Painting my brother’s girlfriend green – another from the archives


Long ago, best beloved, I had the world’s most fun job, organizing top-end catering events. A random tweet on Twitter brought back one of the FUN ones and I’m capturing it before my erratic memory loses it for another fifteen or so years. To be honest, I don’t remember what the event was for (picture me blushing) but I do vividly remember our side of it.


The organizers wanted an additional five waitresses to work the  inner VIP tent in special makeup, pretty girls please, excellent figures, prepared to wear body makeup. As persuasive as I was, the event crept ever closer and I had only found four regulars who qualified and were willing to give up their Saturday plans, even for double rates. Pretty girls with excellent figures just don’t sign up as event waitresses as often as you’d think. Three days to go, and I was having a therapeutic rant to my brother.


Actually, he said, it sounds fun. Do you want us to help out?  Did I! His girlfriend of the time was something of a pocket-sized miniature, but no denying she was pretty, in a Billie Piper sort of way, so of course I jumped at the chance.


top star treesThe organizers had rented the Top Star drive in, which is built on top of one of Johannesburg’s older mine dumps and is therefore part of the city, and features – of course – a giant film screen, an area large enough for around a thousand cars, and an amazing view of Johannesburg at night. The theme was UFOs, and episodes from the X Files played on a permanent loop over our heads. Gigantic Scully and Mulder kept poking around eerily lit places. No sound track survived the party music, although they kept hearing things and exchanging meaningful startled glances.  Meanwhile we scurried below like ants. There were four giant marquees for guests, and a kitchen tent tucked away behind the screen for us. We also had twenty lambs turning lazily on twenty spits, and the flickering glow made our quadrant look more like an inner circle of hell than an alien spaceport; five serving points; and twenty aliens as waiters. (No real change there, then.)  The waiters were in silver waistcoats and fright wigs, and hard at work serving canapés and cocktails to around a thousand guests as the event warmed up.


The organizers were thrilled, luckily, with their five ‘specials’, who were painted green, put into silver sarongs and silver wigs which brushed to the ground (in the girlfriend’s case, trailed on the ground behind her) , driven down to a waiting helicopter decked out to look remarkably like a UFO, and flown in. Flashing lights, deafening musical cues, all very Close Encounters, it was an absolute riot.


Now I edit manuscripts some of the time, and work for a bank trying to help people disentangle their disastrous finances some of the time, and try to write best-selling books in between.   I want to be abducted by aliens.



Nose to nose with the SA police – another from the archives

I had been lucky with the South African police, it must be said – my first encounter was at 3 one morning, I had just ordered a whisky at Bara G when I realised how late it was, downed it, said my goodbyes and hurried out for the 20 km drive home. Of course I had the motorway to myself and amused myself seeing how long I could take a straight line across the curving lanes of the M1, crossing and recrossing lanes until – whoops – blue light. Knowing full well I reeked of whisky I cranked the window open a bare centimetre; the policeman asked if I was aware one of my front lights wasn’t working properly. He made me do alternate indicators, and then step on my brakes. Ah, he said, one of my brake lights wasn’t working. I was astonished. I was indignant. I sprang from the car and, keeping my shoulder against the car so I wouldn’t stagger and betray myself, I joined him at the back. Ooh, I said owlishly, neither of them is working! Very nicely he told me to drive home carefully and sleep it off. (How did he KNOW?) (Yes, that was a very long time ago. Can you imagine, nowadays?)

The second time I was driving through De Deur with a long-awaited letter from my London cousin open against the steering wheel, trying to decipher her scrawl in quick glances from road to letter to road. Oops. Man in blue stepped out rather suddenly (luckily during a road, rather than letter, stage) and stopped me. I dropped the letter hastily and looked innocent. As he walked round the car he reached through the open window and patted my unbelted shoulder. ‘Ek se niks, hoer?’’ (I’m saying nothing) Sheepishly I buckled up and was waved on my way.

Despite the above I really am a careful driver so there was a long period of no encounters at all. Old South Africa – where all cops were white, and spoke Afrikaans – was in the fullness of time replaced by the New South Africa, where cops were recruited from both sexes and all races and English was the general language, although senior officers were still predominantly male and Afrikaans in the early days. Made no difference to law-abiding me, although when my daughter was accused of stealing things in grade school, and simply couldn’t understand why it was okay that people stole her stuff, but not okay when she took something, I did take her to the local police station where a rather embarrassed, very kind black policeman explained the law pertaining to personal property – in English. I was dead impressed.

Then one morning I was on my way to work when the M1 came to a grinding halt. There had obviously been an accident, damn damn, but the 11th Avenue turnoff was oh so slowly approaching and I could cut through the back roads to Sandton – a taxi pulled into the yellow lane and I followed it instantly, two or three other cars following as quickly (1). Damn! Police car parked just before the off-ramp! We all edged our way back into the crawl but I could see a large policeman walking between the lanes. He slapped the taxi’s windscreen, and strode on towards me, slapped my screen, and went on past. What was that about? The traffic crawled past the police car and there was the off-ramp – to get back in the yellow lane and whip up the off ramp was the work of a moment and I started up 11th Avenue, one eye on the time (2). A glance in the rear view mirror, though, showed flashing blue lights. For me? Crap. Just to be sure, I turned onto a side road. The lights followed. Crap, CRAP. I pulled to the side of the road and opened my window, smiling ingratiatingly. The same large policeman marched to my car, leaned in, turned off my ignition and took my keys as he strode back to his car. Say what? Hey! I jumped out and followed as, still completely ignoring me, he started talking on his radio. “What the hell?” I tried to interrupt him, and wagged my finger under his nose for emphasis (3) “you don’t just bloody take someone’s bloody keys, okay?” (4) He turned his back on me and carried on talking and short of pulling him round (which would obviously have been stupid even if he hadn’t been very large, and like all SA police armed) there was nothing I could do but stalk crossly back to lean against my car, have a cigarette, and sulk. Another police car pulled up in minutes and the driver marched up to me, toe to toe, nose to nose (I’m tall, he was quite short) and shouted “we’re sick and fuckin’ tired of you pipple and your racist attitudes, you unnerstand me?”I should say the first one was black and this one was white. Give the first guy his due, he did say hastily, ”she hasn’t been racist.“ The new guy didn’t miss a beat. “We’ve got new powers” he bellowed, “so there’ll be no more taking crep from you pipple who think you can do what you want. You’re unner arrest.”

I wiped spittle from my face with a pained look. “Okay, can I at least have my keys back to lock my car? Or are you just going to drag me off?”(5) The two cops went into a huddle, there was more radio talking, and another wait. A third police car arrived, with two cops, one of them female. She drove my car up to Norwood police station with me in the passenger seat, escorted by a police car in front and one close behind. The cavalcade drew some very startled looks but I was starting to feel uneasy. This was a lot of trouble they were going to, for what? Maybe being cheeky had been a really bad move –

At the station I was allowed one call, so phoned work to say I was at Norwood police station and would be late. Then I was charged:(1) reckless and dangerous driving (2) leaving the scene of an accident (3) assault on a police officer (4) crimen injuria and (5) resisting arrest. I didn’t even know what crimen injuria was (swearing) and very indignant about the assault charge. Turns out, did you know, that threatening someone is assault? Actually touching them is GBH. Or so those berks assured me. By now I was finally really scared, was I really going to be thrown into a cell just for trying to get to work on time? In fact they left me alone in the detectives sitting room and I was standing in the doorway, glumly having another cigarette, when I saw our (Afrikaans, very pregnant) sales director hurrying up the stairs with her (Afrikaans, very pretty) secretary. The company had phoned the police station back to check I was okay (having assumed I was reporting a burglary, or similar) and been told I’d been locked up as a public danger, so Pregnant and Pretty had been sent to the rescue to talk me out on bail. (R500! The Cape Town Strangler was released on R1000 bail!)

My court appearance booked for the next day, and if you think I slept well that night, your nerves are stronger than mine. My mother went with me for moral support and we waited, and waited, and waited, and finally went to the court official to find out when my hearing was to be. “Ag,” she said “we threw thet out. Bluddy rubbish.”

There was a post on Facebook today about the UK police getting new powers, which really opened the floodgates on this twenty five year old memory. Ah, nostalgia….

Random memories – me being a threat to US security –

Top US security guards are surprisingly large. I mean surprisingly large. It was like being hemmed in by two suspicious Hummers – but I am getting ahead of myself.

A long, long time ago in a country far, far away, I worked for an elite catering company, co-ordinating events. One of our most prestigious regulars was the US Embassy and the owner of the company was very chuffed when we were booked for a particularly high-profile cocktail party at the Embassy. It would be huge – 600 guests – and security was even tighter than usual. Dinner would also be required in an upstairs room for a small party of VIVIPs. We were to submit ID numbers for all 25 participating staff for security checks and a few of us – the owner, the chef, two serving staff, me – would need top level clearance.

Two weeks before the event the owner was whisked into hospital for major brain surgery. There was no way he’d be back in the saddle in time, but after an emergency meeting the Embassy decided they would go ahead anyway rather than start the whole security thing again with another caterer.

A frisson of excitement ran through the entire company when we realized President Bill Clinton was visiting SA at the same time. So that was why the security was so much stricter! The Embassy cagily confirmed the President’s party would be the dinner guests and our Austrian chef Albert threw himself into an orgy of preparation. I even booked my daughter, then 14, as one of the general waitresses looking after the cocktail party – come on, the President of the USA? She’d worked functions before, would never have forgiven me if I hadn’t included her, and at least I knew she wasn’t a security risk.

It was a roaring success. With the main rush over Albert and I retreated for a brief celebratory smoke break. He wanted to shake hands, but I’d been caught that way before – the man was a handshake sadist with a grip like a mangle – so we settled for high-fives, then noticed a security guard pointing us out to a worried-looking man. Uh-oh. He came over to say the President was also to meet a group of 60 prominent American businesspeople, but the caterers had let them down. The President, he said, would take it as a personal favour if we could help out.

We said promptly that we’d be delighted, when was it?  The worried man looked even more worried. The party, he said, was starting now –

For security reasons no-one is allowed to leave any event before the Presidential party does, so you may imagine the looks the tiny task team got as we were escorted out by by security guards. My daughter looked particularly dumbfounded and said afterwards she assumed we’d been caught doing something horrendous and she’d never see me again.

We raced back to the kitchen and while Albert and Thandi started performing miracles assembling canapés and finger snacks from anything they could find in a kitchen all but stripped for the big event, Bheka the driver and I put together the most basic bar in the world from stock left over from previous functions – half a bottle of gin here, a third of whisky there, anything measuring more than four fingers went into the crates. I’d take my own car so I could stop to buy ice and bags of crisps and peanuts en route, and we had a fair assortment of wines, beers and mixers. Last to be packed into the van went the glasses, still steaming from the glass washer.  From the time of the request at the Embassy to the van’s arrival in Market Street was an hour and fourteen minutes – probably record-breaking for us, a very long wait indeed for 60 hungry, thirsty and extremely disgruntled guests.  I arrived first, in the car, and opted to wait outside until the van arrived rather than walk into that angry room carrying only three big bags of ice and some crisps ….

Our welcome was, you can imagine, ferocious.  Finger sandwiches and hastily-garnished crackers were grabbed by the fistful by the starving guests, still-warm egg halves were wolfed down. Olives, cocktail sausages, ham cornets, crisps with dips, even the crudité went as fast as we could put trays out. Thandi got mobbed every time she started out to circulate with a tray of snacks and settled for rushing them out to scattered tables, hotly pursued, then running back to get the next, looking scared. With only two bottle-openers we simply couldn’t open bottles fast enough, but I knew I had more openers in the car – I always carried a Boy Scout backup kit – so left mine with Albert and slipped out to get another. I didn’t bother to dig for it, just grabbed the whole bag. As I rushed back in two huge security guards stopped me and wanted to go through the bag. They agreed to let the bottle openers be handed through to Thandi, who was hopping from foot to foot just inside the door, but wanted to know exactly why I was trying to smuggle in carving and boning knives? Before I could explain, the Presidential cavalcade arrived and I was pushed up against the outside wall by those human Hummers while the party went through. Only when they left again, twenty minutes later – and I could see by the way Bill Clinton was massaging his fingers that he’d shaken hands with Albert and the others – was I released.

The owner said afterwards, quite rightly, we should have refused rather than risk a sub-standard performance, but I’m pretty sure if he’d been there he wouldn’t have refused the US President a personal favour.

I’m not as sure that the President personally rubber-stamped the letters of thanks sent to Albert and me, but I’m still pretty proud of mine.

Waiting for ET

I don’t believe in aliens, because up to now I haven’t seen / met / experienced any (although there was one night years ago in Africa when I was driving through dark emptiness with a friend and we saw a circle of lights far above that seemed for a while to be tracking us, which was seriously exciting.  However the car, not being suggestible,  continued to rumble firmly on instead of dying in the best tradition, and we regretfully decided it couldn’t have been.  Damn.)  

However, I do believe in ghosts.   I’ve had one unmistakable encounter, and two others that I might have written off as odd moments of fancy, or cheese dreams,  if not for the first,  Our guru on most matters, Stephen Fry, said on QI there were no such things, which just proves he has never encountered one, because the whole thing is like throwing a switch.  You know something isn’t so, and then you know that it is.  In fact, saying I believe in ghosts is misleading, it implies an element of choice.  I know a fat and unwieldy cat can jump onto a counter from a sitting start.    Before I had a cat, I would have scoffed  at the very idea.


I am not about to regale you with the experience, because as Spock told Bones, it can’t be discussed except with someone who has shared a similar experience.     However, it does make it interesting reading about other people’s sightings.  You can read one and scoff, because they’re so obviously making it up.  And read another, and know it is true, because the detail (usually far less exciting than the made-up ones) is right. 

So Stephen Fry is wrong (tsk tsk) and I wait with both hope and trepidation to have a real alien encounter.   That would be something to blog about, eh?