Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama on a pumpkin

It’s not just costumes that the American citizenry have gone crackers over, it’s also pumpkins, and there is even a website, Yes, We Carve where you can download a stencil of Barack Obama to cut into your patriotic pumpkin.
Which is exactly what Bess Hinson of Ann Arbor did (that's her in the photo to the right)
If you have ever tried to carve a pumpkin – which is not, I admit, a major thing here in South Africa – then you will know just how time consuming this is.
I am telling you, the combo of elections and Halloween has seen major lunacy and the moon isn’t even full ...

Halloween fashion alert

The Americans have gone doolally over Halloween costumes which spoof or support their election contenders – and not just masks of Obama and McCain.

Many people will be turning themselves into Sarah Palin tomorrow night just by rummaging through their wardrobe, but still, costumes like the $22,99 "Miss Alaska" kit are selling like hotcakes.

If you are brave, skip the demure fitted jacket and pencil skirt and just slap the sash on over a beauty queen bikini (Sarah was a runner up the Miss Alaska pageant in her younger days). Whatever you do, though, don’t forget the glasses.

Hollywood starlet Lindsay Lohan is one celeb planning to dress as Palin for her Halloween party.

On the other hand, you could go for a less revealing option with a Sarah Palin mask which sells for $18,99.

Hmm, I've got a Halloween party on tomorrow night ... let’s see what the weather does, before we decide what to wear, shall we?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A whale of a photograph

Isn't this a magnificent photograph? It’s by National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, who has a feature on southern right whales – the kind we often see here off the Eastern Cape coast – in the October edition of the magazine.

This shot happened as Brian was standing on the ocean floor off New Zealand when a bus-sized whale came in and gently inspected his assistant, who was standing just a few feet away. "My heart was beating out of my chest," Brian said but he got the shot and the photo of that encounter has since become an Internet sensation.

Brian is more than a photographer, he’s also an ecologist and on his website, he warns that our oceans are in trouble.“There are some serious problems out there that I believe are not clear to many people. My hope is to continually find new ways of creating images and stories that both celebrate the sea yet also highlight environmental problems. Photography can be a powerful instrument for change.”

We have the real thing right here in South Africa. Only a month or so ago, we were sitting at Enrico’s in Plett, which has the most amazing views across the bay to Robberg. It was one of those clear, sunny winter Saturday afternoons and we counted close to a dozen whales swimming just a few hundred metres out to sea, truly an awe-inspiring sight.

We’ve seen whales by the busload in our region this winter but who of us ever gets the chance to get this close? It’s only thanks to professional like Brian that we know what these giants look like underwater.
He's never seen our wonderful sea life but is keen to. When I contacted him, he replied the same day via e-mail: “I have never visited South Africa, but have a great interest in doing so!”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Love can make you fat ... and thin

Women’s magazines are always telling us not to rely on a man for our happiness but did you see that story in the Sunday Times about how your happiness, or lack of happiness, in a relationship can make a difference to your weight?
That’s no news to girls who chomp chocolate when they’ve been ditched or feel sad ... According the study of 3,000 women, by a weight management firm there are five stages of a woman’s weight life cycle.

It shows that in a relationship stretching over several years, your body weight can swing up or down by about 10kg, which is a couple of sizes. The stages are:
1. Falling in love: she loses 2,4kg when she first falls in love
2. Comfort zone: she gains 4,5kg as the relationship settles into a groove
4. Getting married: she loses 4kg ... also known as “bridorexia”
5. Baby boom: she gains 6kg after falling pregnant and starting a family
6. Reinvention: she loses 5kg in a midlife makeover
It sounds pretty accurate to me.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Have you filed your income tax yet?

Taxing times
Do you battle to get your income tax return in on time? You might be suffering from a mysterious affliction, called “late-filing syndrome”.
At least, that’s what one American politician supposedly has, according to his lawyers. New York governor’s aide Charles J O’Byrne (who, by the way, has a university degree and earns about a million dollars a year) didn’t put in a tax return when he felt depressed – and the poor fellow felt depressed often enough to omit to pay the US government about $292 780, which is about R3-million at today’s tragic exchange rate. His lawyers have asked for the court to show mercy due to late-filing syndrome, a “condition that made it difficult for him to fill out his tax returns”.
Now, if you are anything like me, then you are probably all over the place with your own tax returns, because here in South Africa the dates and the forms change every year. Actually, I’ve lost track of this year’s date, isn’t it sometime soon? Or has it already been? It makes feel depressed just to think of it.
Anyone know where I can get in touch with Charles J O’Byrne’s lawyers?

Misleading number plates

Here is an update on the post on vanity number plates ... it's not from South Africa but by an Australian cartoonist, Tim Whyatt.
Perhaps what they say about men and sports cars is a global truth ...

Heavyweight politician breaks chair

Now you know why they are called fat cats
IN case you miss seeing the cross-reference for this on the front page of today's Herald, here is the video clip that has been whizzing round South Africa this week. It's of a politician, Nhlanhla Nene, falling off his chair while being interviewed on SABC television.
I nearly fell off my chair ...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

John Cleese twitters and blogs

One advantage of starting to blog is that you stumble upon other blogs, such as that of British comedian John Cleese.

If you haven’t already seen it, you might like to watch his US election interview where he is rather nasty about Sarah Palin (it is sooo funny). To reassure any long-standing dyed-in-the-wool Monty Python fans, parrots, yes, they feature.

I’m not saying Cleese is a 100% hero. He has, for example, an atrocious track record with the ladies (married and divorced all three of his blonde American wives, even the most recent, long-suffering pyschotherapist), but at least he admits he only lives in California because of the awful weather in London.

But look at how he started on the path of comedy: Cleese was expelled from his high school for vandalism. Apparently he painted footsteps next to a statue of a military big-wig to make it look as if the General had stepped down from his plinth to trot over and relieve himself at the nearby school toilet. That was the start of Cleese’s illustrious career and although he turns 70 next October, he has just started blogging, and he is on Twitter.

Actually, you might like to check out Twitter ... looks like it might be the next big (well, actually, small) thing)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Personalised number plates

Vanity of vanities?

I’m fascinated by the personalised, or vanity, plates South Africans choose, especially those in and around Port Elizabeth. There are the subtle ones, like PE’s municipal manager Graham Richards who used to have his initials, JGR on his Beemer.

Others are clearly just the person’s name – the bright orange Ford Focus driven by CALVIN and the black Honda driven by BONTLE, for example.

Then there are those which want to give you a message. The red Honda Jazz with 001 MUM is driven by a motherly sort, designer MornĂ©'s black Citroen dubbed CHICHI suits his persona to a T, and if the red Renault WOOF number plate didn’t give you enough of a scent, you’ll often find it parked where she works, at the vets.

As for the silver Pajero that says MY 4X4, seeing as this is driven by a well-coiffed matron, perhaps he has one too ... or maybe, just maybe, he drives the clapped-out 12-year-old rust bucket. Now that would be something ...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

National Bosses Day

You may not be the sort of person who would want to buy your boss a gift, it may seem a bit sucky-up’ish, but if you are that way inclined, it is National Bosses Day tomorrow (October 16) and you can have such fun tracking down the ideal gift online at the most entertaining website, Office Playground

Forget squashable stress balls, silver clacker spheres, paperweights and pot plants, you really can do much better.

One of Office Playground’s most bizarre offerings must surely be the yodelling pickle which you can use “to start off the day, as a tension breaker, to get your co-worker's attention, to wake up the office, as a stress reliever, or for yodelling practice!”

“Other inanimate food objects will fall short of greatness in the presence of the Yodelling Pickle.”
Quite so. Even the site’s wind-up pieces of sushi, spiral glitter wand, decision making dart board and bozo finger bop ball do indeed fall short. You’d have to be quite a humourless sort not to smile at the thought of a remote control whoopee cushion, just think of the havoc you could wreak in those long, dull meetings. Happy bosses day ...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Who is killing Port Elizabeth's road houses?

Something Good is gone
Iceland might have had a financial meltdown but I'm far more worried about those closer to home.
Something Good roadhouse on the PE beachfront is gone, and so too, apparently, is Westees, both casualties of our financial hassles.
Whether or not you like roadhouse food and old-fashioned bakery pies, they were both institutions and icons of their kind.
As far as roadhouses went, Flat Rock was the first. It not only closed down, but the entire building was flattened. There is just a big gaping hole out there now, with a stunning view over the waves.
Then the Red Windmill closed, re-opening in a new incarnation that, frankly, just isn’t the same. It’s right next door to a KFC, for starters, so guess where the kids will want to go ... roadhouses never were big on toys and other goodies for kids.
Then there was the Casbah, which had the most fantastic slap chips. Then that shimmied away from its eastern roots and into the western suburbs where, although it tried to re-invent itself, I never heard of it again.
Now Something Good has closed, apparently several months ago, so Pollok beach visitors this summer will have to look elsewhere for their soft-serves and giant hamburgers (and do you remember their foot-long viennas?)
The latest in Port Elizabeth foodie places to flop, I heard only yesterday, is Westees bakery, which has gone bankrupt. Tragic. At least the Hancock Street outlet in North End is still running, but the other branches have gone. And boy, were their chocolate eclairs and pies among the best.
What are we to make of it? Is it a sign of South Africans changing their eating habits? One person I spoke to says we eat lighter, coffee-shop type fare now, rather than the greasy burgers, chips and shakes of old.
If that were so, I would be quite happy to see more coffee shops like Vovo Telo, Dessie’s and Cobblestone, places that are small, artisanal, personal and delicious.
Yes, people are cutting back on their spending, but I don't think they necessarily are eating more healthily. There is still a market for those slap chips and burgers, the problem in my mind is that the fast-food chains like Macdonalds, KFC, Steers and Nando’s have cornered it.
And guess which the beachfront has ... yup, chains.

* Please send in photographs you might like to post of these outlets.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

La Femme breast cancer awareness day

La Femme readers raised R44,450 for the breast cancer unit of the Cancer Association of South Africa last weekend. The Herald photographer Fredlin Adriaan took masses of pictures, which you will find online at La Femme
Television celebrity Janez Vermeiren was the guest speaker and ... surprise, surprise ... he features in nearly every photograph! Even our very own The Herald Greenacres Miss Port Elizabeth Nono Gali thought he was mighty fine ... but then, she was the lucky one to take off his shirt.

Further down this page you'll find info on Reach for Recovery and the great work it does for women who are facing a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bay United Soccer explained

Who or what is Umlilo ... and why should you care?

The Herald had a cartoon recently where Madam and Eve were working on how to pronounce the name of South Africa’s new president Kgalema Mothlanthe, but it might be more relevant for the Eastern Cape to learn how to pronounce Umlilo and what it means.

Until their big win here against Orlando Pirates week or so ago, I had never heard the word but it’s the nickname for our wunderkids in Port Elizabeth’s Premier Soccer League Team, Bay United – and it’s a safe bet Umlilo will be as well known as the Jumbos or the Warriors come 2010.

“Watsh Umlilo” translates into English as “They're on fire” ... and my colleague Chumani Bambani filled me in with an “Idiot’s Guide to Bay United”.

Captain: Duran Francis (that's him in the white strip)

Coach: Vladislav Heric (that's him, just to the right, wearing red)

Colours: Red for home game, white for away

Home ground: EPRU Stadium (Telkom Park)
Owner: Sipho Pityana

Youngest player: Sherwin Smith, 19, from East London

Top goal scorer last season: Zambian international Linos Chalwe, who scored 11 goals.

Cutest player: That was a tough call for Chumani, who says: “The ladies seem to think that great eye-candy is captain Duran Francis, goalkeeper Arthur Bartman and last season's footballer of the year Gareth Ncaca.”

So, now you know you can impress the guys round the water cooler ... Laduma!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Chocolate is good for you

Is it really?

As a chocoholic who also is a journalist, my eyes always light up when I find copy on the news wires saying how healthy and wonderful chocolate is for you. It can ward off heart disease. It is full of anti-oxidants. All that sort of stuff. Of course, I immediately try and squeeze it into La Femme each week. But, now, chocolate lovers may have to be more circumspect because apparently these claims melt under a less excitable, more skeptical eye.

Look out for a book called The Healthy Skeptic, written by Dr Robert Davis, an award-winning health journalist who teaches at a US university. Sadly, he says we journalists are guilty of a “huge exaggeration of the truth”.

“The truth is that there have been small, short-term studies suggesting dark chocolate in large quantities may have some short-term, positive effects on the cardiovascular system, but it’s unclear whether there are any long-term benefits, and that’s what counts,” says Davis. “It gets translated to say dark chocolate is good for you ... and no food by itself has that kind of power”

He goes on to say “... These little nuggets of information can overwhelm us, and we lose sight of the big picture.” He is so right about those little nuggets. They are called Lindt Lindor chocolate balls and they can overwhelm me at any time.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Don’t you wish your desk had a doorbell?

Sometimes I just hate working in an open-plan office. There is just no privacy. Apart from the whole office hearing your private phone calls, anyone, including and especially the office dork, can just walk up and chat because you don’t have a door that you can close.

Of course, most of the time I’m only too happy to chat because the crazy folk at The Herald are fascinating (you may have read some of their blogs – if not, then go to our website front page for more). However, sometimes, like right now, just before the weekend, it’s hard to stay focussed on the daily grind.

Here is a really useful invention, though, that would make a great Christmas present for workers in this position: I bet that Dilbert would love it. If you order it now, even with the South African post office’s not so snappy service, you should receive it in time for Christmas. It is a Cubicall doorbell to announce a visitor’s arrival at your cubicle or office space, and I suppose you could even hang it on your office door if you are lucky enough to have a proper office.

The cubicaller has three volume levels and a dozen ring tones, including chirping birds, cats meowing, a foghorn and the classic “ding dong”. It uses two AAA batteries and attaches to the wall of your cubicle with a double-sided adhesive tape and a hook-and-loop fastener. Not bad, eh?

One design flaw though ... unlike answering your home door bell, you can’t pretend you’re not in and ignore it ...

Christmas is coming

THE Christmas Shop opened at King’s Court in Port Elizabeth last night. If you have a child, you’ll know how hard it is to explain to them why Christmas is still so far away when there are signs of it bubbling up all around – as in the Christmas Shop, a jewelled emporium dedicated to the season.

Look at these little angels, captured last night by Herald photographer Sam Majela.

And try not to be a Christmas grump and say “Bah humbug! It's only October 3! And these prices are outrageous! I can get cheaper at Checkers or Clicks or Makro”. Yes, of course you can (for some of the stuff) but that may not be the point. Rather treat it as a family outing, a visit to a glittering museum or art gallery, entrance free, and be transported into a child-friendly fairyland of twinkling treasures, an Aladdin’s cave, or rather Santa’s grotto. Who says you have to buy something?

For me, the Christmas Shop has become one of those must-do Port Elizabeth outings for the whole family. Perhaps it’s our post-millennium equivalent of walking up Happy Valley in Humewood to see the cartoon characters lit up at night or taking a drive down Main Street to see the Christmas lights. You can’t really drive down Main Street – now Govan Mbeki Avenue – at the moment, due to the renovations and “pedestrianisation”. And as for Happy Valley, hmmm, you may not want to do that night walk anymore unless it’s in a large group (South Africans will know why this is sad but if you are reading this elsewhere in the world, well, come visit one day and we’ll explain our topsy-turvy town).
It’s easy to like the Greek cousins, Evy and Maria, who run the shop – Maria Markides the beautiful and Evy Evlambiou the brave. Evy climbed Mount Kilimanjaro a few months back and then played an Afghanistani woman under the burka in The Vagina Monologues at the Opera House. I don’t know Maria so well but Evy, to me, is a cross between Mr Magorium and Molly Mahoney in Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium – a wise, ageless soul in charge of a magical space. I imagine Evy is not 243, though, but you can probably ask her.

Now, there is still that little problem of how to explain to the over-excited children that it is actually still 83 sleeps until the big day ...