Bus spotting… surviving the school holidays

When my brother and I were children one of our all-time favourite games was pretending to wait for the bus at the bus stop around the corner from our house. We’d sit on the hard bench protected from the searing sun by a giant OMO ad and just wait. We’d sometimes sit for hours. But eventually we’d hear the low growl of the bus coming down the long straight main road of Alberton that led to the NG kerk – the town’s only attraction. Our hearts would quicken, we’d whip our scruffy little heads around the side of the bus stop, see the large orange bus moving towards us and then we’d get up and run like hell. I don’t know what we thought would happen if the bus actually saw us pretending to wait for it. I do know that one weekday afternoon while my brother and I sat waiting, a lady in a yellowing Cortina stopped, rolled down her window and yelled that she’d tell our mother what we were up to. Everyone was bored in Alberton. Not just us.

Roxi has similar memories of childhood. She has memories of days spent hanging over her front wall waiting for unsuspecting passerbys. One afternoon a large lady with black knee-high boots trotted by and unable to help herself, Roxi called, “Oh mighty booties!”

The lady yelled back: “GAAN SÊ DAAI VIR JOU MA!”

My point is: our parents were onto something. They lived in places where there was absolutely nothing to do. And then left us alone for large tracts of time while they did other things. Like hang up the washing and braai and on occasion walk into the sliding door on a Sunday afternoon after “one too many”. Ok, this might have only happened once.

The reason I bring this up is that we have just survived the Easter holidays with the kids. I didn’t once see them waiting for buses or setting fire to a veld or jeering at the neighbours. They were simply too busy. There were outings to the aquarium, a kiddies birthday party with a pirate theme and puppet show, movies in 3D with popcorn-slush-n-smarties combos and at least one trip to our local firestation. Not to mention an almighty Easter egg hunt and a three-course lunch just incase eating your bodyweight in chocolate bunnies had left you hankering after a salty roast.

It’s been fun. But I am left with the feeling that it would have been nice to have had a bit more time to ourselves. Just a little more time for Roxi and I to hang up the washing or slam ourselves into the sliding door.

A book bash!

IMG_6885“So you’re having a big party for your book?” asked Finn right after he said, “Mom, you’ve made our whole family famous!”

I’m not sure if appearing in the Athlone News or the Houtbay Sentinel qualifies as fame but he was right about the book party.

A book launch is really a great big party for all your friends and family at someone else’s expense. The pay off though is you can’t just get pissed and dance badly to old 80s tunes. You have to appear respectably author-like.

And there is the thing of having to talk to a large group of people staring right at you. And best you don’t screw that up because they might not buy your book.

And so I was mute driving towards the Book Lounge where my launch was to be held – partly to preserve my voice but mostly because I was in a state of terror. I marginally relaxed when I recognised the familiar faces of friends and family who were going to buy the book regardless of how I performed, partly to be supportive but also to see what I’d written about them.

And then I had to sit on a small platform and talk into a microphone to a rather packed bookshop. Thankfully, crime writer Margie Orford, who interviewed me, was charming, humorous and most importantly calming. I didn’t even mind that folk eagerly flocked around me afterwards to say, “Wasn’t Margie Orford amazing?!” Because she truly was. And I was simply happy that I’d managed to survive an intense case of the nerves only last experienced so acutely when I had to address my very own wedding party of a similar number of expectant faces.

There was wine, conversation, photographs, signings and some people even bought the book, resulting in one or two of my friends who had never actually been to a book launch saying, “Book launches aren’t nearly as boring as I thought they’d be.” Bloody uneducated bunch.

I, too, enjoyed every giddy minute of it. Which was in sharp contrast to an event I’d been asked to attend earlier in the week. Like the book launch I had been required to talk to a smallish crowd about Making Finn at a restaurant in the southern suburbs where they held a monthly bookclub event. On arrival at the small Italian restaurant I was pleasantly surprised. The owners were charming and warm. The mostly female audience seemed down-to-earth and chatty as they tucked into their pizza and buy one bottle of wine and get the other bottle free. I was going to be ok.

I had been told I needed to ‘hold the floor’ for 30 plus minutes and I had a grand plan to tell my story and read some of the more uproarious passages from the book. But it was when I began to speak that I became nervous. The room seemed too quiet. The faces staring back at me were unmoving, stricken. I started talking quickly, and made a joke to try and lighten the atmosphere.

I thought I heard a stifled chuckle at the back of the silent restaurant, but I couldn’t be sure. There were certainly no guffaws at my riotously funny book passages I read in a near panic. It was a long and uncomfortable half hour.

Only three people bought the book, and they happened to be three old school acquaintances I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. I suspect they were also responsible for the three laughs I managed to garner the entire evening.

At the end of the evening I felt like I’d been the object of voyeurism. I had an extra long shower when I got home.

And now that the launch is over and the Leopards Leap all drunk, it appears that things have quietened down to near normalcy. As far as it’s possible to refer to quiet and normal when being dive-bombed by a testosterone-infused three-year-old and an energetic and pot-bellied five-year-old who has not yet learnt the meaning of ‘inside voice!’

Fame and exhaustion

February 2013 will forever be the month when I felt famous. Since Making Finn came out I have received requests from radio stations, magazines and newspapers to talk about the book. The attention has come as a surprise. When I wrote the book, I never really thought it would be published. And when it got published I didn’t really think anyone would actually read the thing.

The attention has been exciting but also nerve-wracking. Radio interviews, book launches and bookclub talks to 50 people all require public speaking and public speaking is something I’ve worked very hard to avoid since the days of high school speech festivals.

But, of course, the attention has also been exciting. Friends and even strangers have communicated with me via twitter or Facebook to say they’ve enjoyed reading the book or that it’s resonated with something they’re going through. And it feels good. Very good. Like how real connecting always feels.

Last Friday I flew to Johannesburg for a client presentation (my real job) and then afterwards to do an interview with Kate Sidley for Living and Loving magazine and then to meet up with the marketing team at Penguin to discuss this new thing that has suddenly and unexpectedly taken centre stage in my life. I’d been looking forward to the trip for some time.

And so when a little voice woke me up at 4am on Friday morning to ask me for water I was not overjoyed.

“Mom, I’ve got a cough,” Finn said, his chest tight and wheezy. “Mom, I need water.”

I walked heavily to the bathroom trying to keep one eye closed, to not absorb too much light, and poured him a glass of water.

“Go back to bed now cookie,” I said.

“Mom, lie with me.”


“Mom, please lie with me.”

“Ok, just for a little bit.”

“Mom, is it school today?”

“Yes, it is Finn. Now go back to sleep.”

A bit of wheezy coughing. Not me.

“Mom, do you know what we’re going to do at school today?”

“I’m not sure Finn. Isn’t it that under-the-sea stuff you’re learning about?”

“Not fire trucks, or medical stuff or emergencies?”

“No, I don’t think so. Why?”

“I think I’m too sick to go to school.”

And so our conversation continued, with a couple of wee-breaks thrown in, and a few more coughing fits, right up until 5.45am when I lobbed Finn in front of Jock of the bushveld (the version where he doesn’t die at the end) so I could get ready to catch my flight to Johannesburg. Roxi and Jet slept through most of this in a jumble of arms and legs in the middle of our bed.

Friday turned out to be a good day despite feeling exhausted, nervous for the presentation, worried about Finn and excited to go to Penguin. Because, despite the upheaval of emotions I’ve experience in February, it feels that life just doesn’t get better than this.