Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas in South Africa (PHOTOGRAPHY)


2007: My Top 5 Songs

Interestingly, I almost chose 2 songs from artists that aren't even on the charts. One is from Liza, who gave me a CD with two beautiful songs that I listened to death. Allan John has also put some stuff on CD but not released nationally. Yesterday afternoon I heard an Afrikaans song that was very catchy: 'Moenie vir my se wat ek moet doen nie'...('Don't tell me what to do'). Anyway, this is my pick for fav songs this year. Am I forgetting anything?

1) Nickelback - How you remind me
2) Timbaland - Apologize
3) Jamali - Secrets
4) Tracy Chapman Remix - Talkin' Bout A Revolution - Best line: Finally the tables are starting to turn
5) SEAL - Amazing


"How You Remind Me"

Never made it as a wise man
I couldn't cut it as a poor man stealing
Tired of living like a blind man
I'm sick of sight without a sense of feeling
And this is how you remind me
This is how you remind me
Of what I really am
This is how you remind me
Of what I really am

It's not like you to say sorry
I was waiting on a different story
This time I'm mistaken
for handing you a heart worth breaking
and I've been wrong, i've been down,
been to the bottom of every bottle
these five words in my head
scream "are we having fun yet?"

yeah, yeah, yeah, no, no
yeah, yeah, yeah, no, no

it's not like you didn't know that
I said I love you and I swear I still do
And it must have been so bad
Cause living with me must have damn near killed you...

I've searched everywhere for the lyrics to Jamali's Secrets. Seems like they are not the web yet. Guess I'll have to put them up.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Oil Gyrates on Weather, Supplies

By JOHN WILEN – 14 hours ago

NEW YORK (AP) — Oil prices fluctuated Thursday as traders weighed forecasts for a warmer winter — which could lower demand for heating and crude oil — against data suggesting supplies are falling.

Natural gas futures fell after the government reported that inventories declined less than expected last week.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday that the beginning of winter will be warmer than normal in the eastern two-thirds of the nation, which includes the heating oil-dependent Northeast, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

Warmer weather could mean lower demand for heating oil and natural gas.

On the other hand, the government on Wednesday reported that supplies of heating and crude oil fell sharply last week. Heating oil supplies are nearly 30 percent below five-year average levels, said James Cordier, president of Liberty Trading Group in Tampa, Fla.

NVDL: Right now the US is experiencing a very cold winter, with plenty of harsh ice storms. This impacts on the demand for heating oil. In the past 2-3 years the US was lucky to experience the opposite - unsually warm winters.

How Did The Good Germans Elect Hitler?

Like many people, I pondered this. It is these sorts of questions that are actually not difficult to answer when you employ useful tools such as Google and Wikipedia. It doesn't turn out to be a very long walk in the park either. Hitler was elected because he promised to give the Germans what they wanted.

The background to this was the First World War, which hurt Germany in particular. The pride of the country was in tatters, and worse, the economy was a shambles. The zeitgeist was at a low ebb for the twenty years following the First World War.

Hitler promised to radically change all that, and in particular, his brand of strong leadership and his rousing speeches tapped into the public consciousness. The nerve that Hitler touched upon was German Nationalism. And he voiced his frustration that he wanted to expand the German 'living space'. In particular, he wanted to include Austria as a German province, and then he wished to restore territory lost during the First World War. It was under this premise, a fairly mild premise, that the Second World War began. It began with the premise of simply expanding the collective German backyard.

Hitler was no fool, as he only started his war after sneakily brokering a deal with Stalin, which amounted to Stalin agreeing not to attack Germany even though Hitler had declared his intent to make some (but limited) trouble in Europe. Hitler also counted on Britain watching his shenanigan's from the safety of their island and rattling their sabres but essentially allowing him some leeway. This wasn't a daft gamble at all, as Hitler had progressively taken over territories just prior to WWII in Czechoslovakia (is that correct?) and Britain did not interfere then.

There is some more interesting background. Suffice it to say, Hitler's gambit didn't work. He thought Britain would be cowed into accepting German belligerence that might never effect Britain. Instead, as we all know, the world reacted to the invasion of Poland, much to Hitler's surprise. The next step was possibly unexpected. Hitler's pride did not prevent him from continuing his rampage, and his deal with Stalin went sour. The result was carnage on a scale not often seen.

So the Germans elected Hitler to basically uplift themselves, and he did, for a time. He promised them the world, and he delivered hell. Hitler went mad in his final days, and took his own life, and his mania against what he referred to as 'International Jewry' remained a paranoid obsession even in his last hours. Even in his suicide note he mentions the threat of the Jews.

The Jewish holocaust represented the very dark side of German vanity. The Germans wanted to uplift themselves, and part of the psychological effort meant blaming someone, and punishing someone for their own troubles. The nationalism that Germany incited really serves as a cogent example for how terrible nationalism can be, in terms of an instrument that can turn nations against nations in the name of what - nationhood?

Hitler's strategies were extremely effective too. He is the only leader as far as I know who asked of his soldiers to make a personal pledge, that is a personal promise and commitment to him, as the Fuhrer, which means Father or Supreme Leader. This gave him Godlike powers, which he used even when the war was lost in iconic battlegrounds such as Stalingrad (where he expected his officers to keep their oaths to him, and fight until the last man).

One last thing on Hitler. It is easy to demonise Hitler as a monster, but Hitler married Eva Braun days before he died. This means, as rotten a scoundrel as he was, she somehow did not see or share that revulsion. This is awkward for us to accept, even harder is that Hitler probably thought he was doing what he was doing for the benefit of Germany. This is what happens when you elect an uneducated emotionally disturbed fella to lead your country. And probably he rationalised that his mistakes couldn't be such a big deal, because after all, Eva had stood by him all the way...

The closest current example of such rampant runaway nationalism (and associated delusion) is contemporary North Korea. On Oprah last night a man who had successfully had a cataract operation, gave emphatic thanks to a portrait of the Dear Leader. Never mind that the surgical team were paid for by an outside aid group, and the government not only had nothing to do with it, but made sure the pretence that they did have everything to do with it, remained strong.

To elect a madman you need only 3 things:

1) A strong sense of disenfranchisement (a collective unhappiness about something)
2) A charming and charismatic speech maker (who naturally promises delivery from this malaise)
3) The ability to effectively maintain the delusion that the sacrifices made (in terms of lives lost today) is worth the hope of promise being delivered, and that it can be delivered, somewhere in the murky future of deferred possibility.

2 more are useful:

4) the use of fear
5) the threat of force

When I visited Germany in 1998 I was shocked to discover to what extent Germans reject nationalism. There is a conscious effort to stay away from a nationalistic stance, and if you mention WWII or Hitler or Nazi's the Germans appear stung and guilt-ridden. Even so, today the country is very well run, and the people are extremely well organised, hard-working and once again, the engine of Europe.

For more commentary, look here.

New Climate Records Yesterday (South Africa)

Highest Minimum 26.4 2001-12-09 27.2 2007-12-21 Augrabies Falls

NVDL: Odd isn't it, while it is really unusally chilly here, it is steaming at Augrabies.

Win Incredible Prizes From Sansui!

Sunday Times and SANSUI are giving away R200 000 worth of SANSUI Christmas Gifts!

- 5X Grand prizes of 46" LCDs worth R18999
- 3X 42" LCDs worth R12999 each
- 5X Laptops worth R7000 each
- 10X GPSs worth R2899 each
- 20X MP3s worth R279 each

*All entries will be entered into the grand prize.
TO ENTER - go here for details.

Virginity Warning

LOSING your virginity at 22 or older can be bad for your health, researchers warned yesterday.

They found late starters were more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction later in life.
Men were worst affected – with problems maintaining an erection and struggling to reach orgasm.

Research-ers at Columbia University, New York, also found losing your virginity early – at 14 or younger – increases the risk of health problems.

They studied 8,000 US adults and found the average age they lost their virginity was 17 to 18.

From The Sun, London.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Look and Listen Little Man (PHOTOGRAPHY)

Under 16 year olds may not rub each other up the 'wrong' way

Good luck implementing this law. It might be more effective to start up 'Jesus Camps' and get the young uns to pledge 'until marriage do I remain a virgin'. Unfortunately, it turns out these sort of pledges delay the birds and bees stuff by a few months, at best. In my case it was for quite a bit longer, but then again, look how great I turned out ;-)

So what to do? Here's my shortlist:

- Ban magazines from the home
- Ban the internet
- Ban trips to the mall
- Ban dating of any kind
- Ban the use of cellphones
- Ban all TV including the news (coverage on the news now includes lascivious coverage)
- Basically put their eyes out

Ja right. This actually reminds me of what it was like being at Grey in the mid to late 80's, when there was a delicious mix of the sacred and profane. At that stage the sacred was ahead, but not for long. Madonna killed that naive hope virtually singlehandedly, Roxette, Kylie and Alanis did their thing in the 90's (some of it was still half innocent), the Spice Girls came and went (and came again) and now Britney and her sister(s) have the baton. Is Jenna Jameson performing yet in music videos (and other porn stars) or is this old news by now?

For more on this, read this witty blog.

"This is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause"

Benjamin Franklin told people that America was "to be a Republic, if you can keep it."

So you want to know how to unravel a Republic? Well, the first thing is that the best predictor - I'm afraid to say - of future behaviour, is past behaviour. Hence, if you're considering getting married and you haven't been faithful to girlfriends, if you don't have that track record, odds are, you will remain a letch. In the same way, if you're not yet a Big Time politician and you're already being prosecuted for corruption, chances are, when you (think you) can get away it, being in a position of greater power, you'll go for it again.

For a while there I had given Zuma the benefit of the doubt. Now I am back to thinking it is craziness to elect someone who has already proved himself to be, well, unacceptable as a leader. The same can be said for members of SARU. Nonetheless, in South Africa, we seem incapable of facing the obvious, and not only that, doing something about the obvious.

A great everyday example is this: In Johannesburg I fairly often find myself driving by the scenes of car accidents. Without fail, within seconds of this glaringly obvious public demonstration of the consequence of recklessness, a driver will do some daring (and unnecessary) manuoevre to get ahead. I rest me case. We get the leaders we deserve, because at the moment we don't deserve better than we are getting, or giving.

For the movie version of what I am saying - and I am very serious - watch Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith. People are highly susceptible to being stirred by their own passion. It is how we drown reason, and deliver ourselves unto evil. You have been warned. The race is now on to see who gets there - to a state of Empire - first, us or the USA.

EINA! Rand at $6.99, Oil at $91

This combination is going to hurt South African consumers. It's not as big a setback if the oil price goes high and the Rand is at, say, R6.60 or R6.70, but the Rand has come all the way back, and now the full impact of those oil prices is going to sting.

The JSE is hovering around 28 400, licking its wounds after plenty of blood letting. The media are underplaying this of course, saying that the political background is not relevant (of course it is) and obvious there's also not a collective wince about oil (which effects food prices, and is the source of inflationary pressures).

Whether or not you go on holiday this December, the odds are next year this time your options will be even fewer. That's a pretty austere scenario, I know, but unfortunately, one I believe to be probable.

Zimbabwe prints bigger bank notes

HARARE - Zimbabwe is introducing higher denominations of bank notes in a bid to tackle cash shortages fed by run-away inflation. With effect from today, 250,000, 500,000 and 750,000 Zim Dollar notes will come into circulation.

The Z$200,000 notes (worth about eight US dollars), introduced only last July, will cease to be legal tender from the end of the year.

Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono said in a live broadcast on state-run radio and television stations he hoped the new notes will mean “cash shortages will be a thing of the past”.
He apologised to Zimbabweans for their suffering and blamed the crisis on senior officials.
For the rest of this Sowetan Online article, go here.

NVDL: I thought it was game over in Zimbabwe ages ago, but it seems a country can continue to exist even if its arms, legs, weenie, and torso are chopped into chunks. If Mugabe is the brains, I wonder if the eyes and ears will be able to do anything once that part is down or deceased. The other thing Zimbabwe a cautionary tale for South Africa, a glimpse at our future, or can we be pardonned for not making the comparison? Can a Zuma (or anyone else) conceivably do the same as Zuma has done to Zim? My guess is we ignore this possibility, as Africans, at our peril.

Whites Are Scum

I was reading on someone elses blog about the death penalty in the States, and it turns out that in the last 31 years in America, of the 1099 people executed 57% were whites. A little more than half of that number were black. Does that mean that the death penalty has worked in terms of dissauding blacks from perpetrating crimes, and that whites think they are smart enough to beat the system, or does it mean that whites (in America) are at the lowest level in terms of the scum bucket.
Also quite shocking: 120 people were released from death throw. That doesn't mean they were innocent, maybe some were, but on appeal there was not enough to prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

I had a heated discussion on this topic, and my reasoning is simple: do you allow criminals to murder (50 murders a day in this country) and deprive your own community of defending itself (because that is exactly what it is, one small means of defending a community against out of control predators)?

The counterarguments are to be expected: what about the guy who gets sentenced to death in error?
Two things:
1) I'd argue that this individual is probably pretty sick and has a record of sick activity to get him facing this sort of sentence. In other words, you;re not talking about putting innocent or even seemingly innocent people on death row. You want the Criminal World's Top Achievers.

2) More lives are spared because the burglar or kidnapper decides not to also murder the woman he has just raped, reasoning, quite correctly, that if caught the most he could get is a life sentence. The death penalty may save thousands of potential lives in the sense that the criminal has pause - not in every case but in many cases - not to take the lives of people that come into harms way each and every day in this country.

In this sense, the saving in terms of lives saved - I'd argue - is incalculable, especially in South Africa.


At at around 4pm I left work to do this photo shoot. Like the JM Neethling shoot, it seemed like far from ideal conditions. Chilly, overcast and just bleh. But it turned out to be a lot of fun, and despite a pretty limited environment (ie my loft apartment and the pool) we got creative and into a nice place to shoot some really exquisite stuff.

What's compelling about her is that unusual combination of sweetness and sheer strength. Those muscles, the sexy lines, that's not from eating salads and dieting. I met her at a pool (not where she usually swims) and while I intended to swim 1.5 or 2km, she swam 6km, so I ended up doing about 3. Usually she does 14km a day, in 2 x 7km sessions. There are few people around who run that far. And, I think, she has a quality in her smile - a geniuneness maybe? - that immediately makes you feel special, which is quite rare and special in itself.

She's also got all her lights on. Can't remember exactly what they were, but she aced the likes of Chemistry and Physics in matric, she did something insane like getting distinctions in everything except one of the languages. And then she has a very fun, showbizzy, actress persona, despite all that hard work.

She's done a little bit of modelling, and won some sort of acting accolade. I found she posed well, but being predisposed to genuine artistic photography, I tried to get the in-between non-posed stuff, and ended up with a nice mix. Yesterday's pictures are for her portfolio, but I think we need to do another one in the sun. Pity there isn't a tropical beach nearby.

Interestingly she observed that JM has used some of the stuff I took of her on Facebook. She recognised them when I showed her some of the stock on my computer. A bit of a surprise as I sort of lost touch with JM after the exhibition and although her mom oohed and aahed about the pictures, I was under the impression (falsely it turns out) that they didn't actually like them. Apparently JM is already in the States.

The strategy for Roxanne will probably be a wholesome start like Shape magazine. JM was a bit of a difficult study because she was quite young when I photographed her (15 or something), and although it may seem like having a famous boet would help her chances, I'm not sure it does. I think in a way it puts more pressure on her. Roxanne is 19, but the shoot reminded me a lot of the JM one.

The picture editor at Shape says:

In terms of exposure we could feature her as a Women of the month, if she could send through a bio of herself. Or if she is going towards a year-long goal we have a page called Challenge where a reader tracks a goal for a year which we feature each month, if she can send that motivation we are busy short-listing applicants for 2008. It sounds like she might have an interesting goal which would photograph well (and then I could justify buying some of your pics!)

The picture editor here has also had a look and chosen half a dozen or so pictures for the Back Page possibly.
He's getting back to me later today.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Hero (if you're 8)

TIME Person of the Year 2007

Is it Al Gore, Britney Spears, JK Rowling, Jacob Zuma or Desmond Tutu? M vote goes to Jake White but that's me. The award of course (the photo says it all doesn't it) goes to...

Vladimir Putin
His final year as Russia's President has been his most successful yet. At home, he secured his political future. Abroad, he expanded his outsize—if not always benign—influence on global affairs

Northern Hemisphere Christmas (PHOTOGRAPHY)

Political strife ’not cause of JSE jitters’

THE local stock market’s nasty drop yesterday morning, which had the JSE all share index down more than 2% in intraday trade, raised concerns that political events were souring the financial climate, but analysts felt the outcome of the African National Congress conference had already been priced in.

“I think the political events have been priced in for some time,” chief investment officer at Cannon Asset Managers Adrian Saville said. “The weak markets of Friday, after our close, and yesterday had to be brought in.”

This meant yesterday’s disastrous drops had more to do with global financial woes. On Monday, European, US and UK stock markets fell heavily over concerns about a slowdown in the US economy. Yesterday this caused copper prices to be chopped to a nine-month low while aluminium hit a nine-week low — both events hurt the stock prices of large-scale producers of these metals, Anglo American and BHP Billiton.

NVDL: Maybe. Not sure if I buy this. I think the market here would have us believe there is no connection, because everyone would like to believe Zuma won't be bad for business. Obviously there is some connection, and jeepers, the JSE has nosedived to 27830. A few days ago the JSE was edging 31 000. I guess time will tell, but whatever Zuma does, I'd predict the markets to start coming to grips with the inflationary/recessionary effects stemming from the motoring mad USA.

Britneys' sister pregnant at 16

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Britney Spears' 16-year-old sister, who stars as a schoolgirl in Nickelodeon's popular TV show "Zoey 101," is pregnant.

The cable channel confirmed a report in the forthcoming edition of celebrity gossip magazine OK! that Jamie Lynn Spears is expecting a child.

"We respect Jamie Lynn's decision to take responsibility in this sensitive and personal situation. We know this is a very difficult time for her and her family, and our primary concern right now is for Jamie Lynn's well being," Nickelodeon said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters.

A high school student who lives in Louisiana, Jamie Lynn Spears reportedly met the father, Casey Aldridge, the son of a Tennessee papermill worker, at church. Jamie Lynn Spears' personal publicist was not available for comment.

Her big sister, Britney Spears, may not be the best source of parenting advice. The 26-year-old pop star lost primary custody of her two sons, aged 2 and 1, to ex-husband Kevin Federline after their divorce last year and is engaged in a bitter custody battle that has shone a harsh spotlight on her maternal shortcomings.

"Zoey 101," which wrapped production on its fourth and final season in September, revolves around a headstrong student at a co-ed boarding school in California. Fresh episodes will air through 2008, a spokeswoman for the Viacom Inc-owned network said.

NVDL: Don't laugh or snigger - it could happen to you, and in some cases, it probably did. This sort of Oops will happen again, whether the young mum claims to be the Virgin Mary, or not. It's quite brave to actually have the child. Worse is covering it up, and having an abortion in secret.

2007: A Year (or more) Of The Write Stuff

I’m writing this year end reflection stuff because I’m not going to be on the internet AT ALL in the last days that remain of this year.


In terms of writing, it’s been a great build up. It is interesting to reflect on the thought that started all this. I was in Ilsan, on the outskirts of Seoul, in an apartment perched above the busy streets around Madu, not far from Lake Park. Lake Park was the venue that allowed me to enjoy Korea, and importantly, train in a nice natural environment for the likes of my first two marathons, the half Ironman, and the Ironman, and other triathlons, including a race I won. This put me in a place of strength not just physically, but mentally. I had turned my life around in Korea, financially, and physically. But I was concerned because intellectually I felt like I was underperforming. Teaching English to 2nd language speakers made me feel stoopid. But what to do? I’d exiled myself to South Korea after being deemed too white, too male, too educated, too inexperienced, too boo fucking who.

Despite being excluded whilst in South Africa, in Korea I eventually found myself revisiting the issue, I was comparing myself unfavorably to others (in South Africa), in terms of the world of work. I wrestled a lot with this, until one day I asked myself point blank: “Nick, what skill do you have? Do you have any fucking skills? Other people are trained to be dentists, doctors, computer programmers, designers, professional athletes, accountants, lawyers? What’s your special skill?”
I couldn’t answer the question.

I looked at friends of mine who were successful – very successful – in engineering, in banking, relatives who were coining it in construction, and what the hell had I achieved? Squat all.
In the isolated silence that night, I persevered in the moment, and a very small voice, my daemon – an eagle chick with scabby gray down and the potential to fly – said: “You’ve got skill as a writer.”
It gave me pause for thought. I’d dismissed writing partly because of the nightmare I’d faced at high school, and while I had been good at sports at Grey, I’d earned something of a reputation as a great writer. Some kids who wanted to get A’s for English approached me, asking me how to write good essays.

Another reason I’d purposely put writing in the drawer was because of my mom’s suicide. I didn’t want to entertain introspection. I knew I was susceptible to over-analysis, that I was easily hurt by criticism, and I was very aware that writing, whilst a blessing, could also be a curse, and it could put me on the path to my Dark Side.

But in Korea, I was at wits end, and I looked at my life and said: “What the fuck can you do, because right now, it looks like you’re just an average Joe that’s not going to amount to much. Is that who you are?”
It was then that I opened the drawer. You know, I am still very aware of the likes of Ayn Rand, Virginia Woolf, Enid Blyton – women who wrote well, but lived poorly.
But I opened the drawer there in South Korea, and started to work on my writing. I wrote the way I trained, assiduously. It was not that I started from scratch, it was that I now wrote with conviction, with purpose, and I began to see writing as a raison d'être. That made all the difference.

It was also serendipitous that [a particular citizen journalism website] came into being. [A particular citizen website] emerged at about the same time I did. The Ironman did a lot to boost my resolve: that I was as powerful as I decided I would be. And Jenny Lake, who’d read my blog, someone intelligent and well versed (she’d studied in Oxford for God’s sake), supported and believed in me and gave my little drive added credibility.

I started setting goals and actually left Korea on the understanding that I would return to take over the editorship of a magazine called Heartland. That didn’t work out, and it was never going to work out (the oke who bankrolled that magazine turned out to be a con artist and a thief), but I did get my foot in the door with 7 publications in 6 months. One article, on Peak Oil (predicting the current $90-100 levels when banks were predicting $60 for the next 5 years) elicited a strong response from some readers; some of whom called me.


In 2006 I studied 3rd year English at university (half committed to pursue teaching, half interested in getting a journalism qualification), whilst teaching. I enjoyed it and easily got distinctions. I published two more articles in Shape and go! despite having almost zero time to write whilst teaching. I also went to a blogging conference to represent [a particular citizen journalism website]. I was shocked to find the South African blogging community consisted of about 4 and a half people, all of whom were f&%$#ing each other up the you know what (crass code for a form of mutual consent to indulge and support one another in 'how they roll', no matter tedious that was, or how much they - I felt - bullshitted themselves).
I realized a different voice was urgently called for, and one independent from the incestuous South African club that had just been birthed. Having started my blog overseas, and having being blissfully unaware of the kak going on in South Africa, it was easy to go back to being blissfully unaware, and to get on with what I was doing.

The conference did confirm what I already suspected: blogging could be a powerful tool, and could leverage your voice as a writer.

It was during this period that my self belief began to crystalise. I didn’t see myself as a wannabe, I found that not only did I have something to say, a lot of the people around me suffered from a collective failure to see what was happening in the world. I began also to confirm my suspicions about writers (or people who thought they were) – they are a miserable bunch, simply because their lives are based on the lives and experiences of others. The hypocrisy is tragic. Somewhere, deep inside, they must be aware of this, hence the bitterness and the drinking. It is not fulfilling, to simply report on what others are doing. There needs to be a sense that you are doing something too. And thus, I became painfully aware of my own hypocrisy. I still am.

This helped me to finally dispose of the teaching lark. In part I did it to survive, but teaching in South Africa proved a nightmare, and while I thought I might move to lecturing English at university, the wake up call sounded loudly in my head. Teaching is not how you will resolve a personal performance issue: DROP IT!


Thank God I did, and God may have been involved, because I didn’t quit willy nilly. My contract was not renewed. I jumped onto a much better ferry, because I secured a surprisingly good position at Quintiles, and spring boarded from there to South Africa’s second largest Media House.

Whilst I maintain some aspects of [a particular citizen website], I no longer write for it, and I was initially hurt and disappointed by this. It was a comment I read at the time that turned this potential negative into a positive. I simply said: “Look, you’ve been writing for [a particular citizen website] for 2 years. It’s taken you places. Maybe it’s time to take the next step.” Within about 6 weeks I had my first story published in the Sunday Times.

Current Literary Oscars

The 9th and 10th spots on this top 10 Ohmynews list are my stories:
Taking Direction From 'The Golden Compass'
28 Ways to Live Better in 2008

Recently I offered an arbitrary suggestion for an article title, and it was used:
There’s only one Sandton Claus

This website has also seen extraordinary growth in 2007 alone. Started in October 2004, it has had an average of about 10 000 page impressions a year, bringing the total to around 40 000 by the start of this year. In October this year, in that single month, I had close to 7000 page impressions. And now, consistently, I get over 2000 page impressions a month. Having said that, I am increasingly averse to blogging merely in terms of the personal cost and sacrifices involved: it has definitely impacted negatively on my training, which is ironic, since it was originated in order to stimulate and encourage more accountability based on training for an Ironman (in October 2004)


My biggest achievement though, as far as I’m concerned, is an unsung manuscript I wrote over 2 months halfway through this year. It is called HOLIDAY. I think it is some of the best writing I have ever produced, and possibly the best I will ever produce. It’s not perfect, but it has an incredible mix of natural metaphor and meaning, interlaced with realism. I did after all, go to the Philippines once. I’m constantly surprised that the publishers who have seen it haven’t snatched it up and shouted HALLEJUH. I assume they have not read it, or the idiots who have, weren’t able to see the metaphor. I suppose it is possible to read it in a one dimensional way, in a purely literal fashion, but as I say, then you have to have a few screws loose and be rather dim. One reviewer from H&R sent his comments and proved exactly that.

In summary, I’m very happy with where that apparently small decision (stemming from the “What the fuck can you do?” Jerry MacGuire moment) - where that has taken me. But I’m nowhere near satisfied that I’ve achieved even close to what I know and believe I can. In writing I mean. Part of the resolution of this is publishing a book, and not through self – publishing. Maybe there will be a few books, we’ll see. I am working on something new and exciting now, and will continue until I crack a nod. But I continue to be irked by this reality: writing about real life still isn’t real.

So, although I’d like to grow and develop as a writer, I want to do so gradually and in a disciplined way. I don’t want to be a fucked up observer, like some of the rugby writers who ended up sabotaging so much to score personal points and sell newspapers. I don’t want to be a Paris Hilton writer; writing only to stroke my ego, prove how intelligent I think I am and get attention. Is the writing, in and of itself, making the world a better place? Is it really? Is it time well spent for the reader and me? Does it help – really help – the humans condition, or is time better employed going out there and mucking in, hands on? Writing can be meaningful and inspirational. I want to stick to that as far as I can.

I also want to step beyond writing, and create…I’m thinking of developing some land my father has. This will be up for discussion this Christmas. I’m thinking of taking my photography further and having more exhibitions. And I’m thinking it might be time to start a family (despite a recent article that having kids makes men's lives miserable). All these will fundamentally change who I am, because while I am a writer, and maybe that’s my gift, it’s not the end of the story, it’s the beginning of a lot more. The scabby eagle chick is becoming - I sometimes think - a large mythical eagle, large enough to carry Tintin on its back. Except it’s not Tintin; the eagle and me are one and the same. It’s not only up to me how high I fly, it’s also up to you. My dreams are part and parcel of the dreams the world must have for itself. Part of that dream must also be that we can all %$#&ing wake up. As it is, we're sleepwalking into the future.

New Weather Records

Lowest Maximum 20.1 1991-12-21 19.9 2007-12-18 Oudestad
Lowest Maximum 20.2 1997-12-18 18.6 2007-12-18 Hoedspruit
Lowest Maximum 18.9 2004-12-09 18.8 2007-12-18
Lowest Maximum 19.0 1969-12-09 17.0 2007-12-18 Phalaborwa

I noticed that today was particularly cold in Jozi. Ice Age setting in ?-)

How To Swim Like A Fish

In swimming, seeing is believing

As someone who learnt to swim at the age of 4, swimming feels pretty second nature to me. But 30 years on, I’m still learning how to swim like a fish.

One of the best ways to develop good technique is to watch elite swimmers. There are plenty of swimming events to use as reference. When you watch the best swimmers, you begin to notice what works. Even in a lane with 8 swimmers, slight variations in technique separate the fastest swimmers from the slowest. The fitness levels and strength of elite swimmers is negligibly different – well, that’s arguable – but the point is technique is all important.

Coaches often make the mistake of commenting on a swimmer’s stroke, repeating themselves ad nauseum. There’s a very simple solution: make a video recording of yourself swimming in the pool. Not just one length, 10. Swim them hard, and watch how your stroke falls apart as the arms get tired. When you watch yourself swim, it’s not necessary to say anything about the stroke because defects are immediately obvious.

That said, here are a couple of pointers to bear in mind while swimming. This is not only important for amateur or masters swimmers, even the best swimmers need to maintain a mental memory (as opposed to muscle memory) of good swimming form:

- Visualize that you’re pulling yourself up a waterfall. Limbs projecting off a straight line, or wobbling legs, are going to be in the way.
- Stretch your stroke, making sure the length of each stroke is full – entering in a straight line with the line of the body, and pulling past the hips.
- Roll the hips and shoulders with the head when breathing – this allows for a long stroke, and puts less of the body in the way of the water.
- Remember that the hand and forearm form a paddle together, not just the hand.
- Concentrate on gliding with the arms, and feeling the water – finding the best pressure when pulling the water. This often means the arms maintaining right hands to the direction the body is moving.

Fire Oregon Hoskins

Jake White’s book presents the perfect case for holding the custodians of sport accountable for their (often dubious) curatorship.

It is obviously untenable that Hoskins could be let off the hook for his speech made to the Bok team (whilst handing out their jerseys), on the eve of their game against the world champions, in which he admitted to the Boks:
- he was a victim of Apartheid
- as such he had supported the All Blacks in matches against the Boks

Naturally, this presents a personal ethos incompatible with his position in SA Rugby management. It is the sort of thing on a CV that would disqualify an applicant. So why did he even apply?

In this scenario, how can anyone expect this sort of person bringing their personal background into play, to contribute positively or supportively to the South African side? He has clearly admitted to subverting sport, and as it turns out in White’s book, the idea seems to have been to subvert and score political points all along, as though the Springbok rugby teams were a newspaper, not a bunch of professional sportsmen, and they were being used to convey personal political messages back to the South African public.

Truly Blessed

Rugby loving South Africans were truly blessed to have someone who not only loves and knows the game, but also demonstrated a stubbornly loyalty to the sport because of this. He also did his best to transform the side, not artificially, but using the good players he could find. But management was impatient, irrational and apparently disconnected to the game. White had to resist political opportunists who constantly took the ANC and the president’s name in vain. Ironically enough, when White decided to see the president himself to find out what was happening,and what he needed to do, he was threatened by Hoskin’s et al that he would lose his job and his chance to go to the World Cup. Crazy!

Double Jeopardy

This further demonstrates not only a personal agenda on the part of Hoskins’, but a double agenda. One agenda seemingly for the ‘disadvantaged’ (thus a political agenda) and the other, based on settling personal issues.

Interestingly, the Watson saga further demonstrates how easily political will could be forced over the Boks, despite Whites’ integrity and work ethic. The good news is that the sponsors, the media (hopefully) and the South Africa public, en mass, are now savvy as to how these political machinations are brought about. One hopes they will not miss a beat, and that both the press and public will not allow political interference, not allow the perpetrators of this interference, to get away it any longer. SARU management, you have been warned. This does beg the question: with their hands tied in terms of ostensible political point scoring, what exactly will the likes of Stofile and Hoskins do at SARU for kicks, as one assumes they were never there for the love of the game?

White Vs All Blacks

The great pity is that White did not get to see his dream realized, and it is a dream all rugby loving South Africans dream: to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand. Unfortunately, Jake White will never get his chance to do this, something he admits is his greatest regret. It’s also a cogent reminder why we ought never to not let SARU management forget who SA rugby really belongs to...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Jewish Chicks Are Hot, Aren't They?

Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Nicky Greenwall, the girl next door, the babes at AAA advertising school... Let's face it, the Jewish princess is hot. Let's get down to the nitty gritty:

Average Ratings
Intelligence: 10/10
Beauty: 9/10
Sexy? Yes
Ability to have a good conversation: 8/10
Upbringing: 8/10

Also: "Hi, howzit going?"
"Good thanks." (meanwhile, a coy glance that means: 'Err...I notice you are not Jewish.')

Shop Once, Eat for a Week

You might not use the terms "pizza box" and "serving dish" interchangeably, but if you're like most guys, you probably could. That's because 64 percent of men spend little or no time preparing their meals[ That's me]. Their excuse? Time and money constraints [Spot on]. Unfortunately -- and perhaps not coincidentally -- that number parallels the 64 percent who are overweight [Uh oh. I'm listening]. It's no wonder: The inexpensive, time-saving foods that guys choose most often are also the ones that are the highest in sugar, fat, and calories, according to a recent study from the University of Washington[Dammit!].

Thankfully, we have a culinary solution that'll perfectly fit your budget, schedule, and diet. The plan: Set aside 20 minutes on Sunday to fulfill our 16-item shopping list, then forget about your wallet -- and collection of takeout menus -- for the rest of the workweek. By following our 5-day menu, you'll have the precise number of ingredients to create 10 fast, flavorful meals, all of which are designed to help you build muscle and melt fat while saving you money. (The average price of 10 meals eaten out: $85; the total price of our meals: $47.96.) Each night, you'll simply prepare a quick and easy dinner, and then creatively use the leftovers to assemble the next day's lunch. Call it the mixologist's guide to eating. The best part? While the other guys are stuck on hold in drive-thrus, you'll be rolling through the express line with your next 10 meals in tow.

NVDL: Weighed myself yesterday. 84.4kg. Not bad since I had not trained the day before and the day before that.

Win Josh Groban CDs!

5 Josh Groban NOEL albums up for grabs!

Christmas joy arrives early this year for millions of Josh Groban fans as 143/Warner/Reprise Records announces the release of ‘NOEL’ the artist's long anticipated classic recording of holiday songs.

Groban is joined on ‘Noel’ by the London Symphony Orchestra and several guest artists and has once again collaborated with Grammy-winning producer David Foster.

Recorded in LA and the famed Abbey Road Studio in London in between performances of the 26-year old Groban's "Awake" Tour, the collection of holiday songs on ‘Noel’ include such classics as “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” with Josh on acoustic piano, “Silent Night”, “Little Drummer Boy”, “The Christmas Song”, “O Come All Ye Faithful” with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and “Ava Maria”. Groban duets with Faith Hill on “The First Noel,” with a choir under the direction of gospel legend Kirk Franklin.

In addition, singer Brian McKnight adds his vocals to “Angels We Have Heard On High”.
To enter, go here.

The Christmas Spirit (PHOTOGRAPHY)

Corn boom could expand ‘dead zone’ in Gulf

JEFFERSON, Iowa - Because of rising demand for ethanol, American farmers are growing more corn than at any time since World War II. And sea life in the Gulf of Mexico is paying the price.

The nation's corn crop is fertilized with millions of pounds of nitrogen-based fertilizer. And when that nitrogen runs off fields in Corn Belt states, it makes its way to the Mississippi River and eventually pours into the Gulf, where it contributes to a growing "dead zone" — a 7,900-square-mile patch so depleted of oxygen that fish, crabs and shrimp suffocate.

The dead zone was discovered in 1985 and has grown fairly steadily since then, forcing fishermen to venture farther and farther out to sea to find their catch. For decades, fertilizer has been considered the prime cause of the lifeless spot.

Oil rises above $91

LONDON (Reuters) - Oil rose to over $91 a barrel on Tuesday after Turkish troops crossed over into Kurdish territory in northern Iraq.

Three hundred Turkish troops crossed the border overnight to combat Kurdish militants sheltering in the semi-autonomous region and blamed for attacks on Turkish territory.

U.S. light crude for January delivery, which expires later on Tuesday, rose 81 cents to $91.44 a barrel by 10:21 a.m., recouping some of the losses after falling for three straight sessions.

London Brent crude was up 55 cents at $91.84.

Analysts said rising geopolitical concerns centred on the oil-producing Mideast had put fundamental factors such as tight fuel stocks during an intensifying winter season into sharper focus.

In Black and White: Rugby Lessons To Learn From Jake's Book

We have some valuable insights into SA rugby through White's book, but will we live the lessons learned?

South Africa's losing streak in 2006 (including the shock 49-0 loss in Brisbane)came about because of unnecessary outside pressures and distractions on the team. How do you build a winning team?

1) Clarify contractual issues. Imagine how it would affect YOUR work performance, if, after each and every assignment, your job is up for review? Imagine if, having performed well, your boss keeps postponing meetings meant to clarify your future. Whilst the likes of Markgraaf believe this uncertainty is good, as it keeps you on your toes, some people are dedicated and have a work ethic that has them on their toes anyway, and hence - in this sense - the uncertainty approach is counterintuitive.
2) Manage the media. The likes of Dale Granger have done a disservice not only to SA rugby but to journalism. Twisting comments to sell newspapers adds pressure and distraction to the mix. Jake White may have made the mistake that when incorrect news was made, he did not instantly issue a correction. Perhaps a relationship with one consistent writer ought to be maintained, who is constantly updated on the true state of affairs (when reports go awry).
3) The media are co-conspirators. The media are part and parcel of South African rugby. Are they constructive towards the sport and the sportspeople or do they serve their own interests? Thus far, we've seen people climbing onto the bandwagon for their own interests and egos. That will have to change.
4) SARU Management ought to accountable to the public interest, which means serving the interests of sport (above and beyond their own interests). To this extent they are answerable to the ordinary shareholders whom the Springboks represent: the South African public, in whose name the national team plays
5) Rest is crucial to sustain long term performance. Long term success depends on resting key players for big games.

Iran Receives Nuclear Fuel in Blow to U.S.

WASHINGTON — The United States lost a long battle when Russia, as it announced on Monday, delivered nuclear fuel to an Iranian power plant that is at the center of an international dispute over its nuclear program. Iran, for its part, confirmed on Monday plans to build a second such plant.

How to turn anonymous page impressions into your loyal community of explorers

It is no longer enough to provide only text, however well written, on conventional news websites.

News sites now are effective when they know how to appropriately mix their multimedia content. The effectiveness of this mix depends, naturally, on the content at any given time.

For example when a hurricane story breaks, one of the most effective content sites is Why? Because MSNBC have an excellent blend of vivid pictures, slide shows, animated tracking, satellite images and maps (or graphs) - and text of course - which in combination provide the reader with an excellent picture of what is happening.

It is a moot point: is a person who is surfing the net someone who ‘reads’ or someone who ‘views’? The answer is both. But net based attention spans are very short. You have 1 or 2 seconds to engage your audience, so you need to be as sticky as possible in terms of hooking into human eyeballs.

What works in print also works on the homepage: a vivid, colorful picture that tells a story in itself. The New York Times prefers a horizontal rectangle – a cinemascoping of the image. The BBC often uses the longitudinal image. Which is best depends on site design.

I’m inclined to go for the BBC look, particularly if the idea is to have readers eyes moving towards the text, from left to right and top to bottom.


The goal of the site and content designers (or editors, as the case may be) should firstly be to turn viewers into readers. This means instead of spending a few seconds on your site, their eyeballs will stick to some sticky element, and you will then hold their attention for a minute, possibly much more.

It is very easy in the cramped space of a webpage, where a foot or two of text has to be put down, for the reader to get lost. The fact that your reader (if you’re lucky enough to graduate your viewer to a more committed reader) has to use a mouse to navigate means reams of disconnected text float and scroll at speeds that his or her eye might find difficult to track. Here subheadings are not merely useful, but vital.


The Washington Post is an example of a site that recycles (basically through redirecting) the reader through its own archives, through its various sections using links. This is an example of the Web enabling ‘stream-of-consciousness’ browsing. Once you can engage the reader’s curiosity, if you place enough stepping stones around him, you’re likely to take him or her somewhere worthwhile.

Swiss Cheese Your Site

Think of 'Swiss Cheese' when you designing content and sites. Each portal should easily lead to another passage which can take you somewhere else. But there should also be textual and visual consistency throughout the site, for example, on different pages.

Logos can obviously reinforce this ‘sense of place’, but a headline picture can be repeated on other pages to reinforce and integrate the site and what it is communicating.
For slideshows, a black background provides a powerful framework to show off pictures to their best effect. They tend to have a classier look and feel too.

It’s important then also to state the obvious: caption all images, and provide links under these captions to other relevant sites. Use color in a consistent manner, unless you would like to differentiate a subsection (eg. the Multimedia page). Change font color and size to differentiate clearly what is ‘article text’ and sidebar ‘Lists’ or ‘Sections’.


A page needs to be colorful, but not overpowering. To my mind, has too much ‘white space’, especially towards the bottom of the page. has a fine balance between all the basics: text size, spacing, color, photographs and overall use of ‘space’.

Other design features based on ergonomics:

- the searchbar is always placed on the right (when we seek new information, that’s where our eyes travel – to the right and up)
- Most Popular stories (or for Blogs, links or other navigational invitations) should be placed in the right sidebar, in the mid to lower level.
- When the viewer/reader has completed his gaze, the eye will more than likely be at the bottom right, the same place the eye will travel when reading a book: putting something like an ‘impulse purchase’ in the space at the bottom right (a competition, a poll, or as the BBC does – a podcast).

Additional features

Websites can add tremendous utility to bread and butter content but simply providing these in additional formats: For websites that are based on some other real world medium (newspaper or TV) behind the scenes footage or reporting can always be provided in a: ‘More on this story’ section.

The most catchy stories can be complemented with an audio version, particularly where the columnist is well known and well spoken. In the same way video interviews should be featured, but also have the option of having audio only, and also a transcript. Allow the viewer the choice to do/be what he or she wants to: to read, or to view.

To the extent that sites can constantly add and integrate multimedia, the site becomes not only more valuable but more useful, enabling the content provider and the content consumer to communicate and engage on the appropriate level.

Once this level has been measured and ascertained, there ought to be an implicit mutual understanding on what a site will undertake to provide, and the viewer will then commit, perhaps daily, to transition; to spend more time on your site, not merely as a reader, but as a curious explorer.

The basic analogy then is that the content provider is a forest designer, and the reader is Little Red Riding Hood. Now find a way to get her lost in the woods, not in a way that scares her, but in a way that is so much fun, she forgets that she's gotten herself lost in your world.

Kunstler: The Road To Ruin

We're seeing a crisis of authority on top of a crisis of capital, and it will probably lead to a crisis of legitimacy -- by which I mean a catastrophic loss of faith that this society can govern itself at any level. Leadership across the board has failed, in government, in business, in what used to be called the press, and in education. Leadership in every sector went along with the program, marveling stupidly at their society's ability to get something for nothing.

The general public did not perform any more honorably -- due to whatever failure of civic norms they operate within -- and indeed the nation as a whole may deserve all the suffering it faces. But however bad the general public's behavior, or dark their fate, a failure of civic norms is ultimately a failure of leadership, which is about clearly stating the boundaries and terms of behavior. When anything goes, nothing matters. Since that was our leaders' attitude, the public did what it naturally does: it follows the example set by leadership.

We haven't begun to see where all this will lead yet. Since what is happening is basically the evaporation of trillions of dollars in supposed wealth. At the very least we're likely to see an impoverished nation very soon short of money to buy necessities. Historically this is known as a ruinous deflation. The last time America went through such an experience was the Great Depression of the 1930s. Like this situation, it came at the end of an extraordinary expansion of credit -- loans largely made in that day for the purchase of stock "on margin."

One difference between then and now is that in 1929 a relative small minority of Americans were involved in stock purchases. Today, a relative large number of ordinary citizens own overpriced houses bought using extraordinarily risky loans, and a large number of institutions such as pension funds, banks, hedge funds, and money markets own fraudulent securities based on these house loans, worth a fraction of their face value. Some other differences this time around: in the background is a "real" economy of depleting natural resources (oil, soils, aquifers, etc) and the systematic disassembly of an industrial manufacturing infrastructure. In the 1930s, many people could return to family farms and get by, even with little money. Today there are far fewer family farms.

The nation is acting just now like a crowd of bystanders watching a car wreck that has nothing to do with them -- as though they were just occupying the Nascar grandstand on a particularly bad day. They'll discover soon that it's their own society that's hit the wall out there on the track. It raises the question, under the circumstances, as to whether the next presidential election will have any legitimacy.


New Weather Record

Highest Daily Rain
Old value: 44.0mm 1999-12-01
New Value: 52.2mm 2007-12-16

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Shirt Says It All (PHOTOGRAPHY)

Top 10 Tips for New Bloggers From Original Blogger Jorn Barger (WIRED)

Jorn Barger of Robot Wisdom coined the term "weblog" Dec. 17, 1997 -- 10 years ago Monday -- to describe the daily list of links that "logged" his travels across the web.

In the decade hence, Barger feels that he's gained some wisdom of his own about blogging. Here's Barger's top 10 tips for novice bloggers:

My intent for weblogs in 1997 was to make the web as a whole more transparent, via a sort of "mesh network," where each weblog amplifies just those signals (or links) its author likes best. 1998-1999 was for me the Golden Age of Weblogs, when the following principles were widely understood:

1. A true weblog is a log of all the URLs you want to save or share. (So is actually better for blogging than [Except it lacks personality: It's like ordering something from a menu into a drive-thru mike, rather than from a waitress or something else real.]

2. You can certainly include links to your original thoughts, posted elsewhere … but if you have more original posts than links, you probably need to learn some humility. [Interesting..seems I'm on the right track. Although this blog certainly started out - in terms of original content - on the wrong track. The first half is almost exclusively all about me and my thoughts...]

3. If you spend a little time searching before you post, you can probably find your idea well articulated elsewhere already. [True. Which starts to beg the question: why blog? The answer is, some people who know you want are interested in your thoughts, your ideas, and want to share in your conversation - not some stranger's. Right?]

4. Being truly yourself is always hipper than suppressing a link just because it's not trendy enough. Your readers need to get to know you. [Aha, see my above comment.]

5. You can always improve on the author's own page title, when describing a link. (At least make sure your description is full enough that readers will recognize any pages they've already visited, without having to visit them again.)

6. Always include some adjective describing your own reaction to the linked page (great, useful, imaginative, clever, etc.) [Makes sense.]

7. Credit the source that led you to it, so your readers have the option of "moving upstream."

8. Warn about "gotchas" -- weird formatting, multipage stories, extra-long files, etc. Don't camouflage the main link among unneeded (or poorly labeled) auxiliary links.

9. Pick some favorite authors or celebrities and create a Google News feed that tracks new mentions of them, so other fans can follow them via your weblog. [Awesome idea.]

10. Re-post your favorite links from time to time, for people who missed them the first time.

Pret With Portman

Natalie Portman moved with her family from Israel to America when she was three and grew up in New York. She began dancing lessons at four and by 10 was acting in an off-Broadway show as an understudy with a young Britney Spears. She was cast in her first film two years later. A committed vegetarian, she lives alone in New York and is reportedly dating Nathan Bogle, a male model

by Gill Pringle

You have to feel for Natalie Portman. Here is an actress, 26 years old, already nominated for an Oscar, winner of a Golden Globe and with a psychology degree from Harvard. But what made the headlines recently at the release of a short film? Her bottom. “Natalie Portman gets naked”, shrieked one; “Portman goes nude”, yelled another. The internet went into turbo drive: 500,000 people downloaded the video free from iTunes, and it then found its way onto YouTube and other websites. The film was a 13-minute short directed by Wes Anderson called Hotel Chevalier and was released on the internet as a prequel to the director’s big budget feature The Darjeeling Limited, out last month.

Audiences shunned the main event, but the distributor of The Darjeeling Limited quickly picked up on the public’s appetite for Portman in the buff and promptly started screening the Hotel Chevalier at cinemas before the film in the hope of drawing more crowds.

Portman sighs when asked if she regrets stripping off. “I don’t really have regrets,” she says, from her suite at New York’s glamorous Loews Regency hotel. “It’s more that I don’t like misappropriation of stuff and when you create something – like I’m part of a story, doing a dramatic scene – and then a piece of it ends up on a porn site, it really makes me angry. It’s inevitable and I should have known better.”

Natalie Portman in V For Vendetta - Watch the best video clips here
Portman is used to such controversy. Her first film, Léon, cast her as a Lolita-esque 12-year-old girl who befriends a hitman. The relationship between the two, although ambiguous, is unsettling and prompted an angry response from children’s charities. Meanwhile, rumours that she had appeared nude in the 2006 film Goya’s Ghosts prompted a rebuttal from her agent, who said Portman used a body double.

Her latest role is less contentious. She has just finished My Blueberry Nights, a road movie to be released in the new year. It was that film’s subject matter, a young woman driving across America in search of love, that attracted her to it, she says, and it brought back memories of her own road trip just after she learnt to drive.
“I was with my boyfriend at the time and we decided to drive from California to New York,” she says. “We were driving his not very environmentally friendly car and we did it in about 10 days.
“I remember early in the trip we had decided to go down to Mexico first and it was late at night, and we were driving and driving, looking for a place to sleep, and we couldn’t find a motel. So finally we found this parking lot outside of a motel. They were like, ‘We don’t have room for you but if you want to camp here . . .’ We used the car lights to light us pitching the tent.”

The episode wasn’t quite as romantic as it sounds. “We woke up in the morning and the car battery was dead. Also, we’d woken up expecting to be in this beautiful Mexican town with the ocean and whatever – but it was like a trash dump. Literally, it was a dump. I remember thinking, ‘How did we not smell it?’ So that was kind of a funny experience. And we had to wait till the afternoon until they got someone who could take us to town to get the battery replaced.”
Portman is probably best known for her role as Queen Amidala in the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. She agreed to take the role on the understanding that she would film only during the summer holidays while she studied psychology at Harvard.

It was not the happiest of times. “I think the most difficult time personally was probably my senior college year. Everyone hated my performances in Star Wars; everyone thought I was a terrible actress, and I wasn’t getting work – or not getting work that I wanted to do – and was just feeling bad about myself in general. I took time off and wasn’t sure if maybe I shouldn’t be there or whatever.”

The daughter of an Israeli fertility specialist and an American artist, Portman grew up in New York and was spotted when she was 12 at a pizza parlour and cast in Léon. A vegetarian since she was nine, she says: “I stopped eating meat after I saw a film about chickens. It was tough because I loved my mom’s brisket but I’ve not eaten meat or fish since. Giving up Gummi Worms and Jell-O was the worst part.”

Today she lives in New York, drives a Toyota Prius and eschews the glamour of showbiz in favour of quiet nights in and seeing friends from university. (“I’ve had a few drunken nights in my life. I’m not a puritan. I simply haven’t made a lifestyle out of it. Maybe I am kind of boring? I hope not.”) Does she feel she missed out on a normal childhood? “When I was a kid I was always pretending to be an adult,” she says cautiously. “And I still sort of feel the same way. I still feel like I’m pretending.” And she admits to sometimes wanting to quit acting all together. “I think about it [quitting] every day, and then, you know, a few more days pass and then I sort of want it again. It’s like an addiction.”
From: On the move: Natalie Portman