Belts, books and birthdays

Things have been a little hectic here at the Couch Trip over the past week so apologies for my absence from the blogosphere. I have a day off today and so I will make a concerted effort to get round to reading a few blogs. But let me tell you what has been happening recently.

Firstly I can’t ignore the broader picture which has seen my least favourite local politician (ANC Youth League President Julius Malema) persisting in singing a controversial struggle song (Kill the Boer) which the ANC now claims is completely unrelated to the murder of rightwing leader Eugene Terre’Blanche (aka ET). ET’s murder appears to have been mainly the result of a wage dispute with his workers but the general sense I get from media reports is that this song provided extra fuel to the fire.

Closer to home, two topics have been dominating my attention this week. The first is more car troubles. Having shelled out a fairly large payment when my car broke down in Betty’s Bay two months ago, I thought I would perhaps be free of bad car karma for a while. Apparently not. On the way to spend the Easter weekend at Betty’s Bay on Friday, my car and I made it to Somerset West before the Cam belt came loose and brought my engine (and weekend plans) to an abrupt halt.

We came to a stop in front of a township tuckshop which looked more like a shebeen with a few locals gathered outside and I had a rather tense hour-long wait until the AA despatch vehicle arrived to tow me back to Cape Town. I still made it to Betty’s though, this time in my mom’s car, but my mood has been subdued ever since. Already the mechanic tells me that we’re looking at almost the same cost as last time, which confirms for me that this car is reaching the end of its natural life. As my neighbour said when he was pushing me down the driveway this morning, you reach a point where you’re throwing good money after bad.

The other major event this week is my 40th birthday, which is happening on Sunday. Part of me would like to curl up in bed with some tea and a good book but another more sociable part would like to have a party. So I’ve rallied my remaining friends and family and I will be having a combined housewarming / birthday bash this Saturday. Wish me luck. I’m sure it will be fun once I have a couple of glasses of champagne inside me.

My new ‘friend’ L will be helping me as well as my sister L. I’m very grateful for the help and am also enjoying the new friendship. It’s a bit too early to talk about a new relationship here but you can wish me well in that regard too if you like!

On the book front, L and I attended the launch of Damon Galgut’s latest novel entitled In a Strange Room, which L is also giving me for my birthday. It consists of three recollections, which he calls The Follower, The Lover and The Guardian. The stories are set in Lesotho, Greece, Switzerland (I think), various other parts of Africa and also India. Galgut is one of South Africa’s best writers and so I’m sure I will enjoy it very much. At the launch he was in discussion with Ben Williams, who is a cheerful (and slightly annoying) American who runs the Book SA website. Ben kept trying to force his own reading of the book onto Damon, who drily observed that “you seem to be very attached to that reading of it”. I’ll review this properly in due course.

I’m still busy with Anne Enright’s The Gathering. I was trying to work out why this won the 2007 Booker prize because as good as her writing is, I haven’t found this one gripping. I keep noticing how many pages I still have to read (60 at last count). Perhaps this says more about me and my distractibility than it does about the book. The blurb tells me that “The Gathering is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars.”

Well yes. There is a lot of desire and a lot of disappointment. I can tell you that the novel is about Veronica, who is married with two kids and lives in Dublin where she also grew up as one of nine children in the 1960s. What brings her to reflect on her childhood and the events of a particular year (1968) is the suicide of her brother Liam. Since Liam’s death she has found herself shrinking away from contact with her husband Tom and she stays up at night reflecting on Liam, her childhood, her grandmother Ada and the oddly-named Lamb Nugent.

Colm Toibin describes The Gathering as “sharp and brilliant … tender and subtle … her vision of Ireland is brave and original”. AL Kennedy calls it dark and lyrical. I was thinking how Enright’s writing sometimes has a strangely elusive quality about it. Perhaps this relates to the elusiveness of memory. What we remember are often fragments and they don’t easily cohere into a logical, meaningful whole. I was also thinking that the emotions in this book never seem to get to a point. But then I do still have 60 pages to go and the family gathering of the title is happening now and so I am anticipating much more gathering of emotion as we canter through the final pages.

I’m also reading ‘Just Keep Breathing’ which is a remarkable collection of birth stories from South Africa. Quite appropriate as I celebrate my own birthday. My own birth story is not particularly remarkable. I was born at 11am on a Saturday morning in a hospital on the edge of Pinelands. Very considerate said my ma since I was in time for tea. She was in labour for about an hour, something she attributed to being fit from doing all her own housework and running around after three children under six years of age. I seem to remember her telling me that she slept for three days afterwards to recover. As for childhood, that’s a topic for another day.


21 Responses to Belts, books and birthdays

  1. Happy Birthday! I think your mother slept for three days to brace herself for running after 4 children under 6. At one time I was a Mom chasing three children three-and-under, so I do know a little about it.

    • Pete says:

      phd in Yogurty – Thanks. And respect to you for coping with three kids three and under!(I’m guessing a few years back). I struggle to cope just with me so not sure how well I would do with three little ones!

  2. Grad says:

    Happy Birthday, Pete! One of my best lines has always been, “40? Old? Why, I have shoes that are 40!” It always gets a laugh. But I’ve heard other people starting to say it now, so I think I’ll have to write some new material. I should have had it copyrighted. Sorry about the car, but there’s something noble about trying to keep an old car alive. My aunt, before she went into the retirement community a couple of years ago, kept up her blue Mustang which is probably a 1963 or ’64. She gave it to a nephew who, I hope, continues to love it.

    • Pete says:

      Grad, that’s a great line. And I’m taking your advice to heart about keeping my old car alive. The mechanic was quite reassuring about it and the cost was half the initial estimate so I’m still keeping the faith. And listening to every odd noise it makes with a little more anxiety!

  3. Happy birthday for Sunday! I can only recommend the 40s – I’ve had nothing but fun with them. Also congrats on your new friend, L. Very good news.

    I am with you on The Gathering. I couldn’t get my head around it. However, I’ve just read her short stories and they are delightful: witty, saucy and wicked.

    My sister-in-law’s cousin was killed on her farm in Natal three weeks ago and her husband very badly injured. I didn’t know them, but have been feeling very sad and subdued about SA as a result. I’m just relieved the Cons Court saw fit to reign Malema in.

    • Pete says:

      Charlotte, so sorry to hear about your sister-in-law’s cousin’s death in KZN. If only the Malemas of this world had some (any) empathy for the victims of crimes like this.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes. Had a good party and enjoying spending time with the new L. She’s heading to Germany soon for a course so of course I told her about my German/SA blogging friend.

  4. natalian says:

    I had a little blue and white Citi Golf as a student, and it was with a heavy heart when we had to part ways, but our driving relationship always seemed to come to a halt on the side of the freeway!

    A housewarming / birthay bash sounds fabulous! Have an amazing time!

    As for Julius, I must admit, I’m feeling a little freaked out!

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Natalian. I did have a great time over the weekend and I can definitely recommend catering! I’ve got a mental picture of you and your Citi golf on the side of the freeway. Scary I’m sure. My Tazz is purring again (mostly) so I think I’ll keep him going for a little longer.

  5. adevotedreader says:

    Hapy Birthday Pete, and yes it’s amazing how alcohol makes social occasions bearable/even fun.

    I’ve been meaning to try Damon Galgut’s work so will be interested to hear about his new novel.

    • Pete says:

      Sarah – Thanks. I can also recommend Nigella’s summer drink of champagne with freshly-squeezed lime juice. My favourite party drink. Will let you know about the Galgut.

  6. Harriet says:

    Happy Birthday! My 50th is next month, so I don’t want to hear any complaining from you.

    Glad to see you posting, I’ve missed you.

    • Pete says:

      Harriet – Yes, no complaining here. If 40 is the new 30 and 50 is the new 40 then you have nothing to worry about. Hope your celebration is a good one too.

  7. doctordi says:

    Still appalled and having difficulty digesting Charlotte’s dreadful news from Natal – how awful. And it’s so alien, isn’t it, when someone divisive and dangerous gains political popularity? It’s really depressing in a way few things bring me down.

    Hmmm… as much as we loved our Pulsarnator, it was reliable to the last… I don’t think we ever had to spend any money on it, it just worked until it didn’t. So I’m thinking that maybe your neighbour is right about this one.

    Haven’t read The Gathering because I was warned off it, but I agree with Charlotte that Enright’s short stories are a treat. I hope the pay off comes in the last 60 pages.

    And your birthday! Happy, Happy Birthday Festival, Pete! I am so pleased you’ve decided to go ahead and have a party – I hope you have a marvellous time! And it’s also very exciting to hear about L – already giving you books, we like that! Have a great 40th – that’s an order. xx

    • Pete says:

      DoctorDi – The party was a great success and my birthday weekend was good all round. Great to celebrate a birthday on a Sunday too.

      As for the populist Julius, we’re hoping he’s not as popular as he appears. He’s entertaining in his crass outbursts but the damage that he does is not so funny.

      As for the Gathering, it’s brilliant in patches I would say. I also prefer her short stories. “Taking Pictures” was excellent.

  8. litlove says:

    Have a wonderful birthday, Pete! Perhaps you should suggest to the garage that they do your car repairs as a present?? And always interesting to read about your reading. I’d like to try the new Damon Galgut – he’s an author on my radar.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Litlove. Well there was good news on the car front in that it cost half the initial estimate. And my mechanic did a good job of explaining what went wrong so I’m quite reassured and less anxious. My reading is suffering from the partying though.

  9. Happy Birthday Pete! I’m glad to hear that you’ll be celebrating with help.

  10. Happy belated birthday — sorry to hear about the car, though; that’s no fun. Champagne and books sounds like a fine way to celebrate. You have too many people named L on your blog; it’s getting confusing. 🙂

  11. writersblogs says:

    Hope you had a good birthday and the champagne worked!
    I sent you a comment before about our Betty’s Bay writing group/Writersblogs. Take a look. We are now exchanging Books and DVD’s as well as having theme writing evenings. Have a few excellent writers who are well known in their own fields. Photographer/artist plus a Professor of English Lit. Would be great if you could contribute to our blog. If you would prefer to contact me directly about the group my email is Would be great to hear from you.

  12. bookeywookey says:

    Happy Birthday, Pete! I have found the 40s terrific (so far) and wish you the same.

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