How not to get paint

Last Saturday, I decided to pop through to Riebeek West – 5km each way, a quick trip of no more than 10 minutes – to pick up a litre of paint I’d ordered by phone on the Friday.

Taking the most direct route, I drove up the hill. It was the church’s birthday party and they’d closed off the road, so I had to turn around, drive to the bottom of the village, go out that way, then drive around the village and finally get on the linking road.

Where I got stuck behind a day-visitor who, like many of his kind, was clearly under the impression that nobody actually lives in these towns, and that they only quaintly come to life on the weekends so city folk can drive at a snail’s pace more or less in the middle of the road, staring and pointing out the window , and not noticing the actual resident behind them foaming at the mouth and screaming ‘Get the fuck out the way, you useless fat bastard of a tourist’.

In Riebeek West, I went in to Agrimark (never my favourite place to shop at the best of times) and requested my paint. John, the paint person, said to me, ‘You said I should mix it only when you got here.’

This was a baldfaced lie (why in god’s name would I give such a pointless, time-wasting instruction?!), but I sighed and said, ‘Okay, how long is it going to take?’ He said five minutes, but that was five minutes in a universe where the paint person knows how to use the paint-mixing computer, and doesn’t switch the screen on and off multiple times in an obviously fruitless effort to get the program to do his bidding.

By now a terrible primeval scream was building up inside my skull, and I said in a strangled voice, ‘John, can I come and fetch the paint on Monday? I can’t wait for you to learn how to use the bloody computer.’

‘No, hang on, I’ll go and get somebody,’ he said, and ran off and came back quite quickly with another man. The two of them stood at the computer, poking at it with their index fingers as if it was a half-dead frog at the bottom of a ditch and they were two moron boys escaped from a lunatic asylum.

By now I’d ground my jaws together so hard that they seemed to have gone into some sort of spasm, so I screeched quietly, ‘Phone me when it’s ready,’ and fled from the shop before I spontaneously combusted.

I got back in my car and drove back towards Riebeek Kasteel, getting stuck behind yet another useless fat bastard of a pointing, middle-of-the-road, snail-pace-driving tourist. I took the long way round to get back into the village, and then I got stuck at the end of a very long procession of un-be-lieeee-va-bly slow-moving vehicles, which I finally realised were themselves stuck behind a long procession of un-be-lieeee-va-bly slow-moving antique tractors – part of the church’s birthday celebrations.

I shook my fist at the heavens and screamed, ‘Fuck you, universe, you stupid fat cow!’

I don’t usually do this, as the universe has a nasty way of getting back at me for insulting her – stubbed little toe, lost keys, unsightly agonising pimple in the nostril, etc.

As I got home, John phoned. I let the call go to voicemail because I didn’t trust myself to speak, and when I listened to it later, this is what it said: ‘John. Paint.’ A more obscure and less helpful message it’s hard to imagine.

And that’s how I spent 45 minutes last Saturday morning not getting paint.



My kitchen facelift

In the movable feast that is my home improvements, my kitchen has been waiting a long time – over a dozen years – for attention.

When I first moved into this house in 2001, all I did in the existing kitchen (a very dark little galley) was knock out a couple of walls and put in a bigger window – before realising that my budget wouldn’t stretch to new cupboards, and having to ask the builder to bring in the old ones, from where they’d been lying for several weeks in the rain, which we repainted and reinstalled.

Those cupboards (three full sets, including a double sink) were already at least 20 years old before I added to their woes with a bit of weather warping, but I had no money and therefore no option.

I never tackled the kitchen partly because I didn’t really know how to make it look better without coughing up the many thousands a whole new set of kitchen cupboards would cost. But then Lood came to the rescue (as always) – he pointed out that a bit of a facelift would make all the difference. ‘And the first thing you have to do is get a plumber to move those pipes,’ he said.


‘Those pipes’ (above) were the result of not having the money to have the walls chased when we rescued the old sink from outside and reinstalled it under the new window. Initially the copper piping looked kind of arty, framing the window, but over the years and with a couple of layers paint it had just become manky, and the splashback had developed a stubborn mould that no amount of elbow grease could shift. It was the work of a morning for a local plumber to redirect the pipes under the sink.


Next step: tiling. Jakob, working with hi son Johannes (above), did a fantastic job with a very crooked canvas over the course of a weekend.


Then Lood and his team arrived to tackle the cupboards, which they painted blue and finished off with new oak handles (above). They also sanded down, stained and varnished the butcher’s blocks.


Next, I spent a day scrubbing and then relining the old hardboard cupboard shelves with kitchen-shelving paper. I really struggled to find the shelving paper – it isn’t made any more and most people I phoned didn’t even know what it was – and was incredibly lucky to lay my hands on about 11 metres of it in a design that went with the colour scheme. (I have very vivid childhood memories of my mother relining our kitchen shelves every few years.)


It’s made the most amazing difference to the old shelving (before, above), which now looks clean and fresh (below).


And, finally, I had twin blinds made and installed against the big window. And voila! A bright new kitchen!


Above: before.

Below: after.


On the water wagon

The culture I grew up in, which was British South African (my mother was Scots, my father is English), was a drinking one. This was probably exacerbated by my father’s profession – he was a news journalist, and journalists are, as everyone knows, big drinkers.

There were a few addicts – drugs and alcohol – in my parents’ social circle and as a child I regarded these people with something like fear; I couldn’t conceive of any adult being so out of control. There were also several plain ole drunks – men who danced with our dogs at the end of a boozy Sunday lunch, women who cried.

In our culture, you didn’t not drink unless you were prevented by something, like illness or being on a course of antibiotics. Or alcoholism – although, for reasons that amply illustrate the random spin of the wheel that is this pernicious disease, no-one in our family developed it.

I’ve been toying with the idea of quitting drinking for a while now, for several reasons. I’ve stopped smoking (although I do puff on an e-cig from time to time), and drinking wine made me want to smoke – an unwelcome side-effect. I’ve been through menopause, and that seemed to do something to my chemical makeup – while at one stage I could drink anyone under the table, I suddenly became unable to hold my booze, and started slurring and being silly after just a glass or two of wine. Also, I’d got to the stage where I truly dreaded my hangovers – they’d changed too, from mild inconveniences that required vast amounts of junk food to quell, to two-day lie-down-in-the-shade-and-wait-to-die horror-shows. And – significantly – I was dealing with an ongoing situation close to me where somebody’s alcohol abuse was creating chaos.

The thing that sealed it for me, however, was my third alcohol-induced blackout. Since January I’d had two, both shortish, and while I certainly didn’t like them, they didn’t worry me too much. The third one was a doozy, though – it lasted for hours and I didn’t remember one single detail of an entire evening spent with friends.

So I quit drinking.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard. In fact, it was really easy. Once I’d decided I didn’t want to drink alcohol, it simply became a non-option for me. I replaced the drink in my booze cabinet with passion-fruit and lime cordials, and 2-litre bottles of soda water – that became my ‘party drink’. (When I told people I’d quit drinking, they congratulated me, which I found odd – I didn’t consider it an achievement, just a choice. But I’ve realised that the congratulations were probably because they thought I really did need to stop drinking – and they were probably quite right.)

I had my first sober dinner party the next weekend. I was concerned about how it would go – my dinner parties often go on into the wee hours and I’m usually the last man standing (or, more often, dancing). Chatting to a friend about it a few days before, I said, ‘I’m worried I’m going to be boring.’ She replied, ‘That’s completely the wrong thing to worry about. You should be worrying that they’re going to be boring.’

As it happens, I didn’t find my drinking friends boring, although I did notice that as the evening wore on, they spoke louder and louder, and repeated themselves a lot.

But what did happen is that I got tired and achey. By about 11pm my back was sore from sitting at the table, and I was yawning uncontrollably. The side-effect of alcohol I really was missing was how deliciously it numbs you.

My last guests left at about midnight – one of the earliest-ending dinners I’ve ever held – and, rather than sitting up at the table, rolling another joint and pouring another glass of wine, I cleared up and packed the dishwasher. (I quit smoking dope at the same time as I quit drinking – mainly because I didn’t trust myself to get stoned and then be able to not have a glass of wine.)

The next morning I woke up with a clear head and a clean kitchen. It was pretty bloody marvellous, I can tell you.

I’ve been on the wagon for four months now, and this is what I’ve learnt:
• Because, paradoxically, I’m now so much more aware of alcohol, I’m realising for the first time how overwhelmingly pervasive it is in South African culture. Not only that, alcohol abuse is both rife and frighteningly destructive. I’m trying not to be a moralistic ex-drinker, really I am, but I can’t help being worried at how little social support alcoholics get (drinking South Africans consider it actively antisocial not to drink) – and I’m frankly amazed at how freely available alcohol is to teenagers, and how much South African teenagers drink!
• Some people do regard you with suspicion if you don’t drink. Although I’ve had support from almost all my friends, one of them said she’d prefer not to socialise with me any more because she felt I’d be boring. I’ve decided that says more about her than it does about me.
• Alcohol is expensive. As a result of quitting smoking and drinking, I’m saving around R2 000 a month.
• If you’re not an addict, quitting drinking is just a state of mind. For me, it’s been very easy to socialise with people who are drinking, although I do get tired much more quickly. My dinner parties now begin early and end early – 6.30pm to around 10.30pm instead of 8pm until the last person leaves or falls down.
• Waking up every morning without a hangover, as I’ve done for the last four months, has been a revelation. Until I was hangover free, I didn’t realise what a toll my drinking was taking on my general wellbeing – I constantly fought feelings of anxiety and free-floating discontent that occasionally dipped into genuine sadness. I feel so much happier now, and more in control of my emotions – and although anxiety still features in my life, it’s as a result of circumstances, not my own brain chemicals.