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Rugby Roundup: Super Rugby Round One – Southern Kings vs Sharks

Home of the Sharks

For quite a while, people have been asking me why I don’t write a sort of rugby prediction column, since I am so obsessed (to put it mildly). I’ve resisted for two reasons. Firstly, I may be passionate about the sport, but I’m certainly no expert. I can’t always explain all the technicalities, and with all the changes happening in Super Rugby this season, I think it’s about to get even more complicated. And secondly, and probably most importantly, I lack any ability to be objective. This is the same reason I refused to play SuperBru for many years. I will ALWAYS say the Sharks (and Springboks) will win. It doesn’t matter what stats, experts and logic suggest. I simply cannot say they will lose. This made for a very sad SuperBru season for me last year, but anyway. I will also typically say that the Bulls will lose, just because I really want them to (see, no objectivity), but I am prepared to work on that. Continue reading

Book Club: Forget-me-not Blues – Marita van der Vyver

I’ll start by admitting that I’m a bit late to the party on this one. More than three years late in fact, considering that Forget-me-not Blues by Marita van der Vyver was published in late 2012. It’s a strange thing…for someone who supports local music with an almost zealous fervour, I have read very little local fiction. A shameful oversight which I plan to remedy going forward, particularly since I loved every delicious moment of reading this book. Continue reading

EL VY – Return to the Moon

EL-VY-sq

I think at this point my love for The National and frontman Matt Berninger is fairly well established. So I was, of course, quite pleased when he formed side project, EL VY (pronounced, according to them, like it rhymes with hell pie) with Brent Knopf of indie rock band, Menomena in 2014. Brent also happens to be the producer of South African band Dear Reader’s album Replace Why With Funny, so there’s a bit of a local connection too. Return to the Moon, the band’s debut album, was released in November 2015 and was undoubtedly my favourite album of the year.

EL VY features the sublime (I think the technical term is panty dropper) baritone of Matt, making it instantly recognisable as his side project, and I suppose comparisons to The National are inevitable. While the vocal style is similar, with a few more forays into a higher register than we’d usually hear, the tracks are a lot more light-hearted than the dark beauty we have come to associate with The National. On Return to the Moon you can expect a mixture of upbeat indie-synth-pop and some really crunchy, grungy tracks, with one or two more melancholy numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place on The National’s last album, Trouble Will Find Me. A musician friend and fellow Berninger obsessive tells me that EL VY is all about the major keys whereas The National favours minor keys…I just take his word for that because the only thing I know how to play is the fool.

Whether you are a The National fan or have never heard of them (for shame!), if you love beautiful music and quirky, intelligent lyrics, you’ll adore EL VY, no matter who you compare them to. I’m hard pressed to choose a favourite song off this debut album as each of the 11 tracks has something special to offer. The title track, Return to the Moon, is probably the most upbeat and singalongable (totally a word), while I just love the dry humour and grungier sound of I’m the Man to Be. Need a Friend, No Time to Crank the Sun and Sad Case are also notable tracks for me, but really, it’s actually impossible to choose one I love best.

I hope we get to hear lots more out of the fabulously quirky EL VY. Definitely a highly recommended album.

 

Thoughts on RWC 2015, and being a ridiculous fangirl…

Welcoming the Springboks home from RWC 2015

Last week I went to OR Tambo to welcome the Springboks home from their Rugby World Cup campaign. It seemed like the perfect way to round off what for me was the most special RWC to date…even though we only brought home the bronze.

Let’s rewind to October 2014. I had applied for tickets to a couple of games in the ballot stage, and was anxiously awaiting the verdict – would I be going to Rugby World Cup 2015 in England or not? To say I was overexcited when I got the mail to say I had been allocated a ticket to South Africa vs Scotland would be an understatement of the highest order! Perhaps there was a tinge of disappointment that I didn’t get tickets to more games (although I’m sure my credit card heaved a sigh of relief at that), but giddy nonetheless.

Because I have friends and family in Ireland and the UK, I built a nice little itinerary around the one game that I did get a ticket for, and booked my flights and accommodation super early. That meant I got great prices but it did hamper me from trying to get tickets to any other games once they became available much closer to the tournament. I’ve had a lot of people ask me if it was really worth going all that way and spending all that money for just one game. The answer is unreservedly yes! I’m not sure that people really understand how much I love rugby, and the Springboks, and how emotionally invested I am in that team. More on that later.

After a wonderful time spent catching up with family and friends in Dublin and London, and having done a few obligatory touristy things (the tour of Shakespeare’s The Globe theatre is a must for any book nerds out there), I was ridiculously excited to board the train to Newcastle for the main purpose of my trip: South Africa vs Scotland at St James’ Park. I must say, every single element of the RWC in England and Wales was meticulously organised. From the beautifully presented ticket, that when scanned with the relevant app displayed a stadium tour and view from my seat, among other things, to the super helpful marshals who lined the streets on game day to make sure no one got lost, I was terribly impressed with it all.

So I suppose the question is, can one game of rugby live up to all that anticipation – a whole year of planning and counting down to the big day? Arriving at St James’ Park before the game, I was literally shaking I was so excited. It also felt surreal that all the planning and waiting was finally over and I was at the game! A few people thought I was crazy to be going to the RWC alone – one colleague was even convinced I’d be kidnapped, Taken-style (flattering, but I think I’m past my trafficking prime) – but I knew it wouldn’t be an issue. It did turn out that one of my long-time friends ended up going to the game as well, so though we didn’t sit together, we could catch up before and after the match, but even if I’d been on my own, it wouldn’t have mattered. There is such a spirit of camaraderie at most rugby games, and especially at big matches like this one, that you never feel like you’re on your own. I even ended up having my photo taken with random Scottish and even French supporters – everyone just gets caught up in the excitement of the game and while there’s some jokey rivalry between opposing supporters, I’ve never really seen any nastiness at a rugby game, and certainly not at this one.

Hanging out with the enemy

Hanging out with the enemy

 

We've got this!

We’ve got this!

 

Gearing up for the game

Gearing up for the game

There was, of course, a bit of nervousness – Scotland was our toughest competition in the pool stages, and there was the small matter of that rather awkward loss to Japan in the opening game – but the nerves were soon dispelled by the amazing atmosphere in the stadium. From the poignancy of watching Madiba be posthumously inducted into the Rugby Hall of Fame, to the goosebump-inducing singing of the anthems; from the constant chanting of Scotland, Scotland, Scotland countered by Bokke, Bokke, Bokke, to the thrill of victory, every minute of that game was worth every single cent I paid for the entire trip. I was in rugby fangirl heaven.

Anthem time

Anthem time

 

Just a little bit excited...

Just a little bit excited..

Naturally, when I got back to South Africa, having left Newcastle the day after the match, I was suffering from a serious case of post-holiday blues. It was quite hard to fathom that this moment I had been anticipating for over a year was actually over. Luckily the RWC wasn’t quite done with me yet – there were still a few games to savour. And yes, I cried in a pub when we lost to New Zealand in the semi-final. Like actual, proper tears that had me adjourning to the bathroom to compose myself (and then had the barman pouring me quadruples at no extra charge). I know it seems silly to lots of people. Why would you get so emotionally involved in a game, after all?

Because as my lovely English friend, Liz (who cleverly married a Saffa), remarked, rugby is so much more than just a game to South Africans. We derive an incredible kind of unity from it – people who might have nothing else in common can stand next to each other in a pub or in a stadium, or even in an airport as they wait to welcome their heroes home, and feel like they are part of something special. Yes, there’s politics around it, and people arguing about transformation – is there enough focus on it (no, probably not), is there too much focus on it, blah blah blah – but I have found that the true lovers of the game and the most ardent supporters of the Springboks don’t care once it’s game day. There were lots of people who wrote the Springboks off because of all the turmoil, and because the team hasn’t had the most on-form year ever. No matter to the real fans. We just want our boys (whoever may be on the team) to go out there and play their hearts out. We are gobsmacked when they lose to Japan but we keep supporting them. We want to strangle them when they just keep kicking the ball away but we keep supporting them. And we cry when they play brilliantly but still lose to New Zealand and then still have to compete for a seemingly meaningless bronze medal but we keep supporting them. And we go to the airport and welcome them home, because actually, third place is nothing to sniff at, and if our hearts are hurting then theirs must feel even worse. Maybe I was more emotionally invested in this World Cup because I was there, and I felt that atmosphere, and I saw the players and their desire to make the country proud reflected in their eyes. All I know is that I have just under four years to start saving for Japan 2019….I reckon we’ve got that one in the bag!

 

 

 

Book Club: The Thing about Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin

I wouldn’t ordinarily consider myself a reader of the Young Adult genre but I received an uncorrected proof of Ali Benjamin’s debut novel, The Thing about Jellyfish, and it intrigued me enough to make me want to participate in the SA blog tour publicising the release of the book. I’m so glad I did. Continue reading

Book Club: Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

The name Gillian Flynn should ring a bell for fans of the extremely successful book (and movie) Gone Girl. I loved Gone Girl so I was very keen to tackle her previous work, Dark Places…and boy was I in for a seriously creepy treat! Continue reading

Book Club: Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

There’s been quite a lot of controversy surrounding this book. For those of you who somehow missed the lead up to its release, Go Set a Watchman was actually the first book Harper Lee wrote, but when she submitted the manuscript, she was advised against publishing that work and instead encouraged to rewrite the story as one that went on to become a seminal read for many people – To Kill a Mockingbird. It was certainly one of my favourite English set works in high school and I reread it as recently as last year. Love. The controversy arose for two major reasons – firstly, if the initial manuscript was ‘rejected’, would the book be any good, or was its release now just a money making effort, and secondly, since Harper Lee is 89 and has not only been notoriously media-shy since the remarkable success of To Kill a Mockingbird, but indeed swore that she would never publish anything again, did she even agree to the publication of Go Set a Watchman at all?

It was this second point that made me slightly hesitant to buy the book. After all, it seems as if none of the correspondence regarding the book’s publication has actually been with Lee herself, but rather with her lawyer. And why would she suddenly, after all these years, decide to publish a ‘failed’ manuscript? I’m not entirely sure I buy the story that it was lost or forgotten about and then rediscovered. I struggle to imagine the author that would forget any piece of work she had written, particularly one that bore the sting of rejection but ultimately lead to the creation of a hugely successful novel – the only one she ever published. Even more concerning is that her sister, who had previously acted to protect Lee’s interests, passed away in late 2014. Opportunistic timing or coincidence? Nonetheless, I could not resist the lure of finding out what happened to Scout and Jem after the closing chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I duly bought a copy of Go Set a Watchman (at ridiculous hardcover price too) a month after its release.

I think it can be both a blessing and a curse for an author to have such a stupendous success with a novel as Lee did with To Kill a Mockingbird. On the one hand, while reading Go Set a Watchman, I definitely felt an intense desire to like the book, purely because of the legacy of the previous work that I had loved so much. On the other hand, having subsequent work compared to a prior success can be unfair and a little harsh at times. I don’t know why the initial manuscript was rejected but I found the writing in Go Set a Watchman to be beautiful, if a little meandering in some places. Lee’s descriptions and characterisations are something to behold. I did, however, struggle a bit with the storyline. It felt a little rushed towards the end, a little like there was no real conclusion to the story. Or not one that satisfied me anyway.

Without giving too much away, Go Set a Watchman sees an older Scout, or Jean Louise now that she is a little too old for her nickname, visiting her father, Atticus, in their deep-South hometown of Maycomb. There isn’t a huge amount that happens, no major action or terrible events unfold. It’s more a gentle, but uncomfortable, tale of a young woman discovering that her father is not the moral compass (or watchman) she thought him to be. It rocks her very understanding of everything she has believed to be true about Atticus, herself, her childhood – her core. Maybe that’s why I struggled a little with the storyline too – Atticus was such a revered character in To Kill a Mockingbird, such a bastion of liberal morals that it was very hard to see him fall from his pedestal. Almost implausible. And the justifications for that fall, or Jean Louise’s perception of it, that conclude the book seemed a little hollow to me.

I suspect that if Harper Lee had been given the opportunity to do a bit of a polish, some of the meandering and inconsistencies would have disappeared. My fears that she may not be thrilled with the novel’s release into the public domain are tempered with my selfish pleasure in being able to read it. And it is definitely worth a read. The beauty of the writing outweighs any discomfort with the plot. After all, some books are meant to be uncomfortable – those are the ones that really make us think. And Harper Lee is certainly no stranger to that.

 

Go Set a Watchman

 

15 Favourite Feelings

The lovely Chereen over at For the Beauty of It posted her 15 favourite feelings a little while ago, and I thought that was such a cool idea I’d have to steal it. Although, is it still stealing if you give credit for it? Anyway. I have a secret love of lists, and it’s always nice to focus on the things that make us feel good, so why not? Here are a few of my favourite feelings… Continue reading

Book Club: Leaving Time – Jodi Picoult

Much like people, some books come into your life when you really need them. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult was one of those books for me. By default, it languished on my (rather substantial) To Be Read pile for a few months, after I was fortunate enough to attend a really lovely talk on the book by the author, and then I happened to pick it up at just the right moment, when what I needed most was catharsis. Continue reading

Brothers in Rock

For years one of the favourites (who happens to be the vocalist of the immense SA band, Sugardrive) and I have been saying how incredible it would be if Sugardrive, WONDERboom, Springbok Nude Girls and Prime Circle did a gig together. I still live in hope that a gig like that will happen one day, although it’s very unlikely, but last night the next best thing happened. Continue reading

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