Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Letter to Protektorvest

Dear Protektorvest

I am a South African living in London. I am writing to share something of our culture with you today - a culture which you have clearly misunderstood. If you are to be successful in the South African market, you'll need the right tools with which to fight your battles - of which there are many in my country, as I'm sure you'll agree. In fact, a recent study suggests that the genocide in Sudan and the invasions of Iraq and Afganhistan are mere extras on the world's stage when compared with the charismatic lead, the violence crisis in South Africa. This lead is getting so much tabloid attention that even Angelina Jolie has reportedly scheduled a visit to SA to showcase the plight of middle class citizen crime. (Aside: she could be a good marketing angle for you - imagine her 57 children all wearing your stab proof vests! Plus you know she has a knife collection, so they could test the vests' effectiveness at a press conference).

Now, it's not your business per se that I think is the issue. After all, you're obviously a bunch of young entrepreneurs who smoke a lot of crack, and on one of your trips to the land of WTF Am I Doing you spotted a gap in the market and decided to capitalise on it. Fair play to you - I've heard it's quite difficult not to shit your pants when smoking crack, let alone come up with a workable idea. The real issue is that you obviously have no idea what you're dealing with. Please imagine now that you are a vest-wearing visitor during the World Cup, and follow these ground rules to help you improve your business model:

1. In the UK, you have knife crime. In South Africa, we are not pussies. We have guns and we use them.

2. Sewing team colours and/or badges onto your Protektorvest will increase your chances of being attacked by 100%. Even those petty criminals who eschew violence cannot be held responsible for their reactions when they see the symbol of St George. This is akin to baiting a bull, and you know what happens when the matador is gored to death? Nothing - it is perfectly legal.

2a. If you ignore the strong advisory above and are grievously wounded in a resultant attack, do not expect assistance from our government. Remember, we are a lawless nation of gun toting savages, lead in part by the guy from the ANC who frequently incites the masses to 'kill for Zuma'. Prosecution is a dirty word.

3. Your proposed delivery of the vests presents a problem. You should know that in Africa we have no Royal Mail - indeed, the only recognised seal bestowed upon our postal service is that of possession being nine tenths of the law. In other words, don't expect your vests to make their destinations. In all likelihood, they will end up being worn by the criminals you wish to foil, meaning your only option would be to swiftly despatch AK47s to combat your attackers (note: these have been known to kill their owners when said owners are ignorant dipshits, so you might want to seek legal advice before proceeding).

4. I'm confused by the ambiguity of your marketing slogan, Protect and Connect. Protect and Connect your fist with your attacker's face? Protect and Connect with the other fist swinging Brits at the game? Protect and connect with your attacker on a spiritual level and in doing so promote world peace (if so, compliments on the marvellous paradox)? You definitely need clarity. I would suggest this: Protect the Defect. It's ok to be the face of bad genetics, it's out of your control.

Anyway, I sincerely hope that I have been of service to you today. I wish you the best of luck in your business venture, and I hope you don't mind that I blind copied in the violently left wing members of the ANC to this e-mail. It's important for all of us to promote the Freedom of Information Act.

All the best, and remember to clean out that crack pipe.
*Note: Text copied directly from the author's original e-mail to Protektorvest.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Sweet Song of Snow (or 'sssssssssss')

This morning as Shoes and I walked together to the station, anyone watching us would have seen what appeared to be a happy couple, hand in hand, strolling leisurely along the snowy banks of the River Wandel, looking into each other's eyes and laughing. Aaah, so sweet.

In fact this is not what was really going down. We were indeed looking into each other's eyes and laughing, but not about romantic coupley type things. We were actually cackling as we spurred each other on to think up increasingly inventive ways in which to peg in the arctic weather conditions. Such as:

Lopz: If someone kidnapped you, took off all your clothes and buried you under 6 inches of snow with only your nostrils sticking out, how long do you reckon it would take before you kicked it?

Shoes: Longer than if someone dumped you in the river, fished you out and then tied you in your wet clothes to a stake in a deserted park. That should do it in a couple of hours, don't you think?

We were also holding hands, but not because we can't bear to be apart for a minute. The roads were iced up, and we were hanging onto each other for dear life as we'd determined from the get go that if one of us was going to wipe out, the other one was going down too godammit!

Ah, sweet love. It's no wonder eskimos have such different traditions to us - people in permanently snowy countries must be a bit mental to survive.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

An Open Letter To London

Dear London

You really know how to welcome a girl back with open arms, don't you? 24 hours in your freezing bosom and my foot is just aching to kick you in the nuts. Not that you have them, but I can assure you they'd be blue by now if you did, rather like my hands everytime I go outside.

Just so you know, I am actually quite chirpy for someone who has recently returned from 30 degree sunshine into the depths of arctic winter. This may be down to the fact that everything feels surreal, a bit like those Baywatch montage scenes where CJ and Caroline run languidly down the beach with the background in soft focus and you feel like you've stumbled into a pornographic chocolate box illustration.

It's not that my arrival here was a bit bumpy, although it was. That's if you can call a two and a half hour delay in Paris, followed by the failure of our luggage to turn up at Heathrow, bumpy. I prefer the word incompetent myself, but that's the beauty of the English language - so many words, so many ways to hurl insults. I also like the words amateur and floundering, particularly when applied to the BA check-in chick who specifically and repeatedly told me that our luggage would be checked straight through to London, not languish at O.R. Tambo Airport. The words horse and shit come to mind when considering the lack of ground staff at Charles De Gaulle, who caused the rest of the luggage to sit on the tarmac for nearly 3 hours, while we all watched intently from the plane windows to see if it would eventually jump up and load itself. Slack and slothful are two more words I'd employ at this point.

It's not that our lack of warm clothes (see above: Languishing Luggage) meant our trek home in temperatures reaching highs of zero caused us to seriously consider chopping off our fingertips to prevent gangrene, although it did. I've never felt beany-envy quite like I did yesterday, so much so that every small be-hatted child in a 3 metre radius risked his head everytime he entered my personal space on the bus.

It's not even that, despite our most earnest prayers, the tubes from SW London were running almost faultlessly this morning while it snow stormed outside, meaning we had to go to work at normal time and couldn't spend the day cuddled up in bed watching Dexter. Your sense of humour is as gauche as your welcome mat.

What it is, London, is that despite the fact that I feel an offbeat affection for you - rather like I would for a particularly musty pair of old socks - I'm more than a little piqued that you insist on inhabiting this dank island halfway across the world from my real home. We'd get on so much better if you'd only pack it in and move closer. You might find you'd look more inviting too - no offense.

Anyway, since we are destined to nurture this fractious relationship of ours for another 12 months or so, I'll stop there - a fine exercise in restraint, if I do say so myself. Feel free to respond if you like, or simply sit there smirking as you dump another big freeze on us, whatever. Payback's a bitch, remember that.

Yours annoyingly,

Monday, 30 November 2009

The End of an Era

Wow, it feels a bit weird to be writing on this blog again. Ok, technically I'm not writing on my blog at all, but rather in a new e-mail in outlook. Appearances are everything, you know how it goes.

No-one actually cares why I stopped writing, so I won't do the usual Blogger Guilt thing and go into lengthy explanations (Tangent: isn't it funny that we feel that way though? Like, why should we feel BAD for being self absorbed enough to expect our reader's worlds will crumble without our daily ramblings? And did I really just start a sentence with 'like'?? I'm out of practice).

Nothing major happened; I am still alive, well and enjoying London as much as one can with all this godawful rain. I just got bored. And I firmly believe that if you don't have anything intelligent to say, you should keep your mouth shut. Nick Griffin, I am talking to you.

So that's the sum total of it really. Uninspired, not feeling the vibe, words strung together like sticky sweets on a candy necklace instead of flowing like Cheryl Cole's L'Oreal locks. It was all a bit last year for a minute there. But I've got my mojo back, and I've been inspired by the fact that my life as I know it in London is starting to change.

For 4 years my friends and I have shared the experience of a lifetime (ok, maybe travelling round the world together would have been cooler, but let me have my moment). We've partied, we've holidayed, we've triumphed over obstacles big and small, we've fought the system and not always landed on our feet. We've supported each other and raged at each other; we've had moments so epic they're like the end of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, and moments where we would've happily thrown each other into the Thames. We've been each other's families over here. It's a big deal - this is a piece of my life history that causes my heart to miss a beat and my throat to swell a bit. That is to say, it's a part of my life that makes me truly happy. I treasure each and every moment we've shared, even the really tough ones. They're part of me, part of how I define myself, and certainly part of how I will shape any friendships in the future. And now it's coming to an end.

Miss M, TheArtyOne and OJ are all leaving London in December to go back home. They all have their reasons, but the underlying one is that we are all South African, and you can take the saffa out of the country but you can't take the country out of the saffa. We all miss home and feel the undeniable magnet pulling us back there. Several of us probably won't go home for good; most of us will. Sometime. But the fragmenting starts now, with our group losing 3 members who've been part of this crazy roller coaster ride.

I may not miss being deafened by Miss M, waiting for TheArtyOne or being blindsided by one of OJ's intensely complicated theories, but I will miss each of them as much as if someone had cut off three of my fingers. Too far? Maybe a little. Let's settle for toes. You don't need your toes - they're not even very pretty. But you'd damn well miss them if they were gone. Is it just me, or is this analogy getting more offensive by the letter? I think I'll stop here before I ruin the moment.

So, now that I'm back - and I do promise that it's for good - I'll tell you a bit more about how life is changing over here. As soon as I get back from my month long holiday in Cape Town - we leave next Tuesday. And after that, if I still feel like I have something inteliigent to say, maybe I'll write some more. Maybe I won't. But I will take this opportunity to say this to three of my very best friends:

L, S & J - we all love you. We will all miss you. Our group will have a gaping big hole in it that no-one will be able to fill (yes Miss M, finally that goddam hole is unfillable!) I hope you will stay in touch and that nothing will change, but the reality is, it always does. So instead, I hope that we all roll with the changes and do what we have to do, wherever we are, until it's time to all be together again. And if I had a horse right now, I'd put all three of you on it and ride you off into the sunset, with the score from the end scene in Braveheart swelling around you. Since I don't, and you'd smelt me if I did anyway, we'll settle for one more massive piss up, London-style, on Saturday night. A toast then:

May the winds of fortune sail you,

May you sail a gentle sea,

May it always be the other guy,

who says, "this drink's on me."

Friday, 21 August 2009

Sailing Croatia: Dubrovnik - Mljet

The Croatian coastline is lined with more than 1000 islands. Strangely enough, I didn't see 1000 Island Salad Dressing anywhere, but that would be too obvious, ne c'est pas? Of these 1000 islands, only 20 or so are popular with tourists....the rest are tiny and largely uninhabitable (unless you're a contestant on Survivor - hey, Survivor Croatia! I'm e-mailing that one to Jeff).

Anyway, Mljet - and I must include a sidebar here: Eastern European spellings are dof in the extreme. Basically, they accidentally forgot to put vowels in, well...OH, THEIR WHOLE COLLECTION OF LANGUAGES, but you say the words as if the vowel was there. So Mljet is Mil-yet. Easy, yes? I know, I threw my hands up in surrender many times as well. Where was I? Oh yes - Mljet is the southern-most of the larger islands, dubbed thus by the trusty Lonely Planet guide book: "the most seductive island in the Adriatic". Perhaps the author of so sweeping a comment was caught up in a torrid romance at the time of writing, the strength of which robbed him of his senses. Mljet was voted far and away the most pointless stop on our trip.

To be fair, the whole damn island is a National Park, so if you don't hire bicycles and cycle around it, you are restricted to about a kilometre of harbour front with a few restaurants and bars, none of which make cocktails. Seriaaas. No cocktails on the waterfront. It's like no sunshine in summer - completely at odds with natural law. We were quite keen to cycle around the park and swim in the two big lakes, but after we only docked at 5pm and found the entrance to be 90 Kuna a head, excluding bicycle hire, we decided it was fairly pointless. Instead, we hit up a local pizzeria for some amazing pizza and some extremely awesome camel piss wine. Our refined saffa taste buds were by now getting used to the idea of ordering cheap local wine in half or full litres instead of bottles. It was a third of the price, and as the bottled wines weren't that great anyway, it made more sense - especially after the third glass when your taste buds went pleasantly numb, and it could really have been camel piss for all you knew.

So nothing much happened in Mljet. We had dinner, took some drinks down to the "beach" (concrete slab on the other side of the harbour, complete with empty kiddies tidal pool) and took silly photos of each other. Mljet, however, was where we found out about The Smelly Fish Incident.

HippieChick is a lovely girl, but definitely not the best of cabinmates. She could usually be found out and about til all hours of the morning, blithely letting herself in and out of the cabin in a state of inebriation to fetch unidentified objects, attempting to bring her squeeze from HMS Cockfest back to the room for a cuddle (and here met an icy refusal from Tee, not once but 3 times) and generally disturbing the calm seas for her patient cabinmate, Tee. But even Tee had enough with this particular incident. HippieChick, being a hippie, is able to live on a very frugal budget. She also had a month and half of travelling in front of her when she first arrived in Croatia, so going out for dinner every night was not an option. She would often go back to her room and eat something she had bought at port that afternoon for dinner, while the rest of us sampled local cuisine.

On one of the first couple of days we were given fish for lunch. Very nice, spiced fish, served whole with wobbly little fish eyes staring accusingly out at you from the silver platter. Not everyone was a fish fan, and there were quite a few untouched fish left over. HippieChick saw an opportunity, and slipped one into her handbag, for later snackage. It must be said at this point that the fish was only wrapped in a napkin, and the rooms have no refrigeration facilities. It was also around this time that HippieChick got sick - a little gift from Tee who had started the trip recovering from a nasty cold. Thus, she couldn't smell anything. Tee however was on the mend, and could smell everything.

Later that evening, Tee commented on the slightly fishy smell in the room. That night they slept with the windows and door open, hoping that the room just needed some airing. The next morning it wasn't any better. We spent the day up top the roof in 35 degree heat, and Tee came down late that afternoon to the overpowering stench of rotting fish in her cabin. She searched high and low - in the bin, in HippieChick's luggage, under the bed - but to no avail. The aroma lingered on. That night the room was almost unbearable to sleep in, but HippieChick, blissfully unaware with her stuffy nose, slept like a baby while Tee tossed and turned, pillow hugged tightly to nostrils. It was only the next day - nearly a full 48 hours later - that HippieChick dug in her handbag to get something and discovered the rotten fish. Mortified, she told Britney and swore her to silence. Britney, who is about as good at keeping secrets as Perez Hilton, promptly told Tee and the rest of us, and for the remainder of the trip, HippieChick was shredded mercilessly and every fish joke in the book was worn out repeatedly. She was not amused.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Sailing Croatia: Trstenik - Dubrovnik

The morning kicked off with an early swim and an earnest discussion about what had happened the previous night. It was established that our group had incurred the following injuries:

HippieChick - blue and purple bruises on her arms and legs from being held down, and an especially attractive swollen nose from being elbowed, all by Crazy K
Crazy K - Carpet burn on her shoulder from being dragged across the deck by HippieChick
Lopz - swollen left index fingertip with suspicious looking red dot in the centre. Many theories were put forth before Crazy K conceded she may well have bitten said fingertip in drunken frenzy (neither of us can actually remember)
Britney - sprained ankle from everybody doing the brand new dance now
Jem - bruises along his thigh from coming short after jumping from the roof of the boat and landing like a tard in the water

There were also more than a few raging hangovers that had to be calmed with ice cold cokes and cold showers. We'd already learned not to drink the warm camel piss, sorry coffee, on the boat.

We arrived in Dubrovnik at 1pm. The city has been described as "heaven on earth" and the "jewel of the Adriatic". As far as cities go, it is uniquely beautiful and certainly a standout among the European cities I've seen (I'm still a beach girl at heart though). It was by far our biggest touristy day, with much sightseeing and wondering aimlessy around quaint alleyways. One of the highlights was walking along the top of the 2km stretch of old walls that surround the city - it gave us incredible views across the whole of Dubrovnik. Another was our visit to Buza Bar (immediately dubbed Boozer Bar by all board), an outdoor cafe bar perched high upon the rocks of a cliff face, with the towering city walls in the background and a drop down into the azure ocean in front. Absolutely sublime.

We took it quite easy that night, mindful of giving ourselves some much needed rest after the previous night's mayhem, and setting the tone for the rest of the holiday. We ended our day's tour with a picnic on the beach - one of only 3 or 4 sandy beaches in Croatia (I know, go figure right? You come all the way from the stony beaches of England, which is quite understandable given that England is shit, to the stony beaches of the Adriatic. What have the Europeans done with all the sand???).

Not all of us planned to have a restful, non-intoxicated holiday though (Boat bbq excepted). There were many revellers on our boat who power napped during the early evenings so they could party the night away in whatever port we were docked. Croatians are clearly a party loving people - they start late and end late, and they have bars and clubs aplenty to suit all entertainment needs. G-Days and Crazy K were definitely more partygoers than take-a-chillers. Perhaps it is our advancing age, but by midnight each night we were all exhausted and quite excited about the prospect of hitting the sack.

G-Days and Crazy K, on the other hand, could often be heard cackling away in their cabin at 2am, so much so that Eyes and Scarf, whose cabin shared a wall with theirs, often had to bang out morse code for "Shut the fuck up!" to get some dos. They went to bed late and woke up late, and it was with great amusement the next morning that we all waited for last night's Crazy K story, which involved such things as begging free beer from HMS Cockfest (and biting people when they didn't give it to her), talking to God (she doesn't really remember why and is not even sure she believes in God, but at one stage she was dead set on spending some quality time with Him up on the roof) and crying - floods and floods of tears. She is a very high-spirited, fun-loving girl with no off switch whatsoever, and her highs are as skyhigh as her lows are bottomless pits. No, she is not manic depressive (I don't think)...maybe just a little hyperactive. And an endless and constantly surprising source of entertainment for us, which she knows and enjoys to the max.

However, nothing Crazy K did on the trip matched HippieChick and The Smelly Fish Incident.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Sailing Croatia: Hvar - Trstenik

The next day we woke up nice and early to the stench of diesel fumes choking us out of our sleep, and made like prison escapees to the top deck of the boat for some serious tanning. Let me explain: there are 3 levels of accommodation: above deck en suite, below deck en suite (which is not so much below deck as inside the bottom deck), and the cheapass BELOW deck, as in you have to go down some break-neck steep stairs to get there, and there is not even one toilet to be smelt (these are communal and outside above deck). Shoes and I and Jem and Britney had rooms BELOW deck, and every morning when the engine started at 6am or some other ridiculous time, we slowly suffocated in our sleep until our internal body alarms woke us up shrieking "SOS!! Impending Death Alert!!" and we bailed out in the nick of time.

Despite the fact that our accommodations were less than pleasant when the boat was moving, we got the best deal at night. While the others sweated it out in the 28 degree heat and shoved pillows over their heads in an effort to block out the racket from the revellers on the surrounding boats, we burrowed into our narrow bunk beds in pitch darkness, with the aircon in the passage keeping us pleasantly cool as we slept, blissfully unaware of the shenanigans going on above deck. So yes, we were the cheapskates, but we ended up getting better value for money than those who opted for the more "luxurious" rooms.

We sailed for anything from 5 - 8 hours a day, usually stopping at our destination between 2 and 5 in the afternoon. We arrived in Trstenik at 2pm, to a scorching temperature of 37 degrees. We had all signed up for the optional Boat BBQ that night, as we'd been told Trstenik was a very small village with only one restaurant. Turns out this was just a blatant marketing ploy, as the village billed as "Croatia's most unspolied wine producer" actually had 3 or 4 cute little restaurants along the water, all with ridiculously cheap prices. Our 100 Kuna per head braai (about £12) was certainly a rip-off we would not repeat. However, since pretty much everyone on our fleet of 7 ships had fallen for the same ploy, we were all in the same boat - literally and figuratively.

What do you get when you put a group of 200 young people on a boat with crap food and nothing else to do but drink large quantities of alcohol? Why, you get the sailing version of a university fraternity, of course. One of the boats we travelled with was made up almost entirely of 21 year old Australian boys. It all kicked off at the BBQ, when we looked over at their boat and saw nothing but testerone waiting for a slut to happen. G-Days immediately dubbed it the HMS Cockfest, a name which not only spread through the rest of our travelling group but arrived at the Cocks themselves, who began wearing the label with a greatly misplaced sense of pride.

For example:

Shoes: Mate, do you know what everyone is calling you?
Cock (beaming from ear to ear): Yeah mate, we're the HMS Cockfest!!! We're all cocks!!! Oi! Where's my fucking pint?

As the liquor flowed, the mayhem began. HippieChick, being single and interested in a holiday hook-up, made every effort to get herself over to HMS Cockfest, hoping to find a cock who was maybe not as cocky as the rest (well, in certain aspects anyway). Jem, her ever-protective older brother, was literally cock-blocking her at every turn. So instead of multiple orgies, someone plugged their iPod into the sound system, and about 50 drunken sailors began dancing and stomping and doing-the-locomotion around the deck of the boat. It wasn't long before the casualties ensued. Britney, mid particularly exuberant dance move, fell over and sprained her ankle (she swears it was the pushing and shoving from the over-enthusiatic locomotion train). Crazy K got quite out of control and tried to raul everyone, teeth and fists flying. HippieChick, obviously needing an outlet for the aggression over Jem's constant cock-blocking, decided to take her on, and the two of them ended up in a knock-down, tap-out round of UFC, which had people less familiar with my friends' brand of crazy looking on in utter amazement - and fear, if I'm honest. I was unsteady enough on my feet to accidentally tip the contents of my bacardi and coke right over Eyes' head as I attemped to climb the ladder to the top deck - something which would have had Health and Safety in a shitting panic had there been such a thing in Croatia.

Everyone was mad as a box of frogs and having the time of their lives. The true extent of our fun, however, was only revealed the next morning when more than a few of us awoke with injuries that would hamper us for the rest of our trip.