Afrikaans in English

There’s little that should surprise me in this heaving world city that is London. But hearing a Middle Eastern man testing out his Afrikaans on me in central London certainly made me smile.

I bought myself a new handbag last week. Carrying around a postage-stamp-sized bag just so I don’t have to take my Oyster card (London Transport travel card) out of my bag to ‘tap in’ every time I travel on the bus or the tube (the card reader can read my card through my bag), had long since lost its novelty. I needed to carry a bag that could hold more than my Oyster card, glasses, cell phone and one pound.

So I went to our local shopping centre and found a bag I wished to buy. The vendor told me the price and duly closed the sale. As he handed me my change (which I could now fit into the new handbag), he looked at me sideways and said, “South African?”

I assume he recognised my nationality from my accent. Not from the cheapness of my purchase. I smiled and nodded.

“Buy a donkey!” he said.

He then stepped back and beamed with pride like he’d just performed a magic trick.

I nodded and smiled my super impressed-ness to him, decided against saying something back to him in Afrikaans because that would have just been awkward, and walked away, smiling.

For my non-South African friends, baie dankie, which can, to an English ear, sound like buy a donkey means thank you very much. It was a very sweet interaction.

Travelling home on the bus the other day, I eavesdropped in Afrikaans. The guy sitting next to me had a long and detailed catch-up, in Afrikaans, with his friend on the other side of the aisle. I think I might have leaned over to listen more closely to what they were saying and I might have asked them to repeat a few words that I hadn’t heard properly. Apart from that I think they were oblivious to my nosiness.

One asked the other how his wife was and when his baby was due. (I’ve heard many a South African say the other one asked the other one, but that’s a story for another day.) He replied that the baby was due on Sunday, and his friend said,

“Ag, foeitog.”

It’s not the kind of expression you can translate easily. It could mean oh dear, how unfortunate or alas. In this context, I would say it means “Ah, shame” or “Ah, cute”. But you would never hear any men speak like that to each other in English. Some words just cannot be translated.

Shame is a word that is used in an interesting way in southern Africa. I could look at your new baby and say, “Ah, shame.”

Before you rush off to the paediatrician for a full assessment, you would need to know that what I’m really saying is, “Your baby is really cute/gorgeous/pretty/bonny/handsome/so small/so chubby/looks just like you/clearly the child of the milkman”. You can choose. But know that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your little one.

The appropriate response would be for you to smile and say, “Buy a donkey”.

Sunshine signing off for today!

TMI and the Art of Eavesdropping

(via shoeboxblog.com) Sometimes I hear and sometimes I listen.

There’s much you can overhear on a daily commute in London. It’s rare that you learn anything much, other than what someone is planning to have for supper, or how trashed they are planning to get at the pub tonight, or how much they hate their snooty colleague. Today, however, I learned something about how relationships develop. When you’re 11.

On the bus home this evening, I sat behind a bunch of primary school children, all dressed in their uniforms, and aged about 11. They sat and giggled at fellow commuters, exchanged insults with each other and kept a commentary running until they alighted at their stops. As much as I wanted to ignore what they were saying, I couldn’t help hearing and then I began to listen.

(Hello, everyone, my name is Sunshine and I’m an eavesdropper.)

The lone boy in the group said to one of his friends:
“So, bruv, did you see me kiss her, yeah?”

“Yeah, like I was so surprised, yeah? I thought, he’s doing it near a window and, like, everyone’s going to see, innit?”

“Yeah, but you know there’s like a trampoline next to the building, with a wall next to it, yeah? Well, like, that’s where I done it.”

“Yeah.”

“So, you know the longest it’s taken me to kiss a girl, bruv?”

“Yeah? How long?”

“Well, this girl who was, like, my first girlfriend, yeah? Well, you know how long it took me, right? Two years.”

“Whoa. That’s insane. I’m so bad because it takes me, like, two days, yeah?”

“Whoa. But that girl, yeah, I just hate her now. I hate her, bruv. You know I like kissed her and all, and then she’s like telling everyone, yeah, that I’m such a *****, innit.”

“Yeah, that happens sometimes.”

“So, you know what I normally do, right? I go, like, kiss kiss and then I, like, snog snog snog. Yeah?”

Doing a Beyoncé move of the neck from side to side, and waggling an index finger in his general direction, his friend said,
“Too. Much. Information. Yeah?”

And so ended the conversation. You’re probably thinking this post is too much information (TMI), yeah, but I thought you might, like, learn something from it. Innit? No, I didn’t either. Yeah?

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!

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!

Applaud … Now!

We have a red box where we keep tickets and reminders of our London adventure. We opened the box this morning and threw another ticket into it. A ticket that reflected another first for us: being part of the studio audience for a television chat show. What fun!

The show, ITV’s That Sunday Night Show – described as a “round up of the week, casting a wry eye over the past seven day’s events and the week ahead” – is filmed in the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

We got there ridiculously early. Too early. We went away and came back to discover that a queue had begun to form outside the studio, so we joined it. It was VERY cold. After about half an hour, a young woman with a clipboard checked our tickets and gave us two entry stickers and told us to come back to the holding area in about an hour. We came back and queued in the holding area, as instructed and shuffled forwards like a herd of slothful cows, until we came to a stop outside the nether regions of the ITV Studio.

Guys wearing “crew” T-shirts handed out beers to everyone in the holding area. One way to keep a bunch of impatient punters happy, I guess, but maybe it was designed to make the audience loose or, at least, to find the show banter funny! We continued to freeze and stand and freeze and stand.

Eventually we started to shuffle forwards and through a storage area. Any air of superiority I might have been feeling was whiffed away by the sights and smells around us: a calamity of plywood in different lengths and shapes; metal cages filled with boxes and stuff; a forklift; several brooms; more boxes and stuff and wires and bins and buckets and clay models and stuff. We shuffled alongside a huge floaty white curtain and then tadah! There was the studio!

We were ushered into seats and sat in the fourth row, which was the first stepped-up row. I usually end up behind the overly-tall guy with huge curly hair, so I’m glad to report my view of the set was uninterrupted. Curly-haired tall guy was in the row below ours.

A “warm-up guy” came and introduced himself to the studio audience. His job of making us laugh was made easy by what he called a “self-pleasing” audience. Banter flew this way and that from audience members or, as I like to call them, part-time comedians. The lights went down and in walked show host, Adrian Chiles.

He introduced his interesting blend of guest panellists: Russell Kane, comedian; Janet Street-Porter, journalist and broadcaster; and Lord Alan Sugar, multi-millionaire and UK host of The Apprentice.

And so began the filming of the 30 minute-long chat show. It took two hours, with a short break after an hour, and we were impressed with how slick the filming process was. There were a few times when Adrian stumbled over his words, but he just repeated them and the show went on. At the end of the two hours, he did re-takes of about four intros to film clips and it was a wrap. Heavy editing will leave around 20 minutes to be aired between the commercial breaks.

Adrian looks at big and small news items from the past week, comments on them and invites comment from his panellists. It was interesting to see the dynamics between the three guests; Russell Kane is ever the cheeky-chappy naughty comedian, who made faces at the audience and chipped in with funny observations and jokes all the time. I loved that! Janet Street Porter elbowed her opinion in at every opportunity and I found her to be not only heavy-handed but grumpy and negative. Perhaps that’s her brand. Lord Alan Sugar added his no-nonsense opinion with flat, slicing hands. When he speaks, people listen. He said he loves visiting America because at least no-one says to him, “You’re fired.” Clearly he is accosted at every turn by British fans proffering that original line to him.

Russell Kane talked about the immediate feedback he gets as a stand-up comedian and the constant fear that if he doesn’t make his audience laugh, he’s fired. Adrian Chiles said to Lord Sugar,
“You’re funny, Lord Sugar, you know how to make people laugh. Did you ever consider being a comedian?”

His reply made me laugh:
“When I was small, I was walking with my mum. She said to me, ‘You know you’re really funny. I’ve heard that you make your friends laugh at school. Why don’t you become a comedian?’ I said to her, ‘Mum, do you mean going to the working men’s clubs where they throw beer and crisps at you and heckle you?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Mum, if you don’t mind, I think I’d rather become a multi-millionaire.’”

We were interested to notice a “Lord Sugar lookalike” in the audience. He queued just ahead of us and, unlike the rest of us punters, was dressed formally in a suit. I thought there might be some interest in the fact that Lord Sugar’s doppelganger sat among the rowdy rabble. Not a peep. It made me think of that song, “I took my harp to the party and nobody asked me to play. So I took the damned thing away.”

The show was packed. Adrian had three studio guests who ran the gauntlet of the panel’s comments and questions and unimpressed-ness. The guests included Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies), Terry Green, the voice of the UK Post Office queuing system (I felt sorry for him as the panellists ate him up, comment by comment) and Heston Blumenthal (celebrity chef and owner of The Fat Duck restaurant in London).

Heston has recently opened another restaurant in London known as Dinner by Heston, where he serves medieval food and focuses on the history of English food. He served Adrian and the panellists each a wooden platter adorned with what looked like a mandarin and two slices of toasted ciabatta. The mandarin was in fact a perfectly disguised chicken parfait, which all of the panellists – bar Lord Sugar – partook of and enjoyed. Lord Sugar ungraciously, I thought, declined to eat it as he said he was unimpressed by fancy food and preferred the fare he grew up with. Clearly that footage will land on the cutting room floor.

So, two hours, two “warm-up guy” sessions, a bunch of Russell guffaws and delightful Adrianisms later, we shuffled out of the studio and once more into the freezing London night. We’ll watch the programme tomorrow night for sure – maybe we’ll just hear ourselves laugh. Another first and another ticket in our red box.

Sunshine signing off for today!

On The Carpet

It’s red carpet season in London. Celebrities, also known as movie stars, dress designerly and walk along the red carpet to answer endless and inane questions about their movies and their co-stars and their spouses and partners and directors and friends and why they think their movies should win awards and what their movies mean and if they seek enlightenment through the art form they support and who dressed them.

Film premieres take place all year round in London, and this week has also seen a swathe of awards ceremonies in the capital. On Sunday night, London played host to the Bafta Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and last night the music awards ceremony, the Brit Awards 2011, took place at the O2 Arena in North Greenwich.

As was expected, The King’s Speech garnered most of the big Bafta awards, including best actor, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best film and best original screenplay. It was nominated for 14 awards and won seven. The darling Colin Firth, who won the best actor award for the second year in a row (in 2010 he won one for A Single Man), said “I like coming here.”

The director, producer and screenwriter describe the film as “a little film”, one they never thought would attract the worldwide attention it has. David Seidler, writer of the original screenplay for The King’s Speech, won a Bafta for his screenplay. As a child, Seidler battled with a stammer and, listening to King George VI speak on radio, he thought that if the King could overcome a stammer, there was hope for him too. I like stories like that.

Last night’s Brit Awards 2011 honoured many young and not so young members of the music industry. A young south London rapper, known as Tinie Tempah, won two Brits, while Take That – recently rejoined by Robbie Williams – collected their first Brit Award for Best British Group. Robbie walked away with his 17th.

A young fringe-flicking Canadian received a Brit Award for International Breakthrough Act of the Year. He declined to show off his Michael Jackson skills in the pre-show interview, claiming that he couldn’t moonwalk “on the carpet”.  The moves had to be seen to bieber-lieved.

Canadian band, Arcade Fire, also walked away with two Brit Awards for Best International Group and Best International Album.

We’ve stood by the red carpet for film premieres a few times since we’ve been in London. The first time we were lucky enough to be penned in, up close and personal, with uninterrupted views of this:

The less glamorous view of the red carpet

Imagine being close enough to see the red carpet being fitted? Kind of takes the glamour out of the event. A couple standing near us asked if they could have the carpet off-cuts. Seriously?

Knee pads are clearly a health and safety requirement

But this is really why we stood and watched the red carpet being set up:

The man of the moment. Or as I like to call him "The Georgeous"

I think the guy standing behind the star of “The Fantastic Mr Fox” was thinking, “OMG! I can’t believe I’m standing this close to George Clooney!”

We also saw Sir Ben Kingsley:

Ever the elegant and serene professional. He pretended not to hear the guy next to me call him a "sexy beast".

And Bill Murray:

Henna'd hands reach out for his autograph but Mr Murray was only there to shake hands.

As we speak, London is ordering miles more red carpet to welcome the sporting elite and the spectating elite (you clearly have to be elite to afford the ticket prices I’m reading about) to the London Olympics in 2012. 527 days to go and counting. Danny Boyle, director of movies such as Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, Sunshine (I don’t know that movie but I love the title!) and 127 Days, will be directing the opening ceremony. Will we see a field full of brightly coloured anoraks doing Bollywood moves and avoiding the chasm? I can hardly wait.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Now I’m the Cat’s Pyjamas

Last week, our church small group had a social evening where we played a bunch of games. One game involved passing a small, ticking grenade from player to player as you each had your turn. Yesterday, my “friend” Maura, threw me a grenade from Ohio.

Right. The game we played last week goes by the subtle moniker of Pass the Bomb. You have a deck of cards, each card has two or three letters on it, and you have to think of a word that uses those letters in order but not necessarily consecutively. You may not repeat a word – obviously, duh – but you may modify the word by making it a plural or adding –ing or whatever. Or you can be entirely original and think of your own word.

You have to think quickly; the grenade is ticking and you don’t want to be left holding the bomb when it explodes. Well, when it fizzles, really. Each time you set the grenade a-ticking, it ticks for a random length of time, so you never know when it’ll go.

The grenade got thrown around the circle at such pace, some of us got shrapnel injuries. It seems that the Memetastic award is doing the same.

So, thank you dearest 36×37 aka Maura (who is, in fact, one of the most gifted writers I know, disguised as a friend) for throwing the kitty-bomb my way. I am eternally indebted to you for passing this extraordinary honour to me. I am taking it back taken aback. I’m glad you think so much of me. Or not.

So here’s the deal. I’ve been Memetastic-ed. And read quickly, because I don’t want to be left holding the grenade.

Jill, at Yeah, Good Times, created this Award. Thank you, Jill. Thank you very much.

The Memetastic Rules

The Memetastic Award

1. You must proudly display the graphic (above), which Jill describes as “absolutely disgusting.” According to Jill: “It’s so bad that not only did I use COMIC SANS, but there’s even a little jumping, celebrating kitten down there at the bottom. It’s horrifying! But its presence in your award celebration is crucial to the memetastic process we’re creating here.”

2. You must list five things about yourself, and four of them must be bold-faced lies. Quality is not important.

3. You must pass this award to five bloggers you either like or don’t like or don’t really have much of an opinion about. As spoken by the great Jill: “I don’t care who you pick, and nobody needs to know why. You can give a reason if you want, but I don’t really care.”

4. If you fail to follow any of the above rules, Jill will hunt you down and harass you incessantly until, according to her, “you either block me on Twitter or ban my IP address from visiting your blog. I don’t know if you can actually do that last thing, but I will become so annoying to you that you will actually go out and hire an IT professional to train you on how to ban IP addresses just so that I’ll leave you alone. I’m serious. I’m going to do these things.”

5. Once you do the above, please link up to the Memetastic Hop so that Jill can keep track of where this thing goes and figure out who she needs to stalk.

Excited? I thought so.

Here is my offering:

  1. I have often been mistaken for a ballet dancer. However, when people study my style, they realize that my motif is more contemporary slash jazzart, if you will. Interpretive dance is my preferred movement.

    Dance (via societies.cam.ac.uk)
  2. I am easily bored and take little interest in anything around me. Especially other people.

    Boring (via jmorganmarketing.com)
  3. Nothing relaxes me more than sitting down with a mug of hot cocoa and a jolly good game of Sudoku.

    Sudoku, or as I say, "let the fun roll" (via stellalunaa.xanga.com)
  4. I wish I was funny enough and brave enough to be a stand-up comedian.

    To stand up or to sit down (via dailycomedy.com)
  5. I love applying for jobs and going for interviews. These are the funnest things you can do in London.

    Ah, mad fun at interviews (via utahtechjobs.com)

So, study these points carefully because hidden among them is a truth about me that you would never be able to guess.

Maura, you’re fantastic – thanks for sharing this award with me. Jill, you’re the bomb. Pleased to meet you.

I think I am going to cop out of chucking the grenade towards anyone in particular, as I know many of you have had this honour already. If anyone reading this feels so inclined and wants to grab the mic, or the grenade, or the kitty – knock yourself out. But beware … the ticking starts now.

Sunshine signing off for today!

For Auld Lang Syne

I wrote about Scotsman, Andy Murray, yesterday and then I went to do a Pilates class with the most enthusiastic, chatty Scotsman since William Wallace. Today I thought I would introduce to you some more of my husband’s Scottish family: meet Mac and Lily*.

*I have given them false names, as you probably wouldn’t believe the names by which we knew them. I thought about calling them Mac and Cheese. Nah.

I can’t tell you what a blessing it is to have married into a Scottish family. Mac was my late mother-in-law’s brother. He would have been about 87 now, and Lily would have been about 84. They both passed away in Scotland within the past eight years. They had no children of their own, and adored their nephews (my husband and his brother) as if they were their own. My husband is named after Mac.

Let me tell you what I know about Scottish names. My husband has three first names and is known by his third name. He likes his first name, and when he asked his parents why they didn’t call him by his first name, they said it was because they didn’t like it. Right. They had named him after his uncle, and clearly his parents hadn’t liked his first name either, because he was always known by his second name. We knew him by an entirely different nickname all together. And to add further confusion into the mix, the name my husband is known by is the same as his father’s. And his father was known by the first of his three names, even though he was given an entirely different name at birth (see Not Just Another Winter’s Tale).  And his brother is known by his second – of three – names. You’re confused?

So back to Mac and Lily: I first met Mac when he flew out to Zimbabwe for our wedding in 1984. He arrived unannounced and threw the entire family into frenzied excitement, leaving my garrulous mother-in-law speechless. He was a true Scotsman: he’d insult you then hug you, he’d laugh at you and with you, and tears and laughter gurgled in equal measure. Love of family, humour, generosity, love and kindness ever lurked behind his thinly brittle exterior. I loved him immediately.

I first met Lily when my husband and I travelled to the UK in 1986 and we stayed with Mac and Lily in their wee croft in Perthshire. Lily was about knee-high to a grasshopper and was teased mercilessly by Mac for being so wee. She was a hairdresser and her stories of colleagues and clients and running a salon in Zimbabwe (as she had done for a number of years) are stuff of my husband’s family legend.

Returning to Scotland, she worked at the old folks’ homes, doing the hair of the “old biddies”, as she called them. She never fussed too much about whether her work was good or not, as she chose to live by her belief that the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut was about three weeks. Possibly longer for the old biddies. She was gentle, kind, quick to laugh, generous and loving: I loved her immediately too.

We saw them every couple of years after that; when they travelled to Zimbabwe and then South Africa for holidays, and when we visited the UK on holiday. Just as they had taken my husband and his brother as sons, they took our boys into their hearts as grandsons. Mac taught them stories and language that, shall we say, broadened their education.

Our boys were little when Mac and Lily first came to Cape Town. We’d told the boys how funny Uncle Mac was and they couldn’t wait to meet them. Our older son, who was about four at the time, laughed loudly and unconvincingly the first time Mac said something, and then looked at us and asked,

“When’s he going to be funny?”

I think he’d imagined a clown.

Our younger son, aged about two, sat on my husband’s lap and watched Mac with interest. After a while, my son grabbed his dad’s face between his hands, pulled his face towards him and, gesturing towards Mac, said,

“Him’s got a big nose. Hey, Daddy?”

One day my older son had a friend coming over to play, when Mac and Lily were with us in Cape Town a few years later. I heard my son say to his friend,

“My uncle and aunt will be there. I’m really sorry but my uncle swears a lot.”

His friend, ever the gracious trooper, said,

“Ooh, that’s okay. I think that will be rather fun.”

Mac was fun. He’d run and play soccer with the boys in the garden, until his smoke-ridden lungs would cause him to gasp and return to the sidelines. As he lit a cigarette, he’d say,

Bleep bleep! Those bleep bleep kids sure take the bleep bleep bleep out of you! I’m not as young as I bleeping-well used to be.”

He’d wrestle with the boys and then send them on their way. He’d watch them play sport and boast about them to his friends. He laughed at their jokes and regaled them with stories.

We had a wonderful time staying with them in Scotland in 2000. They took us all over their native Perthshire, showing us the beautiful countryside and introducing the four of us – with enormous familial pride – to everyone they met. They took us to the Highland Games in Pitlochry and Mac went to tell the organisers that “B’s son” was there (my mother-in-law grew up and went to school in Pitlochry). Family was everything to Mac and Lily, and we knew we meant the world to them.

Lily would cook wonderful meals for us all, and our best times were when we sat and chatted over coffee and chocolate biscuits in their lounge in the weak mid-morning sun. She and Mac were always interested in our lives and what we had to say, and asked us questions constantly.

One evening, we sat in their little lounge, next to the ever- glowing fire, as Mac relaxed into his favourite pastime: reminiscing. He told us of a Hogmanay party at their house a few years before, where Mac pretended he was a soldier. He put a bucket on his head, and with a broom as a rifle he marched back and forth through their small lounge. It wasn’t long before he smashed the light fitting with the broom and caused the party guests to collapse into hysterical laughter.

He then went further back, to recount tales of his inordinately naughty childhood. He told us of all he and his brother and friends got up to at school, including putting one teacher’s car up on to bricks and waiting to watch as the teacher tried to drive off at the end of the day. Mac and his mates lurked in the bushes, and as they watched the teacher they rolled over and laughed like drains.

He was constantly in trouble. That naughty streak glinted in his eyes through his whole life. Not even the unspoken-of horrors of his wartime service could quench that spirit.

His school-day nostalgia then reminded him of his favourite poet: Robbie Burns. He told us he had once recited Burns at a formal occasion. He ran upstairs to haul out his notes and proceeded to recite the elaborately un-understandable words of Burns to an audience of us. To our African ears, it sounded like,

“Heenel honnel, heenel honnel, heenel honnel, aft the glen.”

His sudden move into serious poetry was at odds with the evening’s levity. The absurdness of the poetry, the absurdness of this sudden turn of events and then, spotting their mother fixing to burst with laughter, caused my sons – and then all four of us – to explode into childish laughter till we cried. Mac was taken aback:

“What the bleeping-bleep you lot laughin’ at? This is Rabbie Burns! Don’t ye like him?”

We tried, we really tried to pull ourselves together but the words of Robbie Burns will forever be etched in our memories in the schoolboy style of Mac’s recital and our childish inability to stop giggling.

I miss Mac and Lily. All of our family does. And I understand why Mac loved to reminisce. It keeps the memories alive.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Is All the World a Stage?

So if it’s Thursday, I must be writing about Zumba, right? We had a wonderful class again last night, and, in the midst of our stomping and twirling, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. You know what? I look stupid doing jazz hands. Seriously stupid.

I wrote last week about how amazing it is to dance like no-one’s watching. It truly is. I guess that’s the important part: I need to make sure no-one’s watching, and I don’t want to watch myself either. How embarrassing!

I’m not much of a performer, I guess. I love nothing better than to tell a story or share a joke and make people laugh – my heart leaps when I am able to do that. I’m not shy. And I have done loads of public speaking. But to perform in front of an audience, like to dance or sing or act, would cause me to cower into a shivering heap. Or to go and hide under the nearest bed. An audience of one, in the mirror last night, was enough to cause my cheeks to burn crimson.

I did plenty of amateur dramatics as a little girl. I am the youngest of four, and my performances usually took the form of hands-on-hips tantrums at my older siblings to take me seriously. If they tried to applaud any one of those performances, they would have instantly regretted it.

My sister was always something of a thespian. Her favourite activity of a weekend was to write, produce, direct, narrate and star in a play for my parents. I remember one of our family homes had sliding glass doors that separated the lounge from the dining room: the dining room became our stage, the sliding doors our scarlet, velvet curtains. The audience, usually of two, relaxed in the royal box that was our lounge.

I was always a useful prop. I remember having to put on my school tracksuit – it was olive green – and stand with my arms in the air for the duration of one play.  In the closing credits, I was allowed – as the tree – to take a bough bow.

Occasionally, when the demands of writing, producing, directing and narrating were too great for my sister, I was given the title role. I remember being cast as Rapunzel and having to sit on a chair on top of the dining room table and let down my “golden hair”.

Let me digress here to tell you a bit about my hair. My parents believed in common-sense economy and their approach to life was typically post-war: no nonsense, no frills and definitely no long hair. Every time my sister and I went for a haircut, I’d long to have a word in private with the hairdresser, so I could ask her for “a trim”. It never happened. My mom would always insist on a “good haircut”, which meant that – yet again – I would walk out of the hairdressing salon looking like a boy.

So, golden locks were not in abundance in our home. I am blonde, but short hair that did not quite reach my collar would not do for Rapunzel. We twisted a yellow and white striped towel that tumbled from my head like a really heavy plait, and my handsome prince duly climbed that to reach me in the tower that was the top of the dining room table. I think we might have used a chair or some other hidden device, but it all ended happily.

Another time, I was cast in the role of Queen Victoria. Gordon, a painfully shy and obnoxious little boy who was the son of my parents’ friends who were visiting that Sunday, was cast as Prince Albert. He did not want to be in the play. His older sister threatened him with something, so he duly obliged. We sat on chairs next to each other, as husband and wife usually do: I had a doily on my head, and he was biting his foot.  I banged on about how much I wished we had a baby, and he nodded and chewed his foot and closed his eyes. The curtain went up.

“Three weeks later!” announced the narrator, my sister. The curtain opened to reveal a scene in the home of Victoria and Albert. With doily-decorated head, I lovingly cradled a baby doll in my arms. Albert continued to bite his foot. An immaculate scene indeed.

At high school I had the excruciating experience – as house captain – of having to direct and act in a house play. I had no intention of appearing on stage, but as the date of our performance neared, several cast members got ill, broke their legs or lost their voices. The play was called “Ants” and I had to play the part of an army ant, dressed in camouflage fatigues. I wouldn’t let my parents come and watch the play, and my time on the stage features among my worst, most sweaty-palmed and agonising moments of my life. I was certainly not born for a career in theatre.

So, my stupid jazz hands are not going to hinder me from going to Zumba classes. I’ll continue to shimmy and twirl and stomp my feet to those crazy Latin beats, but I’ll sure as heck step away from the mirror. Well away.

Sunshine signing off for today!