Sunday, June 20, 2010

Changing Room or Chamber of Torture?

What was he thinking? I’m referring of course to the man (it had to be a man –a woman wouldn’t have invented such houses of torture) who designed changing rooms in clothes shops. What on earth was he thinking when he designed a quarter metre squared cell-like enclosure, installed unforgiving fluorescent lighting and then topped it off with floor-to-ceiling cellulite-enhancing mirrors? Did he really expect women to disrobe, see themselves in unadulterated technicolour and then feel good enough about their bodies to buy clothes in such an unflattering environment?

Now, I’m not the sort of person who likes to shop for clothes. In fact, I’m known to wear the same items of clothing until they fall apart at the seams. Literally. Even my mother who tried to rescue a dress for me recently by re-sewing the seams again suggested I buy clothes at least once a year. The thing is I hate shopping. I never find what I’m looking for. Or else the clothes I like never fit me. Somehow I don’t have the sort of shape that fits easily into the “Ready to Wear” category. On that rare occasion when I do find something I like, I have been known to buy ten items in different colours then wear them until threads emerge from the washing machine instead of a single item of clothing.

The only problem with this is that every once in a while, an event comes up which requires a special dress. Usually I can dress my favourite Indian-style clothes up or down depending on the occasion. But on the night of a very special event, one I’ve worked so hard towards bringing about, I thought I had to find something other than my ten year old Monsoon specials. So I ventured out to the local Mall. On a Sunday. Just after pay day.

The trip was doomed from the start.

Every person in the whole of the province had decided that this was the best day for shopping too. Strike One for a good shopping experience. The next step, inevitably my least favourite, was to look for clothes in clothes’ shops. Obviously. We started at one end of the mall. As we worked our way down I became more depressed with each shop we entered. Have you noticed how almost all boutiques stock clothes suitable only for anorexic pre-teens? There was nothing I would wear in a million years. Strike Two for said shopping experience.

Feeling almost desperate as the big event was just a day away, we worked our way up along the mall again. There had to be something that would fit me and make me feel good. At this point I was reduced to taking some unsuitable looking clothes into the changing rooms. Aha! The torture chamber awaited. I stripped to my underwear and there I was in all my flawed glory. Magnified around the room in lights bright enough to light up the darkest Karoo night. Absolutely enormous Strike Three. There was no way I could ignore the extra weight that has crept on over the past years. The changing room brings brutal confrontation time with unforgiving flesh.
No amount of spiritual or rational reasoning could get me away from the fact that everything I tried on made me look appalling. Words such as “mutton” and “lamb” drifted through my depressed brain. Nothing looked good.
What was I to do? I contemplated making the event a Roman-themed night so that I could drape a large sheet over my expanses of skin in a tasteful toga-like construction, but thought this go down well. Finally, in a state of serious existential crisis I grabbed a dress off a rail because I liked its material. It was as soft as chamois, and had a gentle green leopard print, something that would match the wildlife theme of the film. The woman in the changing room looked twice at my rear in the dress. I knew she thought it was too tight but I was beyond care. Nothing would induce me to go back into that change room again.

I’d like to have a word with the inventor of those dreaded cubicles. If you really want to sell clothes in department stores, use lighting with the same wattage of candles. Install mirrors which elongate reflections. You’ll sell many more clothes. And your wife/girlfriend/mother or sister won’t try to kill you when she comes home from a shopping trip.

First Published in The Witness and the Sunday Independent 20 June 2010

Monday, June 07, 2010

Hadedas - the Sequel

Remember when I looked after a young hadeda who couldn’t quite manage to takeoff on her own two wings last year? It’d seemed like a good idea at the time but my charitable deed has created an alarming precedent. Word’s spread. Now, not only do my rescued hadeda’s offspring see it is their rightful heritage to raid my kitchen each day but hadedas from across the country line up each day at 5 am. Their assembled ranks would make General Montgomery proud. Rows of glistening-grey feathered trench coats line rooftops, reflecting the dawn light. If I dare to have a lie-in, their leader sounds the reveille. I’m sure their squawking sets off alarms in nearby houses.

I’m well into a third generation of beggars, um, I mean hadedas now. What used to be a cute party trick when one cautious hadeda tip-clawed her way up to the dog’s bowl in the kitchen has now become an onslaught. The cocky youngsters aren’t frightened at all by said dog’s presence as they lay siege to her bowl of Pedigree. Even when our marmalade cat tries to block the doorway with his bulk, which is not inconsiderable, he is shoved aside as they troop in like a well-trained assault team.

They now see it as normal that I give them their daily bread. I’ve had to resort to bread, you see, as Pedigree is so expensive I can barely feed the dog on it. So I buy the cheapest bread and try not to think of the hungry children it could feed instead of beaky intruders.

A while ago I decided to become hard-hearted and closed the door on the pushy throng. There are only so many times one can slip on hadeda poo in one’s own kitchen, after all.

They must’ve known. It wasn’t long before a daughter of the trailblazing bird set up a fragile nest in a tree outside the window where I work. She balanced precariously on a frail branch just when I’d resolved to keep my back security gate locked at all times.

As I tried not to take any notice of the nest, the soon-to-be mother laid two eggs. Within weeks mottled-brown shells fell from the sky. Soon I could see two scrawny necks sticking up over the nest squeaking desperately for food.

Mother bird exhausted herself flying back and forth with titbits. I felt sorry for her. I know exactly what it’s like trying to feed a houseful of starving children. So I decided to throw out a few choice bits of Pedigree. Just for her. I even let her come into the kitchen on her own a few times.

Soon it was with a sense of pride that I watched mother bird encourage her fledglings to stretch their wings for the first time. I saw first one, then the other, flutter down to the grass under the pepper tree. They stumbled around wide-legged like drunk wind-up soldiers. I never thought a hadeda could be adorable but these were.

It was only a matter of time before they joined their mother outside my back door. Their cries became more insistent as the days went by. At one point mother bird looked smaller than they were, so worn-out was she by her constant foraging for food. Her exhaustion resonated with me. I remember the draining days of nursing niggly toddlers only too well. Mother bird officially became the fifth member of my domestic menagerie at that point. I heaved a sigh of relief every time she threw her wings up in despair and went off on a fly-about for some peace. The two youngsters waited on the rooftops, staring after her in confused silence, desperate for her return. But even mother birds need a break.

Once I thought the babies were big enough to feed themselves, I resorted to locking the back security gate again, this time with steely resolve. That was until mother bird came back with only one of her babies. And with a badly broken foot. She limped towards the gate hopefully. I couldn’t bear it. Of course I had to let her in.

Within days word was out. They all came back. Now it’s official: I’m a complete pushover. Ask any self-respecting hadeda.

First published in The Witness, March 2010.