Archive | January, 2014

Things you think about when sitting at Tasha’s

18 Jan

It is decided. Tasha’s in Morningside is the best place in Joburg for people-watching, better even than Tasha’s Rosebank, Tasha’s Melrose Arch, or Tasha’s Hyde Park.

I met a friend there this afternoon to brief her on a freelance writing job and eat cake, and we were so entranced by the people around us that we almost didn’t notice that Patience the waitress seemed to require ours.

It’s all very LSM 10 rainbow nation shallow magnificence. Everyone hangs out at Tasha’s Morningside: black and white, Jew and Muslim, gay and straight, celebrity and ordinary mortal, pensioner and primary school kid. In many settings in South Africa, people hang out at the same venues, but the groups sitting at tables are fairly homogenous. At Morningside, there were plenty of mixed tables too. (Yes, this is 2014 and yes, we still have a way to go.)

Tashas table

The new generation of kugels is here and it’s fabulous. They’re in their 20s, they all wear huge sunglasses and fabulous weaves and staggeringly high heels. They do seem to be allowed the option of tiny tiny shorts or very very skinny jeans.

Also, we need a name for them. Kugels is too 80s Style Magazine. Nugels maybe? Twugels? (All kugels are glued to their phones, so I’m leaning towards this one.)

Trips to the loo are an opportunity for Twugels to Be Seen. Heading off to powder your nose is a major expedition requiring as much sashaying and strutting between the tables as possible. “Did you see The Strut?” the woman in pink shorts at the table next to us (pictured above) asked her friends when her friend (picture below) headed into the corner. They were both tall and skinny and gorgeous, and could well be sisters. They were also very aware of how much attention they attracted. I’m pretty sure they knew my friend and I were skinnering about them – we were repeatedly given the knowing side-eye – and they enjoyed the attention.

Tashas Strut

Nobody wants to be the chunky girl with the hot friends. If my friend and I had friends who looked like this, we’d be the chunky one. This is why we only hang out with ordinary women who need to spend more time at the gym. Just like us.

Handbag carrying techniques are something that should be explored. Crook of arm with limp wrist? The shoulder hunch? The firmly gripped dangle? Surveys must be done. (I’m a shoulder-huncher myself.)

Here is an example of the grip-dangle:

Tashas handbag grip

I would also like to explore a new theory. Is BMI correlated with the recency of wealth acquisition? I ask because Sandton people are generally slim and fabulous. It is rare to see very overweight women  in this town because everyone is so obsessed with paleo and CrossFit and Sweat1000 and Tim Noakes andandand. So when I do see very overweight people who clearly have money, I wonder how long they’ve been living here.

People are still showing off in sports cars. This guy showed up in a Porsche and alley docked in his parking space for maximum impact. Apparently one of these guys is hip hop star Da LES:

Tashas Da Les

The buff guy/ skinny girl stereotype holds. I once had a massive row with someone on Twitter over a tweet about the Tasha’s stereotype. It wasn’t that obvious here – most of the tables were either families or friend sof the same sex – but buff guys and skinny girls were everywhere.

Everyone wears giant sunglasses. 

And yes, it’s mildly surreal. Alex isn’t so far away from here, but this is a different world. Any overseas journo wanting to write a story about the Juxtaposition Between Rich and Poor should probably start here. My friend is under sequestration and I live with family, so the fact that they allowed us in the door was remarkable. But we could pay for our freezochinos and our shared red velvet cake, and in Joburg, all that matters is that you have the money when they ask for it.

Filming an interview when you don’t have an office

17 Jan

Carte Blanche interview 2

I don’t have, shall we say, a conventional work set up. This is part of the challenge of being a portfolio careerist. Yes, I’m a partner in an agency that has actual clients and is making money, but we’re keeping our overheads as low as possible. While we sort out a solution for offices, I work the way I have for the last two years: out of my parents’ home (they have wifi) or out of coffee shops.

So when people want to interview me as a social media expert (rather than an artist or an author) finding a suitably businessy location is a challenge.

My options include:

Continue reading

Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street

13 Jan

Jordan Belfort is the subject of the critically acclaimed new Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street. I interviewed him in October 2010; this piece was published in the now defunct site Newstime. 

Jordan Belfort tells good stories. The best one is about how he sunk his 170 foot yacht in the Mediterranean while high on drugs. The man who had everything and then lost everything is in South Africa to give motivational talks and sales training, and as his talk draws to a close, he ends it on a high note.

He’s standing in front of an audience of around 300 high-powered businesspeople at Summer Place. There’s plenty of money here, based on what’s parked outside. John Vlismas, the MC, chuckles about the obvious: how appropriate it is that Belfort is speaking here, in a venue that once belong to a man known for his rather cavalier attitude to ethical business practices.

Ghosts of other great South African swindlers linger in the collective memory: Brett Kebble, J Arthur Brown, Adriaan Niewoudt, the brains behind the Kubus scam. There’s Greg Blank, who did his time and is back leading his racehorses into the winner’s circle. Barry Tannenbaum, who is all the way on the other side of the world, on the Gold Coast, holding tight as he escapes justice. I’m reminded of Tannenbaum when I watch YouTube videos of Belfort presenting to Virgin Australia. South African white-collar criminals seem to like it in Australia; so many of them go there. Continue reading

The United States of Joburg

12 Jan

My trip to Cradlestone Mall today reminded me that Joburg is many countries in one city. I felt somewhat like a Blue State visitor to a Red State town. The West Rand, with its wide spaces, penchant for big, tasteless houses, political conservatism and evangelical Christianity is like Texas, with hints of Colorado and Utah.

In contrast, the Sandton CBD is the equivalent of Manhattan. Rosebank and Killarney also have a whiff of New York City. Melrose and Houghton Estate are probably Westchester, whereas Bryanston is Connecticut. Parktown North is Vermont. The suburbs around the Sandton CBD are LA.

The area around Wits University is probably the equivalent of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Stanley Avenue in Milpark and Melville  are Portland, Oregon.

Maboneng is the meatpacking distract.

Randburg is the flyover states, everything from Ohio to Idaho. Linden, with its creative industries and small hipster population, is Austin, Texas.

Fourways is Arizona. Midrand is Kansas. Like a lot of Joburg, there is no there, there.

Here are some suggestions (feel free to agree or disagree):

The South is New Jersey.

Soweto is Atlanta and Georgia. Also a bit of Chicago.

La Rochelle could be New Orleans.

Kyalami Estate is Wisteria Lane (but then so is Dainfern).


And Hillbrow? Hillbrow is over the border in Tijuana.

We’re not in Sandton anymore, Toto

12 Jan

Earlier today I found myself in a brand new mall in a part of the world I don’t visit very often. Cradlestone near Krugersdorp opened late last year. Shopping malls are microcosms of the society they sell stuff to. Each shopping mall in Joburg is the hub of a particular circle of retail life. Bryanston is traditionally waspy. Fourways is young English-speaking families. Hyde Park and Melrose Arch are full of latter day kugels and the super wealthy. Cresta is where you’ll find many coloured residents and hear lots of Afrikaans. And Rosebank has long been the hangout spot of choice for mixed race couples.

Cradlestone, as you’d expect for a mall based on the West Rand, is much more Afrikaans than any shopping centre in Sandton. You’d never see Patricia Lewis in Sandton:

Patricia Lewis

And you’d probably never see a store called Christian Tees. Continue reading

Why scorpion spotting is the coolest thing ever

9 Jan

Scorpion spotting

Nights in the bush are wonderful and mysterious and just a little scary. The distant roar of a lion. The unearthly shriek of a barn owl. The rustle in the grass of… who knows what. Hyenas laugh, jackals yowl, elephants rumble.  And, if two hippos choose to have a fight across the riverbed, it sounds like the dinosaurs have returned in all their terrible glory.

You can pick up eyeshine with a torch and get divebombed by dung beetles, but all of this takes place in the dark which rolls . So to find something new in the night, something that has been there all along, is extraordinary and wonderful.

All it took was the purchase of a torch from the Khamai Reptile Centre near Hoedspruit. It uses UV light, and scorpions glow under UV light. With a scorpion spotting torch, a stone birdbath is transformed into this:

Scorpion birdbath

A fork in a tree provides the stage for this unearthly tango:

Scorpion dance

Even dead scorpions take on a strange beauty under UV light.

Scorpion beautiful death

These are all pretty harmless scorpions, by the way – Opistacanthus asper – which favour Acacia nigrescens trees because they can hide in the bark and ambush passing insects. They’re cousins of Doris the Knysna scorpion. You can find out more about them in the online version of the scorpion guide book I use here.

If you ever spend time in the great outdoors, consider investing in a UV scorpion torch. It will add a fascinating new dimension to the dark.

What happens when you tweet about paying etolls

8 Jan

etoll response

This afternoon, I queued at a shopping centre in Sunninghill to pay my etolls and tweeted about it. I’d used a car that isn’t registered in my name on the highway, and my family asked me to please sort it out. If the car was mine, I might have been more sanguine about civil disobedience, but this wasn’t strictly up to me.

The response was interesting. It ranged from mockery:

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 2.00.36 PM

to threats of vandalism:

etolls bullying 3

I’ll admit that I thought twice about tweeting about standing in that queue. Then again, I was curious about the response, and since I tweet about being divorced and having bad hair, I might as well tweet about etolls too.

To admit to paying etolls is socially unacceptable in some circles. It marks you as a traitor, and certainly would have back in 2012 and 2013 when the anti-etolling campaign was at its peak.  The tide is definitely shifting though, and judging by the number of people in the queue, I’m one of many:

etoll payers

I braced myself for the bill. Since etolling started in early December, I’ve used the highway several times and been through countless gantries. So when the bill came to under R24, I was – yes – pleasantly surprised.

What’s interesting about this, and what I’ll explore in more detail, is how the debate around etolls has moved from mass civil disobedience, where Sanral was probably the greatest unifying force in the nation, to a sense of resignation. This ship has sailed, and while hardliners might threaten me (some of them really need to join the fake interpreter for a spell in Sterkfontein if they think that committing an actual crime – damage to private property – somehow enhances their case against the government) the battle has been lost. Most people will kak en betaal because the threat of further inconvenience is worse than the threat of being accused of being a veraaier. Already the tide is turning; the queues at Sanral customer service centres are evidence enough of that.

If I were Sanral, I’d be rubbing my hands in glee at the prospect of anti-etolls hardliners threatening members of the public. Nothing makes a bully more sympathetic than excessive aggression by its critics.

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