I really didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what response to have. Should I be furious or embarrassed or something? I was just somewhat baffled a little bewildered. Should I have been insulted? It is disrespectful, isn’t it? I know its intention wasn’t disrespect. Its intention was a ribald invitation. It failed. He misjudged me. I’m not that person.

I did ask him why he’d sent it. He said he wanted to make me smile. I feel a little sorry for this foolish, ill bred, clueless individual who thought it would make me smile. Would he smile if I sent a picture of my vagina to his email? I suspect he would. Mostly, I just didn’t and don’t understand.

How does one react when a man who one has never met; who one has only spoken to via email and on a social network sends a picture of his penis? Why would anyone do that? Who does he think he’s sending it to? Did I ever even vaguely indicate that I would appreciate receiving something like that? Of course not. We’d talked about him sending my brochure to his clients. He’s in executive recruitment. He’s a head hunter. I consult on image and etiquette. He contacted me via Linkdin. He asked if we could be friends. How imagesdo you say no to that request? It’s email friendship, I thought. What harm? Oh but I’m naïve.  He said he’d had a crush on me when I was on TV.  I gave it no thought. I’m not on TV now. So you can imagine how this was a bolt from out of the blue. Where did he get such an idea? Has he no self-respect? Is this a measure of the respect, or lack that he has for me? Is this what a crush on a face on TV yields? I find it totally incomprehensible. Isn’t it against the law? If it’s not, why is it not?

There was a toilet bowl, seat raised as a background to the picture. The Penis was in the foreground. So he went to have a pee, thought of me and decided to take a picture for my benefit while he was at it? What thought process brought him to that point? Was he having a pee or was he spanking it and thinking of me? Eeek!   And what did he think I was going to do with the picture? There can’t be a usual response to receiving a picture like this. Surely it’s an unusual thing to have happen.

I haven’t even met this guy.   Now, I don’t think I ever will meet him. This is why I don’t respond to people who contact me on social networks and want to meet. You don’t know what kind of sexual deviant sociopath you’re going to encounter. It’s not worth it.

What ever happened to sending flowers if you imagine yourself in love? Am I old fashioned? Is emailing a picture of a bunch of beautiful flowers outdated?   Is that prosaic? Or sending a poem by Don Matera or Pablo Neruda. That would be sweet. It would suggest some finesse. The Penis is a bludgeoning. The penis is so violent. It doesn’t speak of love. It speaks of extreme aberrancy.  It’s incredibly crass.

This man had invited me to pick him up at his house and take him to dinner because his pay cheque was small. Can you imagine such a thing? A man you’ve never met and with whom you have communicated only on email and whatsapp wants to meet you, so he invites  you to pick him up from his house and take him to dinner? On what planet does he reside? And when you refuse he sends you a picture of his penis, because obviously on receiving that you’d be at his door with your knickers around your ankles within minutes.

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. This picture was worth three letters. WTF? I searched myself for feelings. I had none. I thought I should feel insulted, affronted, horrified. I should recoil in shock, but I didn’t. I was unmoved except for a little bewildered voice inside that asked. “Why would he send me this”? Perhaps I was in shock.

It wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t exciting. Perhaps, I thought, if it had been one that I’d experienced. Perhaps if I’d had a relationship with it I might have been excited. But I don’t think so. I think if The Lavah had ever emailed me a picture of his penis I’d have assumed he’d completely lost his mind.

Does this guy look at dubious websites? Does he read dirty books? Is that where he got the inspiration? What is it about me that made him think that I would enjoy such a thing? I’d had no lewd conversations with him. He’d sent me an email saying ‘I have something for you’. He asked if he could email it. I said yes email it. Imagine my surprise. There was a note with the picture. The note said, “Do you want to taste it”? I thought, “No thanks”. And I closed the picture not to give it further thought until the next day when it, again, came into view.

I showed it to a girlfriend. She studied it for a few seconds, and said. “It’s big”. Then, like teenagers, we both packed up laughing.images

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Newpapers, Pain and Lies

I think about this every day. I dissect it. I question it. I pray about it. I’ll admit, it hurt. That was the intention and the outcome of the intention was ‘on the money’. I imagine her satisfaction at my pain. Strike to her! Some will say to her, “That’s not true’. She will say, as she does “Ah don give a damn-shit” in that funny Serbian accent that, until now, I thought was charming. Nothing about it is charming any more.

Lies hurt. They hurt especially because one has no way of refuting the lie except by creating an ugly and tacky “no I didn’t”, “yes you did” scenario where the judge and jury are the press and public who know neither of us; have never met either of us. She shouldn’t talk about me. She should tell her own story.  I’ll bet she could get money for her story. It’s so much more interesting and dramatic than mine. Mine is sad and prosaic. ‘Tselane once had a lot, now has a little’. But mine will sell better in the papers because people don’t know her. They know me, a little. They think they know me a lot.

I thought the best thing to do is ignore it. Don’t talk to journalists. Especially don’t talk to the journalist who was willing to publish the lies. That journo doesn’t know either of us. He hasn’t met either of us. Yet, because a woman he’s never heard of and knows nothing about calls him on the phone and spouts lies, he is more than happy to print the lies.  What fact check? Why examine the source? I’m not mentioning her name. It’d serve me nothing to embarrass her. I don’t understand the journo, though. Maybe in colluding to destroy my life and my name; maybe by kicking me when I’m down he is assured awards. I don’t’ know. But I’m not interested in telling the world my troubles. I’m interested in quietly overcoming.

Now you must be wondering what the lies were.  One lie angered me because it was obviously meant to set the ruling party, en mass, against me. The lie was that I had secret meetings (plural) with EFF members in her boardroom. She doesn’t have a boardroom. Imagine the whole ANC against little me. I don’t know who would believe EFF members have time to secretly meet me. For what purpose? But it was said and people have a propensity to believe anything because it was said.

I have a friend. Well, he’s not a friend. He’s an acquaintance who I like. He’s from Limpopo. I met him in Polokwane. He’s an ANC member, like me. He’s also a friend of Mr Malema. They grew up together. I asked him once if I could meet Mr Malema who I’ve been fascinated by for years. At the same time as wanting to meet him I confess to being scared of him and I had to ask myself why would Mr Malema want to meet me? I have nothing to add to his journey.  I don’t know what we would even talk about. He’s a politician. I am so very much not. It’s one of those desires that are not really a desire. Anyway, Mr Malema, as expected, didn’t have time. He was beyond busy.  Elections were on the horizon.  I don’t actually think my friend from Limpopo asked. I’ll probably never meet Mr Malema. I don’t know any confessed EFF members. I’m an observer of politics, not a participant in politics.

She said I was rowdy, always having parties and constant friends visiting. I haven’t read the article, but friends I’ve not heard from in a long while called to tell me snippets. Me rowdy? That one almost makes me laugh. I spend too much time on my own, I often think. Life is sometimes lonely. But I lose myself, and my loneliness in books and in music and TV and Facebook. Sometimes, increasingly these days, I lose myself in prayer.  I took her to my prayer group a couple of times.

I’m over nightclubs. I rarely go to parties. I like to have lunch and a good conversation with friends, or a friend.  That’s  my entertainment.  I like going to movies on my own. I like to not be noticed. I’m alone a lot.  I’m not rowdy. I’m not a corpse, but I’m a quiet living person. I’ve lived my wild days. They were great days, but they ended many years ago. I’m much too old for that now. My disposition these days is not so cheery as to be raucous. I’m trying to regain life. I’m trying to be as I once was. I believe she called me a lounge lizard. I’ve never heard her use that expression. Was she coached? I’m not a lounge lizard. I work at my recovery. Though, some days to motivate myself is an effort. Some days my spirit is so weighted down that it feels like I’ll never recover.

What else did the paper say she said? Oh, I chased her guests away. Every morning I’d say a bright “Good Morning” to everyone. I’d steel myself to be cheery. I’d say a bright good morning to her. She’d grunt. And then I would escape so that I could avoid the “Do you know who this is?” from her which always received the same response from the guest. “No”. “Like the Airport,” she would say. I’d cringe. I told her to stop doing that. She said she was proud of me. Eventually she did stop. Eventually! Also, I cringed because I would rather she out me when I return to my zenith. Not like this. Not like a distorted version of the Warner Bros movie The Little Princess, relegated to the servants quarters behind the kitchen. This is not how I want to represent. Far from chasing her guests away, I was politely distant from them. I had little appetite for small talk. I kept mostly to the little servants room behind the kitchen.

My circumstance was shameful to me. I’d come from being a golden soul to this. And I would go from here, to where? I’d wonder. Does it get worse? My every effort to get out of this situation was met with failure or disappointment. I was grateful for the roof, but this was further than I could ever have imagined I’d fall. How did I come to this?

She said a lot of things. I don’t remember. It’s difficutlt to remember lies, and much of what I was told is dismissed by my mind. I think if she were asked to repeat it all she’d have to pull out a crib sheet. She says she has an insulting email that I wrote to her. I didn’t write it. She says she has a copy. I’d love to see it. My laptop was in her house for over a week. I had no access to it. Was this letter written in that time? I don’t have a password on my laptop. There are no secrets that I keep there, so it would have been easy for someone else to write it. Is she that calculating? I just don’t understand how she has a copy of an insulting email that I certainly did not write, from my laptop unless she wrote it.  Does the letter sound like me?   But she wants damage me; to lie about me and she’s found someone to listen to, then print her every lie.

I was once well to do. Things went well for me.  I did well. Then one day, seemingly like magic, my life spiralled into a stressful, miserable free fall. It spiralled into a circumstance out of which it has been difficult to crawl.  It has been so bad.   I’ve felt cursed . I’ve been depressed and defeated to the point of wanting to just end it all, sometimes. But, I’m a believer in God and I’ve always believed, and continued to believe, even when I made sure I had the means to top myself, that God would show me the way to rescue myself. I know, without knowing how, that I’ll be all right. Strangely, having the means was comforting. I no longer feel the need to have the means. I flushed them away which felt like a little victory for my battered soul. I wonder if I ever would have used my means to my end. I don’t think so. I was just so lost and alone, and so, so scared. Being Tambo is not a defence against going through difficult times, or feeling alone against the world. But being Tambo is fighting against the odds and the circumstances. It’s finding the courage to go on.

I made good money once. It bought me those lovely clothes that she accuses me of buying now. Thank goodness I bought them then. I obviously can’t afford to buy them now. I’ll make good money again. I had a beautiful home once. I’ll have a beautiful home again. Many people have lost and won a few times in their lives.  I’m not exceptional.  Should my name make me exempt from the highs and lows of life’s cycles? I wish it would. Should it make it easy for people, in a moment of anger, to malign me in the press with no regard for truth or fairness?  Should their lies become my story?  No, they shouldn’t. They are making up a story and attributing it to me. I have a true story. My story is not over. This is a chapter. I still have many chapters to live.

So, whatever they choose to print. Whatever they choose to believe, my head is not bowed. I am hurt. I’ll get over it. I’m no longer afraid. Although, I hope they will, now, leave me alone. I still hold my head up. I carry on towards new successes.

The spiritual teachers say life brought me here to teach me something greater than not to trust people and how to be angry, and what it is to be fearful, or hurt, or in lack. The purpose of this period of my life, if there is a purpose is still to be revealed. It’s painful. It’s not over. But it is getting better. I see a light and I’m almost sure it’s not an oncoming train.

So, what do I do? I cry my tears in private, then dry them, go out into the world with a smile for everyone. I strive to put a twinkle in my eye, and I soldier on.  Perhaps life is teaching me about strength; about fighting not against people, but against the odds. I somehow know I will get over my bad time. I’ll make right with everyone. I used to think of myself as Golden. The shimmer on my gold now feels tarnished, and old.

I bless her into God’s hands every day. I am wounded, but I truly bear her no malice. Her malice towards me hails from the fact that she is hurting a lot, and she’s wounded, and she’s fearful. That’s her story to tell, if she chooses.

Don’t celebrate my demise yet. I am down, but I’m not out.   I have no grave on which to invite anyone to dance. “And Still I Rise.” Isn’t that what the poet said?

I’ll get through this. I will still rise like a phoenix from these ashes.

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I Love Not Camping

I went for a jaunt down memory lane after a friend told me he was going camping in the
imagesbush.  He was going old school camping, not luxurious five star camping. He was going to put up his own tent. He asked me if I wanted to go along. He said he had a spare tent and a sleeping bag. I’d rather sever my toes with a rusty serrated saw. I can imagine no greater human suffering than sleeping in a tent, on hard ground in winter, especially at my age. It would be like taking upon myself the all the sins of my flesh; that is every sin I’d ever committed. It would be an insult to our Lord Jesus who suffered and died for me on the cross taking my sin upon himself so that I should escape penance and hair shirts and flagellation and the wrath of God and the agony of camping. Camping would be beyond torture for me. This I know, because I’ve been there.

I went camping for a whole weekend when I was a Brownie. I must have been nine or ten years old. Some Brownies go camping in huts somewhere remote where there are showers. I don’t think I’d have minded that. We went camping in tents. We camped in teeny triangular tents. It was hell. We had sleeping bags. Sleeping bags are torment. It is so uncomfortable sleeping on hard uneven ground. There was grass under us. Grass isn’t exactly a mattress. It isn’t even foam, or a mat. It’s grass, with inadequately thin nylon flooring separating us from it. And where is the manoeuvring space in a sleeping bag. There is none. It’s a cocoon.

We were kids and it was supposed to be fun. There was a campfire and toasting marshmallows and Kumbuya forever, and because we were kids camping we ate sweets and shone torches and we sat up late chatting in our little tent. The morning revealed that we had not slept alone. Ants. Lots of ants had come into our tent to partake of the remnants of the sweets. Ugh! It was awful and it was cold. Two days of this I suffered. I earned my camping badge. I mean I earned that stupid badge. Oh, what I went through to get it. I promised myself I’d never go camping again.

I was persuaded to break that promise when I was eighteen. Why, oh why? I don’t know. This time was excruciating. We went to Alderney, which is a very picturesque, usually damp, frequently rainy one of The Channel Islands.

After a night of partying on the beach with other holidaymakers we all collapsed drunkenly into our tents, where we were driven by the onset of rain. The rain was quite heavy and the tent was unsteady. It was, again, one of those little triangular affairs. Even drunk it was thoroughly uncomfortable. I remembered my Brownie days. I asked myself why I was
there.  We were camping for a week. I didn’t last more than a night.

We’d put the tent up badly. We hadn’t a clue. We girls were not naturals for camping. The roof of the tent sagged low from the rain, and as a result of us trying to fix the sag from inside the tent, the tent collapsed. So we had to get out of the tent, and in the pouring rain and in almost blind darkness we had to put it up again. We were drunk teenagers who hadn’t managed to fix the tent properly even in the light of day. In the dark it was near impossible.

There was a lot of fun and laughter, and slipping around on what had become mud. We sort of sorted it out. It took forever. By the time we crawled back in I’d had enough. We were sopping wet, covered in mud and freezing cold by the time we got finally into our tent, and into by now wet sleeping bags. It was impossible to fall asleep. I lay there shivering with cold, wet to the bone, less drunk than when we started and miserable. Eventually I fell asleep.

In the morning we were still wet. We were covered in sand and mud and hung over. At least the sun had come out. It was Alderney sun, which fell very short of being tropical or even warm, but at least it was sun. We ventured to the ablution block. It was filthy. I couldn’t. It was disgusting. Besides I needed a bath, and coffee and breakfast. It wasn’t happening. Our rented stove wouldn’t light. We couldn’t make coffee. I had the father of all hangovers. I was sticky from the sand and filthy from the mud. I felt revolting. I wasn’t having fun. I shouldn’t have come.

I decided that my solution was to find a hotel in which to spend the rest of the week. I couldn’t camp. I simply couldn’t. But it was holiday season, and all the hotels were full or exceeded my budget. At the last hotel on the island I conceded defeat, but I asked the guy on reception if I could just take a bath. The bathrooms weren’t en suit. I’d be disturbing no one. After pleading for what seemed like an eternity, but refusing accept a ‘no’, the guy yielded to my beseeching.  For the gargantuan price of one-pound sterling, I was allowed to take that essential bath.

As I lay in the bath I contemplated the fate that awaited me back at the campsite. A wet tent full of sand, which I was sure would collapse again at the earliest opportunity. The prospect of waking up not to ceiling and carpet and warmth, but to grey sky, filthy ablution block, muddy ground and possibly more rain was beyond what a soul should have to contemplate. I lay in the comforting hug of a warm bath, in a warm bathroom with soft towels waiting to enfold and I said to myself, “Sod this. I’m going home”.

My friends, who had been on the beach making friends while I bathed, were outraged that I was giving up.   They tried to persuade me to stay. Someone at the campsite had helped them fix the tent. It wouldn’t collapse again, they assured me. It was sturdy. There was going to be a bonfire on the beach that night. They’d met some really cool guys who we were supposed to meet later. One of the guys had asked about me, they said. He fancied me, they said. I didn’t care. No boy was worth going through this for.  If he wasn’t a imagesfairytale prince who had come on a white steed to carry me off to the equivalent of the royal suite at The Dorchester, I wasn’t interested. I needed a real room in a real building. I needed to wake up and see a ceiling, not crawl out of a tent onto half mud half grass. There was not a thing enticing about this campsite situation. I was going home.

We’d hired bicycles. That was how everyone got around the island. We took mine back to the hire place and got the bus to the airport. All the while they were trying to persuade me to stay. But they were wasting their collective breath. As far as I was concerned I had camped as much as I was ever going to camp. Nothing and no one was going to change my mind.

At the airport I was told that there was only one flight out a day and today’s flight was full. I’d have to wait for the next flight, which left the next day.

But you don’t understand”, I implored. “There’s no room in any hotels and I can’t, I won’t, it is more than I should be expected to endure. Please don’t make me go back to that tent. Please let me go home. I have to be on that flight”. I couldn’t go back to the campsite. I was close to tears at the thought.

“Well, if there’s a cancelation….” She said sceptically.

“I’ll wait.” I said

My friends said their goodbyes.  If I was determined to go, then that was that. There was partying happening, and they were missing it.

You don’t mind if we leave you.” I understood. There was nothing of interest at the airport except the next flight home. I didn’t expect them to ignore the call of party and boys and impossibly cheap wine sundowners on the beach. I told them that I was staying at that airport till I went home. I’d sleep there sitting up if necessary. I was not going to subject myself to the tent experience ever again. Not ever.

Have a great time. Toodle pip!” I said. “See you in civilization”.

It was an eon before people started to arrive and check themselves in. I sat. I prayed. I begged God to do something. Merciful Lord! He heard my plea. He felt my pain. He brought reprieve. Oh how I loved God that day. There was a cancellation. God rescued me from what felt like the equivalent to my own crucifixion, and I haven’t been camping since.

I love not camping.images

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Cell Charge

The Cell Phone. It’s the thing that’s essential. No cell phone, no life, right? I know.

I get struck by a fleeting wave of acute nausea in the pit of the tum when I don’t know where my cell phone is. We always know where our cell phones are. It’s on your desk, in your bag, next to the bed, in a pocket or wherever. I sigh in despair when people put them on the table at a restaurant. There are, of course, those moments when it’s not in one of its allotted places. Oh dread! A frantic search through the bag or car and, Oh relief! Apart from those rare moments we always know where the cell phone is. It’s our line to life and we hang onto the line fiercely.

Do you remember the BC days. That’s not before Christ, it’s the days Before Cell. People had to keep appointments because there was no way to cancel at the last minute with a imagesdetached, dismissive text saying: “Sorry, implausible excuse, can’t make it,” which you often receiveas you pull into your parking space at the meeting place a polite five minutes early.  But on the other hand, if you were held up in traffic there was no way to assure the person you were meeting that you were on your way, nearly there, but circumstances were hindering punctuality.

Back in the day people respected the fact that you had dressed yourself nicely, brushed your hair, put on face, and then navigated the arbitrary erraticism of traffic just so that you could sit opposite them, look into their faces and converse over lunch or a cup of tea and some cake.   They gave you attention. They talked to you.  Nowadays the likelihood is that they will make pseudo apologetic silly faces at you, or indicate with hand flapping motion that the person on the other end of phone is talking too much as a way of trying to divert you from the fact that they are actually being horrendously rude.

Piffle to the hand flapping. You also have a cell phone. Why did you have to leave home to watch this theatre of non-apology?  Why does the person who hasn’t left the chair in their home or office have their attention instead of you, who is present? Why don’t they get the other person to leave home to have a conversation? Put down the cell phone! Talk to the one present. Or perhaps the one present should go home and phone so that they can also qualify to chat.

Personally, I’m known among my friends. I had lunch with a couple of friends not so long ago. They acted like guilty schoolgirls when I arrived. They were sitting together at a imagesrestaurant, one was engrossed in her cell; the other had the Ipad out. When I approached the table and said “You’ve got to be kidding”, they both hastily put their toys away. Really? You’re meeting people for lunch and you can’t take time to eat that lunch and converse with people who have gone through grooming ritual and traffic stress to be with you?  Must you constantly be involved in your phone?   Put it away!

The sad fact is that while we were blissfully enjoying a shared etiquette of giving attention to the person or people in our company; while we were indulging in the delicious art of conversation and the good manners of human interaction, the world changed. It’s not just the intrusion of cell phones. Who writes a letter anymore? When was the last time you used your handwriting for anything significant? It hardly happens. A hand written note or letter is rare treat. Now it’s all instant gratification. Now it’s text messaging and instant messaging and email. It’s technology ad nausaum.

The book of etiquette says you should leave the table if you must talk on your cell phone because you are preventing everyone else from conversing. Have you noticed how people always talk louder than normal when on the cell? But even that is unsatisfactory. A friend of mine disappeared from the table to take a call during a dinner engagement. He left during hors d’oeuves and didn’t come back till desert was nearly over. What in heaven’s name is that? We could see him outside the restaurant pacing up and down and talking on his cell. Then he’d hang up and dial again and so on.  I turns out he was having a fight with his girlfriend. In the pre-cell days he’d have had to fight when he got home.

Another friend went to the theatre with a guy who spent the whole time smsing. Throughout the whole show he was smsing, and at interval he was talking on the cell. She was furious. She was completely ignored. Needless to say she never saw that guy again. It’s so obviously rude not just to her but to all those seated around him in the theatre. Why did he not know that? Why did he not leave the theatre to text?  It’s incomprehensible.

I met some people for breakfast. There is something irritating about people showing up late, and then constantly texting. I’m not up this early, dressed up, made up; hair done and hungry because I have a desperate need to not have a decent conversation. It’s breakfast, for heaven’s sake. Next time, send me a text.

Irritated? Yes I was, but I was also resigned. It seems that nowadays, if you really want someone’s attention you don’t meet them, you phone them.   People love to be on the imagesphone. People are constantly in “I really have to take this call” mode. The cell phone has taken over their lives. The tragic thing for social interaction is that they really do need to take the call.

I’m not totally innocent. I reluctantly admit that I have my moments. I was on the cell in the car, driving. It’s not allowed, I know. It was just after my mother passed away.

The call was from someone at the office of The Speaker of Parliament.   I sat up straight in the driver’s seat when they said they were calling from that office. I drove around a corner and there they were; the traffic cops. They, of course, pulled me over. What could I do? It was The Speaker’s office. I couldn’t say “Oops, traffic cops” and hang up.

The traffic cop stood by the open window. I stayed on the cell indicating with my finger “I’ll be right with you”. I was talking to the speaker’s office about some essential logistics to do with a memorial service in CT, hosted by Parliament, which I was to attend as family representative, and at which I was to speak.  I mouthed a silent ‘I’ll be right there’, to the traffic cop and continued the call.


There was a taxi stopped by the traffic lights just opposite us. The people inside the taxi were laughing and pointing and yelling things at the cop. Eventually he walked off to pull others over. When I’d finished on the cell I stuck my head out of the window and called to the traffic cop, “What about me”?

 “Get lost”.   He yelled, making a dismissing action with his arm.

“Thank you,” I called back.  





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Fracas In French!

On yet another night where consciousness languished in that purgatory out of range of the delectable mountains of sleep my sinner’s soul prayed in penance for the mistakes of the day and my feeble unfocused mind wondered to France, to Angers, to L’Universite Catholique de l’Ouest, in the Loire Valley.  Everyone called it ‘Le Catho’. I haven’t been on the Angers side of Memory Lane in many eons. It’s memories that embedded themselves and floated through my psyche like a montage of frames on an old movie reel.  My mind settled on incidents of racism, and I smiled to myself.  I watched my mind’s eye’s movie of the silly similar incidents of racism that one encounters.

imagesWhen I first arrived in Angers I was placed in a lodging. It was someone’s home. They rented rooms to foreign students. I was at the Centre International d’Etudes Francaises (C.I.D.E.F.), the Language School, specialising in French as a foreign language. It was intense French.  It was very international. There were students from everywhere in the world.

At my lodging I took a shower every morning and evening,  as is normal, for three days.  Days were long and a shower before bed assisted sleep. Who starts their day without a shower? I’d been there for three days. I’d had six showers. It’s normal, right?  The lady who owned the house told me that Tuesday was my shower day, and I shouldn’t take more than one shower on that day. She said I could not shower on other days.  I was 19yrs old and I had never heard of a person having a shower a week. Eeek!  I insisted that I took a shower every morning, and most evenings. She said this was not allowed. I was to shower once a week and wash with the bidet, then do instalments; that is to wash top and tail on other days.

Naturally I hotfooted it post haste to the housing office to ask them to move me immediately. At the housing office I met Claire who had a one-bedroom apartment that her parents had rented for her. Claire was French and was doing a degree in English language and literature. She wanted a roommate who spoke English.  Ah, fortunes smile! I moved in with Claire. We alternated days speaking French, then English. Well that was the plan. I didn’t speak much French then.  I’d just arrived.  I was all right speaking to Claire. It was fun learning that way. However, I was shy of speaking French in class and to strangers. I’d get embarrassed and freeze with strangers; even with Claire’s friends. I’m the same way now about speaking Zulu.  I wasn’t shy as a rule. I was outspoken and generally confident, often joyfully loud and gregarious, but I had a block when it came to speaking French, which was odd because back then I had ambitions to be an interpreter at the UN.

My shyness was cured the day indignation transmuted into apoplectic rage.

I had bought, at considerable pain to my meagre allowance, a bomber jacket. The pockets were slits on either side with little blue leather triangles at the top and bottom of the pocket. It was a lovely gabardine jacket. It was cream. Cream is impractical, so my jacket soon had to be drycleaned. This was another expensive exercise. The drycleaner removed the little blue triangles from my jacket for dry cleaning purposes, but neglected to put them back, which I immediately recognised when I went to collect it.

I pointed this out. The drycleaner said I must pay extra to have the triangles put back. Was he out of his mind? I didn’t feel confident to fight this battle in French. I ventured to try, but the drycleaner kept telling me that he didn’t understand me, though I was sure I was using the right words and conjugations. He was becoming aggressive. He was bullying me. imagesI’ve never liked being bullied. I’ve never been one to back down when bullies try to ply their talents on me.  I recognised that this was just racism. I wasn’t intimidated. I was pissed off. I went to fetch Claire to translate for me. Let him tell her that he didn’t understand her. I was furious and it was not long before I was shouting at the xenophobic drycleaner. Claire was polite and she changed what I was saying.  What was down dirty and forthright in English she turned into apologetic sweetness in French. What the hell? What kind of simultaneous translator was she going to turn into? I was better off on my own.

I went for it. By now I was angrier than I was shy. I wasn’t’ always correct in my conjugation of verbs or construction of sentences, but I didn’t care. I often had to turn to Claire for words, but I was getting my point across. This fool wasn’t going to ruin my jacket and get away with it. Every time he said he didn’t understand I told him that he understood perfectly “Tu comprend tres bien.” I purposely used the familiar “Tu” rather than the formal “Vous” which is for respected individuals and strangers, and I plowed on. There were probably things that I got wrong and he genuinely didn’t understand, but he knew what I was talking about, even if I used the wrong words.  When I think of it now, I’m surprised he had the time. But then, Angers was a slow town. There were students from 50 countries at least, and I wasn’t the only black one. He must have denied himself a lot of business with that attitude.

Other people came into the dry cleaners from time to time. I yelled at anyone who tried to interrupt me. “Attend”. “Wait!” People left with their clothes. The drycleaner said he would call the police. I told him to call them. I told him that he was a fraud. “Tu es une fraude”. I called him a thief. “T’es un voleur.” Claire was the uber polite, meticulously bred daughter of landed gentry. She was very uncomfortable with the whole altercation. She tried to calm me down, but this racist had enraged me beyond reason and I was expressing my rage.  I would die before I would back down.

imagesEventually he said that he would replace the little blue triangles, but I must never come to his dry cleaners again. “Of course (biensur)”, I told him. “I’ll never come back here, and I’ll put a notice in the University Newsletter, Le Catho, that no one should come here”. I refused to leave until he’d replaced the triangles, which he did while I waited. I left with a bright “Merci!”.

Claire was horrified that I had been so rude to the racist drycleaner. I explained to her that I was taught at a very early age not to take racist shit from anyone. I certainly was not going to take racist shit from the drycleaner. I fought. I won. I didn’t see her problem. I told her she should be proud of me. “I’m speaking French”! Not only had I fought and won, I’d fought and won in French. I was on could 9.

After that I began to do so much better in my classes. Where I had previously been a good student I became a very, very good student. I began to love language lab. I now participated enthusiastically in conversation class. I also did what the university recommended, but I’d been shy to do. I started hanging in the local café’s, talking to locals, eating croque monsieur, drinking blonde, which is a sweet French beer, and learning the French that people actually speak as opposed to the French that the classroom demands.

When I went, some years later, into a pharmacy in the south of France to buy some liquid soap, ‘Savon Liquide’ and the girl behind the counter tried the “I don’t understand” thing on me. I smiled. By now I’d graduated. I spoke beautiful French. I asked her what languages she spoke. French. “C’est tout”? “That’s it”? I said. She didn’t respond. She didn’t need to. I started to tell her, in French about me. I told her that I spoke French, obviously better than she did, since I knew what ‘savon liquide’ was. I told her that I was a product of the Universite Catholique in Angers and Franklin University in Lugano Switzerland and at both institutions I studied French. I asked her if she’d attended University. She didn’t respond. I plowed on and she listened to my lovely French. I was being snotty, but I didn’t care. She was being racist. I told her that I also spoke excellent English and Italian. In Lugano I’d learnt Italian.  My Italian wasn’t excellent, but that was an unhelpful detail.

I told her that she would spend her life working in this little pharmacy in this little backwater of nowhere in France, where she would only ever speak French badly even imagesthough it’s the only language she speaks. I let her know that I was on my way to be a translator at the UN and stupid girls like her were mistaken if they thought I was going to buy the “I don’t understand”, crap because I was in no doubt as to what ‘savon liquide’ was.   She was silent and red faced.   “Maintenant tu comprend, n’est pas? Alors, je veux savon liquide s’il te plais.” “You understand now, don’t you?  So, I want liquid soap please.”  She started to tell me again that she didn’t understand but the lady behind me who’d come in toward the end of my tirade was impatient and yelled at the girl, “For heaven’s sake, I don’t have all day, give her liquid soap”. The girl went to get the soap. I left with a cheerful “Merci!”, and a skip in my step. ‘Bring it on you racist A-holes. Make my day.’ I thought to myself.

On another occasion I was in Geneva with friends at a nice looking restaurant. By now I was a student in Lugano. Geneva was just a three hour train ride up the road. My friends didn’t speak French, so I did the ordering. I ordered a bottle of red wine. “Un bouteille de Vin Rouge”. The waiter did the same thing. He did the “I don’t understand” thing. What is it with these people? He was trying that shit on the wrong girl. I stood up in that restaurant and demanded the attention of everyone present. “Excuser moi, Messeur, Dames. Votre Attention s’il vous plait”.   “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention imagesplease”, I shouted tapping my glass with a spoon. I had the attention of many tables. I think the actress in me was emerging. The UN ambition was receding.  “Serait quelqu’un s’il vous plaît expliquer ce qui est une bouteille de vin rouge. Le serveur m’a dit qu’il ne sait pas.  “Would one of you please explain to the waiter what a bottle of red wine is, because he tells me he doesn’t know what it is”.  There was laughter and applause from some of the other patrons. Then the Maitre D came rushing over with a bottle of red wine on the house and apologies. He was wise to do so. I mean this is Geneva, the home of the UN. It’s an extremely cosmopolitan city, for heaven’s sake.

I miss being combative in that way only one’s youth allows. It’s not just that I didn’t take shit. It’s that it didn’t occurr to me to take it. It didn’t occur to me not to put the racist Eurotrash idiots who pretended not to understand in their place in their language. The indignation I felt at that drycleaners made me a harridan against that type of petty racist BS.

Would I still react in the same way? No, I’m all grown up, now. I’d still deal with it, but differently. I’ve learnt to be less confrontational, or less confrontationally confrontational, although I confess to having moments. Today, I wouldn’t argue with the girl in the pharmacy. I’d deal with her boss. Would I stand up in a restaurant and perform for all assembled? No. The world has changed. I’m no long enraged by such ignorance. I’m mildly impatient with it. I pity the petty racists their lack of intelligence and worldliness. Today I’d probably have a quiet chat with the restaurant manager and request he appoint me a different waiter.

These trips down memory lane make me smile. I like who I was then.



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Today is one of those rare days when I feel like hell.   My head aches.  I can’t think.  I have no energy.  I just want to crawl back into bed and sleep and wake up tomorrow feeling normal again; but it isn’t going to be like that.  I am the product of British stoicism.  That means that back when I was a girl, if you could walk you walked into class.  Then, when I was an actress it meant that if anything on your body was sprained or strained and painful you washed down a couple of Myprodol with some vodka, had a cortisone jab, got on stage and danced yourself crippled.  “The show must go on”.   That’s the tradition I’m from. So sick as I feel, disorientated as my mind is, weak as my body is, I got up this morning, took a shower, dressed myself, popped a pill and tried to be useful.  I wasn’t very useful today, not even to myself – in fact I was especially useless to myself; but I managed to get a couple of emails out.  I found some art for the auction. The guy who is doing my website for the Adelaide Tambo Collection showed up with a story about what he’s done but is unable to show me because blah, blah, blah, bunch of B.S.  He’s like a kid making excuses for not having done his homework.  “Don’t waste my time”.  Especially don’t waste my time on a day when I feel like shit. It really irritates me  that I feel like shit so I’m in a bad, bad mood.  I shouldn’t actually be attempting to impose myself on other human beings.  I know this about myself.  Why am I imposing myself on the world?  I’ve been a bitch today. It’s the world’s fault.  It’s the world that said ‘if you can walk you can work’.  The world is so misguided.  Besides, I wouldn’t call what I’m doing ‘walking’.  I’m moving like an ancient person.  Everything hurts.  Everything!  Every joint, every muscle, every limb, every sinew hurts.  My blood hurts.  What doesn’t hurt?  Nothing doesn’t hurt.  Everything hurts. My bones hurt. I wish The Mrs were here.  If  Mrs was here she’d let me get into her bed and she’d have her maid bring me soup and she’d give me strong medicine.  The Mrs was my hospital.  I used to tell her that Mother’s Love is the only cure for what ails me; that’s why I got into her bed when I didn’t feel well.  If I wasn’t contagious she’d sometimes get in bed next to me and cradle me like a child, and we’d gossip.  Mother’s Love is exactly what I need now.  I miss my Mummy. It has taken six months for me not to have a website.  Who waits for six months for a website?  I must be mad.  The first guy who was designing for me was doing something out of the 70’s.  I think he was trying to go retro, but it wasn’t working.  I didn’t like it.   I fired him. So I got the second guy who said he was doing something that I was going to love, but it never materialised because, in fact, he was doing nothing.  He didn’t deliver a website.  I fired him. The third guy wanted to do everything except what he was asked to do.  He called it “adding value”.  He caused my gaskets to blow twice.  Once I can understand, but twice? I was hosting a post-auction sale early last November.  I asked the third guy to design invitations.  I gave him the wording for the invitation.  I gave him the picture on which to Adelaide_Tambo_Ceramics_Sale_Invitationput the wording.  It made a lovely invitation.  Imagine my horror, my shock, my disbelief and confusion when I turned on my facbook to find that he’d posted my invitation on facebook.  On facebook!  Who does that?  That provoked apoplectic paroxysm number one. I have 5000 fb friends.  I don’t even know them.  Imagine if they came. I screamed.  I achieved decibels. I surpassed those decibels during apoplectic paroxysm number two, which was triggered by his insistence on defending the fact that he’d put my invitation on facebook.  I was fraught otherwise I’m sure I would have simply said, calmly,   “Take it down”.  That would have been an end to it. Instead I demanded, at surpassing decibels “Are you bleep bleep insane”!  It was a moment of frantic derangement.  I’m approaching menopause.  Or perhaps I’m there.  I was momentarily deranged.  It’s the psychological equivalent of a hot flush.  It happens to menopausal women.  It’s hormones having a bimagesit of an imbalance.  They tell me there are homeopathic remedies.  I don’t think I need them.   It doesn’t happen often that this fit of frantic derangement comes upon me.  In fact it only comes upon me when the guy designing the invitation takes the invitation, which is for people invited to a private, intimate post auction sale of art, which is catered to the tune of a maximum of fifty invited guests and puts that invitation on facebook.  I’ve not had an episode since then. Neither did guy number three deliver a website.   What is wrong with everyone?  I fired him. So now I’m back with the first guy who seems to be living out an “obviously you can’t live without me” fantasy in which I can’t live without him.  That is why he feels he can show up to tell me blah, blah, B.S. stories about why he’s not done what he’s supposed to have done etcetera on a day when I  am sick as a dog and am channelling the gremlin from hell, the devil incarnate, the evil witch from wherever and the little girl inside who really wants her mummy.  However, I’ve not yet fired him.  Not yet. I’m ending this day.  The day is over.  It’s after six and I’m turning myself off.  I’ve had enough! I will emerge tomorrow like a butterfly from a cocoon, beautiful, good tempered, spiritually light, vital with health, my sense of humour restored, and a twinkle in my eye.

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Black Woman You Are On Your Own


Look at this picture.  The Lady and The Tramp.  The Lady, a pristine, poised, and stylish young woman in a crisp white shirt.  The Tramp, a wild headed, near naked bondage whore lying on her back, her knees up by her ears and her legs in the air.  The lady is white. The lady is human.  The tramp is black.  The tramp is plastic.  She is a chair, an object.

Because the image is of a black woman, with a white woman sitting on her, it is automatically jarring.  One of my friends, a white woman, said that she thought the black woman image here suggested strength and beauty.  I call that ‘misunderstanding on purpose’, or trying to patronise us into misunderstanding.  But, we are not easily patronised.  We do not misunderstand.  It’s not the first time we’ve seen black women represented in degrading imagery; the sort of imagery that leads directly to misogyny, misogynoir, violence, harassment, sexual abuse and rape.

On what level are we seeing strength and beauty here?  In what possible way does this image represent the power and glory of the black woman?  It is demeaning.  Does being demeaned strengthen us?  I guess it does because it’s been happening for centuries and we keep on keeping on.  As Ms Maya Angelou put it; “And Still I Rise”.

“Out of the huts of history’s shame,  I rise.  Up from a past that’s rooted in pain,  I rise”.

What does the fact that a white woman is sitting on a  black woman say?   Someone said that the white woman, being human, is not part of the art.  I beg to differ.  She is the dot on the ‘i’ of the art.  

We black women are on our own.  I was surprised that the responses of friends to this piece; from everyone except black imageswomen was,  “Get over it.  It’s not important.  There are more important things.  You’re not victims”.  But I think, if you’re a black woman, it is important. We’re not victims.  We are stong; and we are sick and tired of the degradation.  We will not get over it.

My response is very visceral.  I am a black woman.   This ‘art’ says to me that this artist’s view of black women is of menial objects; sexual clowns.  It perpetuates the media’s lack of respect, regard, or consideration for black women.  It is racist, antifeminist, insensitive and misogynistic.    It says that the artist’s intention is degradation.  I find it totally regressive, consummately chauvanistic, and indisputably, viciously abusive.

Bjarne Melgaard, a Norwegian artist who lives in New York, designed the chair.  It was based on an earlier 1969 Pop Art piece by British artist Allen Jones.  Jones’s original was supposedly a feminist statement, though I find it more indicative of aberrant fetishism.

Fantasising about women as furniture is known to psychologists as forniphilia. The radical feminist magazine Spare Rib suggested Jones must be terrified of women and have a ‘castration complex’.  

Jones has designed many pieces of furniture, tables, hat stands, and chairs using women’s article-2544334-1AE349AD00000578-412_634x432naked bodies as furniture.  They have certainly raised a lot of feminist hackles. 1969’s women were enraged by Jones’s work.  Their first response when the furniture was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art, in London was to hurl stink bombs and smoke bombs at it.  Later, when the work was shown at The Tate Gallery some furious feminists threw paint stripper at it, melting the face of the sculpture.

Bjarne Melgaard, is said to have wanted to ‘re-toxify’ the original chair by adding the contentious element of Chair 1969 by Allen Jones born 1937race.  He claims his chair to be feminist and a satirical presentation against racism.  He uses the absurdity of being flagrantly racist and sexist as an anti-racist, anti-sexist statement.  For those of us who are stopped in our tracks by the sexism and racism, the paradox doesn’t work.  Using a demeaning black female image and adding Dasha Zukhova into the mix is inflammatory.  The whole mortifying black female/white female; top/bottom juxtaposition in particular is incendiary.  The artist cannot feign benevolence.  We have not misunderstood.

The world is not short of images of black women exploited, brutalized, abused, degraded, starved, defiled, sexualized; their dignity violated, desecrated.   What good does this chair add?  Does it contribute to feminist doctrine?  No!  Does it in any way solve the oppression, slavery, objectification, whorification, and disrespect in art, fashion and other media that black women have suffered for hundreds of years or does it add to that list?  Does it give answers?  Does it make protest?   In my view it does nothing positive.   It is totally objectionable.  It simply perpetuates the brutal denigration and assassination that the black female’s body, mind and spirit is interminably subjected to.  

I have often said that there is little point in art that doesn’t illicit a strong response.  I have never taken art, even vile pornographic images, personally.   This one, however, hit me full square in the solar plexus.  That’s because it immediately harps back to the BLOG2narrative of black women throughout history.  It calls to mind the humiliation of Sarah Baartman, The Hottentot Venus and those hideous hiphop videos where black women are caricatures of themselves with huge thighs, enormous butts, wearing shortie shorts and twerking.  It is reactionary art.  It’s another drop in the ocean of debasement.

Essence Magazine published the results of a survey on black women’s images in media.  They reported, “After a 10-day cycle of recording the images they viewed on the Internet, television and other media, the black women in the Essence report — which was conducted by the research firm Cheskin/Added Value — described themselves as feeling saddened and disrespected, among other emotions”.

There have been many questionable pieces created over the years proclaiming political, social and feminist commentary.  I am convinced that there is no plausible commentary that this chair offers.  There is no discourse beyond the demeaning?   I’m convinced this chair and picture that have us in such a furore are the means to an end, and the end has justified the means.   It is a piece of deliberately conceived exploitation intended to place Dasha Zukhova at the centre of global notice.  It has succeeded.  She is now world famous for more than just being Roman Abromovich’s girlfriend.  She is now famous as a ‘progressive’ gallery owner.  She is now controversial.  She will be celebrated.  What woman in the  world of art could ask for more?

I will never say that artist’s don’t have the right to offend.  I’m offended.  So what, right?  Having said that, however, let me add for my personal edification, that I hold this piece of ‘art’ in absolute contempt.


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