Monday, January 22, 2007

a meme, a swim, a comet!

Deb R, who is guest-hosting on Create a Connection on Wednesdays, came up with an interesting meme, which I have done below, but first a preamble……..
This meme asks’ what is the best’… ‘and worst’…? about various aspects of life. When I first saw the questions I decided not to do it, because I find it so hard to pin things down to ‘My worst’ or ‘My Best.’

It has to do with whether you tend to see things in sharp black or white, or shades of grey. Personally, I am a “shades of grey” person. I don’t often enjoy books or movies which portray the goodies as really good, and the baddies as pure evil. In reality, I believe everybody, and consequently their experiences too, has one of those little sliding scale things attached with good on one side and bad on the other. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t combine a bit of darkness with their light. And I don’t think the position on that scale even stays constant, there are circumstances or times when one side may overshadow the other, and then it can shift.

That is what makes humans so wonderfully complex, and why I find it irritating when they are simplistically pigeon-holed and labeled. (I think that is why I enjoy Nip-Tuck so much, apart from the gory surgeries which I CAN’T watch! I love the ambiguity and complexity of the characters.) It also makes it much easier to be accepting and non-judgmental when you can embrace the dark with the light in the people around you. So nothing is purely the best, or worst in our experiences, but usually contains elements of both.

Also, we go through different seasons in our lives, and how we perceive a place or event depends on how it fits in with where we are at right then, a place we love when raising small kids might be a pain when single or old.

What changed my mind, and made me decide to do the meme is because I was intrigued to see how Deb answered the questions. It is exactly in line with this whole idea, and because there is scope for grey areas….here goes!

1. What’s the best place you ever lived? I have a strong capacity for celebrating the moment, so pretty much most places I have lived have been great, for different reasons. Also, Max and I have always been happy together, and made the best of wherever we are, so we have good memories of most places.

If I include childhood, then the thatched cottage we lived in during my junior school years was idyllic. It was in Harare, in Zimbabwe. We were on an acre of garden, on the outskirts of town, bordering on a wild valley that was a bird sanctuary, so our view went on forever. We had great trees for climbing, and a big swimming pool, and dirt roads all around where we used to go on our bicycles.

If I think of adult life, I loved living on our smallholding in Port Elizabeth when the kids were little, and milking my own cow, making butter and jam, growing and living off our own vegetables, making pottery. When we first got there, it was very free and peaceful, and we often didn’t even close the front door at night, never mind lock it!

We had some good years there, but it certainly had its dark side too. We had very little money, and the maintenance on a place like that is HUGE. For the first few years we could not afford a borehole, and relied on rainwater collected in large tanks next to the house. When we had droughts (quite regularly it seemed) it was a constant worry, and struggling to keep our garden alive was an ongoing battle. It seemed like I was always struggling to fix fences, stables, etc.
And we had empty plots around us, which were taken over by squatters. They used to get drunk and fight over weekends, it got to the point where hardly a weekend went by without someone bleeding on our doorstep and asking us to call the cops. In the end, it was a huge relief to sell the place and move on, although we all have some happy memories of living there.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, we now live in a little semi-detached house in town, and I think this is my best so far. It would not have suited us when the kids were at home, needing space, but for the two of us, it is great. We love the “lock up and go” lifestyle, low maintenance garden, no swimming pool to keep clean, lawns to cut etc. The cultural vibe is great, galleries and cute coffee shops nearby, a cool and eclectic mix of arty neighbours etc. The negative is the crime, always more intense in old urban areas, but so far the positives still outweigh that.

the worst? For me on my own I would say it would be the 9 months I lived in Johannesburg, in 1975. It is a hard core city, very “dog eat dog”, every man for himself. For a naïve, sheltered kid who grew up in what was then Rhodesia, it was hardcore! I hated it. Once someone stopped me on the street and said “you are not from here, are you?” I was surprised and asked how they knew. They said “because you smiled at me, no-one from here ever smiles or makes eye contact on the street.” I guess that about sums it up!

If I have to choose one from since we were married, I suppose I would say Mtoko, although it could be lovely in different circumstances, and we were also happy there in a way. It is a tiny village North West of Harare, half way to Mozambique. We lived there at the height of the bush war, and Max had his own mine-proofed vehicle that he had to go to the surrounding rural villages in. It was the “hottest” place in the war at that point, and fatalities were high. I was pregnant with Karen at the time. Every morning when Max went off to work, I would say goodbye as if it was the last time, and if he came home, it was a bonus. We know of at least three ambushes during the war that were set specifically for him, and in each case, because there were last minute changes of schedule, someone else got hit (two landmines and one ambush). You couldn’t even walk to the local shops without a firearm.
It was also not helpful to my memories of the place that the only butcher in town was a ghastly lecherous old Englishman with a broad North Country accent, and terrible halitosis, who always sidled up close, and even tried to cop a feel on occasions, eeeyuch! In the end I always waited till Max was at home and we went in to buy meat together. I had quite a rough pregnancy, and there were a few long trips into Harare to see specialists, with me driving and Max “riding shotgun”. But we were young and madly in love, and excited about our new baby, so it took a lot more than all that to get us down.

2. What’s the best place you ever visited on holiday/vacation?
4 favourites pop into my mind right off (shades of GREY, people!!)

My first is Namibia, It is just the most fascinating, gaunt yet beautiful place and I am mad about it. It is too much to describe now, but I am often mentioning aspects of it.

When I was 14, my grandfather lived in Palma in Majorca, (an island off Spain.) We went to visit him for his 85th birthday, going via Rome, (Pompeii, Naples, Sorrento) and then across to Madrid and driving through Spain via Granada, Cordoba, Alicante, flying across to Ibiza, Majorca, and back to Barcelona and on a cruise ship through Gibraltar, to Capetown. It was great. My only regret is that I was not a year or 2 older, at the time I was much more interested in Spanish guys than cool buildings etc, I think I would have got much more out of the experience with a bit more maturity.

We have had some amazing holidays in Zimbabwe. I have already spoken about the cottage in the mountains of Inyanga here.

The other place we were very privileged to go to was a place on Lake Kariba, called Sanyati Lodge. It was only accessible from across the lake, Kariba village was 45 minutes away in a fast speedboat. No roads, phones electricity, BLISS. The chalets were open in the front, hanging out over the hillside on pillars, and only attached to terra firma at the back, where the bathroom was. So you woke up to the shreik of fish eagles, hovering in front of you over the lake. A hippo used to stroll through the lodges, so close you could have reached out and touched him. There was a full staff, so the most strenuous thing you had to do all day was go down to the boats, for a fishing or game viewing cruise. Then back to the lodge, all meals wonderfully prepared and served in the huge thatch boma (a sort of central gathering place with lounge chairs, dining areas and a bar) The visitors book had a signature just before ours, and it took up the whole page, just one word...Phillip. I wondered who this eccentric or arrogant person was... turned out to be Prince Phillip, Queen Elizabeth's husband. One day, in "images of Africa" I will cover the Kariba trips more fully, and share pictures with you.

the worst? A hotel we stopped at in a little town called Brandfort on our way back from a business seminar in Sun City (think mini Las Vegas in a game park). It was late when we left, following a full and tiring week, and a hot and sticky day with no aircon in our car. We got to a point where neither of us could stay awake to drive any more, so we had to stop for the night. We struggled to make it to the next town, and had to look for a place we could afford to stay. This was long before B&B’s became popular.
There was only 1 hotel we could see in town, and it had 3 stars, so we thought it wouldn’t be too bad. The tariff was high but we could just afford it, and were delighted to see it included breakfast, which was good because after paying for the hotel, we didn’t have enough cash left for take-aways on the journey.
We checked in and looked around. The décor was a relic of the 50s, cement floors with vinyl tiles that had seen better days, and twin beds with headboards of that horrible sort of puke green and sick yellow pearly looking Formica that was popular back then. Never mind, who cared? We were tired so we thought it would be great to have a nice bath and go straight to bed. We turned on the taps, and tried to run a hot bath… nope, nada, nix. Upon inquiry, we were told that the geyser was off, and it was one of the old kind that works by making a wood fire underneath it (I kid you not!) so it would take 2 – 3 hours for it to heat up if they started the fire then. We declined the offer, and decided to go straight to bed.
We pulled back the sheets, and there was a little curly hair… now it is really hard not to speculate, is this from the moulting head of the person who made the bed, or worse, a pubic hair from a previous guest. After a quick debate, we decided that there was no other place to stay, and we were beyond exhaustion, so we just brushed off the sheets and went to sleep! I still wonder though!! The next morning our breakfast was served bright and early, bacon and eggs, sunny side up and literally floating in a deep pool of oil. Charming! However, as this was to be our only meal till we got home….
I have never been so delighted to leave a place, get in the car and drive away!

3. What’s the best job you ever had? I suppose my current one, interior design, it was a lot of fun at one time. Lately, as the business has grown, I am finding the stress levels rising and the fun creative side getting swamped by the hassle factor, dealing with suppliers, admin etc.

In the mid to late 80s, I also loved being a potter, but again, the downside was that the free creativity was often stifled by the need to churn out orders, at one stage I thought if I had to make 1 more pink coffee mug I would die! Eventually I took the risk, and spent time following my heart, doing my own thing creatively, and had a successful solo exhibition at a local art gallery. It was great, but shortly after that I broke my back in a horse riding accident, and although it healed, it was damaged to the point where I could not handle the heavy lifting of bags of clay, loading kiln shelves etc and I had to give up.

the worst? When I went to Johannesburg in 1975, I was offered a job in a company where I was told I would learn about photographic film processing, and be trained to run the factory. In those days, very few places had compact in-house processors. They were still monster things, and Pharmacies and photo shops took in the negatives, sent them to the lab for processing and returned them to the clients a few days later!
As it turned out, the man who hired me (whose name was, appropriately enough, Hogg) turned out to be a real pig, and he was having an affair with the manageress, while still hitting on anyone else he decided might be worth a shot. Consequently, the atmosphere could be cut with a knife most of the time. I would always have to cough loudly before going into the darkroom area, after a few excruciatingly embarrassing incidents of walking in on them in heavy clinches there! She was an absolute cow to work for, sarcastic and mean. They really deserved each other. It was like working in some sort of real life, badly made soap opera!
In the end, there was so much unhappiness in the company, staff kept leaving, and I was told to fill in and work behind the counter at one of the shops, taking in film. It was mindless and tedious and not what I was hired for, and I could see they were not getting their act together anytime soon, so I found another job, and left within 6 weeks.

4. What’s your best talent or ability? Visualizing colour.
your worst? Admin, HATE it!

5. What’s the best decision you ever made? To marry Max.

As a couple, when Max was retrenched from his job 9 years ago, it seemed devastating, but we decided he would not go and sell his soul to another company, but set up on his own as a consultant. It was tough at first while he got established, but it has been a really good thing. We took most of his payout and invested it in a plot in Cape St Francis. We recently sold it for 12 times what we paid for it!

the worst? We decided we had such a happy home with lots of love to share, so we would make ourselves available as foster parents. We fostered 2 little girls in 1989; the youngest was being molested by her father. It was heavy going for the year we had them, before they were returned to their extremely dysfunctional mother. She skipped the country with them, and we later heard she returned and made a deal with their father that they could spend vacations with him, if he would pay her support. I think, if it had had a happy ending, I would not regret it, but because of how badly it was handled by Child Welfare, and the fact that the kids ended up no better off that they were before, the cost to our family (our own kids took a lot of strain during that year) was higher than the results justified, it just seemed like a pointless and painful exercise!
The only thing that has made it seem even remotely not a dead loss to me is the thought that, if nothing else, at least those girls were given a point of reference, and that, whatever happens in their lives from now on, they have seen how a happy and normal family functions.

Bonus (so we can end on a positive note!): What’s one good thing about you that isn't covered in the questions above, but that you'd like to share with the world? Despite the fact that I loathe admin and accounts, I love maths and have a very analytical mind.

Croick Cottage:
Progress with the front railings
And a trip to the beach:
And yesterday was a wonderful hot day, too hot to sit around cooped up in the house, so Granny and Grandpa took the little guy to the beach.At first he was a bit hesitant about the water...
hey, this stuff tries to knock you over! It didn't take long before he loved it.
What you are seeing here is almost as rare as the comet picture below! Max is like a cat when it comes to water. We worked out the last time he ventured to put a toe in the sea was when we were still on the smallholding, and we left there in 1989!
Finally, today's photos:
bonus comet photo.


Sheila said...

Love the 'water babies'...both of them..LOL
I wonder if we will see that comet.. the last one I recall was Hale Bopp??? Was that the name ?Great fun to see aren't they..!

Deb R said...

Great photos, Sue (as always!) and I loved reading your answers to this, although your description of the worst place you and Max lived gave me the shivers.

Blue the Spa Girl said...

Wow! First off, love the name "arty fartying" that is great!
The kids are GORGEOUS!!!!
The comet photo is fantastic.
Your meme was a vERY InterESTINg read!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Sheila, I'm not sure, but it seems to be visible only along the Southern coast here, so I don't know if it will show in the Northern Hemisphere. It was much brighter and clearer than Halley's, which is the last one we saw. Hale Bopp (or whatever, i know which one you mean but also can't remember spelling!) was here, but covered by clouds the whole time so we missed it. Ya deb, it was a hard core time in our lives, looking back. We had 2 family members murdered during that time, on farms in the south of the country. Amazing how resilient you can be when put to the test! hi blue, thanks, nice to meet you! Suzi-k

RUTH said...

Would love to be in the sea...looks great fun. Fantastic getting a comet photo.

Ash said...

Hello! I was just blog surfing, as you do, when I followed the link from Muddy Red Shoes to you. And you have the Workhouse listed - THANK YOU! Ash, the blogging labrador aims to keep the world informed of goings on here - so do drop by again. I'm enjoying learning about other lives out there, though some of your life experiences in this post are pretty unpleasant and sad. I reckon I have got off lightly thus far...

Ali Honey said...

Well done getting the comet photo. We saw the comet but my photos were useless.