Back in the blogging lane

I started writing my blog about a year after we arrived in London. I started writing it for a number of reasons. It was mainly to do with catharsis. Little did I realise a new world would open up in front of me.Brighton.jpgThis week I met up with someone who follows my blog from South Africa. Sitting in a hipster little coffee shop in central London, and chatting to Jacqui from Africadayz  about why I started my blog, and hearing how it had inspired her to start hers, I realised how pivotal my blog had been to my whole London experience. It kept me sane, it kept me focused, it kept me hopeful and it kept me connected at a time when things could so easily have been so different.

I was job hunting at the time. The process was soul-destroying. It took so much of my time, with little if any return, and it was challenging to feel upbeat about making that the focus of my every day. With encouragement from friends across the world, I investigated starting a blog. I thought it would balance the tedium of seeking employment in the Big Smoke. And I hoped it would be fun.

I had no idea – and I still don’t – where it would lead. I just knew, on a gut level, that I needed to write.

I chose to call my blog ‘Sunshine in London’ for reasons you can read here. I remember the trepidation with which I pressed ‘publish’ for the first time ever. It was August 2010, and I was nervous as all heck to put my writing out in the public domain. It was the first of what became daily posts about my London adventure. I write about life in London, about job hunting, about being an outsider in the Big Smoke, about our now overflowing red box, and about everything that makes me laugh.

The process of writing a blog has been almost life-changing for me. I find I look at the world slightly differently, I’m constantly fine-tuning my observation skills and, while reading the outstanding, often exquisite, work of a community of writers I’ve grown to know and love, I know I’m learning from the best. Every day  brings the opportunity to read great work, and to sharpen my skills.

My now dear friend, Wendy, from Herding Cats in Hammond River, was the first ‘stranger’ to visit my blog and comment on a post I’d written. I remember how excited I felt that someone – who lived in Canada – had paid my blog a visit, and had liked what I’d written enough to comment. She and I would visit each other’s blogs every day and I loved discovering with her how much we had in common. I’ve not met Wendy in person yet, but I know that one day we will. We’re already friends.

Through meeting Wendy, I found other equally fabulous bloggers and connected with them. As my blog world grew, organically, I soon found myself part of a community of like-minded people from across the globe. I loved it. It gave meaning to my days, I read excellent and honest writing, and I laughed and cried with an outstanding bunch of human beings.

I’ve loved the sense of belonging I’ve felt. In many ways I’ve felt validated in my writing, and in my perspective on life. I had no idea writing a blog would do that for me.

One snowy day in December 2010, I went out for the morning and spotted someone cutting her finger nails, at my local bus stop. It got me thinking of all the strange and weird sights I’d seen on public transport. When I got home I wrote a characteristically light-hearted post about what I called ‘public displays of toiletry’ (PDTs). This throwaway post – Please don’t do THAT in Public – got Freshly Pressed and attracted the attention of about 5,500 readers and hundreds of commenters over the next few days. I was flabberghasted. I was also thrilled and slightly unnerved by this unexpected attention.

I’ve also discovered just how discoverable your online writing can be. As lovers of live music, Mr Sunshine and I go to many concerts and I write about them. One post reviewing a Van Morrison gig not only got picked up by a Van Morrison fanzine, but the chap I’d sat next to read it too! Equally, a blog about a Paolo Nutini concert got picked up by one of his fanzines too.

I found more new friends and blog followers after that. I have since met – in real life – two other fellow bloggers from North America: Renee from Life in the Boomer Lane  and Caitlin from Broadside. It was amazing to meet them and, as I did with my new friend last week, discover that friendship in cyberspace can easily translate into real life. I have a few other blog buddies I’ve connected with on social media too.

One of the most moving blog moments for me involved a post about language, and about sounding forrin here in London. In the post – So this is where I learnt to speak funny – I mentioned my Zimbabwean high school teachers, one of whom (Mr K) I reminisced about with affection. Through schoolfriends in Australia and Canada, I got in touch with Mr K’s wife in Cape Town, who read the post to an ailing-and-in-hospital Mr K. She told me it made him laugh. It was only a short while later that he passed away.

I did find a job after my seemingly endless hunt. That was five years ago. My blog took a back seat for a good part of those years, and I’m just starting to get myself back in the blog writing lane. My book is ever brewing in my belly, I have a constant desire to get better at writing, and I value the nurturing connection my blog writing has given me to a world of talented and remarkable people. What better motivation could there be?

Sunshine signing off for today!

 

 

 

 

 

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Like Old Friends

We arranged to meet in Marylebone at 10h30 Saturday morning. I set off early from my home in south east London, caught the tube, fought my way through the thronging mass of tourists outside Madame Tussauds and walked down a quiet side street to our deli meeting place. The moment we met, we were instantly friends. Lovely to meet you, Renee from Life in the Boomerlane!

I walked down this street, which looked lovely in the crisp sunshine

Renee had flown in from DC to spend a week in London with her daughter. She said her daughter found it weird that two blogging buddies from opposite sides of the world were going to meet up for breakfast. I guess, if you put it like that, it was kind of weird. But, despite the fact that we had the novelty of communicating verbally – no laptops to hide behind – we talked like old friends. Nearly three hours went by at lightning speed.

We started off talking about writing and blogging and things we knew we had in common. It wasn’t long before we were talking about everything else and laughing and joking and pointing out interesting people in the deli! I guess that’s what we have in common. We love life, we love people, we love noticing things about others, and we love telling stories.

What a wonderful morning it was, what a lovely person you are, and such fun it was to meet you, Renee. See you next time you fly over this way and until then we’ll continue to chat in the cyber world. LOL.

Enjoying a little glimpse of London sunshine

Sunshine signing off for today!

Starter for Seven

In the past few weeks, I’ve been nominated twice for the Stylish Blogger Award. Am I stylish, as a blogger? Is my blog stylish? Heck, I doubt it, but I’ll take what I get!

Thank you so much to Todd Pack over at Todd Pack’s Messy Desk for his generous nomination; Todd is one heck of a writer, whose commentary on popular culture and his beloved south is not only brilliantly written and insightful, but it’s also really funny. The second nomination came from workingtechmom over at her blog called Ouch, Fired! Workingtechmom writes about family life and work life, the balance required, as well as the challenges and the demands of working and not working. Thank you both for nominating me.

As with most blogging awards, there’s a task involved and that is to tell you seven things about myself that you might not know. Here goes:

  1. I am something of a global phenomenon. I am the current reigning world champion sleeper-in-front-of-the-television. I have slept through more movies and television programmes than anyone else I know, and my sleeping has absolutely nothing to do with how good the movie is, how much I’m enjoying it or how much I want to watch it. If I’m tired, I will sleep. And I hate that I do that. I once tried to watch Finding Forrester with my elder son, when he was a teenager. I fell asleep before the titles rolled, and my son kept calling me to wake me up:
    “Watch this cool part, Mom! It’s really funny!”
    Each time he rewound the movie to cue it to the part he wanted me to see, I would fall asleep. He tried about five times with one particular scene, without success, and then asked me if he could just pretend he was watching the movie alone. Oh dear.
  2. I hate washing up potato peelers.
  3. This one is a bit awkward: I keep checking my letter box and I have now come to the conclusion that *my Royal wedding invitation has got lost in the post*. Does anyone know the Royal protocol to pass on this kind of embarrassing piece of information? I know they’ll be waiting to get my RSVP. What to do, what to do?
  4. I have a ridiculous fear of heights. I have managed to do things like go up in the cable car to the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, travel in a small gondola up to the top of Mount Titlis in the Swiss Alps and go up in the London Eye. When I can look ahead and avoid looking down, I can do it. If I look down, my stomach churns, my palms drip with sweat and I have to back away. And tell everyone else I know and love to back away too.
  5. I have started writing my book. My friend, Renee, over at Life in the Boomer Lane – a hugely talented, published writer who never ceases to make me laugh – has recently very generously shared her experiences regarding the process of writing a book. Everything she said made sense, especially the bit about how you need “to find your sentence” and then the book will flow from there. You will be pleased to know, Renee, that I have found my sentence. It made me cry, but I’m writing.
  6. I once suffered a bruised hip, playing rugby. Picture this: Muizenberg beach, Cape Town, a slow Sunday afternoon a few years ago. Our family and my husband’s brother and his family were enjoying a walk along the beach. Given that there were seven boys and three girls in the family group, we did what any similar group would do: decided to play a game of touch rugby on the beach. It would be rude not to. We split up into two teams. My team was gaining ground; we were dominating in both territory and possession. We were playing, if I may say so myself, spectacularly. I needed to give my team my all, so when one of my team mates threw me something of a hospital pass, I grabbed the ball and tried to make the best of the situation. I ran down my opponents and headed speedily towards the try-line. My legs ran too fast for my body, unfortunately, and I threw myself down – somewhat involuntarily – a short distance ahead of the try-line. It would have been an outstanding try if the beach hadn’t come up to meet me so quickly and dramatically and so far shy of the try-line. But I landed on the ball and that is how I bruised my hip.
  7. I have a new job. I have been hired as the publications and communications manager for a charity in London, and I started there last week. I am thrilled at this appointment, it will be a challenging and busy job, full of variety and possibility, and I am thrilled to be working in a small and active charity that really makes a positive difference in its sector.

As with similar awards, there is an obligation to pass this award on to fellow bloggers. I can honestly say that all of the blogs that I read are stylish and wonderful; they all make me think or laugh or cry or reflect and all of them keep me inspired and keep me reading and wanting to write better. If any of you would like to take up the mantle, please be my guest and go ahead. Just be careful not to bruise your hip.

Sunshine signing off for today!

The Fun of the Commute

(This is a re-post of the second post that I wrote, and one of the main reasons I started blogging!)

If all the world’s a stage, then London public transport is scriptwriter’s paradise. And absolute bliss for a new blogger like me.

From overhearing an animated conversation among a group of priests – yes, as you guessed, they were talking at length and with passion about “Alice in Wonderland in 3D” – to watching a group of overweight, under-talented and slightly less than sober commuters pole dance on the Jubilee line, I’ve observed enough dramas, soap operas, musicals and scary movies on the tubes, trains and buses, to write a library-full of books. And I’m still watching.

A while back I was sat on the tube, waiting to go home at the end of a busy work day (yes, I did have a job then!), when the crowded carriage of Friday commuters was interrupted by the arrival of a young, fresh-faced woman, who ran on the tube in a fashion reminiscent of Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”.

She literally ran into the tube, her face filled with awe and wonder and amazement; she ran this way, she ran that way, she looked up, she looked down, and then, when all foreign eyes were upon her (local commuters generally don’t look up), she slinked over to the end of the carriage and stood at the window, facing the next compartment.

She opened the window, put her iPod earphones in place, and began to sing at full volume. I thought she was serenading a friend in the next door carriage, but it seemed she was singing for whoever would listen. Occasionally she sounded like someone singing through headphones, at other times like someone auditioning for a reality TV show, but mostly she was singing for the amusement of the commuters in both carriages.

The tube stopped at the next station, and who should walk into our carriage but a busker! Complete with guitar, and skirt made from a Union Jack flag … which wouldn’t be so bad if the busker were female. However, he introduced himself and said he wanted to entertain the evening commuters, asking for 10p per song, and promising he wouldn’t use the money for drink or drugs,
“Although,” he added, “it is Friday, so who knows?”

As he began to sing “Satisfaction”, a song he told us he wrote with Mick Jagger, the giggles of my fellow commuters could no longer be stifled. One person asked where the cameras were, and if the guitarist and “Julie Andrews” were taking the mick. Our in-carriage drama queen said,
“Oh, no. He’s a professional singer. I’m just annoying.”
No kidding?

The busker sang a few songs, walked down the carriage and, while he attracted very little funding to feed his habit, he did attract much mobile phone video attention. He walked down the carriage, singing enthusiastically and occasionally in tune. Miss Sound of Music watched in melodramatic anticipation of his next song, as he jumped off the tube at the next stop.

As the tube moved on, Miss Musical discovered, to her hair-grabbing horror, that she was travelling in the “wrong direction”. Thinking and agonizing out loud, she walked this way and that as she decided what to do about this increasingly tragic situation. After many dramatic utterances of  “OMG!” she alighted at the next tube station, amid flutters of giggles and chatter on the tube, and cynical echoes of her words. It was the first time I saw unity among commuters, albeit at the expense of a would-be dramatic actress and a drug-fuelled singer/songwriter.

And then there was the time I was waiting for my tube at my local station, when I noticed a fairly mousy, innocuous-looking middle-aged woman a little way down the platform from me. When the crammed tube arrived, the doors opened in front of her, and there was not one centimetre to spare; there was literally no way she could possibly consider climbing into that tube. Not even a hardened London commuter would have braved it.

But she was different. She launched herself headfirst on to the tube, only – after some jostling by the heaving mass of in-train commuters – to be spat out on to the platform like a mango pip. Undeterred, she gathered herself on the platform, turned around and forced her way backwards into the tube. She leant back at an acute angle to ensure the doors wouldn’t close on her, and off she went, leaving commuters on the platform open-mouthed, amazed and perplexed at her dogged and surprising determination.

Another time, I noticed on my crowded tube that one of the commuters was travelling on a different tube from everyone else. His tube was much bouncier than the one the rest of us were travelling on, and every so often his went over a particularly bumpy patch. No-one around him noticed, especially not the city suit next to him, who was moving and swaying to the rhythm of his personal entertainment centre, nor the chap nearby launching battle in a deadly game of snooker on his mobile phone.

It’s all there, folks – and I’ll keep telling you about it!

Sunshine signing off for today!

Take a Seat

When we got to London, we moved into our fully-furnished and equipped flat with our clothes and our bedding. And some music. I was always told to be of good chair, so it wasn’t long before we had to go and purchase an additional piece of furniture.

We walked down to a local second-hand furniture shop to browse through their seating equipment. The bored helpful owner of the shop came over to greet us and shoot the breeze over his cup of coffee. He was a right proper Londoner, wearing a flat cap and everything.

We told him we were looking for a desk chair. He showed us his wares. And then he showed us his chairs. Kidding.

(Exaggeration alert.)

We tried out his wheely chairs and raced around the shop in them going “Woo!” and “Beep beep!” and “Check how this one turns!”

He strolled over to us, kicking his legs like in a slow-motion goose-step, and said, tentatively, and with his head cocked to one side, “Is that an Australian accent I hear?”

We said, “Not unless there are Australians hiding behind the sofa.”

Not really. We said that we were South Africans and feigned offence. Well, maybe we didn’t feign offence, but we pretended we were feigning it. He laughed nervously, “Ha ha, jolly ha!”

He took another sip of his coffee and asked if we were new to the area. We told him we’d just moved in. He asked us what brought us to the area. We said we were new to London because my husband was doing his doctorate.

The guy stared at us blankly, like the letting agent had when we told her my husband was doing his doctorate. She said, “Can you write that down for me, please? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

We were about to tell him question time was over, when his gaze turned to me and he said, “And what about you? Are you a lady of leisure?”

My husband had to hold me back from grabbing him by the scruff of the neck. (Not really. But please note, for health and safety purposes, that the exaggeration alert is still active.)

I smiled sweetly and said to him, “Actually, I’m job hunting.”

He said, “Pleased to meet you, my name’s Bob.”

What he actually did at that point was whistle, raise his eyebrows and make his eyes all slitty. Clearly a multi-tasker.

“Ooh, job hunting. Not easy these days, is it? Not like in them days when it was just us. Not with all these foreigners about.”

He proceeded to tell us how little he thought of the (then) Labour government and its lax immigration regulations and how foreigners were coming in thick and fast and taking all the jobs from people “like us”.

We nodded, paid for our chair and tiptoed backwards out of the shop trying not to say another word and leak out our foreign accents again. Just in case.

We carried the chair down the road and all the way back to our house. We stopped briefly for my husband to go into a convenience store to buy something, and I sat on the chair on the pavement. If I spun quickly I could keep an eye on the road and on the shop at the same time.

As we crossed the threshold into our flat, we greeted the rest of the furniture with, “Three chairs for the foreigners!”

Sunshine signing off for today!

All Things Bright and New to Me

As I stood in the shower this morning, I thought about the fact that I just pressed a button and a torrent of hot water jetted instantly out of the shower rose. “Power showers”, as they are known here in the UK, were such a novelty for us when we first got to London.

I then thought about everything else in our day-to-day lives that fascinated me when I first arrived here. Two months after we arrived here, I emailed my family a list of things that were different from what I knew. I had another look at the list today, and thought I would post it here.

Please note that this is my perspective and my opinion; some of these things might be familiar to those who live in South Africa, and perhaps not everything I have seen is typical of London. These are purely my observations of things that I found different.

Interesting, as I read through it, I realised how inured I have become to most of the items on the list. I found myself thinking, “Oh, right – that was new to us back then”.

We call this guy "Neil". Long story
  1. We saw a fox in our car park the other evening.
  2. We have heaters in both of our bathrooms, and even in our kitchen. (And in the lounge and bedrooms, of course.)
  3. We have power showers in our bathrooms: you turn on a power switch on the bathroom wall, and then press the “on” button on the shower, and out comes hot water, instantly.
  4. At Tesco (supermarket) you pack your own groceries into bags. And you get “green points” (like extra loyalty points) on your Tesco card if you bring and re-use your own bags.
  5. The shopping trolleys at our local Tesco have a sign on them that reads: “These trolleys are programmed to stop automatically when pushed beyond the red zone.” The perimeter of the shopping centre (i.e. the car park) is colour-coded, with the red zone being the outermost zone. If you push a trolley over that line, it will literally stop. We discovered through experience, and wondered why the trolley stopped suddenly, jarringly, and would not budge a further inch.
  6. [I did see a shopping trolley on top of the bus stop a few months ago – not sure how it got beyond not only the “red zone” but how it was lifted to such a height. I think drunkenness might give you extra powers and imagination.]
  7. Despite commonly held beliefs, Londoners can be pretty friendly and helpful.
  8. It seems to be OK to swear on television (not on the news though).
  9. It’s a crime to beg. [The crime is “Begging and summoning alms.”]
  10. You can get arrested, or at least a warning, for peeing in public.
  11. Some buses won’t stop at the bus stop you’re standing at unless you flag them down.
  12. If you’re travelling on the bus, you need to ring the bell for it to stop at the next bus stop. Unless someone flags it down from the bus stop or a passenger rings the bell, it will not stop.
  13. Some bus drivers will wait for you if they see you running for the bus.
  14. At some shops you can scan and pay for your purchases yourself – i.e. no cashier involved.
  15. Sometimes it costs you 30p to spend a penny [go to a public rest room].
  16. You can buy booze on Sundays and you can buy wine and beer and spirits in the supermarkets. [In South Africa you cannot buy alcohol in a supermarket on a Sunday.]
  17. Wherever you go in London, you will encounter people from a huge variety of nationalities. It is truly a multicultural society, quite remarkable. I thought we lived and worked in a multi-cultural world in Cape Town, but honestly – we know nothing compared to a city like London.
  18. You can’t buy green (Sunlight-type) soap, and the local mayonnaise generally tastes junk. You can’t buy margarine in the UK – it is an illegal product. And you can’t buy cane spirit in the UK because it destroys your memory.
  19. What was I saying?
  20. You can get about 80 channels on Freeview television. But a TV licence costs about ZAR1,500 a year [£145.50].
  21. On weather reports on TV and the radio, they use terms like “bright”, “breezy” and “dull”.
  22. You can get free daily newspapers (Metro and the London Evening Standard) at the tube stations – with the result that most commuters are up on the latest news, like “has Simon Cowell shaved his hands?”
  23. We have mobile phones, from which we send texts. (Not cell phones, nor sms’s.)

I continue to notice new things, as you know, and I usually blog about them. I’ll never be a Londoner, but I can now make my way around a city that initially felt so wildly “forrin” to me.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Sunshine Overseas

Where I live right now is overseas.  When I hear anyone here talk about going overseas, I wonder why they would do that because they’re already here. In my vocabulary, the UK and Europe are overseas. Everywhere else in the world has a name.

(Please note that this is purely my perception and my take on this word.)

In my experience, the word overseas has always held a certain fascination and hint of glamour. I remember, as a child, hearing friends talk about going overseas on their school holidays. I would kind of melt into an envious heap, thinking,

“Ah, you’re so cool. You’re going overseas. AND you’re allowed to wear nylon socks with lace at the top.”

I have known and worked with people who have never travelled out of their home towns, let alone travelled abroad. Or overseas. One of my colleagues in Harare said he had no idea what overseas looked like. He then asked,

“Are there many tall buildings there?”

My younger son went overseas on a school history tour three years ago. The tour took them to the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany, and they travelled in March. The day he left, I took the day off work to spend with him before we took him to the airport that evening.

It was 36 degrees Celsius that day – a typically hot March day in Cape Town. He was flying to Prague, where temperatures were expected to be about 0 degrees Celsius. It was strange for him to think about feeling cold.

A delightful, older lady was working at our house that day and we enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with each other and share sighs at the hot weather. I told her my son was going overseas that evening. She looked at me, bemused.

“Is it very far?”

I said to her, “Yes, it’s very far. And it’s very very cold.”

She looked at me even more bemused. Her frown disappeared as the penny dropped.

“Ah. He’s going to Springbok.”
(Springbok is a small town in the Northern Cape in South Africa, renowned for diamonds, copper and beautiful springflowers, but also notoriously much colder – for South Africa – than most of the rest of the country.)

I smiled inside as I thought, “Yes, he might just as well be going to Springbok.”

At that time, I worked for a non-profit organisation that provided counselling services, and trained lay counsellors. The receptionist who worked there (I’ll call her N) was a cheerful and chirpy character and she and I used to laugh together plenty.

Our favourite was to try and beat each other to say TGIF to each other every Friday. It was our thing. If I got in first and said, “TGIF!” she’d look up and me and say, “Thanks, God.”

One day someone arrived at the office, and said she had an appointment at 10h00. N checked the counselling appointment book and saw no booking for 10h00. The consummate professional, she smiled at the new arrival, asked her to take a seat and proceeded to run through the offices and whip up a volunteer counsellor to see the awaiting client.

She found a counsellor who was available, made sure the counselling room was tidy, and told the client her counsellor was on her way. The counsellor came through, introduced herself and off the two of them went into the counselling room and shut the door behind them. Five minutes later, the two of them emerged with much hilarity; the appointment the client had come to the office for was a job interview with the Executive Director!

N and I laughed like drains as we imagined what went on in the counselling room, with the so-called client not able to talk about her job experience because she kept being asked how she was feeling. How funny.

One of my direct reports was the administration manager, G: divine, well-spoken, nattily-dressed, eloquent and the most gentlemanly gentleman you can imagine. He led a team of four staff members, and they had regular team meetings. Occasionally he would invite me to join them, and it was fun to be included.

One of the team was D, the handyman. He was a constantly recovering alcoholic who worked like a Trojan when he was present. But he often went missing. We all loved him, and he was a central character in our offices. However, he had no time for meetings.

The first time I was invited to join the team meeting, someone asked if D would be there. At that moment, D walked past the meeting room and G asked if he was going to join them.

D didn’t break stride. He flung his left arm in the air and said,

“Ag, daai’s ‘n klomp k*k!” (That’s just a crock of s**t!)

I guess he wasn’t going to join us.

The meeting began. G, ever formal and eloquent, welcomed everyone, made a special mention of the visitor (me) and asked if anyone would like to open the meeting by sharing something.

“Feel free to speak, if you have something to share,” he said.

N, along with many of us, often battled to understand what G was saying because he usually used really formal language and long words (thanks to his prior career in the diplomatic corps). She was leaning heavily on the desk, her elbow only just stopping her face from hitting the desk. She looked at G with incredulity, she frowned, she wrinkled her nose, and then said,

“About what?”

Moving on swiftly then.

G read an excerpt from a book of inspirational sayings, quoting Mother Theresa. It flew right over the head of everyone present, and N continued to look at G with that expression of WTF (Why The Funny-Sayings)?

G worked us through the agenda and, after about half an hour, was ready to draw the meeting to a close. He invited any closing comments. N stood up and cleared her throat, then clicked her tongue on the roof of her mouth.

“I would like to say something please.”

G welcomed her to go ahead.

“I think we should always have Nomalanga with us at these meetings. [Nomalanga is my Xhosa name, and it means Sunshine. She meant me.] Because why? Because it’s so nice having her here; it feels like we have someone here from overseas.”

She sat down, G thanked her for her input and said he would give it some thought, and the meeting closed. I’m so glad I write a blog, because this was always so going to be in it.

Sunshine signing off for today, from overseas!