Between two waves of the sea

When COVID 19 hit Asia we were paying it very little attention from our cottage in the Cape, in the middle of our annual escape to the southern hemisphere. It was very much, just the flu, far away, not a cause for concern, even when we saw passengers wearing masks in the airport, we rolled our eyes, an overreaction, performative. We are now nearly 8 weeks into lockdown in London, watching our friends don the very same masks and head to the frontlines. Lose family. Go stir crazy in the goldfish bowl of quarantine. Revel in the slowness of the day to day. Drown in the anxiety of what’s to come.

A family emergency unfolds, as they do daily, but this crisis is hitting mine and I am not there. I am in London, they are in South Africa. There is no way I could even get there if I wanted to. This global lock down in full effect. No ruby slippered passport to wing me there in under 12 hours. There is no way home.

Home is now a tenuous thing. It should be a centred thing, a tethering. A feeling of being on course. The people there are the blood and bone roots of the place, and we branch out, explore, but ultimately stay entwined. Now I feel the distance more keenly when we are forced apart. We watch the whatsapp light up with typing… and wait for the response. A beat behind, an hour ahead. We are all at home, sheltering in place, but not anchored.

Where would I rather be? Here or there? Between the places we are born and or where we bore our children?  Post COVID this ability to skip shores and try on cities for size feels dangerous, deadly even. Careless.

Right now, without hesitation I would be back in the Cape. I would hire a car and head out towards to Whale Coast. Most tourists when venturing east of Cape Town head towards Hermanus, (for the whales) or for the very wild at heart out to Gaansbaai (for the shark diving). Most will take the scenic Sir Lowry’s pass over the mountains, and save a chunk of time rushing out to see the beasts of the sea.

But I would take the R44 past Gordon’s Bay, and into Rooiels, along Clarence Drive one of the most spectacular peninsula drives in the world. Featured in luxury car ads, movies and photoshoots, Clarence Drive has it all – unrivalled ocean views, hairpin turns, the occasional rowdy baboon troop and on the very rare occasion, the reclusive Cape Leopard.

My husband gets vertigo driving this particular stretch of the road, even as a professional driver he finds the view to distracting, the twists too intense, the imagined drop into the breakers too close.  Although I don’t have nearly the same experience behind the wheel, I have driven this road countless times over the years and feel at home nudging its curves and shifting gears as the road opens up towards the mountains and closes again towards to sea.

This drive then has always given me that beginning of the summer feeling. It feels like freedom, and lightness and ease. The sense of peace and connection and, more recently a sense of rootedness, of history, of home. Which is complicated.

I left South Africa at the very beginning of 2003, a freshly minted BAHons in my hand, and a casual idea of pulling pints, picking strawberries and waiting tables in London. For a year. Just a year. I was 21, blissfully naïve and filled with all the courage that being so cavalier brings. That was seventeen years ago now, and here I am very nearly 39 a woman, dreaming of driving this road with my husband and 4 year old napping in the back seat of our rental.

Home is now London. That too is complicated. It has been for all of those years. I have had ten addresses in various postcodes over that time. A heady mix of sofa surfing (NW9), co-habiting (E14, SW19) house sharing (SW19, SW11, SW2), cohabiting (again W10, NW2) and finally purchasing our first home in 2017. Our mortgage has us here for the foreseeable, our borough caters well for the needs of our autistic son. I feel settled. I drive through our neighbourhood and I know the locals. I’m on first name basis with the wonderful owners of the café in the local park, we have found a great school. We are involved in the community, which under lockdown has been invaluable. Counting rainbows in the windows, waving to the kids at a distance, dropping off shopping for those that can’t leave their front doors. Lockdown is definitely bedding us in, like it or not.

But there is something missing. I get a taste of that something when I am negotiating the bends on Clarence drive, mentally checking off the points until we hit Betty’s Bay and I can breathe again. Over the years I have learned to make peace with this missing piece. This part of me that is inaccessible here in the UK and that opens up exponentially when looking out at the ocean from our cottage by the sea.

I get catches of it in the UK, the whiff of gas when I light the hob, the woomph of the catch. I remember my father lighting the gas lights in the bedrooms, while we waited to see if the 9’ oclock moths would flutters against the windows, or better yet the curtains, desparate for the light. Their wings soft and dusty. The flutter both horrorific (what if it got into your hair!) and exquisite. I catch it for a moment. Its safety and warmth and an irrevocable belonging. A foundation.

Some of my earliest memories are in this place, and my most precious. Collecting shells with my beloved gran – who would point out the rare ones, and talk me through their names (cowry with the crinkled curves, baby toes all pink and white and almost good enough to eat, fan shells intricate and in every colour of the rainbow), carefully folded into palms, pockets, skirts – rinsed with sea water, and taken back to the cottage to dry and varnish for safe keeping. I still have a collection. Faded and chipped, in my small bathroom next to a picture of the beach where they were found.

Fishing for ‘klipvissies’ (rock fish) next to the old lighthouse in Hangklip, with fishing wire and sticks and periwinkles skewered on hooks. My Gran very diligently showing us how to gut them and cook them, even though there was very little meat to find between their spiny bones

Swimming across the lake (a rite of passage at 8), being doused with sand by my endless array of cousins, hiking with bleeding knees and sunburned shoulders, sunning ourselves on the rocks in Palmiet river,  weeks of eating fresh bread from the tiny village shop, biltong from the town, and endless tea and cake with aunts and uncles and our parents friends visiting.

And later, heading to the beach on the full moon, sneaking out a bottle of wine or a few beers, trying to get our lighters to work in the howling south easter. Making friends with the local surfers, heading to town to play pool, figuring out what constituted as easy or fast and that the Joburg rules differed massively to those in the Cape. Wearing too much make up to ever blend in, being so self conscious that I might fade away.  Later still bringing friends and boyfriends to visit to reclaim some sanity, some calm, and a place to be.

For the past 12 years, my husband has come out with me once every 18 months or so, and he’s fallen in love with it too. We briefly entertained the idea of buying some property here, selling up in the UK and opening a B&B, and in fact it still a conversation we like to revisit, a comforting idea. So we explore it and build our perfect house with lovely Western Cape furnishings and dream it, with the freedom of those who know they won’t have to commit.

Unless we did.

I have been toying with the idea for years and have since put it on hold while our son was being assessed for Autism. South Africa has yet to embrace the neurodivergent community so that has been a huge consideration. Would my search for belonging mean he wouldn’t? Returning is a privilege, not often without price, and this feels too high to contemplate. This is the reality.

Like most immigrants will tell you, when you go home you bring the world with you. And the world is changed, home is changed. You are changed. I am not who I was 17 years ago. I left blindly optimistic and overwhelmingly sure of what I was leaving and going towards. I return feeling sure of very little. I don’t recognise street names, understand the local vernacular as effortlessly. This is the reality.

South Africa is conflicted, complicated and unsettling. So while there are these pickets of calm, shored up in my nostalgia, my history,  the reality of my position there is not clear cut.  Being descended from colonialists and voortrekkers, and brought up in the violent death throes of Apartheid, before the country birthed itself anew. State of emergency was declared as I was heading to nursery, and civil war threatening around the time I was finishing Grade 7.

I was not blind, but I was protected from the sheer brute force of it. My white skin afforded me, my family, my ancestors access to better housing, education, healthcare, security over generations – and while not being explicitly taught my entitlement by my left wing parents, it was implied and insinuated in our schooling and our socialisation. It is the cultural air you breathe, in the media consumed, in the in jokes in the playground. Hate and fear, like an accent, tainting everything. The reality is that it remains, quieter, different – but there. I hear it here too.

As Guante said, in his magnificent spoken word poem How to explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist – ‘Remember : white supremacy is not the shark, it’s the water’ 

Confronting this privilege is deeply uncomfortable, vital – and I will be unpicking and unlearning for the rest of my life. With this comes my interrogation of ‘a home’, the idea that there is a place where you are welcomed without question. The very idea feels impossible now, almost an affront. How dare we even dream it?

London has given me back to myself time and time again. Sucker punched, disco danced its way into my heart and broken it. Served up my fragility in a church hall in Portobello, let me run through it streets with hundreds more, under the cover of night, chasing time. Let me weep on benches at 4am without a soul to witness it, made me laugh, mouth wide and careless, falling down stairs, into the arms of friends I will have for a lifetime. London delivered me a tattooed husband and a son more beautiful than we are ever able to express. This whirlwind carousel, I can’t help but think it’s time to give someone else needs a turn.

Perhaps those of us who had the privilege to choose where to be, get to ride that carousel, sacrifice that idea of home entirely. That is the price.

Would I pay it again?

I don’t think I’ll ever stop asking that question.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.”

TS Eliot

‘Remember: white supremacy is not a shark; it is the water. It is how we talk about racism as white hoods and confederate flags, knowing that you own those things, and we don’t… as if we didn’t own this history too, this system—we tread water’
Gaunte

Future Proof

IMG_7314

Summer solstice came and went in a blur of thunderstorms both electric and political, the heavens roared as the votes were counted and the UK declared itself OUT of the EU. General chaos ensues. BUT THIS IS NOT A POST ABOUT BREXIT (too soon, I’m still incandescent with rage and I cannot face another blog piece on it, and I’m sure neither can you)

In a week where we are all looking to the future with trepidation, on a much smaller scale it struck me that I’m now half way through my maternity leave, which has gone by in a blur of coffee, baby wipes, instagram posts and baby yoga classes. Lack of sleep definitely makes this all seem catastrophic, and with Samson having just hit the 5 month milestone  I’m desperately trying to catch up with myself. Where has the time gone?  What have I been doing all day? Why haven’t I rallied a revolution together for more tube access for push chairs, or launched a maternity clothing line?

I had unreal expectations of what I could achieve on mat leave. ‘I need a project’ I remember saying to a colleague and friend. ‘I can’t be sitting at home all day with the baby and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Effing Star, I need something to keep my brain working’. I had done my homework,  I had grand plans to relaunch the blog, write more, learn to cook properly (I am AWFUL) and to revolutionise fitness wear for pregnant women (borne out of my frustration that nothing fit, and if it did it was extortionately expensive and DULL). Oh and yes, parent my baby. That too.

None of this has came to fruition (inbetween googling rashes and washing muslins I learned this, yes this, was in fact parenting). Instead, over the past 22 weeks I have learned to do a million things I had no idea I needed to know. From mastering every conceivable task for which you require two hands, with just THE ONE, (while the other cleans, holds, googles, feeds, catches) to negotiating public transport with my child in full meltdown mode (with THE ONE HAND) on an average of 3 hours sleep. And I still have another few million things to figure out. Like introducing solids. And figuring out how to turn my brain on again ahead of my return to work in January next year.

I’ve been spending most of my time careening from day to day in a blur of bibs and sudocream, without so much as a thought for what the grown ups were doing (erm,  sending the country up shit creek… clearly we’re all winging it).

With all the uncertainty around the UK’s future in the global arena, its hard not to start dusting off the old Plan B’s that we had filed away for a rainy day. I’m a keen planner and organiser, probably annoyingly so, it will come as no surprise to many that I have a fair few tucked away (with excel scenarios and pie-charts). I like to have my ducks in a row. This also translates into being  worrier, the rationale being if I’ve thought about the worst case scenario, then I can plan for it. This way madness lies if you are a new parent. I was almost  paralysed with anxiety as a result, and would not welcome my worst enemy into my head on days when I was running the catastrophe films on a loop in my head.

In order to actually set foot outside my house I had to let go of some of that control (or illusion of control), and so paradoxically having a baby has chilled me out just a tad. I cannot predict explosive nappies, major meltdowns or when teething will strike.Excel cannot pivot the nap schedule, I tried a few tracking apps and ended up throwing them from the proverbial window. Nothing screams madness like trying to find patterns in the beautiful unpredictability of a baby. There is no algorithm that would make it easier. Instead it’s inherited wisdom from other parents, coffee and a collection of perfect moments in the chaos that make it all tick forward.

Having a child has forced me to go with the flow, but prepare for any eventuality.

And that’s not a bad lesson to take into all areas of my new life stage. I heard a saying years ago, which resonated even with hardened atheist in me ‘Trust in God, but tether your horse’. No one is guaranteed safety, health or happiness, but equally chaos doesn’t consume us every day (other than post teething episodes, then all bets are off). Don’t think a plan will save you, but to not have one is equally foolish. Know where the exits are. Have that ‘Fuck Off Fund‘ already set up.

Or in my current life, Pack An Extra Nappy (and then check the Boy can get Irish citizenship, just in case)

IMG_9852

 

 

 

 

Getting Snap Happy

IMG_5800

About 18 months ago I was given a very fancy pants camera for my birthday. I had been going on about wanting to take up photography more seriously for about 100 years, but could never bring myself to part with the serious money required to up my game and get some decent kit. So Rory called my bluff and delivered the real thing all wrapped up with a ribbon saying ‘you better bloody well get on with it now’.

The Beast really is a thing of beauty. A zoomy lens, a swish case, things that clip on and off, and a whole host of buttons and functions that made me feel really rather stupid. I poured over the manual, trying to take in all the instructions, and deduced that it may as well be in Japanese. There was a video or three that followed a very beautiful woman taking pictures of her family, showcasing the various functions, and her perfect hair. Life was too short to trawl YouTube, so I flicked the function to AUTO and took it out for a spin and took pretty great pictures. Plus, with a bit of TLC in the form of cropping and filters, pretty awesome pictures. Job done.

And that was 18 months ago, But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was somehow…. cheating? Or perhaps not cheating, exactly, but I certainly had no idea what was going on in my camera. I was relying on continuous shooing and dumb luck. The truth is, I was intimated by the tech and by the people who seemed to understand the tech. Chat of ISOs and Aperture and Shutter Speed made my head spin.  I messed around with white balance once and almost had to take my camera back to the shop because I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I call that my ‘Blue’ period. Stella pulls it off rather well.

Having a snazzy camera comes with a certain presumption that you know what you’re doing, so I just kept schtum and hoped no one noticed my scarlet letter ‘A’ for Auto when peering over my shoulder.

For 18 months, ‘A’ was was OK, I was mainly using my camera on holiday and at events. I had got to grips with composition a bit and figured out a little more about interesting angles. I stopped cutting people’s feet off in the frame, and started messing about with more abstract ideas rather than straight up ‘Pics of my Holiday’ shots. And this is where I started getting frustrated. ‘A’ wasn’t getting me the effects I wanted. I saw vivid contrast, and got bland uniformity, I wanted to evoke speed, I got perfect stillness. It was time to bite the bullet and learn how to use The Beast  (aka Canon EOS 600D). But where to start? There are literally 100’s of courses out there.

Lucky for me I happen to spend my weeks running around London with a bunch of very creative people, and there I had met Matilda, who mentioned she was running Beginner’s Photography workshops and I should check them out.

So I did. It was awesome.

We met on the South Bank on a very cold Saturday morning, and spent the next 4 hours learning about our cameras, deciphering all the tech and lingo, and then getting to grips shooting live models (the gorgeous Tilly herself, as well as a few bemused cyclists)

I got to ask all my stupid questions, muck about with all the settings and started to understand why some shots worked and others didn’t. We’re incredibly lucky living in London as there are so many amazing opportunities to get creative, and Tilly gave us a few genius pointers to start thinking about photography differently.

Here are a few of my practise shots.

IMG_5824
Attempting panning and mucking about with shutter speed

IMG_5840
Much happier with this one, the cab in particular

IMG_5895
Vertical lines galore. Shadows, fences, arches

IMG_5864
Understanding depth of field. Slowly

Most importantly I walked away confident enough to leave my days of auto function behind me, and curious enough to try another workshop (or 5) with the big kids.

Any other snap happy bloggers out there with a few pointers to share?

Something Wicked This Way Comes

IMG_1771

 

It’s warm. I don’t have my coat.  I walked down through Soho with my leather jacket slung over my handbag. Coming up the escalator at Tottenham Court Road, it could have been late July, humid and damp outside out the station, there is little relief exiting the underground. No bracing cold wind to chase away the stall tube air. But its not late July, it October, and by 7pm the sun is long gone and the festive lights are strung up ahead of the Friday night revellers, not yet lit but ominously signalling the onslaught of the Christmas. Friday night in Soho, unseasonably warm and its Halloween. Mischief and Mayhem wait in the wings, but for now she’s all perfectly applied black eyeliner, ladderless stockings and strategically positioned fangs. No one’s sold their soul just yet.

I’m not in costume tonight. I’m meeting old friends and taking a hiatus from hell raising, so the only make up I’m sporting is a slash of red lipstick which after  kissing everyone hello, is smudged over various cheeks and foreheads. Having a table outside the bar we have front row seats for the warm up show, meaning our conversation is peppered with phrases like ‘check out the  tossers dressed as power-rangers’ and mistaking a sexy waitress for our actual waitress more than once. The pubs have spilled out their costumed customers, doors flung wide open to the warm air. Jack’o lanterns winking in the windows, fake spider webbing over neon strip lighting.

By midnight I’m heading back home (for fear of turning into a pumpkin) and Soho has got involved. Her eyeliner is smudged, and the stockings are ripped. Three zombies are vomiting in succession outside a sex shop, a few sugar crazed 7 year olds are chasing each other down Dean street without parents, on scooters, knocking over a witch who can no longer balance on her stilettos. A couple are having a row at the bus stop, she is red eyed and shouting, he shuffling from one foot to another, his monster mask hanging around his neck looking forlorn and not nearly as scary as the his enraged girl who shoving him with her plastic pitchfork. Catwoman and her corpse bride pal are laughing behind their mobile phones, snapping gum and selfies while the N52 rumbles into view.

A dead marine jumps in front of me ‘BOO!’ he shouts,so close to my face I can smell the rancid booze and cigarette on his breath. Its feels violent. He laughs when I tell him to back off, he falls in with his undead platoon, whooping down Regent Street, shoving each other into the traffic. I give up on the bus when the countdown ticks up, 189  Cricklewood 20 mins – contemplating another 5 mins of the shrieking ghoulish hen party currently infesting the bus shelter is horrific enough.  I’ll have to brave the last tube fright fest and take my chances.

By the time I get home I’ve encountered a vampire Alice in Wonderland and a coven of witches taking over the local kebab shop, and a trio of escaped convicts trying to negotiate with a minicab driver ‘honestly we’ll be 5 minutes mate, we’ll be right back…’

I fall into bed, wishing  I could remember where I packed away my Carrie prom dress, the samurai sword from Kill Bill and my Cruella wig. I used to have this holiday licked. Next year, I’ll even carve a pumpkin.

London at its best, and its worst, dressed up as it’s darkest fantasies and best nightmares. Trick or Treat?

 

Changing Gears

My get up and go has got up and left. I suspect my racing mojo has been trying to find a way to break up with me since our shambolic outing in Hackney. Our recent ‘dirty’ weekend, ruined  by a tumble in Kent through some muddy tyres and what was supposed to ‘bring a bit of variety’ to our relationship has left us bruised and battered and more than a bit pissed off. But we promised each other the Royal Parks half marathon. Third time is the charm I said. So here we are less than 24 hours away from pinning race numbers and lacing up, its just over 13 miles until we take a little breather from racing, surely after all we’ve been through this year we can give it one last go?

Let’s not mention the Bike.

IMG_7597 (1)

 

(OK let’s)

The Bike is a new Thing. A shiny new thing. That goes faster than I can on foot. That may save me money on commuting, and could also help shift the ‘I’m in training’ pounds I seem to have acquired over the summer. It won’t aggravate my ITB, and I can buy new STUFF for it (and me). And its a proper road bike. A grown up bike.

But here’s the thing. I am totally, utterly, completely shit scared of cycling on London roads. Having a husband who is a cabby does not make this any better. He hate cyclists. Honestly, as a pedestrian in London, I hate cyclists. But here I am with my new toy and grand plans to cycle the Argus in Cape Town in March. So I need to cycle.

I also hate the morning rush hour on the tube more. So between getting over the fear of commuting, to being sneezed on, literally, but hundreds of people TWICE A DAY, its a straightforward decision.

Still terrified.

But going to do it anyway. Because these days I have learned to get stick at things, even when they are hard. Or when I suck at them.

This was not always the case.  There was the guitar when I was 16 that lasted all of 3 weeks because I didn’t have the patience to actually learn the chords, my hands couldn’t get into the right positions, and the strings bit my fingers.  I could manage E minor, D and C. Which I thought was about enough to get through Nirvana’s  ‘Come As You Are’ and then I gave up. And there went that idea, along with my dreams of joining HOLE and becoming best mates with Courtney Love.

A few years later, I decided if I couldn’t be a kick ass rock star, I’d be a kick ass martial artist (thank you Matrix/ Crouching Tiger). So I started Kung Fu and limped through 3+ years of fairly shoddy forms and sub par fitness. I loved the idea of it, but I couldn’t get my head around putting in the work. I just wanted it to happen instantly, without too much blood, sweat or tears. Instant Chow Yun-Fat. I attended training, but only ever  gave about 60%. And then I’d get upset when my gradings reflected that. My Tiger form was more fat tabby. Let’s be honest.  I was partly relieved when I left for London and it was’t practical to continue.

As a result of these failed endeavours  (and many others, there was the brush with Krav Maga that was so terrible I have almost wiped it from my memory) I started to believe that I just wasn’t any good at following through. I avoided committing to anything new, convinced I had a short attention span, and just no sticking power.

Then running came along and changed all that. I never had aspirations to be the next elite competitor, and I just loved that way it made me feel. And I have stuck at it, getting a little better every year. Not smashing PBs, rather chasing them down in a steady and considered way, following through and giving it a good go.

If I can translate some of that into the cycling I think we’ll be okay

Any  tips for newbie cyclists like me? Share in the comments!

 

 

The Blind Spot

park

Today a woman lost her daughter in the park. It was a sunny Sunday, about 3pm, loads of kids kicking about a football or three, many a dog walker like ourselves and a few cyclists stripped down to their lycra shorts and soaking up the last of the summer sun.

We were throwing a stick for the dog, and drinking coffee, sitting under one of the big oaks that lines the make shift football pitches, watching a guy trying to fly a kite without any wind. This is not a remarkable day. I have done two loads of washing, put off the vacumming and berated myself for not sorting through the bathroom cabinet. A standard day. Nothing special, but a pleasant day. No rain, and it’s warm for late August. We left our jackets at home and I’m kicking myself for wearing jeans, but pleased we’ve made it out the house. The dog needs exercising and who knows how long we’ll have this weather for. Its September tomorrow after all. 

I’m feeling a bit annoyed, inexplicably so, although probably because R took too long getting the coffee or spoke in an off tone to the dog. In reality, I’m probably annoyed as its Sunday afternoon and the weekend is winding down.  My annoyance is peaked as someone is shouting and cutting across the usual park buzz. It’s not the shout of a kid retrieving a ball, or someone calling their rogue dog. Its a distressed shout. And its repeating one word over and over.

I’m not really paying attention as this stage, so I can’t make out the word, but its reached that volume so that I have noticed. I’m walking up the small embankment to retrieve a better throwing stick for the dog and as I’m walking closer to the main path I catch the tail end of a conversation.

‘…she’s 4 and she’s on a scooter. She just went over the hill and I thought by the time I caught up I’d see her on the other side, but I can’t see her…’

A calm voice, but with enough of a tremor to betray the rising panic. I put two and two together, she was shouting a name.

‘..right, and you’ve looked by the swings and the cafe?’ The conversation continues with an elderly couple who have stopped to offer help. Although I’m not sure they’re elderly, I’m guessing by the tone as I’m not close enough to tell and there’s a few hedges and shrubs between us.

I’m still not really paying my full attention as the dog has now got into a tiff with a Maltese-cross and I’m telling her off. But a few more people have now congregated around this woman and someone says,

‘I think you should call the police’ 

But the sun is shining, and the park is tranquil and its Sunday. There aren’t even that many people around –  not enough to lose someone. And its a big open park. Scenes like this don’t play out now do they? I wander back down to the oak tree where we’ve plotted up and I mention what I have heard to R. He’s just has surprised as I am.

‘Here? Did you just pick all of that up from walking up the hill and back?’

I start to wonder if I day-dreamed it, but then I see the mother, walking very fast, talking on her mobile with another child trailing after her. She must be calling the police. I start to feel a bit queasy. 

I’m almost subconsciously now scanning for a lone child on a scooter. Hoping to see her coming out from around a tree, from behind the playground steps, may she was hiding?  I’m torn between running after the mother and asking if I can help to reminding myself she is calling the police and doesn’t know me from Adam, and that I’ve just earwigged the whole conversation and I’m not holding all the facts. 

We carry on throwing the stick for the dog. Continue with our conversation. Finish our coffee. Walk a bit further around the park. I tell myself the professionals will be on the scene soon, and that she’ll be found queuing up for ice-cream with no knowledge of the drama that unfolded. But I’m scanning the park regardless. 

Sometime later, with the dog suitably exhausted we meander back past the oak, along the main track where I had overheard the conversation. I can’t see the mother, or any sign of the police. The man is still trying to fly his kite. Kids are still kicking about a ball. There’s a healthy queue for the ice-cream van. No sign of anything untoward. We must have missed the reunion. The relief. Probably some tears and then reprimanding the child for wandering off. But lots of hugs, That’s what’s happened. Otherwise we’d see some kind of gathering with men in high vis, and questioning. I tell myself its all worked out. Perhaps that child I saw with the mother while she was on the phone was the original lost child after all.

We make our way home. But it hit me again how the extraordinary things happen on ordinary days. We don’t get the luxury of ominous theme music to alert us to something coming down the road, no heads up, no warning. We do not get the chance to prepare ourselves. We cannot possibly know what will happen on a Sunday afternoon at the end of August. When throwing a stick for the dog.

We know this, of course, on an academic level, but we still think we can prepare for every eventuality, that we have no blind spots. If we save enough money, or take enough care, do all of our research, have all of the control. Or that we have the luxury of waiting for the right time. For the stars to align, for the perfect conditions. And it both scenarios there is no such thing. We are not in control. There are no perfect conditions. Most importantly, we have no guarantee that we have the luxury of time, and that it is a huge luxury.

Maybe it’s that I am hurtling head first into my mid-thirties, or that its already September, which basically means its Christmas, or that I am seeing time pass so much quicker as our friend’s kids grow up (and speak! go to school!). That many of my contemporaries are now experiencing age-related illness with parents, and we were in our teens over 20 years ago. Even though it really only felt like the other day we were scaling the walls to go clubbing past our curfews.

Unsettling, uncomfortable and disquieting yes, but a good reminder to get on with the business of living, and stop putting off all the things that I want to do ‘when I have time’ and just do them. Even if it is just a quiet Sunday Afternoon. 

 

Wonder Women

1934328_21265075308_5509_n
Cuba 2008 Havanna

I spent last week in New York on a work trip, and while the schedule was packed pretty much from the minute we landed at JFK, we did manage to find a few moments here and there to take in Manhattan. I am a huge fan of the Big Apple.  I am a city girl at heart and New York is by far and away the Big Momma of all mega-urban-metropolises. It’s the backdrop to almost all of my favourite films, it boasts skyscrapers that light up the sky by the hundred, coffee to die for, and food to make any gastronomical critic weep. Other than eating our way through Soho, the highlight for me was catching up with a good friend who has recently moved state-side.

Walking up the High Line on a Thursday evening in mid summer having a good old fashioned gossip I was reminded how lucky I am to have friends scattered all around this world, that arriving in a new city more often than not I can pick up the phone and meet someone. Or at least get a few recommendations from mates who know the globe pretty well. Londoners are well travelled folk and I’m very lucky to count so many of them as friends. And equally that being oceans apart means very little to the relationships I have made and the ones that I have back home in South Africa.

Back in my teens it was near impossible to go without making contact with your mates at least every hour or so. This in the days before social media and mobile phones (imagine) we saw each other in class, while writing letters to the ones that were in the other class, swapping letters at lunch, repeating the process a few times over. We then go home and spend hours hogging the landline until one of our parents picked up the extension and threatened grounding or lack of lifts at the weekend.  One day off school and the fragile alliances could change. A year was like a lifetime. And in a time when your parents didn’t understand you and your siblings were just hopeless, your friends are your family, your therapists, health advisers (all with dodgy consequences) your partners in crime. Which means they were INTENSE. Fights were life threatening, and epic. Political manoeuvring legendary;   why do you think teen movies  are so popular?  All of the drama, less the expensive adult stars, historically accurate costumes or pyrotechnics.

20140722-235906-86346805.jpg
Me, Sandi and Danni aged 16/ 17

 

New friends were made at university due to shared interests as opposed to post code proximity. A few school friends remain, the ones who genuinely rather like to hang around you, rather than needing a brain to help out in double maths, or being the one who knows how to roll a fag or the best way to escape school during free periods. These friends argue with you about de-constructed post modern feminist theory. And music. And help you out with part time work, tutoring, waitressing, internships.

 

Me, Danni and Sandi aged 21/22

 

Post university I left all my friends and family and followed my heart to London. Here new friends are people I meet through work, when at 23 your Tuesday night could be just a raucous as the Saturday night. I meet people out clubbing, through friends of house mates. Friendships in my twenties are defined by booze, banter and boys, while trying to carve out a career – working hard playing harder. Travelling around the world and generally behaving badly. Its a riot and I’m thankful everyday that a huge chunk of it was before the days of Facebook.

 

 

But in this decade, friends start to find their own paths that don’t necessarily join up with yours. Some get married and move outside of the M25 (and are never seen again). Others  leave London altogether  to head back to places like Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Bali, Canada, USA, Dubai and a huge chunk return back to South Africa (in a space of two years about 8 friends relocated). And here I am very grateful for Facebook.

But there are a few that have remained, who travel with you from one transition to the next with or without access to wifi.  I don’t need to see these friends every day, every week or even every year. These are the types of friends that no matter how much time has passed I can pick up a conversation where it left off as if nothing has changed. Except now we’re talking around toddlers, or at train stations, on skype or via social media. Our friendships have survived the trenches of high school, university, marriages, children and all this while thousands of miles away. Thankfully, no heart shaped origami letters in sight.

And if the last ten have been anything to go by, I can’t to see what the next 10 years brings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wedding Question

Last Friday R and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary. Which I believe is Cotton having asked Those That Know These Things (and google). Having married a man who sees the marketing con in everything, this was met with much hilarity.

Tell you what‘ he says, ‘you get me a framed picture of Dot Cotton and we’ll call it quits‘.

And for that little quip I have sourced this little gem which I may just surprise him with after his next 3am shift.

We’ve not been terribly traditional in our approach to dating, weddings or anniversaries. We didn’t get engaged, mainly because we decided to get married spontaneously while on holiday in St Lucia, so I was only ‘engaged’ so to speak for two days. There was no diamond ring, no moonlit proposal, no fussing over table plans or choosing flowers. Just an off the cuff conversation at breakfast about what the wedding package might be at the beautiful hotel we were staying at. This resulted in a casual query at reception, to which the answer was, ‘Well, you two have been with us for over a week now, so we could arrange it for Wednesday or Thursday – would you have a preference?’. We went with Wednesday.

Having been together for over four years and co-habiting for 3 of those, it didn’t come as a surprise to our friends and family that this was on the cards. In fact, we had been talking about it seriously for about 2 years at that stage. But with the logistical challenges of having family on different sides of the planet, the huge financial consideration and the stress and planning which would be involved we couldn’t agree on a place or a time that made sense for us both. I couldn’t get my head around not doing it in South Africa. R couldn’t face not being in London. The classic tale. So we parked it. And parked it. And parked it some more.

As any therapist, coach or counsellor will tell you, compromise is key to a partnership of any kind. Even ahead of our dream holiday to St Lucia, we had both agreed we didn’t want a big white church wedding, and had we decided that if we were ever going to go ahead we’d both have to give up the family attendance element. And it was a big give, but we agreed if we both couldn’t have it all, which was impossible, we’d both go without. All or nothing.

In the end, throughout all of our discussions, our marriage was about us. Making that commitment official was a very personal and private affair. So when the opportunity to the sign those papers and make that commitment presented itself in tropical paradise, it all fell into place very quickly.

Image
Just the two of us – St Lucia June 13 2012

Shunning tradition can have its benefits. We got to get married the way we wanted, in the sun, having a laugh and eating cake. We did it without any pressure from family, friends or wider societal norms (although this will not stop people adding their two cents worth – there was a lot of chatter about rings, and some genuine shock that I had no ‘proper’ wedding dress or a bouquet weirdly). We avoided the needless stress and genuine drama that weddings can bring, and, although this was not the main objective, we saved a bucket load of money.

But there is a reason why certain practises have become tradition. There’s often a very good idea underlying the tried and tested conventions, and with weddings its the people. Its the community that knows you and loves you and wants to celebrate with you, to share in your joy and be part of the memory. Because these are the people you are going to need when the going gets tough, when you are raising a family, when crisis strikes. It can’t just be about you and you partner, that would be too much for any two people.  As the saying goes, It really does take a village, not just to raise a child, but to support the whole family. So we threw a few parties to mark the occasion.

As we were from two very distinct and very different ‘villages’ we threw two very different post wedding parties to celebrate. One in Jo’burg (sunshine, south african cuisine, family galore) and one in London (on the Thames, under the Millennium bridge, friends who are like family aplenty) . Essentially we upgraded our first wedding anniversary to include just about everyone, on both sides of the ocean. In a way, although we eloped on our own, in actuality it felt as though we got hitched 3 times over. So what originally felt like a compromise turned into a celebration that lasted months and spanned two continents. We just about got, the best of both worlds.

 

Image
My Joburg Crew: Pippa, Sekwa, Isaac and Olivia

 

Image
The Tate Modern presiding

Letting go of conventional expectation, trying something brave, and going with our gut instincts actually ended up being bigger and better than anything we had thought it could be. Just not in the way we had expected. Its a lesson I’m trying to take forward in other areas of our lives

Two years does not feel like a long time, and although we’re classed as newly weds (ish), we are actually approaching a far bigger milestone having been together for nearly seven. That’s longer than high school, a medical degree and the maximum term you’d serve for possession of a sawn-off shot-gun (what Omar would have got.. if he hadn’t… you know…).

That brings new challenges and the distance between London and South Africa isn’t getting any smaller. But we’ve weathered the first seven years without too many battle scars, and with a few official documents, a new place to live and exciting plans on the horizon, we’re in good shape for a few more yet.

 

 

Home Advantage

Ladbroke Grove
Ladbroke Grove

Over the past week or so I have found myself increasingly frustrated by my inability to find anything in our new flat.  Coupled with the equally annoying fact that I get so  distracted by every new task that needs doing around here that I forget what my initial task was in the first place. So that means half drunk cups of tea everywhere, leaving the washing in the machine for far too long as its been forgotten and half put-away clothes abandoned in favour of reshuffling the book case or putting up a few more pictures.

We have been in the new house for about 6 weeks or so, and although almost everything is unpacked or at least put away in the cellar for dealing with ‘later’ I am still feeling totally out of whack with my surroundings. I cannot find the extra toothpaste I know I bought, my beloved black Jigsaw skirt is nowhere to be found and I seem to have lost at least 3 pairs of shoes. We are dealing with new sets of problems like the washing machine that unplugs itself and next door’s builders taking liberties by using our garden as a thoroughfare when we’re not around.

Then there’s the neighbourhood. I don’t know the local hairdresser or dry cleaners. I have no idea where the best place is to buy coffee or decent bread. The bus numbers are unfamiliar and last night I ended up in Hertfordshire because I got on the wrong train – which I only noticed had happened in that we started whizzing past actual countryside. The non stopping service does not mess around. We were past the north circular in about 5 seconds and I was texting R to say I may have to find a premier inn for the night. In my running gear. And not very much charge on my phone. Not a fun Tuesday.

Although none of these things are insurmountable, feeling unsettled as well as anxious about not knowing where THINGS ARE is exhausting. I am getting nostalgic for the mad hatter crack-head on Portobello road and all the bonkers dog walkers who would stop to greet Stella. My lovely hairdresser and the wonderful cakes as Coffee Plant. I am not nostalgic for our mental neighbours though. In that area, Willesden wins hands down. And we have a garden now (even if it is being invaded by a ladder or two).

Nevertheless I am surprised how out of kilter I am given the number of times I have moved in London (9 times in 11 years and counting).  Surely I should be a dab hand at this? And yes I was in Portobello Road for 6 years so some upheaval was to be expected, but living there was never permanent. In fact nothing has ever felt permanent. London has always been such a transitional city for me that its only now that I am knocking on my mid-30s that I am beginning to think about roots and home and what that means. What that might look like long term.

When I first moved to London getting my bearings was more than just what tube to get and where Tesco was. It was figuring out the cultural currency and the politics, understanding the jokes and references to childhood shows and D-list celebs.  I didn’t really understand a lot of the phrasing. Having a butchers, going for a Ruby, not being arsed,  bollocks, innit, mash up…. And my favourite ‘smashing the granny out of it‘. I picked them up and used them incorrectly leading to many a raised eyebrow and snigger, but mainly good natured piss taking. I started saying ‘yeah’ instead of ‘ya’.

After ten years I began to consider myself something of a Londoner, mainly as I finally found Only Fools  & Horses funny. I got hooked and detoxed off of East Enders. I knew who Ant & Dec were. I could wax lyrical about a heat wave that peaked at 19 degrees Celsius and genuinely bemoan the fact that it is indeed raining  again even though that is what it does. Fairly often. I know that Shoreditch is no longer cool.

But is it home? Not sure. I still refer to Jo’burg as home, even though the house I grew up in has long since been sold and my friends and family all live in houses that I do not know like the back of my hand. In my head I can re-trace every each inch of our family home in the northern suburbs and can see in my mind’s eye with perfect clarity exactly how it was before I left ‘for a year’. The wooden stairs up to the study, the framed museum posters on the walls, the sound of the children shrieking in playground of  the school across the road, the heavy garage doors that had a trick to close them. Nothing romantic. Just the day to day sounds of the house.

Now, the street names have changed, the neighbourhoods have developed. The lay of the land is not the same. The last time I drove alone in Jo’burg I panicked as I couldn’t remember the main arteries in and out of the city  and got completely turned around. My pride wouldn’t allow me to ask directions for a good half an hour while I wasted petrol and sanity. Eventually I got over myself and pulled into a petrol station and asked how to get where I was  going. Thankfully South Africans are friendly and helpful as a rule. ‘SJOE! But you are very far away from that place! You need to go straight straight straight for at least twenty minute and then quick quick left by the second robots.’ I left with an accurately drawn map and vowed to get a SatNav next time.  I drive home with tears stinging my eyes, feeling humbled and lost in my own city. It just wasn’t mine any more.

But everything has changed. What once once out of bounds and only know to the cool kids, is now mainstream.  There are new buildings changing the skyline so that my memories do not match the reality of the silhouetted sky. What I imagine home to be like is a collage of fragmented memory and second hand stories. I have no contextual hooks to hang it on. I can’t navigate the place in my head. A few visits every couple of years for a fortnight will not bridge the gap and in that respect it feels less tangible, less real, and almost unattainable. To rely on memory alone is dangerous, its fickle and flawed so what I remember I need to approach with caution. Its flecked with too much nostalgia to be trusted and I need to add more real time experience to balance it out.

So here in Willesden we are setting up camp for now. I am spending more time exploring the neighbourhood and surrounding areas. Getting my bearings. I am inviting friends over, its a quick way to make things feel grounded. I totally see the point of house warmings, you fill the place with love and it immediately feels less alien. Sharing memories and linking back in with the ones that are my foundations here.  The ones who didn’t laugh when I pronounced everything wrong and thought Alan Partridge was an actual real person. Well, no . They did laugh, a lot. But they still speak to me.

I’m not sure I can make peace with being torn between two cities and I’m sure this is going to be a recurring theme on this blog as its something I find I mull over a lot. Particularly when running and that’s usually when the Big Stuff surfaces! No easy solution, but if anyone has any wise words of wisdom I am all ears!

In the meantime at least I have a nice view

photo (14)

 

 

The Doc Marten Continuum

IMG_5103

Opposite me on the tube this morning sat a young girl about sixteen or seventeen, who from the way she was dressed, could have been easily transported from 1997. Doc martens, purposefully scruffy jeans, black lace chocker, and finished off with a pair of marijuana leaf earrings and a tiny silver hoop nose ring.  I had almost the exact wardrobe nearly 20 years ago (with the sullen expression to match), and although I have seen the trends for 60’s and 70’s fashion come and go, never did I think I’d see my teenage doppelgänger taking herself too seriously on the Jubilee line  in 2014.

The shoes though. Those I can respect. My Doc Martens were hard-won. In 1995 they were the most coveted possession of my ‘friend’ Amy and my parents were having none of it. And they weren’t just any Docs that I wanted. ‘My Friend Amy’ had been to London and bought OX BLOOD TEN HOLES from the actual Doc Shop in Covent Garden. Amy wasn’t even that cool. She didn’t even know what she had, they were totally wasted on her and it was just NOT FAIR. Plus she had also visited London, which was somewhat taking away from my claim to fame of being one of the few of my peers who was ‘well-travelled’.

Growing up in the 80’s in South Africa, I spent a lot of time watching British films, and reading British writers. A throw back to colonial education systems, our canon is almost identical to the British, and with the Commonwealth link, a fair amount of 80s cultural iconography snuck through the notoriously tight Apartheid government’s strangle hold on radio and TV. But with the end of Apartheid rule in the 90s,  a number of bands finally started touring, sanctions were removed and TV programs were aired.  Finally we were catching up with the rest of the world. We got MacDonald’s.

As a result, my idea of London existed between a Sex Pistols 70’s punk backdrop populated by people with safety pins through their noses, and the dreaming spires of Oxford (which I thought was sort of London-ish). London was not a place, but rather a feeling that I cultivated, built up on the very limited first-hand experience and some Inspector Morse.

My first trip to the UK at 12 years of age it hadn’t occurred to me to buy Doc Martens. I was kicking myself. It was a whirlwind tour that included London, the South East, Bath, Wales and Scotland. I remembered that Wales had rabbits, you could get sunburnt playing tennis (Kent) and that Glasgow was damp but I learned to skim stones on Loch Lomond. We spent a lot of time trying to get our luggage to fit in the hire car. London itself was wax museums and trains. But I had seen a punk or two which was thrilling. No one had pink hair in Jo’burg.

But I carried that feeling of the place, a notion, which took on a life of its own in my imagination, only to meet all my expectations and more when I was lucky enough to visit again on a trip to Europe at sixteen.

At sixteen you are susceptible to falling in love. I fell hard. London was The Place. Everyone had brilliant accents and there was proper music and real super-star DJs and the possibility you could run into Damon Albarn (I chose Blur in the Brit Pop Wars). I had to mark this love affair and I was determined to get my nose pierced in Camden Town. Initially it had been Paris but I though the language barrier could equal me getting my lip severed so I passed on that. Camden still had all the kudos and ‘my friend Amy’ would never be able to beat that. I was scuppered by my mother who insisted it was a bad idea as our travel insurance wouldn’t cover an infected piercing disaster.

But that didn’t stop me getting as much of London into head as possible. By this point I had my worn in, drawn on, suitably scuffed Docs (worked and paid for by cooking dinner three times a week for about 6 months) and they stood me in great stead for marching around Soho, Camden and the West End. I ignored conventional directions and tube maps. Mainly, so I could smoke without being caught by the parents who had given me the directions, but also as I suspect I was secretly hoping to get so lost so that I wouldn’t have to go home (a wish which came true on many levels years later).

Having clubbed the Goth look to death I was now very predictably veering off into a fairly unhealthy relationship with dance music, trance first, then house (with a the beginnings of a flirtation with Garage). One afternoon I stumbled upon Cyber Dog, which blew my tiny mind and I resolved right then and there that South Africa knew NOTHING about anything worth knowing.

I was convinced London was where everything started. Jo’burg had to wait three of four years for the same trends and artists to get any air time. We were so behind. We weren’t even relevant. We didn’t have enough choice. Whereas in London there was almost too much.

My first trip to HMV on Oxford Street pretty much set up my musical taste for years to come. I bought Erykah Badu  (she would later lead me to The Roots), and The Chemical Brothers (Surrender). I picked up Prodigy and a new Tori Amos.  I spent hours listening to CDs of bands I had never heard of, anxious that I would never, ever find time to hear them all. I had a few days in London. It was not enough time.

And the book shops.

Waterstones Piccadilly left me bewildered in the best way. I couldn’t believe there were floors upon floors I could explore. They had books in stock of authors I had to order in when in SA.  I spent almost all my holiday money in days. I bought beautiful journals too and wrote more awful poetry (which thankfully I can’t find)

I did save just enough for a pair of outrageous see-through knee-high leather mesh platform boots from Rome. They were hideous and spectacular and I raved in them for a good 4 years, drag queens in Jo’burg were practically ripping them from my feet. My Docs were forgotten after those bad girls came on the scene.

I went back to Jo’burg determined to get back there when I was a grown up, and listen to everything I missed, go to all the gigs. Read all the books.

So here sits this girl on the train opposite me. Looking like me in London back in ‘97. It’s a surreal moment. What would I say to me now?  I have been to all sorts of gigs. She would be thrilled to hear I did get my nose pierced, and then removed it at 24, and weirdly I am thinking of doing it again. I happen to count an ex-manager of Cyber Dog as a good mate, a super star DJ once signed my stomach at a music festival (I had no paper). I have had actual real-life business meetings in Waterstones Piccadilly, and I’ve been involved in publishing books that get displayed in their wonderful windows.

But then equally I would be sad to tell her that HMV is a shadow of its former self and that I don’t get out to see as many live gigs as I used to. She’s be surprised to hear I now find I am desperate for music from South Africa. I attended a music trade gig when Freshly Ground were first breaking the UK and I had to leave the show half way through as I thought I may actually have a minor episode, a streaky mascara mess, shades on, choking back sobs on the train. Homesickness can be a visceral experience. But then how I stood at the front of the stage at LED festival and shouted all of Die Antwoord’s lyrics back at them, smug that unlike the Hackney hipsters behind me I actually knew what they meant. And how to pronounce them. Ridiculously proud of the band of misfits on stage cussing like only the South African can.

74197_494218830308_4600850_n
Die Antwoord LED Festival 2011

One thing though is consistent. I’m on the hunt for the perfect pair of Docs again. And I may even go Ox Blood this time. Or Cherry. Or both. Bet Amy would be spitting.