Trip to Oban

The nice thing about receiving rubbish news was that we had already booked a long weekend getaway to Oban. Or, more specifically, to Loch Melfort, about 17 miles south of Oban.

So we let it go and piled the family, the luggage, and the dog into the car.

Wait, we don’t have a car.

Fortunately it is possible to hire a car in Scotland. Angie finished off the packing while I caught the bus to Falkirk to pick up the rental car. I chose Mitchells Hire Drive, Scotland’s favourite vehicle rentals. Scotland must love low levels of service and product quality.

The next cheapest company was double the price of this bunch, so perhaps I expected too much. Most people probably don’t think they deserve to receive a clean car and full tank of petrol when they pay £40 a day for the privilege of using a Ford Ka. Yeah, it must just be us uppity immigrants. The dirty looks I got when I raised some objections. Sadly there wasn’t a lot of competition nearby, otherwise I would have walked out and tried to rent a vehicle somewhere else.

The beaten-up grubby car acquired, I travelled home and we loaded in all the gang.

Weather was our friend on this trip, and Scotland is a really beautiful place on sunny days.

The drive was beautiful. The place we stayed, Melfort Pier and Harbour, was beautiful. There was a tiny beach and Jethro loved splashing in the water. Bean had her first experience of a beach, and I had the impression that she approved. She seemed to say, “Surely, such holidays are fitting for a dog of my high status, and why have I not been treated to such things previously?”

We travelled a bit around the coast, visiting Oban and taking a boat ride around the seal island. Also got a look at some salmon farms up close.

Other short drives took us to the tiny villages along the lochside. Beautiful little spots like Craobh and Ardfern received our custom and appreciation.

Then we returned, and on the drive back we found a most wonderful spot for lunch. The pictures belong tell you more.

And if these were not enough photos, there is a larger collection available on Picasaweb.

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The Creator: Now 70 years old

We had a celebration to mark the occasion of my Dad’s 70th birthday. Close family in the country converged on Aloe Ridge Hotel. The plan was to see the Star Show on offer there, but alas, it rained.

These are some of the pics of the people, but mostly of the creator himself:

Although we gave him lovely birthday presents, the universe gave him shingles for his 70th. 😦

Get well soon Dad!

Little Neil’s 3rd (Decade) Birthday Party—Story

3rd Birthday InvitationLittle Neil, being me, is actually all growed-up now. I suppose that, despite what I like to think, I’m not all that happy about being 30 years old. This conclusion is obvious when one considers that I hired a jumping castle for my 30th birthday party.

But so what? Jumping castles are awesome!

If you couldn’t make the party because you’ve gone overseas (or just never made the migration to Joburg) I missed you. The more jumpers on the castle, the merrier it would have been.

Not only was there a jumping castle, we also had Zoo Biscuits, Chomps, Creme Soda, and Sparberry. Adam and Nadia seemed to think that Pick ‘n Pay’s No-Name brand Creme Soda and fake Raspberry soda didn’t cut it. “It just doesn’t taste as good,” they (especially Adam) argued.

“Elitists!” I labelled them.

As retribution for my venemous attack, they left behind the bottle of Sparberry they brought. Now I have a full bottles of both varieties of imitation raspberry drink—disgusting. Why didn’t people drink the stuff? It was a 3-year-old’s party. At least the Creme Soda was polished off.

Even 3-year-old children cannot survive on crisps and sweets alone, so we also provided a vodka-soaked fruit punch. To this day the remains of it lurk in the fridge, although about two-thirds of it was consumed on the day.

Hamburgers were prepared as lunch. Since 3-year-olds should not be allowed near fires, the grown-ups cooked the burgers on the braai. By grown-ups I mean, my dad Tony and Angie’s dad Bill. None of my friends complained about the burgers, so good work Dads!

Launch 2
Peculiar jumping castle sports

The jumping castle provided plenty of laughs, but kids these days have such short attention spans that they were quickly looking for something else to do. Fortunately the party organisers had prepared for this eventuality by arranging for incredible party games—with incredible prizes! Of course, along with the short attention span, these kids have become so cynical and they disputed the magnificence of the Made-in-China Bought-at-Crazy-Store plastic toy prizes. I guess they all want cell phones or something.

Pass the parcel
Pass the parcel about to be initiated

Game playing did take place, and the worthy games master, my mum Annie, made sure that no cheating took place. We had Pass the Parcel (won by Jenny) and Pin the Tail on the Donkey (won by Rachelle). The parcel was thoroughly wrapped as only Mum could do—layers within layers within boxes within other boxes within more layers. Every seemed to expect the prize to actually be in the parcel, and so it wasn’t long before they were complaining that the “incredible prize” was most likely to be a small piece of fruit, or possibly a nut of some sort.

Ungrateful bunch.

Mother pins the tail
Pinning the tail on the Donkey Ass (despite treachery)

Pin the Tail was no less tricksy with my mother at the helm. The donkey was twisted and turned and cunningly rearranged so as to fool the participant. Expecting such trickery, I pinned the tail on the donkey’s neck. The trick for me was that there is no trick. Very Zen. Thanks Mum.

On the cutting of the birthday cake, I was compelled by those gathered around to make a speech of some sort. Boy did they regret that. I think I make good speeches, but I’ve never been too fond of impromptu speeches. They need to be prepared. Plus I was fairly tipsy by this point in time.

So basically I complained that everyone liked me too much because they had all accepted my invitation (almost no-one declined it), thus destroying my budgeting for the party and rendering me insolvent… but it was worth it I quickly added, realising how piss-poor the preceding sentiments sounded. But if you cut through my issues with spending money, you’ll see how I was actually really pleased with the turn-out. Hopefully everyone who was there had a lot of fun. I know I did, and the fun would’ve been diminished if it was me alone with a jumping castle (fashioned after a clown, so in fact the fun would have been creepified).

Although I ended up not hiring a clown, Dave provided a clown service absolutely free, and provided a beautiful demonstration of how to use the jumping castle in a most exciting manner. Thank you Dave!

There was also the incident of the destruction of my son’s favourite soccer ball, and I have the ruffians Quinn, Gareth, and  Chris to thank for this. They devised a number of peculiar jumping castle sports, and one of them seemed to involve the ball. The ball rebounded off one of their heads, struck a rosebush, and deflated. Their excuse-making is best illustrated in pictures. The rest of the party pictures reside on Flickr. Click here to see them

Saga of the burst soccer ball 1

Saga of the burst soccer ball 2

Saga of the burst soccer ball 3

Saga of the burst soccer ball 4

Saga of the burst soccer ball 5

Little Neil’s 3rd (Decade) Birthday Party Pics

3rd Birthday InvitationI turned 30 recently. I had a party, but I pretended that I was three years old. Naturally, there had to be a jumping castle.

There was going to be a jumping castle and a clown, but in the end I decided to combine the two by hiring a clown who was willing to be jumped on by fully-grown adults.

Check out the gallery on my Flickr account.

There is a lengthy story to go with this too, but lengthy stories take time to write (hell, uploading and titling the photographs took long enough). Plus, I received many gifts and need to thank all the nice people who gave them to me. Hopefully, a longer story will be forth-coming. But if not, the photos tell the story well enough, I think.

If the longer story never emerges, perhaps this notice I gave to my neighbours might help you piece it together:

A party is happening at No. 14 on Sunday, 9 August, starting at 1pm. We are celebrating Women’s Day!

Not really. It’s a birthday party. But we may also celebrate women although that wasn’t the original intent of organising the party.

I don’t expect it to be too disruptive, but there will be music and a jumping castle. Noise from my home is likely to be elevated above normal Sunday afternoon dog-barking levels.

Roughly 35 guests are expected, so you may find the road inside the complex becoming a little congested. I hope this will be bearable for one afternoon.

If you find yourself becoming incensed by any aspect of the activities taking place at No.14 on Sunday, please let me know. I’m a reasonable man. I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.

Thanks for your understanding,

No-one complained.

Sheila Reynard’s Funeral

I should probably write something biographical about Sheila Reynard, Angie’s grandmother. That would be the appropriate content for this entry in my on-line journal. It’s more going to be my impressions of the funeral itself, rather than an account of the woman Sheila was. Perhaps I can persuade Angie to give a more sentimental account.

The trouble is that I never knew Sheila as a vibrant, energetic person. I certainly could tell she possessed a fiery personality and a cutting wit, but it was always within the context of the old age home where she stayed in Pretoria. Not a wide, sprawling old-age home with little cottages lined up neatly with walkways and lawns. It was a five storey concrete-block institution. That’s how I felt about it, at any rate.

I would have loved to have known her during her time in Kenya.

Angie and I have also realised that we don’t really have any photographs of Sheila. These ones I do have only serve to reinforce my experience of her — frail. I know that can’t be accurate.

We need pictures of her youth. I’m told the photo albums will be scanned and posted up on Flickr in the near future. I hope so. I want to see the vitality in Sheila that I’ve missed.

***

The funeral was a little strange. Sheila had requested that all of her great-grandchildren attend the ceremony. She has five now, with Jethro weighing in as second youngest. The other four sat quietly during the service in a most dignified manner.

Jethro wasn’t in a sombre mood though. He gah-gah-gah’ed and wha-wha-wha’ed and bashed things against the pew and other members of the congregation. He stared with great interest, and temporary silence, at the clergy as they advanced down the aisle, swinging incense and swirling smoke about them.

As a result, it was difficult to focus on remembrance. It was difficult to draw water from the well of grief, because you couldn’t crank the handles to bring the bucket up and tend to the garrulous baby.

Then to top it off, we closed off the service with a rendition of the hymn “Joy to the World” as the pall bearers carried the coffin out of the chapel to the hearse.

Perhaps this aptly sums up who Sheila was — her wicked wit shining through to the very end.

***

Pall bearers — I was one of those. It was a strangely detached kind of experience, but distributed between myself and five other people. I’m not sure about the others, but it allowed me to think that I wasn’t really carrying Angie’s dead grandmother, but rather her uncles and cousins and father were.

We placed the coffin in its position above the grave, suspended on nylon straps, and stood back. I’ve never been to a burial. Funerals yes, but they’ve usually involved cremation, and I didn’t travel to the grave itself. This time I was at the grave. A short service was carried out. It reminded me vaguely of the funerals depicted in the movies, but without the rain and black umbrellas. And with some of the people carrying babies.

***

After getting home from the funeral, neither of us felt like we’d really grieved at all — especially Angie. We rectified this after Jethro had gone to bed. We stood out in the garden and Angie spoke about her Granny. I can’t remember clearly what she said, but it struck the right chord, and without the distractions of Jethro’s antics, Angie cried about her Granny’s passing for the first time that day.

It felt right to cry, even if Sheila didn’t seem to want any one to.

Hunchwrist Repairs and Hospital Observations

Hunchwrist of Randpark Ridge
Hunchwrist Before

Hunchwrist Repairs

While pregnant with Jethro, Angie developed a weird growth in her wrist. Officially it is known as a ganglion cyst, but I took to calling Angie “The Hunchwrist of Randpark Ridge.”

So far, we’re still married.

She was admitted to Linksfield Park Clinic on Thurday to have the cyst removed. They insisted we get to the hospital at 6am, but only wheeled Angie into surgery at 2pm. She was out of surgery at 4pm. By the time Angie had eaten something and was dressed (more difficult with only one functioning arm) it was rush-hour. Almost two hours driving to get home. Bah!

The whole day was used up waiting for a 2 hour procedure. Surely the hospital knew which operations it would be undertaking during the day, and the approximate time each procedure takes? Surely such a schedule gives an indication of when a particular patient will go under the knife? Surely it is unreasonable to tell everyone to get to the hospital by 6am, especially if you know you’ll only deal with some of them in the afternoon?

We could try complaining, but one worries that they will spitefully remove the entire hand, instead of just the hunchwrist. The medical industry really is the most peculiar service industry out there. I think it has something to do with them referring to their clients as “patients,” and assuming patients are patient and don’t mind waiting.

Hospital Observations

Although I wasn’t the patient, I still had to do a lot of waiting around at the hospital. To pass the time I watched people enter the foyer and I drank a little too much coffee. Combined, these elements inspired me to write about these people on my cellphone in real-time. The transcript of what I wrote is reproduced below, edited only for spelling and grammar.

It comes across a little scathing, I think. I blame the coffee.

We really are just glorified hairless monkeys with technology.

The guy who just walked in, with the yellow writing on his T-shirt and the tattered jeans, walks with a funny gait. He thrusts his chest out too far, making him seem over-balanced and top-heavy. Or is he overbalanced because his stomach reaches out as far as his chest? He holds his hands up at the level of his chest, and flaps them around limply, bending at the wrists. Obviously he’s strutting, but what’s with the wrists? That doesn’t seem too macho.

Then there are these Eastern European types sitting across the table from me, incessantly talking too loud in a guttural language I can’t understand. The balding man wears a striped T-shirt and shorts, but I wish he’d worn trousers. It is a hospital, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so squeamish, but something  terrible has happened to this man’s legs recently. He’s obviously had those metal pins embedded in his tibia. You know the ones. Those things that stick out of your leg, instead of having a cast. They say the leg heals faster, but it makes you look more like a cyborg.

The wounds are obvious, and he seems to display the bloody gory bits proudly. One leg bandaged, the other not. Just round, dried-blood circles, with a red line joining the dots. A fleshy dot-2-dot puzzle. Join them up in order and you get a zombie!

He talks to his mother, but she doesn’t have any ghoulish markings on display. They quiet down when another couple sits down next to them. The old man of the couple cranes his neck around to the TV mounted on the wall. But’s it’s almost obliquely above him. Not a great angle to watch the cricket.

I wanted to go on about the cricket a little more, and how strange the behaviour of men wanting to watch it is. But my cellphone battery died. This also explains the abrupt ending.