What Being a Hoarder Taught Me About the Art of Packing

By Susan Roberts

I’ve seen a lot of articles lately on how to streamline your life, organise your living space, and how to let go of all that junk you’ve been hoarding. Shame, I don’t know what they’re talking about. I feel sorry for those poor souls who’ve never learnt how to pack and stack. Maybe they just need someone to teach them how to hide the junk.

I’m available.

My junk is organised. Yes, there’s a lot of it, but it all has a place and I know pretty much exactly where to find anything. I just need a little time to move the things that are currently stored in front of, or on top of, where it is. No problems there.

From as far back as I can remember, our family always had “stuff” everywhere. My father inherited his father’s house along with all his parents’ belongings. My mother had her own style of decor and didn’t necessarily want all the household things that had been her mother-in-law’s, but it would have seemed disrespectful to throw things out just because the old lady was dead. (My mother had lost everything of sentimental value at a young age when her own mother had died and their family home had been packed up, so she was too kind-hearted to force that sort of situation on my dad.) Because my sister and I were very young when our paternal grandparents died, our mother also wanted us to grow up with a strong sense of who they had been.

Where there’s a will there’s a way, as the saying goes. And where there’s a huge room at the back of the house and a big shed in the garden, there’s definitely a way. So anything that wasn’t needed or didn’t fit in with the decor was put in the back room or taken out to the shed. There was also a double garage, only one half of which housed a car. The rest of that space was taken up with… well, you know. Stuff. In time both the cars stood outside under the tree and the whole garage was filled with mountains of stuff.

My dad was a collector. He felt that every bow had a second string and he hated to throw anything away in case it might one day be useful. My mother indulged him, but I often wonder now what feelings of trepidation she might have felt when she realised that her two daughters both showed signs of taking after their father.

To this day, both my sister and I are able to cram huge amounts of stuff into very small spaces, defying gravity, physics and any other science you care to name. Wasn’t it Einstein who declared that without imagination there would be no science? We were both gifted with vast imaginations and we had our own theory of relativity, and what was relative to our theories was never scientifically impossible to pack and store somewhere. We made it fit!

I remember watching some drama on TV when I was a teenager. A husband and wife were having a discussion as they prepared to go to bed. In the course of the conversation, one of them opened a huge cupboard and took out two pillows which they placed on the bed. I can’t tell you what their conversation was about, because my entire family was riveted by the fact that the rest of that cupboard was empty. How could someone waste an entire cupboard on just two pillows? It was inconceivable!

I am also always amazed at those crime novels and police TV dramas where three cops can go through someone’s entire apartment in a few minutes and search “everything” or a handful of FBI agents traipse out after an hour or two, each holding a flimsy storage box. They pop them into an almost empty van and claim that they have “cleared everything of importance.”

Oh come on, how do they know? I mean, have they really looked? I don’t think so. This annoys me intensely when I see it! I know they couldn’t really have been through “everything” because I know how long it takes to open each envelope, peer at each photograph, find the right key for each drawer, door and cupboard. I know the effort it takes to unload a whole heavy trunk to see what’s behind or beneath.

When my uncle died unexpectedly two years ago, it took my niece and I an entire day just to locate his will, policies and bank statements. And his house, while dusty, wasn’t even that full of stuff. (He was from my mother’s side of the family, so not much of a hoarder at all.)

I must just point out here that, as a stage manager, I know the effort that a stage set designer puts into finding all the bits and pieces of set dressing to fill up the spare spaces on stage and actually make a stage set look like a place that has been lived in. At the end of a three or four week run of a show, it takes more than a few crew-members and ASMs to pack the props and set dressing and let me tell you, it doesn’t just sit happily spread out in the back of a small empty van like those TV FBI pretenders. No, it has to be wrapped up, piled up, squashed in, tied down and usually several trips have to be made unless you’re using a huge removal van or a shipping container.

Talking of shipping containers reminds me – when my sister and her husband moved to Australia, it took the moving team (yes, a whole professional moving team) a day to pack their house, and a second day to fit it all into the container. And they didn’t fit it all in either. Some stuff had to be boxed and air freighted later. And that was after they had spent months giving away stuff to various charities and worthy causes.

If you think I’m revealing too much about my family’s weaknesses, let me reassure you: There have never been any skeletons in our closets – there simply isn’t enough space to fit in even one.

FIFTY SHADES OF … (no pictures – not sorry)

by Penny M

I started this blog with the intention of focusing on the promiscuity of opinion and whether the phrase, ‘the pot calling the kettle black,’ might be offensive at this time of national embarrassment and colour coding. My reference, of course, was to the uproar provided, courtesy of various personas on the political stage prior to, during and after the president’s SONA (State of the Nation Address).

But, now I realise that the world is no longer watching the demise of parliamentary chameleons who appear to have a flagrant appetite for what will draw the largest audience and ‘pay back the money’.

Hot off the Press: Public (or should I say pubic?) taste for the exotic (and yes, I do mean exotic) has shifted to perhaps the biggest earning movie yet to hit the circuit. According to Kirsten Acuna’s article, entitled “Everything you should know about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ if you don’t want to read the book”, published online today by the Business Insider (17 February, 2015), the movie has ‘already made $266 million worldwide’. That was very early this morning, before the sun came up in Africa.

Kirsten writes a tasteful review for the more discerning consumer who wouldn’t read the book (let alone the second and third in E.L. James’s trilogy of ‘erotica’) or watch the movie. Fifty Shades of Grey is quote: ‘written from the perspective of college student Anastasia Steele. Before graduation, she interviews the mysterious and eligible billionaire bachelor Christian Grey for her school’s paper … ‘

The fundamental theme of most popular exploits of romantic fiction is one couple who find ‘true’ love. In fact any genre with some sort of romantic enticement in the background is bound to succeed, especially where the female populace is concerned.

And why not follow this book by turning it into a movie?

In my opinion (as firm and loving as the hand that rocked my children’s cradle), both book and movie entice the unsuspecting to explore realms of erotica and pornography in a sick world. In a society where porn pervades moral standards, perverts young minds, and spawns child and adult abuse, anything that is portrayed as acceptable and the norm to a person who is hungry for love must be seen for what it is – human trafficking.

For years rape cases have been thrown out of court on the mere suggestion that the victims were dressed seductively before the event. Criminals of all ages and from all walks of life, whatever colour, blame their perversions on their parents, backgrounds, addictions etc. What will be their defence when they are hooked on pornography and erotica? “Well, your honour, I couldn’t help it, I’d just seen this movie …”

Kirsten writes quote: “Romantic, right? Well here’s the twist. It turns out there’s a reason Christian’s single. He’s really into BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sadism, and Masochism) relationships and he wants Ana to play the submissive to his dominant.”

My verdict? Somebody is making a c..p load of money at the cost of millions of curious innocents and former innocents. I’ll leave it to my readers to wonder why EL James had the audacity to name her protagonist ‘Christian’. Clue – is this blasphemy, do you think?

Incidentally, going back to the pot and kettle (and I don’t mean the restaurant in Botha’s Hill, KZN, SA), the phrase had something to do with both pot and kettle being put on the fire and getting sooty, or the pot being put on the fire and seeing itself in a reflection of the kettle as black.

I encourage my readers to reflect on the merits of paying for the privilege to get burnt and smutty in somebody else’s fire. This blog is for free – share if you dare!

Caminito Por Favor

by Jacqueline Dowling

I’m a bit stuck for a fresh topic this month. My brain seems to have become bogged down in hot cotton-wool. Actually, it’s the latter which suggested the following scribble, from a place which is so hot and humid in summer, that the same brain assumes a few more layers of cotton-wool and bandage. Before it gets any worse, and atrophies altogether – here are my thoughts.

Buenos Aires in late December is hot, very hot and humid. Something to do with high rainfall and being barely above sea level: the highest elevation reportedly only 25m. Why we choose to plunge into this cauldron is anyone’s guess: but we do, and discover an incredible blend of brilliance, music, passion and elegance.

There’s a frenetic energy about this city. From its upbeat Microcentro shopping avenues, the cacophony of careering, furiously hooting black and yellow taxis and quieter old-time cafés where a cup of coffee lasts all day while the world’s woes are sorted : to the faded elegance of San Telmo’s decaying architecture and eclectic antique shops. Narrow streets winding down to the vivid rough and tumble of La Boca.

We head off to explore its flamboyant Caminito.

And hail a passing cab.

‘Caminito por favor seňor.’

‘Donde está casa – where you house?’ Our cabbie turns in his seat, fixing us with an eagle eye. Dark brooding aquiline features, beetle-browed. Boca Juniors cap covers greasy hair.

‘Afrique do sud.’ We offer.


‘Johannesburg, Cape Town – Futbol 2010 – Bafana Bafana?’ getting a bit desperate now. Still no response, then, suddenly his face lights up:

‘Ah si, entiendo. Nelson Mandelll-la place! So, why you white face?’

We’re away.

Heat radiates from cobbles. Between roots of a massively trunked old tree, a man sprawls totally relaxed, hat over eyes, scuffed leather sandals at ten-to-two, a cigarette burning slowly down nicotined fingers.

We subside into the coffee scented Cafe Bar Aperativo where beer arrives in iced glasses with a plate of excellent spicy beef pies, empanadas. Languid fans sway through air thick with the seductive aromas of cognac and cooking. Walls, rough textured, embrace scrubbed wooden tables, wrought iron chairs and sepia posters of tango heroes, poets and musicians.

At a corner table, two men in shiny suits sit pondering their next chess move: hats pushed to the backs of heads, shirts unbuttoned. Smoke from their abandoned cigars drifts and rags across the ceiling. It’s that time of day when saturated air settles, exhausted. When body clocks wind down.

Adriana, a local artist, invites us through her studio home to a narrow courtyard where troughs and tubs of brilliant geraniums line balconies and wooden stairways. A black cat, squinting slit-eyed, suns itself on a blue roof. A corrugated canyon of colour and texture rises up on all sides, bursting into the brilliance of day.

This is the heart of Caminito, where artists thrive and which, despite its proximity to the fetid sludgy Riachuelo waterway, is a place of vivid colour, music and dance. No longer a wasteland of wood and iron shanties, rat-infested and disease ridden. An area of rusting rails, long grass and weeds: a railway terminus from which it takes its name.

Today’s eccentric diversity of hectically coloured buildings originated with the custom of using leftover paint brought home by sailors on leave. And this custom has prevailed, giving the area its unique magnetism and upbeat tempo.

It’s quiet here, peaceful. A torpid somnolence pervades. Air feels warm, wrapped-up and cottonwoolly. We crowd into a tiny kitchen overflowing with tropical plants, to share in the drinking of yerba maté., bitter and sharp like holly pesto. Made in a gourd with hot water poured over the chopped yerba leaves , the frothy liquid is sipped through a silver straw, and etiquette demands that the gourd passes clockwise, is refilled and drunk dry each time. Which is what we do.

Back on the cobbled street, a cadence of notes from a bandoneon – haunting, soulful, shivers on the air, hovers and explodes into a virtuoso performance of flashing fingers and passionate tango rhythm. Dancers swirl across our path, preening and peacock proud. We follow them into a wine and tango bar where a colossal leering resin Gaucho caricature props up the counter, one of the many larger than life sculptures to be found in the area.

Tanguistas glide between tables, strappy dresses, Fedoras aslant. Haughty, sensual, the tango emerged from the bordellos of Buenos Aires in the 1880s. Lonely men dancing with each other while waiting their turn: strutting, erotic machismo – the fight for possession of a woman.

Piazzas and streets around Caminito are alive with tango music, living mimes and art of every description. Bas reliefs line walls: buskers, working artists and fortune tellers spill onto the cobbles among stunning photographic dance studies, water colours, acrylics and brilliantly coloured montages. The air is full of sound.

We sit on a low wall beside the waterway’s rusting hulks: sultry bandoneon music drifts from open doorways. Into the aching heat the ripple of a tentative guitar, played in shadow, softly – whispers, and is still.

A taxi draws up beside us. We climb in, state our destination. The driver turns in his seat. ‘Donde?’

We are on our way. Again.

Crazy beautiful

by Sue Trollip

Johnny Clegg sings:

It’s a cruel crazy beautiful world

Which got me thinking … it was Superbowl Sunday (which is a lot like Currie Cup Saturday) and it was cruel because I had to work instead of scoff cold beer and hot wings on the couch. Crazy because all anyone could talk about was football and I know despite my best attempts to look vaguely intelligent I was not pulling it off. (I now know more about the Patriots and the Seahawks than I ever wanted to.) And beautiful because, well the moon sure was pretty on the drive home.

What’s funny and FUN is how every occasion over here is embraced with wide open arms. There are the thanksgiving turkeys, Halloween ghosts and leaves of autumn, when everything from coffee to bread is pumpkin flavoured (there’s even pumpk20141031_092223in flavoured ice cream). This is followed by the greens and reds and mint flavours of Christmas. 20141226_185418

As one set of decorations comes down the next batch goes up. We’ve barely removed Father Christmas from the window display when the hearts of Valentine’s Day arrive, red and pink and caramel flavoured, I think.

I’ve been warned to brace myself because next up are the pastels of Easter. Think fluffy yellow chickies and sweet blue bunnies. (Although if I remember correctly the colour of Cadbury’s crème eggs is bold: blue, red, green, yellow. That’s going to wreck someone’s display.)

But I think for me summer is the diamond.

There is nothing to celebrate between Easter and autumn but sunshine and blue skies.

The only decorations are beach umbrellas and the flavours are sunscreen and watermelon.

As Bon Jovi puts it:

Ah, but ain’t it a beautiful world.