Archive | December, 2012

How to fix a broken bridge

20 Dec

The bridge across the Klaserie on the Argyle Road was partly washed away during floods more than two years ago. The floods of January this year further damaged it. Instead of fixing it, the local roads agency has found an innovative solution: put up a stop sign telling people the road narrows from two lanes to one.



One wonders what they will do when the bridge is finally unusable, as it will almost certainly be after another flood.


When you lift your bathmat to find… this

20 Dec

A lot of Joburgers, like me, enjoy getting away from Joburg by going to the bush. There we go to disconnect from signal, unplug from our laptops and get in touch with nature. Occasionally, nature would also like to get in touch with us. Last night I lifted my bath mat to find this:


Normally I disapprove of people who kill spiders and Parktown prawns. But I’d be a hypocrite if I told you I had the same compassion for scorpions. This one was very small, but the relative thickness of that tail had me thinking that I might not want to encounter it barefoot in the dark. Also, I’m paranoid about the possibility of Parabuthus. So I thwacked it repeatedly with a slipslop and despatched it to the afterlife.

I feel bad about this. I don’t like killing things. I tell myself that there are lots more where this one came from.

Which is rather worrying, when you think about it. Perhaps I should invest in the special scorpion torch they sell at the Khamai Reptile Park up the road.

Money, the root of all evil

19 Dec

It is the darkness

This morning, while scrabbling in the drawer where I keep my medication for nausea pills (you never know if you’ll need them when travelling.

I have no idea who this money is from. No recollection of where I got it. And I don’t recognize the handwriting. It’s all very strange.

So far I’ve spent 2 of these notes on lunch at Harrie’s Pancakes. I’d rather someone else got to keep them.

Goodbye Joburg. See you in 2013.

18 Dec
Joburg Storm, lipstick on board

Joburg Storm, lipstick on board

Today, I am doing something I’ve been looking forward to for ages. No, “looking forward to” is the wrong term; it implies the excitement of a kid waiting for Barbies in gift wrap under the tree when in fact my current emotional state is more akin to that of the shipwrecked sailor clinging wide-eyed to a passing beer crate.

I usually love Joburg in December. It’s lovely and green, the weather is redolent of afternoon storms and the chlorine tang of swimming pools. Importantly, everybody buggers off and leaves the streets to the ones who, in the word we used at Bryanst0n Primary, were going to “Romania”. At work, you while away the hours catching up on filing, surfing the net or finding creative ways to fill in your time sheets.

December is the best time of year in Joburg mainly because most Joburgers aren’t around. Only every year, in a distressing trend, it seems that more and more of them refuse to leave. This year I haven’t noticed that pleasantly dramatic full-off in traffic (though, since freelancing, rush hour is something I seldom encounter if I can help it).

For the first time since I can remember, I’ve desperately wanted to get out of town. I escaped to the bush a month ago because I wanted to do a last road trip in the Evoque, but I was running a social media campaign at the time and had to commute to the Hoedspruit Wimpy every day to find a decent 3G signal. So while I internalized Benjamin Franklin’s goody two-shoes mantra about early to bed and early to rise, I failed to unplug and recharge (yes, it’s a confusingly mixed metaphor) and now find myself completely and utterly exhausted. When I saw an email this evening titled “3 ways to kickstart your new year”,  I wanted to weep.

I don’t want to kickstart my new year. I don’t want to think about the new year at all. Instead, I want to sleep a lot, write my book and read no emails or tweets until after January 1.

Goodbye Joburg. I’ll see you in 2013.

A note on the illustration: the photo on which this painting is based was taken just past the New Road bridge on the M1 while traveling back from the bush in January this year. I hope I feel as energized and inspired by the city next year as I did then. You can see the real thing on exhibition at The Eatery. 

Joburg goes shopping

18 Dec


Joburgers are obsessed with shopping. It’s our favourite leisure activity; we don’t have a mountain or a sea, so we go to the mall instead. Shopping centers before Christmas must surely be the closest we have to one of Dante’s circles of hell. (Limbo, greed or anger, I’m not sure.) Yesterday morning I agreed, in a moment of madness, to accompany my mother to the Pick n Pay Hyper at Woodmead.

It was a good trip: I avoided a queue to get in by taking a sneaky back route past Newscafe, the parking fairy smiled upon me and felt that rare sense of accomplishment when you try a strategy different to the woman in the luxury SUV and it pays off.

Doucheplate in the Woodmead parking lot

Doucheplate in the Woodmead parking lot

I sometimes wonder whether Joburgers use shopping a way to avoid dealing with real life. All this ceaseless acquisition, this hunt for special offers – it seems to become an end in and of itself. I watched so many couples arguing in the Pick n Pay Hyper and thought, thank heaven that isn’t me, even as I lost my mother while she went to find the HTH and I was distracted by the Verimark stand.

I don't know how he does it

I don’t know how he does it

I don’t enjoy shopping except in very specific circumstances, which must mean that

a. I am not a real Joburger, despite having been born and grown up here and

b. I am missing an extra X chromosome.

Then again, I could be wrong. Perhaps shopping is real life, and pushing a trolley through a parking lot is the closest we get to expressing our true selves.

Parking lot

Swimming pools

16 Dec

Swimming pool

If Joburg is a city of trees it must also, surely, be a city of swimming pools. Fly over the city and one of the big differences between the suburbs and the townships still, is the presence of green and blue.

This evening I went for a swim. This is something I have done many times in summer over the past three years. As a child I hated swimming – went so far as to take deliberate overdoses of my asthma meds to have an excuse to bunk school on Tuesdays  –  but the swimming pool is the place where I sought solace during the worst of the depression, and where I searched hardest for meaning. So it’s hardly surprising that this should end up in my paintings with lipstick. This was the first time I painted the experience of swimming at night:

Swimming at night small

Here is another example:

Infinity PoolAnd another:

Whale Sketch



Amazing, isn’t it, what visions a suburban pool can lead to. I often moan that I need a muse – preferably an Interesting Man with whom I form a temporary infatuation before becoming bored – but perhaps I’ve had one all along: this maddening, exhilarating, frustrating, boring, wonderful, horrible city.

What keeps you tethered to your life?

16 Dec

58 18th

This is 58 18th Street, Parkhurst. It used to be the house I owned. Or at least, I owned a third of it (my ex-husband owned the rest).

This address still holds power for me, because it represents the last time I was a person of consequence in Johannesburg. The city of gold is a city of stuff, and to matter in this town, you need to have a lot of it.

Back in 2008, I mattered. I owned property. I was paying off  a car and I had a good job in senior management. Then I moved to a new life in Sydney and that fell apart and so I came back and then things imploded. I’ve been trying to put the pieces back ever since, something I’ve chronicled fairly extensively elsewhere.

Now, I am a demographic anomaly: at the very age at which I should be solidifying my place in comfortable, middle class society,  I have nothing. No children, no spouse, no car, no house, no job. I am free in ways that very few people my age can conceive of. But at the same time, I feel completely out of step with the expectations of society and the lives lived by my peers – and that’s a very uncomfortable place to be.

Every now and again I meet people who remind me of my own situation, like Fatima (below), who sells hummus and chickpea fudge at the Bryanston Organic Market, and used to work as a project manager for WPP before she moved back to South Africa. She sells the hummus because she has to, she says. She’d love to earn a salary again.


Everything is up in the air. Besides the schlep of packing and the availability of seats, there is nothing to stop me from getting on a plane and flying to Sydney tomorrow. Now that the Land Rover contract has come to an end, the only things tethering me to this life are family ties and the fear of having to start all over again.

You all have things that keep you tethered to the lives you lead. I used to resent some of the things that kept me tethered; now I long for them even as I fear committing myself to them. Not knowing where you’re headed is a very lonely place to be.

18th street

Suburban certainty. I miss it.

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