The Life and Times of Me

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This is me, playing in the dog bowl. Notice the one button missing on the dungarees. This is important.

 

Not that the world gives a shit, but in the off chance that my imaginary future grandchildren might, I thought a few stories of their aged Grandmother might raise a few laughs.

 

The Day the TV Came

Contrary to the opinion of my offspring, I did not emerge fully formed from the womb.

In 1976 something huge happened in sunny South Africa and not just my birth. We got television. Yes, the rest of the world had been enjoying the goggle box since the early 1900s, but here in SA it was regarded at the Devil’s work.

Up until then, the radio was people’s only source of news and entertainment. Even for a long time afterwards, I remember my Grandparents and parents trying to tune into the BBC World News on the radio.

It was also the year of the Soweto Youth Uprising on 16 June. Yes, I was born into white privilege in the middle of the worst of Apartheid. I missed it by 8 days. Since then, I have been permanently late for anything important.

The Great American Disaster

I was not so much a mistake, as an error in judgement and timing. 8 months and a week before my parents were cruising around the Med near Ibiza with some friends and the Great American Disaster.

Spending a lot of time in cramped quarters was not conducive to their remaining friends after the trip was over. Neither was the fact that besides my parents, everyone ditched their partners, each other and picked up the Great American Disaster somewhere near Ibiza and eventually marooned her on a little Greek Island and made good their escape.

My mother knows the moment of my conception, because the couples took turns to use the main stateroom. Also, my mother had forgotten her birth control pills somewhere along the way. And my father had bought her a fertility ring at a market near Athens.

Press Night

All my father asked was for my mother to not go into labour on a Tuesday. He was a journalist and Tuesday was Press Night. Press Night was sacred. You did not mess with Press Night.

Of course, I could have picked any other day of the week to announce my arrival, but in my usual bloody-minded way I picked a Tuesday. It’s the kind of thing I do.

Like Michael McIntyre, the comedian, I looked distinctly Asian around the eyes.

The Macaroni and Cheese Debacle

Back then, my father was a sub editor who worked nights while my mother worked in the Africana Museum during the days. A young wife, she was determined to be a good one. Despite loathing pasta, she knew that my dad loved macaroni and cheese. Every single morning, she made him mac and cheese to eat when he came back from work. Just that. Every single day. Until he cracked. Since then my mother has never made it again and he hasn’t eaten again. Ever.

There were a few more culinary disasters – The Great Haggis Disaster and The Bloody Butchery of the Lamb. Since then she learned a few tricks, one that Haggis was revolting and two, you can actually buy half a sheep and have the butcher dissect it so that you don’t end up crying in a pool of blood waving a carving knife around like a hysterical Valkyrie.

The Hedgehogs and the Irish Setter

It was an idyllic place to be a toddler. There were hedgehogs and chameleons and little purple flowers. We’d head off, me in my pushchair and Alex the Irish Setter into the veld. A short while later the push chair would be filled with prickly rescued hedgehogs that the dog would proudly bring back to us, a few chameleons and an entire garden worth of little purple flowers. I would be made to walk on the return journey.

The Curse

All of that is gone now, replaced by a highway and a plethora of car dealerships. In fact, the day our old house was demolished to make way for another car dealership, my mother cursed it. Ever since no car dealership has lasted long on the site.

The Great Escape

My earliest memory is of escaping my crib. I became quite adept at it. I also was obsessed with having a tail. All my clothes had to have tails sewn on or I wouldn’t wear them.

On the night of the Great Escape I scaled my prison walls outfitted in a knitted, blood red, onesie type thing, but without legs, just a sort of bag around the nether regions. It was outfitted with a rather natty tail made out of one leg of my mother’s stockings. I was rather proud of it. I crawled determinedly along the passage towards the sounds of voices. Over and over again I was caught and returned to captivity. It was really rather soul destroying.

The Shopping Situation

Periodically, my mother would wheel me down to the tiny little village shop. There I would be left outside with dog tied to my carriage while she did the shopping.

Mentioning to her recently that this didn’t seem like the actions of a doting parent, she said, “Well, it wasn’t as if I left you alone. I did leave the dog with you.” This is usually followed by, “When I was a child in wartime England, we were left outside the shops in little rows all bundled up in the cold with bright red cheeks until our mothers had finished having their tea.”

The Broken Leg (or maybe Arm)

This was the time my Grandmother (my mother’s mother) walked through a plate glass window straight into a hole my father had dug for a tree (or perhaps it was a Granny trap?). She was carrying a tea tray and didn’t break a cup, although she did break her leg (or it might have been an arm?).

This had the unfortunate consequence of Granny staying a lot longer with us than either of my parent’s had the patience for. It didn’t endear me to her that I found physical comedy incredibly entertaining and couldn’t stop laughing every time I saw her.

The Random Kidnapper

There was the time a guy tried to steal the car and passed out drunk in the backseat. My furious father drove to the police station and insisted on his arrest. During this tirade, the drunk would-be robber woke up and interjected. Apparently, he was walking down the road, quite normally, when suddenly a red-faced, boxers and dressing gown wearing, mad white man had leapt out of the greenery and bundled him into the car. My father shook his head and went home for coffee with a stiff shot of whiskey.

The Great Mud Pie Disaster

My nanny was a wonderful woman named Joyce. She also had a baby. Her baby was gorgeous. She wore white lacy baby things and never ever got them dirty. I attracted dirt. I was entranced by dirt. Dirt was my happy place. My father would arrive home to find me bum in the dog bowl covered in mud. Two minutes beforehand I had been on my seventh change of clothes for the day. He despaired for me.

This love of dirt led to The Great Mud Pie Disaster. I spent a happy afternoon carting buckets of mud into my parent’s pristine (and out of bounds) bathroom, where I mixed up a veritable feast of mud pies. And then I hid. I knew full well that things had gotten of hand and that I needed to make myself very very scarce. I tried to get rid if the evidence at the garden hose, which just made everything worse. I sat in a puddle and knew that I was never getting away with it. I was done for.

Myself and my trusty doll, Rosie Poppet, were in for a hiding. I just knew it.

We waited in silent desperation waiting for the yell of shock and horror. It never happened. Somehow, Joyce had made it all disappear. At least, it was never mentioned. It just didn’t happen. I was certain the axe would fall for years and eventually admitted it only at about the age of 25.

The Day My Father Shot Me

My final and most traumatic memory of the house was The Day My Father Shot Me. My father has a gift. Each and every time we moved to a new house he developed either a physical injury that precluded him from lifting anything or he disappeared on an emergency business trip.

On the occasion we left the house of my birth, he had slipped a disk and ensconced himself on the floor or the empty nursery entertaining his darling daughter while my mother dealt with the minutiae of moving.

An Aged Relative had at some point bestowed on my father a tiny silver pop gun. It went bang. Nothing came out of it. It just went bang. He thought that I think it was cool.

He pointed it my direction and pulled the trigger. Things did not go as expected. I had a meltdown. I ran on my short, stubby legs screaming to my mother yelling, “Daddy tried to kill me! Daddy tried to kill me!” My mother and the moving men looked on in horror as my father limped out of the house brandishing the small, silver, not-quite a revolver.

The Button and the Nose and the Mustache

Once upon a time I was messing around in the back seat while my parents had a complicated conversation in the front. There was no such thing as a car seat, or for that matter, seat belts in the back. It was a heady and dangerous time.

Without much in the way of entertainment, I occupied myself with the buttons on my spiffing dungarees. This was funny, until one fell off.

“Mummy. Mummy. MUMMY!”

“Hmm, what?”

“My button fell off.”

“Well, put it somewhere safe.”

Somewhere safe for a small child is quite different to somewhere safe for an adult. I put it in the safest place I could think of. My left nostril. As soon as it was up there I had a sneaky suspicion this was not the somewhere safe, my mother had been thinking of. She could be quite prosaic in her thinking and probably meant a pocket or something.

So, I kept my mouth shut, wore the one buttoned dungarees and the button stayed safe up my schnoz. Of course, eventually my nanny became concerned that my blocked nose was not the result of a naturally occurring virus.

A visit to the doctor was duly made after hours in parental panic. I honestly don;t see how waiting for the morning was not considered. It had been there happily for months by this time and few more hours wasn’t going to hurt.

I’ll tell you what did hurt. Getting it out. It was excruciating. The doctor had a mustache and wielded his picking-stuff-out-of-noses tools with maximum agony in mind.

Several painful hours later, with a bloody and swollen nose I was button free and deathly afraid of all men with mustaches.

I completely acknowledge my mustache bias. I still don’t trust men with facial fungi. They have something to hide.

And this was how my life began. A comedy of errors that just keeps giving.

AtoZ: I is for I was born before…

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Son: “Mummy, were there T-Rexes when you were little?”

Mummy: “No.”

Son: “Mummy, when you were little did they have those flip top phones?”

rotaryphoneMummy: “No. When I was little our phone was connected to the wall with a wire and we didn’t have buttons we had a sort of a wheel you had to turn. In those days we had to call the operator and she would connect our line with someone’s elses.”

Pause while son ruminated on this ancient technology.

Son: “Mummy?”

Mummy: “Yes?”

Son: “Mummy. When you were little was there TV?”

Mummy: “Yes, but not when Daddy was born.”

This isn’t as bad it sounds. We only got television in South Africa on 5 January 1976. The government feared television would rot our brains and corrupt our morals.

Son: “Mummy, were you alive before TV had colours?”

Mummy: “Yes.”

When I was small we had a tiny black and white TV set with a bunny ears aerial. TV only came on during set hours and English and Afrikaans were on alternate days.

My grandparents had one of the first colour TV sets. It was an immense behemoth of a Sony with a tiny screen. It came with a cloth cover and my Grandfather would gravely unplug it every evening after the news.

I used it myself until a few years ago when the tube blew and no-one I took it to could repair it. I feel its loss keenly.

Son: “Mummy, are you so old that you were born before the Internet?”

Mummy: “Yes.”

Son: “That’s really old.”

Ttehnethe first computer we had at home set me apart from my classmates.

My father was a journalist and so we were among the first to be outfitted with an enormous beige PC.

My father regarded it with deep distrust.

I was regarded as very privileged because we had computer classes at school. We had to use a little turtle to draw palm trees.

Logos? Something like that. Positively pre-Google.

Son: “Mummy, what’s that square thing she’s putting in the computer?”

We were watching Sandra Bullock in The Net.

Mummy: “That’s a floppy disk. You know the icon you press to save files on the laptop.”

Son: “Could you put a movie on there?”

Mummy: “You couldn’t save a photograph on there.”

These days if I get given a USB with less than 3GB I chuck it in the bin. How is that for complacency?

Son: “Mummy, how did you email people before the Internet?”

Mummy, “We wrote on special writing paper and put it in an envelope and posted in a big red post box.”

3271576-a-vintage-post-box-receiving-pillarWe got Internet access at home when my boyfriend at the time was off across the seas and being a young love-riddled teenager I was certain I would never cope with the separation unless I had email. So email it was. Pegasus Mail.

I used gophers to search and had to put the telephone handset over the modem so it could sing its whiny little tune for a connection.

I also failed an assignment when I used online forums to research the topic. Now days you’d fail if you didn’t research online.

So much has changed in my lifetime, that the world is quite different now from when I was a child and I’m only in my thirties.

My mother had no electricity and went to bed by candlelight.
My father didn’t have a refrigerator, but an icebox built under the house.
I remember my Grandmother always being entranced by refrigerators and being able to have ice cream at home whenever you wanted it.

I wonder what my grandchildren will say one day.

“Granny, were born before we lived on Mars?”

“Granny, were you alive before the rhinos died?”