Friday, January 19, 2007

AND SHE’S ONLY JUST FIFTY…..A tribute to the best friend a girl could have. Updated Saturday 20th

I have known Moira for sixteen years. This weekend, she is celebrating her fiftieth birthday in Johannesburg. Okay, she’s not my childhood friend and we were never even fellow students, but we’ve had as much laughter and as many tears together as it is possible for two friends to have. I have been remembering some of those occasions.

When we met back in the bad old days of good old CAMAF, the health insurance company where we both worked. Moira was the supervisor of the Financial department, while I was in Customer Services. I used to pass her office on the way to my desk every day, and at first I thought she was one of ‘them’ – you know, ‘them the Management’. That meant, of course, that she didn’t talk to lowly and insignificant minions like me, and I thought she was oh so terribly posh! In due course, I would step into her office to ask about problems with members, and I slowly discovered that that she was neither lofty or a snob as I had at first thought. Mind you, she had thought that I was rather intimidating much to my horror, so we were both happy to discover we were both mistaken. And it was good.

Our friendship went from strength to strength, and before long, we were sharing the usual confidences about the usual female things, and of course about our bosses, which was always great for forging ever closer ties. Moi will well remember our weekly Squash sessions when we pretended the balls were various members of CAMAF’s management, or indeed anyone we had the miffs with that week.

My first real memory of getting into the thick of things with Moi was at one Christmas party. I seem to recall we went to an Italian restaurant, not that far from the office. It was a good lunch. The wine was even better. In fact it was so good that when the time came to go, we were both too sloshed to walk. But as Moi was feeling seriously sick, it was quite clear that I should be the one to drive. Naturally. Nowadays, it seems shameful to laugh at being so potted; standards and opinions have changed for the better, but every time I think of that day I start chuckling. There we were in Moi’s little ‘shitty’ brown Escort, driving with exaggerated care back up the road. She was keeping an eye on the distance that I was keeping from the kerb; meanwhile I clutched the wheel feverishly and tried to focus on what was up ahead. A difficult task when you can see two of everything. Then suddenly, she screamed at me to stop, which of course, I did, thinking something dire had happened. Moi flung the door open and leaning out, deposited her wonderful lunch copiously in the gutter. That was definitely a sobering experience, I don’t remember too much more about the ride home, but we managed to get there as we both lived to tell the tale over many another Christmas party.

Another special occasion I love to remember came much later, in fact in 2000 after we had both left CAMAF. It was on that memorable pony trekking trip to Lesotho. Moi, Les and I had what was one of the best weekends of my life, made so partly by Moi’s unintentional, but hilarious antics. Now most of us know Moi as the lady. When we used to go shopping together, Moi would go and look at the lovely, soft and elegant fashions, while I went and pored over power tools. It goes without saying then that while Les and I were equipped to deal with the rough and ready conditions of an overnight stay on a Lesotho kraal, Moi wasn’t.

The great Trek
After a six hour ride and a five kilometre hike to a waterfall, we were all exhausted. Neither Moi nor I had ridden ponies in years and Les, bless him, had never been on horseback before. I still cry with laughter when I recall the blue air surrounding Les’s expletives as the horses picked their way down the sheer sides of a particularly rocky gorge, but he was so game. He just kept going. Anyway, we collapsed into a rondavel on our arrival like a bunch of zombies.

Moi and I looking wasted in the Rondavel..yes that is me with the dark hair...;-)

Then the fun began. The village residents had kindly supplied us with the basics. There were mattresses to sleep on, a gas ring to cook on and a single bucket of water for all our needs. Let me stress that. ALL our needs. There was also the famous ‘long drop’ for the toilet, amounting to a shed surrounding a deep hole in the ground with a toilet seat sitting over it.

Now remember Moi is a lady. Moi does not use a long drop to do her deeds. Moi refuses to even have a ladylike pee in a long drop. Coaxing and persuading her does no good at all. She is simply not going to do it. A few hours and a cup of tea later, however, and she was facing a problem. Where exactly was she going to do her deed. Another couple of hours and a good level of desperation further on and she finally conceded that she would have to try. Somewhere, and sadly I don’t have it, there is a photo of Moi hovering over the long drop with an expression of utter disdain on her face. We captured the moment as proof that in fact Moi is more courageous than any of us. She did it. She used that long drop against a whole heap of her better judgments.

Going back to the rondavel, though, we managed to cook, make hot drinks and wash dishes with sparing use of our bucket of water, carefully leaving about half of it for teeth cleaning, face washing and most importantly, coffee and tea in the morning. Later on, just before turning in, Les and I were dutifully cleaning our teeth with mugs filled from the bucket, when suddenly I heard Les positively shriek. “MOIRA, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Turning round I saw Moi frozen in mid action. She had a bar of soap in her hands. But it was too late. She’d already done it. She’d soapily washed her face in our precious bucket of water. The one that was for ALL our needs. The tea and coffee next morning had an extremely interesting flavour.
What a trip, what a friend!

Happy Birthday, my friend. I should have been with you at your party, but as you now know, the forces were against me, and we were cruelly prevented from catching that plane. May you have another fifty wonderful years, Moi and I promise...we will see each other soon xxx.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Ever since I've lived in the Netherlands, I've had a conviction that there is a monumental conspiracy going on at the highest of levels. I have no proof but the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming.

You see, this is a very small and rather overcrowded country. Most people are squeezed into apartments or at best, one part of a house. In fact, many of my acquaintances don't even refer to ‘apartments’. They are so used to this way of living that even a two roomed flat under the eaves in the attic is called a house. Stretching the point a tad, I know, but it’s all relative.

Now there is a risk involved with such population density. It is that you might, just might, have too many cloggies gathered together in one place at any one time. The potential for revolt and uprising is severe. I mean, can you imagine a bunch of revolting Dutchmen congregating and lurking with ill intent? It's a worrying (or even revolting) prospect indeed...especially for the powers that be.

I noticed this very early on in my life here. I also noticed that every effort is made by the authorities to prevent such a situation occurring. It works like this: If ever you want to go to the town hall for something simple, such as the registration of a change of address, you can never complete the task in just one place. You will notice that there is a constant flow of people on the way to different parts of the building where they have been sent by bored clerks who have clearly been instructed to keep them all moving. If you register at one desk, you have to go to another desk to pay your fee, and then to yet another one to collect the confirmation of your registration. This, dear readers, is just a minor example of the way we are continuously prevented from gathering in numbers of more than one or two in one place. After all, remember those revolting Dutchmen...

It happens with any procedure you attempt to follow. In extreme cases, or extremely small buildings, you might even be sent to other buildings on the other side of the city to fulfill a simple, straightforward administrative procedure. For some reason the distance to your next stop is always described as being "just five minutes walk". Well, flexibility is one thing, but I have never before experienced such an elastic concept of time as this.

Another example can be found on the highways. You will find that the moment the traffic begins to build up and develop a reasonable pace, the overhead signs on the road will suddenly start flashing to instruct you to reduce your speed to 70 or even 50. This, I am reliably informed by a former police commissioner of my acquaintance, is to disperse the traffic, and prevent too much congestion.

The authorities seem to believe that if everyone drives any faster, they will all end up in the same place at once, and cause (perish the thought) traffic mayhem. Why this should be true in the Netherlands when in Germany, there are no speed limits, and apparently no reports of riotous road rage due to systemic and chronic bumper bashing, I am not quite sure, but when I put my Great Dutch Conspiracy theory to my police commissioner, he nearly fell off his chair laughing...or was it shock that I had actually discovered and revealed their dastardly plan?

Nevertheless, the Dutch people, bless them, are not so easily coerced. Indeed, if you should travel out in the countryside of a Saturday or Sunday, you will see how they escape or circumvent these attempts to distribute and disperse them. Sure enough, you will see what I have affectionately termed the 'granny packs'. These are large groups of lively senior citizens who cycle furiously around the country roads in glorious throngs of what seem like hundreds. Are they revolting? Absolutely... but only against (or is it 'to'?) all the rest of us who are trying sheepishly and desperately to get past them in our cars, vans, buses or any other motorised vehicle. Needless to say, out here in the wilds and away from the rigorous controls of their masters, they will not be moved!