the empire blogs back


Just another weblog

A room of my own

There is a lot to be said for communal living. There are extra adults around to do the boring stuff like dishes and cooking. There is always someone to talk too. The kids get to play together. If I remember correctly this is one of the reasons some women support polygamy – domesticity it is less work and more social.

There is one simple rule I would make for communal living. Never look askance at others spending the whole day in their pyjamas. In some instances though one should be able to insist on a dressing gown.

However, after two weeks abusing the hospitality of my sister, and trying to prevent my kids from wrecking her house, I am dying for a room of my own – no husband, kids or anyone. Just my new laptop and cyberspace for company.


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Walking on the land

It is bliss to walk in the peace of the evening, along the river, under the subtle grey English sky. The intricate trees are coming into leaf and the birds are vocal. I lay on the ground and communed with the land of my ancestors. The earth smells lovely – wet and loamy.

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In the new land

We have arrived in Bristol after 20 hour flight via Dubai to Heathrow and three trains. Economy flying sucks. Airports are the same everywhere. But the trains here are a pleasure. On time. Clean. Polite (the people and the persona of the trains). In fact polite best describes my experience of England thus far. London out of Heathrow is a bit grubby but in every other respect – from the neat countryside to officials at immigration – it is extremely polite. For example, a young gentleman was going around doing user surveys for a newspaper. I watched him move down the street and everyone he met politely stopped, politely gave him responses to his questionaire and he politely thanked them and went on his way. Amazing.

This could just be where we are staying. We are visiting with my sister in Bradley-Stoke. This is a pretty larney area in Bristol, mostly populated by upwardly mobile young professionals. The houses are large by British standards, tiny by SA standards and worth about R5 million. There are no walls. No one parks their cars in garages, although this could be because the garages are so small you can’t get out once you have parked your car. The gardens are all exquistately maintained. I felt that we were dragging down the neighbourhood by standing on the frontlawn. It has dedicated cycle lane and walking paths, with routes identifed by little yellow strips on the lampposts. The roadsigns politely indicate the numbers up the section of a street. There are kids going for walks by themselves.

It is extremely quiet. Right now I cannot here a sound.

It is also overwhelmingly homogenous. Everyone is white English. I have never been in a place where all the people are the same. I guess my ancestors we shocked by difference. I am shocked by sameness. It is really hard to pick my kids out on a playground.

I met a guy in the local pub who said he was from the wrong side of Bristol and that Bradley Stoke was hard getting used too because it is so quiet. He says it is also known as Sadly Broke. He has apparently given up the drugs and violence and told the mates that although he loves them he has to think of the future. So I have hope there is something else – although I hope it is not just British yob culture.

My friends abroad always complained that they missed South Africa’s edge and I used to say that edge is overrated. But I now know what they mean. This is really sterile. Most upsetting of all no-one wants to debate politics with me. Oh well. At least we are having good weather.

Oh yes, and there is a porn studio in one of the houses down the street. It is festooned with CCTV cameras and signs saying Beware German Sheperds. Go figure.

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Homeless braai

We are enjoyed the fabulous hospitality of an Afrikaans colleague for a few days between the end of our lease and our flight. On $aturday night was a braai, real South African style. A mountain of meat. A mountain of pap.

Only I would have to consult wikipedia to check the social norms for a braai but indeed the gender segregation was absolute with the men around the fire and the women preparing vegetables in the kitchen. Also made the mistake of giving the kids food before the patriarch had said grace.

Otherwise loved listening to idomatic Afrikaans. It was a more male environment than I have been in since high school, as a number of trainee plumbers board at the house. They are all white, all Afrikaans and all male. They come from all over SA to get their certification. Some are young and qualifying for the first time. Some are old hands needing the right piece of paper. Several want to emmigrate and have lost hope for a future in SA for personal and political reasons. Several seem to have learning disabilities which meant they didn’t suceed and school.

Its a very male space with pool and relentless ragging, especially about homosexuality. But very gentlemanly.

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My life in a suitcase

We fly to the United Kingdom next Friday. We decided not to take anything with us beyond what we can get into our plane luggage allowance.  I have now succeeded in reducing 33 years of accumulated debris to one suitcase.  I still have to weigh it to see whether it fits the 32 kg Emirate limit. So far I have not found this divestment of stuff to be liberating. I feel weighed down by the tyranny of possessions. The many objects that mark out a life. Or even more unbearable the many objects I have accumulated, do not want at all but feel too guilty to throw away. This I clearly link to my grandparents post-war culture of thrift. In my family one does not ever throw anything away.

The other important thing is archiving. In my mother’s family objects must be cared for and stored in a vigorously ordered system. I feel overwhelmed when an object of a particular kind cannot fit with its counterparts but has to pollute my classification system by entering a box of objects of another type.

My father’s family seems not to have suffered from this need. My grandparents on my father’s side famously burnt all their second world war correspondence, later to be regretful only because the stamps turned out to have high value. Such wanton destruction of records would never pass on my mother’s side. My father’s father was Scottish, from Aberdeen – Wyllie – while my mother’s side comes from an English lieutenant (Dale).  So perhaps the Dales are the repression of the English as opposed to the disorderly rebellion of the Scots – something which plays out repeatedly in my immediate family.

I remember a story grandad Wyllie used to tell of World War II, when his camp was burnt to the ground and they no longer had anything to carry. He remebered this as a day of great freedom.

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