Size Matters. Duh.

I have a theory about us Joburgers, our states of minds and what makes us the moodiest of all. I’d like to suggest that it’s not Ju Ju, it’s not load shedding and it’s not even the traffic. Sure, the traffic gets our blood boiling but how else would we break the ice in meetings? In my (past) experience, the subject of traffic instantly bonds business people like nothing on earth:

 

Meeting Participant 1:     Sorry I’m late. The traffic was horrendous…

Meeting Participant 2:     Where do you stay?

Meeting Participant 1:     Pretoria East

Meeting Participant 2:     (Nodding sympathetically) Ja, I live in Centurion. I left home 

                                     at 4 this morning and I only just made my 8 o'clock.

Meeting Participant 3:     It must have been that broken down truck at Allendale?

Meeting Participant 2:     Ja! Right next to Allendale.


It’s a beautiful scene: a roomful of total strangers, bonding like old friends over their shared experience of “the traffic”.


But back to my theory: which is NOT that “the traffic” makes us moody. No. I believe that nothing makes a born-and-bred Joburger quite as grumpy as bad weather. It’s as though we subconsciously know that despite all our issues: the smog, the smash 'n grabs, the roadworks, the lack of beaches, the dry air …we’ll be okay, because at least we have the weather. And when the weather is shite, then Joburgers are cold, wet and above all, grumpy.

 

As a Jozi immigrant who spent years dragging myself through rain- and wind-storms on UCT’s campus, Joburg weather doesn't often get me down. But I confess that last month was so bad, I found myself catching the meteorological malaise. I was in this mildly depressed state when I happened to wander into a shop called Helen Melon at the BluBird centre. A couple of warm, fluffy winter gowns had caught my eye, so I went to investigate. I was approached by Helon/Helen herself. Because it was 11am on a Tuesday morning she correctly assumed I hadn’t had to brave any traffic to get to her store and so she went with a more universal ice-breaker: the weather. She couldn’t believe how cold Joburg was and she was from Cape Town and it was actually warm there and she'd never been this cold in her life, etc… etc…etc…

 

I admit I tend to get irrationally competitive on the whole Cape Town/ Joburg thing: if I’m voicing my own opinion, then Cape Town may sometimes be better than Joburg. However, since I live in Jozi, if someone else ventures the opinion that CT is better than Joburg – so help them God. And so it was that I found myself standing in front of Helon Melon and recounting tales of being practically blown off Eastern Boulevard by the Cape Town South Easter. Jozi would be re-instated as “Weather Capital of SA” if it was the last thing I did.


Fortunately, Mrs Melon decided to change the subject. I told her I was interested in her winter gowns

and would like to try one on. And then she committed Sandton retail suicide. Here’s what she said: "Would you like to try an extra-large? I think the medium might fit you but I wear an extra-large because they are so much longer than the smaller sizes, so they keep you so warm around the legs.


I was speechless. Did she just say "extra large" out loud? I admit that I was somewhat comforted by the fact that Helen herself is absolutely tiny and here she was telling me that she wore this gown in a size extra-large by choice. Only somewhat comforted, though. I was still mostly mortified at the thought of owning an extra-large garment. I think it must have been a mixture of shock and horror that caused me to temporarily lose my mind and stammer, “Er, okay, I’ll try it.”

 

She looked relieved because she thought I had seen her point of view about the long, warm, extra-large gown.

Her relief gave her renewed confidence in our retail interaction and she went on to say: “It’s just that most of the women who come in here won’t buy anything that’s a size bigger than their normal size. Just because of what the tag says – can you believe that?”

 

What I was thinking was: “Lady, you should see the size of my aspirational wardrobe. It takes up the entire spare room and has been gathering moth balls since 2005.”

 

But what I said out loud was: “Gosh! Really?”

I guess I sounded convincing because Mrs Melon was like, “I know! Isn’t it mad? Hahahahaha."

And so it was that, in an attempt to come across as an equally psychologically stable woman with a healthy body image, unperturbed by frivolous things such as size tags (just like Helon Melon), I found myself purchasing an extra-large dressing gown.

I was totally going to take it back and swap it for a smaller size on a day that Helen was safely back in Cape Town. Totally. But the next day I remembered that I’d violently ripped out the size tag somewhere between the shop and the parking lot, leaving the gown with a giant hole where the tag used to be.

And if you’re wondering whether the extra leg warmth has made up for the psychological trauma of owning a Donna Claire-type garment, the answer is a resounding “no”. I think the gown’s about to get booted to the spare room – I’m just not mentally strong enough for this sh**

The Post-modern Personalised Plate

Nothing says "I am a deeply superficial person"* quite like this personalised plate:

I spotted this puppy in the parking lot of Bella's the other day. At first the number plate made sense. On second thoughts, though, is it possible for someone who drives a canary-yellow Porsche to be truly superficial? Somehow, I don't think so. I reckon they'd have to love their jaundiced yellow baby for its inner beauty. As if the "shallow" Boxster wasn't Brett Easton Ellis enough, Bella's was heaving with well-preened housewives. I counted no fewer than 8 Weapons of Massclusivity. I am, of course, referring to the Louis Vuitton monogrammed handbag – you can't be caught dead without your Weapon, Dol! After all, this is Joburg…

* Andy Warhol

Karkloof Spa: Part 1

I have a suspicion The Husband knew all along that I wouldn’t exactly take well to the whole “soigneuse” thing. I think he knew there was a risk of me quitting the profession just weeks before the Cape Epic. And that left him wondering who’d be chauffeuring him around and washing his muddy clothes during the Epic. And THAT, in turn, got him booking us a 5-star hotel at the end of Sani 2 C.

Smart boy.

So we bade farewell to our gang in Scottburgh on Friday afternoon and made our way to the Karkloof Spa. At about 8pm, we pulled up at the reception of this auspicious establishment and were greeted by a charming gentlemen named Winston. The 5-star treatment began as he handed us little rolled-up face cloths – passed to us with a pair of silver tongs. The Husband did smell like a bergie after his race and I was pretty sweaty myself, so these fresh faceys came in use. Then one of those game-viewing Land Rovers pulled up and Winston asked us to “point out which pieces of luggage we wished to take to our room so that they could be loaded into the vehicle”. He explained that we’d be driven to our rooms in the Land Rover and that our car would remain at reception, at the bottom of the valley.

I think Winston may have been used to welcoming polite British visitors with three pieces of matching luggage each. What he found in us was a bunch of Joburgers and a car full of dissembled bike parts, smelly cycling shoes, dirty laundry in Spar packets and some half-munched Jungle Bars. The thought of trying to unpack the car, pick out our essentials and then repack the car – all for one night – was more than we could bare. We’d been up since 4am. We were tired, we were hungry and most of all, we smelt. With that, The Husband shed his Cool Mountain Biker Dude persona and snapped back into Joburg Businessman mode.

“We….WANT….our….CAR…outside…OUR….room. NOW!!!!”.

I tried to determine whether it was a bit of a Westcliff Hotel set up, where you physically can’t drive to your room. Unfortunately, Winston was fond of talking around the point. I later realised that his long-winded response was his diplomatic way of trying to say no, it wasn’t impossible to drive our car up to the lodge, it just wasn’t allowed. But at that point, it felt like we were speaking to someone who didn’t know how to answer a simple ‘yes/ no’ question.

In hindsight, the truth was that Winston was probably terrified of what a straight response would illicit in these two highly strung Joburgers. (There had been some throwing of arms in the air and some cries of “this is RIDICULOUS!!” and “we’re LEAVING!!” etc, etc. Totally normal behaviour in Joburg. Duh.)

Eventually, poor Winston gave up and ran inside his office to call the Big Boss. The Husband was summoned to the ’phone and told that “civilian cars were not welcome at the Lodge as they would stick out like sore thumbs.” I then decided it was UNCONSCIONABLE that paying guests could be treated in this manner. The Husband agreed (or at least he pretended to) and we sped off, vowing never to return.

The thing is, we tried to speed off in a cloud of dust. But it was pitch dark, we were in the middle of a nature reserve, we were on a dirt road and we were struggling to find the exit.

Even if we were to find the frigging gate, we’d have to drive 20km on dirt road in the dead of the night. And that would get us to Pietermaritzburg’s industrial outskirts.

Oops.

The Husband: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

Me: “If you’re thinking that we’re farking idiots, then ja, I am.”

Silence.

The Husband: “Okay, you go speak to Winston.”

Me: “No frigging way! You go!

The Husband: “No, YOU go!”

Me: “Er, NO!!! You go!”

Etc, etc.

Eventually, we turned around and pulled up in front of the reception, tails firmly between our legs. Winston – bless his soul – managed to hide whatever smirks and convulsions he was feeling inside. With all the charm and experience of a hospitality professional who has seen and heard it all, he acted as though we were new arrivals and commented on the beautiful, crisp evening. We mumbled a few replies but mainly just studied our shoes.

Then we dug out a toothbrush or two, climbed into the Landy and spent the next twelve hours in the hotel’s complimentary terry cloth robes. Who needs your suitcase when the champers is on ice?

Cape Town International

I’ve always reckoned that a good rule of thumb on 'planes is that if your neighbour hasn’t proved to be Chatty Pants in the first ten minutes, then you’re home free. A couple of weeks ago, though, I realised that I’m going to need to modify this theory on the free booze flights (the few that still exist). Two mini bottles of Chenin Blanc down, my 60-something neighbour decided it was time we met, JUST as we were preparing to land. By this stage all my leave-me-the-eff-alone-accessories had been dutifully packed away (laptop, I-pod, book) and I was left with little option but to speak back.

He was an ex-Joburger who’d emigrated to CT and was a die hard Kaapener my whole life before converting to Jozi-ism. Invariably, we had the “why-Cape-Town-is-so-much-better-than-Joburg” debate. My favourite. No, really. In the same way as Jews for Jesus are even more fervent than their reborn counter-parts, I am constantly shooting my mouth off about how FAN-tastic Joburg is.

Anyhoo, after old Chenin Blanc had run through all the obvious CT selling points (wine, mountains, wine, the new stadium and wine), he launched into his promotional pitch for the new airport. “It’s bigger, better, faster, classier, sharper, hotter, cooler, hipper, better,” etc, etc.

Great,” I thought, a week later. Because, you see, yesterday, I walked Cavendish square STUKKEND for a Christmas present for my darling husband – aka “the-man-who-has-everything-or-if-he-doesn’t-he’ll-buy-it”. (This characteristic of his is fantastic when you need any make or shape of electronic device – pronto, but it’s less fun when you need to buy him a present.) However, given old Chenin’s sales pitch on the super new, super fab airport, I figured I’d simply pick up something there. So NOT. Unless you are looking for a wooden Giraffe carving from not one but TWO curio stores (out of a total of about 8 shops), do not leave your holiday shopping to the last minute. Needless to say, my husband cannot be left cooped up in a security enclosed retail space without being absolutely compelled to contribute to consumer spending. Bless him. Even under the utterly miserable retail conditions in Cape Town’s new international airport, he managed to get some gadgets. (All I can do now is hi-jack his goods and wrap them up as his Christmas gift).

On the bright side, though, Cape Town really has made airport security a mega-priority. I was lucky enough to experience this first hand when I witnessed three uniformed policemen trying to sweet-talk the Premier lounge receptionist into smuggling out free drinks for them. But she was hardcore and she wasn’t having any of it. “Can you see the cameras?” she responded, wagging her finger at them. “There they are”.

Nice one, officers.

Failing in that little endeavour, the Kaap se Coppers decided to amuse themselves in other ways. I happened to be standing at the reception desk at the time.

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” the one asked.

Mentally rolling my eyes, I replied that I didn’t think so as I tried to stay on the right side of the law. (I don’t think he saw the irony).

Naai, man,” he said, “aren’t you on the TV?”

Much better, dude.
For that you can have a celebrity smile.