I love Secret Sunrise: you get to dance to an amazing selection of music, without:
a) queueing until 11pm when night clubs open;
b) killing your feet in stilettos;
c) nursing a hangover the next day.
So, when I took my best friend to this Sunday’s first edition of Secret Sunday, I had to laugh when she pulled her earphones away from her ears, and shouted: “Let’s go on a trip”. Secret Sunrise is pretty trippy – just without the drugs. By suggesting that we go on a trip, she actually meant, let’s dance move around through the crowds and explore the space and the participants.
The theme for this Sunday’s Secret Sunrise was “Cowboys & Native Americans”. I didn’t think too much about it beforehand, other than realising that I had no appropriate dress-up garb. So we arrived in our yoga gear, rather than our cowboy boots and hats or our feather head-dresses. If you’ve never been to Secret Sunrise before, I need to explain that each song has an “instructor” who sort of narrates ideas, perspectives or vague instructions for the crowd to follow or to be inspired by (though mostly you can just let loose and dance freestyle, to the music). The first instructor introduced the choice of theme of Cowboys & Native Americans: with all the conflict breaking out globally right now, it seemed a good time to learn from history, to investigate the idea of conflict and to think about how to resolve conflict in one’s own life. When he said the words “Cowboys and Native Americans”, I briefly stopped dancing around the warehouse in New Doornfontein. They sounded strange and my instinct was to correct him. “It’s Cowboys and Indians”, I wanted to shout. It was only a fleeting moment before my intellect overtook my instinct. Cowboys and Indians had gone together like a horse and carriage in my childhood and while I perfectly understood the rationale behind the up-dated version, I simply wasn’t accustomed to it.
Ironically, a few hours later, I was in a theatre watching a rendition of Peter Pan aimed at young children. When Wendy and her brothers fly to Never Land with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, they encounter a group of “Indians” replete with pigtails, tassled clothes and teepees. The show’s writers had not up-dated the script and the tribe was made to speak halting English, in the present tense, devoid of prepositions, uttering phrases such as “Brave Girl sad”.
It sounded a whole lot stranger than “cowboys and Native Americans”. It sounded like stereotyping and paternalism from another era. And that’s when I realised that the words we use – as jarring or as pedantic as the politically correct versions may seem sometimes – really do matter.
When I begin to recite “eeny, meeny, miny, mo” to my children, I instinctively open my mouth to recite a very offensive word. It has remained in my subconscious since childhood, when I had no knowledge of its meaning – quite literally. Now, I choose the word “tiger” for the alliteration:
Eeny, meeny, miny, mo, Catch a tiger by his toe, If he hollers let him go, Eeny, meeny, miny, mo,
Soon enough, “tiger” will sound as natural as the name of my adopted province – Gauteng. And the “n” word will sound as out of place as the word “Transvaal”.
Nineteen years ago, I arrived in Belgium as a wide-eyed Rotary Exchange Student. My first host parents were at Zaventem Airport to meet me and I was determined to boldly belt out my well rehearsed phrase: “Je suis tres heureuse de vous recontrer.” Translation: “nice to meet you”, which, I’m sorry, is a whole lot easier than its French equivalent. In hindsight, “enchantée” would have sufficed, but for some reason the French interpreter who’d retired to Plett with her South African spouse, decided to teach me the more sophisticated version…
When I climbed into the back seat of my host parents’ Renault Espace, they had to tell me that it was the law in Belgium to buckle up – even in the back. Seems odd to think back to a time when that wouldn’t be blatantly obvious to anyone, but it wasn’t a reflex to me in 1997.
Up to that point in my life, it was repeatedly remarked that it really wouldn’t hurt me to smile once in a while. At the beginning of my year in Belgium, people commented on my ever-present smile (according to translations from my host sisters). I was in a bubble with nothing but my own thoughts and the white noise of an incomprehensible language, around me and my coping response was to smile. It was possibly more a grin of mild panic, but fortunately it was positively interpreted.
Besides learning the French language, my instinct was to assimilate into my new surroundings in every way I could, although I did not put a word to it at the time. I set about purchasing a pair of hard, heavy, dark brown, Caterpillar lace-up boots – the type that may very well be worn by someone on a construction site. When I returned to South Africa a year later, those boots would stare at me from the back of my shoe cupboard as if to say: “who were you, last year?” I built up a collection of scarves. The French language even has two distinct words for “scarf”. (“Un foulard” is a scarf made of light, silky fabric and “une écharpe” is thicker, longer, woolier, warmer.) I wound my foulards and écharpes about my neck by creating a loop and folding the other side through that loop, as I saw my schoolmates do. I took up smoking, choosing to do so on an Aeroflot flight during a school trip to Russia, somewhere over the Balkans, at some ridiculous altitude. I felt at once high and severely nauseous, but the next day, I pressed on with the pastime. Many illegal Russian cigarettes later, I still failed to relate to the idea of “smoking pleasure” but I was happy to have something to do with my hands whilst trying to follow the foreign conversation going on at break-neck speed around me.
By the time my year-long exchange was drawing to a close, I had managed to fairly successfully absorb spoken French and would imitate the colloquialisms I overheard my family and peers using, so that I could more or less pass as an assimilated foreigner.
Two weeks ago, I flew to Brussels for the wedding of one of my host sisters, Julie. Zaventem Airport, having been rocked by terrorist bombs just months earlier, is now a maze of temporary marquees and heavily-armed, military personnel. Julie had recommended a guest house near the European Quarter, located in the Rue de Londres (London Rd), just off the Place de Londres (London Square). The bar downstairs which hummed with the excitement of the UEFA games until the early hours of the morning, went by the name of “London Calling”.
And then, two days after my arrival in Brussels, Britain voted to leave the European Union. It was in Geography class in Belgium in 1997 that I learned that Britain had joined the European community as early as 1973. And now they wanted to undo 43 years of assimilation with Europe. I thought of my own experience as an ex-pat in Belgium. Sure, when I returned to SA, I shed my Caterpillar boots, never to be worn again, but the moment I touched down in Brussels – as I had on at least five occasions in the past 19 years – there was a tiny part of me that assimilated into my host country once again. My brain switched to thinking in French after a couple of days, I instinctively greeted people with a kiss on the cheek, I felt a little bit at home. I ran laps around the Parc du Cinquantenaire, passing a bearded man in front of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Belgium. Perhaps multiculturalism cannot be detected in each and every English country village and not everyone has a sense of being a citizen of the world – or of Europe, at least. But what of the millions who do?
On the night of my arrival we watched Belgium defeat Sweden in a sports bar in the suburbs. It was the first time I had watched this year’s football and I noted the armbands the players were wearing, with the words “No To Racism”. It’s a word that we confront daily in South Africa, a word that has defined our past and continues to destabilise our present. And now, with the likes of Donald Trump and Brexit, it feels as though it is hauntingly shaping the future of the free world.
When it comes to child-rearing, I’m in favour of outsourcing if you have the option and if you manage it in a way that works for you emotionally – i.e. it’s pointless to outsource if you’re going to be racked with guilt.
Over the years I’ve outsourced a huge range of activities. I’ve had the luxury of night nurses. I’ve outsourced the making of baby food and had it delivered to my doorstep. Despite numerous attempts at potty training – which are ongoing with my youngest – my kids were/are more motivated to get out of nappies by their peers and teachers at play school. They are learning ball skills at tennis and playball. I’ve used party planners for their birthday parties a couple of times. On occasion, I may even outsource play-date supervision, cup-cake baking, bathing, hair washing and feeding. I make use of childminders at play areas, my children are members of the Kids Club at the gym and I’m in a lift club for school.
In contrast, I have a stay-at-home mom friend who has never employed the services of a night nurse. She successfully potty-trained her boys uncharacteristically early. She bakes their birthday cakes. And – I say this with love – she is not Martha Stewart. In the tequila-swigging days of our pre-children youth, her domestic repertoire consisted of one chicken dish. But she has learnt to bake for her boys. She plays football tirelessly with them, she cooks the family meals and she doesn’t lift club. Her kids have never been put to bed by a babysitter. Her husband made his firstborn’s mushy food from scratch when he started solids, slaving over the stove on weekends and freezing little ice cube portions. He baths the children every night if he’s not travelling for work and he does Saturday morning extra-murals.
In short, they are not prone to outsourcing. So I could not have been more surprised when they told me that their son was having biking lessons. I’m not sure what surprised me more: that such a service existed or that they had procured it.
I’d made some strides in the biking department: I’d researched to find the lightest possible bike available in SA for children and bought it. I’d vowed to run behind Chiara, holding her upright, every day, until she could ride. But just one lap around our postage stamp-sized pool was back-breaking. I’d enlisted David to do the same but even super fit, flexible, Ironman competitors have their limitations. He’d also finished a lap clutching his lower back. Consequently, this expensive piece of German engineering sat in our back garden and intimidated all three of us.
So when I heard that even the most hands-on parents I know had not taught their son to ride, I put in a call to the Bike Whisperer. He’s a tennis coach when he’s not teaching kids to ride and he arrived with patience, energy and tons of experience. Chiara LOVED the first lesson and couldn’t wait for the next. I felt hopeful. During the second lesson she moaned, she was listless and kept wanting to take breaks. I thought there was a strong chance we’d need to extend our five-lesson package. I chose not to watch the third lesson, but decided that we’d better put our backs into it again – quite literally – and planned a trip to Emmarentia that afternoon. Before we left, Chiara had a meltdown and demanded that we take her plastic scooter bike. We refused.
While David was getting Joe cycling-ready, Chiara and I went ahead to the entrance to Emmarentia. She climbed on her bike, asked me to hold her steady, proceeded to pedal three times and demanded that I let go. Off she went! I could not believe my eyes. She was riding!
BPO – Bicycle Proficiency Outsourcing – has proved way more efficient and effective than I could ever have imagined. And it’s got me thinking: if you can hire a sleep trainer who comes to you, why can’t you hire a travelling potty trainer in Sandton? I’m Googling that now…
Men can often be quite dof but they can also be pretty sharp… When we were at university, my friend had a crush on a male model. (Literally). Her sister’s boyfriend was encouraging the crush, so my friend felt she should show him the competition: the male model’s girlfriend, who was also a model. She duly pulled up a picture of the Spanish schmodel online and said “See? Isn’t she stunning?” He took a good look and then responded by saying that whilst she might be considered attractive to most, he had to point out that she didn’t appear to have nostrils…
My husband’s response to my discovery of Kayla Itsines on Instagram was similar. “How is that BODY?” I wanted to know. “Mmm,” he mused, “great stomach but her legs are too skinny”.
Smart move, babe.
I had no idea who Kayla Itsines was, when I created an Instagram account in January. I was on a mission to shed a few kilos after the holidays and I started following a lot of fitness-type people. The hashtag “bbg” was all over Instagram. In fact, it was so widespread that it became very difficult to uncover the actual meaning behind the acronym – it had become part of the everyday lexicon of approximately 4 million people by then. After some digging, I discovered that it stood for “bikini body guide” – a workout and eating programme that one could purchase online if one wanted to look like Kayla. And one does – want to look like Kayla, that is. Skinny legs and all.
According to interviews, Kayla dropped out of university to become a certified personal trainer. Her rise to female fitness stardom began when she started posting pictures of her clients’ body transformations. When I started following her, I was inundated with “before and after” photos of women in bikinis, underwear or skimpy active wear. There were a fair number of Brazilian-style bikini butts: those bathing suit bottoms that aren’t quite dental floss but that don’t leave much to the imagination either.
With her beautifully bronzed bod, a name like “Itsines” and a bevy of transformed online clients, posing in next-to-nothing, with the kind of sass that I imagined only South Americans can muster, I assumed that Kayla was Brazilian. Not so: she was raised in Adelaide, Australia, by Greek parents, hence the olive skin and year-round tan.
In my early Instagram days, when I was only following a handful of people, I saw a lot of transformed bikini butts but I also saw a lot of Kayla:
Kayla in itsy bitsy gym shorts with her head cocked to the right:
Kayla in itsy bitsy gym shorts with her head cocked to the left:
Kayla’s bicep looking impossibly large for her tiny frame
Kayla’s bullet-stopping abs:
Kayla’s bullet-stopping abs sore from “period pains”:
After a while I didn’t think I could, er, stomach another Kayla selfie… Those legs… those abs… they were just too nauseatingly perfect. (And did I mention that she doesn’t drink alcohol at all, ever?) The interesting thing was, however, that many of her online clients around the world, looked about as good as Kayla in their “after” photos: ripped stomachs, defined arms, toned legs. Obviously, for every successful transformation posted, there must be hundreds or even thousands of drop-outs who bought the Bikini Body Guide and didn’t get anywhere near to achieving their dream bodies. But tons did. And I am pretty sure I know why – besides having an online Greek goddess for inspiration.
In 2006, I was attempting to lose weight for my wedding with Weigh Less. There was a free personal training session up for grabs for the person who lost the most weight in a particular week. I dutifully showed up at the next meeting, climbed on the scale and hadn’t lost a gram, but I was in the fortunate position of being the only person who actually attended the group meeting, so the personal training prize was bestowed upon me. I pitched up at the gym all eager for my freebie workout. Instead, I was subjected to a body assessment (hooray) and sales pitch. The monthly cost was way beyond my budget at the time, but I decided to go ahead. It was a turning point in my life, in the sense that the trainer got me from doing zero exercise to working out at least two or three times a week. Since then I’ve seen a personal trainer twice a week for the better part of ten years. I can recall eight different trainers offhand. (Almost all were good, I just like to mix things up). The thing is, not one of them handed me a nutrition plan and told me that if I didn’t largely stick to it, I would wouldn’t see results. The fact that transformations are at least 80% diet, is not new to anyone, but personal trainers don’t seem to recognise that if they don’t devise eating plans – even generic ones – and spend five minutes of every session monitoring diet, most of their clients will never see results. In my opinion, personal training in the traditional sense needs to radically change.
As for Kayla’s 28 minute home work-out session, I thought it was devised for people with time-consuming careers, long commutes, no childcare etc. But going for an early morning run in winter is ridiculously hard and even making it to the gym before the school run is a challenge in the cold and the dark. So last week I decided to do Day 1 of Week 1 of the Bikini Body Guide. I was literally stiff for five days..
The only sushi-related foodstuff my kids have ever eaten is wasabi. And that only transpired because Joe was sitting on my lap while we were enjoying a sushi-feast with my in-laws. He was too young to talk but he was not too young to scream and point. Somehow he got it in his head that he WANTED WASABI!!! After his initial glee at getting his own way, his facial expression turned to one of horror and then pain. Suffice it to say that my kids have not begged for sushi since.
I don’t offer them sushi, because, as my mother used to say, they’ll “have nothing to look forward to” later on in life.
I recall once reading a piece by a British journalist who recounted a family holiday to the Caribbean where she and her husband travelled business class while their kids sat in economy. She believed that children should only travel business class if they paid for their tickets themselves. This resonated with me. Unfortunately, my kids are a bit young for this particular lesson. On a recent trip back from Mauritius, we sat opposite (in business class) an older couple whom I later realised had this exact policy in place. They tucked into the champers as soon as their butts hit the seats. She’d packed her pink sleep mask and a stack of magazines and he had a copy of the paper. They reclined their seats as soon as the plane began cruising and looked set to enjoy their good fortune. Our kids, obviously, couldn’t have cared less: the bigger the seat, the better it was for bouncing on; the more buttons it had, the more it could be driven like a bumper car. Somehow the airline managed to run out of kiddie goodie bags and the hostess saw no reason not to give the last bag to only one of our two children. Of course, an almighty feud then broke out on the injustice of it all and who had more rights to the dinky-sized colouring pencils. Eventually, the stewardess came round and whispered that “people” were starting to complain and could our children please settle down? For the rest of the flight, I am happy to report, Joe had one of those poos that sink right to the bottom of the nappy and cannot be detected by a parental eye when you pull the nappy away from the child’s back to assess whether a change was needed. As a result, I only confirmed my suspicions once we’d landed. I am sure the smell would have wafted across the aisle…
When we got off the flight, Derby and Joan from next door were reunited with their teenage offspring, while our two kids continued to believe that oversized seats and extra legroom were entirely the norm when travelling.
The other night, I had dinner with a friend who has a five year old. Apparently, she recently started asking to “go for fine dining”. Date night is now dead and Friday nights are spent at the local steak house with the two kids, for their fill of “fine dining”. Mercifully, our two children still believe that any dining establishment that boasts a jungle gym or jumping castle is more than “fine”. And my husband is an honest-to-goodness fan of The Spur, so fine dining for them is still Sunday nights at The Spur in their pj’s.
Last week on the way home from school, Chiara announced that one of her friends has “never been to Mauritius!” I felt like amusing myself and feigned shock at this fellow five year old who had never had an island holiday. But then I gently explained to her that the first time I had set foot in Mauritius was when I was nearly 30 years old. She looked at me with pity. And that’s when I decided that a weekend in Warmbaths is in order…
I started participating in group aerobics classes about half-way through high school. “Body Concept” – aptly named for its era – was the local gym in George, at a time when it was wholly acceptable to work out in a g-string leotard over a pair of cycling shorts. (At least this was thought to be cool in George, in the mid-nineties.) My high school was hockey obsessed and seeing as I couldn’t really run in my teens – let alone run while connecting a hockey bat to a ball – going to aerobics classes across the road from my boarding school was a welcome escape into the anonymity of the adult world. Or so I first thought…
Because before long, I recognised that the Kingdom of Aerobics possessed all the hallmarks of a high school class – except without the boys. If you were an unpopular instructor, you were toast. No-one spoke to you, no-one wanted to hang out after class and worst of all, group exercise goers would simply boycott your class. If, God forbid, there was a last minute change to the regular roster and one or two unsuspecting souls hadn’t called to double check who was giving a particular class, they would arrive and, the moment they saw the uncool instructor walk up to the teaching podium, they would walk out. The poor instructor might be left with one newbie, or no-one at all, to teach.
The popular instructor, on the other hand, wielded untold power. She commanded a following which would arrive up to thirty minutes before, marking their territory with their sweat towels, thereby staking a claim on their favourite spot on the sprung floor. By this stage, I had found a space off to the side, where I could safely head before every class, not yet claimed by any Smug Regulars who had come before me and who would therefore have held a position of greater seniority than I. Here, in this space on the side, I would be free to break out into a grapevine with confidence.
During my university years, I graduated to the Health & Racquet Club in Cape Town’s Mouille Point. This was the big leagues and competition for spaces in the popular group exercise classes was stiff. We’d arrive, well in advance, and request a numbered ticket at reception. If you got there too late, there would be no tickets left and access to the class would be denied. By this stage, Step Aerobics had gained massively in popularity and participants were expected to be able to move around, over and across, their steps, according to the instructor’s signals. Heaven help you if you moved in the opposite direction to what what was instructed and put yourself on a collision path with the participant to your left. The Smug Regular would then have every right to look at you with the utmost condescension as if to say, “How dare you come to the Advanced Class if you cannot perform at this level?” You would then gingerly pick up your Reebok step and shuffle off to the back of the class, to join the other rejects who were unable to keep up with the routine.
Unlike George, in Cape Town and Joburg, you might get the odd male participant. Amongst these, there were usually one or two who would engage in a “simply Step” routine. This literally means that they were simply present to step up and down. They made no bones about the fact that following a routine was completely beyond their capabilities and so they just stepped for 60 minutes, to great music and a good vibe. Amongst this grouping, one might have come across The Class Clown. The Class Clown liked to try to provide entertainment for his fellow participants. His idea of doing so would be to deliberately go right when everyone went left, thereby creating mock collisions and ceremoniously roaring with laughter at his own joke. He was tolerated by those around him, but not seen as a serious aerobics contender otherwise.
In recent years, after a hiatus of some time, I returned to Step aerobics. I was a little rusty, but felt inwardly that my years of dedication to the cause afforded me certain rights: the rights to a good spot (not right at the back with the rejects), for example, fairly close to the front with a view of the instructor plus a bit of mirror space. But nothing in my years as an aerobics practitioner, had prepared me for Patronising Peggy. Completely unsolicited, this stranger turned to me at the end of the class and told me to “keep on coming and trying my best” since I would “eventually get the hang of it”. I stared at her, in her fluorescent headband. I actually think she may have been wearing leg warmers. I wanted to say: “well maybe if I’d been alive as long as you have been doing aerobics, I would have reached your level of proficiency.”
Long live group exercise with its Smug Regulars, Class Clowns and too-cool-for-school instructors!
Ma-mil. Noun. The term “mamil” was coined in the 21st century and stands for “middle aged man in lycra”. It came about to refer to an increasing sub-set of the male species who spend large amounts of time in cycling or triathlon attire, training for amateur, endurance sporting events, with the aim of being awarded a circular object (usually bronze in colour) which can be hung about the neck.
Mamils have the ability to procreate, should they find a suitable partner to mate with. Mamil-related pursuits may or may not be present during the mating process. Often, instinctive Mamil behaviour begins in earnest once offspring have arrived on the scene.
Cycling is a favourite pursuit amongst Mamils. It enables them to be absent from the homestead for upwards of three to seven hours of a Saturday morning. From the time of waking, preparations begin. There is the pumping of tyres, the application of lubricants – both to the machine as well as to the person – the selection of tools, the mixing of special liquids to ensure hydration levels are maintained, and finally, a clothing choice must be made. Mamils are typically born with especially well-developed eye-sight which can detect brand names worn by packs of Mamils riding up ahead. This enables them to understand where in the pecking order, their fellow Mamils lie, in the real, hunter-gatherer, Monday-to-Friday, world.
Once the Mamils have been out on their bicycles for a number of hours, they will head off in groups, in search of food. This forms an important aspect of their socialization. Whether the groups integrate socially or not, they tend to cluster at the same set of watering holes. This allows them to keep an eye on the competition and to obtain a close-up view of who’s wearing what gear.
Once the Mamil has fed, he has little choice but to return to the homestead. By this time, he will understandably seek out some much-needed rest. It difficult for him to comprehend why his mate cannot empathise with this primal need. He has spent the week hunting, to provide for his family. The sixth day, is a day of riding and then of rest. On the seventh day, the Mamil would naturally be restless and edgy without a mandatory visit to the gym or a long run, depending on the season.
I married a Mamil – though he was neither middle-aged nor sporting lycra at the time. (With the exception of an incident involving a Speedo on Camps Bay beach in the summer of ’99, but we won’t go there.)
Holidays with Mamils (let alone their offspring) are not usually relaxed affairs. Food is often readily available – no hunting required – and this means that a Mamil usually has a heightened sense of portliness. This is followed by a desperate, animalistic instinct to exercise. If holidays are your idea of spending time with your Mamil mate, then Plett in December is a disaster. Mamils migrate south in the summer and descend upon the N2’s Engen garage on their bicycles each morning, to ride to Nature’s Valley and back. If you envisaged mornings at rock pools with your young children followed by family beach walks in search of pansy shells… think again. The Mamil might make it to the beach when the sun is nearing its highest point in the sky and the children are famished and exhausted.
Mauritius may seem a safe bet, with its coma-inducing humidity and hotel gyms equipped with three pieces of machinery. Not so. Resort pools cry out to the Mamil – who is quietly attempting to mind his own business on a nearby lounger – to “do laps! do laps!” And then there are invariably other Mamils around the pool who saunter over, sweat-drenched in their fluourescent Nike gear, obviously just in from a run. No Mamil likes to be outdone in this manner. I recall a particular Mauritius holiday, before my mate had begun his pursuit of Ironman. Unusually for a Mamil, he could barely swim. (I say this with love). Despite this, the idea of reading a book poolside for a week was so anxiety-inducing, that he took up windsurfing. He worked at it, morning and evening, capsizing more times than he stood up, but at least he was active. A summer holiday in the Alps meant hiking with children in backpacks, a boat trip on the Amazon meant traipsing through mosquito-infested swamps in a desperate attempt to raise his heart-rate. In short, a day without exercise was a day wasted.
Until I took my Mamil to Madikwe last month….Surrounded by wild mammals, he was trapped. We woke up in the morning, we readied ourselves for breakfast in a leisurely fashion, we ate, we strolled to the pool, we played board games and kicked balls around, we went to lunch, we napped and we read, we went on an afternoon game drive, we bathed the kids, we ate supper, we went to bed and repeated all this for THREE WHOLE DAYS! Okay, there was an instance when we tried to march around the camp while the kids rode their bikes. David even had my Garmin Forerunner and was measuring our distance intensely but after about 10 laps, we’d covered a grand total of about 1km, the bikes had punctured from the thorns and we called it a day. There was also an attempt to turn the 1980’s rockery around the pool into a rock-climbing wall.
This involved David teaching Chiara elaborate rock climbing moves. She then decided she wanted to do it all by herself, but she lost her footing and fell – SPLAT – into the pool. David responded by jumping in fully clothed. Thankfully, we now know that her instinct to swim when landing in deep water is fully honed, so there was actually no need for any David Hasselhoff moves. But at least David got his heart rate up once over the holiday…Moral of the story: mamils must be surrounded by other mammals and then they will ignore nature’s constant calling and actually relax!
There is a scene in the Sopranos in which Mrs Soprano tries to coax her teenage daughter out of her moodiness by suggesting that they go into the city and have tea at The Plaza with Eloise. I must have had some prior notion of the legend of Eloise and The Plaza from American popular culture, because Mrs Soprano’s suggestion made sense to me at the time. This time last year, my mom visited my sister in New York and was taken to The Plaza and introduced to the tale of Eloise. She returned with one of the Eloise storybooks and read it to Chiara over and over. For Christmas, my sister’s in-laws gave Chiara a copy of the original Eloise story, published in 1955, with a personal inscription by the illustrator.
This is a story which for me, is very connected to my mom, and also to my sister, living far away in New York. It is also incredibly cleverly written and amusing to read and has become one of my favourite children’s books. So it was a natural choice as a theme for Chiara’s 5th birthday party. Here are some classically precocious quotes which encapsulate the book’s spirit:
Eloise is a little girl who lives at The Plaza Hotel in New York. She is not yet pretty, but she is already a Person. She is interested in people when they are not boring.
Nanny is my nurse. She wears tissue paper in her dress and you can hear it. She is English and has 8 hairpins made out of bones. She says that’s all she needs in this life for Lord’s sake.
Oooooooo I absolutely love Room Service. They always know it’s me and they say “Yes, Eloise?” And I always say “Hello, this is me, ELOISE and would you kindly send one roast-beef bone, one raisin and seven spoons to the top floor and charge it please. Thank you very much.”
My day is rawther full. I have to call the Valet and tell him to get up here and pick up my sneakers to be cleaned and pressed and have them back for sure without fail. Then I have to play the piano and look in the mirror for a while. Then I have to open and close the door for a while and as soon as I hear talking and laughing I skidded out and run down the hall… Oh my Lord I am absolutely so busy I don’t know how I can possibly get everything done. Then I have to hop around for a while.
I started the party planning by choosing an Eloise invitation template on Etsy for $10. The designer, Nerdy Fox, is based in Georgia in the US. I placed the order with my custom text requests at night in SA and by the next morning, it was in my Inbox.
Next up was inspiration from Pinterest. I basically got the idea that you can quite easily get the theme across just by using the right colours: cerise, black and white plus a bit of baby pink thrown in.
Next stop was The Party Spot in Woodmead to purchase all manner of things black, white and pink: from paper straws to napkins to pink and white sweets. I even found a set of suspenders for the birthday girl’s Eloise outfit. This picture was taken when we tried on the outfit a few days before. On the day, Chiara put the outfit on under great duress, before taking herself off to her room after about 10 minutes and changing into a bright orange dress. Not part of the theme, but it was her party, after all…
Pinterest was also the source of novelty cake options. I narrowed it down to three and Chiara chose her favourite from these:
Her favourite was this three-tiered cake which I ordered from Helen’s Cakes in Craighall Park.
I did not, however, specify, dimensions when I placed the order – I only sent the Pinterest photo. When the cake arrived, the driver had difficulty carrying it as it was so enormously large and heavy. It would have dwarfed most wedding cakes, so it did come across as a tad OTT. Beautiful, nonetheless but will be sure to give measurements next time!
I couldn’t resist ordering some Eloise printables from Etsy. I hesitated before buying the water bottle labels because I wondered if I would actually sit there and glue them to the bottles the night before, but Pritt worked well and it went a little quicker than expected. “The Plaza” icon next to the “restroom” sign is part of a set of printables I ordered on Etsy.
A few days before the party, I popped in to In Good Company in Parkhurst. I’ve learnt to head to The Party Spot first to try to get pretty much everything I need and then just to spend an indulgent hour at In Good Company to check if there’s anything I really can’t live without. I found some gorgeous pom poms in just the right colours. The cerise and baby pink table overlays were purchased on sale for an absolute song, during a previous excursion to the store and they were perfect additions to the Eloise decor.
I ordered the adult snacks from caterer, Lindi Perrin*, based in Athol, and they were delicious, light and came on beautiful platters, replete with a note for Domestic Goddesses like myself, detailing how best to heat her fare.
Below are pictures of the main party table. The children climbed onto benches next to the table and helped themselves to sweets. My sister suggested throwing in some NY icons to add to the decor. We borrowed Joe’s NY cab (a gift from his New Yorker uncle, Justin), for example, plus some sidewalk souvenirs like a mini Statue of Liberty.
In terms of party favours, I know kids love them. However, I’m not a fan. If you don’t want to cram your party packs full of more junk food (just what you want in your kids’ laps in the car when you’re leaving a party at 5pm), then you have two options: 1) trinkets from the Chinese markets which break instantly or 2) spend a small fortune on age appropriate gifts. I opted for balloons. The night before though, I discovered an Instax camera which I’d bought for David for Christmas (for “the man who has it all”). A polaroid photograph thus became our party favour. The kids were quite entranced by the idea of an actual hard copy photo coming out of a machine, so it was cute, but it was only a viable option because it was lying in our drawer, with two films already. (And yes, I did have many a puzzled child ask me where the party packs were…)
THE BACKGROUND: POST CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY SELF-LOATHING
By late December, the amount of holiday headspace that my weight (about 3kg more than my new normal) was occupying was unacceptably high. I was spending an inordinate amount of precious sea, sun, sand and family time thinking about how tight my pants were. It had to stop. I needed an intervention and I needed to be invested – financially and emotionally. That’s when I found The Get Fit Challenge. I’d come across a year or so before in a fitness magazine or on Facebook but I’d decided that Peter Place was too far to travel for an exercise class. Fast forward to January 2016 and I was willing to to commute…
90% DIET, GIRLS. (AND SAY BYE BYE TO BUBBLY)
A few days before the challenge started, we were invited to a briefing. Lesley, the female trainer, looked us in the eye and said that getting in shape was 80% diet. She added that for women, it might even by 90% diet. She told us that was no allowance for alcohol during the challenge. Not one drop. We all looked at one another in shock with our post holiday bellies and diaries full of dinner plans. What? No alcohol AT ALL? (I lasted consecutive 34 days before succumbing to a glass or three of Cap Classique. 34 out of 84 days. Not even halfway).
THE GET FIT CHALLENGE DIET
The Get Fit Challenge was started in Durban by two personal trainers from Virgin Active who wanted to help their clients actually see visible results. The key is obviously the diet. I’m only able to review it from my perspective, obviously, but also only from a female perspective. Without giving away Get Fit’s intellectual property, I’ll give you an idea of how the diet works. In short, it’s what I call… ahem… “spartan” – i.e. light on content (but probably contains sufficient calories for health purposes).
Say cheers! (to your social life)
I won’t lie, I found it very challenging (but I would say that about every diet). It’s simplicity suited me though. Travel/ holidays and social engagements made it much, much harder for me. I don’t have a hectic social life, so that helped, especially with the “no booze” policy but I found myself making fewer plans which involved drinking or eating out. As a result, my lame social life went from below average to pathetic.
There is sugar in, like, everything
If you stick to the diet to the letter, you consume: no dairy, no fruit, very specific, healthy carbs only and no carbs after lunch. (I didn’t even attempt cutting out milk in coffee and I ate some fruit, but tried not to eat lots of it and tried to choose lower sugar/ lower calorie fruit like strawberries, blueberries or melons though I sometimes went a bit wild and consumed banana or apple).
For breakfast they tell you to have protein and carbs, but ideally no bread as breads off the shelf contain sugar. (I’ve never really understood before why bread is evil unless you are gluten intolerant. Now I know.) I either ate three scrambled eggs with 100% rye toast or Oats (the original ones that are really, really bland as a result of having no crap added to them) with some whey protein. Let me tell you now that I cannot stand pills and potions (aka supplements and shakes). I often eat my breakfast post work-out while driving kids to school. One morning Chiara’s classmate was sitting behind me in the car when he got a whiff of my whey protein. “Eeeeuwww!!!! What’s that SMELL??” he shouted so loudly I think the whole of the Sandton CBD could hear. Chiara then gave a good sniff and together they began a cacophony of mock-vomiting noises from the backseat. I kind of agree. Whey protein is fake and gross.
Mid-morning and afternoon, you’re supposed to snack on biltong or protein shakes or half a can of tuna or such-like. I tried to avoid this: I don’t think biltong is healthy and it makes me even thirstier than usual. I also loathe drinking my “food”. But if you’re on the run, it’s not so easy to carry around your half handful of smoked mackerel for your 3pm snack…
Lunch and dinner
For lunch and dinner you eat a very small portion of lean protein with veg and/or salad. At lunch you need to have some brown rice or sweet potato and somewhere in the day you throw in a tiny morsel of healthy fat. I don’t like nuts so I would have half an avo at lunch which was like manna from heaven and at night I would half choke on my bone dry chicken breast or piece of fish pan-fried with Spray and Cook.
In short, the diet is a riot but it obviously works if you can stick to it.
THE GET FIT CHALLENGE EXERCISE CLASSES
You sign up for a 6-week/ 8-week or 12-week challenge. (I did the latter – it was the one that started the soonest in January and that’s why I chose it). You pay up-front to attend a Get Fit class once, twice or three times a week. If you work it out, you pay about R180 per class so the cost is similar to a Sweat 1000 class, for example, if you’re able to attend all the classes you pay for. I signed up for twice a week at a cost of R4,200. During the twelve weeks, I was out of town twice for a total of two weeks. I also got gastro which put me out for a week. So I ended up wasting about 7 sessions which I wasn’t able to catch up because of times/ location/ traffic/ other commitments etc.
The classes consist of intense resistance training for short intervals at a time. Not totally dissimilar to “The Grid” at Virgin Active, but what sets the Get Fit classes apart is the awesome, super-fast paced music. I found I could cope fairly easily with some of the exercises in a class and others were really challenging for me. Some people were super fit, in great shape and were coming to class purely for fitness maintenance purposes, others were trying to start exercising after a long break, it appeared. The theory is that you can sort of go at your own pace. I battled to remember what to do at the different stations (it gets explained up-front before the class starts) so I would also try to pair up with at least one other person which made the experience easier and more fun.
RESULTS & RECOMMENDATIONS
For me, it was a great kickstart to shed the extra 3kg that were really bugging me. I’m bummed I’m not able to put up a picture of a six-pack. According to Get Fit’s assessment, I am a mere 4kg away from body fat of 18%, which would be “excellent” for my, ahem… age (37). So close and yet so far… For real inspiration, check out the Challenge’s winners and finalists here.
I would definitely recommend the Challenge if you live or work close to Coachman’s Crossing in Peter Place and you need to have something to lose like your time, money or dignity, when you don’t stick to a diet after Day 2. I lost all of these in spades in those 12 weeks but am happy to report that at least I lost a few kilos too, so I consider the experience worth my while.
(The next challenge is a 12 week challenge and it starts on 9 May. You can sign up here.)
(I wrote this post entirely independently with no payment or input from Get Fit. These are purely my views and my experiences).
For my 37th birthday in January, my friend Mandy gave me one of the best gifts I could have asked for: a walking tour of the Maboneng Precinct, south east of the Joburg CBD. I had been to the Sunday morning market at Arts on Main once with David and Chiara in 2013 (Chiara was about 2). I thought it was cool but a little limited: once we’d picked something to eat, there were a few shops to browse but mostly up a flight of stairs – so not really a pram destination.
My second visit was in September 2015. I wanted to show my Cape Town foodie friend & lifestyle chef/ consultant, Maureen, that Jozi also has some funky destinations and that it’s not all about strip malls. We had two kids and two prams between us, it was a scorcher of a day and after the kids had messed “ice cream” (actually organic frozen yoghurt or such-like) all over themselves, they were frankly OVER the excursion.
Then, a few weeks ago, I went to Maboneng to watch a documentary at The Bioscope (The Boers at the End of the World: very interesting doci about a tiny group of Afrikaans-speaking Argentinians in Patagonia). It was a Friday night and the place was PUMPING. Such a great vibe with so many bars and eateries to choose from… (Note to coffee lovers: The Bioscope possibly offers one of the best tasting cappuccinos I’ve had in Joburg. Yes, I was drinking coffee at 7pm at night – I have small children). It was then, that I started to understand the hype about Maboneng, “Place of Light”.
Returning to Maboneng for our walking tour on a Friday morning in April, sans enfants, felt really decadent. Mandy and I Uber-ed (I think it’s a verb now, right?) to Fox Street with only our handbags in tow (not even wet wipes :)) and met our guide, Jo, at Origins Coffee. (I recall going back to Cape Town in my early days as a Jozi immigrant and being told I had not lived until I had sampled Origins coffee in De Waterkant. I love local “imports”).
Jo is the founder of Past Experiences, one of a handful of inner city walking tour companies. I love that she majored in History and Archeology. (She has a keen interest in street art and graffiti about which I knew absolutely nothing before the tour. The photo above is a “tag” – a street artist’s signature).
Jo then led us to the shops and galleries on the first floor. I bought these gorgeous, colourful mini canvasses (pictured below) featuring different hand signs for taxis, as well as one of Madiba. I love the bright colours against the dark grey cladding in our guest loo, where they are now hanging. I spied them in artist, May Wentworth’s, store: The Inappropriate Gallery & Decor. The large canvas of the woman in a red jacket is one of May’s own artworks which I was admiring too. I couldn’t resist a carved noughts and crosses board which I’ve been using to teach Chiara (who just turned 5) to play.
The Inappropriate Gallery also stocks gorgeous platters, bowls etc by The Ceramic Factory (main Joburg store is in Linden). Here’s an example of their wares from their Facebook page:
As for the prices, perhaps I am punch drunk by the exorbitant prices we get charged for pretty little things in Sandton, the Parks etc, but I felt like I had US dollars to spend but was paying in Rands: I couldn’t believe what great value everything was. (Jo, on the other hand, is more used to shopping in the inner city and surrounds and couldn’t quite understand my bargain hunter’s excitement…).
Next stop was at I Was Shot in Joburg. I absolutely love this “brand”. So much so that I actually bought the T-shirt. (I never, ever buy the T-shirt…that’s me wearing it in the picture below – yes, the 10 year old in me wanted to wear it straight away!) That’s how much I love their story, purpose and now, their product range. If you don’t know who they are, they say it best: “I Was Shot provides a platform for former street children (from Hillbrow) to earn an income”. They started out by using disposable cameras to photograph their surroundings. Now, the photos form the basis for gorgeous, trendy and totally “usable” products. Besides my T-shirt, I bought funky photo frames and fridge magnets. (Their products are also on sale at their pop-up store in Rosebank’s mall, opposite Clicks. I love them as gifts for Saffers living abroad or foreigners – so easy to fit in your suitcase and so reflective of modern South Africa.)
After our shopping spree, Jo walked us through the precinct to The Collector’s Treasury. I’m not proud to say I’d never heard of it, but I gather it’s sort of famous amongst book lovers and/or hipsters and collectors. Prepare for total chaos as you enter – and throughout the store – with piles of books, lining almost every inch of available space. According to Jo, the owners (if they happen to be on duty when you visit) kind of know what they have in stock and where to find it. Definitely worth a visit for the experience even if the product range and method of display is totally overwhelming.
We then walked over beautiful pavement mosaics (somewhat in disrepair, sadly) into what I didn’t initially realise was part of the Maboneng Precint. As part of her studies, Jo did a mini thesis on New Doornfontein which she described as once being a very poor, but culturally and artistically rich, slum in the early 1900’s. It’s now home to a private school targeting lower middle income families, an arts centre for local children, as well as some great street art. We finished the tour outside Access City with its huge mural of Mandela as a young boxer and Trim Park: free, brand new, outdoor gym facilities.
Before dashing back to fetch the kids, we shared a quick lunch at James XVI’s Ethiopian Cafe, next door to a very Paul Smith-esque cycling store:
I feel like we only just scratched the surface of what Maboneng has to offer and I was thrilled to return ten days later for the #JoziMeetup at The Open, organised by South African Mom Bloggers. (The Open is an amazing space and if I lived closer to the CBD, I would love to spend my mornings writing there. For more about the amazing #JoziMeetup, check out Sharon’s post at The Blessed Barrenness).
I leave you with the first piece of street art we came across in Fox St: “Tourist in Your Country of Birth?” The irony was most certainly not lost on me…
If you need a push of inspiration to venture out of your hood and to be a tourist in home country, check out 2summers.net, for American blogger and Jozi dweller, Heather Mason’s post about her rooftop tour of Joburg with Dlala Nje. (It was a custom tour, but I raced over to “like” their Facebook page and cannot wait for a potential repeat.)