Things I did on my day off work

Three days of bonus leave are nothing to be sniffed at. They expire at the end of June, so it’s now or never. When I saw that June 13 had no – no! – meetings scheduled, I knew this was a very special opportunity.

What do you do with a day (almost) all to yourself? You do something you haven’t done in a long time. You do something that used to matter to you, a lot. So, today, the plan was to watch a movie in a cinema for the first time since December 2015 when I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Once upon a time, I was something of a movie buff, watching at least two movies a week. I studied film at university and wrote movie reviews for SA City Life in the 1990s, when I got to see everything long before everything else, and with great catering. That was how I met Barry Ronge and why, during one conversation about an ex-boyfriend, he called me “Hitler with tits”.

Once I had a RaRa, movies became most definitely a thing of the past. Until today. Today, I was going to watch Wonder Woman and write later about the experience of being in a dark theatre with nothing to think about or focus on but what was on the screen in front of me.

It was never going to happen, of course. This morning, I needed to write a resumé and send it to a potential client, and give a quick overview on the job at hand. By the time I dropped RaRa off at my mother’s, I knew there was no way I would ever get to Rosebank on time.

So this is what I did instead.

First, I dropped off two paintings at the framers I use to mount my work in lipstick. (They’re next to Herbert Evans, and very good. I can recommend them.) One painting is for Gaynor Young, and the other is for a fellow fan of the Frankel, the unbeaten superstar British racehorse.

On the way to The Zone, I’d noticed several outside broadcast vans next to Oxford Road. Twitter informed me that it was the DA press conference, so I snooped around the Rosebank Holiday Inn and scored a coffee while eavesdropping on the comments of the journalists gathered there. It’s possible that I photobombed a TV reporter. If I’d run into either Mmusi or Helen – neither of whom I’ve met, but both of whom know my husband – I’m not sure what I’d have said.

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Then I ducked into the Clicks in search of a photo frame for Father’s Day. There I encountered assistant store manager Lesego Phihlela, who gave me a discount on two photo frames and happily chatted to me when I asked her about some of my clients. (Yes, I know it was a day off, but I’m never not working.)

I tweeted a pic of Thula Sindi’s Rosebank store and titled it the headquarters of Avo Haters South Africa. (The avo wars are a perennial feature of Black Twitter in South Africa.)

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After that, I went hunting for Africology. My husband had received a spa voucher as part of a corporate gift, and six months later, there was finally an opportunity to use it. I walked in, chose my treatment and enjoyed 45 minutes of bliss thanks to Aletta Khwinana. The treatment got to all the knots and I feel so much better now, which is more than I can say for many massages. Highly recommended.

After the massage, I rushed back to my mom’s place to feed RaRa and go through my mails. I typed up a quick biography for the executive creative director who needed them for a pitch, then headed to the office to chat to the MD about some proactive social media ideas. (Life hack: showing up at the office when you are officially on leave is a way to win friends and influence people.)

Then I did a spot of shopping at the centre across the road before picking up RaRa, heading home and writing about my day.

There’s something quite wonderful about being officially on leave when everyone else is at work. There’s none of the guilt, no worrying about time sheets, and always the possibility that something interesting might happen.

Oh yes – I did mention that there were three bonus leave days. I still have two more bonus days to take. I’m thinking about using those to travel to the Garden Route, which needs the business after the horrific fires of the past week. If I don’t travel, I’ll try to watch a movie in a cinema again. Perhaps I’ll use my two Sorbet vouchers, one of which dates from August 2015. I haven’t bothered to get my nails done in all that time, but bonus leave means there’s no excuse.

 

 

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Passport to home

This afternoon, my husband called me from Hong Kong. Yesterday and the day before, it was Beijing, where he attended a conference. I’m looking forward to having him back home, but I’m glad he’s had another opportunity to travel, because he loves it and it matters so much to him. He might be off again to India soon for his 40th high school reunion, and he has a good friend in Vienna he visits regularly, so I am sure there will be more WhatsApp video calls in the months ahead.

I have travelled with him to Hong Kong and Vienna and India before, but next time he goes, it will be on his own. This is how it will be from now on.

Which reminds of where I keep my passport, in my cupboard wedged between my socks and my underwear. It’s next to RaRa’s vaccination records, which is apt. One document has become far more important than the other, and I don’t imagine I will use the other again except to explain to British Airways why my name on the ticket is Sarah Britten-Steyn and not Sarah Britten. (It’s a long story, which I won’t go into here.)

Travel – the kind that requires a passport – was once one of the most important things in my life. It was impossibly extravagant when I was growing up, and I vowed to change that once I had a job and money of my own. I felt ashamed that I had seen so little of the world, and envious of those who had.

When I was a child during the 80s, overseas travel was something that only amazingly rich people did. Bear in mind that these were the apartheid years, and it was less common for (white) South Africans – the perennial polecats of the world – to venture abroad.   My father traveled regularly, but that was on Eskom-related business, usually heading off to Paris to talk about high voltage power lines. My mother stayed home with us. I knew that there were photos of her visiting Europe when she was much younger, but I never saw them and as far as I was concerned, the rest of the world existed only on TV and, therefore, only in theory.

Now, history is set to repeat itself. RaRa and I will stay home. As long as there are school fees to be saved for and debts to clear, travel is the least of my priorities. Having blown so much money on a quixotic trip to exhibit my art in Japan before I fell pregnant in 2015, I’m loathe to make the same mistake again – and quite frankly, the thought of traveling overseas with RaRa does not appeal to me at all. We have no reason to go, and maybe we never will.

This is what it means to have a child, for me: to stamp out the desire for things that are no longer practical. Travel is the first to be struck off the list. Clothing is up there too, as are other things that aren’t strictly necessary: shoes, hair, dinners, entertainment. I cant justify any of it. Not now, not ever.

 

Things I would save from a fire

Today, Twitter and Facebook are filled with pictures of boiling sheets of flame and a post-apocalyptic world that used to be a town I’ve known my entire life: Knysna. It’s hard to believe that so much of this lovely place of lagoons and forests (and, yes, nightmarish crowds and traffic over December) has been reduced to ashes and soot.

To see this happen in Knysna of all places is especially hard because of my personal connection to the town. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve shopping with my grandfather along the main road. It was in December 2013 that Kanthan invited me to lunch with friends at Thesen Island when I happened to be staying at Hope Villa with my friend Laura. It was there that I returned in January this year to introduce RaRa to Tessa and Friedel, our hosts there.

Hope Villa still stands, but many homes have been destroyed. Not just holiday homes occupied in high season, but spaces where lives have been built up over time, where the years have laid down layers of meaning like sediment. Places of furniture and photographs, books and paintings and memories.

Looking at videos of blackened remnants of walls and windows like eye sockets in skulls, I found myself wondering today what I would do if my home was about to be lost and I had to leave. What would I try to save?

And it struck me that apart from the obvious  – family members, RaRa and her car seat, the animals, my glasses (so I could see to drive), my phone and a charger, my wallet and perhaps my medication – I’d leave all my things to burn. No paintings, no clothing, no photographs, no books. Not even my laptop. Everything can be replaced, and if that weren’t possible, it would have to live on in my memory.

If I had time, I’d rush back to grab RaRa’s vaccination card and my passport, because I keep them together, and my Flip File filled with the kind of documents that would involve a lot of queuing and sighing and cursing to replace.

It’s a liberating thought, in a way, not being so attached to things that their loss would cause me anguish. I remember a time when I would have found leaving my stuff behind very hard. Now, it’s easier, because all of the things that really matter are in my memories, in my arms and in my heart.