April 29, 2015

And then Hitler trended on Twitter

See page for author [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
South Africa has been fraught with tension for the past few weeks. Attacks on foreigners have been making a poor impression of us all around the world, and the international opinion of South Africa is seemingly in a downward spiral as our leadership has done nothing to stifle the xenophobia - if anything it has stoked the fire.

And then Adolf Hitler trended on Twitter.

The German leader responsible for the deaths of 6 million people is always referred to after careful ranking as the biggest douchebag in history. And to refer to him - an outright racist - after weeks of angst is sort of to admit the apex of the crisis that is taking place in the country at the moment, for a casual reference by someone of some aspect of respect for a leader and organiser is pounced upon in an attempt to distract from an as yet unsolved problem.

After reading an article about how much of the population believed the white citizens of the country should withdraw from public discourse about race, history, heritage and politics and remember where we come from, I think Wits University SRC president Mcebo Dlamini's admission for respect for Hitler has provided a sort of outlet for people to comment on the xenophobia situation, who perhaps do not feel welcome in such a discourse, without directly commenting on it.
As a white person in South Africa, I often feel dispossessed of any right to comment on the political and racial situation in the country. Of course I have my complaints and sometimes these complaints end up in conversation, but I always feel tainted by my privilege, by the fact that I do not know what it is like to study by candlelight or line up to use the loo or even what it is like to wonder what I'll be putting in my child's belly tonight. I was in Standard 1 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and in Standard 4 when the first democratic elections took place; I was at an age at both stages in our history where nothing mattered beyond the next school holiday, so how can I hold the privilege of my forefathers on my innocent shoulders? But I do and take extra care to express my opinion with care and sensitivity if expressing it at all is appropriate.

Many are of the same mind and feel loathe to comment on such situations and xenophobia is one of them. For white South Africans who are often told we don't belong here, commenting on xenophobia in particular may feel dangerous because it really is only a single step between other Africans as foreigners and us as foreigners.

However, South Africa as a rainbow nation is a melting pot of past history and experiences, and going into a public forum with controversial comments is certain to rise temperatures and scratch someone's back the wrong way. It is with sensitivity that our future politicians should broach such subjects. I am not saying that they should not be spoken about, but the public forum is not the correct place for an academic debate and a little forethought is necessary before such things are said.

Just as 'The Avengers: Age of Ultron' actors discovered this week, calling Black Widow a 'slut' will have repercussions, just as Edward Zuma's unconsidered comments on foreigners has consequences, and just as Dlamini's respect for Hitler will have a negative reaction, chain reactions are the inevitable result of insensitivity. It is when this insensitivity comes from our leaders that we should be concerned, for if our leaders cannot even restrain their most ingrained prejudices, then what hope do we have?

{Image credit: See page for author [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons}
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April 22, 2015

What to wear: Do fashion planning apps work?

I've finally acquired a Smartphone, and have had endless fun with the online app store. There really is so much to do and see and experiment with. I decided to try a fashion planning app to help me decide what to wear each day as I inevitably grab whatever's most accessible, which is exactly what I wore last week since it's packed in front.

I often forget that there are other outfit possibilities if I just stretch my mind a little (admittedly stretching my mind as I get dressed at 7am in the morning is, in fact, the last thing on it).

So I've tried out three apps available on the Google Play store: Clamotty, My Dressing, and What to Wear 365. Of course, these three apps are by no means a reflection of all the applications available, but here are my impressions of them.

What to Wear 365 is a great way to keep up with current fashion trends in Europe, putting together a series of outfits including tops, pants, shoes, and accessories. However, it bases the outfit on the weather in Switzerland, which is pretty useless if you live in the southern hemisphere, as I do.

I have summarily uninstalled the app, but not because I didn't enjoy the suggestions or outfits. In fact, my wardrobe is so bland the outfits simply made me too aware of that fact.

If you are interested in what will be trending soon when the seasons turn, this could be useful if you made note of the outfits.

My Dressing allows you to import photos of your clothes and arrange them into certain categories, such as accessories, shoes, or skirts. My favourite aspect of this app is the crop feature, where you can crop around the actual item of clothing. You can then arrange your own outfits by dragging and dropping from the different categories.

You also have access to different colours for the background of your clothing items or your outfit boards. Fifteen colours come standard, but if you want more you must purchase them.

Clamotty is very in-depth in comparison with regards to the separate pieces of your wardrobe. You can categorise items very particularly, where your Tops section for example will have separate sections for cardigans, blouses, hoodies, knitwear, shirts, tanks, t-shirts, and tunics. You can also select the item's colour, the type of event you can wear it at (Event, Party, Casual, Official), and the season it's appropriate for. You can also name all items separately to search for a particular piece easily and can also add items while you're at the shops through the barcode function or take an image from a file you've saved from the web. There is also some help in packing a suitcase for the season to which you're travelling.

Clamotty allows you to synchronise your wardrobe with the server in case you lose your phone or uninstall the app. However, these extras don't really make up for functionality. The outfit creation is time-consuming as you must literally scroll through all your clothing to find the piece you are looking for. You can start an outfit from the item in your wardrobe, but everything else you have to scroll to find. The images of your clothing are also not very flattering, unless you have a tailor's doll to put your clothes on.

In my opinion, My Dressing has a smoother and more accessible functionality, while the outfit boards are also attractive.

Being able to make up your own outfits out of clothes you already own is a great idea. My only problem really is that taking a photo of everything in your closet is quite time-consuming at first. However, it is really convenient if you are stuck at work or in a queue: you can just create your outfits while you wait. And choosing an outfit is much simpler at 7am!

Have you tried any fashion apps? Let me know how yours works for you!

{Top image credit: By Q-ART (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons}
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April 20, 2015

Book Review || A Jealous Ghost by AN Wilson

I can certainly attribute my love of the classics to Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw', which I read long before I started to study literature but which is still one of my favourite novellas. A.N. Wilson's A Jealous Ghost was meant to be on my bookshelf and reading list simply because of that fact and I enjoyed the read not only because I am a Turn fangirl and a ghost story lover, but also because I am a literature student.

Wilson's novel is about Sallie Declan, who is a little too obsessed over James' book. This obsessiveness is the first hint that all is not well with Sallie and we are thrown deep into her psychology as she suddenly believes herself to be living the tale of The Turn of the Screw.

At first, we can sympathise with her - a lonely girl who has no one to turn to in London, who felt spurned by her family and study mates in America and who is struggling with her PHd thesis. Following a suggestion by a passing acquaintance, she decides to take a bit of a break from her studies and undertake some nanny work. Charles Masters, his children, and his home become the scene for her own inevitably horrifying narrative as Wilson uses the story to comment on 'The Turn of the Screw's own dependence on the experiences of the governess to determine the truth of the story.

'A Jealous Ghost' serves as a metanarrative for 'The Turn of the Screw'. While one does not have to have read the novella to understand the premise of the classic - as Sallie's musings about the book cover most of that ground - it is those very musings that add an intertextual richness to both books. While James' narrator is taken to be honest and truthful, Wilson's Sallie questions whether Turn's governess' tale was reality at all, while Wilson casts Sallie's reality as something to question right off the bat.

Meanwhile, Sallie's ironic questioning of James' narrator's truthfulness reveals her own flaws in not questioning her own reality, particularly since she is aware of her psychological issues.

'A Jealous Ghost' is also takes a look at mental illness in a way, because Sallie is aware that she has issues. She was taking medication for them in London, but we have no way of knowing whether she continued to do so while she was at Staverton. The evidence that reality was blurred for her was in her constant substitutions of the names of James' characters with those in her story, referring to the estate as 'Bly' instead, calling Frances 'Flora', and Michael 'Miles'. In this way the novel questions the experience of reality and whether or not Sallie really was 'responsible' for the novel's conclusion.

The novel's name is also a wonderful play on one of the themes of the book: jealousy. Throughout the novel, Sallie's jealousy of people and her belief that others are jealous of her is the driving force behind her actions - it is the 'jealous ghost' that has taken control.

I really enjoyed this novel, as you can see. I finished it in only three days and found it compelling reading, perhaps more so because of my fangirl status. I quite feel like reading James' novel again. :)
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April 14, 2015

Book Review || Abduction by Jenny Randles

Looking for an unbiased introduction into the possibility of and investigation into alien abductions? This is the book for you.

Though Jenny Randles' 'Abduction' may be a bit outdated, having been published in 1989, it still offers an excellent overview of the modern history of abduction reports and cases and an insightful investigation into the differing theories of what abduction could be in actuality.

Randles asks the questions everyone has about abductions: their relation and correspondence to science-fiction and fantasy; their folkloric aspects; abduction patterns; possible psychological connections; and whether they are really abductions by extra-terrestrials at all.

She does not discount the experiences of those who believe they have been abducted, but justly points out all the possibilities that might create such a belief in a person, including misguided prompts during hypnosis therapy, a person's creativity, IQ and imaginary qualities, possible atmospheric conditions that may affect the frontal lobe, memory, and imagination, a global consciousness evolution, or even the possibility that these entities are really our descendants visiting us from the future.

One thing I found curious and intend to research further is the fact that most of the abductions she has listed in her overview have occurred in South America, the United States and Canada, and Europe. On possible abductions in Africa and Asia, she has very little to say, offering perhaps five or six experiences that have been recounted to some investigators in the region. She even goes so far as to imply that abductors have a preference for the Caucasian amongst us, as the data seems to suggest that abduction experiences are minimal in these regions, or that the existence of abduction experiences is a result of Western thinking.

I believe it has a lot more to do with the language barrier, however. Other places in the world do not only have a different language in which they communicate, but also an entire other culture that may have a way of speaking about such experiences in a way that the Western world does not understand. People from different parts of the world all have different points of reference to which they refer when describing something. If a Westerner makes even a slight misinterpretation or inference about a fact, it would change the entire story. A UFO encounter might be discounted and ignored if a person described the UFO using local terminology instead of matching Western descriptions.
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
This idea is shown by those researching extraterrestrials' presence in our early history using excerpts from some of our most sacred religious texts and evidence in our ancient archaeology to show that it may just be the point of reference that is different.

Perhaps it is the higher view the Western world holds of itself through centuries of privilege propaganda that inspires this kind of thought.
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Randles was also at pains to show that many of the cases she chose to include in her overview were experienced by people who had previous knowledge of UFOs and abductions. They were supposedly not exposed to any literature or film that featured such stories. So where do the stories come from then?

I tend to seesaw between two ideas: either people really are being abducted by entities from another galaxy/dimension/plane/whatever, or our communal subconscious is trying to tell us something. Many of the abductees are told by their abductors that we are destroying the world (although Randles mentions an apocalypse in the nineties, and we know that has come and gone) and perhaps our collective intuition is attempting to change things.

However, many are also told that they are being tested. The reason varies between genetic manipulation, hybridisation, preservation of our species or theirs or both, a record of our existence, and simply just tests.
Wikimedia Commons/perfectblue97
I'm not sure what we should believe, but my own logic tells me it's a little ridiculous that these entities - who have the ability to travel through space and perhaps even time - come all the way to our world to study us? We haven't even made space travel a true possibility yet. I don't believe we have changed enough to warrant such investigation, unless it is something more obtuse that they are studying, such as emotions. Which would not explain the physical examinations, though...

It is a contradiction, but maybe our own high regard for ourselves, which tells us we are the only intelligent life in the Universe, may be the subconscious reason for us believing we are worthy of study, if indeed there is another reason for the abduction experience.

{Image credits: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Frederic Remington [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By perfectblue97 (Own creation based on contemporary inspirations) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}
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April 11, 2015

Bathroom Fix-Up: All Done (well, mostly...)

By now you all know that I've been working to fix our bathroom after our original plumbers made a mess. And I've finally finished!

Well, sort of. I just need to put up the shelves and the rails. But otherwise I'm done.

I feel quite accomplished finally putting up the decor that I bought for the room, such as the mirror tray and candlesticks.

My favourite details, though, are the drawings I did on the wall - the fish swirl design and the matching leaf design above the doorway - and my lamp cover.

I also quite like the geometric decorations on the yellow feature wall.

For the lampshade, I just used our old one but used stained glass paints and liner to paint on the design, which I modified from one I found on the web. Here's a tutorial so you can make your own!
The fish mural is also slightly modified from one I found on the web. At first I didn't like it, but once I thickened the main lines and painted in the silver scales, Mr Fish grew on me. He's a talking point, especially with Emma.
The before and after image says it all though. :)
So, what do you think?

I would love to know what your opinion is before we start to makeover the shower room, which is also a mess.
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April 5, 2015

New floors = brand new lounge!

Our floors were finished more than a week ago, but it has taken me this long to get (mostly) everything back in place. After some chopping and changing and moving and mixing, we at least have our lounge back. One thing I've learned: we have way too much stuff!

The floors look really amazing. They give our home a cosiness and warmth that was simply missing previously, despite the fact that our lounge really was ... erm ... cosy (if you consider hardly having room to move cosy...)
The photos above were taken before we refreshed the room with a fresh coat of paint on the walls and ceiling. The ceiling is just plain white, while for the walls we used Dulux' Colours of the World Gentle Argentina, if you're interested.

One of the ideas behind having our floors done in the first place was so we could do some proper spring cleaning. I'm the first to admit that this has been the most difficult part of moving everything back. After all, everything may be used sometime, right?
So we have not thrown much out. But our space planning is better this time around. The wasted space at the porch door is now hidden by our bulky cabinet and simply moving this piece of furniture freed up so much space that the room looks much larger and brighter. Even with everything put back.

Most of our plants are still lounging outside, as I intend to use wall space for shelves instead of piling them all over the place. And I absolutely love my new curtains and the Bohemian look of the throws on the couches. Plus the jute mat is gorgeous underfoot and against the wooden flooring.
I've tried not to put too much decor into the room, so a few talking-point pieces are my aim, including a wire bonsai tree, a swing mirror we bought for a bargain, and a cuckoo clock that's a family heirloom. I'll get around to adding more items as I keep going through all our stuff. I also intend to replace the lamp - I want to make something unique.
The prints above the couch come from France and Amsterdam and I'm so pleased that they're finally on display - I've been lugging them around from place to place for 13 years!


Although the passage is not entirely complete yet and I don't want to show you what the new paint job looks like until I've finished all the details, you can see what a difference the wooden flooring makes in this narrow space.
And finally, I'll bet you're wondering how the bathroom is going? I put the basin back up today and also finished the mosaic around the bath. Once I've decided on where I want the shelving to go and have finally arranged my decor, then it will finally be finished!
I would love to know what you think!
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