Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

If, like me, you adore food and Christmas, then you may well eat and drink too much over the next couple of weeks. I know, I know, that’s not actually what Christmas is about but for most people it is one of the givens of the season. So this evening when the family sits down to its Christmas Eve feast why don’t I skip the champagne cocktail, pass on the roast potatoes and say “no” to the pud with brandy butter. It will be far better for my physical health.
On the other hand, why don’t I just hack off my right arm with a blunt butter knife and while I am at it why don’t I also poke out my left eye with a chipolata wrapped in bacon.

After all, it is not the week or so of gastronomic excess that is making me, how shall I put it ... ahem ... cuddly ... (I have a stubborn feminist streak that just refuses to call myself “fat”) (even if I was) (and I am not) (so there), it is actually what I do the other 360 or so days of the year that makes the difference.

Sure, Christmas does present so many opportunities to over-indulge but I’m not going to blame Santa. I am going to enjoy my holiday treat and I hope you do too ... let’s worry about the calories in January, because as they say in the (South African) classics, more is nog ’n dag.

La Femme closes for two weeks now, so see you in the New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas cards with a difference

Last week I posted a piece on how few people are sending old-fashioned Christmas cards (and discovered that Jeanne of Cook sister fame still sends 50+ .. wow! I am impressed at that!).
This week I stumbled upon an artist, Andrew Shaffer, who sends cards that are selling pretty well, considering that the US is in a depression. The reason? He is selling “great depression” cards, plus a funny range aimed at cynical sorts and atheists. He sees quite a resemblance between Charles Darwin and Santa Claus (as you can see from the "Evolution of Man" card alongside).
To me, Christmas still does begin and end with Christ but there are plenty of folk in this world who just do see it either as a party or a marketing opportunity.
Come to think of it, the few cards that I have received this year at La Femme haven’t had much to do with Christ either. They have mostly been from public relations people who obviously have a budget to schmooze clients with cards.
Now, journalists and PRs always have and probably always will co-exist rather uneasily. We do need each other, to be sure, but it’s a love-hate relationship. Basically, they love sending me stuff that I would hate to use in La Femme. Then, at Christmas, they send me a card just so that I can remember and feel guilty about it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tacky Christmas sweaters

Who said Americans lack a sense of irony? They certainly have a sense of humour. One of the biggest Christmas hits this season is the ugly sweater party, where guests turn up the most horrible jerseys that they can find - the tackier, the better.
And if you can get a friend to dress up and go along with you - as in this photo - double bonus.
Even a heart throb like Colin Firth couldn’t make a tacky sweater look sexy. Bridget Jones saw him wearing a ludicrous jumper and then immediately discarded him from her list of potential suitors. It takes the whole book for the girl to come to her senses and realise that he didn’t choose the sweater and that he, actually, was a pretty nice guy.
Thank goodness we live in Africa. We may have crime galore, a recession that looks as if it will bite even deeper next year and a constantly changing political landscape but there is only so much fashion damage you can do in a T-shirt and flip-flops ...

Clever Christmas shopping

The thought of all that extra shopping at Christmas blows my mind, not to mention the budget. It’s tiring and stressful to get through the madding crowds in the run-up to Christmas, fight your way through the long queues to the tills at Checkers or Pick ’n Pay and then navigate that wobbly trolley with the stuck wheel out to the car, unpack in the hot sun and wind, and drive off home again.If the outing was for fun stuff and you had heaps of money, then I can see shopping can be enjoyable but grocery shopping? Duh, not.
Worst of all, it’s when you get home at Saturday lunchtime and unpack your shrinking pile of groceries that you realise, actually, you forgot to get tea bags and mince pies and the relatives are descending for a pre-Christmas visit this afternoon. You look through your list – that’s if you are even organised enough to even have a written-down list – and realise you left several vital items off. Soooo annoying.
This is where the SmartShopper grocery list assistant can be handy. Simply speak the name of a grocery item into this electronic device, which mounts on the wall or magnetically affixes to the fridge. It remembers and organises your list into categories like produce, drinks and household cleaners, and prints the list at the touch of a button.
SmartShopper recognizes 2,500 common household items, and more can be added. Here in South Africa I suppose we would add Mrs Balls chutney, boerewors and Marmite. At around $100 (more than a thousand rand) it’s a touch pricy for South Africans, but can you imagine how useful it would be?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What's in a name, Bronx Mowgli?

People give their children the oddest names. In the olden days in South Africa, white people used to chuckle at black kiddies called Sixpence, Pepsi, or Hurry-up. Of course, the black kiddies had perfectly good African names that the white people just didn't have a clue how to pronounce.
And there has always been a tendency in Afrikaans-speaking families for made-up names like Heraldine, Fredline and Loumarizanne.There was a picture in The Herald the other day of a child called Schjimoné, and I read yesterday of a young swimmer called Anoraine. Shame, what happened to plain Jane? It’s certainly easier to spell.
But we English-speakers are also prone to it: I’ve bumped into a waitress in George recently called Shyne. Apparently, her grandmother was called Shine, and her folks thought they would give it a twist with the “y” in the middle.
But, really, the celebs Stateside put our odd names to shame: this week The Herald also reported on Bronx Mowgli, who is the unfortunately named offspring of Ashlee Simpson. That's mum in the picture, with dad Pete Wentz. Young Bronx Mowgli is one month old and already his name has been voted the most disliked male baby name in a survey of around 5,000 visitors to a baby names website. Ag shame, baby, you edged out Sophocles Iraia Clement who was a close second-to-bottom.
I kid you not ...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Port Elizabeth season opens

The fireworks at the opening of the season just get better and better ... take a look at this photo by The Herald photographer Fredlin Adriaan ... and there was half an hour of brilliant flashes like this in the night sky at Shark Rock pier here in Port Elizabeth last night. The Herald reported today that there were 100,000 people and I could well believe it. The weather was perfect, around 22 degrees C and only a tiny breeze.
Oh, and Freshly Ground, the group performing after the fireworks, were fabulous. Port Elizabeth rocks!
Tip for next time though: take the Schoenies road round to Summerstrand, or leave home before 7pm or you won't get there by the time the show starts at 8.30.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Do you still send "real" Christmas cards?

You might have read Jeremy Maggs’s column in The Herald today, about the demise of Christmas cards.
That really does bring back fond memories and I suspect by the time our kids are adults Christmas cards will be seen in the same light as gramophone records, those dial-up telephones with holes for your fingers (when did you last see one of those?) and other quaint relics of the technological dark ages.
This year I’ve had heaps of Christmas cards by e-mail, and I suppose I could string them up on a bit of red ribbon and hang them over my desk at work, but they are just not as festive as the old-fashioned variety. Plus our office printer is only black and white.
One NGO in Port Elizabeth, sent me a lovely card, in PowerPoint form, signed by a totally different charity organisation. Now, I’m not sure if the sender had Alzheimer’s approaching (one of them was, in fact, the Algoa Bay Council for the Aged), or if it was merely someone too hasty to forward a cute card and not bothering to change the details.
That’s the problem with the electronic version, it’s just too easy to send, hence you get sent cards by the most obscure folk whom you don’t really know, and you send them right back.
Here is the one I’m planning to send out just before I go on leave ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shoot out in Central Port Elizabeth

Today I have something slightly more serious to post. The Herald building is on the edge of the inner city of Port Elizabeth and most of us here at Newspaper House are used to strolling down Govan Mbeki Avenue in our lunch break, either to pop into the bank, or pay an account, or browse through the shoes (Yes, there are many suburban folk who shudder at the thought of dipping a white toe into “Africa” but in case they haven’t noticed, we actually do live in Africa and not lower London or western Washington. Get with the plan, folk.)
Anyway, yesterday was hot and on my way back from town I idly looked at the long queue at KFC, thinking how delicious one of their soft serves would be, but was it really worth that long queue when I probably should have already been back at my desk, slaving away at next week’s La Femme, when all of a sudden, a crowd of folk interrupted my reverie and came swarming round the corner and swept me off deep into Traduna Mall.
“Run, run, sister, run!" shrieked one mama, pushing me out of Govan Mbeki. “They are shooting!”
She grabbed me by the arm and yanked me into a shoe shop (never an entirely unpleasant experience for me, I must confess) and told me the buzz was that someone had tried to hijack a car outside in the street.
The police, or whoever, let off a few shots - which was why the passers-by and shoppers were running in terror. A few minutes later, when things quietened down, I gingerly stepped back out to investigate and found two policemen waving their revolvers over two very ordinary looking guys lying flat on the grit, arms spread, next to a dented car.
I decided to forgo the ice-cream - it seemed a bit trivial after the terror and pandemonium – and hot-foot it back the few hundred metres or so to The Herald in case the news desk wanted to follow up for a pic or a story.
Which they did, sort of, expressing polite but mild interest. The problem was that it was too small, really, to go into a newspaper in today’s South Africa.
“It’ll just be a ‘short’,” warned the news ed.
“It was all over by the time I got there,” said the photographer, who got sent out.
"No one was killed, or even hurt,” said another.
Another day in sunny South Africa. Darn, and I missed out on that ice-cream ...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Light bulbs are banned

What a bright idea
The European Union has agreed to ban the traditional lightbulb from the end of next year. They will be replaced with energy-efficient bulbs, and the first to go will be the ever-so-useful 100-watt bulb. After that, the ban will be extended to lower wattages, with a complete ban of the familiar incandescent bulb by 2012. And, I am sure, with our Eskom hassles, South Africa will no doubt in time follow suit.
This has huge implications for joke writers around the world who will be deprived of the familiar “how many (insert group you wish to insult) does it take to change a light bulb?” After all, you’ll hardly ever change one of these bulbs, because they last for ages.
Energy-saving lightbulbs can help us with climate change and household bills, with even one bulb saving up to as much as R900 worth of electricity over its flickering lifespan.
Politically correct though they may be, however, they just don’t have the same comedic potential somehow. So, for old times sake, here is my personal fave (and, no, it's not a blonde joke):
How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the light bulb must really want to change.
Please do send in yours, specially if it has a lekker South African flavour.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Take that you Bratz

Come on Barbie, let's go party ...

If you get The Herald, you can read in La Femme on Wednesday how Barbie has beaten the Bratz. And for those of you who don’t have pre-school daughters: that’s Mattel’s Barbie doll winning a court battle against MGA’s Bratz dolls.
The end result means that you won’t be able to buy Bratz anymore, because Barbie has knocked the usurpers off the perch that was hers for so long. Barbie, in case you didn’t know, is 40 something, and the Bratz only seven years old – probably the same age as their biggest fans.
"Few parents will shed a tear at this turn of events," wrote The Telegraph reporter Sarah Vine. "Despite her reputation as an anti-feminist fantasy, Barbie’s plastic smile and unfeasible chest-to-waist ratio are as nothing faced with the unalloyed trashiness of the Bratz dolls."
She continued in the same biting vein: “Barbie may have ridiculous breasts but at least she is not parcelled up to look like jailbait while the four core Bratz characters, with their ostentatiously ‘street’ styling and abrasive attitude, are the Pussycat Dolls of the toy world.
"Overtly sexualised, fashion and fame-obsessed, the principal Bratz pursuits are dressing up, going out, parading about in front of a microphone and doing their make-up. They come pre-daubed in garish eyeshadow and mascara, with glossy, collagen-enhanced lips and distinctly minxy, come-hither expressions. They make Barbie look like a Sunday school teacher.Infuriatingly, little girls love them – in much the same way as little girls used to love Barbie."
You must have seen them on the shelves ... Barbie mermaids and princesses compete with Bratz who look more Paris and Britney than Pocohantas and Cinderella. Both are vacuous, but for me the scales tilt in favour of old-fashioned fairy tales and away from cheap glamour and empty celebrity.
Who knows, though, in another 40 years maybe the Bratz will seem as wholesome as bran muffins ... and Barbie will be pushing up daisies or steering her zimmer frame around an old age home.
Conceivably, Mattel, having won its court case, should own the Bratz concept which would make Barbie and the girls ... hmm, new best friends?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Not Rudolph

Now this reindeer-shaped coat rack may seem wacky but look closely and you'll see that it is actually quite a practical item ... if Port Elizabeth’s Christmas Shop sold these, I would want to buy one.
They come from a suitably seasonal country ... and I love their name. Icelandic graphic designer Ingibjörg Hanna calls the rack Not Rudolph. As her website says, , Ingibjörg "loves to reawake the child inside us all" with her playful and functional creations.
She also has a series of coat hangers shaped like birds. Her “raven” series consists of three different types, one mounted from the ceiling, a standard coat hanger and one that is able to clip trousers or skirts. Iceland may be bankrupt, but it has some bright sparks living there.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Real Beauty

The many faces of Eve

I was up in Johannesburg last weekend and the friend I was visiting took me to the Goodman Gallery to show me an exhibition by Jodi Bieber titled Real Beauty. Wow, what an eye opener ... it consisted of massive photographs of South African women in their underwear but these were not the young and beautiful sort that normally grace the fashion pages of La Femme.

No, no, no, they were all ages and sizes and shades, and some were ancient and wrinkled, others flabby and veined, or just wildly overweight. What they all had in common was that they were not models but average women, just like you and me.

You can find out why former press photographer Bieber chose this theme in her press release here. It's worth reading.

Now, when I asked a colleague to scan in the exhibition photo for me to use on this blog he did a double take. After all, in the media we don’t usually publish photographs of people semi-nude unless they are young and beautiful ... it was a sobering thought.

But, you know what? After I had looked around the exhibition, I discovered I could see real beauty in many of them. Every woman had something special, a spark of something. Courageous, certainly, to show so much of their physical imperfections and yes, they were each, in their own way, beautiful.

Viva real beauty!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hypochondriacs get worse

Hello cyberchondriacs ...
If you leap online and then reach the worst possible conclusion every time you have a sniffle you might just be a cyberchondriac – the new millennium version of a hypochondriac.
That cough? I may have TB. Sore hands? Carpal tunnel syndrome, and that means I’ll have to stop working on a computer forever. That itchy eye? It’s galloping Pink Eye. That nodule growing on my ankle? Bubonic plague.
A new study shows that self-diagnosis by search engine frequently leads web searchers to conclude the worst. The study found that web searches for things like headache and chest pain were just as likely or more likely to lead people to pages describing serious conditions as benign ones, even though the serious illnesses are much more rare.
Actually, I blame shows like Grey’s Anatomy as well, the patients there never just have a migraine, it’s always a brain tumour or something far more unusual and why shouldn’t I have an extra-special illness too?
I have to go now, all this writing makes me a little tired and I am terribly afraid I have an impeding case of narcolepsy.
Actually, that’s not a rare and terminal disease as a former colleague, Mr G, actually did have narcolepsy. At least that was his excuse he gave for nodding off in front of his computer when he should have been sub-editing our deathless prose.
The bigger problem was, though, that he used to surf the internet for pornography in between subbing stories and all too often he would nod off. We work in an open-plan office which meant that these lurid images were up on his screen for passers-by to see. Literally, a case of being caught napping ...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nog huisies ...

I didn't have space to post all the quaint Buffalo Bay house names yesterday, so here are some more. For those of you wanting to find out more about the village, click here (just like the place, the site is tiny). You'll find yesterday's photographs on yesterday's post, Almal wil 'n huisie by die see he.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Almal wil 'n huisie by die see he ...

("Everyone wants a little house at the sea" ... Koos Kombuis)

Holiday homes can be shacks and they can be mansions. Buffalo Bay, or Buffelsbaai to its mostly Afrikaans residents, has both and with soul aplenty. You can stroll around the hamlet in less than half an hour. I felt like Bill Bryson travelling round Europe in Neither Here Nor There, as everything is so fetchingly familiar and yet at the same time it’s another world (well, to an English-speaking visitor, that is).
Buffalo Bay is an unpretentious little village, close enough to Knysna for the shops and yet far enough away to avoid the crowds and chi-chi Disney-fication that has afflicted parts of this beautiful region.
It’s almost as if the homeowners have entered a competition to see who can give his or her home the cutest names. Only a few spoilsports have stuck to the street numbers.
I loved the variety and imagination these signs showed but, just like Obama, Jou Doring, there are just no English equivalents for some of these names ...