From the title of the book bottelnel breek bek, the warning signs are there — this is not going to be an easy read.

But because I have been following Dianne du Toit Albertze’s career for a long time, I knew this would be worth the battle.

In a digital interview, she tells me that the story found her rather than her discovering what she wanted to write about. “I needed to write about people who were braver than me because it was Covid and I needed something to save me,” she says.

That’s where she found Dora and Whashiela, who came with their own heaven-sent gifts. And their strong appearance was probably driven by the fact that “as a trans person, I don’t find many heroines in the books I read. I also don’t see them at festivals or on television. Especially not in my mother tongue,” she notes.

In her own way, she wanted to show Afrikaanse moffies that they shouldn’t let go of their dreams  —  “Moenie jou tong oppie highway verkoop nie” is how she says it bluntly and beautifully. “Nancy is waiting, we need to make and take our own space.”

Feeling and querying whether this is a very personal tale, she acknowledges that first novels are probably always close to the bone. “I wanted to push my high heels through the literary door with a story that feels close to me. I wanted to go as close to the edge as I could and much method writing followed,” she says. “I learnt about everything I wrote about and didn’t want to be a faker.

Dianne Du Toit Albertze
Picture: Peter van Noord.

“Perhaps I listen to too much Tupac or hide too easily behind my pen … because the book also helped me recover from a poisonous addiction. Every day without drugs is a BIG day. And hopefully this full-frontal writing of mine will mean something to someone out there.”

We all know about method acting and what that has done to those taking it too far, and if you read the book without the hairs on your arms standing on edge you’re possibly not paying attention.

This is an artist who takes her art seriously and even if it meant she climbed a steep mountain with the language, it is what adds authenticity and soul to the characters and story.

“I wouldn’t have been true to my characters if they spoke the language of dubbed Turkish soapies,” explains Dianne about her choices. And acknowledges that she wanted to honour the colourful language of the trans community in Observatory and Matjieskloof. “A variant like Gayle (created by the  queer coloured community in Cape Town) even has its own accents in specific regions.”

 And then she’s not even referring to Sabela (a language flounced together from numerous local languages in local prisons for gangs to communicate) or those creative Cape expressions we’re all familiar with. This is completely different yet with distinct similarities – an anomaly in itself.

Dianne du Toit Albertze striking a pose.

“I’ve always been fascinated by linguistics – to create different codes and to learn different expressions and idioms.”

On a language level, she embroiders, the tongues of the different characters metaphorically reflect their life paths – also pushed out and teetering on the periphery. “Those of us who have for so long been hiding in the shadows should move into the light and speak loudly.” Another incentive for telling her story the way she does – letting it all hang out … bravely.

Amen, say I, having read the book and also revelling in this particular interview/conversation, which was a written rather than a spoken one. “Steve Biko says I write what I like and perhaps I agree with him,” notes Dianne. “I write about shit that matters to me and what I believe will interest a broader audience.”

She also hopes that a trans child might read the book and realise that they too matter, perhaps influenced by her own struggles and lack of support.

For the writer personally, she has many dreams and desires: a musical, Medea in Namakwaland, staged in-between the koppies; and to write a few movie scripts. These are on the cards.

For her, writing plays is like breathing in and out. She’s been doing that from a very young age right through her drama studies. “Poetry and prose come from there, but to write for stage is my big love,” she says.

As for her activist stance, she took her queue from the Sestigers (a moniker for a group of dissident Afrikaans writers, including Breyten Breytenbach, André Brink, Ingrid Jonker, Elsa Joubert, Jan Rabie and Etienne le Roux) who believed that words carry weight and that we need the arts and artists to be our conscience.  
This would mean, to her mind, stories that free us from what is becoming a hopeless land with steadily growing layers and levels of suffering.

In the meantime she is working with actor/director Lee-Ann van Rooy on a season of her text Kaap, which was performed at the 2020 NATi Jong Sterre Suidoosterfees . And with her Namakwaland trans sisters, she is busy creating an NGO House of Influence with which they hope to establish safe houses as well as perform community theatre.

She’s a busy woman but for those of us lucky enough to witness her creativity, moving on the edges as she does, she draws a curtain on a hidden yet important world.

This is what makes our universe an interesting one. People are allowed if not encouraged to be themselves and for those who are open to the diversity and differences, it establishes a never-ending stage of wonder, wisdom and, of course, a wackiness without which life would be so much poorer and less colourful.

And as Dianne is so determined to bring to our attention, real people are living here.


Journalist/writer Herman Lategan starts Hoerkind (Penguin) with a paragraph which states that this is how he remembers his life, and what happened from his birth until today. He notes that he was blessed to know people and to write about them. He also admits that memories can be deceiving. That there is no literary consciousness to be found. If there is a conclusion necessary to this writing, he hopes a reader or two could be encouraged to fight their fragility. Everything is fleeting. DIANE DE BEER interviewed him at his Pretoria Exclusive Books launch, was captivated by him … and his writing:

When I first read about Herman Lategan’s book Hoerkind, Die Memoires van ‘n Randeier (outsider) I realised I knew nothing about his life. When I was asked to chat to him for the Pretoria Exclusive Books launch earlier, I immediately said yes.

During the first reading of the book, my heart stopped several times and I rushed through it at breakneck speed. When I said I didn’t know anything about this beautiful boy, that wasn’t the half of it.

Because Herman lives in the Cape and now writes mostly for Afrikaans media, I only met him quite recently. Once people knew I was talking to him, lots of little titbits were recycled but I’ve always had a rule about gossip, unless something or someone has done something to me personally, I don’t take much notice. Life’s too short.

In conversation

I was slightly worried because I know Herman struggles emotionally and has addiction problems but on the night we had our conversation, he was exactly who I thought he would be. He was kind and funny and comfortable talking about what was a really challenging life   ̶   and I don’t know many who would have sailed through it like he did.

And if that implies that it was easy, not at all. But he has a will to live, to make it and in spite of those who put him down throughout his life, he is determined to survive. It’s that bravado and courage, but also the vulnerability that caught my attention the first time we met.  I think he felt it, because I knew from the start, Herman would be as charming as he always is when the two of us bump into one another.

Playing the cool kid.

And he was. Not that he didn’t shock his Pretoria audience with his salty tongue, but with a title like Hoerkind (Whore Child), they would have expected that and we were all adults in the room.

Back to his story. At a second reading I could sit back and appreciate the life he had tried to navigate, the many angels he had watching over him (most spotted by him) in a life where he must have believed evil triumphs over goodness. It really takes your breath away.

There’s much about the book that I loved beginning with Herman’s voice. Like me, he started out writing in his second language (English) mainly because he had turned his back on anything Afrikaans, because it was there that he felt he received only harshness.

But in more recent times he has embraced his mother tongue and anyone who experiences his way with Afrikaans words and stringing words together, will know it’s where he belongs. It comes naturally, without pretence or a dictionary at hand – or that’s how it reads.

And because he has written the book in almost choppy chapters, allowing the events themselves to dictate, it’s an easy read. It fluctuates in mood and tempo and while much of what he has experienced has been harrowing, it is through his ability to find people who will embrace him, even adopted families who protect him, that he manages to forge ahead and achieve a life that would be admirable even without the hardships.

The Herman Lategan persona.

Understanding that he has had to do it all himself and that he knew instinctively when and where to turn for help, you also understand why he is such a survivor. Many in these circumstances would have become completely dependent on others. I don’t think he was ever allowed to do that. He had to fight his way through, go and find the answers of his neglectful parents for himself so that he could stop being the victim and forge a life that is completely reliant on his own talents – and there are many.

What’s not to love and hold?

That is exactly what he has done. Does he regret not having parents who were present in especially his young life? Of course, who wouldn’t. Is he still sad about that? Yes. And that’s never going to pass. But what he hasn’t done, is to feel so sorry for himself that it paralysed him.

He’s not that patient. Life isn’t going to pass him by. He has received as much joy as sorrow and he has decided to focus on all of it, hence the book.

He appreciates the people who have reached out a hand, but he hasn’t allowed that to define him. As many who gave, there were others who took away. He understood this balance and has probably always been battling the percentages, even putting himself at the coalface of his fears.

The Herman Lategan I know. Now you see him now you don’t …

So far he is winning and that’s the way he would say it too. He doesn’t take life for granted, that luxury has never been part of his life  ̶  and in retrospect, he will probably recognise it as a gift. It’s how he kept jostling ahead.

Because Herman is as adept in English as Afrikaans, I’m holding thumbs that he rewrites/translates the book into English. It’s been hugely successful and a wider audience is certainly out there   ̶   waiting.

Since this writing, the book is being translated, so those of you wanting to read it, hang tight.

It’s that radiant a read.


This past weekend it felt as if theatre was truly back. Watching three extraordinary productions in Johannesburg, all running at the same time, it is a stark reminder of what we missed and a celebration of what feels like the return of live theatre. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

From left: Graham Hopkins and Lihle Ngubo in The Lesson (Pictures by Suzy Bernstein); Alan Committie, Robyn Scott, Berenice Barbier and Sanda Shandu in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? and Julie-Anne McDowell and Jennifer Steyn inThe Beauty Queen of Leenane (Pictures Brett Rubin).

It all began when someone at the recent Woordfees reminded me of three plays opening on the Gauteng circuit: The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Sandton’s Theatre on the Square, The Lesson at the Mannie Manim at the Market Theatre and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Montecasino’s Pieter Toerien Theatre.

With Sandton first on the list, the cast, the director and the play were all strong attractions. With a rare appearance in Gauteng for the sublime Jennifer Steyn (who moved to the Cape a few years back) and the perceptive Charmaine Weir-Smith directing, we were in seasoned hands.

Jennifer Steyn in full force.

The Add to that an exciting younger trio consisting of Julie-Anne McDowell, Bryan Hiles and Sven Ruygrok and this black comedy has everything going for it. Steyn immediately sets the tone with a sublime if scarily monstrous performance as the mother none of us wish for.

Battling to survive the total onslaught in the role of daughter struggling to be servile, McDowell is constantly batting back the barbs with hardly any impact.

And into this grim fight walks two brothers with Hiles the one who upsets the teetering yet finely balanced relationship between mother and child.

It’s about survival, darkly comical and probably one that plays out in many different forms, everywhere and all the time. But it takes the seriously sharp pen of Martin McDonagh (In Bruges; Seven Psychopaths; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) to add gut-wrenching to the experience. That and the performance of Steyn.

It’s a reminder of her long-felt absence on our stages. The subtlety with which she manages to create the sullen-faced mother is quite extraordinary – both hysterically funny yet deathly sad. It is the kind of performance that could so easily slide into caricature but she holds fast and never ventures that far.

Isolation and the fear of being alone do terrible things to people and while we laugh merrily at the dilemma of this mother and daughter duo, it is something that skirts many lives at some stage. That’s what makes this such a chilling encounter.

Plays until this Saturday

The Lesson starring Fiona Ramsay and Lihle Ngubo.

Ionesco’s The Lesson has been adapted by director Greg Homann for local audiences, and it’s a “welcome back” to another artist who has been out of the country for a few years.

It’s also a thrilling second time this year we see the excellent duo of Fiona Ramsay and Graham Hopkins on stage (with a return of the fantastic Hansard for a short run in January at Theatre on the Square) in a play that is as demanding as it is engaging. And the two veterans (wisely and to those of us witnessing both, with delight) couldn’t have chosen two more diverse plays if they tried.

Both are quite wordy and especially Hopkins has to think fast and furious on his feet while intent on bedazzling his latest pupil with his particular and peculiar lecture style and content. A wide-eyed student (Lihle Ngubo) arrives for a lesson, is welcomed by Ramsay’s rather clumsy if deliciously dilly assistant Marie and introduced to Hopkins’s almost doddering Professor – and the fun begins.

Homann’s director’s notes suggest that there are different interpretations to this locally flavoured adaptation including gender and power, and cultural oppression, or it can be viewed as a study of the relationship between student and teacher (all familiar tropes) but, more than anything, he has created a work that in this well-cast play, is as much about performance as it is about substance.

Graham Hopkins as The Professor.

If you were lucky enough to see Hansard earlier this year, it’s just magnificent to experience Ramsay and Hopkins playing completely different characters, much more wacky, yet approached with a delicacy that shows how carefully you must tread with roles that have to imply rather than be grotesque.

What a thrill for Ngubo to play with actors this experienced and she grabbed rather than shied away from the challenge. Her facial expressions (and costume) said more than words could tell and the interplay between the bullying professor and his awed student is quite riveting, with emotions ranging from amusement to outrage.

As the director also suggests, this is one to mull over and hopefully start a conversation. In the moment, the experience is almost like a slightly hazardous carnival ride.

On until October 30.

And finally it was the turn of Sylvaine Strike’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Robyn Scott and Alan Committie as Martha and George, while Sanda Shandu and Berenice Barbier as Nick and Honey are lured into the pink-tainted lair.

But in this 60th anniversary production, all this marshmallow fluff that the colours might suggest is nothing but an enticement, as the young couple discover to their surprise. But this quickly changes as they gather their own defences, with different results.

This is all about Strike’s modern take and what the actors do with their individual iconic parts. And a warning: it comes at you with all systems on red hot alert!

Scott (with purpose) has a voice used on different levels and with a mix of accents that might throw you at first – and then it DELIGHTS. Like an animal on the prowl, she uses everything from her over- the-top facial expressions to her strident body manoeuvres to make her presence shimmer and shatter in equal parts. It’s magnificent.

Unexpectedly, because of his stand-up comedy status, Committie has a subtler approach, which is wise, because if both of them came at you at full tilt, it might have been obliterating rather intimidating. Their combined assault is finely balanced to create the perfect storm.

The extraordinary quartet in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

And while they are the prey, there’s nothing meek and mild about the younger couple’s performance. I completely lost my heart to Barbier’s innocence and desire to participate in what feels like fun and games while Shandu, whose race adds another level which is thrown at the audience to do with whatever they wished, has a presence which grows fiercer as the night’s antics progress and disintegrate.

It’s 2022, 60 years after the play premiered. Strike takes the bull by the horns, coming at you full force as people do in this current chaotic world of ours, and while our jaws drop and we grab at our chairs for safety, it’s grand and gregarious and great to wallow in this ecstatic night of sheer horror and hilarity.

On until November 6.

Please keep in mind that it is three hours long, with two intervals. Arrive rested and prepared to engage.

All three these exciting and challenging plays deal in dysfunction and relationships in ways that are darkly funny yet deeply disturbing. With casts who carry a healthy spread of wisdom and exuberance, this was the best way to fling open those theatre doors.

What a joyous and confident return!



PICTURES: Thomas Honiball

PRETORIA, jakarandastad,

Dis weer Oktobermaand…

Miskien is dit die rede dat

Ek só verlang vanaand,

Want hoeveel jare het jy nie

My life en leed gedeel

En stil geluister wanneer ek

My ou kitaar bespeel

This is the first verse of singer/songwriter sublime Koos du Plessis’s ode to Pretoria.

He frames his beloved city in a cloak of purple haze, which is how many of us identify the most colourful capital city.

But much controversy has surrounded this emblem of the city over the years and there are visions of fights for this particular tree and the replanting and upkeep of the city’s pride for those of us living here long enough.

Money talks, and the hordes of tourists who visit the city annually is proof enough for everyone who witnesses this influx that, at least for the moment, Jacarandas are allowed to flourish and bloom in all their splendour.

The four annual stages of the Jacaranda tree

Jacaranda trees were first imported from Rio de Janeiro by Baron von Ludwig of Cape Town in about 1830. A travelling nurseryman from Cape Town named Templemann brought two Jacaranda trees to Pretoria in 1888. He planted them in the garden he had laid out for Jacob Daniel (Japie) Celliers at Myrtle Lodge in Sunnyside, shortly after it was established as Pretoria’s second suburb.

In the 1890s Celliers secured a concession from President Paul Kruger to plant trees in Groenkloof for the Government of the Republic. James Clark, a wholesale and retail seedsman, florist and nursery, received the order to import seeds from Australia.

The story goes that among the consignment of eucalyptus seeds Clark imported for planting in Pretoria in 1898, a packet of Jacaranda seeds had found their way.

On 16 November 1906, the 51st anniversary of the founding of Pretoria, Clark presented 200 Jacaranda trees to the City Council as a birthday present to Pretoria. These trees were planted in Bosman street in Arcadia Park where the Pretoria Art Museum was established in 1864.

Frank Walton James was appointed as town engineer in 1909. He suggested the planting of Jacarandas in all the streets of the town to enhance the status of Pretoria as the proposed capital of the Union. When Jameson left the Council in 1920, fewer than 6 000 trees had been planted. By 1939, with the constant encouragement of Jameson, the number of trees had risen to 17 000.

Today there are approximately 40 000 Jacaranda trees in the streets of Pretoria.

And these facts were all handed to me in a letter by Jacaranda activist, architect Thomas Honiball, a man who has always battled and fought for the preservation of Pretoria as the beautiful city it is.

Some of us still remember the huge controversy about the west façade of  Church Square, which was going to be demolished, but was finally left intact thanks to Honiball and a committee he had established with exactly this in mind. And the city proudly hails this part of its heritage today.

The aforementioned letter was written with a request to the Minister of Agriculture for the planting of Jacaranda trees in the city of Tshwane – and fortunately those battles were hard fought and won.

For Thomas, who lives in Nieu Muckleneuk with a spectacular view of Jacaranda blossoms when they are in full bloom, these trees hold and embrace the spirit of the city. He believes they were first planted to establish the character of a city that would be named the country’s capital – and thus it was.

“We have something that no other city boasts in such abundance,” he says. He also argues it is especially the city’s layout, the long streets, and the koppies,  that allow for the spectacular showing of this tree Pretorians have claimed for themselves.

And he has many anecdotes to claim the city’s towering Jacaranda status. “I was told the story that Elon Musk’s grandfather when he flew over the city and saw the spectacle of the purple blooms was so overwhelmed, he emigrated here,” he says.

He also remembers as a young Free State lad paying his first visit to the city and sighting the purple spectacle, how it overwhelmed him. “It was just so pretty!”

Thomas Honiball and the book of listings he instigated.

That’s not all he achieved in this city. He was also instrumental in the production of a book with the listing of buildings worth holding on to, often used by city planners to save specific buildings which form a part of the city’s heritage. It’s not something South Africa has always done well and we need these visual planners who understand the importance of cherishing the old while celebrating the new.

He is very aware that everything cannot be kept simply because its old. There’s a saying that if a city centre doesn’t change, keep up with the times, it will die.

Fortunately for Tshwane, we have citizens like Thomas Honiball in our midst who have the city’s interests at heart and understand the importance of the picture perfect visual that keeps us all mesmerised.

#MeToo Movement Marches Forcefully Against Powerful Monsters who For Far Too Long Had Their Way With Women

It’s been a momentous time in the #MeToo sphere with the Harvey Weinstein convictions – finally. And even with two hard hitting books out there detailing all the women and what they have gone through, the jury still found him culpable of only two of the five counts. With many other similar issues swirling about, DIANE DE BEER speaks her mind:

Harvey Weinstein at court
Harvey Weinstein playing the victim at his recent New York trial.


There’s hardly a woman who works professionally that won’t have some kind of memory about sexual harassment. I suppose with everything being aired these past few years, those of us who haven’t suffered sexual abuse should count ourselves lucky.

But I was surprised about my emotional response to Bombshell, the film starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie about the horrific abuse by Roger Ailes and many more who were part of the Fox empire.

I had seen and was fascinated by The Loudest Voice, the TV series told with the accent on the bullying tactics of Roger Ailes and the culture of sexy women he created in the Fox Newsroom and on screen.

Bombshell poster
The poster says it all! Power in triplicate!

When Bombshell arrived, I felt I had viewed enough of this particular story, until someone whose judgement I trust told me to see it as this was from the women’s point of view. I didn’t realise the impact that would have on a very personal level which says so much about the culture most women find themselves in at work.

We don’t even notice because it is so prevalent and probably to most of us “normal”, so when seeing this particular film, which shows especially the environment created specifically so that this kind of thing can flourish, my flesh crawled – to my surprise.

But it was no surprise that with the final credits a notice announces that the women received 50 million dollars in damages: while Roger Ailes and another Fox News accused, Bill O’Reilly, received 65 million dollars’ worth of parting packages.

Fox News is the extreme so there’s no turning away from that aspect of the film. And with these three powerful actresses in control, it resonates dramatically and memories came flooding back. “How are the dollies doing?” was a particular rankling phrase coming from a boss or the fact that you were told that your salary increase was determined by the fact that your partner worked in IT. “That means he earns big bucks,” was the feeling. And the list of constant humiliations goes on.


And then when these men are “caught”, they are so powerful that they manoeuvre everything and everyone around them. Read Ronan Farrow’s book (reviewed in this space earlier) Catch and Kill and She Said and see what happened to these award-winning writers in the process of writing the book. It wasn’t only Weinstein who came out guns blazing, he had many who colluded and further made it tough for anyone who wanted to expose his evil practices.

And perhaps what upset me the most was the humiliation that these women, many of them with powerful careers (and not because of Roger Ailes), had to go through on a daily basis. If this is the man who employs you, how does the rest of the world view you? He in fact lays down the rules of how you appear on camera and what you are allowed to say.

Something that was always an unwritten rule in media was that your newspaper had your back if those on the outside were upset with your reporting of the facts – the newspaper would stand up for you and in that way, bring balance to the power dynamic. But that’s not what happened at Fox. When Fox news correspondent Megyn Kelly was taunted by President Trump, it was another stick in the Ailes arsenal to keep her in line.

These constant games are also part of the ritual to keep everyone functioning in place and not to overstep or rock the boat. You learn very early on when to hold back and when to fight for specific rights. Some you win and others you lose.

Others make you smile – wryly. The first time women were really promoted into certain positions was post ’94 when they were included in the list of appropriate candidates because of the neglect in the past.

Suddenly in newspaper offices around the country, women started appearing in management positions and even the first female editors started to emerge. It wasn’t a sudden belief in the ability of women. White men just thought them the lesser of all the evils!

Bombshell Robbie
Bombshell’s Margot Robbie represents the epitome of what Roger Ailes wanted the Fox women to exude.

And so one could go on and on. And that’s why women around the world were thrilled about the Weinstein conviction but…

And said best by the following tweet:

Shailja Patel: @shailapatel: (Kenyan poet, author, feminist, activist, now self-exiled after she accused a fellow Kenyan writer of sexual assualt and was ordered by the court  to pay damages and apologise to the man who assaulted her, so she left the country.)

No guilty verdict of jail sentence, even for life, can restore what Harvey Weinstein stole from his victims. Or repair the harm he inflicted on his decades-long reign of terror over an entire industry. But this is a tiny crack in the wall of impunity. Let patriarchy tremble.

She nails it!. So while we all watch and wait, the battle goes on but at least because of their shining a light so strongly, the #MeToo movement is starting to show results.

Social Media and Smartphones Dictate the Pace but Detract from the Vibe

Social media and smartphones can play havoc with the way you understand the world. DIANE DE BEER is hoping for a reality check where the picture doesn’t tell the only story:

Smartphones on the march


There are lots to say for both these modern amenities but sometimes – and that probably has much to do with my age – I can’t help but wonder about real life and slow living that is lost along the way. Two examples of their impact had me puzzling just a bit recently.

The one had to do with commuters on a train in Tokyo all so lost in their smart phones, they might – and probably are – be living in a parallel universe. Back home, an invitation to sample the new summer menu at one of Joburg’s premiere restaurants had me struggling to make sense of the moment as single plates of every dish was passed around for diners to sample, photograph and promote to the outside world – at breathtaking speed or that’s how it felt.

On a trip to Japan, our mode of transport in Tokyo was the train – sometimes above the ground and, when we couldn’t do it any other way, underground. But this didn’t really make any difference to the phone phenomenon which was so pervasive it had my whole party pondering the merits of easy access to … well almost anything. And that is the problem perhaps.

It wouldn’t it be smart phones I suppose if we didn’t have perfect access?

It doesn’t take long for foreign travellers to notice that everyone on the train is either on their phone or sleeping. That’s sounds like a rather mild condition when stated like that. But what I really mean, from the moment you walk into the station and then arrive at the right platform and step onto the train, there’s no eye contact with any individual who is probably making this journey twice a day.

It makes sense that they would use this instant source of entertainment to keep themselves occupied during what must be a tedious part of their day. But it is the level of engagement which completely ignores the public space they find themselves in that is quite fascinating.

Given the Japanese innate politeness, it feels especially as if the young men have found a way of ignoring all the social conventions of their society by simply locking into their phones. From the moment they step onto the train and off and beyond, they have their phone pressed – up close and personal – right into their face and they do all of this while grabbing a seat and then they stay put.

There’s no acknowledgement of pregnant women or elderly individuals who might warrant a young man giving up his hard-earned seat – and which they are advised constantly to do via public announcements and one understands why.

But there’s also no embarrassment or losing face, because he is locked completely off from the world happening around him. If they were reading books or even watching news, that would also add some justice to the endeavour but it’s usually games. We did spot some manga to our relief and perhaps three books (always manga) and perhaps two newspapers on our journey.

BirthDayFatman_0001 (16)

Those on the train who aren’t on their phones (both men and women) are asleep, standing or sitting, sometimes with the phone pressed to their noses. Admittedly, commuting is tiring and while we are on holiday with all the time in the world, this is a hard slog – before and after work – either way.

What is disturbing though is the absence of discovering who these people are. They’re simply missing – any time of the day. It seems that’s what the Japanese do – particularly in Tokyo –when on their commute. The sleeping is less disturbing because tiredness in today’s world is a universal trait amongst workers.

The stress and long days are easy culprits but the cutting off from the outside world, your fellow travelers, to the point of not making any contact at all cannot be healthy. Instead you’re in communication with a machine.

Our fellow commuters seemed lovely people, but who could really tell?

Similarly, a recent media lunch at 54 on Bath’s Level Four to test their new Summer Menu was equally soulless. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the function that’s at fault, it’s what the world has become and what we have to do, to survive. By ignoring the process and going simply for goal, depth and thus lasting impact is missing, to my mind.

Previously – and not that long ago – a tasting menu would actually include having a meal, conversing with you fellow diners, testing the temperature of the room for conviviality and all those other benefits that add to a great meal.

Call me old fashioned and I am when it comes to this kind of stuff, but simply gathering around a table while the starters, then mains and concluding with desserts are placed on the table while everyone has the chance to sample, doesn’t do the food any favours. There’s too little time to savour and chatter about the food, because everyone is busy taking pictures and posting it on one of the many social platforms all of us use to promote whatever catches our fancy and an event expects.

It’s not that I want to fault the restaurant or their marketing people. This isn’t their doing.  It’s how media works now and how it works best. I love the instant thing and the fact that one can get your message out there.  I use it myself to promote my blog and anything I might post – how could we possibly have done any of this before? It opens new vistas for those who love to write (or want to promote anything else) and want to share what they experience with like-minded souls who might tune into a particular vibe.

Level Four starter_Sweet potato ginger tart (002)
Sweet potato ginger tart starter

It’s not that difficult to give a snapshot and a soundbite about the dishes as they pass you by. The starters feature seared yellow fin, fresh raw peas, avocado mousse, wasabi powder, and pickles; the ‘Black Angus’ carpaccio, quail egg, pomegranate, truffle mayonnaise, and parmesan; the chicken and sundried tomato terrine, with smoked tomato, baby beetroot, radish, apple gel and roast nuts; and my favourite for its originality, the sweet potato and ginger tart, with spicy pineapple gel, corn, lemon cream, and pickled cucumber.

For mains I would opt for the nose to tail eating with the ‘Marino’ lamb cutlet, loin, confit belly, braised shoulder, with pea puree, and asparagus which is hearty and rich in flavour yet strangely works as a summer dish, while with dessert, opt for two classics, lemon crème brûlée or vanilla pannacotta, both with a summer swirl of berries interpreted in different ways.

_'Marino' lamb cutlet (002)
Marino lamb cutlet

The accent is on quality ingredients like yellow fin tuna, duck and Wagyu sirloin while punting local with fresh produce and artisanal cheese. Dining at 54 on Bath has long established itself and with their exec chef Matthew Fox inviting all his chefs to the party to contribute their own dish, there’s an individuality to the different dishes which works well.

There’s a lot going in its favour, but sadly for me personally, sampling a new menu, I want an individual bite of food which I can savour if not in my own time, given some time rather than sitting in the middle of a hectic scramble to get it out there briskly please. It’s as if the chase is on because the ice cream might melt before the picture hits its audience.

Lemon créme brulee (002)
Lemon crème brûlée

Is it only me? Or do I simply long to focus on more than just the destination? Personally, eating has as much to do with the vibe as the visuals.