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.
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**