Having a life

January 25, 2016
Tessie with Tuscany book

T with one of her favourite books (a travel book on Tuscany).

What does it mean to ‘have a life’? And how does one have a life when balancing competing demands? The demands of parenting are well-documented: the sleep deprivation, the loss of self, the loss of sanity even. Putting ourselves on hold so that we can calm the baby, reassure the anxious toddler, make the school lunch, just do the flipping washing and organise the baby-sitting.

I bumped into another dad outside the school gates. I was feeling a little dodgy and so was still trying to make it work vaguely on time and get started on the mountain of emails that I don’t look at on the weekend. This dad has four kids, the youngest of whom is six months old. He said something about parenting four young kids as being like “throwing live hand-grenades”. I was in a hurry so I muttered something about taking “one step at a time” and then tried to re-focus on my Monday morning. My mind already races ahead to the week’s activities. Testing, meetings, counselling, welcoming service, trying to organise admission for a boy to the clinic. And then hoping that I have the energy to cope with the demands of the week. At least I am blogging this week, even if it is just to say “Wish I was here”. Oh, and I’m loving reading “All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr. Other than that, life is carrying on.

Holiday catch-up

January 28, 2015

tidal pool smallWe’re into the second week of school and I’m slowly adjusting after six weeks off. Sounds idyllic but actually it was pretty hard work with two small ones. A baby who woke up at 5am on the dot (before the blinds – now we get to sleep for an extra 45 minutes) and then the monotony of looking after an 8-month old and a 3-year old. There’s only a certain number of times you can watch The Little Mermaid, print Ariel colouring-in pages and change nappies before you go a little dilly.

We did get down to Betty’s Bay for a couple of days and then to Hermanus. I love being at Betty’s Bay — even when the time is short and we have two little ones to look after. Our trip to Hermanus was a little too eventful for my liking, however. I packed the car – no small feat involving spatial reorganisation and tough decisions about what to leave behind — and then we were all set to go. Children strapped in, house alarm on and the food in cooler bags.  Of course the car which was working perfectly well 10 minutes before now wouldn’t start at all Jump leads? Nothing. Call the AA and prepare to wait for 2 hours. And then in desperation telephone my father-in-law who knows about cars. He says something about the solenoid, tells me to put the car in 2nd gear and try it again. Voila! I haven’t been so relieved since my previous car broke down in a dodgy area on the way to Betty’s Bay.

And then Hermanus. Hot, windy, crowded. But still lovely. Some of my favourite things: early morning walks with the little one in the pram; lunch at a child-friendly wine farm near Stanford with a superb play area for children; and then swimming in the tidal pool near the Marine Hotel.

Leah loved it. There were starfish! And the pool was the perfect temperature even for a cold-blooded creature like me.

We still had a couple of weeks of childcare, home maintenance etc. but at least we were refreshed by our time by the sea.

Today was my first day of taking Leah to her new pre-school. But that’s a story for another day.

Regrets? I’ve had a few

October 9, 2009

• I don’t regret the rosé with a light lunch at the hospital (a few slices of cheese on French bread and some baby tomatoes, which left a definite hole in my tummy only partially filled with chocolate cake). But I do have other regrets – social ones, work ones.

• What got me onto this subject was watching the latest episode of the wonderful ZA News here (along the lines of Spitting Image). Former president Thabo Mbeki is funny on the subject of regrets. I love Zapiro’s puppets and all of them are good – Tim Modise as the presenter, Tutu and Mandela, Manto, former prez Mbeki and the others. This was initially intended for the SABC but they chickened out so their loss is the web’s gain.

• I’ve almost reached 150 posts here at the Couch Trip and I’ve realised that I’ve fallen into the habit of blogging about once a week (mostly on a Monday). I don’t think I’ve lost my blogging Mojo just yet but I have been wondering about how long I’ll keep going and whether I should focus it a bit more on psychology rather than the general whatever-I-feel-like format that it currently has. When I’m busy and/or stressed I don’t do the rounds of usual blog-reading that I would like to. But I do think my life is a lot richer for the blogging friends that I’ve made and I always come away from my regular blog-reads with some good ideas and grateful for the sense of shared experiences.

• I also know that I need to shake up my real-life social interaction. I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut where friendships are concerned and reading Sandy’s blog-post (over at Blogging Behavioural) about making friends made me realise that I can do something about it.

• Today is the day that I got an offer of more permanent employment with the military. Part of me is relieved that the offer finally came through but I’ve also got used to being temporary here so it’s with mixed feelings that I will sign the acceptance letter and fax it back to them. I’m almost ready to leave again and so it feels quite weird to be signing a letter saying that I’m going to stay.

• I’m working on a short talk for my group on Tuesday about literary representations of Cape Town. I intended to draw on ten novels about Cape Town but I think that I will find more than enough material in the excellent A City Imagined by various authors and edited by Stephen Watson from the UCT English department. It’s interesting that while Cape Town is such an incredibly beautiful city many people (and writers in particular) react to it with such mixed feelings and with a sense of tangible disappointment. I’ll post on this next week when my head is a bit clearer.

• Friday is generally not a good day for me. I’m not exactly sure why but I think the friendship drought has something to do with it. I enjoy the solitude and the chance to read and recover from the week but I’m also wishing for more stimulating company. I nearly went to a book launch this week at the excellent (and independent) Book Lounge but P was busy with her taxman and I just wasn’t up for it. I felt like a bit of a coward and the trip to the gym only put me in a worse mood.

• I have a low cringe threshold for John Cleese in Fawlty Towers. I bought the complete edition for P for her birthday and we watched the first episode the other night. Basil Fawlty is sooooo awful. It’s that similar feeling I get when I watch The Office. I can appreciate the humour but the awkwardness of it makes me want to curl up into a ball and start rocking! One DVD series that I AM loving is Planet Earth. The visuals alone are breath-taking.

A trip with no story

August 12, 2009


I haven’t been able to blog since I came back from Kathu and I’m trying to understand why. Perhaps I’ve been too worn out by the trip. All the driving and the not sleeping very well and the disruption to my routine. Eating not terribly good food and just feeling unsettled for a week. This trip has also made me duller, more stupid and more of a blunt instrument. I’ve become a sluggish foot-soldier.

The purpose of the trip was to do a psychological risk inventory on the troops as part of their annual health assessment. The test itself is quite a blunt instrument. If you have any intelligence you can guess the correct answers but that’s not the point. You need to answer according to how you feel at the time. We interviewed the ones that ‘failed’ and then decided on their colour status (green or yellow) and how to proceed from there. The interviews amounted to mini mental status examinations where we were looking for pathology but also signs of coping and resilience and emotional stability.

I was quite anxious about the amount of driving that was required on the trip and I feared having an accident in the military car. Would my concentration hold up, would we be able to get petrol, would the car break down and would my cold deteriorate into swine flu? In the end, nothing bad happened. The car drove well and the journey there and back proceeded without incident.

So rather than posting a story about my trip, I’ll provide some fairly random thoughts instead.

The symbol of the battle school where we were is a red knight (the chess-piece kind) with a sword coming out of its head. Perhaps this is an appropriate symbol of madness. A disembodied horse’s head which is also an instrument of war.

Part of me remains the journalist. I go on a trip to an unusual destination and I’m looking for the story, the angle and wondering what I can deliver before deadline. But this is different. There’s no deadline, or rather the work deadline is completely different. We have to assess 250 people in 4 days. Sign the files. Write the referrals.

One of the best things about Kathu is its golf course. In the dry Northern Cape the golf course is watered from the iron ore mine. What this means is that the greens are green and the trees (mostly camel thorn trees) are flourishing. When my drive went astray (which it mostly did) and I couldn’t be bothered to go and find it in the long rough, I would take out my camera instead and try and capture a good picture of one of the trees.

I was interested in my fellow guests at the lodge, particularly the two guests who looked like they were high-ups or middle management from Kumba (the highly profitable iron ore mine which is part-owned by Anglo American). He was tall and black and well-dressed and looked the picture of the new mining executive. BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) to a tee. She was white and intelligent and less flashy although she still dressed in a corporate way. I noticed that they stayed in the Boutique Hotel side of the Lodge rather than the more plebby lodge side but they still joined us for meals. I wondered if they were a couple or just business colleagues. There was little to indicate that they were romantically involved but my thoughts ran to one of the local soapies and I thought that they would make a perfect new South African corporate couple. She was more aware of her fellow diners while he seemed quite wrapped up in himself. Perhaps he was thinking about the next board meeting and how to continue to maximise the profit from the mine. If he was visiting from Johannesburg there would be a certain seriousness attached to the visit. Goals, objectives, targets and so on.

Sitting at one of the breakfast tables, I was thinking of my last work trip in which I stayed at a decent hotel. Mauritius. We were there to do a short study of the country’s political, economic, social and corporate governance. We put in 12-hour work days for a week and then we took a day off to visit one of the island’s many holiday resorts. Sparling blue pools, lazy views of the bay, comfortable loungers, lots of light and healthy, suntanned Americans and Brits in abundance. The books on the loungers were bestsellers, thrillers largely. Nothing too challenging.

The food in Kathu was largely forgettable. As I sipped my small glass of orange juice and regretted the oil-rich food of fried eggs, fried bacon, fried sausage and some potato mixture (hash browns perhaps), I remembered my team in Mauritius. Those were good times. And now? A different career and working largely on my own (even though I’m part of an organisation).

My colleague on the trip was a young Afrikaans guy in his early thirties. Unmarried and with a distinct eye for pretty women. Not very broad-minded perhaps (although he’d worked in London for two years) but a really decent guy and someone who works hard and plays hard. A good golfer. The night we arrived he was soon chatting away to one of the waitresses, who was called Elandi and who called us “Meneer”. She told us that the local bar where we intended to play pool was pretty rough and that she never drank without her “verliefde” (her sweetheart). As she told us this, she touched the chain around her neck anxiously. On it there was a medallion of a saint.

Losing my marbles

July 21, 2009

Feeling a bit down this afternoon and as usual it’s a combination of things. Firstly, I had my interview for the military today and although it went pretty well, I was left with disappointment that I had to hide my true feelings in order to get the job.

The interview was successful and I was recommended for employment at the end of it. But the mere fact of going to an interview got me on edge and I hated the fact that I had to say that I was positive about going on deployment. Deployment is the biggie – if you’re willing to go they’ll have you. If you’re at all unwilling to be deployed for three months to an African country then they could well not recommend you. So I did what I had to do. I said I was in favour of it. I also said I was cool about wearing a uniform and going on an Officer’s Course. Argh, no wonder I felt like a bit of a fraud when it was over.

The interview panel was small and included two people whom I know well. V and H asked nice questions and it was good to have coffee with V afterwards and chat about this and that. I hardly ever get to see him and when I do, it always feels as though we’re not quite friends and will probably never be. Maybe I just need to make more of an effort.

Then I went to gym to work off the coffee and cake and the adrenalin from the interview. That was OK but to get free parking I spent over R100 on things I didn’t really need such as mouthwash, a fineliner, paper and so on. When I got home I thought that I’d left my blue top at the gym so I went all the way back to the gym and looked in locker 79 (no top) and then went to ask at the front desk (no top). In the car on the way home I was approached by the usual vendors desperate to sell their Big Issue and I just didn’t have it in me to buy this week’s edition. I felt small-hearted and mean. And I also couldn’t help reflecting that in Toronto I left my digital camera on a train and it was handed in at the next station whereas in Cape Town people in the gym would take a measly Gap top. When I got home I found the top was in my bag after all and I realised that I’d lost my marbles instead.

Perhaps there’s just too much going on in my head right now. The weekend started pretty well with D’s birthday party. The Saturday dinner party was also a good one and there was yummy food, quality singing and some funny conversation. I didn’t know the people at my table but we managed to strike up a lively conversation. C was in particularly good form and told some hilarious stories. The guy next to me was a bit annoying and kept peppering me with personal questions about what it’s like to be a psychologist. I put it down to curiosity and thought no more about it. Until Monday when I get a call from the guy asking me on a date. He knows that I have a girlfriend but he managed to misconstrue a light-hearted comment to the effect that P and I were having issues. I really did nothing to encourage the guy so I was quite astounded that he would call me out of the blue like that.

Of course I was a bit flattered and I felt sorry for the guy (since he was way off the mark) and I also thought that it must be difficult being gay and having to ask other men out. So I thanked him for the call and said it was nice to meet him and C and then called P to tell her the funny story. Unfortunately P didn’t see the funny side of it and proceeded to have an emotional meltdown. She was worried that perhaps I was gay and that she had just missed the signs. (At 39 I think I would know.) Or that I had somehow flirted with the guy or given him some tacit encouragement. She pointed out that at one point I had swopped places with her, which meant that I was sitting next to the guy. Whatever. I couldn’t believe she was so upset about it. At least she apologised today for being a bit irrational but she said it just hurt her very much that someone she knows (although not that well) would try and take her boyfriend away from her.

So that’s what up with Gilbert Grape today, dear bloggers. Time for some more tea I reckon and some blog therapy.

The House

July 6, 2009

Halfway through the year already and things are not going too badly considering that I’ve just bought a house. Did I mention the house? The one with the walls and the roof and a cute little (we’re talking very little) garden and the wooden floors and the front porch which gets beautiful sunlight in winter. Three bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms. It’s in an up-and-coming neighbourhood and is reasonably close to the house where I used to live many years ago when I taught at Westerford.

How did it come about? My parents have a bit of cash to invest and so they were thinking of buying a small house on auction that needed doing up. So we went to see it and didn’t like it. On the way back we stopped off at a few show-houses. This one ‘spoke to me’ straight away. I liked the open feel of it, the wooden floors and the position. It has a drawback in that it shares a driveway with the house behind but I actually like this. It’s good to have contact with the neighbours and the couple that live behind are apparently settled and nice.

I was in the house for all of about five minutes but I liked it instantly and as we drove away, I said we should think about putting in a bid. Nothing happened about that since when we got home my dog had climbed on the furniture again and left a drop of blood on one of the couches in the lounge. Disaster! My mom managed to get off the blood with some carpet shampoo but we felt completely deflated after the pleasure of looking at show-houses. My mom also got a call from the estate agent to say that the house was apparently not on the market after all. There’s a bid which has been accepted. Pity, because I really liked it.

Two days later I’m sitting in the kitchen with my mom and she says, “If you’re not going to do anything about getting a house then I’m going to re-invest my money.” In the meantime the estate agent had called back to say that the previous bid was rejected.
I phoned her up again and arranged to put in an offer. Since the previous offer was dependent on the neighbours behind agreeing to a carport which would block their lounge-window, this was rejected when the neighbours (not unreasonably) said no. My offer was unconditional and was accepted. Easy as that. I still have to pay the deposit (by today) and raise a bond within 30 days but those should be mere formalities. Occupation in eight weeks’ time. Can’t wait …


Having a quiet morning since my first patient is at lunch-time, which gives me a few hours to get on with some editing. I’d forgotten how time-consuming it is to do a good edit. Ten pages in the hour before breakfast and this is a re-edit since I did the first paper changes a few weeks ago. At this rate it will take a very long time before I give it back to S.

Taking a break with my “Psycho Mix rides again” mix. Love this track, “Lost” by Coldplay.

Weekend was pretty quiet. Watched the men’s and women’s Wimbledon finals. How was that last set between Federer and Roddick? I felt very sorry for Roddick at the end (and he was gutted). They were still trading volleys in the post-match interviews as well:

Roger: “Don’t feel so bad, Andy, I lost last year and I came back this year.”
Andy: “Yeah, but you only lost once!”

And it’s true. In something like seven finals at Wimbledon, Federerer has won six times! Both Federer and Roddick wanted to grab what could be their last chance at the title before the return of the powerful Nadal.

Then there was the rugby, which the Lions won. (I was happy after the debacle with the Springbok coach basically condoning eye-gouging. The Lion’s coach called him a clown, which was quite accurate.)

A nice roast chicken for Sunday lunch and some reading. A few books on the go at the moment: The Paris Review Interviews (Vol 2); Thin Blue by Jonny Steinberg; Therapy by David Lodge. And a few odd titles here and there. Will try and post a review later this week.

Otherwise, it’s house, house, house. I can’t tell you how good it feels to know that I will soon have a place of my own to stay in again. P likes it too, although she has mixed feelings since we were looking for a place to rent together. But she’ll come round …

Editing blues (and buying long and selling short)

July 2, 2009

Feeling a bit out of sorts today. I think it’s a combination of things. Firstly, this book I’m editing is taking forever and I have moments when I think it could well be the most boring thing I’ve read this year. Then I feel terribly guilty and I wonder what it would be like if the writer ever read these words. Perhaps I actually want her to read these words (if you follow the twisted logic) and to feel some of the pain that I’m feeling when I work with her words! (She won’t though since she doesn’t know about this blog.)

How about this for a bad opening-sentence (to chapter five)?

As a human being, Lisa could not be faulted for experiencing emotions unique to her lifeworld.

Oh my God! Where do I start? Firstly, “as a human being” adds nothing except make me think of the alternatives (an animal, a rock?)
“Could not be faulted” is passive voice and also makes me think of Wimbledon. “Fault”. But the clincher to this sentence is the phrase “unique to her lifeworld” Are you on drugs? Who speaks like this? New-age hippies on mind-altering hey-shoo-wow gummy berry juice maybe.

Sorry, that is very passive-aggressive of me and I feel suitably ashamed. (And also a little better.)

Other grumbles today:

1) The weather. Fierce berg wind means it will rain later. The air dries out and then of course it gets washed clean again. But in the build-up to the rain I feel edgy and it’s like I can’t quite equalise the pressure.

2) Other stuff. I’m putting in an offer on a house, which is terribly exciting and terribly anxiety-provoking at the same time. I’m waiting for the offer to be emailed to me so that I can fill it out and send it in. The estate agent sounded positive on the phone yesterday but I’m not getting my hopes up too much. I’m also already starting to get that feeling of “buyer’s remorse”.

My buyer’s remorse goes like this: why am I always the one who pays a bit too much for a house but when it’s time to sell, I sell for too little? I don’t feel like going into the ins and outs of this today but I know it has to do with assertiveness and self-belief and ignorance and a general feeling that I’m not quite understanding how this property business works.

3) Then we also have a couple counselling session this evening. I really need that like a hole in the head but I’m also curious to hear what a neutral, experienced observer will say about our relationship (or ex-relationship). We could well discover that we actually want to make this thing work after all. But I don’t want to talk about that here either.

So what should I talk about? Nothing I guess. I’ll post something in a couple of days’ time when I feel that I have something to say …