Teddy bears have a special place in my heart. Perhaps because I grew up on a diet of Winnie the Pooh, Rupert the Bear and Paddington.
My cousin Timothy had a bear I coveted as only a child can covet, it was an all encompassing desire to own a threadbare, jointed antique teddy bear. I thought he was the epitome if everything a bear should be – loved by generations of children. I cried desperate tears each time he was wrenched from grasp.
There is something comforting and protective about a teddy bear, an innocence of childhood and bright boot button eyes wise beyond comprehension.
When I stumbled onto these exquisite hand-embroidered teddy bears I was utterly hooked. Taunina bears are, quite simply, the most beautiful bears in the entire world.
Made in Cape Town, these bears are individually created with immense love by a group of phenomenal women from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Each bear takes the artist about seven days and becomes an embodiment of her creativity, culture and hope for tomorrow.
These bears have become collector’s items all over the world, but not the type of collector’s item that remains in a box on the shelf.
No, each bear is made to be loved and held, and adored by a child until that child passes it on to her child.
It’s not a gift. It’s a legacy. It’s an investment in hope.
Wherever you are in the world, a Taunina bear can find his way to you.
My husband and my father have two things in common.
One is their love of me and the other their wont to jazz up their work suits with some level of individuality – in particular socks, ties, braces etc.
My father chooses flamboyant socks and braces of mustard, red and tartan.
He once went into a store in New York City and asked for a pair of braces that said, “I’ve been to New York”.
He got them.
Finally, hidden under professional pin stripe were the socks.
There should be odes written to my father’s socks.
17 years ago my husband came into my life.
He is very strange about socks. You must understand that he has to this day feet like a newborn child. He wears two pairs of socks and the thought of going barefoot fills him with paroxysms of panic.
From the moment he laid eyes on my father’s socks his life changed. His socks are now his signature item. Socks in all colours of the rainbow. Socks of contrasting colour. Socks that say – “This is me!” In Technicolor.
He is a man for whom a gift of socks can never be wrong. I usually tend towards Hackett for his socks, but this either means ferrying them from the United Kingdom or purchasing them at Sandton City at an exorbitant cost.
Over the years we have fallen into a birthday routine. We find the sites of things we like and we casually leave them open for the other to find. We like to think we are subtle, but we may as well take out a billboard on the highway.
The site is as close to sock heaven as my man is likely to find anywhere on this earth.
Polka dots, squares, stripes, eye spy – there is plethora of fabulous socks.
The cast of Big Bang Theory would die for these socks.
There is the Bar Code, the Check Mate, the Clown, the Humphrey, the Barber Shop and I could go on and on and on.
Nicsocks has obviously been designed with the men in my life in mind.
Every sock is a limited edition, so if you tend to lose one in the wash to the Great Sock Heaven in the Spin Cycle, you may want to buy two of each.
Nicsocks love socks so much they’ve even started a sock fan club called Sockaholics.
Manufactured in Cape Town, NicSocks are packaged by hand with much care before they are wrapped up and sent to you.
You can even get them on subscription!
A sock subscription. How cool is that?
You choose between 12 and 15 pairs of socks every year and for a monthly subscription or one-time annual payment starting at R645 you’ll get a new pair of socks every few months.
So, if the man in your life likes a little personal elan, why not buy them a pair of socks that will make them stand out from the crowd. They will never be “just that guy” again. They’ll be “That guy in the funky socks!”
Of course, now I will have to take out a subscription, because I can’t not.
Well, I did yesterday when I was meant to attend a book launch and then got busy on WordPress looked at the clock and saw I’d missed it.
No need to panic, I went to the next one tonight at Exclusives in Melrose Arch. The poor girl arranging it had a massive panic attack and the guy who took over made in infinitely worse by telling everyone about it.
“A time-traveling serial killer is impossible to trace – until one of his victims survives. In Depression-eraChicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras, leaving anachronistic clues on their bodies, until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.”
And it is truly amazing.
Many years and some incarnations ago Lauren and I attended the same school. She has always been quietly (and not so quietly) brilliant. One thing she has never lost is her wonderment at her incredible talent and, I think, some awe of far it has carried her.
She had the study across from mine and the walls were papered with stories. Utterly terrifying, blood curdling, nightmare inducing horror. Steven King could have taken lessons. These were utterly addictive and we would sneak in and read them avidly, knowing that tomorrow there’d be new installments.
Wandering vaguely, as one does, through the book store in search of something that appeals, I found a copy of Maverick. Lauren’s first book, a non-fiction account of famous and infamous South African women.
It is sadly now out of print, but she give an often very humourous insight into the women who have in their own ways shaped our history (and not the women you might expect either).
Then I am ashamed to admit, I didn’t read her following novels until quite recently. I felt, strangely, that it was going to be too intimate, too uncomfortable to read the work of someone I actually knew. I realised how stupid this was a few months ago and snatched back my copy of Moxyland from a colleague who’d nicked it.
There is something slightly mystical about a person who can make you confront social issues and political agendas in such a way you don’t even realise you are doing it.
I am a consummate and unapologetic eavesdropper. I don’t seem to have that filter that drowns out the sounds of other people’s conversations. I have the opposite. I’m like one of those spy satellites or email spambots that pick up interesting words or phrases and hone in on them.
I get it from my mother. The two of us can go to lunch and sit in absolute silence completely transfixed by other people’s conversations.
My father once took us to the Mount Nelson in Cape Town for afternoon tea. It is very colonial posh.
A man in formal tails plinks away on a grand piano while you delicately sip tea in fine bone china and sample exquisite scones with just the right amount of fresh strawberry jam and cream.
It is the place where fathers take errant daughters at university in the Mother City to try to talk some sense into them.
Our conversation took a backseat to the one in the neighbouring alcove.
Daughter: “Daddy. I have had an epiphany!”
Daughter: “I know you’re upset that I haven’t been going to varsity, but Daddy! I’ve found my calling.”
Daddy: “And what might that be?”
Daughter: “I want to study astrology.”
Daddy: “Surely, you mean astronomy?”
Daughter: “No Daddy! Astrology. You know the stars at your birth and how they affect your life?”
About now, both my father and I tried and failed to smother our giggles with clotted cream.
There was a pregnant silence.
Daddy: “So you want to quit medical school?”
Daughter: “Yes! I mean the stars are so more, well more, um… spiritual.”
Daddy: “I think we had better wait to finish this conversation until your mother can join us.”
Poor girl. I often wonder what became of her.
My personal favourite of overheard dialogue has to be the UFO abductees in the lift at the shopping mall. The lifts are notoriously slow and the journey from car park to shopping level takes a good few minutes.
Two middle-aged ladies and a gentleman about my own age arrived at the elevator simultaneously and entered together. I had obviously missed the start of their chat, but where I came in it was absolutely riveting.
Woman A: “You know what it is like?”
Woman B: “I know. I know.”
Woman B was like the South African equivalent of Sybil Fawlty.
Woman A: “When the UFO is hovering above your house and everyone is sleeping?”
Woman B: “I know. I know.”
Woman A: “And you’re lying there wondering how can they sleep through all that noise? Can’t they hear the aliens?”
Woman B: “I know. I know.”
Woman A: “They always come for me. They’re very nice about it really. I can’t understand all the fear.”
Woman B: “I know. I know.”
Woman A: “I’ve travelled all over the universe, you know?”
Woman B: “I know. I know.”
Woman A: “I’ve even had babies all over the galaxy. Hundreds of them by now.”
Woman B: “I know. I know.”
By now, the gentleman and myself were taking turns to stare at the walls, the floor and the ceiling. We both missed our floor in order to stay close to hear the mother of half the universe’s babies.
All good things must come to an end and as the door opened the two ladies left still continuing their discussion on the inability of other alien races to reproduce.
The doors slid closed again and we rose to our intended floor of departure.
Unfortunately for us, as the doors closed we chanced a glance at each other and my companion said sagely, “Must have been that last anal probe.”
By the time we arrived one floor up we were bent double and weeping in hysteria.
The doors opened, the waiting crowd surged forward, took one look at us and judged us completely insane and decided to wait for the next one.
Not that I am a sceptic about life on other planets, not at all.
I just fail to see why they would choose a post menopausal housewife from suburban South Africa to try to and widen their gene pool.
Surely with all that Star Trek technology they could take Mensa candidates or Elle McPherson?
Alright, I’m just jealous. I’ve never seen an alien or a UFO.
My mother and I spent one terribly uncomfortable night on a mountain top in Northcliff with the UFO Watch Group. It was very cold and they had no sense of humour about what they were doing at all.
To top it off, apparently the next weekend they saw a UFO.
And we missed it.
And very seriously you must visit stopalienadbuctions.com. They have step-by-step instructions on how to create an anti-abduction helmet used successfully by thousands of abductees.
“Since trying Michael Menkin’s Helmet, I have not been bothered by alien mind control. Now my thoughts are my own. I have achieved meaningful work and am contributing to society. My life is better than ever before. Thank you Michael for the work you are doing to save all humanity.”
It was eighteen years ago and not one goes by without someone reminding me of it.
It was the main source of conversation at my grandmother’s funeral. She even saved the newspaper clippings. My father mentioned it at my 21st, my wedding and whenever the mood strikes. I was blamed for being a bad influence when my younger cousin had a similar experience a few months later.
On the first day of school this year an innocent father of some small child happened to hit the nerve by remarking, “And it’s not like you ever ran away or anything?” I went from calm to spitting mad in under a second. “I did NOT run away. It was not my fault the car broke down.” Poor guy had no clue.
It is time to set the record straight.
Heartbroken after my first love kicked me to the curb and needing to crawl into a dark hole and recover, I retreated to my father’s apartment in Cape Town to lick my wounds.
Hearts recover quickly when you are young and by the time the bus arrived in the Mother City I was over the heartbreak, or at least over the grief, and moving into the “I don’t give a damn” category.
Eighteen years old and the world was waiting. So was trouble. I was ready for it.
I hooked up with some friends and proceeded to make a series of small decisions that butterfly-like have fluttered through the years regardless of all attempts to kill them off.
So, we have me – the Flower Child, the Free Spirit, the Mercenary (not really, he was a ex-Recce, but mercenary sounds better as a moniker) and the Fallen Angel, a Dutch import.
The Fallen Angel was one of Michelangelo’s creations landed on terra firma.
At this point no-one seemed to know where he had come from, but he took our little group of girlfriends by storm.
Seven of nine succumbed to his charms.
Years afterwards we compared stories and laughed at the same lines that brought us to our knees.
But I had all this to discover when I decided to cancel my bus ticket home and join the merry band on a trip to the Grahamstown Art Festival.
We did not travel in comfort or in style. The Flower Child and her boyfriend the Mercenary, a very manly man, had the front seat of a very small bakkie.
The Fallen Angel and I squeezed into what space remained after our luggage into the back canopy along with Bruno the German Pointer, a chainsaw and a surf board.
The close quarters didn’t dull our enthusiasm for the road trip.
Neither did our complete lack of a monetary safety net.
By the time we reached Grahamstown we were getting a little frayed.
I found a friend with a shower and took full advantage while the rest of the gang set up on a sarong the homemade, bamboo ashtrays and bongs with which they planned to make a financial killing. It didn’t go very well. We weren’t cut out for commerce.
In the pale light of the early morning the Free Spirit produced the world’s most inedible scrambled eggs. Things went a little south about here.
She caught a look in the Mercenary’s eye and shortly afterwards pans of soggy undercooked scrambled eggs were being thrown with deadly aim at anyone in the near vicinity.
The Fallen Angel, Bruno the dog and I squeezed under the bakkie in the hope of avoiding any fall-out with varying degrees of success.
Grahamstown breathed a sigh of relief when we hit the road.
By the time we ended up in East London the jalopy had developed a rather startling hiccup-like motion.
I decamped to my grandparents causing a bit of a stir at the old aged home where the inhabitants viewed our coming like small children watching a circus come to town.
Despite my grandmother’s advice to grab a flight home I was determined to continue on the Great Road Trip. Anyway, as far as I knew we were on way back home and it was the last leg. HAH!
We didn’t go home. We went surfing. In the middle of nowhere.
Welcome to the Transkei.
As we drove through the streets of Bisho I stopped to call home from a tickie box. Only, the lines out of the Transkei were down and had been for over a week.
Oh hell, I thought, it’s only a few hours.
We drove very very slowly along dirt roads while crowds of children emerged from the bush to surround the car and demanded sweets.
The Mercenary and his dog surfed.
I lay on the beach and listened to Bauhaus.
When the stars came out I realised we weren’t going anywhere. The stars poured down upon our heads and Jim Morrison crooned, “I met two young girls, the blonde was called Freedom, the dark one Enterprise”.
Our chariot was not going anywhere. Everyone but me seemed to take this in their stride. I knew then that my parents were going to be M.A.D.
And I was hungry.
We ate chicken liver pate that was gift for someone and traded our clothes for crayfish brought fresh out of the sea by nimble little pikinins. They squealed as they hit the boiling water and nothing has ever tasted so good.
Come the morning the Fallen Angel was dispatched to a nearby school for fresh water and the Spaza shop for milk with our last R10 note.
He returned beaming with a box of Umkomaas, cheerfully telling us that it was much cheaper than regular milk.
Stony faced we forced him to drink the soured congealing drink and watched in ill-concealed glee as he realised his mistake.
Later that day I ran out of cigarettes. This was the last straw.
Not to worry, it is the Transkei and a very happy farmer was provided some of the, um, local tobacco. It didn’t help the hunger, but it made the time pass quicker.
At some point the Mercenary decided that it time to talk to the police. Not a bad idea. Except that the resident policeman was three sheets to the wind and nodding happily at us proceeded to do nothing about contacting our families. Little did we know.
With no cash on hand, the Mercenary press ganged the Fallen Angel into chopping wood for the local hotel and the Flower Child and the Free Spirit were duly unloaded with all our belongings in the parking lot.
Shortly after they had disappeared into the undergrowth the two of us were sitting morosely and dust covered on our suitcases when we found ourselves held up at gunpoint.
It was my first real life example of why brothers and sisters should not marry and procreate.
The couple looked down the barrel of a very old and lethal looking rifle while drool leaked down their misshapen chins.
Right about now the Free Spirit lost her core of calm and began to get slightly hysterical.
I was exhausted, dirty, fed up and not in the mood. I waved away the gun and asked where the bathroom was.
Astounded, they gestured vaguely down the path and I collected my towel and shampoo and informed the Free Spirit that enough was enough and I was going for a bath.
It was the best bath I have taken. I lay in lukewarm golden coloured water and thanked the gods for indoor plumbing.
The communication barrier between us and them resulted in another dead end on the parental communication front and we retreated back to the beach.
As we sat in the dark glumly watching the flames send sparks up to become part of the Milky Way, we were joined by a Guardian Angel.
This local fisherman and Spaza Shop owner took pity on the poor little white kids and towed us off to take up residence in a series of dead bakkies parked at his store.
He explained that sooner or later… tomorrow maybe… just now… at sometime in the future… someone would be travelling into Umtata and would give us a ride to the city.
As he mixed up an enormous potjie of pap for his pack of little yellow dogs he must have caught our looks of salivating approval. Standing up he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. If we were hungry he’d give us 10 minutes at the pap before he let the dogs out. We ate like kings.
Meanwhile in the real world about six days had passed and our parents were insane with worry. They tracked us by my ATM withdrawals and helicopters were sent out to scour the countryside for our remains. Friends and family members descended on the Transkei in all manner of vehicles.
And I lay in the courtyard of the Spaza Shop in the load bay of a rusty Isuzu wondering how the hell I was ever going to get home.
One morning a little white Honda pulled up at the gate.
The Mercenary’s mom had arrived.
She took one look at my dusty visage and said, “Your father is not impressed.” An understatement of the century, I think I blurted out, “Look, can’t you just leave me here?”
The Free Spirit, the Mercenary and I were unceremoniously packed in the tiny hatchback leaving all our belongings in the dirt.
The Fallen Angel was left to guard the remains if the bakkie. He waved as disappeared into a cloud of dust amid promises that the Mercenary would be back the next day. He ended up waiting nearly two weeks.
We wandered back into the furore over four missing teenagers in Umtata. Posters with terrible photos of us were photocopied and put up on every corner. We were greeted with effusive hugs and kisses from total strangers with no idea of what was going on. The local hotel put us up for the night and we hit the all you can eat buffet like the starving.
The drive home was taken in complete silence. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. To this day my stomach tightens in dread when I take the last curve on Long Tom’s Pass towards Harrismith. It was there I fed coins into a call box and prepared to face the wrath of my father.
I was sent to Coventry. The remainder of my vacation was spent with my Godmother where the circumstances of my visit were politely never referred to.
When I finally made it home no-one said a word. It was the large pink polka dotted elephant in the room. Then my grandfather died, the one in East London.
Almost eight months later I found myself driving out of East London towards Umtata yet again.
As the final buildings faded behind us my father calmly turned his head and said, “We have 8 hours ahead of us. Why don’t you tell us exactly what happened in the Transkei?”
My father was an investigative journalist. It was the longest 8 hours of my life.
I would never survive Guantanamo, I cracked in under 2 seconds.
Eighteen years on, the Free Spirit has dedicated her life to saving an endangered parrot in New Zealand which according to Douglas Adams on TED is the world’s most stupid bird and mainly needs saving from itself.
The Mercenary was deemed responsible by the insurance company and had to pay off the helicopter search time for the next 10 years.
I grew up to be a hippie suburban mother and writer driving around in a 1976 VW kombi.
The Fallen Angel travelled the world, charmed more women than he could count and ended up taking staid corporate bankers out of their comfortable cubicles and throwing them off bridges and down mountains.
But on a beach in a quiet corner of the world, on an unspoilt beach a part of us will always be dancing to The Doors under the stars.
Damn if it wasn’t some of the best days of my life.
Husband: “Yes, but I think I may have forgotten something.”
Wife: “Underpants, toothbrush, socks?”
Husband: “Yes. I travel a lot you know.”
And so we journey to the airport relaxed with time to spare. We open the boot and… no suitcase. Nothing. Not even the ghost of a suitcase. Husband responds with panic stricken shock and horror. Wife tries and fails to stifle guffaws of laughter.
Wife returns home, retrieves suitcase and gets on a flight to the Mother City, the gracious Cape Town. On boarding she is dismayed to discover a very large, very scary woman in her window seat. She contemplates the forced removal of said larger than life female and decides the aisle seat will be fine. Nonetheless she stews over the unfairness of it all the way to her destination.
This was how my romantic weekend getaway in Cape Town, just the two of us, began. In perspective, the last time we went away together without the brood was about four years ago to a wedding. This was a BIG deal. Grandparents had been co-opted to babysit. Children had been bribed to behave. I was not going to let anything ruin this.
Like many Joburgers most of the time I can’t see the point of Cape Town. Until I arrive there. Then I remember. There is something almost spiritual about being sandwiched between the majestic mountains and the vast Atlantic. There is an awareness that we are insignificant and living in this paradise only on the sufferance of Mother Nature.
The drivers are anything but spiritual. They are abysmal. I actually missed the decisive action of my hometown taxi drivers. No-one seems to care much how long it takes to get anywhere. For some reason this aggravates the Mad Max in me.
We checked in at the 4 star Strand Hotel. The room was a shoebox, the bath a cross between a bidet and a fish bowl. Various bits and pieces kept falling off the plumbing. I hastened to the swimming pool. Looked down upon by a high rise parking lot, the pool appears to be nothing more than a rather large and ineffectual bird bath. The lifts were not affected in anyway by the various buttons you could push. They went where they wanted. Slowly. In fact hotel wise, the only outstanding feature was breakfast cooked up by the resident Ninja, a large taciturn Chinese lady named Cindy. The nights were punctuated by the abuse laden shouts of drunken Bergies. I finally fell asleep dreaming of sitting at the window with an Uzi silencing the local atmosphere. For the same price you can do better. I suggest you do. Try the Grand Daddy.
But, who cares about the accommodation, I was in Cape Town! Now Helen Zille may not be able to toyi-toyi to save her life, but she’s done something absolutely marvellous to the city of Cape Town. There was not a single piece of litter. There were dustbins on every corner. Intrinsic to every inhabitant rich or poor is an inherent and deep-seated pride in the city they call home. If Cape Town is a beautiful woman in her prime, Johannesburg is an overblown lady of the night desperately trying to pick up a quick trick.
It was with some sadness we discovered La Med, the once rustic and casual bar on the beach, has been remodelled into a Camps Bay Paris Hiltonesque gourmet bar called The Bungalow. Exceptionally beautiful decor it was packed with singletons in their late thirties poured into skin tight dresses on the prowl for husband number 2, it has somehow lost the charm of the splintery wooden benches and fish and chips of the past.
We made our obligatory pilgrimage to the Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town determined to ferret out some penguins to display proudly to some out-of-country friends. Up rocks, down rocks, crawling on hands and knees through rocks, just as we were about to give up, I turned around and ended up nose to nose with a thoroughly disgruntled looking penguin. I felt like doing a dance of joy.
Of course I missed my plane home. I was too busy Googling houses on sale in Simons Town and wondering if I could conceivably buy a bookstore in the city centre.