January 28, 2015 § 3 Comments

I am a terrible dancer. I’ve got rhythm, sure, but I’m unco-ordinated, the very opposite of supple, I’m not terribly graceful, and I can’t ever remember the steps. And yet for a large part of my life, I’ve danced.

My illustrious dance career began in Grade 1, and ended a few short months later. Our ballet teacher, you see, wanted us all to put our noses on our pink-stockinged knees. It was never going to happen. And so she dubbed me ‘Granny’. I left a few weeks later, my knee-less nose severely out of joint, and my slightly-too-big leotard discarded in the corner of a drawer.

But I got to use it in Grade 2, because I decided I wanted to do drama lessons after they were advertised at school. I had no idea what drama was, mind you, but my mother thought it was a good idea, so the leotard was retrieved and I happily sang, danced and acted my way through several musicals until I was in my mid-teens and had a falling-out with the drama teacher.

I was actually cast as a dancer in a musical revue at age 16, and all of the other cast members were adults. So perhaps I wasn’t as terrible a dancer as I thought I was. Somewhere there’s a picture of me in fishnets, a tail coat and a top hat, and I remember sewing black sequins to the underside of those coat-tails so they’d catch the light as I moved.

I remember groaning through ‘Movement’ classes as part of my drama studies at university. I remember being whirled around the floor at a ballroom dance school’s open night. And a year or two ago, I joined a group of other middle-aged mommies and we huffed and puffed and swore our way good-naturedly through a series of salsa classes.

The thing with dancing, is that even though I’m bad at it, there are moments where suddenly my body does what it’s meant to do, and I feel the air move around me in just the right way. I feel light and graceful and in control of my body for that split second. And suddenly, I can fly across those sprung boards. I can dance.

But what I really love the most is to dance in community with others – at weddings, at birthdays, at celebrations of any kind. I love all the characters and dance styles. I love the guy with the paunch who surprises you with the lightness of his feet and his shimmying hips, or the great granny who kicks off her shoes and joins in with the line dancers. I love the circles of girls and the showy-off boys and the two-year-old in her twirliest dress, dancing on her daddy’s feet.

Why don’t we dance more? When did we stop?

I dream of street parties in small villages, or on town squares, with long white-clothed tables, and bobbing lights strung up from pole to pole. I dream of people whipping out their guitars and violins and accordions and making slightly messy, happy music with each other.

I dream of girls in summer dresses, pressed against their lovers’ taut bodies, whirling and smiling across a square. I dream of elderly couples who still treat each other with tenderness and care; they look on and see their younger selves reflected there. I dream of the laughter, the food, the fun.

Because there’s something to be said for moving your body to music as part of a community of people. There’s something joyfully primal about the noise and the rhythm and the sweat.

So dance. Dance more. Don’t wait for an occasion, or an invitation, or even for co-ordination to improve. Just dance. Throw caution to the wind. Throw plates on the floor. Throw your hands in the air. Throw a party.

But dance. Put on your favourite song, and dance.


How to choose a school

August 6, 2014 § 7 Comments

This post is for all the new parents out there, furrowing their brows over school brochures and websites, trying to figure out which school they should send their little darlings to.

No doubt you are looking at academic records, geographic location, extramural activities, sporting prowess, and trying to decide whether your child should be at a single-sex or co-ed school. I’m here to tell you that NONE OF THAT MATTERS. What you need to consider, is proximity to the school – the distance from your home and/or workplace to the school.

Trust me on this. It is the Most Important Thing. All you want is to be as near as possible to a school – a single school – that all of your children can go to. And if you can possibly manage it, get close enough so the little swines can walk there and back. It may be worth moving house.

First, if you’re agonising about single-sex or co-ed, look at your children. Are they all the same gender? Single-sex is for you. Boys and girls? Co-ed. Driving to one school a bare minimum of twice a day, day in and day out for the next 45 years of your life (it feels that long) is bad enough. Having to co-ordinate drop-offs and pick-ups at two (or more) schools is enough to make the most experienced logistics expert weep. Why would you do that to yourself?

The second thing to consider is the parking at the school. Phone the school and ask how many kids there are. I reckon you can work on an average of two kids per family and work out the number of families at the school. That’s the minimum number of cars that have to navigate that parking lot in the mornings. If the numbers don’t add up, you might have to pick a school slightly further away, but it’s a small price to pay.

Because there’s something about school parking that brings out the village idiot in even the most intelligent of people. There, in a space filled with children, people hoot and race and ramp and screech to a halt and wave their fists and swear and shout. It’s mind-boggling. And the fewer the parking bays, the worse the behaviour – it’s like an unwritten rule. Spacious parking lots are the way to school-run sanity.

Once you’ve assessed the quantity aspect of the parking bay, it’s time to assess the quality. Are there trees? How many? You want a good mix of sun and shade, and some dappled spots for the in-between days. You’ll spend a lot more time sitting in your car than you’ve bargained for. The perfect temperature and sun:shade ratio are all-important.

Then, are there some grassy areas or tables and chairs where you could sit and do homework with one child while you wait for others? Because you don’t know it, but you’ll be doing this a lot. Schools carefully plan things to end so that there’s not enough time to take one child home and get back for the next one . I’m convinced they convene special meetings just for this purpose. No teacher will ever admit to it, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Finally, scope out the parking bays closest to the exit so you know where to head on Day One. Rookies think that the best bays are closest to the school gates, but when there’s a concert or a play and everyone wants to leave at the same time, you will be prepared. You will have carefully parked your car so you don’t even have to reverse into the traffic.

No – none of that queueing and sighing and waiting for you. You will simply fling your children into the back seat, start your engine and flee out of the school gates with your Super-parent cape fluttering out of the window, a maniacal cackle echoing in your wake. Five minutes later, having followed all of the advice above, you will pull into your garage or driveway and have your children in bed before the front-gate parkers have even left the school grounds.

You don’t have to thank me. Just send cash.

I don’t need an opera

July 23, 2014 § 2 Comments

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know I am the self-appointed chief groupie of Lionel Bastos, musician, singer, producer and songwriter extraordinaire. And one of the reasons I love Lionel’s music so much, is his soulful lyric-writing. He doesn’t write about shaking your ass down at the club, yo. Instead his lyrics often tell a story, make you swoon at their romance, elicit a belly laugh, or even make you cry. They are that beautiful, that well-crafted.

A recent discovery for me is one of his older songs, Simple, off his award-winning album of the same name. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked it (sorry, Lionel) but it has grown on me, I’m pleased to report. It’s a song about writing a song for someone else, someone who likes to keep things… you guessed it… simple! The recipient asks the writer “Where’s my song?”, followed by these words, which have gone round and round in my head since I heard them:

“I don’t want a symphony/I don’t need any wise quotes/You don’t need more than five notes/I don’t want an opera”

I think those words have resonated with me because over the last while I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about stuff, about how much the world revolves around us accumulating stuff, and how little stuff we really need. And somehow, as I’ve hummed along to Lionel’s song in my car, somehow those words have changed in my head to: “I don’t need an opera.”

And I don’t. I really don’t. Increasingly, the things that are more important to me are the intangibles like laughter, fun, creativity, thoughtfulness, kindness and love. More and more I value a hug, a good sleep, an out-of-the-blue phone call from a friend. Because the rest of it is all just stuff, or as the Afrikaans language puts it, “wêreldse goed” [worldly/earthly things].

In the western world in particular, our stuff is consuming us. We live as if the things we own define us. We hoard and accumulate and acquire at an alarming rate. We’ve forgotten how to share, how to re-use, how to re-purpose. We just throw things away and buy new ones. And in the process, somewhere along the way we threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and forgot how to be human.

And that’s why children are being killed and maimed in Gaza, why our rubbish is throttling the seas and the skies above us, why so many are dying of starvation.

Because for the ‘haves’ it’s all about getting, not giving, and they don’t care who or what is destroyed in the process. As long as they have their stuff, the rest of the world can go to hell.



10 things I want my daughters to know

May 28, 2014 § 14 Comments

My darling girls,

Sometimes I want to tell you things about life that I suspect you’re not ready to hear yet. But someday you might be, so here are a few things I’ve learned, and am still learning, which I hope will help you some day.

1. I will never love anybody the way I love you. Even when I’m angry with you, or tired and grumpy, or yelling at you to do your homework or hang up your towel, I love you with every cell in my body.

2. The world really is your oyster, and you are already magnificent pearls. I look at you every day – every freaking day – and marvel at how strong and beautiful you are. Yes, you’re both beautiful on the outside, but that’s not what interests me. You both have beautiful minds, beautiful souls, beautiful hearts. You make me so proud that the tears well in my eyes and my chest wants to explode with the intensity of it. I can barely believe I had anything to do with creating such splendid human beings.

3. You have weaknesses. But it’s okay, because so does everyone else. We all have them, and it’s part of what makes us interesting. Don’t dwell on them. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t waste energy lamenting them. Be honest with yourself by all means, but work on those you can improve, forget the rest and focus instead on your strengths. Because you have far more of those, and they are what will propel you through life. Be proud of your strengths, don’t squander them, and use your powers for good.

4. You don’t know everything (despite what your adolescent brains believe). You never will. Stay curious, ask questions, investigate and question everything. Don’t take things at face value – find out for yourself, and life will be an endless adventure.

5. You will make mistakes – it’s unavoidable, and it’s how we learn. Learn the lesson, and keep going. It’s character-building, and it makes you interesting.

6. No matter how well you plan, things go wrong. But that’s how memories are made. Stay calm, and focus on what’s really important. Because the way you respond to life’s curveballs will make all the difference to your emotional wellbeing.

7. The world doesn’t owe you anything. Work your butt off to get what you want, and don’t give up. Things take longer to come to fruition than you think they do. There is no magic bullet. It will be hard, but it will also be worth it when you get there.

8. Travel and read at every opportunity. Those two activities will teach you more than any university can ever teach you. That’s how you get an education. That’s how you expand your mind.

9. Be kind and gentle. It applied in playschool, and it applies equally in the adult world. Life is hard for many people – a kind word and a gentle touch go a long way.

10. Have fun. Lawdie, this is important. Life is about balance – and what’s the point if you aren’t enjoying it? Make friends, do silly stuff, laugh often. That’s what adds the colour to life. That’s what makes it sing.

I love you.


Unexpected lessons

May 7, 2014 § 5 Comments

My daughters and I have just returned from an 11-day road trip across South Africa. We travelled about 3 500km in total, and it was wonderful bonding time.

Travel, they say, broadens the mind, even if it’s within the borders of your own country, so here are some of the lessons I learned, in no particular order:

1. South Africa still owns my heart. From the beautiful coastline and staggering mountains, to its broad plains and scrubby savannah, it owns me. Because quite apart from its natural beauty, it is filled with the most amazing, beautiful, pig-headed, funny, chaotic, interesting people. And for me, it’s all about the people.

2. There are more good people in the world than bad. We need to stop allowing the minority to to ruin it for the good folk. Start talking to strangers (yes, even you, Capetonians). Get involved. Make friends. Get to know people. If you don’t, you’ll be missing out.

3. To view a partial solar eclipse, it is not advisable to stare at the sun with the naked eye. (This is a lesson I keep having to learn.)

4. Once you’ve recovered from looking at the sun, you can use the dappled light through the leaves of a bush to create a kind of pinhole camera that will project the image of the eclipse onto a sheet of paper, or even your hand. It’s like magic.

5. Rediscovering childhood paths is a bittersweet experience. Your first love – the beautiful, blond boy who held your hand on those rocks at Storms River Mouth – is all grown up now, and so are you. And the bushes at your grandmother’s former house are bigger and more overgrown now, and you can’t walk all the way around the house on the concrete edging anymore without having to duck under them in places. But you will still remember where the chicken run and fruit trees used to be, even though she died when you were six.

6. Walking on the beach in the wind and rain will always be preferable to sitting on it for hours in the sweltering heat, and will top up your soul in ways you never expected.

7. There is nothing to compare with the feeling of wet sea sand between your toes.

8. Women wear far too much make-up. We should just give it up.

9. Some places are too beautiful to write songs in. You have to leave them and the special people they contain to conjure up the right balance of melancholy and longing. Or I do, anyway, and it hurts a little.

10. It is possible to be allergic to potatoes.

Switching off

April 2, 2014 § 8 Comments

It worries me a little that in our 24/7/365 culture, where everything is open and available all the time, that we never, ever seem to disconnect from work.

Perhaps this is just  my perspective, because I’m a freelancer, so the lines get a little blurred. But I don’t think so. More and more I see people taking work home, answering work emails late at night, and even taking their work with them when they go on leave. (Yes, Dave Luis, I’m looking at you.)

I think we do ourselves a huge disservice when we do this last thing – and I speak as one who’s going on holiday soon and is trying to decide – as usual – whether or not to take her laptop. You know… just in case.

Where did we get the idea that we are all supposed to be available and accessible at all times, simply because we have the ability to be so? Why do we believe that we must respond to that phone call, email, text message immediately, when in fact, all of these things are simply tools? More importantly, they are your tools.  Tools that you decide how to use if you choose to use them. Tools that are there for your convenience – not anyone else’s.

It’s about boundaries, and control and learning to understand what’s truly important.

I learn this lesson every time I take a bit of leave. My job is literally a no-work-no-pay one, so going away for 10 days means 10 days of no income. And that means that in the weeks preceding my leave I work like a dog, and my to-do list just seems  to grow instead of shrink, no matter how many things I tick off at the end of each day.

Inevitably, though, there are things I don’t get to – things I thought were life-threateningly important while they were on my list. I go on holiday, I come home, and I pick them up again. No-one bats an eyelid. My clients’ businesses continue to run. My house is still standing. The world continues to turn.

But there’s something else to consider: you disempower your colleagues (and clients, in my case) if you regard yourself as indispensable. Because basically, you’re being a control freak. And maybe there isn’t one person who can step into your shoes wholesale, but I’m willing to bet that if your colleagues each cover a small part of whatever it is that you do, they can fill the gap while you’re gone. And then, when they go on leave, you will do the same for them, and respect their hard-earned rest time – that’s how teamwork should work.

I know it’s a wrench. And I know it’s hard to relinquish control. Believe me, I know. But I also know that on the couple of occasions where I’ve been firm with myself, it’s been completely worth it, and I’ve been better for it.

When I come back I’m better at my job, and a better human being in general, simply because I’ve taken the time to replenish the well of my creativity and productivity.

Go on, I dare you.

Come out and play

February 5, 2014 § 4 Comments

Yesterday I sat in my life coach’s office and bemoaned having every evening free.

I know, I know. And it’s a particularly odd thing to bemoan given that I spent the best part of last year consciously putting down things that brought me no joy. I was completely and utterly burnt out, and stepping away from all of those irksome things allowed me to move a little closer to remembering who I used to be before I was someone’s mother or wife, or daughter, or sister, or friend. Or employee.

I like to be busy. At school I always did two to three extra-murals a day (none of them being sport, however) and I continued that pattern into adulthood. Not having a schedule is an alarming thing for me. I like structure – it helps me to feel in control, and that helps me to cope with my anxiety. If there were an Olympics for worrying, I’d be at the top of podium for every event.

“But I’m wasting time!” I wailed. (I do a lot of wailing at Judy Klipin, who has the patience of a saint.) “I spend far too much time buggering around on Twitter and playing silly word games!”

And do you know what Judy said? She shrugged. And then she pointed out that my playing on Twitter had brought about valuable friendships, work, and artistic collaborations that I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. And it had brought me joy and a lot of fun. And that all of those things were good. So perhaps it wasn’t such a waste of time after all.

And as usual, she was spot on.

That was a revelation in itself, but it also got me thinking. And I realised that it’s actually okay for adults to play. Perhaps that’s obvious to you, but I always feel like I should be doing something productive with every moment of my waking hours. And I’m not really sure why that is, or when I stopped playing.

But perhaps it’s time to give myself permission, and stop feeling guilty for having some fun. I’m allowed, right?

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