Wedding dress deja vu

I got married in May 1988, 28 years ago. This year, in May 2016, I dug out my wedding dress and did a bit of dress-deja-vu.

The dress was made by my friend Ruth. She was living in Cape Town at the time, and I was living in Joburg. She offered to make the dress as a wedding present, which I was thrilled about (she’s a very talented seamstress), and my Dad forked out for the beautiful heavy satin fabric and the chiffon. So about a month before the wedding, I flew down to Cape Town on what was supposed to be a fitting-and-sewing weekend, but Ruth and I were beeeeg jollers, so instead we spent the whole time drinking tequila, going out to eat and dance, sleeping late, and talking our heads off. On the Sunday, with about 10 minutes to go before we had to race off to the airport so I could catch my flight back to Joburg (when you’re young, you do everything, including catching planes, by the skin of your teeth), we suddenly clocked that we hadn’t done a single thing about the wedding dress. Scratching around, Ruth unearthed a long piece of tatty Christmas tinsel. This she used to measure me – height, bust, waist, hips, etc – tying knots in the tinsel to denote each measurement.

About three weeks later, with days to go before the wedding, my mother-in-law-to-be almost had heart failure when she discovered that not only did I not have the vaguest clue what my wedding dress would look like, I wouldn’t get to even try it on until the night before the wedding, when Ruth and a bunch of other Cape Town friends were due to arrive for the nuptial celebrations. My mother-in-law-to-be dragged me off to Sandton City, where she insisted we must buy a wedding dress for me. She was a difficult woman to resist (that’s putting it mildly), so I trailed after her from boutique to boutique, trying on a series of enormous and enormously expensive wedding dresses. My repeated refrains that I didn’t need a wedding dress – that I already had one, even if I didn’t actually have it with me physically at that very moment – fell on deaf and increasingly irritated ears. “But she’s only bringing it the day before – what if it doesn’t fit?” she said. “It will fit, don’t worry,” I told her. “But what if you don’t like it?” she asked. “I’ll like it, don’t worry,” I said.

I really wasn’t worried at all – I knew I’d love it because I was 100 percent confident that Ruth knew me well enough to make something I’d love; and I had not the slightest concern that it wouldn’t fit me – Ruth may have measured me with a piece of Christmas tinsel, but I knew she’d get it right.

And she did!

dress sideflashback 2016 a

Above: left in May 1988; right in May 2016 (it strikes me that perhaps I should have ironed the dress before doing the deja-vu!). Even though the marriage only lasted 7 years, I knew I’d never get married again, and I still wear my original wedding ring (albeit on my right hand) – it’s visible in both pictures.

dress back 88dress back

Above: Left in 1988 (cigarette in hand!); right in 2016.

dress belladress Jessie

Above: Left in May 1988 (with my darling dog Bella); right in May 2016 (with my darling granddaughter Jessie). That round bracelet is a silver spoon that my father hammered into a piece of jewellery for me.

Jessie’s swing

Having a littlie in the family was a great excuse for me to buy a tyre swing to hang from a sturdy garden tree. Our family had one in our first house in Parkview, Johannesburg – it’s now etched in family lore how my then 7-year-old brother, playing Tarzan, tried to leap from a branch onto the swing and missed, breaking his arm in three places.

This swing – Jessie’s first – was oriented differently from the one I grew up with, horizontally rather than vertically, but it did just as fine a job. When the adults weren’t having a go, Jessie got full use of it almost from day 1. Here she is, at three months old, in a makeshift cradle made out of Balu’s basket, the net we usually use to keep flies off food, and a kikoi – the gentle rocking in the warm spring air was a perfect soporific.

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And here she is almost three years later, on the same swing.

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Various parts of the swing gave way over time, and I patched it once or twice, but finally it had to be retired. As Jessie was getting older, I bought her a hanging rope ladder to replace the swing, and my friend Troy helped me put it up. If you look closely at this photo, you will see what a fantastic fuckup a poorly planned DIY collaboration between two apparently intelligent people can produce.

 

Troy swing 2 April 2016

(We untangled the rope ladder from the ladder eventually.)

 

And Jessie loves it.

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The charm of the chant

I don’t have the best memory at the best of times, and I long ago realised that if my life were not to spiral into chaos and disarray, I would have to always have a way other than organic of remembering things. For this reason, I’ve always kept both a real-life (by which I mean not electronic) diary that goes everywhere with me, and lists, particularly grocery lists and to-do lists.

When I’m under stress, as I’ve been for the last few weeks, my memory gets much worse, and my brain’s word centre also struggles – for some years after my mom died, for instance, during which I was under near-unbearable emotional strain, I completely forgot certain words when I was trying to write (a problem for someone who makes her living this way), and my brain automatically filled in “missing” words for me in speech, although not always the right words, which caused confusion often and sometimes hilarity (although I never found it hilarious myself, because having your brain do things that you don’t instruct it to is actually quite frightening).

Anyway – the other day I took myself, my dog and my faltering brain off for my customary 5km route-march around the village. I needed to get a couple of things from the local Pick n Pay on the way home, and also empty my postbox (we don’t have street deliveries in our little town, necessitating regular visits to the bank of postboxes sited outside the Pick n Pay). So, instead of writing a short list (which seemed like overkill, even for me), I made up a little chant, “Milk, bread and clear-the-box”, which had a good meter for walking.

On my way out of my property, I came across my little band of fowl milling about in the driveway – Cornelius the rooster, and the three hens, Goldie (so-named because of her colouring), Double (because she lays double-yolk eggs) and… hmm: no Cocopops (a little black hen).

So, in passing, and because I talk to my animals all the time, I said, ‘Hi, you guys. Where’s Cocopops?’

Then, without waiting for an answer (obvs), I walked on, repeating my little walking mantra: “Milk, bread and Cocopops.”

Which is why I ended up back home with cereal I don’t want or need but without my mail.

The Road through the Grove: a unique project

book

I received a manuscript in the middle of last year, for assessment. I’d been told it was a history book (my very favourite kind of book to work on), and also that it centred on Orange Grove, a suburb in Joburg very close to where I grew up – so I was keen as a bean.

When it arrived in my inbox, the challenges became obvious. First, it had been researched and compiled by various people over two years, and had no unifying voice and little usable structure. It wasn’t just a history book – it was much, much more: a vast compendium of historical and personal anecdote, contributed by a huge variety of people, in a huge variety of styles and tones. And it was way too long: for what was intended to become a highly illustrated coffee-table book that could be shipped around the world to part of its target market of expats, 186 000 words was about three times the optimum length.

Most books that start with challenges of this magnitude don’t have a rosy future. The money, energy and time required to turn them into workable manuscripts would, for most people, seem like insurmountable obstacles. But John Burgess, the man behind this project, isn’t most people. And, as it turned out, The Road through the Grove wasn’t most books.

John is a man who doesn’t take “no” for an answer. This in itself isn’t necessarily a commendable personality trait (it can make for obstinacy on an alienating scale), but John combines this with a rare ability to listen carefully and actually hear what people are saying, and trust those he employs to do what he employs them to do.

He also doesn’t scare easily. So when he got my initial email back, asking him to cut the text by at least 60 000 but preferably 80 000 words (to give this some context, that’s about the length of a standard novel), he wasn’t fazed. On the contrary, he was excited to have direction: what’s important now, he said, was that “we deliver something of great quality and that we’ll all be immensely proud of”. And after our first meeting shortly afterwards, his feedback was upbeat and optimistic: “We’ll cut/cull and deliver around 100 000 to maximum 120 000 for you to edit before the end of Sept. Enjoyed our dialogue and know we are in very capable hands.”

John was, characteristically, true to his word, and before the end of that month I’d received the amended manuscript: 117 000 words for me to get stuck into.

The months that followed were intense, as I completely restructured the book (so radically, in fact, that John admitted to me later that on receiving the first edit, in mid-November, he’d had to “sit with” the new arrangement for some days to come to terms with it), fact-checked, researched and wrote a huge quantity of material, line-edited, trimmed and cleaned up the manuscript. I completed the final edit, at a final wordcount of 75 000 words, at 5pm on Christmas Eve 2015.

In the meantime, John and his team, in consultation with Kevin Shenton, the designer, had also been sourcing, sorting and labelling photographs. That the book ended up containing over a thousand carefully selected (and, in some cases, heroically hunted-down) pictures says volumes about the amount of work this required.

I flew to Joburg to write the captions. Caption-writing (or sometimes caption-editing) is usually one of the final stages in the making of a book, and the supposition before the writing or editing starts is that the book’s design is, at this stage, finished and fixed. Not in this case, however. For four days, John, his brother Chris, Kevin, his assistant Danel, and I holed up for long hours in Kevin’s studio, identifying (and sometimes mis-identifying) people in photographs, writing captions, rewriting captions, deleting captions, moving captions…

“No more changes!” Kevin and I kept saying, as John – the man who doesn’t take “no” for an answer – found better pictures, removed pictures, replaced pictures, changed pictures…

One day four, I put my foot down. “No,” I said to John, when he asked for yet another picture to be moved. “No. I’m not moving any more pictures. We’re running out of time.” I continued working but watched John out of the corner of my eye as he quietly – almost unnoticeably – stood up, padded softly across the studio to Kevin’s corner, and bent down and had a word in his ear. “Okay,” I heard Kevin say.

“Oh my god!” I protested, outraged. “I said no, so you just went over my head and asked Kevin, and he said yes!” John smiled serenely. Kevin grinned and said, “Okay, but really now, no more changes from now on!” (For the record, they were still making changes to photos days later, when I was back at my office in Kasteel, and I was still writing, re-writing and editing captions via email.)

But finally, a few days later, “no more changes” really meant no more changes, because the book went to print.

Paging through the beautiful finished product, I believe that we met John’s challenge, to “deliver something of great quality and that we’ll all be immensely proud of”.

3 stages

Above, from left to right The original manuscript, the first-edited manuscript, and the final product, all showing the entry on the Doll House.

For more info about the book and/or to place an order, go here.

 

The real history of the Doll House roadhouse

In fact-checking and researching for the manuscript, I unearthed countless interesting bits and pieces, many of which couldn’t be included in the book because there just wasn’t space. But one particularly fascinating story deserves a spot here.

In the original manuscript, many theories were offered by various people as to the origins of the Doll House. “It was owned by a guy from Greece whose last name was Panos,” said one person. “The owners were the Laxens in Joburg and the St Georges in Cape Town,” said another.

I didn’t get much help online: “Tracing the history of Joburg’s oldest roadhouse, the Doll House, on Louis Botha Avenue, proved difficult, but it was built sometime during the Thirties,” opined one article.

Then, on Flickr, I found the following, posted some years ago by Helen St George in response to a 1972 photo of the Doll House in Cape Town: “My grandfather Daniel Wanberg was one of the 3 Americans who opened up the Doll House chain in 1932 – he brought the very first hamburger to South Africa… When he died my grandmother took it over. In 1954 my father, Kelvin St George, worked for the DH and took over the Cape Town branch in 1960 [until] 1982 when it was sold and then demolished. My mother [was the] daughter of Daniel and Teddie Wanberg… My mum’s sister, Billie Laxen, and her husband Peter ran the Doll House in Johannesburg.”

Using the name Daniel Wanberg as a starting point, I dug deeper, and eventually I unearthed a doctoral thesis called Transatlantic Latter-day Saints: Mormon Circulations between America and South Africa by one Booker T Alston, published by the University of Cape Town in February 2014. This little gem provided the most wonderful background to the Doll House story.

Three baseball-playing American missionaries had such a positive experience during their tenure in the country that they devised a strategy that would allow them to return to South Africa, continue to play baseball, and build a successful business. In 1936 Layton Alldredge, Clarence Randall and Evan Wright, all former Mormon missionaries and talented baseball players, journeyed across the Atlantic with a plan to make ice cream, but not just any ice cream, American ice cream that would be served at an American-styled drive-in parlour.

With no serious attachments in America, the three hurriedly made preparations to cross the Atlantic again, with Randall hastening his education of the commercial manufacturing of American ice cream at Paramount [an ice-cream company in Salt Lake City, where he was working at the time]. At the time of their departure the three businessmen, relying on Randall’s newly acquired knowledge, set out to “seek their fortunes” armed only with desire, a small amount of start-up capital – $6 000, $2000 each, according to Alldredge, [and] an undisclosed amount of which they received from a silent partner from Utah named Dan Wanberg – and a handful of Utah’s most famous ice-cream recipes…

By 1 May 1936 the partners were in Johannesburg; Alldredge got a job selling American Chevrolet cars at Dennis Motors “to put groceries on the table” while Randall and Wright went to work constructing the first Doll House. Neither knew very much about construction, but a local Mormon, Dave Banfield, gave them several pointers… That first Doll House, located in the Johannesburg … at today’s address of 377 Louis Botha Avenue, Highlands North, opened soon after the trio arrived back in the country and was operational before the end of May 1936.

The success of the drive-in ice-cream parlour was immediate and by 26 June another Doll House was ready for business in Durban. Within a year the standardised red buildings with their steep roofs and three prominent dormers, which resulted in the shop actually looking like a dollhouse, could be found in Cape Town and Pretoria as well.

In all, the three opened seven Doll Houses in South Africa during the 1930s, three in Johannesburg, two in Cape Town, and one in both Durban and Pretoria. By 1940, Alldredge reported that the business was making a net profit of approximately $60 000 per year, could produce up to 2 500 gallons of ice cream a day, including ice cream on sticks and popsicles, had opened up bakeries at several of the locations, and employed 133 individuals between their new mechanically operated factory and all the shops.

Randall was in charge of the production of the ice cream itself, Wright the sales … and Alldredge the finances. However, a crack eventually formed in the partnership due in part to the stresses caused by the Second World War as well as to a disagreement between Alldredge and Wright over the speed of expansion. The outbreak of war in Europe made it difficult for the three Americans to remain in business in South Africa because … they “were considered aliens” as well as the fact that food rations were restrictive and “it was hard to get the sugar for our ice cream”.

Dan Wanberg, the Doll Houses’ original silent partner, moved his family permanently to South Africa in 1946, when Randall and Wright sold the entire business, including the factory, the machinery, and all seven locations to him. The chain remained a fixture on the South African landscape until well into the 1970s.

 

‘Rely on Defy’? You must be bloody joking

*Update (6 May). I linked this post (first published 2 May) to my Facebook page, and also put the link on Defy’s home page. Within an hour, the regional manager, Jason Crowther, had phoned me, patiently listened to the whole saga, apologised profusely, and asked me to send him my bank details so he could arrange for Defy to cover my electrician’s bill. When I emailed my details, he promptly responded by return email. (The senior staff at Montague Gardens really need to be told how deeply infuriating it is to customers when they’re routinely ignored.) And I’ve just got a cheery note from the admin person at Defy Montague Gardens to say that the money has been paid.

A salutary lesson in the power of social media.

 

 

For my entire adult life – 30+ years – I’ve had only Defy appliances and been a very loyal Defy customer. At the moment, in my kitchen, I have an ancient and much-loved Ocean fridge, handed down from my parents, which just keeps on trucking (Ocean is another brand name of Defy). I also have a Defy dishwasher (which I’ve had problems with in the past, but which problems were eventually resolved by Defy) and a Defy washing machine, which has required one replacement motor but has otherwise served me admirably for years.

I’m in the process of building a house, and there was never any question in my mind as to what make of appliance I was going to put into it. Until about 2 months ago, when Defy in Cape Town started spectacularly messing me around on a wild-goose chase that has never ended. Regular phonecalls and emails don’t help – the way Defy deals with unhappy customers is, it seems, to simply ignore them.

Here’s a precis. (The fact that this is the short version of the story will say volumes about what nonsense I’ve had from this company over the last couple of months.)

You probably don’t realise it, but your oven door has a gasket – a simple piece of rubber that seals the door when you close it, keeping the heat in. I had never even noticed this little component until the original one on my Defy oven snapped.

A phonecall to Defy eventually* revealed that yes, they had the part, but no, they wouldn’t post it to me, even if I agreed to cover the postage and packing costs. (It’s small – it would fit into the smallest padded envelope provided by the post office.) So I drove all the way into Cape Town, to the Defy offices there (+-180 km round trip, almost 3 hours of my time, about R250 in petrol), to buy the new gasket.

Through the plastic in which it was sealed, the new one looked smaller to me than the one it was replacing – a detail I pointed out to the guy who sold it to me, and who I specifically asked if he was sure it was the right gasket, as I’d come a long way for it; and whose answer was, ‘It’s a standard part; don’t worry, it will fit.’

It didn’t. It was a 3-sided gasket when the original had been 4-sided. But that was a fact I didn’t realise, of course, until I got home and tried to fit it in my oven.

Another phonecall to Defy eventually revealed that I should, in fact, have given the spares department the model details from the back of my stove in order to be supplied with the right gasket. I was immensely irritated by the waste of my time and resources (and bear in mind that my oven wasn’t usable during this time), but somewhat mollified when the salesperson I spoke to agreed to post the right gasket to me. (It was never explained to me why, when I first phoned about the gasket, it couldn’t be posted; but this time, it could.) He couldn’t, however, agree to deliver it by Speed Services (an overnight option), and the weekend was approaching during which I’d need my oven, so in the meantime I asked my father, who was coming through from Cape Town to visit me, to also go to the Defy offices and personally buy a gasket and bring it with him (the gaskets themselves aren’t expensive – under R100 each) – better too many than too few, right?

As it turned out, dead right. Because the gasket my father bought lasted less than a week before it snapped.

first gasket snapped

I was irritated, and I let Defy know by email (including the photo above) what had happened, but by then the gasket they had posted had arrived, so I was able to immediately replace the broken one.

That one – the fourth Defy gasket –  lasted less than a day.

second snapped gasket

Finally, thinking that perhaps I was inadvertently doing something that was causing the gaskets to break, I asked the local electrician to pop in and have a look for me. He immediately put his finger on the problem: ‘It’s just way, way, WAY too tight,’ he pointed out. His assumption was that, in trying to save costs on materials, the manufacturer had used too little rubber for the gasket, putting it under immense pressure once it had been stretched into place. (I emailed Defy to tell them that the latest gasket, too, had snapped, along with the photo above, plus the electrician’s diagnosis. As with all other emails to Defy, I didn’t get a response until I’d followed up at least a few times, and topped this off with some kind of threat.)

The local electrician bought some lengths of rubber and clips, made me a gasket, and fitted it. It fits without having to be forcibly stretched into placed, and it works perfectly.

His bill came to about R600 (materials, labour and callout). Naturally, I sent this to Defy, asking them to cover it.

It took Defy 2 weeks and many prompting (and some threatening) emails to elicit this response from Theunis Veldschoën, Western Cape regional service manager in the ‘after sales department’:

‘Re the gasket: All Defy products, including the spare parts related to it, are approved by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specification, NRCS, whereby upon approval a LAO, Letter of Authority, gets issued.

‘Defy will supply you a new gasket at no cost, but unfortunately, we cannot be held liable for the cost of the call out of the Electrician.’

Seriously, Defy??

As I explained to Theunis in a return email (the last one, I sincerely hope, I shall ever send to Defy), the gobbledigooky first paragraph does nothing whatsoever to explain to me, their irritated and dissatisfied customer, the reason for the failure of 2 of their replacements gaskets in short order. And the fact that Defy is offering me ‘a new gasket’ is simply astonishing – why on earth do they think that I would accept something (even if it’s ‘at no cost’) that two previous personal experiences have conclusively proven DON’T WORK – worse, SIMPLY FAIL??

This much I know for sure: I will never buy another Defy product.

*The word ‘eventually’ can be used in all instances in which I phoned Defy (and it was a lot), as once your call has been answered, you’re put on hold for what seems like forever, and it’s apparently a matter of sheer luck if you end up talking to an actual human being. And, ironically, while you hold, there’s a pre-recorded looped message that endlessly tells you how utterly fabulous the company is.

Things married people should know about their single friends

A newly single friend came for Easter lunch. Looking around at the other guests, he said, ‘So, is this a ‘‘strays and orphans’’ thing?’

It was precisely the kind of comment I’d expect from someone who was until recently in a marriage. Anyone who’s become accustomed to being one of a couple makes assumptions about singletons that are almost always wrong. And this is a prime one.

So, for the record, no, we don’t gather in disparate little groups on holidays, banding together for comfort while the rest of the adult world is revelling in its coupledom. Like other normal grownups, we host or attend gatherings because we like each other and enjoy spending time together.

Today, being single applies to a broad swathe of the population, rather than a few lonely spinsters sitting sadly on shelves. In fact, in the USA, for the first time ever, single adult women now outnumber married adult women. So, for your information, here are some other things marrieds should know about singletons.

* For the purposes of this piece, I’m calling all people in publicly committed, long-term relationships ‘marrieds’.

 

Much like many humans, we prefer gathering with our own kind

As evidenced by my Easter lunch guest list (8 singletons including me, 2 married women whose husbands were travelling/working), we prefer to get together with our own kind. For this reason, we prefer not to be the only singleton at a gathering of marrieds.

This once happened to me on a ghastly holiday. I was the only single person in a household of eight other grownups – all married. I became the elephant in the room: number 9 at a table intended for 8, the extra person who had to be accommodated in games, the person who made everyone have to squash up in the car on outings, etc. And perhaps the worst thing was that everyone steadfastly pretended that I wasn’t the cause of all the unevenness and the one person having to sit out a board game or be the completely unnecessary referee, etc. It was a giant drag for everyone, especially me.

And on that subject…

 

We don’t like being treated as honorary children

On that same ghastly holiday, all the married grownups got rooms of their own with doors that closed and actual beds. I was billeted ‘with the kids’. On a single mattress. Up a ladder. In a low-ceiling loft that required me to crawl about on my hands and knees like, well, a child.

Single people understand that most accommodations are designed for couples – after all, we’ve become grudgingly accustomed to being fined for our single status via the ‘single supplement’ we’re charged on hotel rooms we occupy solo. And most single people, especially in situations like a joint holiday, don’t mind sharing or, for that matter, bunking down on a mattress.

But for the love of god, married people, don’t lump us in with the kids.

And on that subject…

 

Our opinions are as valid as yours, our money as good (but not selectively better)

What’s sometimes happened to me when I’ve been the solo singleton in a married-couples gathering, is that one of the men spontaneously assumes the responsibility of being my spokesperson. I realise this is usually well meant – if he’s speaking for his wife, he may as well also talk for the tagalong singleton – but it’s irritating. Being single doesn’t mean I don’t have preferences, or that I’m somehow incapable of voicing them.

And when it comes to money, I’m always happy to foot my share of the bill – but, married people, please remember that it takes two people to make up a couple. It’s extremely annoying when I’m invited to take part in a collection for a gift for someone, and ‘each party’ is invited to contribute, say, R300. ‘Each party’ in this case often involves some singletons and some marrieds. And the marrieds, irksomely, always also contribute R300. Together.

(This also happened to me once when sharing a petrol bill – there were 4 of us travelling, 2 singletons and 1 married couple, and the wife split the bill three ways. On that occasion, I pointed out that there were actually 4 people sharing the car.)

 

We get extremely uncomfortable when you snipe at each other across the dinner table

Some married couples become so used to being hostile to each other in their private space that they forget not to do it in public. While, admittedly, singletons aren’t the only ones who cringe as husbands and wives trade thinly disguised invective over the penne arrabiatta, for some reason, many married couples tend to regard singletons as not quite grownup (see above: we’re not honorary children, and our opinions are as valid as yours), and so somehow feel less compelled to keep up appearances in front of them.

This behaviour is probably the most common reason that singletons leave dinner parties thinking ‘Thank fuck I’m not married’.

(A corollary note here for singletons: when a spouse subjects you to a long private whine about their significant other – usually, alas, this is a woman moaning about her husband – don’t say stupid things like, ‘Well, at least you’ve got a husband to complain about.’ A crap husband is far worse than none at all.)

 

Please don’t assume that our lives are the same as yours, only pitiable

Our lives differ vastly from yours, and they’re very far from pitiable. Especially for those of us who’ve chosen singledom, rather than had it thrust upon us, our lives are a long list of pluses weighed up against a fairly short one of minuses.

Some of the pluses: We can take up the whole bed, we never have to negotiate what to watch on TV, we don’t have to deal with other people’s bodily fluids or moods or dress sense or snoring or eating habits or choice of friends, we can do whatever the hell we like with our money, our time and our bodies, we can honestly dance like no-one’s watching, we can wash the dishes when we damned well feel like it, we can indulge our love of cats/crochet without a snide running commentary, we never have to tell anyone where we are, where we’re going or when we’ll be back…

All of the minuses: No additional income, no shared expenses, no-one to fetch teenage children from parties/clubs at 1 in the morning.

And on that subject…

 

We’re not lonely (or any lonelier than any of you, anyway)

Being alone is a far cry from being lonely. And while some singletons are indeed lonely, most of us are very happy being alone.

I spend most of my week very happily in the company of a dog, two cats and a handful of chickens, and then socialise very happily on the weekends with delightful friends and family who I adore and who hugely enrich my life, and who I love saying goodbye to on Sunday afternoon.

(Incidentally, some of the loneliest people I know are married.)

And on that subject…

 

Unless specifically requested in writing, we don’t want to be ‘fixed up’

Especially not if it’s with your recently divorced brother, your recently paroled neighbour or your recently medicated best friend.

And, finally, on that subject…

 

Most of us don’t want your husbands

While there are a few predatory single women out there (and I apologise for them), most of us aren’t interested in your husbands. Most of us don’t even like your husbands.

Why I’m not going to pay my TV licence

Dear Mr Motsoeneng

Your accounts department has recently stepped up its reminders to me to ‘do the right thing’ and pay my TV licence, by sending me repeated SMSes. I’ve also received a licence-renewal reminder by post.

But this year, Mr Motsoeneng, for the first time in my adult TV-owning life, I’m not going to pay my TV licence.

It’s not because I can’t afford R265. Of course I can. That’s a drop in the ocean compared to what I’m paying these days in other taxes, and for electricity, water, food, transport and the house I live in.

It’s also not because I think the content of our local TV stations is rubbish – although think that I most certainly do.

And it’s not because I believe (although, again, I do) that what should be our public broadcaster has turned into a state broadcaster, with all the implications of propaganda and censorship that go hand-in-hand with that.

It’s because, Mr Motsoeneng, like so many other South Africans, I’m thoroughly sick and tired of being a victim of the daylight robbery you and others in positions of power in our country casually pass off as governance.

 

I’m a 52-year-old white woman, Mr Motsoeneng. I’m a first-generation South African – the very epitome of what some of my fellow South Africans wish would ‘return to where they came from’. But I come from here, Mr Motsoeneng. I’m a South African.

I love my country, Mr Motsoeneng. I love my country but, as has been the case almost throughout my life, I’m ashamed of my government.

With the brief exception of that halcyon period of Mr Mandela in South Africa’s hot seat, I’ve always been ashamed of my government. A pivotal moment in my life was when, in my early 20s, I travelled overseas, and my father advised me to tell people I was from Australia. Think about that for a moment, Mr Motsoeneng: so indefensible was my own government’s position that I was advised rather to lie than admit I was part (willingly or otherwise) of it.

And today the same is happening: where Mr Zuma and his (our!) blatantly corrupt, greedy, selfish government is concerned, I’m unable to defend them. Because they’re quite simply indefensible.

I have, nonetheless, over the years, been a fairly law-abiding citizen. I’ve never cheated on my taxes – I truly believe that as a relatively privileged South African, it’s incumbent on me to help my fellow citizens, and to that end, I hand over many thousands of my hard-earned rands each year to my government. (I call myself ‘relatively privileged’ because although I’m white, I didn’t come from a wealthy family: of the four kids in my family, only one – not me – went to university, and that was on a loan. While I fully accept and acknowledge my position of ‘generational wealth’ and the many inherent advantages I have as a white South African, I’ve never had a foot up or a handout from my government: everything I am and have, I’ve worked for.)

In addition to income tax, VAT and petrol levies, I also pay rates and taxes on my property. What I’m saying here, Mr Motsoeneng, is that I pay an inordinate amount of money to my government in order to make life better for all South Africans.

So I ask you to please try to understand how unbearably frustrating it is to know that this hard-earned money is used by our president, Jacob Zuma, and others in our government – and YOU, Mr Motsoeneng – as if it’s your personal pocket money.

Let’s leave aside Mr Zuma’s very well publicised theft of South Africans’ money for the moment, and concentrate what you and the SABC do with the money you’re given – R1 billion of it every year coming straight out of the pockets of ordinary TV-owning South Africans like me.

In the three years up to 2014, R3,39 billion was ‘improperly spent’ by your enterprise. And in more or less the same period, your salary increased eightfold: by 2015 you were earning R3,7 million a year. R3.7 million a year!!!! That’s over R300 000 a month. That’s about what I earn in TWO YEARS, Mr Motsoeneng. And it would take my char EIGHT YEARS to earn what you earn in a single month!

You blusteringly point out that our licence fees don’t pay your salary. But what does feed your fat bank account, Mr Motsoeneng? That’s right. Our taxes. The money I work so hard to earn. Maybe that’s why I’m drawing the line at this additional R265. This R265 is, it’s fair to say, the straw that’s threatening to break this camel’s back.

 

Now, Mr Motsoeneng, if you were doing a sterling job, perhaps this wouldn’t irk me so very badly. But let’s have a look at your track record. In 2014, our public protector (god bless her cotton socks) Thuli Madonsela directed the SABC board to take steps against you after probing claims that you abused your power, misrepresented your matric qualifications, purged senior staff at the SABC and irregularly hiked your salary. Instead, your board followed Mr Zuma’s example and ignored the findings of the public protector, cleared you of any wrongdoing, and appointed you permanently to your post – in effect, it promoted you.

And although late last year, your permanent appointment as COO was declared unlawful by Western Cape High Court Judge Denis Davis (Judge Davis called communications minister Faith Muthambi’s decision to appoint you in a permanent capacity ‘incongruent with legality’), you’re still there! Why??!!

In most other countries in the world, this would have resulted in such a huge public outcry – not to mention embarrassment to your good self – that you would have had no choice but to ‘do the right thing’ and step down. But not in the South Africa of today.

Today, the people of South Africa are like victims of Battered Woman Syndrome: we’re so punch-drunk as a result of the serious, long-term abuse we’ve suffered at the hands of our government that we’re simply incapable of rational thought.

 

So, Mr Motsoeneng, as I’m unable and unwilling to withhold my income tax (not only because I don’t want to go to jail or have my hard-earned property confiscated, but also because I believe it’s my duty to contribute financially to a better life for all South Africans), I’m going to make this small stand and refuse to pay my TV licence.

And until you – and others like you, right up to and including president Jacob Zuma – ‘do the right thing’, I’m going to follow your example and not do the right thing either.