Monthly Archives: December 2013

Edited highlights of 2013

It’s December 29, a working Sunday for me, and so a good time to reflect on the past year before I take another deep breath, put my head down and brace myself for 2014. For all sorts of reasons, 2013 has been the toughest and loneliest year since 2008, which marked the beginning of a picaresque series of truly crappy events.

Long story short: I survived. There were been many moments where I thought what’s the point? and stared into the abyss, and many moments when I carried on anyway, so many that they’ve morphed into a formless lump of gloop. Rather like a giant ball of Plasticine in which all the colours have turned to sludge.

Yet there were other moments, too.  Moments that formed a bridge between the past the and future in which others did not. These are the moments that, for better or worse, have defined this year.

1. Let’s start with the biggie: coming back from Australia and relinquishing my permanent residence visa. Was it the moment I got to the airport? Checked in at the Qantas desk? Walked through security? Ticked the box on the emigration card that said I was a former permanent resident leaving permanently? It’s too much to go into here, and I owe Mampoer Shorts a book on why I made the decision I did. But that is the one moment that has defined this year, and will define the rest of my life, more than anything.

Verdict: Good. I think. Maybe. I came back because I needed to see whether I could make my own agency work, and change the lives of others for the better, and it’s far too soon to tell.

2. Giving three months’ salary to a friend so he could quit a job he hated. This was the biggest and most concrete step towards our dream of launching our own agency. It was with this that I became hooked on the thrill of being that person who can’t fix her own life, but thinks she can save everyone else.

Verdict: mixed. We both ended up having a tough year, and we both admit that my strategy wasn’t properly thought through. But the agency will be officially launched in early February, so we all survived, and it certainly sharpened our collective resolve to make it work.

3. Firing a client. Confession:  I unfired him on the same day because he refused to accept my resignation. Still, it felt good to take back some of my power. Usually I’m one of those people who sucks it in and rages silently while I smile, and for once I’d had enough. I need to do more of this.

Verdict: good. Sometimes standing up for yourself pays off.

4. Breaking all my rules to meet a man. In the middle of the year, I flew to Cape Town to meet a man 12 years younger than me. I knew him from Twitter and liked him, and so all my avowals of permanent retirement from the opposite sex proved meaningless. Why him? Because his age and location meant there was no chance of a relationship. We never even tagged each other in our tweets, and most of Twitter would be very surprised that we ever hooked up. As with all Twitter hookups, this one ended, not with a bang, but an unfollow.

Verdict: Mixed. At the time,  I felt worthy and desired. Then I realised I was being stupid and gullible. See Moment 8.

5. Changing my mind about buying a car. On the day I was supposed to sign the sales agreement, nogal. I realised that buying a depreciating asset was a very bad use of my funds, especially while trying to get a business up and running. I wanted to own something very badly, but the feeling passed, and I’m glad I let it go.

Verdict: good. I’d have regretted it.

6. Realising just how dangerous Twitter is. As it happens, this happened on the same day as Moment 2. A friend – who I’d actually met in real life – began tweeting links to anti-white academic tracts, and when I told him it was hurtful, refused to back down. To be told that because I’m white I was beyond redemption by a black friend whose opinion I valued and respected was devastating, and it sent me into a depressive spiral which took weeks to recover from, if I ever did. Another person in my situation might have shrugged it off, but this cut me to the quick. I blocked him and will never have anything to do with him ever again. Since then, I’ve been much more ready to block anyone who tries to start stirring.  I just don’t have thick enough skin to deal with the fallout.

Verdict: painful but important.

7. Bawling my eyes out after my TEDxJohannesburg talk. My mic failed (the third time it’s happened at an important event), so what I’d built up in my mind to a triumph felt like a failure. (You can watch the actual talk here – I still haven’t been able to bring myself to look at this video and probably never will.) As though, no matter how hard I tried I’d never get ahead, that something would always happen to trip me up. Afterwards, a friend took me to The Baron on Main and fed me Jaegermeister. I ended up twerking with sad drunk middle aged IT guys.  Such is life.

Verdict: Not sure. Another anecdote to add to the collection I guess. C’est la vie.

8. Making that last payment. I was sitting with the man from Moment 4 at the East Head Cafe in Knysna. We were on our way back to George to fly back to Cape Town and Joburg respectively. Would you mind… he said. Sure, I said, because I knew this was inevitable, expected. I’d turned into a sugar mommy despite not being qualified to be one.  All the good times we had together – and some of them were very good indeed – have been overshadowed by the money that changed hands. He’s a super nice guy too. That makes it even harder, because if super nice people take advantage of you, then you can’t trust anyone.

Verdict: stupid. I should have said no.

9. Making new friends. That said, 2013 delivered a vintage crop of friends. Finding someone who gets you, and who likes you, is very rare indeed, and that happened several times this year. I count myself lucky.

Verdict: wonderful. Far and away the best part of 2013.  

10. Choosing to say nothing. On several occasions, I’ve been on the verge of venting, and then held back. This will come back to haunt me, because the anger is suppurating beneath the surface, and difficult conversations – the kind I hate the most, the lead to conflict, and having to be openly angry with people – will have to be had.

Verdict: we’ll see. Though I curse myself for being so averse to conflict, I find that holding back is usually a good idea.

There are one or two moments that I have left off this list. Moments that are hugely significant, but far too personal and revealing to share with you. There are other developments, like finally learning to more or less let go of my ex-husband and my awful failed marriage, which can’t be linked to a single definable event, but somehow snuck up on me. Even that Christmas card he sent me was a blip in a larger trajectory towards no longer giving a fuck.

But these are the shareable ones. For now, I will choose to be happy that I emerged on the other side of this year intact. Good or bad, for better or worse, defining moments make you who you are.


Hope Villa

When Laura and I were clicking through the listings on Agoda, searching for a place to stay, we ummed and ahhed. Eventually we chose Hope Villa because it seemed well-located and it looked nice on the website, though you can never be sure.

Hope view from porch

It turned out to be quite lovely, an historic cottage more than a hundred years old with creaking yellowwood floors and many of the original fittings. Tastefully furnished with light coloured furniture and animal skins from the years spent by our hosts Tessa and Friedel in Namibia, it was exactly the kind of place I like.

It’s private but very close to the beach and the two restaurants on the Eastern Head, the pool area is lovely, and the hosts are so charming that we took them out to dinner to thank them.

I’ll look back at photos like this with fond memories: Continue reading

My imaginary husband, Tim Noakes

For most of my life, there has been a man to disapprove of me. A man to not be quite good enough for. For a long time, this yawning niche in the ecology of the Self was filled by my husband; the fact that he became my ex-husband changed nothing, because I was able to construct a working facsimile of the man from my memories. But now he is fading a little, and something must be done.

It turns out that I have already seen to it. I have replaced my ex-husband with Tim Noakes.

It struck me this morning, as I was eating breakfast: scrambled eggs and salmon. Tim Noakes would approve, I thought. He would not approve of all the fruit, though, or the yoghurt with its added sugar, although I did stay away from the toast. And then I thought: why do I care what Tim Noakes thinks? Why do I think about Tim Noakes as often as I do?

I am, I have come to realize, obsessed with Tim Noakes. If What Would Tim Noakes Do bracelets were available, I’d wear one. WWTND.

I have never met him. I don’t know him, and he does not know me. I have only seen him on Carte Blanche and Twitter, where I’ve seen lots of others. And yet I think of him constantly. I have a mini version of Tim seated on my shoulder, a tut-tutting homunculus who takes notes and wags his finger when my muffin top extrudes gently over the waistline of my jeans, magma from some ghastly molten core of moral lassitude.

I know he is right. I know he has my best interests at heart. I also know I can never be good enough for him. This makes him the perfect imaginary husband-lecturer-headmaster-figure, that disapproving man I can’t live without.

I have long since internalized my ex-husband to the point that whenever I do something stupid, like losing a parking ticket or being lured into the dubious embrace of a much younger man, or giving too much money to my latest pet cause (sometimes the latter two are one and the same), there he is, stridently listing my shortcomings and asking me to explain why. Tell me Sarah, why do you do this? Tell me. I want to understand your thought processes. I want to understand your logic.

Oh, how I wished he’d just call me a stupid fucking cow and be over and done with, instead of guiding me through a two hour lecture, instead of trying to lead me to the promised land of self-awareness by being understanding.

But the problem is that the memories are becoming motheaten, and I need something new. Tim is always out there, in my timeline and on my TV, so he fits the bill. Tim does not want to understand my thought processes. Tim tells me what I should eat to be healthy and happy, and I choose to ignore him anyway. Tim can do nothing with me and doesn’t try. Tim knows that I am my own worst enemy and until I decide to be better, I won’t be.

Tim disapproves, and that’s what counts. To not be good enough, ever. If I didn’t have Tim in my life, I’d have to invent him.

Joy in Knysna

The Garden Route reminds me quite strongly of my road trip in Victoria and South Australia. There are the trees, of course – half of South Africa could pass for the antipodes with all our gum plantations – but also, increasingly, the ethnic cuisine. My most vivid association with Australia is the Asian food, and there’s a little corner of Knysna – the Thai Kitchen next to the Italian pizzeria around the corner from the Indian restaurant – that fits the bill.

Meet Joy. She’s the chef at the Thai Kitchen.

Joy in kitchen

She also does massages, as we discovered when we asked if she knew of anyone. Here she is with Laura.  Continue reading

Pilgrimage to Noetzie

Noetzie selfie

Laura and I both studied Fiela se Kind at school. So a visit to Noetzie – where some of the action takes place, and part of the movie was filmed – was mandatory.

A visit to Noetzie, with its corrugated dirt access road now lined by shacks at its confluence with the N2, and the 116 stairs down to the beach – and, more importantly, up again – certainly feels like a pilgrimage. It’s not especially easy to access given its proximity to Knysna.

I last visited it in 1995. The castles are still there

Noetzie Castles

but the surrounding land has been annexed by Pezula, so that Noetzie now feels almost like a private beach which the public are lucky to be allowed to access.

It is still very beautiful, magical in its relative isolation. The sea is wild and blue, the cliffs are burnt umber, and the milkwoods impossibly green. The trickle of water from the river to the sea was filled with tiny fish that made my artist’s heart leap.

This scene reminded me of a tongue in cheek Jack Vettriano:

Noetzie iPadIt’s astounding how, despite the physical effort to get there, so many manifestly unsuitable South Africans attempt the walk down the steep path and the many steps. I am amazed that more of of these people do not succumb to heart attacks as they heave their lumbering selves back up to the parking lot.

One of them even stopped to give his lungs a breather:

Noetzie smoker

It was an effort – both of us were panting after those stairs – and so the visit felt all the more special for that. Sometimes things should not be too easy.

The Bookshop Dog

Bookshop colours

Bookshops are terrifying, wonderful places for me. Terrifying because they remind me of all the books I have left unwritten; wonderful because of the possibility that I might find the perfect story to fill out a hole in time. I searched for ages in the Knysna Book Exchange for something wonderful.

This is Coco, the bookshop dog. She’s surrounded by books, but oblivious to what they contain.

Bookshop dog

Instead, every now and then, she chases her tail. She reminds me a little of Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash.

Bookshop dog tail

One of the books that Coco can’t read is titled “Men who hate women and the women who love them”.

Bookshop Laura

I searched and searched for just the right book, to no avail. Eventually I settled on The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. It’s the tale of the convicts shipped to Australia, and I’ll use it as inspiration for my own very overdue ebook based on this blog. The writing is exquisite, and it justifies its reputation as a classic. There’s a pleasing familiarity about the descriptions of Port Jackson, and Manly, and the birds, because I have been there, and lived there, and it is part of my own story.

Perhaps, like Coco, I am chasing my own tail. Or perhaps these random narrative threads are slowly being braided into string, and the string into rope that fastens me to this life,  and holds me still until I loose the bonds and allow the current to tug me to another shore.