I haven’t written a post for so long it feels as though I’ve forgotten how to write.  2011, in retrospect, feels like hard work.  2012 holds more of the same.  My respite, ironically being well over 40, has become my bike.

I decided in a moment of madness last year that I really needed a bicycle – considerably more than a fish does.  A colleague, younger, fitter and better looking than I am, suggested that I speak to a friend of his who owns a trendy bicycle shop in a trendy mall nearby.  I promised that I would get hold of his friend and then promptly did nothing about it.  In fact the whole bicycle idea was starting to fade when I received a mail from him telling me that the friend would give me a good price on a 2010 model.

The most notable thing about this email for me was that I had no idea that the year of a bicycle’s manufacture was even remotely relevant.  Not so it seems.  It affects resale value and desirability.  Some people apparently wouldn’t be seen dead on last year’s equipment.  So, prompted by curiosity as much as the prospect of getting a bargain, I phoned the shop and the die was cast.  I was drawn into a detailed conversation about hard tails and soft tails, hydraulic brakes and full suspension.  Things about which I know nothing at all but pretended to understand to avoid looking like an idiot.  If I hadn’t gone to the shop then I may perhaps have avoided this bug, but I did go and therefore didn’t.

The assistant, a fit looking woman somewhat older then me, asked me to wait a bit while she attended to another customer.  This allowed me to wander around the shop and marvel at the beautiful machinery which is nowadays sold under the guise of a bicycle.  Carbon fibre, aluminum – everything lightweight and sleek.  Gorgeous!  New car showrooms have nothing on this place.  And the paraphernalia which goes with bicycles!  Helmets (lightweight), gloves (breathable), pants (padded – very important), cleats, bags, bottles, tools, sludge, tubeless tires, a marvelous pump called an air-tool, computers ……  When I finally had her attention there was no way I was leaving the shop without something, and probably something expensive.  She looked at my thinning crown and growing paunch and pronounced that a hard tail was not for me (a statement about which I agree completely, I prefer my tails to be softer) and that as I was not a spring chicken any more (a statement which I found profoundly shocking and which tempted me to respond ‘neither are you, you old piece of mutton’).

I was informed that I would prefer something a bit more comfortable and that the only thing for a man of my stature (read paunch), and presumably perceived wallet size as I was wearing a suit at the time, was a full suspension bike.  The price quoted made my eyes water and when I gasped that this seemed a bit expensive, I received the response that this was an entry level machine and heavily discounted already.  It was, after all, a 2010 model.  What I asked what the difference between it and the 2011 version?  The color apparently.

I eventually left with a lighter wallet, an air-tool, a helmet and the most marvelous bicycle I have ever owned.  Read into the fact that as this is an entry level bicycle, my history of bicycle ownership hasn’t been especially glamorous.  It has tubeless tyres and hydraulic brakes and front and rear suspension and more gears than I’ve been able to count.  It is a marvelous thing, slow (very slow on the road in fact), but it goes places I would never have ventured with a bicycle in my past life.

Specialized FSRxc Pro

The first place that I took it to was the Braamfontein Spruit.  Not a difficult ride, but one which took my breath away, both from exhaustion after a piddling few kilometers, as well as the excruciating pain in my backside.  Comfortable, my arse!  I have since that first ride progressed a bit.  Last weekend I was at Northern Farm on a lovely single track route down near the Crocodile River below Lanseria Airport.  The wild flowers were out, the sky was clear and veld was heavy with dew.  There was nothing I would rather have been doing at the time.

I feel like a little boy with his new bicycle. The thing gets washed more than my car does.  Admittedly it doesn’t work very well when coated with mud, but it also looks better clean.  I have a whole range of accessories, including a remarkable carrier for my car whose technology impressed my dad even more than the bike’s did.  Every now and then I scare the shit out of myself on the thing and I realized the other day after going over the handlebars with my feet still tied to the pedals, that falling over hurts a lot more (a hell of a lot more) than it did when I was 17.  I do however wish that I had owned such a bike when I was 17 (they didn’t even exist then), but perhaps if I had I wouldn’t be here to write about it.

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1/3 gin (all good drinks begin with gin), 1/3 Campari, 1/3 red Vermouth.  Drink 2.  Quickly.  Removes the boss, the job and the day in a very agreeable way.

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It’s a perfect word, expressing neatly in four rhythmic syllables the marvelously teutonic concept of pleasure at another’s misfortune. No German blood flows in my veins, but the concept resonates with me strongly. It encapsulates neatly one of the less endearing human characteristics which, and I do hope that I am not alone in this belief, we all share. What does such an assertion reveal about me if I’m wrong?  I am unrepentant.  With the inclusion within the category of pleasure of the complementary concept of amusement, I will admit to a great sense of schadenfreude at all the pious souls who don’t get it.  Who, for goodness sake, hasn’t enjoyed a grin of satisfaction when passing the swine who sped past earlier in his shiny new Porsche  being ticketed by a cop?  It is a small affirmation of an inner desire for a vengeful deity to leap up and smite those who wrong me.

Having been an especially lazy student when it came to jurisprudence lectures at 3 pm on Thursday afternoons, and having been lucky enough to befriend someone who embodied those unusual characteristics of diligence, comprehensiveness and calligraphic handwriting (thanks again Melissa), I have no idea how the concept of schadenfreude might fit in with the idea of natural justice.  It does, however, seem that the idea of the wheel turning to punish those whose deeds offend against the fundamental laws of nature, can only have been conceived by someone who chortled at the site of a large ox standing on the foot of the person who stole it.

It is unusual to experience something like schadenfreude at the birth of a child, but…….

My dear friend M, one of whose few redeeming features is that he is probably the only regular reader of this blog, is a man with his own definite views about the world. When E and A were born, M would not appreciate just how mindlessly exhausting a baby can be. Why, for example, was I so unreasonable about him interrupting the one hour nap I managed to sneak on a Sunday afternoon while N and the baby were asleep?  So what that the longest uninterrupted period of sleep I had experienced for the last week was between 3:00 and 4:45 in the morning on Wednesday. Why couldn’t we just go here or there at the drop of a hat?  Weren’t we being overly pessimistic when we described the general palaver of traveling with children?  Did we really need so much paraphanalia?

Baby Vivienne is now about 3 weeks old and I am delighted, more than you can imagine, that M is getting to experience fatherhood for the first time.  Especially at the venerable age of 42 when the children of all of his friends are outside, self sufficiently riding bicycles.  When it comes to paraphanalia for example, M already has a baby monitor. Something, I observe smugly, we survived without for two children.

Welcome baby Vivienne!  Welcome M!

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In a Garden

I sit here with a bottle of sun lotion on my right and an umbrella on my left.   Although the sun is presently shining, at any moment clouds could flow over the mountain and drench me with frigid autumn rain.  To give you a clue, I am in the most beautiful garden in the world, Kirstenbosch.

It is a favourite spot of mine and today I have the luxury of enjoying it on my own.  N and the girls are at home in Jhb and the only plans I have are to visit my aunt and uncle in Kenilworth for dinner.  So here I am, with the privileged view of of the gardens blossoming with late summer flowers in the foreground, the autumn colours of Bishops Court immediately thereafter and in the background, across the Cape Flats, the hazy mountains around StellenboschThe air is deeply scented with the fragrance of the pelargonium garden in the midst of which I am sitting, and all I can hear are the sounds of birds, the rustling of leaves in the cool wind and its quiet whisper as it gently freezes my ear lobes and bald spot.

I have no reason to hurry either my thoughts or the rest of the day.  I can squish a leaf of every pelargonium I walk past and there is no one here to hasten me.  I am deliberately carefree and, just as I write this sentence, as if to remind my of my fortune, the sun has broken its contemplations from behind the clouds where it had been hiding to warm my feet.  Today, I think you will gather, is a good one.

I turn my thoughts for a moment to another garden which I make a point of visiting as often as I can.  My first visit to Kew took place in November of 1989.  It was cold and rainy and large parts of the garden were closed following the devastation wreaked by a recent storm which, across the UK, had blown over 50,000 trees.  The bluebells in the woods were flowering,  however, and the delightful hot houses were open.  It made an indelible impression and I have since been back there three times.  Each visit has been different, I inevitably discover a section which I have not previously encountered or a new vista opens itself up to me.  Kew, however, pales beside the magnificence which belongs to Kirstenbosch.  I cannot remember how many times I have been here, but every visit takes my breath away and revives a familiar, deep but still unidentified longing which has within it a mixture of joy and sadness, of impermanence and desire.  It is a sense which awakens my creative juices, stirs within me a yearning to be something better than I am every ordinary day.  My internal conversations become louder and more articulate and my horizons stretch betond the limitations of the usual grind.

Nothing in Kirstenbosch is level he wheezes!  I have moved positions to further up the hill which affords another view of the gardens.  The bench I am sitting on this time holds a memorium plaque for GE Ted Williams 1923 – 1976.  It is situated beneath a giant kiggelaria africana (wild peach).  I wonder idly who he was, why he died at the early age of 53 and reflect that as far as a memorial goes it’s not a bad one to have.  I recently planted the same tree in my garden but will never see it reach this size.  I hope though that someone does one day.

My raphsody about Kirstenbosch is a digression.  I am in Cape Town for a reason other than to wax lyrical about fynbosI have been indulging myself in fantasies about  a new, bigger and more expensive toy than any I have bought previously.  The last was a nice watch.  This next, however, overshadows the watch by a long, long way.  I am lucky and indeed, without any false modesty, I do think that it is far more luck or good fortune than my own enormous expertise which allows me to be in a position to consider buying another property.  I have thoughts about buying contentment and restfulness in the form of a holiday home.  If I do purchase anything, it will be in the Cape.  The question I am grappling with, however, is more why I am doing this (or at least giving it serious consideration) than which property I should buy.  I am thinking about a property in Kommetjie.  It is a lovely, considered house which was obviously designed by an architect with a thoughtful eye and without too much interference by the client in his or her own aesthetic.  It is in the old part of the town and, while it has no view of anything really, is a stone’s throw from the beach and the noise of the sea is loud.  I have an ongoing debate with myself about the choice of property, but more than that I am debating why buy anything at all.  I have cosy visions of a happy family on holiday in a private house where drowsy summer days can be spent in going to the beach or reading a good book.  I am battling, however, to escape the sense that this is a romantic notion only and that if the property is bought it could be a failure of an investment and become a millstone around my neck – constant maintenance demands, the inconvenience of having to go there regularly to justify its acquisition and most of all, the relentless quiet of the place against my complete inability to switch off when I leave the office.  Or should I just buy the bloody place and stop boring you with pseudo intellectual concerns?  Hey, if it becomes the massive inconvenience I am concerned about turns into reality, then it can always be sold.

I have just had lunch at the restaurant in the gardens and as I was alone and waiting for my meal to arrive, I opened my computer to finish off this post.  I was promptly told please to put it away by the manager because, she explained, the gardens are a place for contemplation and reflection.  I told her, to no avail, that this was exactly what I was doing.  I wonder whether she would have felt the same way if I had sat there taking handwritten notes in a notepad.  I bet she wouldn’t have objected – hypocritical facist – but to avoid destroying a wonderful morning, and N won’t believe me here, I raised no objection and meekly obeyed.  Just shows what 2 weeks of leave can do.

On reflection, it seems that this post has really only been a method of sharing Kirstenbosch pictures.

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Old Friends

Be warned, this is a very boring post.

I have just returned from a dinner with an old friend.  He is, as far as I know, the only subscriber to this blog.  He must either be a good friend or completely deranged if he finds all of these ramblings a desirable read.

I reflected on the drive home, while taking all sorts of roundabout routes to avoid being stopped by the cops, that there are very few people to whom I am close enough to have a completely open conversation.  I was not I may add, because I expect that your minds are wandering in that direction, over the legal limit.  I was avoiding policemen because I had no real desire to explain to someone why I didn’t have my licence with me.  It is a real licence, but even a real licence mistakenly left at the office is  a poor excuse for a middle aged man in a smart car who looks as though he’s had a good meal.  Having only had one beer and a glass of wine weakens the excuse further.  So while taking back routes (which from Parkhurst to Sandown is difficult) and listening to a very loud version of Kryptonite, I reflected upon the comfort of knowing someone well enough and them knowing you as well for interaction and conversation to be easy.

Amongst other things, we talked about his soon to be child, my propensity to grind people (his terminology), his brutal management methods, my thoughts about certain of my own employees and our joint appreciation of cars.  We’re both mechanical numbskulls and we both agree that cars are a complete waste of money, but we still like them. (SWMBO refers to CAR Magazine as porn.  Which it is in a way, you can look at it without having to have it yourself. ) He is the only man who knows what I earn and how I really feel about my job, which is a kind of a relief.  It’s often difficult to keep this some of this stuff bottled up inside.  He is as genuinely glad of my successes and as disappointed about my failures as I am of his.

It is the kind of relationship which brothers are supposed to have but seldom do.  It means that we fight a lot and are frequently demanding and unreasonable with each other, but there is also a deep bond which holds it all together.  I am sometimes amazed, different and difficult people that we are, that we have learned to live with live with each other for nigh on 30 years.  He’ll say that I’m the difficult one, but as he mentioned to me earlier, we find frustrating in other people what we recognise in ourselves.

After dinner we shook hands and went our separate ways back to lives with all the responsibilities which were our parents’ when we first met at Parktown Boys High.  I felt a bit odd about the handshake, it added a layer of formality and distance which didn’t feel comfortable.  My life would be a considerably more difficult place without his friendship.  We just mustn’t shake hands too often.

Told you it would be.  The next post will, I hope, be more entertaining.

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It’s a Poor Job

I have just spent the last three hours effectively, but ineffectually perhaps, rewriting a document kindly given to me by a colleague on Friday afternoon for submission to the client on Monday.  A previous boss of mine joyfully reveled in telling me, usually late on a Friday evening just before I went home but of course after he had given me my obligatory 15 hours weekend work, that the best thing about Fridays is that there are only two working days until Monday.  He was a workaholic and I was never sure whether he meant this in jest or whether he would have been grateful not to have these nasty weekend things interfering with his work.

[Allow me to digress for a second!  Fucking WordPress has just managed to lose ¾ of my post.  I pressed the Save Draft button and everything, everything, with the exception only of the introduction paragraph, just disappeared.  One, two, three ………… breathe, in through the nose out ………… grnnnnn …… four, five …… FUCK!]

Even though my colleague seems barely able to string a sentence together and, despite being a lawyer herself, appears to have mastered only a smattering of legal drafting technique, I found myself reflecting on the fact that mine is not really not such a bad job.  In comparison to others I have recently encountered, it seems quite civilised.

Having had a sore stomach for some time, and after the medications prescribed by my adequate doctor failed to have any effect on the ailment complained of, I was sent off to see a gastroenterologist, a reader of entrails.

I remember that at school, if you were slightly brighter than the duller of some of your classmates, your teachers would do silly things like suggest medicine as a possible career.  I didn’t take me very long to realise that sympathy and I make uncomfortable companions and that a doctor shouldn’t really feel nauseous at the sight of blood.  As a teenager I had, on various occasions, spilt enough of it for it not to be especially unusual, but spurts of the warm red liquid still engendered little curiosity and, I felt, were best avoided if at all possible.  I didn’t realise that it is precisely these two traits which lead one to specialisation.  If the unsympathetic young doctor doesn’t want to die slowly of a blend of children’s and pensioners’ aliments mixed together with the tedium of general practice, specialisation becomes for him a desperate alternative.  Getting into any specialisation is difficult it seems, but some more so than others.  The glamour options like neurosurgery, plastics and ophthalmology are I think a bit like getting into Yale.  Most lawyers know that no one gets into Yale or if they do, like the Hotel California, no one gets out.  (Have you ever met a Yale graduate in person?)  Orthopedics is just gruesome and so, if he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life with blood up to his elbows, choices like urology and gastroenterology become more interesting options than starting again to become an actuary.

Urology is revolting!  I have a urologist friend who tells the most hilarious and unrepeatable stories.  You only need to hear about the removal from the bladder of a client of a prince albert (deliberately lower case and if you don’t know what it is – and I do regret the loss of my own innocence here – click the link or Google it) with a very long pair of tweezers down his urethra, to be grateful that you have a job which never encounter prince alberts.  It didn’t occur to me that another specialisation which might compete on the most basic level with urology is gastroenterology.

My offhand gastroenterologist told me before even prodding my stomach, which he eventually did perfunctorily and with a level disdain which made me feel quite guilty at being the owner of the offending organ, that I would be scoped from the top and bottom.  The realisation that the man intended to insert a camera on the end of an extremely long tube into my bottom really only dawned when I had my first taste of Picoprep.  Vile does not begin to describe either this very nasty drink or the effects it shortly thereafter has on one’s bowels.  After a day during which I was allowed only to feast on jelly, Energade and Picoprep, the spaces inside my body into which the camera would eventually intrude can only be described as vacant.

Here you are then, you’ve studied for years and endured no end of sleep deprivation to become a medical doctor.  You decide, because the prospect of a lifetime of general practice is just so dismal, to become a gastroenterologist.  You study further, for years.  You write difficult exams.  You practice in government hospitals and then, in order to earn the type of living which your accountant mates at university became accustomed to years ago, you borrow heavily in order to start your own practice.  You then find yourself prescribing for your unsuspecting patients a bowel cleanser so that you can avoid getting covered in too much shit when you next see them naked, unconscious and fat in front of you in theatre.

I don’t really think that the intellectual stimulation which practitioners of this dark art will attempt to persuade you of can ever overcome the awful reality of what they do every day.  I read poorly drafted documents and sometimes I think that if another client describes to me the urgency and importance of his matter I’ll have to wring his neck, but at least my chosen profession doesn’t use words like colonoscopy or even bowel, and I don’t have to scrub under my fingernails before going home.

You’ll be pleased I think that I have not included any pictures with this post.

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Roulette and my friend Tony

(I started writing this post about a year ago.  It seemed appropriate to finish it now.)

About two years ago my friend Tony gave me a ring . I cannot remember what we talked about, but he phoned from Cape Town where he was living at the time and he seemed quite chirpy.

Tony probably wouldn't have found these very attractive

I met Tony almost 16 years ago now, after I had completed a particularly grueling course during which I had to hit a tyre with a piece of hosepipe until my arm was sore.  It wasn’t particularly cathartic.

I went to Tony on the recommendation of the course controller to have my hair cut. It was a time of my life when I still had a reasonable amount of hair.  I told Tony what sort of cut I thought I wanted and after listening to me with half an ear, he told me that he was a man of taste, that I could trust a man with taste, and then proceeded to do what he wanted.  I don’t recall ever having had a more radical haircut.

We knew each other reasonably well.  Far better perhaps than I know many of my other friends.  We saw each other, as regularly as clockwork, once every month and a half and, while he cut my hair, we would have a good chat.  Sometimes he was distracted and the cut was terrible.  Sometimes I was, and I had no recollection of what we talked about.

He was a gentle man who struggled with his own demons.  Sometimes I was impatient with him when they seemed so insignificant.  I regret that now because I really appreciated how he made me feel when we did see one another.  When he cut my hair I felt as though his interaction with me was really important to him.  It is rare to feel that with someone else – there is always something which needs to do or somewhere to go to. I frequently felt a great closeness to him.  Ironic when, on the surface at least, we had so little in common.

When having a cigarette with him once after a haircut (I am an occasional smoker only), Tony told me of a technique to win at roulette.  He worked it out it when he was a croupier at a casino in his youth and, while not foolproof by any means, it did increase the odds of winning somewhat.

This evening I have just discovered the bottom of a bottle of nice Burgundy (N is on a diet so I needed to share none of it) and perhaps I am feeling somewhat self indulgent.  Hence the publication of this post.  Tony died of a heart attack not long after her turned 50, he would have be amused that I cannot remember any of his roulette technique.

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