Category Archives: The Story

When things go pear-shaped

“So I suppose it went pear-shaped,” I said. The officer laughed. We were standing in the middle of Michell’s Pass between Tulbagh and Ceres, watching an accident scene that had closed off the road. A long line of vehicles, led by a Fortuner towing a horsebox (complete with horse) had ground to a halt. We were going nowhere.

You can see the horsebox at the front of the queue

You can see the horsebox at the front of the queue

None of this was planned. Earlier that afternoon, after lunch in Tulbagh, we  had headed toward the Bainskloof Pass, a national monument. The route would take us to Ceres, and because I’d never been to the town I associate with the fruit juice, I suggested we pass the turnoff to Wolseley and continue winding along Michell’s Pass, which had also been designed by the remarkable Andrew Geddes Bain.

Heading to the town – which turned out to have none of the charm  of Tulbagh or Riebeeck Kasteel – we passed an accident scene. A truck appeared to have careered off the road onto the tracks below. Judging by the state of the cab, the driver couldn’t have survived.

Truck on Michell Pass

On the way back, we found the pass completely closed to recover the truck. Drivers, realising that this was going to take a while, turned off the ignition and clambered out to see what was going on. My husband and I chatted to a police officer on the scene. The accident had happened at 9 that morning, he explained. Broad daylight, clear skies. The container the truck was transporting was full of pears for export. Now it lay some 5 metres below on the railway tracks. You can see a part of it just beneath the photo of the truck below:

ichell Pass truck accident

I asked about the driver. Oh, said the officer, he was fine. He walked away from the accident with a hurt shoulder. Mechanical failure, they thought. (As for the pears, they’d probably have to be used for juicing – said the fruit farming lecturer we met over lunch the next day.)

At the Bainskloof Pass. It was a wonderful drive.

At the Bainskloof Pass. It was a wonderful drive. My boobs look huge.

Things go pear-shaped so quickly, don’t they? (On that note, why pear-shaped? What did pears ever do to offend anyone, besides some of the women who inhabit a figure named for them? I am an apple.)

There my husband and I were in a Storks Nest consultation room this morning, all excited about seeing the baby properly for the first time thanks to a 4D scan. She was very active, moving around a lot and smiling mysteriously every now and then. She looks like a little elf right now; I wonder what she will be like when eventually she emerges.

Eventually being the operative word, because after my husband left for a meeting, I dropped by my gynae one floor below to ask about something that was worrying me. The problem probably wasn’t serious, but I was around so it made sense to find out sooner rather than later.

I wasn’t expecting to be told that I have to be admitted to the maternity ward for blood tests and blood pressure monitoring, or to get a steroid shot to prepare the baby’s lungs for possible early delivery. 12 weeks early, which translates 3 months in NICU. She weighs 1,2kg right now, and the best place for her to be is inside the original packaging (as a creative director I work with put it) for at least another two months. Last night my husband and I broke the wishbone of a chicken cooked by my mother-in-law. I got the bigger piece and my wish, instantly, reflexively was: healthy baby.

I thought of that moment as I sat on the loo in my semi-private ward, trying to get a urine sample, thinking about how put out Discovery must be (you’re supposed to ask for permission before being admitted to the maternity ward). I sobbed. I’d been so lucky so far: no morning sickness, no indication of chromosomal abnormality, no gestational diabetes or high blood pressure.

Now this.

The good news is that my blood pressure is responding well to the medication. Tomorrow morning my doctor will check up on me again, and let me know what my options are. I’m hoping that one of them will be “go home, take your blood pressure pills and don’t overdo things”.

Hospital food

Hospital food

So here I am, in a hospital bed, marveling at the magnificently bad cheese sandwiches that arrived with my rooibos tea and wondering if I should try and squeeze in a bath before the next blood pressure measurement.  The nurses have all been lovely. My husband has brought me clean underwear and toiletries and strawberry and banana juice. I’ve cursed the foetal heart rate monitor for beeping like a car seatbelt alert (it beeps if the heartbeat fluctuates, and the elf has been very very busy; at times her heart sounds like a racehorse on a morning gallop). It’s been hours since a ridiculously early supper and now I’m writing this, in between going through mails and catching up on work.

(People keep sending me WhatsApps telling me to rest but there’s nothing worth watching on TV. Seriously.)

Today was a reminder that things can go pear-shaped so quickly. I won’t take any of this experience, which has mostly been trouble-free, for granted. All I hope is that if things go wrong, there will be rescuers to pull me up from below, that I will walk away with the baby and we will both be fine. A little shaken, but none the worse for wear.

My view right now. Nope, nothing on TV.

My view right now. Nope, nothing on TV.



The Owl Cafe and the Beckoning Cat

Japan does things differently. These are some of the things I noticed.

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  1. Toilets. When I first arrived in Tokyo, I was convinced that I needed a degree in astrophysics to operate the toilets. There is no such thing as a piece of porcelain with a lid that flushes when you press a lever. Oh no. Japanese toilets will douche, spray, dry and even play sounds to hide bathroom noises. At the Quest Hall loos in Harajuku, I was nearly reduced to tears by my inability to flush. (It turned out that I needed to wave my hand in front of an infrared sensor.)

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Thoughts on not attending a wedding

I was meant to go to a wedding in Cape Town today. I did not. It was a wedding I may or may not have helped paid for; I can’t be sure.


Yesterday I cancelled the flight. I don’t think I’ve ever cancelled a flight before. Moved out, been bumped off, missed, unable to fly because of a volcano in Icealand, cancelled because the CEO in the meeting was killed in a freak cycling accident – all of those things, yes, but not actually cancelling a flight for something personal.

There was a time when this visit would have been the happy ending to a Hallmark story about how an act of kindness led to something more. There was a pleasing narrative arc to it: in the beginning, a kind man helps a stranger having a meltdown over parking money; the stranger offers to help and the kind man takes her up on his offer. The stranger helps pay for a wedding and gets invited to attend. Two different worlds are brought together by a chance encounter that adds up to something more meaningful.

But real life seldom follows a script, and a week ago I did something I’ve done only once before: I blocked a number.


I had begun to dread the texts that would arrive from it. The good morning how are you’s that I began to suspect were only a lead up to what this person, the kind man’s wife, really wanted, which was more money. I am so stressed, she would tell me. I am so worried about the wedding I can’t tell you. We need a fridge for all the catering and new bedlinen for the wedding photos.

How much do you need? I’d ask, and pay the money over. Some R28,000 in the space of two months.

If I didn’t respond immediately, there would be frantic queries as to whether I got the message, or was “cross for” her. It got to the point where this was making me both miserable and – potentially – broke – and it had to stop. I find it very hard to say no to people who ask for help, but after paying the equivalent of my monthly income in such a short space of time and then being asked for money for food because people were going hungry, I began to wonder where all that cash was going.

Yes, there’s a context: R28,000 is a fortune for them, a month’s salary for me. But still, the pleasure at being able to help turned to resentment at being taken for granted, and it was downhill from there. She tried her luck once too often, and any emotional attachment I felt to her evaporated into anger.

I think we were addicted to one another, she and I. We texted each other every day, asked each other how we were. I knew about her blood pressure problems and hospital visits and how she suffered from depression. About watching TV on Saturdays and how the front gates were stolen and how her granddaughter loved chippies. She knew that I was busy at work, or spending time on the weekend with my family. I confided my own experiences with depression. Once, we spoke on the phone. “Oh Sarah,” she said, “I am so happy to hear your voice. I can’t wait to meet you.

I was addicted to the temporary high of being able make someone happy – I always gave more when I was depressed – and I suspect that she was addicted to the source of money that would arrive every time she asked for it. I felt less like a friend than a human ATM, as a Facebook comment described it. At some point it had to stop, and the only way to treat addiction is to cut off the source of that which enslaves you.

I did tell her that I was tired of being asked for money, that it sometimes felt that this was the only reason we had any contact. She knew she was taking a chance by pressing me for more. She was probably frantic when I didn’t respond that day, or the next, and the next. I hope she has accepted that I am gone from her life, and that the money was nice while it lasted, but that’s it.

I don’t know whether the kind man who helped the stranger knows about any of this. I am sorry it has ended this way. I was excited about the prospect of meeting him again in happier circumstances. I’d scripted it in my mind; there would be music and happiness and dancing and I’d get back on that plane, satisfied with the strange and wonderful turns that life can take.

I could write about class, and race, poverty and power, because she and I are in very different circumstances, and to ignore that would be to forget that I have options and she, probably, does not. Maybe some time I will. For the time being, though, this is a story about two people in different worlds who were brought together by chance, and parted by human fallibility.

I knew that attending the wedding and meeting the family would been doing the equivalent of mainlining a narcotic. This developed into a toxic co-dependent relationship remarkably quickly, and ending it was necessary for us both.

I expected to feel terribly sad about this. Instead, all I feel is I strangely relieved that our friendship is over.



My Heritage

A great-grandmother in the Boer War concentration camps.

Cornish, Scottish, English, French and Dutch ancestry.

Awkward politeness and difficulty with hugs growing up.

Not wearing earrings.

Playing the piano.

Genteel racism.



White guilt.

Fart jokes.

Being pale and blonde.

A posh private school accent.

Excessive niceness and fear of conflict.

A horror of cigarettes and any form of smoking.

Asthma, a high IQ and bad skin.

Lots and lots of books.

Classical music.

The Anglican church.

Cassocks and surplices and Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer.

Christian National Education.

Voting PFP, then DP, then DA.

KOO tinned spaghetti. Lived on it.

Pronutro, boiled eggs and Marmite soldiers.

Nursery rhymes and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

White swimming pool fences and the smell of chlorine.

Saying “I’m going into Soweto” or “into Alex”.

Being very conscious of prices in the supermarket, and always looking for the cheapest.

An obsession with not wasting anything, including the last of the toothpaste in the tube.


Not knowing how to blowdry my hair.

Top Gun, Airwolf and an obsession with military aircraft.

Going to university.

Turtle doves and dry winter grass.

Gun shots and hijackings.

Loving cats and horses.

The bush.



My favourite #SoMuchAmaze photos

I’m finally getting around to uploading the photos from my birthday party and impromptu wedding reception #SoMuchAmaze and here are some of them.

Doge photobombs @shortypam and my favourite Scientologist, Puneet Dhamija, who I met years ago and persuaded me to visit L Ron Hubbard house in Johannesburg.

IMG_2498Say cheeese

IMG_2495Here’s me in a wedding photo from 2001 photobombing my mom and my friend Juan, who started off baking me a cake and ended up organising almost everything in under 10 days.

IMG_2332My mother-in-law with #BestBeloved





My favourite wedding photos

Because we eloped, our photographer cost more than the rest of the wedding put together, and it was worth it. These are some of my favourite wedding photos, posted so I can link to other blog posts.

Here we are with our witnesses Danie and Marietjie (who we found via Twitter) and our celebrant George and his girlfriend Brenda (Danie put us onto George). It rained for much of the morning – almost unheard of in Clarens in August – but as the Italians say: sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata.

Wedding group photo

I wore the opposite of white. Both the dress and the coat were bought on sale at YDE. The flowers cost R35 a bunch from Pick n Pay.Wedding the look with smile

Naturally, the first thing after I did the deed was post the news to Twitter, which has been following my story for five years.Glen-Green-Weddings190

Posing with the B&B owner’s Austin roadster.Glen-Green-Weddings234

We saw zebras on our first date on February 13, so naturally we had to pose with these cushions.


Paying George with a bottle of Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon.Glen-Green-Weddings206

Kicking the ball for Holly the border collie. I love the fact that she ended up being part of the wedding.Glen-Green-Weddings086

A birthday timeline

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This is the timeline I drew up for my guests at my fortieth birthday party last night.

August 31, 1974: born just before midnight

1978: attend nursery school up the road, draw a recognizable pig and gets teachers excited, cut head open by falling over backwards

1979: attend Bryanston United Nursery School, start piano lessons with my aunt Jane.

1980: fall off a horse.

1981: start Grade 1 at Bryanston Primary.

1982: spend time at the Sandton Clinic with severe asthma, cut head open on a blackboard.

1983: Mrs Hooton becomes the first teacher I love, who awakens my desire to tell stories. Become obsessed with horse racing.

1984: I become friends with Claire Houghton

1985: the great Andrea Huggett battles for academic supremacy begin when I am in Mrs Oettle’s class

1987: Std 5 tour to the Natal Battlefields, intense loneliness

1988: start high school at Redhill, become friends with Penny Dickson, Claire Ashford and Nathalie Williams. Penny tells Colin Barnes he looks like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. Appear in a cameo role in my first school play.

1991: start dating Noel Davies, get a perm and wear an expensive dress to the Matric dance. Write about the Matric dance for Style Magazine later that year. Fail Grade 8 piano for the first time.

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1992: lose a lot of weight, gain a lot of weight, travel to London for Youth Science Fair, fail Grade 8 piano again, have temporary nervous breakdown.

1993: start my degree at Wits Drama School, meet Malcolm Lennox, join what would become Salsa. Wear a lot of black and start taking antidepressants.

1994: the fat year

1995: I start Agitate with Rowan Brewer

1996: massive row with supervisors, fall off another horse.

1997: Masters by coursework. Date Hani Niayesh in moment of madness.

1998: Dated David Ho Wing who would pretend he didn’t know me if people saw us together in public. Started PhD.

1999: dated Kendall Whalley who taught me how to read tarot cards in return for helping to pay off his BMW. Met Andre in October while attempting to stalk the psychic.

2000: moved in with Andre, started working in PR and then advertising, published first book.

2001: got married on March 17.

2002: started painting with lipstick.

2005: finally awarded PhD after 7 years of dedicated procrastination.

2008: mother in law Kaye died very suddenly, emigrated to Australia to work at M&C Saatchi Sydney, started blogging for Thought Leader, lived alone, made redundant.

2009: cried a lot, returned to South Africa, got divorced. Fun times.

2010: Got told to resign or take a pay cut. Spent a lot of time the toilets at work crying. Took lots of anti-anxiety meds. Had dinner at Kanthan’s with my then boyfriend. Had a fling with a man 15 years my junior. (My mother didn’t approve.)

2011: drove a Freelander for free for a year, had a fling with a client, ended up sobbing to Coldplay at the robots at Republic Road and William Nicol. (I consider this my low point.) To took delivery of the free Range Rover Evoque I drove for a year as a social media brand ambassador, decided that cars were more reliable than men.

2012: quit job to freelance, first solo art exhibition.

2013: started SOAP with Carolyn White and Brian Ferns, had fling with Ben10. Spoke at TEDxJohannesburg, twerked with sad drunk middle aged IT salesmen. Spent birthday alone, decided to have a proper bash when I turned 40.

2014: started dating Kanthan, got engaged, exhibited in Shanghai and Johannesburg, shut down SOAP to form Labstore with Y&R, got married, won a big pitch, went to London, discovered what it’s like to have everything turn out ok. #SoMuchAmaze

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