. Last week a friend made an appointment over the phone. As they settled the details and she was about to hang up, the person she was talking to clinched the deal with, ‘shap shap, shanana.’ She was so amused she told me about it on Whatsapp. We both posted ‘laugh-till-you-cry faces. ‘You should write a blog about that,’ she suggested. So, here it is.

Happy 2018 to all my readers. Thank you for engaging with my ramblings over the past year. The past 12 months were a tough journey for many of us, but I think 2018 is going to be shap shap shanana.







When You Literally Can’t For Your Own Fat Bastardness*

burger pic miniature.jpg
Dinner is served.

So I read this really troubling thing yesterday. I was googling why am I fat – as one does – and I read that, past the age of 45 (which I am by 3, okay, 15 months) if you continue to eat what you did when you were in your twenties and thirties you will more than likely gain around 8kgs per year until you die. Which means that 10 years from now I will not be able to write this blog anymore because I’ll be taking up an entire king size bed and have a ventilator and a TV table holding a portable deep fryer where I’ll spend my days whipping up batches of bengali fritters while the producer from My 600 Pound Life asks me questions about my childhood and how this all happened and there won’t be space in all that gedoente for a laptop.

And the answer will not even be a mystery. I’ll tell that producer the truth. I’ll tell him about how, if you don’t start eating like an anorexic ant, this is what happens to you and so he’d better be careful. Also, wine. According to that sad article wine is just about the worst thing you can imbibe past 5pm, though food of any sort rates pretty high too. And my question to the writer of that article is the following: What is the point of life if you can’t imbibe food and wine past 5pm? What? And when are you supposed to drink said wine, in that case? Because I don’t know if breakfast would really be the best time in terms of productivity and getting your kids to school. The truth is that my whole day pretty much consists of waiting patiently (and sometimes not patiently) until I get to the point where somebody who loves me whips out a cold bottle of chardonnay and says there, there while they make my glass be very full and then they cook me an XL portion of pasta with bacon.

And this is due to the fact that all day long I’ve been driving around and doing stuff and watching kids play netball. What for the rudeness that now I must have water and cress? No. Not at all. So I suppose I must resign myself to this sad fate and be happy for small miracles, like the fact that my track suit pants and some of my jeans still fit me even though I refuse to accept that a bowl of cherry tomatoes will ever constitute a meal. For a while, in my twenties, I was au pair to the kids of somebody quite famous. She was very, very thin and not at all opposed to a dinner of cress. Cress was her middle name. Sometimes her landline would ring (that’s how long ago this was) and I would hear her saying, ‘I’ve just got in, can I phone you back once I’ve had some lunch?’

And I would pretend to play with the child but actually I’d be watching, closely, to see what lunch was going to be. Because, god knows, her fridge was a veritable feast of  pork pies and pates and expensive things with prawns and I’m perpetually hungry and always envious of anybody who is eating. And I can tell you for free that if that was my fridge, lunchtime would be festive. And she’d stand and stare at these delicious items for a while as if trying to remember what real food tasted like and then make herself a plate of undressed lettuce leaves which she’d wash down with black coffee. And while I pitied her in her madness I was also a little bit jealous of the fact that sometimes she’d put on her 4-year-old’s jeans by mistake and look rather fabulous if I say so myself.

And these are the options you face if you’re a girl. Either – like me – you eat the XL pasta and anticipate life in a fat bed or you chop an Israeli cucumber into tiny little pieces and eat it with a toothpick. And it’s not even really a choice. Sometimes I hear people say, golly, it’s nearly dinner time and I haven’t eaten today. I forgot. And I’d like to say, come here, no closer, no closer, and just slap them quite hard. The day I forget to eat you can guarantee I’ve been abducted by aliens who are using my face. This is not really me, help! Anyhow. I suppose what I’m doing right now is called ranting because again, it’s a few weeks before I’m due to go on holiday someplace warm where a bathing costume is a distinct possibility and again – even though I swore I wouldn’t let this happen – I’m lardy-girl-pass-the-grey-poupon** and wondering if drinking get thin milkshakes for 7 days will make me lose 5kgs or I should just give up and resign myself to that nice king size bed. I’ll let you know which way this all goes.

*Please don’t everyone write to me and say, but you’re so skinny. I’m not, and I’m also not fat. Like most of us, I’m somewhere in the middle and wrote this on a day when I felt – like most of us do some days – porky. That’s all.

** Wayne’s World reference – the old people will understand.

The Trouble with Flying Business Class

Us in Business Class. O, how we laughed.

So what I learnt quite recently on being upgraded to Business Class on an Emirates flight from Copenhagen to Dubai is that I’m able to literally and in real life do very many things at the same time, and while I’ve kind of known this about myself for some time because I own children I didn’t fully grasp the range of my abilities until this particular, happy occasion. And the many things I was able to do at the same time were the following, though there might even have been more that I’m forgetting: drink Moët et Chandon from a real champagne glass while at the same time signaling to the girl in the red fedora not to be casual around the refilling of said glass (because thirst); gobble a bowl of hot nuts; scan the menu and try to decide if it would be greedy to make them bring me two of everything; lie prostrate while being massaged by my chair; grin in a maniacal way at my husband; high-five my children, listen to relaxing dolphin sounds while still managing to direct scornful and disparaging glances at the steady trickle of passengers making their mournful pilgrimage past my comfortable, reclining chair-bed to the hell seats of Economy.

It was almost (but not quite because it also made me a bit happy) spoiling my fun having to witness their despair, and I wanted a little bit to say to the lady in the red fedora whilst making a dismissive gesture with my hand, please can you make the poor people not be here? But luckily she was very much on her game as far as the champagne went and it’s hard to be petulant under those circumstances. But the trouble with this thing is that, as we well know, all good things come to an end, and in my particular case which made things very much worse, our journey had two legs, and only the first (shorter) half happened in the party area of the aircraft. For the second (and significantly longer) segment of the journey – that being from Dubai to Cape Town – the people of Emirates didn’t think we were quite fabulous enough to waste any more of their fanciness on the likes of us and so we had no option but, on Boeing #2, to do the walk of shame to cattle class, with some of the very same people I had sneered at – also en route to Cape Town – now looking at us with eyes that said, oh, how the mighty have fallen. And they had. What’s more, they now had a touch of the babbelas.

You know that James song that goes ‘if I’d never seen such riches I could live with being poor?’ Our seven-year-old daughter looked around at the cramped bunker of sadness and shattered dreams which make up any airline’s Economy Class and said in a voice deeply etched with pain, ‘what happened to this place?’ What happened indeed. And the thing is, we wouldn’t have minded our little plastic cups and Barbie-sized bags of pretzels if we hadn’t been confronted with all that wonderfulness to start off with. Even the small polyester blanket that barely makes it to your feet would have been a nice touch if it wasn’t replacing a down duvet covered by one millionty hundred thread count cotton whilst beautiful, red-lipped angels swooped about bearing bottles of Voss and the toilet smelt of candy floss and had a marble sink. I remember a time, not even that long ago, when flying any class to anywhere was more fun than I knew what to do with but I suppose I’ve been corrupted since those days. And now, evermore, I must trundle past the (real) rich people and take my seat together with the lowliest of the low knowing very well what I’m missing even as I beg the steward, Fernando, for just one more tiny drink. So, the moral of the story is this: if you’re ever, for any reason, offered an upgrade on a flight say no if it kills you because it will ruin you for life.

Somebody Help Me, I’m Having a Kak Gedagte

So, I have a confession to make: lately I’ve been having a kak gedagte, and this thing started to happen on Tuesday night when Baleka Mbete didn’t even have the decency to fake cry when she announced to the dishonourable members of parliament and the waiting country that uJacob and his thieving, plundering ministers will continue to thieve and plunder till the Nguni cows come home. I suppose I was one of those people hoping against hope that the majority of the ruling party were people of integrity who would do the right thing even if it was hard, but clearly this is not the case. And I suppose I just got demoerin and that feeling hasn’t left me yet. And what I want to know is why must we always draw the short straw when it comes to rulers of this lovely country? Why do we always get saddled (Madiba and Mbeki excluded) with the biggest bladdy mamparras the world has ever seen? I mean, this guy?

PW Botha pic
Prime Minister PW Botha. No doubt telling everyone how not a racist he is. Or maybe mansplaining a thing to Elise*

I know that when you’re a white South African it’s haram to have an opinion that extends beyond what you’re going to order from UberEATS, but I would also like to say that at no point did Clarence Poephol in the above pic phone me on my landline and ask my opinion on things. Because I can tell you, for free, that if he had done I would have said in no uncertain terms that I don’t think apartheid is very polite nor any kind of good idea moving forward into the future. Except he didn’t give two Kruger Rands for what I – or most of South Africa – thought, so I had to stand there with a mouth full of teeth singing Oranje Blanje Blou and about crags and creaking wagons while these fools made completely kak decisions which would later, round about now, bite us badly in the bums, thanks for that.

Old poepoog President Zuma having a lekker laugh at the State of the Nation.

And now, for his sins and those before him, we’ve got Billy Sphincter and his swimming pool to contend with. Maybe we’re being punished because it’s so lekker here. Could that be? I mean, try and beat our winelands and coastline. Maybe it’s some kind of retributive justice by the universe, like here’s a very good Chardonnay for the bargain price of 45 ZAR, only you’re also getting Bathabile Dlamini because you can’t have everything, sozzles. I suppose it sort of balances out Addo and the Kruger National Park when we get the most foolish people who’ve ever been born making decisions for us and our country. Otherwise it would be too good and it wouldn’t be fair on the rest of the world. And now the same ANC that saved our souls has grown more vrot than a skaapboud left out in the sun after Nagmaal. What are we even to do?

And, how mad is our history, actually? So, let’s take the most diverse, vibrant, culturally rich and beautiful place on the planet and put this guy in charge:

Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd. A barrel of laughs, you can tell.

I mean. I don’t think he had a happy day in his entire life. Which might account for why he was hell-bent on making the rest of us miserable. When you’re feeling like a haemorrhoid there’s nothing worse than being surrounded by joyful people. I actually think, had Verwoerd (just the name sounds like you’re making a noise out your bum) and his cronies lived long enough, they would have thoroughly approved of Jacob Zuma’s government. Lord knows they were also robbing us blind during the apartheid years. If old Hendrik was capable of moving those thin lips into a smile, he would have grinned at JZ and slapped him on the back and told him way to go! Censorship of the press, thieving, autocratic governance, corruption… so many parallels between that government and this one. It seems like the ANC learnt well from its predecessors.

So, I’m really hoping my kumbaya mindset returns one of these hours so that I can continue to assure everyone in Perth that it’s all ayoba. People have pointed out that nearly 50% of the ANC opposed Zuma and that that’s a good sign. I suppose they’re right, I’m just impatient. How long will we wait till proper social transformation starts to happen? What is the plan for righting the wrongs? Is there one or will we, the haves, just keep shopping and pretending we live in Europe? When will this wonderful country filled with so much amazingness be rewarded with a proper leader? We have come so far and worked so hard that these setbacks klap a sister.

I suppose it’s no different, really, to what we’ve been dealing with since the Nats ran the show. We hated our government then, we hate our government now. Not a lot has changed. Actually, it’s probably not stretching the truth to say not a lot has changed since the 1600s when the first white ships arrived on our coastline and starting making megaai. So, I’m going to try and cheer up: Zuma’s days are numbered and when he goes, chances are excellent we’ll be awarded an even bigger mamparra because the more things change, the more they stay the same. And there is something quite comforting about that. Plus, we have R45 wine and a good excuse to drink it.

*Elise Botha, his wife.

Things I Fucking Love About Denmark

mons klint.jpg
Beautiful Møns Klint, a nature reserve on Sjælland, south of Copenhagen.

The singlemost surprising thing to happen to me in this lifetime was to become Dane-ish. Who knew that the blonde guy at the party I bounced a cigarette with in the nineties (it was the nineties, okay, everyone smoked) and drunkenly handed my business card and panicked when he called the next day because I kind of had a boyfriend, oops was going to become the dude. You just never know where this life journey is going to take you so always wear good broeks and waterproof mascara just in case.

Lunch Can Last Eight Hours

Danish food pic.jpg
A typical Danish smorgasbord.

The Danes are generally an understated bunch. They hate clutter, self-aggrandisement and anything over-the-top, but the one time all this modesty and minimalism go to hell in a hand-basket is when they sit down to lunch. Not any lunch, an occasion lunch – a birthday, Easter, a confirmation (yes, this nation of atheists become pretty religious when somebody’s child turns 13). When it’s an occasion lunch, it’s balls-to-the-wall. They make up for all that healthy eating and biking big time. Before I learnt to take small portions, even greedy guts me found herself in a bit of a dilemma being stuffed to capacity by the fourth course. I was never foolish enough to make that mistake again. If you sit down at 12pm it’s quite common to still be sipping strong coffee and nibbling home-made chocolates at 8. You’ll have had every kind of fish and meat dish this nation created including smoked eel, hot liver pate with bacon and mushrooms, roast pork with crackling, chicken and asparagus tartlets and salmon and herring prepared a dozen different ways. Eaten on bread, by the way, with a knife and fork. A Danish smorgasbord is a thing of rare beauty. Everyone should sit down to one at least one time in their lives.

liver pate pic.jpg
In a country which has more pigs than people it’s not even a meal unless there’s bacon.

They Drink Schnapps, Like, All the Time

schnapps pic 3.jpg

We drink schnapps when we’ve had two bottles of white wine and the DJ is playing eVoid and several hours ago already you lost all sense of reason. The Danes drink schnapps because it’s lunch time, because it’s cold, because it’s on the table in a variety of interesting flavours. Before you start pooh poohing a schnapps moment (cover your ears, vegans) you need to try a shot of ice-cold traditional Akvavit with a slice of nutty, freshly-baked rye bread smeared with a bit of pork fat including the crispy bits (wait, wait, bear with me) topped with herring in a creamy mustard sauce covered with thinly sliced red onions and a hard-boiled egg. Okay, sexy as I try to write it it still sounds grim, but I promise you – wash this lot down with a shot of fresh, herby schnapps and an ice-cold Danish beer and you’re up there with the angels.

This shot of Nyhavn has become a bit of a cliché, but on a long summer’s evening it’s a very spectacular place to enjoy a glass of something and watch the world go by.

You Don’t Take Your Husband’s Name When You Get Married

Because what for kakois is that idea, anyway? Sorry, but this is a thing of mine. They just get under my skin, these stubborn vestiges of the patriarchy that stick around like gazonkelnuts because it’s always been that way. How about saying no to that ridiculous norm? How about creating a new way where you’re equals in the partnership? How about he takes your name? That’s how it works there. If you’re a woman and you have a better name than your male partner he takes yours. It’s all very simple and uncontested and makes perfect sense to me. So, you women becoming Somebody Poggenpoel? Please stop it already.

beautiful danish girl on bike pic.jpg
How Danish women get around.

Old Women Ride Bicycles and Smoke Pipes

I’m really not advocating smoking, I’m actually very anti-smoking (since I stopped smoking in the nineties when I was very pro-smoking) and the Danes smoke too much, true story. But it fills my heart with joy to descend the stone staircase of my favourite restaurant in Copenhagen which is built into a cellar dating back practically to the Viking days and sitting beside a roaring fire and watching two old ducks at the next table dressed in fur coats and looking fabulous drinking enormous vats of beer and puffing on cherry tobacco pipes. It says something about the way gender plays out in that place. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a submissive woman in Denmark; it’s just not the way they are raised. They don’t give a fuck. Which leads me to my next point.

The Women are Woes

Iben hjejler pic.jpg
My favourite actor, Danish Iben Hjejler, doing what she does best. I wish I could carry her around in my bag and unleash her on South African men who forget their manners.

Danish woman are not wallflowers. They go naked if they want to, they have sex when and with whom they want to and they’ll tell you quite quickly where to get off if you start with your chauvinism rubbish. Here, there is no hierarchy of the genders. Both partners work. In many households the woman is the breadwinner. Not only that but she cleans her own house, does her own washing, makes her own liver pate and bakes her own bread. Then she’ll get on her bicycle and collect her children from school (there’ll be a little trailer attached to accommodate them all. Most have around seven), cycle home in sleet and order everyone around like a sergeant major. Danish men are terrified of Danish women, and for good reason. They’re beautiful, tough as nails and scary as shit.

The Summer (when it comes) is Spectacular

summer in denmark pic.jpg

I don’t know if it’s because it’s so elusive and long-awaited, but the summer in Denmark is a special kind of magic. The air smells like the rambling rose bushes which erupt everywhere in hot pink and crimson during the warmer months. People sit on the harbour wall drinking elderberry cider while ancient wooden ships creak out a ditty of their mysteries. At 10pm the sun is still visible on the horizon. Bonfires are lit on the beach. Children run into the warm ocean, forests become impenetrable walls of bright, lush green. All the nation celebrates  with wine and strawberries and buttery new potatoes. People eat hotdogs with remoulade and dill-flavoured crisps. Music concerts spring up everywhere and nobody wants to go to bed. These hot nights are too delicious to waste. These long days are for savouring and for seduction. Most of the time Denmark is cold and flat and grey. But from June till September she’s tanned, blonde and very, very sexy. Visit her then and you’re sure to fall in love.

Riding Out the Storm

Stormy pic.jpg

As one grey, Cape winter rolls into another and I drift further and further away from who I used to be I find myself reflecting on the madness of this South Africa and how we got from there to here. Last week we had to go to home affairs to renew a passport. But the guard, who was missing a front tooth, barred our entry through the revolving doors and pointed to a sign which says ADMIT 200 ONLY. He was deeply apologetic as he explained that since 200 people had already gone in that day he couldn’t allow us entry. Only, when you’ve lived in this country your whole life you understand that a no – especially when it’s a black person saying it to a white person – can be turned into a yes with the right amount of smiling and pleading. It’s hard denying a grovelling umlungu.

So, in we went and joined the throngs of ladies with expensive highlights and their children in private school uniforms updating documents to that they can go to Europe for the July holidays and scruffy Cape Flats mothers jiggling screaming babies and replacing stolen IDs and thin umtatomkhulus with walking sticks and shiny shoes. Since the chairs come in rows of three I couldn’t sit beside my family so instead I sat down next to a woman in her sixties with a neat fro and a handbag held securely in her lap. Perhaps the fact that I sat next to her without skipping a seat was a sign that I was amenable to chatting because she immediately began telling me two unrelated stories while I listened with that over-enthusiastic white South African expression that says, I know you are black but I don’t even see your colour. I am talking to you like you and I are no different, can you tell? Can you see how cool I am with this whole race thing?

The first story was about her big toe and how it slowly turned black and began to smell and that’s how she discovered she was diabetic. She had to have it amputated and she’s sorry she can’t wear slip slops in summer anymore. The second was about her son who attends Rondebosch High School on a scholarship and next year he’ll either go to London on a gap year or study Industrial Psychology at UCT. She leant in close and said, ‘All his friends are white! All of them. Even the one from Botswana. But he speaks fluent Sesotho, imagine that! A white boy speaking Sesotho! At the weekend they all come and sleep over in Khayelitsha. He’s so popular, my boy, they love him. The whole time I cook – they want hot breakfast, lunch, supper. Those boys never stop eating.’ And then her number got called and with a cheery wave she was gone, and for the first time I took notice of my surrounds. All the staff now are black except for one, lone white woman. She’s as wide as she is tall and probably about my age. She looks like her name could be Roelene.

Roelene will have gone to school somewhere like I did – a factory for turning impressionable young South Africans into uncritical supporters of the National Party. She – like me – will have been indoctrinated with racist propaganda, told lies about our history and become an unwitting, Die Stem-singing cog in the machine of Afrikaner nationalism. When South Africa transitioned into a democracy, Roelene would have dunked her rusk into her Ricoffy and watched as, one by one, her colleagues resigned or got retrenched from their jobs only to be replaced by smart, ambitious black men and women in crisp white shirts, neat braids and colourful manicures. This would have posed a dilemma for Roelene who – like most of us whites – had never had any dealings with black people who weren’t pruning the hedge or mopping the floor.

Now, she had to sit on a toilet seat still warm from somebody’s black bum; report to a competent black boss and eat at a table beside her co-workers who chatted in isiXhosa as they tucked into last night’s warmed-up stew. We human beings are so resilient and adaptable that few of us even take the time to really reflect on the weirdness of this, and the fact that in the new now none of the old rules apply. After centuries of apartness black and white South Africans were flung together like siblings who’d been adopted out to different families and were now meeting one another for the first time, familiar but at the same time utterly foreign. Now we had to live side-by-side trying to forget the past but also trying to remember it and trying, hardest of all, not to fuck everything up. There was a time I used to dread going to Home Affairs, but now it’s run so efficiently the mind boggles at how these few people with limited resources are able to process so many applications in a single day. When you arrive at 7am the queue stretches so far down Barrack Street you can’t see the end of it. The last few times I’ve been there my passport has been ready for collection within a few days.

But that day we were the last to arrive and so we were the last to leave. Finally, at 4:25pm, we were summoned into the single photo booth and then told to wait for our number at the counter to be called. Only, one by one, people stood up from their desks, put on their jerseys and headed for the door. ‘Ummm, excuse me!’ I called out to the last, departing person but closing time is 4:30pm on the dot and they were not about to miss the early train for these pushy whites. So there we stood in the gloomy, deserted waiting-room clutching our number that was never going to be called and looking at each other in anguished silence. Eventually, a bored-looking female security guard took pity and told us that if we went downstairs we might find someone to help. We did, and they did and then we drove home with the radio announcer warning of a massive cold front approaching with high seas and gale-force winds – us, to our cosy Victorian on the Atlantic Seaboard; Roelene, to her place somewhere in the northern suburbs; the ladies with their manicures to newly-built brick houses in the township. All, in our own ways, riding out the storm.