Up, Up and Away

(First published in Le News 3 July 2014)

I’ve never understood sport. I don’t mean the rules – although, quite honestly, whoever invented cricket must have been insane. No, I mean I’ve never understood the appeal of sport; never understood why supporters go so far out of their way to have their hopes crushed and their hearts broken. Take the current World Cup for example: thirty-two teams competing and only one winner. That makes for a lot of losers, and their devastation is terrible to see. Everywhere you look after a game, you see supporters clutching their heads and crying their painted flags off. How is this fun?

‘Why do you do it to yourself?’ I once asked my husband after South Africa lost a rugby World Cup, and he and his friends spiralled immediately into a depression that they only came out of eight years later.

Of course, your team may win and that’s very nice. But most teams never have and probably never will, and their supporters still go and paint the flags on and cry when they lose.

No. Sport seemed to me to be a pit of despair and I didn’t understand it. Until my five-year-old fell in love with a balloon.

From the minute she handed her pocket money over and took possession of a giant horse-shaped helium balloon, I knew it was going to end in tears. Of course it was. There’s no good end for helium balloons, is there? Either they slip their moorings and float away, or they slowly deflate into some sad thing bobbing around the house, that you can’t believe you paid all that money for.

But as far as the child was concerned, it was the world’s best toy. She played with it all morning – feeding it paper-grass, stroking it and telling it how much she loved it; and of course, taking it outside, to run up and down the driveway with it flying behind her.

It came as a surprise to absolutely no one but the child herself when the balloon eventually slipped from her grasp and floated away. I’ll spare readers a description of the scene that followed but … it was bad. So you’d think that, when the bigger child handed over her cash the next week, for a similar balloon, she would’ve taken every precaution to keep it safe.

‘Let me tie something heavy to it,’ I offered. ‘Then it can’t float away.’

‘No thanks,’  she answered. ‘If it can’t float away … it’s not really a balloon.’

‘Ah ha’, I thought. ‘Perhaps this explains sport.’ No, actually, I didn’t think that at all. What I really thought was, ‘Why the hell does no one in this house ever listen to me?’ But some time later I was musing on what she’d said, and then I thought, perhaps this explains sport. Could it be that the threat of losing a balloon (or football game) isn’t a deterrent at all? Could the threat of losing actually make it all more exciting? Could it sweeten the time spent running up and down the driveway (or painting on flags and cheering from the stands) with a big, beautiful, horse balloon (or a big, beautiful World Cup trophy) floating overhead?

I put the idea to my husband, who was settling in on the couch, beer in hand, for a rugby game: ‘Would you enjoy watching as much if your team always won?’

But strangely, he didn’t feel like philosophising just then. I’ll have to wait until the game is over and he’s stopped crying, and ask again.


Be a Sport

(First published in Le News 26 June 2014)

With all the football fever in the air, my husband has been fantasising about – finally, finally –  getting one of the children interested in sport. He gave up with me just after we met, but with his daughters … well, he might still have someone to watch the rugby with; to go to cricket matches with; maybe even to play golf with, one wonderful day.

His plan has always been to start them young and mould them according to his sporting preferences, and to this end he has showered them with equipment. They’ve had tiny Springbok rugby jerseys since they were babies, little soccer balls, soft rugby balls, plastic golf clubs and a baseball glove (despite the fact that no one in the family has any idea how to play baseball). But the Svengali of Sport suffered a crushing defeat the afternoon he took the five-year-old to a nearby sports ground to teach her how to play football.

Father and daughter kicked a ball around for a while, and everyone had a great time. But then, just when he thought they might start scoring goals, the child decided that the ball was, in fact, a badger.

‘What an imagination,’ chuckled my husband. ‘It’s a badger, is it? How cute. Hello Badger.’ Pat, pat on its round little badger head. ‘Right. Now let’s try to kick the badger through those goalposts.’

The child screamed in horror and delivered a stern lecture to her father about how we treat animals, and they spent the next few minutes engaged in some intense badger-sensitivity training.

Then she said she was bored of that game, and the ball wasn’t an animal anymore.

‘Fabulous,’ he said, taking aim.

Another horrified scream. It seems the badger-ball had turned into an egg-ball. A cheetah egg-ball, to be more precise.

I had to interrupt his story here. ‘Did you explain to her that cheetahs are mammals?’ I mean, talk about a Teachable Moment! But apparently that’s beside the point. The point is that he never got to kick the ball through the goalposts and he had to suffer the indignity of standing in the middle of a sports field, playing Cuddle the Badger with a football.

For a while after that it seemed as if he’d given up on the child-sports thing. But the World Cup has breathed new life into his dream. One day … one day someone might actually use the mini goalposts in the backyard as something other than a jewellery-holder.

I think the seven-year-old may be his answer. She recently got to touch a trophy at her school’s sports day, and is now obsessed with the idea of winning one herself. She’s chosen her favourite sport and she’s willing to put in some hard work to get to the top. Now all she needs is a trainer. I’m not sure how much my husband knows about the 10 metre egg-and-spoon race, but he’d better learn fast.

Pet Peeve

(First published in Le News 19 June 2014)

So we’re talking a lot about pets again, in our household. It seems the children are not content with four fat goldfish, three layabout Guinea Pigs, a geriatric cat and a Furby that will not shut up (I’d take the batteries out but what if it goes all Chucky on me and keeps talking?)

No. None of these are thrilling enough. What they really want – what their little hearts are aching for – is, of course, a puppy.

‘Not going to happen,’ I tell them over and over. No fence, rental property, itinerant status, B Permit, already bankrupted by the cat, blah blah blah.

But they live in hope. And, in the meantime, they’re exploring every other option because, as I heard them whispering the other day, ‘You just never know what she’ll say yes to.’

So hardly a week goes by without some pet-related request from the bigger child, escalating in weirdness.

A while ago it was, ‘I must have a pony or I will die.’ Well, she didn’t get the pony and I’m pleased to report that she has not succumbed to lethal Pony-Craving. Although it was touch-and-go for a while.

A few weeks later, ‘There’s a stray cat at the school. It’s got one eye, no ears and it might have rabies. Can we bring it home?’

And then yesterday, ‘I know where I can buy a toilet-trained monkey. Let’s go there right now.’

Their longing has become so acute that they spent much of last Sunday debating which pets they’d be prepared to swap their father for. After much discussion, the verdict was: a frog, no; a cat, maybe; a puppy, most definitely, yes. I didn’t join in because a) I’ve already explained why we can’t have a dog and b) I didn’t think it was an appropriate discussion to have on Father’s Day.

Anyway, the thing they don’t know is that I totally understand. I remember so clearly the anticipation of getting a new pet, and the delight of finally meeting it. I remember all the lovely, tumbly puppies; the mist-grey kitten with the green eyes; I particularly remember a white mouse that gave an enormous squeak and deposited ten tiny pink babies in her nest, one right after the other. I was thrilled. I thought I’d scored the deal of the century: my parents had agreed to one white mouse and I’d landed up with eleven! Actually I landed up with none because my mother marched the whole lot right back to the pet shop and demanded a refund. So I also understand the agony of having a grown-up stomp all over your fluffy pet-dreams with their big, sensible feet and their limited thinking.

Quite honestly, I’m appalled that I’ve become that grown-up. Which is why I’ve finally agreed that, at some point in the future, when we have a house with a fence and a bigger garden … we might consider getting another Furby.