Category Archives: Navel-Gazing & Storytelling

Escalate This!

I love words. I love the way that you can push little buttons on a keyboard and letters magically appear, arranging themselves in patterns that turn into stories and love notes and Important Points. I love words even more when they flow out of a pen or pencil, each one emblazoned with the writer himself, each curl and dot an expression. I love that if you take just one letter away here, add a different one there, they can change meaning entirely. I love the short ones and the long ones, the foreign ones and the familiar ones, the expressive ones and the not-so-expressive ones. Yes, I love words.

But…

There’s one word that makes my skin crawl. I’m sure it’s been hauled through that incomprehensible marketing/customer relations machine that (I’m convinced) happens around a board room table populated by plastic dolls with fake grins and smarmy smiles, to now be used ad infintum. It’s not its fault that they chose it, but that doesn’t stop my skin from crawling:

ESCALATE

I’m one of those (mildly irritating, if you’re not affected by it, and, I’m sure, hugely irritating for every customer relations person, everywhere) consumers that gives feedback. I try to counter every complaint with a compliment. This works sometimes, other times not.

The not happens when I get that automated reply: “Your query has been escalated.” Escalated to who? And how? Did you print it out, seal it with wax and tie it with a red ribbon and you’re now escalating yourself up the ten floors to the CEO to hand it over? I think not. Your CEO ain’t never gonna see my mail, of that I’m sure. But I can be reassured that it’s been escalated.

Was mine escalated above everyone else’s? Maybe I’m special, and that’s why. See the plastic people in the board room fake smiling at each other saying, ‘we need to make them feel special’, as they eat the gluten-free wraps with curling edges in the middle of the table and swig on the coffee provided by the newly-installed hipster barrista in the foyer.

Or was it not escalated at all, and I’m falling for the biggest trick in the book? I’m going with that, and will be sending a very polite e-mail to the Dictionary People (who, I’m sure, have real smiles – who wouldn’t, working with words all day?), asking them to please remove ‘ESCALATE’ – and all of its derivatives – from the dictionary.

It’s just the kind thing to do.

The White Balloon

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A white balloon trailing its golden ribbon tail arrived in the front garden this morning as I sat at my desk pretending to work while actually staring out of the window and hoping to see something magical.

Little Cat, sitting on my desk, also staring out of the window either hoping for something magical, or working out some quantum physics problem, saw it too.

Balloons are following me at the moment. Last week, a pink one stared disconsolately at me as we queued in the inevitable parking ticket queue in hell. I mean, the mall. That’s the pink one in the pic above. The white one this morning was camera shy (read: I was too busy staring out of the window to think camera.)

The balloon was dirty, bits of mud smeared from the adventures it’d already had. It looked like one of those post-Saturday night prom pictures – its white cotillion dress skew, it’s lipstick smeared, leaves in its hair. But it was happy as it danced around in the cold Autumn wind of the front garden, narrowly missing the sharp thorns of the bougainvillea, before getting stuck between the Cape Jasmine and the fence.

I was convinced it would pop in that wild little corner. That, or it would remain stuck there, slowly deflating and getting those weird patches of wrinkles before turning into a flaccid piece of rubber attached to a golden ribbon. Suburban flotsam.

Minutes later, though, I saw it squeeze through a gap in the leaves, rise up as high as the streetlights, and float off down the street to find new adventures.

Little Cat, having had his fill of magic for the day, jumped from my desk with a thud and ambled off.

I stayed staring (looking for magic) for just a little longer.

The 10:59 to Muizenberg

I am, intrinsically, Pollyanna-esque. To the point that I’m sure drives many to madness. I can’t help it, it’s inherited. I come from a line of glad people, there’s no fighting genes.

Sometimes, though, I find the world harsh and cruel. My faith in humankind gets crushed like an unlucky butterfly on a car’s windshield. There’s just so much ugliness amongst humans: hatred and violence and disregard. It makes me sad.

And then something happens that reminds me of the goodness. Today was one of those days – coincidentally Human Rights Day in this wonderfully diverse, spectacularly chaotic country that we call home.

Winter is coming. It’s the equinox. Cape Town didn’t get that memo, or chose to ignore it, speaking sweetly into my beloved The Weatherman’s ear and persuading him to give us a wind-still, 35-degree day. Cape Town is a foxy minx, The Weatherman couldn’t resist her smile.

And so it was that the day dawned perfect and the beach beckoned, but not the traffic. No, the traffic didn’t beckon, but the train did. I love the train. It brings back memories of childhood holidays, it makes me feel part of the thrumming humanity that call this city home.

The train was late as we chatted with the family next to us, buckets and spades ready, the tiniest of their party already in her skirted polka dot swimming costume.

Finally it arrived, packed with families and youngsters off to the beach, backpackers, people going to work, people going home, the stifling heat packed with smells of sun cream, Nik Naks and sweat.

I took a chance, having not checked about the wheelchair accessibility of Muizenberg Station. Sometimes, I just don’t wanna. Sometimes, I just wanna do. Unplanned, spur of the moment. We climbed off, onto the sweltering platform, a welcoming salty breeze coming off the sea.

And there it was. A flight of stairs. The ramp at the end closed tight – City of Cape Town/Metrorail, why? GM calmly left me in the breeze and crossed through the underpass to the station on the other side.

There, she found Nobonke Koni, security guard-angel of Sechaba Protection Services, who gathered her colleagues, Mr Nopakela and Mr Sonqi. They, along with the car guard from the parking lot and another guy, whose names I sadly didn’t get, hefted my (not unhefty) weight in my wheelchair down the steps to the opening to the beach.

There we found, with dismay, three cars parked so closely to each other that we couldn’t fit through. Not an eye blink and those four superheroes lifted me over the bonnet of the Merc glinting in the heat. If it hadn’t been so scary, I’d have shouted ‘I’m flying!’. My fear was totally misplaced, those guys had me

And that’s how I got to bask in the sun at the beach, make a new sweet surfer-boy friend, hear the glee of kids at the seaside, and how I was reminded of how much good there is in the world, how I love my country. Five people were kind and caring and went way beyond the call of duty for a woman they’ve never met before. We met up with them on the train home, our new friends who were so kind.

Faith in humankind restored.

In Search of Eddie Vedder

I have loved Eddie Vedder since I was a teenager. And by loved, I am perfectly happy to admit that it’s a love of the complete teen-adoration-for-ridiculously-good-looking-rockstar-who-stage-dives kind. It’s not only that, though, and it’s lasted into my 40’s. I love his voice, his lyrics, his … I’ll stop there. Swoon.

Pearl Jam and, later, Eddie Vedder’s solo songs, have been integral tracks on the Soundtrack of My Life. You know how when big things are happening – you’re falling in love, you’ve had your heart broken, somebody ate the last piece of pizza – every song lyric is written for you? In those moments, those song lyrics for me, very often, were those of Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder.

For years I’ve been watching them announce concert dates, the world over, and thinking ‘should I’, ‘shouldn’t I?’  Then they announced a Florence Festival date *Quick whirl back in time: I went to Italy in 1990, as a long-limbed 16-year old, and fell in love with it* and I thought, ‘I should.’ A few days later, they announced more European dates, one in Sicily.

And that is why I have spent the last weeks plotting and planning and calling in Italian Knights in Shining Armour (IKiSA) to help me translate booking sites and correspond with organisers, to work out if I could wangle it to see Eddie Vedder play in the most beautiful ancient Greek ruins overlooking Mount Etna in Taormina, Sicily. There have been mails to-ing and fro-ing and nails being bitten and so many lovely, kind people both here and in Italy giving me the low-down on accessibility.

Yesterday, I received the final one, from the organiser of the Taormina concert. Yes, I would be able to access the Teatro antico di Taormina, all I needed to do was get online and book, when bookings opened this morning at 10 AM (CET), all in Italian. My IKiSA gave me careful instructions on what to do. Yesterday, using Google Translate, I registered on the ticket site, practiced buying a ticket for something else, Google Translated every little line.

I checked three different websites to make sure that 10 AM (CET) was the same as 11 AM here.

This morning, with my ADSL behaving like a 2-year old that doesn’t want to go to school, I pretended to do some work while I watched the clock like a civil servant waiting for tea-time. At 10:45 AM I moved myself and my tetchy computer into the kitchen, with its nose against the modem and logged on on my phone too, in case. Google Translate was open. Everything else was closed, so that my computer could concentrate solely on the matter at hand: Getting. Those. Tickets.

10:58.

10:59.

11:00! And there they were! A little green button next to ‘Biglietti’! I clicked on it, put in the number of tickets and clicked on ‘Metti nel carrello’. The little Circle Thingy of Hell turned and turned, the page not changing. I started doing the same thing on my phone, a panic rising from the pit of my stomach.

Wait! A Capchta code. Eek. Those things freak me out. Is it a ‘C’ or a ‘c’, a ‘W’ or a ‘w’? I felt like I was doing my final Chemistry prac again.

Success! New screen.

Pick ‘Ritiro sul luogo dell’evento’, as told by IKiSA. Then more Circle Thingy of Hell, as the time-allowed-clock ticked down from 10:00 to 08:40. My shattered nerves. New page loading!

What? Who? You need me to fill in which? Eek. Frantic Google Translating … Enter credit card details.

We’re down to 04:21.  The timer is sticking it’s tongue out at me. 02:34.

Enter SMS’ed code to agree to payment coming off my card: 9939.

Circle Thingy of Hell.
Circle Thingy of Hell .
01:24.
Circle Thingy of Hell …

VOILA! (I think. Everything’s in Italian, but it looks like tickets to Eddie Vedder, and the money’s gone off my account, and I’ve got the e-mail. I feel like I’ve just received a Golden Ticket to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.)

I am going to see Eddie Vedder in Taormina, Sicily on 26 June 2017.  I have that excitement that makes the tummy gurgle and the mouth stretch into a smile and the heart flutter arrythmically. The excitement.

This is where I’ll be seeing him. It’s almost unbelievable. Here. That’s the Mediterranean in the distance. Oh. My. God(father). Sicily. Eddie. Swoon.

 

We Need To Talk About Straws

I’m tetraplegic. That is not something I often talk about in my writings because, more often than not, it has nothing to do with my everyday goings-on. Actually, no, that sentence is incorrect. It, obviously affects everything I do, but in most cases, it’s in the most uninteresting and un-writing-worthy way. I’m straying, though. the point I was making is that, well, I’m going to use it today to give more sway to my argument against straws.

My tetraplegia means that, while I can move my wrists up and down, I cannot move my fingers. Over the past twenty years I have perfected the balancing act of holding a glass or can using gravity and the paw-like action that paralysed fingers naturally take on. If, however, I’m lying down, gravity is not on my side, so I use a water bottle instead. Very occasionally, when drinking something that requires a glass, like raspberry cordial, or something equally beautiful, I will use a straw. I will then wash that straw, let it dry, and use it again next time.

In the same way, very small children, who still use sippy cups at home but want to feel a little grown-up at a restaurant, may need a straw. Or stroke patients, or people who have balance issues. And for all of them, I say go for it, that’s what things like straws are for: to make life easier. But they should only be used in those scenarios.

And there I, finally, get to my point. All you perfectly able people (and children) sucking your liquids through plastic straws, stop! All that plastic is flowing into the sea and straws are getting stuck in turtle’s nostrils and polluting the oceans and just doing bad stuff. And it’s completely unnecessary.

The other day I saw an entire table of late-teens get gorgeous-looking, brightly-coloured cocktails, each with not one, but three straws. Presumably so that they could guzzle them down quicker, knowing teens. I wanted to shout across the tables: “Kids! Kids! You know what? it’s even quicker if you pick the glass up and drink it through your lips. You know those things that were specificaly designed to make it possible for you to sip stuff without it falling down your fronts? Those.”

But this isn’t a rant aimed at teens, it’s aimed at everybody. When did we all forget how to pick up a glass and drink with our lips? How come there’s not a huge move toward not giving a straw with every drink served at a restaurant?

An argument from a friend, whose poor ear I was chewing off about the issue, was hygeine. She was worried about the germs she might get off the rim of her glass. This, after she’d just taken the escalator and held onto the sliding bannister-filled-with-tiny-organisms-from-the-hundreds-of-people-doing-the-same-before-her. Worried about germs? Wipe the rim with your serviette.

Because, as I said before, that straw that you’re using, because you’re too lazy to pick up your own glass and sip with your own mouth, is going to land up in the sea. And it may very well hurt or kill the lovely creatures who live there and aren’t as ‘lucky’ as the guy below, who was found and helped. I put lucky in apostrophes there, because, if you watch this video, you’ll see how bloody awful it was for the poor critter. He BLEEDS. Not to mention how sore he must have been with it lodged there.

Stop with the straws. Just, stop.

Things I’ve (Not) Learnt in my Forties

As I head (at speed) toward my 43rd year of life and, having read innumerable blogs, articles, and columns titled ‘What I Learnt in My Forties’, ‘Ten Things I Know Now That I’m Forty’, ‘The Wisdom of One’s Forties’ and the like, I thought it was time to make my own list.

Here it is:

  1. I’m still completely unsure of the world and my place in it.
  2. My humour is still that of an 11-year old boy.
  3. I must stop reading about the things I should know, the epiphanies I should’ve had and the wisdom I should be spewing. Because I don’t know them, I haven’t had them, and the wisdom escapes me.

And you know what? I’m okay with that. And maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Women’s March: Respect Existence or Expect Resistance

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We all knew it was coming, the inauguration of a sexist, racist, homophobic, misogynist (and the list goes on) president of the USA. I’ve been avoiding the news since he won the election, unable to bear his bullying and nonsensical tirades. I’ve been thinking-hoping that something would happen, that this was all some kind of huge prank, an exposé of the terrifying influence of modern/social media, of the society we find ourselves living in: its falsities and empty-headed idolatries; its botoxed, plastic-surgeried mask; its duck-faced inanity.

On Friday, I broke my media blackout and watched the inauguration, hoping that this would be the Big Reveal, that Trump would come out, preferably in a clown outfit, and shout: “It’s a hoax! This was just an experiment to show the horrifying ease with which fear can be harnessed to lead a huge population of people over a cliff into the sea.”

But, no.

And so it was that I headed into the city yesterday morning to join hundreds of women (and men and children and some hounds) to support the Women’s March in Washington DC, because we absolutely cannot sit back and allow hatred and greed and prejudice of pretty much every kind ever given a name, to win.

It was hot and sweaty, but marching in Cape Town is pretty much a walk in the park, literally. After gathering in front of the museum, we headed down Government Avenue, watched by the old trees and stately buildings that line the path through the Company’s Garden. There could’ve been more people. There should’ve been more people. And more diversity. But that’s a thought for another day, because this blog is about showing support, building a resistance. We had gathered together to say no, and therein lies the power of the collective.

I only truly comprehended that later, the power in numbers. Seeing footage of all the other sister marches across the world, and the main Washington one, I was astounded. We were a few hundred, but with the marches across the world, we were millions. We are millions.

Millions of people who are saying no, not on our watch.

No.