Thursday, June 30, 2011

Saints or Sinners?

In the beginning, I was confused. Confused and, if I am being honest, a little bored. Boondock Saints wasn’t my choice of movie, though I had heard for years how amazing it was, and the opening scenes didn’t excite me too much. I had no idea what was going on, and that was probably partly because I wasn’t really concentrating too much on the movie. I was more preoccupied with keeping myself warm in my icy lounge.

And then something happened. Somehow I jumped from bored to intrigued. I think it was at the point where the detective, played by Willem Dafoe, suggested that someone in the apartment building next to the first murder scene would be complaining about a leak. A leak? I thought to myself. How the hell would he know? And lo and behold, someone complained of a leak. There was more confusion, but it was of a good kind. It was the kind of confusion that leads to you wanting to know more rather than the kind that leads to you wanting to turn the movie off and go to bed.

The movie never stopped being confusing. My friend and I were constantly turning to each other, asking what was going on, hoping that the one had seen something that the other had missed. But it was also fairly enjoyable – there were moments when we were laughing so loudly that my housemate would come downstairs to see what on earth was going on. There were also moments where we (or I) hid under the covers because we knew that something gruesome was about to happen.

For those of you who have never heard of the movie, I will offer a brief explanation. It is about two religious brothers who somehow find themselves getting chased by two Russian hit men. The brothers manage to kill the hit men with a lot of luck and a little skill, hand themselves in to the police for the crime and are let off because it was clearly self-defence. They decide that their release is a sign that they are meant to be killing bad people, and go on a vigilante killing spree of various people related to the Russian and Italian mobs, with Dafoe hot on their heels.

I am not a fan of gore. I am not a fan of unnecessary violence. I am certainly not a fan of cats being shot (the one scene in the movie that I was most horrified by – forget all the men that these two brothers killed, that kitty cat did NOT deserve to die!). I think that the gore and violence that the movie revolved around is what stopped me from actually loving this movie. I did like it, however. I enjoyed it for the most part. For some reason, though there were many, many scenes that I didn’t enjoy, the movie overall was a good one.

Still, I don’t think that I am going to be finding myself rewatching Boondock Saints anytime soon. While I can admit that it was a good movie, even that I enjoyed myself during parts of it, it is not something that I can see again. I say this because I know myself – if I watched it again, I would likely be focussing more on the horrifying aspects than I would on the humorous and clever ones.

After the movie, clips were shown from interviews with people on the streets asking what they thought about the Boondock Saints and about vigilante killings in general. There were a number of responses ranging from support to disgust.

So my question for you today is this: Should people ever take justice into their own hands?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Answering the call

There is a song that I love that somehow got completely lost in my playlist filled with songs like I like, songs that are okay and songs that I hate but made their way onto my playlist due to my sheer laziness. This happens often with songs that I love, and this is largely due to the fact that I will hear a song that I love, a singular song by an artist that I have never heard of, will make the effort to find that song and then will forget all about it when another song grabs my attention and becomes the tune of the moment.

I was reminded of this particular song when one of my co-workers asked me if I liked Regina Spektor.
"Who," I asked, as my brain tried to send off sparks of recognition. Regina. Regina Spektor. Why did it sound familiar. And then I remembered.
"I do!" I announced a moment later. Proudly, as though liking Regina Spektor was an achievement, was something noteworthy, made me one of the cool people. "But I only know one of her songs."
"Ooh," Andrew said, poised to pounce. "Which one?" I could tell that he was ready to burst into a stream of how much he loved that particular song, and was incredibly surprised when the one song that I knew was the one that he didn't.
"It's called The Call," I told him, and received a blank stare in return. "I might have it on my iPod, I said, removing the device from my handbag and wiping off the dust that had accumulated since my last roadtrip two weeks before. I flicked through the artists, and found nothing. I searched for the song and came up with zip. I was disappointed, but Andrew somehow managed to find it for himself and loved it.

This all happened yesterday. I have had the song stuck in my head since then, and when I arrived home this evening, I felt an incredible urge to listen to it. So I turned up my speakers, opened up Winamp (yes, still my music player of choice) and found it. The mesmerising voice burst through over my speakers and my heart skipped a beat. A warm, fuzzy feeling of joy crept through my body, and I found myself smiling without even realising it.

It may not be the kind of music that I listen to on a daily basis, but somehow, Regina Spektor has hit the spot. Somehow, this song speaks to me and makes me feel alive. Somehow, this song has become my anthem, and it is songs that evoke feelings like this that I love. It brings back memories of times gone by, and by listening to them, I can relive those days.

Here is the video for Regina Spektor - The Call. I cannot promise that you will love it. Hell, I can't even promise that you'll like it. But I know I do.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fest - Coming soon to a town nowhere near you!

Why does Grahamstown host the National Arts Festival? This little town in the middle of nowhere, this little town filled with University students, most of whom abandon the town at the time of the fest to run along home back to their mommies and daddies and home cooked meals. Why here?

One of my friends asked me today whether Grahamstown has a big Arts scene, and thinking about it… No. It really doesn’t. Sure, there are the plays put on by the drama students attended by their friends, fellows and lecturers and music recitals attended by more lecturers and a couple of locals. But a big Arts scene that does not make. So why Grahamstown?

I have my own theory about this, and it is purely based on my experience of Grahamstown as a town, Cape Town as a city and Johannesburg from the little time that I spent there. Picture the National Arts Festival in Johannesburg. Just think about it for one minute. Think of all the space that the organisers would have, all the places where events could be hosted, all the popular bands who could be included and the big stars who could become a part of the show. And then think about the traffic – how many people would get lost trying to find the place, how many empty theatres there would be and how little exposure the little (or littler) people would get. Think about how much would get lost in the stratosphere as people went about their daily lives. Cape Town would be better, but not by much.

By hosting the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, you get to experience the talent that hasn’t been discovered quite yet, or the talent that has been discovered and has not been completely corrupted and taken advantage of. You get the big guys and the little guys flung together in a schedule that allows you to see them all. And there is no threat of traffic (or no real threat anyway, though there is certainly going to be more of it than on your average weekday). Think that you are going to be late because there are too many cars? Find a place to park and just walk – Grahamstown is small enough to do that after all.

In a place as small as Grahamstown, the town BECOMES fest. Everything about the town revolves around fest. It is all that anyone talks about and it is the highlight of the year every year. Where else would you have that experience? In a big city, the festival would get lost amongst the ten million other things going on. Here, there is nothing else going on! Your life becomes one of comedy and concerts, ballets and drama, shopping and eating, shows, shows, shows. You are swept up in the arts for two whole weeks, attending shows day and night that fit in with your interests and hobbies.

And then it is gone. Slowly the tourists retreat, the students return and life goes back to normal. The locals revel in the fact that the traffic has died down and they can drive again. And, before long, the talk of the festival has fallen away. Life goes on. It is over. Until next year, that is…

Why Grahamstown, you ask? Because fest wouldn’t be the same anywhere else, and we like it just the way it is.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Getting Tested

I hate needles. I have said it before, and I can guarantee that I will say it again. If fact, I will right now. I HATE needles. I hate them with a passion. But there are some times when facing your fear is worth it, and getting tested is definitely one of them.

I had been tested before, twice in fact. The first time was in my first week of University - the Uni had an HIV awareness week, and a testing drive was being run. Even though I had no doubt about my negative status, I went for the test along with a number of my friends to support the process of testing. Though it was being done at a University, where the majority of students should have been aware of the importance of getting tested, rather than in one of the townships where the main problem arises due to lack of education, there were still students who didn't go, and going was still important. The second time I went was for a similar reason - joining a friend and her boyfriend who did not want to go through the process on their own. So Grant and I joined them.

After a year apart, Grant and I decided to do the responsible thing and get ourselves tested. Once again, I had no doubt about my status, and Grant had no doubt about his, but we just wanted to get tested and be completely sure rather than assume and find out later that it wasn't the case. And so, yesterday morning, we made the trip to the Family Planning Clinic.

For the women in Grahamstown who may not know what or where the Family Planning Clinic is, I don't blame you. I hadn't heard of it until I visited a Doctor a couple of months ago and, upon mentioning that I was on the injection, she let me know about the clinic, where I could get the injection for free rather than paying the R250 Doctor's fee. When she told me about the clinic, she mentioned that it had recently moved, but she wasn't sure where. She did mention Anglo African street, so when it came time to get my injection again, I made my way there, only to find a big fat nothing. I went to the pharmacy to ask about it, and they said that it was on Huntley street, just opposite Good Sheperd school. And so I went there, and walked up and down the street at least three times before I spotted a sign reading "Makana Public Health". Could this be it? Apparently.

The Family Planning Clinic provides a number of services including counselling, distribution of pills, education of the community and HIV testing. Unfortunately, they only do planned testing on Friday mornings between 8am and 10am. This means that, unless it is an emergency, you need to take time off work to go there. And you shouldn't expect it to be quick. On each occasion that I went there, I had to wait between 30 and 45 minutes to see the nurse. Even when there aren't people waiting, the nurses are not particularly organised and are running around like headless chickens. But considering that it is a free service and they are severely under staffed, that should be expected.

The actual testing process begins with counselling. This is because, by law, the nurses need to explain the process to you, need to explain what they are going to do now and what will happen if the test is positive. The first time I went for the test, the couselling was even more intense - they wanted to know how I would deal with it if I found out that I was positive, they wanted to know why I was getting tested, if I had ever done anything that could have led to contracting HIV. This time, since I told the nurse that I had done the test twice before, the inquisition was put aside and only the bare necessities were given - she knew that I understood what HIV was, how I could have gotten it and what I would have to go through if I had it. And so the test began.

The first two times that I had the test done, it was with a wonderful little device, rather like a stapler, that stabbed your finger and drew a small amount of blood. Not this time. This time there was a needle of supreme sharpness that the nurse used to slice my finger, issuing forth a rather large amount of blood. I am feeling a little woosey even thinking about it, I won't lie. After the blood had been drawn, I asked if I could lie on the bed, since I was feeling a little dizzy. The nurse wasn't convinced, but let me lie down anyway. After a few moments, she announced that the test was taking too long and she needed to do another. She brought me to the chair and opened my wound once again. Blood spurted out, going everywhere but on the test, and I started having a panic attack - could feel my limbs tingling and starting to go numb. I lay down once more and, after a moment, the nurse announced that the first test was in fact working. Ta-dah! I was negative.

I came out of the room to find Grant with a supremely worried look on his face - apparently the whole waiting room (of about 10 people) had heard me crying and announcing that I was likely to faint, and Grant had to hold himself back from coming into the room and comforting me because, of course, statuses are meant to be private, and only one person can be tested in the same room at the same time. I assured him that I was fine, took my seat and waited for his test to be done. Ta-dah! He was negative too.

For the rest of the day, I couldn't touch my finger. It ached and it throbbed and it just felt awful in general. I kept picturing blood spurting over my desk at work and everywhere else. Needless to say, I hope I never have to go through that again! And as long as Grant and I are together, now that we know our statuses, we shouldn't have to.

Having your status checked is one of the most important things you should do when starting a new relationship, or even if you aren't. Know your status. Know yourself! (Totally the new HIV testing catch-phrase!)

Thursday, June 23, 2011


There is an actor that I have been crushing on recently. It's one of those things that you know is never going to happen in a million years, but you do anyway - the Googling, the IMDBing, the YouTube stalking. So who has my attention been focussed on? None other but Neil Patrick Harris.

For those of you who aren't sure who Neil Patrick Harris is, you may recognise him as Barney from How I Met Yout Mother. In the series, he plays a chauvinistic man whore with a fetish for suits and a love of high-fives and lazer tag. Not exactly the kind of character that you develop a crush on if you have any sense of dignity. And for the first few seasons of the series, I wasn't impressed. Sure, I giggled at his one-liners, but I winced at his ridiculous strategies and certainly wouldn't have said that he was my favourite character.

And then I found out something about Neil Patrick Harris, something that changed everything, something that changed the way that I saw him and the way that I saw his character. I found out that NPH is gay. Suddenly, watching Barney hitting on women seemed hilarious, watching him being a chauvinistic pig became ironic.

From that moment onwards, my man crush started developing. I started looking him up on IMDB to see what I could expect to see him in. When I heard of a movie that he was in, I was sure to see it, and I was guaranteed to enjoy it. One of my favourite NPH movies is actually the mini-musical Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog, where he plays a super villain who is in love with the hero's girlfriend. Hilarious, heart warming, upbeat and heart wrenching - I cannot watch the movie often enough, and the fact that it is 42 minutes long means that I really can! I even have the soundtrack on my computer.

But NPH hasn't starred in anything but How I Met Your Mother in awhile, and I have been way behind on episodes. So why have I been crushing on him so much recently?

NPH hosted the Tony Awards a couple of weeks ago, and videos of the event have been spreading over the web ever since. The videos are awesome, and definitely worth a watch, so I thought that I would post them here for everyone to see. I realise that some of you will not share in my man crush for Neil Patrick Harris, but I think everyone should be able to appreciate the comedy in these two skits - the first one the opening sequence for the show and the second a duet with Hugh Jackman.

Now, a couple of weeks back I wrote a movie review for one of Jackman's movies, saying that he was pretty much only good for looking at (the Prestige aside). But watching this video of him with NPH, I think that I completely underestimated him. Take a gander and see for yourself.

My question for today - Who is YOUR celebrity crush at the moment?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Books, Box Wine and Photographs of yonder years

I used to be scared of my grandfather. I was terrified of him. He was a very imposing man, a very quiet man, a man who kept to his own company, and I tended to stay out of his way. Unlike Granny Ellen, I don’t have many childhood memories with my grandfather. I also never really had a nickname for him – my grandmothers were Granny Ellen and Granny Faye, my grandfather on my dad’s side was Biba (pronounced Bee-buh), but my mom’s dad? I tried out Grandpa or Grandad George, but neither of them really worked, so I ended up not having a nickname for him.

There is one memory that I do have of my grandfather from when I was very young though, one that I think was blown out of proportion considering how young I was. Pre-school had finished for the day, and my mom was late picking me up. All of my friends had left and all the teachers had left. I was all alone in the playground at the top of the jungle gym and it felt like I had been there for hours and hours. I was crying because I thought that my mom had forgotten about me, that I had been abandoned, and then my grandfather arrived, sweeping me into his arms – my hero, my saviour. As I said, looking back with hindsight, I am sure that my memory of the event has been exaggerated by age – I am sure that there was a teacher watching me from inside and I am sure that it wasn’t the hours of loneliness I had imagined. Half an hour, maybe. An hour max. Hours?? Not likely.

As I grew older, as I started school, learned to read and started understanding more about the world around me, my grandfather and I grew closer. I remember him showing me the photo albums from the days gone by – photos of the family that I would never know, photos of him as a little boy, of my mother as a little girl slowly growing older until the photos of her wedding day. And that is when his photos stopped. I always wanted more. It got to a point where I would ask granddad to show me those photo albums at least once a week.

When I reached high school and became technologically advanced, my grandfather and I bonded even further as I taught him how to use his cellphone, how to SMS and how to make calls even though he was practically deaf at this stage and making phone calls was not really an option for him. He wanted to know anyway, and we would get phone-calls on occasions when he was worried about something where he would say what needed to be said, assume that we had heard and hang up. Not ideal, but it worked well enough!

When I went to University and started studying English, we bonded over books – he tried to convert me to Charles Dickens, but shared my horror at the prospect of studying Hard Times. “The worst one!” He announced, with a look of absolute disgust on his face. Needless to say, his response to the book did not endear me towards it. When I would visit during the holidays, his face lit up to see me, and we had written conversations with each other.

There are a couple of things that will always remind me of my grandfather – whenever I see a crossword, I will always think of the way he did them daily, insisting that they kept him sane; whenever I see a box of wine, I think of the glass that he insisted on having daily, even up to a month before he passed away; and whenever I hear the words RAF, I see the photographs that lined his albums and his walls, the photographs of his troupe and of his friends and the letter of thanks that took a place on prominence on the wall.

My grandfather was a proud man, and I hope to live my life in a way that would have made him proud to have me as a granddaughter.

Lady bugs, cookie dough and Billy goats.

I have been thinking about my grandparents a lot recently. I don’t know what it is that has brought them to my mind – perhaps it’s because this is the time of the year when families are celebrated: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even Youth Day. Whatever the reason, I have been thinking about my grandparents, talking about them and missing them. And while my dad’s parents have certainly been in my thoughts, it is my mom’s parents that are taking up most of my attention.

Not many people knew about my grandparents’ passing. I didn’t tell too many friends. I didn’t write a blog because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to linger on memories, because at that point lingering on the memories would have hurt more than anything. But now, I am finding myself smiling at the memories of the two wonderful people that my grandparents were. And so, I think now is the time to remember them here. I’ll start with Granny Ellen.

A lot of my memories with Granny Ellen take place in the garden – wandering between bushes and flowers, a pair of gardening shears in one hand and the other cupped around my own little hand. Me in sundresses (because I loved dresses even back then) spiralling around the garden, climbing on the swing-set, staring in awe at the sundial and begging Granny to let me shear the bushes today. She would hand me the shears and keep a watchful eye as I ran helter skelter through the garden with them, chopping here and there without any real order, ruining her garden as she looked on, smiling at the innocence of children and not getting angry (I can never remember my Granny getting angry – she was so kind and timid that anger didn’t seem to be in her emotional range.)
I remember us picking blackberries in the backyard, cupping them in our hands, my dress, filling little bowls and plucking them into our mouths sneakily, naughtily, because they were meant for a pie.
I remember finding lady bugs and “saving” them – picking them off leaves and letting them tickle our hands as they ran across, before finding a better leaf for them to live on (one that was greener or wasn’t about the be pruned).
I remember breaking dead leaves off the palm trees and having fights with them, pretending to be swashbuckling pirates and running around the garden, chasing each other, fighting each other, laughing with each other until we were too hot, too tired or until the timer in the kitchen started screeching and it was time to go back inside.

The memories of Granny that don’t revolve around the garden, revolve around the kitchen. Granny Ellen was a great cook, and she was always cooking, almost every time that I visited her. Ne’er a takeaway box passed through the doors to her home. There was always a lingering scent of homecooked food around the house, whether it was from a golden apple pie or sardines and mash. I remember the apple pies – the crumbling pastry, the sweet apple and then the sharp, bitter, spicy taste that filled my mouth as I bit into a clove, a taste and feeling that I hated back then, but miss now; I remember leftover cookie dough, our little secret from my mother, that Granny would give me she cut it into circles and squares and stars; and I remember freshly squeezed orange juice, poured, pulp and all, into three little glasses – one for me, one for Granny and one for Grandad.

I remember sitting in Granny’s room, listening to the radio stations that never ever played any music, with wool in our laps and needles in our hands as Granny taught me how to knit. I remember the awful yellow scarf that I made, that Granny was so proud of and that made me proud.
I remember climbing over furniture as Granny chased after me calling me her little Billy goat and catching me in her arms as I jumped from the kitchen table.
I remember the Christmas tree coming out at the beginning of December, Grandad bringing the boxes of decorations out from the spare room, and Granny and I carefully decorating it with tinsel and neon balls and bells and porcelain angels.

I have so many memories of my Granny, from spending every weekend with her when I was young. And then the memories come to an end. Suddenly all I can remember is Granny walking with a walker, Granny in a wheelchair, Granny refusing to leave her bed and asking the same questions over and over again. I remember telling her things and not knowing if she would remember them tomorrow. But I choose not to think of these memories. It is the older ones that I like to remember, the ones that I shared with her when I was a little girl.

I have so many memories of my Granny, and it is because she was such a wonderful grandmother, the kind that will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Friends (Again)

I hate being in a new town. It means not knowing anyone, not having any friends, not being able to talk to people about things that are wrong and not having anyone to go out with. You would think that being in Grahamstown would be different – I lived here for four years, my boyfriend is here, I know the lay of the land – but it’s really not.

Practically all of the friends that I had before I left Grahamstown have moved on – some to Cape Town, some to Johannesburg, one or two to neighbouring towns like Port Alfred or Port Elizabeth. The few that have remained are either ridiculously busy with work or studying, were never particularly close friends or have changed so much that we have grown apart. Or is it me that has changed? I can’t really tell. All I know is that I am left friendless, and I feel like I am in a Ghost Town – haunted by the memories and good times that I shared with my friends without them actually being here.

I can hear what some of you are thinking – you have Grant. And I do. And he is awesome and amazing and the best boyfriend a girl could ask for. And while he is one of the closest friends that I have, our friendship isn’t quite the same as, say, my friendship with Amy or Robyn or Ashlea or the other BFFs that are scattered around the world. That isn’t to say that it’s worse. It’s just different. I cannot go out and dance the night away with Grant. I can go out, but it tends to involve sitting at a table nestling a beer while he chats to some of the guys whose names he doesn’t remember. I can’t talk to him about the things that I talk to my girlfriends about. I can talk to him about just about anything, but not series, not gossip, not girly things. Well, I can, but he isn’t nearly as interested as my girlfriends would be!

I know that if I could bring myself to go out, I would make friends in a heartbeat – I am the kind of person who tends to make friends easily that way. But I can’t bring myself to go out without someone to fall back on, without a friend already there to hang out with in between meeting the new people, without someone to talk to.

I have been through this friend-finding thing too many times. First when I arrived in Grahamstown as a naïve 17 year old, again when I moved to Korea and now I have to do it once more in Grahamstown, when I am a slightly more matured 23 year old surrounded by naïve 17/18 year olds and when I am no longer a student and have lost that connection to most of Grahamstown’s population.

So my question for today is this: How do you make friends in a new place?