How to Holiday with a Mamil: Take them to Madikwe, not Mauritius

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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.

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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!

Flying with Kids: Who Needs Pants Anyway?

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You know those recurring nightmares where you dream that you go to school/ to town/ to a party without any pants on? Well, sometimes dreams do come true…

Yesterday we flew to Port Elizabeth for this Sunday’s Ironman South Africa. The kids were wearing their “When I Grow Up I Want to Be an Ironman” t-shirts, David met a Kona qualifier (Ironman World Champs) in the row behind us so we were all excited and in good spirits. Plus we were travelling “light” – ie our car & trailer had been driven down to PE the day before. It was a one hour 4o minute flight with one parent per child, so I thought, “how hard can this be?”

Despite the fact that a 12:25pm take-off is clearly “lunch time” no matter where in the world you are, SAA is evidently cutting costs and served a packet of Lays crisps for “lunch”. Not the kind of rubbish I like to give my kids but I find that crisps do have their travel advantages compared to sweets and chocolate: they contain no caffeine and hardly any sugar so they shouldn’t make kids hyper, they don’t make kids sticky and they are loaded with a whole lot of crap that makes them taste great so they can keep kids busy for ages. For peace on an aeroplane, I am willing to overlook the health hazards…

I confess that I ate a few myself and noticed that the particular “sour cream & chives” variant is kind of rich. Joe, my 20 month old, is not used to being handed a bag of chips to do with what he likes, so before I knew it, he’d polished off two thirds of the bag.

Other than that, the flight wasn’t too bad. Not too much fighting over the Ipad, no number two’s and no major tantrums. But then as we were coming in to land, I realised that Joe was about to vomit. I could see the air sick bag in the pouch in front of me, but somehow I froze, holding my wretching son and hoping that he was done. By the third projection, I had mobilised myself to get hold of the bag and managed to catch some of that batch. Most of it, however, had gone all over him, all over my lap and then spilled over onto my seat, which now contained large flecks of sour cream Lays and some poorly chewed Trailmix (also courtesy of SAA). In order to avoid sitting in the vomit, I squatted above the seat for some time, but after a while my quads couldn’t handle the strain anymore and I surrendered and planted my arse in the squelch. By this time, Chiara (4) had produced a small sympathy vomit which David had managed to catch in a bag. She was holding her nose and pronouncing that Joe and I STANK and David was handing me bum wipes to try and mop up the vomit.

Welcome to Port Elizabeth.

We’d had a similar experience about 6 months earlier and it had been unpleasant only until I was able to get a clean pair of jeans out of my luggage once it arrived on the carousel. So this time, I just told myself to be patient until we got our bags. Just before the bags arrived, however, it dawned on me that I’d sent all my clothes for the trip ahead of us in the trailer (now parked at our hotel) and that I had only toiletries and a few kids’ items in my check-in luggage. My jeans were literally soaked in vomit, replete with little flecks of thrown up food which David noticed while we stood at the carousel and which he tried to remove with bum wipes (thank god for those things).

Walking to the toilets to change Joe, I considered my options. Maybe I could buy a pair of shorts or ANY bottoms at the airport? I surveyed the shops but all I could see in the way of clothing was mohair scarves in a gift store and then a tourist shop selling nothing but T-shirts. Absolutely nothing for the lower half of the body.

I changed Joe and carried on thinking. I could use a muslin or a baby blanket as a skirt. But of course, on this particular occasion, I really had packed light and had neither of those items. I actually could not stomach wearing my vomit drenched jeans a second longer. I would simply wear my long jacket. Except that when I put it on without pants I found it actually wasn’t long or even longish at all. If I stood dead still, it barely covered my panty line. All I could find was a cardigan which I tied around my waist so that at least from the back it looked like I was wearing shorts or a mini skirt covered by a jersey. From the front it look like, er, well, it looked like I didn’t have any bottoms on.

I marched back through the airport with throngs of Ironman competitors and supporters trying to hide the fact that I was half naked, by staying close to Joe’s pram. Maybe David had some bottoms in his luggage I could borrow. But he had also sent all his clothing in the trailer – which was probably a good thing, in hindsight. If I had pulled on a pair of my Ironman husband’s pants and found they wouldn’t pass my thighs, I think my day would have gotten significantly worse. Instead, I climbed into the transfer vehicle and planted my handbag on my lap to cover my bare legs. When I got out, I tried to strategically position my bag in front of my things and then walked over to the front desk half hiding my lower body behind the pram.

The side view remained a bit of an issue…

I managed to survive the check-in procedure, the packed lobby and my fellow guests in the mirrored lifts…

Never in my life have I been so excited to see a hotel robe.

On the bright side, I don’t have to swim 3.8km, cycle 180km and run a marathon on Sunday like all these crazy Ironman athletes. I am walking around in workout gear though, just so that I don’t stick out too much. Feels great to be wearing pants again!

Nature & Nuture: Birds, Frogs, Bugs & Cousins Bonding in the Renosterveld

Entering Bartholemeu’s Klip guest farm

For this Heritage Day long weekend, we met up with The Husband’s parents, his brother, his brother’s wife and their four kids, about 100km out of Cape Town at Bartholomeus Klip, a guest farm in the Elandsberg. From being an only child, The Princess was suddenly surrounded by her four cousins: Tommy (9), Adam (7) , Jack (5)  and Emma (1).

Our reservation included a game drive into the Renosterveld Reserve. I had contemplated staying behind with The Princess out of fear of the cold but the sun had emerged and I decided that the experience would be fun for her with all her cousins, so we went along. (The Husband was cycling, of course).

Because the Renosterveld is not exactly The Kruger Park, I assumed we’d cruise around in the game drive vehicle for fifteen minutes, stop for coffee and head back to the house. I had forgotten one critical thing, however: my brother-in-law and father-in-law are serious birders. And I mean serious. For example, my brother-in-law has ticked off so many birds on his life list (know as “lifers” in the birding world) that he has now taken to following frogs around with a torch in the dead of the night. This pastime is known as “frogging”, I’m told there are apparently other people out there who share this passion, hence the existence of an official name for the pursuit of frogs.

The Princess’ two oldest cousins, Thomas and Adam are following in their father’s footsteps, having developed a keen interest in birds and frogs. This is perhaps as much nature as it is nurture because ever since Adam has been old enough to walk, he has been a lover and collector of creepy crawlies. Before the game drive, he announced that we may be lucky enough to encounter a “bugalore”. I laughed when he said that and wanted to know if that meant an encounter with bugs galore. But I’ve actually just Googled the term because there’s an excellent chance my seven year old nephew was referring to a rare species of bug or bird that I have never heard of. (Google says not, but it was worth checking).

On board for the game drive we therefore had five very enthusiastic naturalists: the game ranger, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law and my two nephews. And then we had the girls who came for the coffee and the cookies: my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, myself, The Princess and one year Emma, plus her five year old brother, Jack. Emma responded to the thrill of the game drive by promptly falling asleep in her mother’s arms and Jack responded by eating as many fruit nuggets as he possibly could.

The highlight of the drive was the game ranger’s discovery of a teeny, tiny, incy, wincy toad. And when I say teeny tiny, I mean only slightly bigger than a man’s thumbnail.  For someone whose world is not rocked by frogs, the best part was my brother-in-law’s reaction. He was grinning from ear to ear and announced that his “cup was now full”. You’d have sworn we’d just seen a leopard on the kill.

The naturalists on all fours photographing their tiny toad (a speck on the rock)

On the off chance that anyone who reads this blog is dying to know what type of toad it was, the answer is, “we don’t know.” This fact slowly revealed itself in the coming days as my brother-in-law made contact with the Frogging Mothership by which I mean that he telephoned fellow froggers. (Yes, other people who chase frogs around in the night are officially known as “froggers”). The one, slightly more experience frogger, who has been pursuing frogs for slightly longer than my brother-in-law was stumped as to how that particular teeny, tiny frog could be found in the Renosterveld Reserve. (I guess when you’re that size, the idea that you hopped out of your normal territory is basically impossible). The other frogger – whom I gather enjoys a more elevated status in the froggers’ food chain – declared that the most likely explanation was actually quite simple: it was probably the young, baby toad of a fairly common species of toad.

Such is life sometimes, for a frogging novice.

The next day, anyone who couldn’t explain the difference between a frog and a toad, wisely elected to stay home during the game drive. (When I had asked The Mother-in-Law the day before, what the difference was, she looked at me incredulously and replied: “WHO knows?”)

But exciting things were in store for us as it was, Adam, our junior naturalist’s seventh birthday. He’d requested nothing short of the following activities to celebrate his coming of age: a treasure hunt, a disco and a general knowledge quiz. He’d apparently hand-picked the teams for the quiz and I was honoured to discover that I’d been included as a member of his team. The Husband had not enjoyed such favour from the birthday boy and I couldn’t help teasing him as a result. He responded by saying that Adam had chosen me for my looks rather than my brains. (I took that as a compliment.) Then we learned that Adam had selected his team members based on “wanting to win”. I looked smugly at The Husband. And then we learned that Adam had requested that the questions be mostly about nature. The Husband raised an eyebrow at me… Okay, I was definitely going to be the cheerleader.

Still, I was flattered that Adam had thought I could help.

Unfortunately, the birthday boy and his team, including my brother-in-law, lost the quiz. However, my brother-in-law was determined to make his son’s birthday a memorable one. He had been searching for an apparently rare species of frog for some time, known as the Cape Rain Frog, and that night, he returned from his frog hunting victorious, Cape Rain Frog in hand.

When I laid eyes on that frog, I suddenly understood The Frog Prince. There are plenty of ugly animals that the young maiden in the story could have been made to kiss in order to prove that she was not shallow or superficial. But none so ugly as this dude:

A trapped prince or a frigging ugly amphibian?

Finally, a big thanks to the parents in law for a wonderful weekend where The Princess was able to bond with her four cousins. She is no longer used to bathing alone. Climbing in the bath this evening, she looked around expectantly and said “boys? boys?” Fortunately there are several more years before we have to start worrying about that…

Travel Blunders & Really Bad Regrowth

I made a SERIOUS travel blunder this Easter. I was convinced we were on the 14:35 Kulula flight to George on Good Friday. I had this in my head because we had originally planned to take that flight but the price had sky-rocketed overnight, so we chose 13:00 1Time flight instead. I just forgot about the latter. And so we arrived at the Kulula desk at 13:05 – 90 minutes before the flight’s departure, like good citizens.

I had a sinking feeling when I heard: “Um, m’am, do you have your booking code because I can’t seem to find your reservation on our system.” I just had a hunch that I had colossally screwed up. A frantic search of my e-mails revealed the truth.

CR*************************P!!!!

One of the busiest travel periods of the year and we were at the airport sans a flight to The Parents-in-Law in George.

Miraculously, there were still seats to be bought on “our” 14:35 Kulula flight – at a very yummy price, of course. I felt nauseous, despite the fact that The Husband was very, very sweet about my monumental screw up.

Then came a potentially positive twist in this nauseating tale. I was scanned the TV screens to figure out whether our flight was boarding yet, when I happened upon an unusual term: “indefinite delay”. It was attached to the 1Time flight we’d actually originally booked and paid for. A quick call to the call centre confirmed that we would almost certainly be granted a refund for “indefinite delays”. (I sent the refund form a few days ago and have yet to see the moola but I’m remaining optimistic).

While we’re on the topic of the airport, there’s a particular bathroom stall door ad that I always see there and it kills me every time. It’s this one:

What really kills me is this: look at the model’s hair. Every single time I see, I can’t help but think: “Honey, with the money you’ll be saving on car insurance, please, for the love of God, go and get your roots done!!!”

I mean, could they not find a model who had been to the hairdresser more recently? Or were they trying to be so authentic that women would relate to the end of month hair roots syndrome so hectically they’d immediately want to save money on car premiums?

On the topic of airports AND travel blunders, we had barely landed in George when it dawned on my that (with a little bit of help from The Husband), I had stuffed up once again. We’d decided to drive to OR Tambo and leave our car there on Good Friday. The only snag was that, in three days time, our flight from George was landing at Lanseria… How long does preggy brain last? I’m sure I never used to be this dumb or scatty…

For now, I’m blaming it all on delerium brought on by lack of sleep. I want my night nurse back. Since Margie left us, I have been wandering around like a zombie, feeling, for the most part, barely alive. I suppose, on the plus side, I could have been feeling like that for ten and a half more months. Now I simply have delayed onset.

Things have very much been looking up, however, over the past four or five days. For ages now, The Princess’ preferred waking time has been around 5am. There were even days when my cell phone read: 04:53 or something similar with a 04 in front. Not pretty. But in the past few days she’s been waking up at 06:00, 06:15, 6:20. What a difference that hour or hour and a bit. At 5am I feel drunk, hungover, half-dead, wanting to cry from fatigue. In short, it feels like night-time. At 6am I feel alive and somehow, just one hour later, it feels like daytime. Dawn, perhaps, but still daytime. Long may it last!

Before I sign off, I wanted to share an amazing deal with all the mommies of babas under two. Since we stopped wrapping The Princess up in a tight, stretchy blanket for the night, she couldn’t keep her blankets on and would wake up cold in the middle of the night. Then The Mother-in-Law gave her a Baby Kaboosh, arms-free sleeping bag. It has been the absolute answer. I wanted to get a second one so I went online to www.babykaboosh.co.za and they’re having a brilliant special for the month of April: buy one spotted or striped “travel bag” (works the same as their sleeping bags) for R300 and get a second one free (worth R300). For Jozi peeps, the 2.5 tog, warmer sleeping bag works from about the beginning of April to around the end of August, else it’s way too hot here. They also have 1 tog sleep sack which is basically the weight of a sheet which I’ve bought to try in summer. Delivery is free door-to-door by courier and only takes around 24 hours, during the week. Here’s a pic from their website to show you what they look like:

Cheers, everyone. The Princess and I are off to Rosebank to shop, eat sushi and drink baby cino’s.

xxx Natalie

Too Many Dudes, Dude.

The Princess and I are currently in Cape Town, staying with The Brother-in-law, The Sister-in-law and their one, two, three, FOUR (adorable) kids. Just after The Princess has had her very first bath with her six month old cousin, The Sister-in-Law casually asks if I’d mind babysitting whilst she and The Brother-in-law attend a parent teachers evening at their eight year old’s school. Now, we have every intention of giving The Princess a baby brother or sister one day, so I should be perfectly capable of sticking a dummy into the mouth of my beautiful niece, in the very unlikely event that she wakes up and cries. Right?

Right.

It’s 7:20pm – a full hour since I started giving The Princess her bedtime bottle – and she is still writhing in my arms, refusing to sleep. It’s been a rough afternoon visiting an unwell Father Figure and I am not in the mood for a fight with an eleven month old.

Enter The Princess’ crying six month old cousin.

No problem.

The Princess and I will just go next door for a dummy dash.

We stand next to the cot and a pair of large blue eyes stares up at eyes. This does not look like a baby in the throes of a deep slumber, merely in need of a dummy but I try anyway.

She spits.

I try again.

She spits and screams.

I try again.

Now she’s upset. And really screaming. Very, very loudly.

I panic. In the last day and a half I’ve spent with this little angel, I’ve never heard her cry. But now she is P*SSED off. She’s woken up in the middle of the night and she’s got some stranger who is NOT her mommy trying to shove her dummy in her mouth. Not happy.

So I pick her up and sink into the feeding chair next to her cot – The Princess in one arm and her cousin in the other. The Princess is smiling sweetly at her crying cousin and even reaching across to her as if to console her. It’s adorable but it’s not helping at all. Her cousin is going BALLISTIC now.

As my eight-year old nephew is roused from his sleep and walks in, offering to help, I realise I have failed dismally trying to take care of two small children and I ask him to please call his baby sister’s live-in nanny. Thank God for her. She’s in the bath but she’ll come as soon as possible.

Enter my darling little niece’s nanny and she stops crying immediately.

Phew.

I return to The Princess’ room and at once, the sweet, consoling older cousin version of her is gone and I am left with a screaming eleven month old, nearly an hour into her bed-time, refusing to go to sleep.

Finally, after what seems like years, but is “only” one hour forty minutes, I put The Princess down. She stirs and almost sees me standing near her cot, but she somehow doesn’t see me and she seems to roll over and at least attempt sleep. This leaves me on all fours, hiding behind the darkened side of her camp cot as opposed to the see-through, net side, trying to crawl silently to the door where freedom awaits…

I manage to make it out, collapse onto my bed and pick up my phone to read a mail just in from The Sister, newly settled in NYC. She’s forwarded me her party invite for this weekend:

Subject: heads up for Friday night
I’m having a few friends over to Le Parker Meridien near 56th and 6th Ave, 7pm – 10pm.
Heated rooftop pool + fun little suite. Cocktails and swimming etc.
Please come and bring a girl-friend. We have TOO MANY DUDES.

The Surfers Half Marathon (Walk)

You may remember me shooting my mouth of on this blog a while back about the Surfers Half Marathon in East London. About how I was planning to run it. I think the rush of blood to the head lasted for about a month before the running training just fizzled out…

However, when I found out that there was also an official walkers’ race that followed the same route, I was newly motivated to take part. And so, about a week ago, The Princess, The Husband and I, boarded a flight to East London. Visiting my half-sister and Surfers’ walking partner and her family was really the main motivation behind the trek to the Eastern Cape. The Princess was an immediate hit with her 13 year old girl cousin and just as much of a hit with her 11 year old boy cousin. I really didn’t imagine that an 11 year old boy would be interested in a 10 month old baby, but boy, was I wrong. Very, very cute to watch them interact.

On the morning of the race, The Princess bellowed her good morning cry at 05:10 – an ungodly hour in anyone’s books but some days I have a cup of coffee and I feel like I can cope. Last Saturday just wasn’t one of those days. I woke up feeling so exhausted I just wanted to collapse in a heap and cry. But The Princess was well rested from her ten hours of slumber and she wasn’t interested in how I felt. I confess I even tried putting a cartoon on – something I am obviously trying to delay for as long as possible – but that didn’t impress her much.

Somehow, she and I made it through to 8:30am. Then, when The Husband left for the gym, I put the Princess down and crawled back into bed, still in my pj’s.

At 1pm, my half-sister and her support team (husband and son) arrived, and my support team (The Husband and The Princess) and I were ready to go.

By the time we had parked near the start of the race, The Husband confessed to intense feelings of jealousy. He explained that it was “unnatural” for him not to be participating in a sporting event. (For me, it’s unnatural to be participating). While I was to spend the next four hours waiting for the race to start and then racing, he’d be solely taking care of The Princess. As I kissed them goodbye and prepared to make my way down to the beach for the start, The Husband gripped my shoulder and looked at me with fear in his eyes.

“What if she poos?” he said.

And on that note, I bade farwell to my support team.

The runners went off at 14:30 and the walkers followed ten minutes later. The first 6km or so, I must say, were not the easiest. We were trying to walk as fast as we could and the sand was really soft – so much so that I felt as though I was walking hunched over to try and propel myself forward out of the “sinking sand” so as to maintain a reasonable pace. There were also a number of stretches where we were walking over beds of tightly packed, but movable, pebbles. Not the easiest to do quickly, I have to say.

Eventually, we reached our first river crossing. This is where you are literally submerged in water – running shoes, clothes and all – and you cross the river mouth by pulling yourself along on a rope. (There are strong-looking lifeguards on hand which is very reassuring). Although the river crossing is nice and refreshing, you don’t necessarily want to walk a further 12km with squelching shoes and socks. I was wearing my lightest lycra pants, purportedly of the “quick dry” variety, but before they had a chance to dry off, things went severely pear shaped. Basically, it felt as though someone had lit a fire between my butt cheeks. My sister had told me that I should put vaseline there, but I’d ignored her, never having experienced butt chafe in my life before.

The next 5km or so were on a tarred road, so it should have been plain sailing but with my squelching shoes and my burning backside, I was battling to see the funny side of life.

Just past Gonubie, at about the 8km mark, I couldn’t help perking up when my sister and I came across our support teams on the side of the road. The Husband got really into it and basically jogged alongside us with The Princess in her stroller. It was awesome to see them. Not a word was mentioned about poos, so I presumed everything was fine.

For the next several kilometres, I was really struggling to keep my sister’s pace. After a while though, the race turned back onto the beach where we would remain until the finish. On this beach stretch, though, the sand was much much harder and there were no rocks to contend with (or none to speak of) so I slowly got my mojo back and managed to step up my pace. We had started out quite near the back of the field when the race set off and it was impossible to overtake for the first several kilometres, because of the crowds and the fairly narrow paths above the beach. Now that things were far more spread out, you began to realise just who was “beating you”. For example: that old man pushing seventy in his teeny tiny jogging shorts. No way! That middle-aged woman carrying an extra 30kg. That teenager walking in a pair of drenched jeans with an arse the size of a Boeing. Hell no! It all served as inspiration for me to pick up the pace.

Finally, after yet another river crossing (fully immersed in water, Garmin placed on head, inside cap so as not to be destroyed), we reached the finish. According to my Garmin we had walked 18.3km and not the 17.5km the race advertises itself as.

My sister’s husband and son were waiting at the finish for us. Just as they dropped me off, I wondered out loud if The Princess had made a poo that afternoon.

“Thankfully not for your husband’s sake” my brother-in-law informed me, “he kept checking and he looked pretty stressed about it”.

Very strange for The Princess to go the whole afternoon without pooing. I was starting to wonder whether The Husband had managed to procure some baby Immodium and doused her with that…

All in all, the Surfers is a beautiful course to walk, or, if you’re really fit and talented, to run. I believe there is also a paddling race alongside the running/ walking course. I think if I did it again, I’d walk a bit slower, just ensuring I made it within the fairly generous cut off time and I’d take in the beautiful scenery. Oh, and I’d take a little backpack with a HUGE tub of vaseline to apply after the river crossings…

Besides catching up with family, the highlight of the weekend was The Princess taking her first steps! We definitely cannot say that she is walking – not at all. But it was so exciting to be in my sister’s living room with her two cousins, her aunt and uncle and us and trying to coax her into taking a step or two. Her record was three steps – very unstable, but three steps nonetheless. Watch this space for tales of her tearing around soon enough.

Hope everyone has a great week. The Husband is off to London tomorrow night (sniff, sniff). It’s his first trip in three month so The Princess and I have grown very accustomed to having him around. No prizes for guessing who he’s going to miss more! The Princess and I will be heading to Cape Town next week while The Husband is away. Can’t wait to see The Princess interacting with her three older boy cousins of four, six and eight and her little girl cousin of six months.

Night Nurses and Bad Mommies

The Husband knows me well. He knows how grumpy I get when I am sleep deprived. For this reason, he wanted to arrange a night nurse well before The Princess’ birth. I resisted. I told him I would manage. I said, “So what if I don’t sleep all night? I have help during the day and I don’t have a job to go to, I’ll sleep during the day.” He begged me to at least get the names and numbers of night nurses before the birth. I refused. And so he got onto it himself while we were in the hospital. He asked around and it turned out that one of the Park Lane nurses worked as a night nurse during her off days. She gave him her number. Still, I resisted. We went home with The Princess and I think I lasted one and a half nights. At 3am on the second night, both delirious with fatigue, emotions and, for me, insomnia and hormones, we had a huge blow-up. So when The Husband said, “NOW, can we get a night nurse?” I relented.

Courtesy of the luxury of having a night nurse, we did “date night” one night some weeks later. I squeezed myself into my jeans, my baby belly bulging over the waistband. I then squashed my swollen feet into a pair of agonisingly tight heels and off we went to a restaurant 250m from home. The restaurant was deserted but for a few drinkers. The hostess was dressed in a white mini-skirt that she couldn’t quite pull off. She was overly obliging, she desperately needed to have her roots done and the food was abominable. Nonetheless, we had an amazing time. It was on this night that we discussed how long we were going to employ a night nurse for. I was thinking three, maybe four month tops, when The Husband announced that he would be prepared to fork out for a night nurse for a year. One year? It sounded totally insane. It was around May 2011 at the time and a night nurse for one year would mean having someone until the end of March 2012. The Princess would already be a year old and I imagined her practically reading to herself by then – one year seemed a lifetime away.

Now, here we are, eight and a half months later and I am as attached to Margie, our night nurse, as The Princess is. And this is despite the fact that, very soon after we met, she asked me what I weighed. I resent being asked that by grown women who buy size 13-14 pants. I know she wears children’s clothes because she told me so – somewhat smugly, if I’m not mistaken. She also asked The Mother Figure how old she was. I was hoping my mom would give her the same response she used to give The Sister and I when we were growing up – “I’m as old as the moon and as young as the stars” but instead I laughed out loud at the audacity of the question, thereby disturbing The Princess who started to cry and so everyone’s attention was diverted from the “how old” question to the baby. And of course, I refused to tell her how much I weighed.

My attachment to my night nurse is even strong enough to withstand the fact that, basically, she thinks I’m not the best mother. Here’s how I know this. We brought her to Cape Town with us last week so we’d have the evenings free to catch up with friends without disrupting The Princess’ night routine. Oh yes, and also so we could sleep all night, as we are so fortunately accustomed to doing. Margie was supposed to be off work all day, only working nights, but by 8:30 one morning, The Princess’ crying and moaning disturbed her sleep and she came downstairs looking concerned, if not a little cross. She wanted to know why The Princess wasn’t yet asleep and offered to put her down herself (because I obviously wasn’t succeeding). This is the exchange that followed:

Me: She just won’t go to sleep. I’m not a bad mother, Margie. (Smiling). (I was totally, totally kidding. I think I’m a great mother).

Total, earth shattering silence.

Me: Margie, I can see she’s exhausted, but she refuses to fall asleep. I tried for ages and ages. Seriously, I’m not a bad mother. (Still smiling).

At this stage, I was fully expecting her to say, “No, no, of course, you’re not a bad mother.” Instead, here’s what she said:

Margie: You know, Natalie, it’s not my place to rank you as a mother. That’s not what I’m employed to do.

Dead, dead silence.

I said nothing. I think I just stared at her with raised eyebrows. I was sort of paralysed somewhere between shock and amusement.

Luckily, I’m pretty thick skinned when it comes to people who look after my child while I get a full night’s sleep so I can’t say I took major offence.

Later that day, I gave Margie some proper ammunition to back up her bad mother theory. The Husband had managed to put The Princess down in the afternoon for the first time ever. He was very proud of himself and declared that we were not allowed to wake her until she woke up herself. “I want her to sleep the full time,” he said. “Sleep is good for her, right?”.

As a result we arrived at The Husband’s brother’s house about an hour late, at 4pm, for The Princess’ first meeting with her three month old cousin. The Princess’ supper time is normally between 5 and 5:30 but somehow, I was feeling super relaxed, we were on holiday and I just went into some sort of zone where baby chores don’t exist.

When we got back from our late tea date, I dashed straight to Woolworths to shop for a dinner party we were hosting that night, while Margie and The Husband bathed The Princess. I was back by about 6:30 and as I walked in the door, The Husband shouted down, slightly annoyed: “Has she had supper?”

I paused… slowly re-entering the zone…Hmmm….Food…The Princess…5pm…supper time…

Crap!

I forgot to feed her!

Bad, bad, bad mother!

Of course, Margie had noticed that there was something remiss during bath time and wanted to know if she had eaten, given the fact that feeding her would have been her useless mother’s responsibility.

Whilst frantically preparing The Princess’ supper, I tried to make light of my oversight by reminding Margie and The Husband, that very often The Princess refused to eat more than one or two tiny mouthfuls of supper anyway. But of course, Murphy’s Law, on this particular evening, when offered food at 6:45, The Princess ate like a ravenous wild animal. At one stage, she even grabbed the spoon out of my hand because I wasn’t shoveling the food into her little mouth quickly enough.

Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad mother!

Now, we’re spending eleven nights in Hermanus without Margie. I am viewing this as training for when her time with us comes to an end on 1 February next year. So far, we’ve sort of survived three nights. The first night was a very rude awakening to night-time parenting. The Princess woke up at midnight for some reason and just wouldn’t go back to sleep until 3:30. We walked, we rocked, we sang, we shushed. We tried everything. We would’ve dosed her with Calpol but we recently discovered that Calpol is like Espresso for her – it totally gives her a buzz. Luckily, the past two nights have only involved a few dummy dashes and she’s slept like a little angel.

Holding thumbs for the next eight nights until we’re re-united with Margie for one more blissful month of sleeping all night…

A Funny from The Garden Route Mall

The Father Figure is currently in hospital in Oudtshoorn and so The Princess, her nanny and I are staying with the in-laws in George for a week while The Husband is overseas so we can visit him.

 

This morning, The Mother-in-Law, The Princess and I headed over to the Garden Route Mall for a morning's entertainment and some Woolies cappuccinos – as you do in George. I was pushing The Princess through the mall in her stroller, minding my own business, when I came across this sign for a shop:

But it gets better. Contrary to all logic, this is not an adult bookstore. Cum to think of it, (sorry, I could not resist) an adult bookstore would be mighty out of place in the middle of a mall in uber conservative George, sandwiched between Reggies and Clicks or something to that effect.

 

I mentioned this curiously named bookstore to The Mother-in-Law and she said she believed it was a religious book shop. I was about to start my blog by remarking on the crazy things one stumbles across in small towns, when I decided to Google "Cum Books Garden Route Mall". I was a bit concerned that Google would return a list of pornographic sites, but it seems my search was specific enough and eventually I found the book store's home page.

 

Wait for it:

 

www.cum.co.za

 

I am not kidding here. Type it in yourself.

 

Anyway, so much for a far-flung, small town phenomenon, CUM Books/ Boeke is in fact a nationwide chain of 40 bookstores, their by-line being "Christian Family Bookstore". And no, CUM is not actually the acronym "C.U.M." – or if it once was, or is indeed supposed to be now, then this is truly not obvious from their signage or their web-site. In fact they are so very, very comfortable with their name, that the e-mail address advertised on their web-site is:

 

cum@cum.co.za

 

It's as though they want to see how many times they can say "that" word…

 

I mean, cum on!

 

Again – couldn't resist 🙂

Fine Dining, Doggy Style

I believe I have a fine appreciation for most things French. I love their beautiful language, their sense of style, their magnificent gastronomic flair…but I have never understood their willingness to share all of this with their dogs. At a guest house in the Alps last year, I was horrified to find a rate card in our room for "nos amis a quatre pattes" (our four-legged friends).

As 2010 drew to a close, however, I learned that it is not just the Frenchies who treat their pooches like people. I learned this when I discovered we were sharing our Umhlanga hotel's fine dining restaurant with not one…not two…but THREE pampered pets. Since when do silver service and slobbering dogs go together? Admittedly, we probably would never have noticed the little mutts, had our waiter (the man has a sense of humour) not decided to quietly point them out to us. It wasn't so much their presence that he wanted to share with us, but the matter of their finely developed taste buds. Two of the coochy-coochy poochies apparently preferred still water, whilst the third had a penchant for sparkling, which our waiter had just served them in their silver-plated doggie bowls. Next up, the hounds were going for the Fillet Bearnaise, served with potato dauphinoise. This was straight from the menu ordinarily reserved for humans. For the more neglected pets out there, however, their owners have the option of a specially designed "pet menu" which the hotel offers. This menu doesn't offer Fillet Bearnaise, but instead Fluffy can feast on some delicious "Woof Waffles" – grilled waffles which are served with "a large boerewors sausage and gravy". Mmmm. Or if Fluffy has had a big night and wants a morning after fry-up, then he can have the "Full Doggy Breakfast" which consists of: scrambled eggs, pork sausage, bacon and hash browns. And all of this is on offer for the yummy price of 95 ZAR.

Who said pets were cheaper than kids?

Because it was New Year's Eve, this doggy-friendly fine dining establishment was offering a "dinner & dance" combo. When we saw the band, we suspected that the music may be a bit before our time – the average age of the musicians was about 75 squared. I guess it made sense since the average age of the guests was in that region as well. Which would have been fine, except that these people belong to an era when white men really could dance. Not so, for The Husband and I. Our little foray onto the dance floor went something like this:

The Husband: Okay, we can do this. We can show those old-timers. My mother sent me to some lessons for my matric dance and I know what I'm doing here.

Me: Great, because I have no idea what you're doing.

The Husband: It's easy. I lead, you follow.

Me: How am I supposed to follow when I have no idea what you're about to do next?

The Husband: You don't need to know because you're following me. That's the definition of following. Your problem is that you can't stand not being in charge.

Me: My problem is I can't read your mind.

The Husband: Just follow me, for Christ's sake. I'm in charge!

Me: I get it – you're in charge. You just don't seem to be in charge of your feet because you just crushed my baby toe with one of them.

During this spectacle we managed to collide with a Swiss couple a few times. They may have been in their twilight years but when they got moving on the dance floor, they did these one-legged jigs that would have put 16 year old gymnasts to shame. And they weren't the only ones who really knew how to shake a shoe or two. The rest of the couples were spinning one another around, looking like Strictly Coming Dancing for seniors.

Mercifully, we were put out of our misery by the ringing in of the New Year when everyone stood in a circle and did some kind of a folking dancing, can-can number in lieu of a countdown. Clearly, that's how they did things back then, before the war.

After the old Auld Lang Syne sing-along with the old folk, we discovered a venue upstairs with dancing and music from this decade. At least there we could steer clear of one another's two left feet. Only thing was, the floor was dominated by 21 year old girls in the highest of heels and the shortest of dresses. Not one to be up-staged after being shown up by the senior citizens downstairs, I was determined to get "low, low, low" with Flo-rida and the best of the twenty-somethings.

Not a good move at 29 weeks pregnant…Needless to say, I retired to bed soon afterwards, leaving the respective dance floors to the very old and the very young.

Happy New Year, everyone. Remember: never start a New Year's Resolution on a weekend!

Zooolooo Hospitality in the Midlands

Just in case anyone had any illusions that paternalism in South Africa was dead…I can report from personal experience that it is alive and kicking in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands.

First of all, someone needs to tell hotel owners that no-one cares who they are or what they've achieved in their long and illustrious lives. Second of all, someone needs to tell them that we also couldn't give a cr*p about their socio-political views.

Allow me to elaborate…

The Husband and I set off on our annual adventure yesterday afternoon for a two-night stint in the KzN Midlands en route to Umhlanga. I had been dying to visit this particular Midlands establishment – renowned for its award winning cuisine – for years. At 5pm, we arrived and confirmed with the manageress that we would most definitely be "joining them" for dinner. We were told that we should present ourselves at 7pm for aperitifs, which would be followed by a speech by "Mr Blah-di-Blah" before dinner. Mr Blah-di-Blah's name (which I honestly did not catch) was pronounced so matter of factly that she may as well have told us we were to be addressed by Nelson Mandela himself. Although I suspected that Mr Blah-di-Blah was the hallowed owner of the establishment, I couldn't resist asking, "Er, who's he when he's at home?" It was then confirmed that he was indeed the almighty owner.

No big deal, you might be thinking. But The Husband and I have had our fair share of boutique hotel experiences where self-important proprietors actually think your life's goal is to belong to their inner circle. We were really looking forward to a private, romantic dinner to kick-start our holiday and we just had a niggly feeling about this scheduled "speech".

At 7pm sharp, we were seated on the guest house's stately patio for appertifs when, soon enough, Blah-di-Blah came bounding over to introduce himself. We decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and were on our best behaviour, exchanging pleasantries on the weather and other such engrossing topics. He then bounded over to introduce himself to some more guests as they stepped onto the patio. "We've met twice before," they reminded him politely, to which he swiftly responded, "Of course! Jolly good show! I thought you looked ever so familiar!" Yeah, right.

By 7:45 The Husband was ready to eat the 18th century stonework on the guest house walls so I gently asked if we could be shown to our table. "Sure," the manager told us excitedly, "it's almost speech time!"

Oh, goody!

At this point, I suspect the owner sensed the hunger of his guests, and, eager to now get us to our tables, he let forth with a joke for the benefit of his 15-odd guests which resounded across the dining area: "Gentlemen! You pay so much to marry our wives and then you can't even get them to join you for dinner! Hahahahahahahaha!!"

I don't even know how to comment on that, er, joke. I think it speaks for itself – although God knows what it's saying.

But his speech proved even better. Guests were treated to a 15-minute history of the his childhood in the Transkei, playing cricket with his best friend, Prince What's-his-face. During these idyllic times, the Prince bowled, while Blah-di-Blah batted, because, of course, such was the hierarchy in those times. (This was also put forward as the reason behind the Eastern Cape producing international stars like Makhaya Ntini who's "a phenomenal bowler" but who "can't bat".) We were then reminded that nowadays, the inverse is, of course, true: "the white boys" are bowling and black people are batting.

Just then, with no sense of irony whatsoever, he moved on to the topic of his "zooolooo" staff members, for whom it is apparently still "a pleasure to serve". Guests were then told that in many places in the world it is "no longer a pleasure to serve", however, we were assured that here at Paternalism Place, it is still indeed a "pleasure to serve". We were told that we would not experience Swiss hospitality. Instead, we would be privileged to experience "zooolooo hospitality" – something that "takes a little longer", but that is "much better" in Blah-di-Blah's (ahem) humble opinion.

At this point, The Husband looked as though he was ready to throw up. Trapped in my seat, with Blah-di-Blah sounding like he could go on all night (he hadn't ommitted to mention that he'd been a lawyer in his "former life"), I came up with the ultimate act of defiance. I reached into my handbag, pulled out my faithful Tabard stick and began painstakingly Tabard-ing my big toes. Fortunately, my strappy sandals meant that protecting the top of my feet from the mozzies was a really delicate affair, requiring enormous amounts of concentraion. In this way, I was able to drown out the remainder of the discourse, until eventually, mercifully, it came to an end.

At breakfast this morning, our waitress wanted to know whether we'd be "joining them" for dinner this evening. We told them that we would like to, but gently enquired whether they would be any speeches to look forward to? Our waitress informed us that no, there would be no speeches. And I could swear I detected a bit of a twinkle in her "Zooolooo" eyes.