As a creature of above-average amount of imperfections, I am, more often than not very intimidated by magazine programmes promoting a certain lifestyle. And in a country like South Africa, where so many people survive on the very basics, a “lifestyle” magazine programme like Top Billing gets my goat even before I’ve turned on the telly.
Top Billing has been on our screens for many, many years; it’s practically an institution. But, over the two decades of its existence, it seems to have gone from Lifestyle Magazine Programme to being The Magazine Programme Promoting a Lifestyle that Almost Nobody Can Have and Can Only Drool Over. Wikipedia claims Top Billing is targeted at successful South Africans “……who lead the’ best of the good life’ via their achievements, lifting as they grow.” I always thought that, if you grew, lifting would become more of a problem instead of less…
All about the bucks
In the past, I watched it regularly; I didn’t feel so intimidated by the content. These days Top Billing is all about creating – or promoting – trends, in order for people to go out and burn the plastic fantastic, all in the name of blending in with Those Who Have Made It. You never know, if you fake it for a while, you might just end up making it in the end…
Let’s start off with its rail-thin (or, for males, bulging), perpetually grinning, sleek, bejewelled, obsessively draped presenters. Let me make it clear to the rest of the real human beings out there: it’s virtually impossible to look like that unless you spend 50% of your day at the gym, and the other 50% with your stylist, dentist, hairdresser, pedicurist, manicurist and teeth bleacher (occasionally making time for a protein shake and a spirulina tablet). I don’t think these people even have pores – they don’t sweat! Occasionally, their gleaming locks might be ever-so-slightly ruffled by a designer breeze, but for the rest, nothing moves on a Top Billing presenter.
The women in particular make my innards churn in confusion and resentment – probably all the sour grapes in my gut. They stare, unblinkingly, at the camera, their heads sometimes tilted slightly to one side, like calculating budgies. And they have down pat the one thing that all the female presenters on Top Billing have been trained rigorously to do – grinning with both your upper and lower teeth.
The Top Billing Grin
The Top Billing Grin is halfway between a smile and a grimace – probably inspired by that famous swimsuit poster girl of the 1970’s, Farrah Fawcett, who had twice the amount of teeth of a normal person, all evenly spaced, all blindingly white, and all on show at the same time.
The Top Billing Girls show their teeth all the time – right through pronouncing deeply complicated names of weird Bulgarian dishes, being pinched by uncomfortable shoes and proclaiming the merits of designer chairs. If somebody kicks them in the butt, they continue smiling. When a tsunami thunders into the studio, they continue smiling. When they accidentally break wind – can one fart in clothes that tight? – they keep on smiling. I think they actually sleep that way – unsettling their bed partners to the point where they drape a facecloth over all those exposed teeth so they don’t dream of being devoured by a hyena.
The Top Billing Walk
The next step is the Top Billing Walk – preferably performed with the aid of a sweeping staircase. This is done in a pair of hobbling, pinching, sky-high heels, in a dress so tight it could probably crack a rib, and with gleaming hairdo and chandelier earrings all perfectly in place. So, you suck in your non-existent, rock-hard abdomen, you bare all your teeth, place on manicured-to-fuck hand on the banister and start walking, slooooowly, down the staircase…
And, holy crap, you still need to mouth off a memorised script in a beautifully modulated voice, not trip on your dress’s hem, keep your breasts – usually squashed sky-high by the creation of some sadistic designer who doesn’t have breasts – from spilling over the top of your neckline, see to it that the chandeliers don’t swing too wildly as you walk…… I am starting to develop some sympathy for these poor women. Combine a straitjacket, foot binding, having your scalp burned by a hairdryer, being poisoned by a variety of paints and sprays and having your bosoms squashed to fuck, and one can safely say: “Who needs Guantanamo Bay?”
One thing I’m completely sure of – they cannot possibly be feminists.
The Top Billing Six Pack
The men, as always, are relatively free to look hunky without having to endure too much pain – their hair is left in relative peace, no torture devices swing from their ear lobes and they wear shoes that won’t lead to bunions, surgery or a Zimmer frame later in life. Although they occasionally get to wear suits, they mostly swan around in board shorts, showing off their Top Billing Six Packs – they probably spend 50% of their day trying to maintain their abdominal splendour, as the producers will find any excuse possible to get them to show these off. (I don’t mind that. Really. Off with that shirt!) And they wear the occasional suit. Which would still fit comfortably. Not fair.
Then, help us all, there’s the content.
Top Billing is “aspirational”, in other words, it shows us all those luvverly things that most people don’t have, are supposed to want and most probably will never be able to afford. All of the above is stashed in houses worth zillions of rands, where Those Who Have Made It in life get to show off their stuff, sashaying across the football-field-sized, gleaming, polished floors; their children, dogs and general human mess locked away in the store room for the duration of the shoot.
This is what Top Billing keeps telling us: these are the “designer” people that we’re supposed to aspire being like. Tall, slim, successful, wealthy, adored, draped in designer gear, and owning more shoes than…(is Imelda Marcos, the original shoe slut, a dated reference? Paris Hilton? Anyone?). Their great ambitions feature things like having their own brand of perfume and launching a range of designer handbags. I have had visions of launching a designer handbag, and it somehow involves a catapult like one of those featured in Lord of the Rings…
The Top Billing Wedding
Let’s not forget those weddings; the ones that cost more than most people’s houses. Where two famous, gorgeous (mostly young) things get together, decide to get hitched and hire a theatrical wedding planner with as many – if not more – white teeth as they have. They get to blow a wad of money on strange things like table settings, charger plates, upside-down flower arrangements, transparent tables and witty messages to their guests embroidered onto Egyptian papyrus by a community initiative. The wedding dress is the size of a marquee tent and costs even more, and the bridal retinue consists of twenty people, all in identical ensembles.
In a recent broadcast a whole phalanx of folks-in-the-know – florists, fashion designers, caterers – was consulted on the latest wedding trends. There was much earnest discussion of “global tribe”, which includes tagging guests’ names to their toast glasses, and artichoke flowers in the table arrangements. Huh? And, with the “urban chic” trend, do remember the see-through plastic chairs – I was imagining the view from beneath the see-through plastic chair – and laser-cut perspex for your guests’ names. My favourite line from this specific insert? “Naked bulbs have been huge for a good six months or so.” NO! REALLY?
The Fash Pack
In a recent fashion insert there were many girlish whoops of fashionista joy during the discussion of the new Techno Tribal trend, with the sponsorship of a major retail giant that is currently punting that line really hard to push up sales. This included a scary fusion of “high-low hems”, animal prints, metallics (animal prints and metallics together? How?) and platforms or wedges. It all looked mismatched and very, very uncomfortable to me.
Then again, this is coming from somebody who is pushing fifty, and who lives in loose cotton pants, T-shirts and flipflops.
So. Not. Superwoman.
Am I jealous of the lifestyle that is punted on this programme? Not really. I am, by nature, a lazy woman, which means I know how much work, effort and moolah it takes to maintain that kind of looks, wardrobe and house…
My couch is a co-creation between an affordable furniture chain and my cats – they’re the only ones in our house that get manicures. I think peeling paint is interesting. Our bed is so old that we take turns to sleep in The Trench, where the springs have died and gone to heaven. All this “Shabby Boho” doesn’t really bother me that much, though. Except perhaps when I end up in The Trench. That means only one thing – backache in the morning.
There’s one thing I wouldn’t mind, though. A female Top Billing presenter’s body. Then again, that might lead to urges to go dress in the Techno Tribal style. Or walk down a staircase with The Top Billing Grin plastered all over my face…
Not on your life. Too much work!
Today is 26 November 2012.
This could mean a few things. Firstly, Mercury is moving direct after being in retrograde for most of the month, which hopefully means that my life is going to be free of delays and mechanical failure for a while. Please, oh please; no more shit! It also means that I have to start paying the accounts for the month. If you’re a doomsday type with the Mayan calendar behind your toilet door, it could also mean that we’re about a month and four days away from the end of the world.
Even though our planet might be exploding into a million little shards on 31 December, there is one thing I fear infinitely more. Whenever I leave the house, I start sweating like a racehorse, my pulse races and my only desire is to crawl as far under the bed as I possibly can. So, what could be worse?
It’s one month from Christmas. That’s why.
I noticed the first tinsel and fake pine trees at the beginning of November, when I was visiting my mom in Pretoria. A small bead of sweat surreptitiously trickled down my back. My blinking rate increased. And I looked at my already challenged wallet with trepidation. How hard would this poor little bugger have to work, the closer the Silly Season drew?
Up to now, I’ve been spared most of the usual horror. I don’t go to large shopping malls at all – I’m a neurotic with above-average anxiety levels, so dropped ice cream cones, screaming youngsters, unflattering overhead lighting and distorted announcements don’t do it for me. My local mall is small and manageable, thank you very much. And, with the recession making more people careful with their spending, it hasn’t been that full or noisy. Nobody has tortured my ears with the enduring horror of Boney M – with Mary’s Boy Child or my ultimate ghastly Chrismas song, The Little Drummer Boy.
But I know it’s coming.
Christmas through the years
My childhood memories of the Festive Season are vague but quite pleasant. Christmas on the farm, especially, was a thing of beauty and simplicity. There were no shops, so the relentless tinkling of the cash register wasn’t even part of the equation. Although the stuffing-of-the-face was already very much present. The human race will find any excuse imaginable to slit a few animals’ throats, roast them, stick pineapple rings and cherries on them, drench them in mint sauce and tear into their flesh like a bunch of Cro Magnons after the lean season.
As a young adult, far from home and with hardly any family left and the rest living on the other side of the planet, I often had to make elaborate plans so I didn’t end up reading a suspense novel in bed while munching on a bag of chips on Xmas eve. Sometimes, my life was saved by friends who invited me over – I met my friend-of-many-years Lesley when her dad, Don, who was a colleague of mine, invited me to spend Christmas Day with them.
Even these days, the Boyf and I hardly ever spend Christmas together as I’m in Pretoria keeping my elderly mother company over the “big days” and he’s down here with his birth family.
A lonely time for many
In the end, if you don’t spend Christmas as a clan, created through marriage and procreation – with children as one of the most important accessories – you get to feel lonely, anxious and completely alienated. In short – you feel like a failure. I know that I often am at my saddest over the festive time. Because I’m thinking of all those folks who somehow didn’t end up in a family situation; who are watching television and eating a sandwich while the rest of the plane are opening presents. Or who are out there, without any shelter or food.
A gay friend of mine, who like me doesn’t have a conventional family, tells me how he once spent Christmas Day all on his own, munching on a Kentucky Rounder – his parents had both already passed on. I once invited two lost souls like myself over for Christmas Eve. We drily referred to it as the “Orphans’ Christmas Eve”. In sheer rebellion against the gammon-and-ham-and-leg-of-lamb thing, The Boyf and his sister last year spent lunchtime on 25 December working their way through a barrel of KFC. Just imagine – no dishes! I bloody hope they recycled all that packaging, though…
There are lots of people in a conventional family setup who pretty much associate Christmas with noise, crowds of people and being busier than any other time of the year, despite it being a so-called “holiday”. My sister often says she equates Christmas with work, work and more work.
All screwed up by retail
What is this thing about being alone on Xmas that drives some people to the brink?
First, let me make one thing clear – I don’t celebrate Xmas as a religious event. And for those who do; I respect that. To me, that’s the only valid reason one should make this day any different from others. But if you don’t, and you don’t have a traditional family set up, and you somehow are still made to feel that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, then you know that somebody has gone and turned what should have remained a simple, peaceful and loving religious celebration, into a terrifying circus.
Yes. I blame it all on retail. Except for those other events that they try and squeeze to capacity (think Valentine’s Day and Easter, among others), Xmas is their One Big Opportunity to milk you like a cow. And to make you feel like you simply don’t fit in.
Just look at the ads – cute little kids round the Christmas tree, mom and dad looking cosy and loving, with a reasonably well-preserved grandma and granddad looking at their clan with enormous pride. The scene is all dressed up with baubles, tinsel, wrapping, fairy lights and all the other obligatory Christmas crap.
Ah, and the window displays in the shops! All carefully draped and twinkling invitingly to get you to walk in there and buy, buy, buy. It reminds me of a story I once read while I was working in Japan. A foreigner was strolling around a shopping area during the festive season, and chanced upon a nativity scene in a shop window…complete with a mini Father Christmas in the manger. That sort of sums up the retail angle of Christmas, doesn’t it? The Japanese – whose religions include mostly Shinto and Buddhism – celebrate Christmas with a fervour that is astonishing.
Another angle – and a good one – that gets punted to smithereens is the “season of goodwill” copy line. At Christmastime, people are much more inclined to help out those in need. This is wonderful, of course. My only comment: goodwill should happen all year round. Not just in December.
I am hoping that, in the economically challenging time, that people will concentrate on the goodwill bit this year, as so many can’t afford the retail orgy on offer out there.
So what’s the answer?
I have no idea. The human race is an opportunistic species – so squeezing the consumer for his last penny over December will never go away. I’ll do what I can to survive those Big Days, and appreciate the time I have left with mom – she’s almost 90.
Then, I’ll get one with what’s left of 2012. And make a little list of resolutions for 2013. That is, of course, only if those Mayans were wrong. If they were right, I will never have to endure Boney M’s Christmas album EVER again. A fleeting thought that brings sheer bliss….
Because of a whole spectrum of reasons, including a laziness I most definitely didn’t get from my two workaholic parents, I have only recently dragged my ever-blossoming ass back to the gym after a spectacular four-year absence. In these four years, I spent a lot of time on my bed with a bunch of pillows underneath my knees, with an enormous pout because my back hurt so much. Patently ignoring the fact that exercise would most probably HELP for my aches and pains.
Then, one day, when even my faithful fat pants were starting to strain at the seams, I realized it was either back to the gym, or live in tents or burkas for the rest of my breathing days. I had also recently weaned myself off the happy pills, and needed an alternative before I stuck a knife into someone.
The Gym and I
In my life, I have had a long, convoluted, complicated love-hate relationship with the institution of the gymnasium. I went there for the first time at the tender age of eleven, with my hyperactive overachiever of a mother. Back then, they still had mostly free weights, aerobics hadn’t even been born and you could subject your bottom to one of those vibrating straps, hoping for mercy and less cottage cheese on your thighs.
The sauna was a major attraction back then. My mom remembers once sitting in the sauna, which was jam-packed with naked women from wooden wall to wooden wall, when a woman walked in, looked at them in enormous surprise and said: “Ooh – you all look exactly the same!”
I always loathed that constricted space, shimmering with heat and blooming with pink, wobbly flesh. Now, in my middle years with a broken temperature meter, the mere thought of a sauna has me sweating like a horse after an exceptionally challenging steeplechase. Neigh!
Gym in the Stone Age
In my varsity years, when I was dating body – sports jocks, the gym was a very important part of my life. I was a vision, carefully put together: neon-coloured leotards – who still wears a leotard? – footless tights (yes, that’s what we called them) and legwarmers, heavily bunched around the ankles. (For those of you under 35 – legwarmers are awful, woollen sausage casings that you wear just above your trainers. Why? Their name states the purpose but that only works for ballet dancers and real athletes. For the rest, they’re merely decorative.) Those were the eighties, and, bluddy hell, we were so cool. Our movies were Flashdance and Footloose and Breakdance. Our little bodies were flawless, but we strained and strained to make them even better.
With Calvin Klein’s name really big in the glossies and Y-fronts making a comeback (BIG ew), I once even went to the weight gym wearing my then boyfriend’s underpants over my tights. Like Superman. I still cannot believe that I actually did that; the stares I got were priceless. It’s all Julia Roberts’ fault – there was a feature on her in some American mag and they had photographed her playing in the waves, wearing a Calvin Klein man’s vest and Y-fronts. But that was Julia Roberts. She could wear a G-string back to front without a wax – like a chick from the Free State on Durban beach – and get away with it.
I remember slathering myself with aqueous cream before getting onto the stationary bike so it would look like I sweated really, really hard – the water-based cream would melt on my arms and the “sweat” would run down them in a spectacular fashion. The exercise wreaked utter havoc with my mullet-perm (this is true. May I be forgiven by my hair one day), but hey, that was a small price to pay for this eager, boyfriend-pleasing gym bunny. I also did weights – I wrote about that in a previous column – and screwed up a disc in my lower back in the process (see sore back info above)
The comeback. And with the comeback, the changing room
In the years between then and now, I’ve done a few months at a time at the gym, then left for a few months, to return for a few more. It’s never really been a habit. And then the increasingly sore back finally gave me an excuse to stay away for a really long time.
So, about three months ago, I finally took myself and my large tracksuit pants, ten year-old Adidas cross-trainers, big T-shirt and ever-present large-sweater-tied-around-waist back to the hallowed halls of Wembley Square Virgin Active. I was terrified out of my wits.
The first obstacle for anybody to whom gyming doesn’t come naturally is the changing room. Let me state it categorically for all to know: I do NOT undress in front of other people. When I was really slim, I would occasionally slip in and out of something in the communal changing space, but I did it so fast that they only saw a mini-blur before I was suitably covered up again. So I usually scuttle into one of the toilet cubicles, pretend to pee and change into my gym gear where no prying eyes can see my private bits or my flaws.
Pandora’s box (and Billy’s bollocks)
Which brings me to a subject I have been pondering for years. How is it that some people are so comfortable with their own bush ‘n tits – or in men’s case, dick ‘n bollocks – that they walk around starkers for as long as they possibly can in gym changing room? In my on-and-off years in gym changing rooms, I swear I’ve seen everything. Swinging boobs, bobbing boobs, dangling boobs. Bush in all shapes and sizes (or no bush). And even the full catastrophe. Yes, there are those who are so comfortable with their own nudity that they have no problem bending over to pick up a towel from the floor…
I was once innocently getting ready for my exercise session, and a large lady – and exceptionally large lady who was stark naked – dropped her towel a short distance from me. Yes, with her back turned to me – WITH HER BACK TURNED TO ME – she bent over to pick it up. And as if in slo-mo, Pandora’s box (and bumcrack) opened up in front of me. A scream froze on my lips; I couldn’t blink or move.
This happened to me a good twenty years ago and I swear I still have nightmares about it.
The End of Bush
And so I get to my next, perplexed question, which I ask thanks to the visions I see in the gym changing rooms: whatever happened to bush? I’m not talking about the dad-and-son team of twats who respectively used to run the US of A (into the ground); I’m talking about the hairless – or near-hairless – twats that swan around the bathrooms of my gymnasium these days.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been waxing my own bikini line since the age of fifteen. It was usually a painful process involving that ugly brown hot wax and me sitting against the bathroom door like a frog on a dissecting board. But these days, jeez, there’s nothing left on women! Bush has died and gone to heaven, and all you see is a parade of little-girl fannies, situated beneath the breasts and bellies of adult women. For me, the jury’s still out on that one. I hear the porn industry has quite a big hand – no pun intended – in women’s pubic hairstyles, or lack of it. Me, being a rebel and all, I just leave my bush be. She’s become quite a rarity, so I’ll treasure her. And keep on changing in the toilet cubicle. Thank you very much.
Over to the boys’ side
The Boyf and some of my men friends have entertained me with stories from the boys’ changing room, which involves swinging dicks, bobbing bollocks and blossoming assholes. And stark naked men taking their merry time in front of the mirror while shaving – whether they’re admiring themselves, waiting for others to admire them or trawling for booty, I don’t know. This poor, conservatively raised chick from Pretoria can hardly imagine their motivation.
I have a short message on the subject: too much detail, ladies and gents – I am not even vaguely interested in your silly bits. For fuck sakes – wear a towel! Thank you. Dankie. Enkosi kakulu.
So, once I get past the horrors of the changing room, I will tell you about my workouts. But first, I have to conquer my fear of all those acres of flesh, kilometers worth of cracks and the occasional short ‘n curly…
Till next time!
Like with my very bad taste in magazines, I don’t think I need to confess to anybody that I also have extremely bad taste when it comes to television. I watch soaps. There, I said it. I refuse to watch reality television, because, there, you’re dealing with real twats (although they also get makeup and lighting). In soaps, at least you can make yourself believe that the twats are fictitious. So there’s an ironic distance that keeps me from blowing my top. With reality shows, I’m usually ready to crawl into the screen and go fuck up someone, especially whoever is the biggest asshole in Survivor.
What also makes the ironic distance easier is the fact that anything is possible in soaps – anything. Remember when Bobby Ewing came back to life in Dallas when the ratings dropped after his death? A few years ago, in Days of our Lives, a whole bunch of people got murdered over a six-month period by some mysterious monster, and then the guilty party turned out to be the sweetest character in the series, the gloriously insipid Dr Marlena Evans Black, under the spell of the evil moonface-with-obsessively-maintained-facial-hairstyle, Stefano di Mera.
And remember when another insipid wench, Dr Taylor Hayes from Bold, died and then returned a few years later, her “corpse” having been abducted by a Moroccan prince (fuck, they looove Moroccan princes in soaps. With names like Ismael al Wayed the Fifth), resurrected and treated very badly until she escaped to once again try and wrench that wanker Ridge from the arms of his libidinous blonde, Brooke? Oh, my poor, poor brain. How do I even store these ghastly details?
Lots of hospital (and jail) time
People in soaps spend inordinate amounts of time in hospital. One or two of the regular characters is usually a doctor, who usually falls in love with one of the female patients and sticks a very unhygienic tongue down her throat during an examination. Comas are big – they spend aaaages in comas, in full make up and hairdo. Defibrillators are hugely popular, and characters are regularly brought back from the brink of the hereafter with an almighty whack of the paddles. I am always terrified that the women’s breast implants are going to rupture.
There are poisonings on a regular basis, or somebody tampering with the diabetic characters’ insulin dosage. They pass hearts around like footballs – Katy from The Bold is swanning around with her late brother’s ticker. They donate kidneys like they’re an extra apple in the bowl – Rick from The Bold is walking around with a kidney donated years ago by the evil trailer-trash-tart Amber. Most of them have been shot at some stage – and of course they survived the trauma, with nary a scar to show for it. Each and every character in a soap is a walking medical miracle.
And let’s not forget the Los Angeles County Jail, or the Salem Slammer or whatever they call their local lock-up. Most of them have been there one time or another, looking fetching in an orange jumpsuit. Oh, they still wear full makeup – they usually just muss up the chicks’ hair and allow the blokes a day’s worth of stubble on the chin.
The Old and the Surgically Enhanced
Of course the characters are mostly gorgeous – we don’t want to be watching a bunch of dogs with love handles and pot bellies plotting, scheming, stealing each other’s partners and having screaming matches, now do we? But then there’s the problem of ageing, which tends to happen to all of us, even actors. This is where the surgical enhancement procedures come in.
Over the years, I’ve watched soap star Hunter Tylo (Dr Taylor Hayes in The Bold) go from beyond exquisite, to a walking mask with lips so inflated they resemble two Vienna sausages about to rupture. Her forehead cannot move due to Botox, her cheeks and lips are injected to the limit with collagen or something. So, these days, like Clint Eastwood of yesteryear, she manages only one slightly quizzical facial expression which has to pass for all the emotions she’s supposed to portray – anger, sadness, fear, hysteria. At times, when she has to cry, and where her lips actually need to move, they start rolling up like badly-made blinds, and I hold my breath for the inevitable explosion. God, imagine all that blood, lipstick and collagen all over the cheesy cream-coloured drapes that adorn those sets…
The Enduring Horror of Ridge Forrester
Another horror – and my pet hate of all soap actors – is Ron Moss, the Mitsubishi robot who plays Ridge Forrester (who the FUCK calls his son Ridge?) Our Ron even moves like an automaton – slowly, and within the confines of the set he has been working on for like, 25 years. I’m convinced that, when he’s outdoors, he walks to and fro and a little bit to the side in a two-by-four metre radius, even when he’s on the beach.
He is cursed with a jaw like a boxer’s, expressionless little eyes and a hairstyle that makes him look like a pixie on steroids. And a permanently smug expression. These days, as gravity is also starting to get the better of him, he is sporting more foundation than even Taylor, which makes him look like an extra from a very old vampire movie starring Klaus Kinski. He is also the worst actor ever to disgrace the late-arvey small screen, and here I include every soap actor I’ve ever seen making a fool of himself on teevee…
And here I thought I had ironic distance – I would love to take out a contract on this smugly (smug + ugly) bastard. Mr Moss is also a rock star in his spare time – may we be spared that trauma. I hear via the grapevine of crappy mags I read that he will be leaving the series soon. I will do a happy, happy dance on the day he swaggers, slowly and woodenly, off the set. To my everlasting shame I rather fancy the fellow who plays his brother, Thorne (who the FUCK calls his son Thorne?). He is a tad more animated, and sort of a stud muffin. Down, Mads…
Ridge Forrester has been fought over by the filler-enhanced Taylor and the slutty Brooke for about a hundred years. For all this time, he has been going eenie-meenie-minie-mo over these two ageing tarts, spawning a herd of designer brats by both, with Brooke popping out a few others by men she has accidentally screwed over the years. The ongoing feud has now been taken up by Brooke and Taylor’s daughters, who are currently clawing each other’s eyes out over the same beady-eyed little fellow, so bland I cannot even remember his name, although Auntie Mads thinks he has a really nice little six pack.
It’s alllll about sex
And now we get to the crux of the matter – except for the scheming and fighting and hostile takeovers and endless medical and legal messes, soaps really are about sex, albeit a carefully draped and sterilized version. The storyliners keep on looking for an excuse to have two designer people tumble onto a bed with white Egyptian cotton sheets with a ridiculous thread count, and fifty pillows that first have to be slapped onto the floor so they can have their way with each other without getting a crick in their necks. Their designer couplings are always set to sax music – I have taken to referring to the poor maligned instrument as the sexophone.
And it’s all so neat and tidy and gorgeous, isn’t it? The gory details we’re spared – it’s usually the designer tumble onto the designer bed, following by a few cutaway shots to burning candles and roses and other Valentine’s Day leftover crap, and then we go to the beautifully posed post-coital chatter…
Boy, do they look good after a roll in the hay! Not a bead of sweat; not a hair out of place; not even a soupçon of smeared mascara. While the rest of humanity are trying to clean up soggy crotches and pick the odd pube from between their teeth, soap characters sit on a white couch – yes, a white couch – in silk robes and toast their designer orgasm with French champagne. Really? Just fuck off, will you?
Will I keep on watching this crap? I probably will, like so many other members of the human race, without really being able to explain why. Their cleverly-chosen time slot is that no-man’s land between clocking out from work and tucking into dinner, so those who aren’t sweating themselves silly in a gym or dealing with their toddlers’ suicide hour tantrums, will most probably be watching this crap.
For the next thirty years. As the French would say: “Quel horreur!”
There is one place in the world where, in my life, absolute calm gives way to sheer terror in about half an hour flat. It starts off where I sit back, take stock and watch the world go by. I look out the window and see interesting things happen. Sometimes I shop and have a cappuccino to prepare me for what lies ahead.
No, it isn’t the V&A Waterfront. It’s Cape Town International Airport. A space where I can be calm, cool and collected and where I can pretend I’m a wise, wealthy and experienced international traveller. That is, of course, before I start chomping pills and muttering mantras…
I hate flying. There; I said it. I hate it; hate it; hate it. But I love travel. How do you get those two facts to live comfortably together? You don’t. It’s that simple.
Just wrong, very wrong
Just sit back for a moment and think about it. You stuff a whole bunch of people in an enormous and unbelievably heavy metal tube on retractable wheels and with wings. You pump the metal tube chock-full of a highly flammable liquid. Then you fire up all that gas, go tearing down a strip of tarmac at a ridiculous speed, and blast this thing into the sky.
It just WRONG, man.
It all started back in 1985, when I read a blow-by-blow account of a Japanese air disaster, complete with weeping people writing final notes to their loved ones before going down in flames. Mesmerised, horrified and mortified, I promptly stopped enjoying air travel.
I actually went to see a shrink about it, and his first therapeutic line to me was: “You’re going to die anyway.” I don’t think he’s in business anymore.
So, I took to clutching armrests, praying to all available deities, and weeping (the time I did the weeping routine I was , blessedly, seated next to a very good-looking and attentive young man, who obligingly held my hand. Snicker.) When I realized weeping and muttering was off-putting to most people, I took to boozing. I worked out that bubbly is the poison that kicks in fastest at a high altitude. This worked for me for a while, but then it dawned on me that booze is actually something that makes you more anxious after a few glasses, at a high altitude, in a plane that is bouncing around like a drop of water on a hot stove plate.
So I discovered happy pills.
A not-so-short history of Mads and the Happy Pill
Happy pills, more commonly known as tranquilisers or “Valium”, work on bringing down your anxiety levels. But, as somebody lives by the either-a-feast-or-a-famine credo, I decided to do things properly. Just in case. (Like the joke about the Irish wearing one condom over another – to be sure, to be sure…) So I combined booze and happy pills on one flight.
Not the most intelligent decision I’ve made in my life.
At the time I was dating a rather conservative fellow, who liked his girls sober and well behaved. He was going to pick me up at Cape Town International as I was flying in from Joburg. At Joburg, I decided to take off the edge of my panic with a double whisky. After the boarding call came through, I followed this up with a happy pill (or two). After takeoff, I ordered yet another double whisky, which I used to bolt down two more happy pills.
The good thing is – I can’t remember the flight at all. I can’t remember how I got off the plane or how I managed to retrieve my luggage at the carousel. I have a vague recollection of being picked up by Mr Conservative, and that he had an expression of severe disapproval on his face. I do remember him dropping me off at home and telling me to get some sleep. When I awoke several hours later, I was starving, so I phoned him and suggested we get a bite to eat somewhere. “Do you know what time it is?” he asked, his voice blooming with disbelief and irritation. “It’s three in the morning!”
The relationship didn’t last for too long after that. And I wisely decided that, in future, to choose one specific poison to help me cope with flying, not two.
The Golden Midway
So, these days, I stick to two mild-dose happy pills. I pop one after I’ve read the safety pamphlet (yes, I read the safety pamphlet. And so should you!) When asked whether I would like to drink something, I ask for a cup of tea. If the flight is smooth, I will not partake of any more drugs. If we hit some turbulence, like we did over the good ol’ Free State on Thursday, I will chomp down a second pill. When I arrive safely at the airport, I am reasonably sober, if a little spaced out.
And I do get to observe that interesting species called the human race, and their when confined to a smallish space tens of thousands of feet up in the air.
There’s the territorial jostling for hand-luggage space in the overhead luggage compartments. The irritated rearranging of the personal possessions of somebody who has taken up more space than they’re supposed to. And then, the wiggling into the sometimes unreasonably small space we each get when we fly “coach” (Americanese for economy class). The way each and every member of the herd settles down into their seat, fiddles with the seat belt, fumbles around in a handbag (I fumble, frantically, for about twenty minutes before I’m willing to – reluctantly – part with my beloved receptacle-filled-with-pointless-possessions before stuffing it underneath the seat in front of me. When I land over an emergency exit, they practically have to wrestle the bloody thing from me to stow it elsewhere.)
The next step for me – I think I’m the only person left on the planet who does this – is the Reading of the Safety Pamphlet. It’s like tossing salt over the shoulder, muttering the mantra or saying the prayer. I dutifully open it up and stare intently at the ghastly drawings, exactly the same since 1971…
The Safety Instruction Pamphlet
Have you noticed that, over the past few decades, even though they’ve done safety demonstration videos and other fancy-pants, newfangled things to inform air travellers what to do in case that unmentionable thing happens, they have done nothing nothing NOTHING to the safety pamphlet drawings?
They still feature women with flicked-out, hairsprayed do’s crawling along a smoke-filled corridor, after having left behind their 1960’s stiletto’s so they don’t impale themselves on the bastards or puncture the emergency slide. Also for your reading/viewing pleasure are very small women clutching very large, ugly babies with no facial features, somebody putting an oxygen apparatus on an old lady who looks exactly like a vulture who hasn’t eaten for two years, and people with unbelievably large hands yanking desperately at the emergency exit door handle.
This does not make me feel any better about flying. It does, however, make me chortle audibly enough to get the guy in the seat next to me to look up and move surreptitiously away from me. He will move even further away once my meds kick in…
Usually, things progress relatively smoothly for most flights. But then, sometimes – ironically, these days it’s on the increase thanks to, among other things, air travel – there’s that nasty thing called turbulence. When the plane bounces around among a bunch of nasty clouds and scares the crap out of even those who refer to themselves as “relaxed flyers”. They just don’t show it. But this seasoned neurotic can spot all the signs – the extra-casual stroking of the iPad, adding really psychedelic colours to the Excel doccie they’re working on, the fixed staring at the same page of the in-flight mag for about half an hour, the excessive fondling of the plastic glass or cardboard cup…
“There are no atheists on a turbulent airplane,” said Erica Jong in her masterful book Fear of Flying. I have to agree with her.
By the time the enormous metal thing that has caused me all that misery has touched down and taxied to its parking spot, I’m all bravado, tinged with enormous amounts of gratitude. I’ve survived! I’m alive! I can relax for the X days I’ll be spending here… I will do more exercise! Make a happy list every day! Start meditating! Eat less! Write more poetry!
What I’m not thinking about, of course, is the return flight that’s waiting for me, a few days into the future.
But that’s another story altogether…
When Superwoman goes on holiday, everything happens according to plan. When So.Not.Superwoman goes on holiday, what she gets is mostly a rich harvest of irony for her blog…
When I refer to Superwoman, I’m referring to a working mother who does sports. Has extracurricular activities. Belongs to a book club. And is built like Halle Berry.
When Superwoman goes on holiday, she is prepared.
For weeks and weeks before the departure date, she checks and cross-checks her holiday plan, most probably entered onto Excel. Here, she lists groceries for nutritious meals, clothes and other paraphernalia to pack, the contents of a properly stocked first-aid kit and other important to-do’s. She has checked out their destination with a beady eye – somewhere in her lunch break while putting the finishing touches to a new strategy and posting something meaningful on Facebook – and she knows exactly what’s available, what’s lacking and how she’ll deal with it.
Now, back at the ranch, So.Not.Superwoman is already on a back foot. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Her ideals are firmly in place, and she has visions of sunrise walks, Pilates and meditation while reading a book on the fauna and flora of the area. But she has a ghastly bout of flu that is sticking to her like the proverbial poop to a blanket; she is trying to finish a freelance editing job and is having sleepless nights about her currently flailing career.
So, as per always, all the arrangements are left to the last minute. On the Friday before she is supposed to chug off into the blue yonder with her beloved in a well-stocked Land Rover, she is sitting in a coffee shop, honking noisily into a variety of serviettes to keep her abundance of snot from scaring those around her (instead she scares them shitless with her nose blowing activities…), trying to send required documents to clients while, with the one limb not engaged in activity, she tries to edit a last piece of text for yet another client. She is pulsating with fever and discontent.
Next on the list is a visit to Woolies. Oh, what would Modern Woman do without Woolies? (She’ll generate about 90% less harmful packaging and ingest fewer pesticides and preservatives, that is) But, for now, all ethics are out the window as she is Pressed For Time. Not really and truly pressed for time, like women-with-careers-children-and-extracurricular-activities are, but like badly organized, neurotic, childless women are pressed for time. ‘Tis not a pretty sight.
Up and down the aisles of the grocery gods she tears, with a paper list (Superwomen do it on their smart phone, and with voice commands, I’m sure). She tosses a staggering variety of healthy food into the trolley. No bad snacks. Nuts, maybe. Loads of veg. The purchase of slaughtered livestock she always leaves to The Boyf, as he is an expert in the Choosing of Meat. As a wannabe vegetarian and two-faced meat eater, she’ll munch the chops first and then launch into a rant about the treatment of animals at feedlots and abattoirs.
Food bought. Extra electricity purchased for the weird housesitter, who resembles a Gringots bank teller from Harry Potter and who she’s convinced scares the crap out of her pets, as they always seem a tad unblinking and needy when she returns from her wanderings. For now, he’ll have to do.
Back home. She tosses a variety of leisurewear into her backpack. It basically consists of a choice of three pairs of fat pants, a few ancient T-shirts and comfortable shoes. Idealistic to the end, she packs her ancient cross trainers, a pair of sweat pants and a sports bra. They will never leave her luggage, but she doesn’t know this yet…
On the morning of departure, she skids around the kitchen, tossing cooking necessities into environmentally friendly bags. Oh, the fresh, wholesome food she’ll cook! The stirring of pots bubbling with nutrient-rich country fare – she can’t wait! She packs a flute – for the organic bubbly she’ll be quaffing. For a moment, she almost forgets that she feels like death warmed up and would much rather stay in bed with a tabloid mag, snarfing large amounts of chocolate…
The Way There
On the journey to her destination, she nobly refuses the chips and sweets thrust at her from the driver’s seat, and munches evangelically on a packet of nuts. At the farm stall where they stop for lunch, she orders a venison pie with salad, no chips. She eats the filling out of the pie shell to avoid ingesting wheat. She is feeling nauseatingly noble. There is a big however looming, though. She. Wants. Chocolate.
Oh, the country walks to come! The stretching! The healing waters she’ll partake of! Her eyes glaze over momentarily. She stops at a wine cellar in a small town to purchase her bubbly. She gets a few bottles of their version of “brut” at a good price. She is hopeful. She will limit herself to two glasses a day – one before dinner and one during.
Arriving at the Wholesome Holiday Destination, she is feeling like shit. Her cheeks flushed with fever, her nose running like the Cahora Bassa dam with opened sluice gates. She eyes the glorious early-summer veld; she gazes longingly at the warm baths. The Boyf has to unpack as she languishes on the bed, swathed in self pity. She. Wants. Ice Cream.
Reality takes a bow
With her beloved’s recent birthday, she purchased two “moon chairs” – read the most comfortable camping chair that ever lived – and a portable mini Weber for him, so they can “bundu bash” in style. But The Boyf has left the mini Weber at home as he doesn’t want it damaged. The moon chairs, folded, sit forlornly in the back of the Land Rover for the entirety of the break as the weather sucks and for half the time, they cannot go outside. For the other half, they are too bloody lazy to fetch them.
On the first evening, her Healthy Country Vegetables are a hit. Sadly, she fucks it all up by eating too much boerewors. Her liver rebels. She has heartburn and crawls into bed early. By Day Three, sick and barking like a junk yard dog, she discovers the campsite café sells cones. She schnarfs an enormous caramel-and-vanilla, and finishes off with a packet of Rowntree’s Cream Caramels, her comfort food from childhood.
So far, no healthy country walks have happened. Nary a Pilates move has been made. She has done some floating in the hot water and has had meaningful conversation about the weather with at least seven retired uncles with overly pink skin. The bubbly she purchased on the way is turning out to be an enormous disappointment – it tastes like dishwater and loses its fizz in a few hours, in spite of her elaborate plugging-up methods of the bottle. She has taken to mixing it with tonic water to bump it up. The flute languishes in the kitchen, forgotten. She is now employing a cool drink glass.
By Evening Four, she has overdosed on toasted cheese and tomato and onion. Her self respect is in tatters. She is muttering about the bad cell phone reception as she battles to post pics to Facebook. She is sick of the rock-hard pillows. She doesn’t want to stagger down the corridor to the ablution block to go pee. She. Now.Wants. Cake.
On the way back, they stop over in the town where they’re considering settling for a while. The “international delicatessen” in the main road doesn’t serve decaf and offers no card facilities. She is longing for her own bed, technology that works and a coffee shop with wifi. And she’s munching on vanilla truffles to help ease the road home.
Back home, Superwoman would have immediately tossed a load of dirty washing in the machine, sorted out the recycling and repacked the food cupboards. She then would have checked her emails, made a few work-related phone calls and cooked something Nigella-like for her well-behaved family.
So.Not.Superwoman has taken to her bed. Her cats are so happy to see her after four days with the Gringots bank teller that one of them lies on top of her. Did she return feeling refreshed and recharged? Nah. She returned with two extra kg’s worth of sugar on her ass, a virus that travelled there with her, and all the way back. The environmentally friendly bags crammed with leftover groceries are still standing on the kitchen table, and her backpack is spilling clothes onto the bedroom floor. The Boyf will proceed to fall over it twice during the night.
But, in spite of the ideal not having materialized, she really did have wonderful time. I shit you now. Thank God for that campsite café!
*Names of the swains involved have been changed to protect them from having contracts taken out on them…
Thursday evening, I was looking at The Boyf from across the table at a restaurant in Cape Town. I was treating him to dinner on his 50th birthday. I thought: “After all the years of the romantic horror I had to endure, how did I get to be so lucky?” And I sent a big, fat THANK YOU to the patron saint of romance. I am sure she is a woman.
But, then again, holy crap, did I have to suffer for the privilege of finally finding my life partner twelve years ago, at the ripe old age of 35….
First, let me explain the nature of the crushes I used to develop when I was younger. They were usually directed at somebody who had no interest in me whatsoever, and who wasn’t planning to change that attitude anytime soon. They were enduring – some of them lead to years of unrequited luuurve. And they involved hours of daydreaming, practicing my new signature (with the surname of the boy I had a crush on) and weeping listlessly into my pillow. Oh yes, and sticking romantic sunset pictures of couples into my scrapbook.
A bad, bad beginning
My disastrous romantic history started at the age of 12 in Standard Five (Grade 7), when I developed a crush on *Louis van der Veer. The only thing that made him stand out was the fact that he was taller than the other boys because he had failed a year in primary school. But that was enough for somebody with non-existent standards. Needless to say, Louis treated me like dog poop, including flirting with my best friend at my house for a whole evening.
In high school (just for girls) my major source of potential crushes was our church. Here, I sat in the very last row with my mother, my beady, boy-hungry eyes flicking from pew to pew in search of the best-looking back view of a teenage swain. It finally settled on the curly black head of *Jannie Bredenhahn…
Jannie the Boeremusiek fan
All through Standard Eight (Gr 10) and halfway through Standard Nine, I pined for the love of cold-hearted Jannie. He barely seemed to notice me, and yet, I snuck a photograph of him on my Instimatic camera whenever I got the chance, and added it to the growing collection on my bedroom mirror. I attended every Sunday school social, so I could catch a glimpse, exchange a sentence, or admire his ghastly brown corduroy pants and loud checked shirt.
As his matric farewell loomed – he was a year older than me – I prayed to all manner of gods, angels and saints to be The One he invited to go along. And, lo and behold, it happened! I got asked!
But my history of having invitations withdrawn was about to start here…
He then invited me to go along with him and his friend to a rugby match in a town several hours away from Pretoria. On the way there, I was subjected to one of Jannie’s enduring passions, “boeremusiek”. To this day, I shudder at the thought of listening to the “polka”, the “settees” and the “vastrap”, blaring from the portable radio he had dragged along for the trip
It was night on our way back. In the rickety school bus, under the cover of darkness, I was subjected to some Afrikaans schoolboy necking. Pressed into the corner of a school bus seat, I swooningly endured having an inexpert tongue shoved down my throat, cherishing the dawning realization that I would have snogging rash from his day-old beard for days to come. Man, I was so proud! I had finally gotten the object of my schoolgirl fantasies to maul me in the name of love! And I had proof!
I tripped around on my pubescent Cloud Nine for a whole week, secure in the knowledge that, at the Church Youth Society camp the following weekend, he would be mine, all mine…
For the entire weekend of the church youth camp, Jannie Boeremusiek pretended that I didn’t exist. I wept rainstorms onto my friend Magriet’s shoulder, I tried to talk to him, I tried to work out what I had done wrong (because it just HAD to be my fault, no?). But no answers were forthcoming.
That following week, I plucked up the courage to phone him to find out if our matric farewell date was still on. This is what he said: he was in the process of looking for someone else, but if he didn’t find anyone in time, I could still come with. Yes, he said that. At this stage, whatever was left of my pride, rebelled. I told him no thanks; I wouldn’t be his consolation prize. And fled back to my already tear-drenched pillow.
In my matric year, I developed yet another badly directed crush on someone from the boys school residence across the road. So I asked him to my matric farewell. He said yes. And then he withdrew a week before the event, citing a desire to go home for the weekend as his reason. (He lived in some godforsaken one-horse town called “Dwaalboom”) So, like all desperate girls, I took my best friend’s brother as an emergency measure. We actually had a rip-roaring time. So yah-boo-sucks to Mr Dwaalboom.
All the horror of my high school disasters was made up for by a very sweet post-matric holiday romance.. He was good-looking and intelligent and one helluva conversationalist. His conservative politics got in the way eventually. But he was the first truly good egg in Mads’ Love Wars.
In my second year at varsity, my first long-term love entered my life. Energetic, short and sporting a collection of muscle that would eventually lead to the undoing of our great love. Boy, we had loads of fun together. The future was, well, over theeeere and we had a lot of innocent fun in the over-protected womb of the University of Stellenbosch.
But he had a strange obsession – with very muscular women. His pin-up chicks included Martina Navratilova and women body builders. (those chicks with the washboard stomachs and aspirin tits) It’s not that I didn’t try. I pushed weights with my fragile and very pear-shaped body till I was blue in the face. I will carry to my grave a chronic lower back injury, in the shape of degenerative disc disease, induced by pushing the calf muscle machine at full weight and dead-lifting barbells way to heavy for my strength. But the most positive comment my healthy, slim twentysomething body managed to inspire was: “You have soooo much potential.” Of course, my calves never got bigger. No matter how hard I tried.
In the end, as expected, I was dumped for a woman so short and so muscle-bound that a friend of mine drily referred to her as “the circus artiste.” My dumbbells were tossed into the corner to collect spider webs.
As short as Mr Muscle was, as tall was Varsity Boyf Number Two. At that stage, my mother referred to my romantic history as “From 3ft 6 to 6ft 3.” My father was mortified by the fact that Number Two was Dutch – my sister had already married a Dutchman and my dad liked him NOT ONE BIT. “Ag Jirre Liefie,” he begged, “moet tog net nie nog ‘n donerse Kaas in die familie inbring nie.” (God, honey, please don’t bring another bloody Cheese into the family…) Dear old dad. He was never known for his subtlety.
Number Two was a study in perfection. Good looking, kind, clever, musical, sporty. Well mannered. With rosy cheeks that older women loved to pinch, and younger women lusted after. I felt like I constantly needed to pee around this person to keep other women away from him. It was unbelievably tiring. He was also commitment phobic.
I eventually took a gap year to Japan to teach English, to give myself an adventure and him a chance to think things over about marriage. On my way back, we met up in Europe and did some backpacking. He eventually did pop the question, or rather, accepted MY bloody offer of marriage which I had made in what was a leap year.
Another offer about to be withdrawn…
But my history of having romantic offers withdrawn would continue unabated. As soon as I had accepted, he looked extremely nervous and didn’t stop looking nervous for about two years afterwards. The poor man had started regretting his impulsive decision – made over a primus stove at a Cap d’Antibes youth hostel – the moment it was “out there”.
For a year, this comedy of errors would continue. We got engaged with a fancy ring. His mom organised us an engagement party, which embarrassed him so intensely that, when the engagement cake came out the kitchen – featuring our intertwined initials – he rushed to the garage fetched a saw to cut it with. Yup! And people wonder why I’m a blathering basket case.
After much trial and error, we broke off the engagement and, after much more trial and loads more error, the relationship ended.
I was thirty, single, and working in the performing arts. Single men were very hard to find. Straight men were very, very hard to find…
I will spare you any further venturing into the details of the Mads’ Love Wars. Let it suffice to say that it would take five years of dating a staggering variety of assholes – and also five years of enjoying being single and travelling and partying – before The Boyf appeared on my horizon. In a banana-yellow Ford Cortina.
At long bloody last!
Our meeting was, of course, not without its comic disaster. I was at a bar with a friend of mine and he and his friend were at the same place. He and my friend knew each other. After she had introduced us, I mentioned to her that I found him rather cute. So, the next time he walked past our table, my friend, larger AND louder than life at the best of times, bellowed: “Cobus, Mads LIKES you!”
He was terrified of women at the time – he was a survivor of the Love Wars himself and recently divorced. So let’s just say it took several more months before we finally started dating.
It hasn’t all been moonshine and roses, mind you. We’ve been through some pretty hectic stuff together. But we’re still together after 12 years, and every day, I still consider myself truly blessed to have this man in my life. He’s warm, loving, kind, funny and insanely intelligent. He has the patience of a saint, which, with me, is always a good thing. And, most important of all, he loves me.
Warts, pear-shaped butt, non-existent calves and all.