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Inside/out with Charlene Smith, writer
Kubatana.net
September 08, 2008

Describe yourself in five words?
Happy, hectic, hippy, honest, never humble

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
My mind went blank when I saw this question. I'm very good at giving advice, as all the worst nosy parkers are, but shocking at heeding it. A newspaper editor who bravely employed me three times - recruiting me every time he changed newspapers, once wrote of me: "Charlene is possibly the best journalist I've ever employed but she is wilful."

What's the most ridiculous thing you've ever done?
Bought my son a pig for his 10th birthday, truth was I'd always wanted a pig. As I proudly took little Wilbur (the pig) wrapped in a tartan blanket with a tartan bow down the passage to present to my son, his mouth dropped (my son's). "Mom," he said, "other boys get bicycles for their 10th birthday." So Matthew got a bicycle too and ultimately grew to adore Wilbur who became a Very Famous Pig, all the school children would come by to visit him, or we would take him on his red lead to school. He trained the other animals to watch TV and at 6pm, TV watching time, they would all troop in and obediently sit behind Wilbur who would snort and grunt until the set was switched on. When JM Coetzee's brother, Dirk, came home after living in exile for many years, he and I had polished off half a bottle of red wine when Wilbur ambled in ready for a spot of TV viewing. Dirk looked at his glass, looked at the pig, looked at the bottle, wiped his eyes and said, "that's a very interesting dog." 'It's not a dog,' I said, 'It's a pig.' Dirk pondered this, "do many SA's now have pigs as pets?" He left not long after Wilbur threw a squawking grunting tantrum because he wasn't allowed to watch TV while a guest was visiting. None of us have ever eaten pork since. My children have talked me out of converting the swimming pool into a duck pond, out of buying a charming goat, of taking home 5 chickens owned by a friend who was leaving the country and who called them "the girls", presently I'm building a pond in my backgarden for singing frogs

What is your most treasured possession?
Paintings done by my children. The one was done by my daughter Leila who after her brother was born painted a picture of a baby with an umbilical cord still attached (she was 7) and the words "I (heart) our baby." And then Matthew once hammered two pieces of tomato box together and wrote on it in black khoki pen: "God bless you. Happy birthday Mom. I just cant believe that you getting older by the minet your already 37!!! Happy birthday. Happy birthday."

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Not loving, nor being loved

Do you have any strange hobbies?
My life is strange enough to most

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
My hands, they are short and stubby and I've bitten my nails ever since I've had teeth

What is your greatest extravagance?
Sheesh, there are so many where do I start? One of my favourites is sitting in a beautiful wicker chair on my patio next to my big goldfish pond (I have 3) at the weekend in the sun, reading, watching the birds, smelling scents from plants occasionally waft past me (I plant for scent and birds) and thinking how incredibly lucky I am and how much I love my life

What have you got in your fridge?
Ginger beer, sparkling ruby grapefruit juice, a big bottle of home made peri peri sauce, olives marinated with bay leaves and orange strips (also homemade), homemade green tomato chutney, homemade marmalade (it's Spring - Spring and Summer are my two big pickling, bottling and preserving seasons), 4 different cheeses, organic veg, a lovely bottle of pink Pierre Jourdan Tranquille wine, double thick Greek yoghurt, strawberries, blueberries, Irish butter, a magnum of Veuve Clicquot, garlic and organic eggs

What is your greatest fear?
Anything negative happening to my children

What have you got in your pockets right now?
Nothing, which is par for the course

What is your favourite journey?
There isn't one, I love, the road from Salta to Tucaman in Argentina; any road in Tuscany; walking through Shinjuku or cycling through Ookayama in Tokyo, Japan; taking the Eurostar from London to Paris; any road that leads to my children

Who are your heroes in real life?
As opposed to my unreal life? That makes it harder. Sheena Duncan of the Black Sash, one of my all-time role models with Audrey Coleman who founded the Detainee Parents Support Committee in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his heart and humour, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King ... Any person who stands up for social justice and speaks out regardless of the consequences and who puts action behind their words. Most of all I love and admire the 'invisible' people, those little people who put the 'extra' into ordinary and who do the work, the backslogging that make people like Tutu, Gandhi and Luther King household words. Those people who every day perform extraordinary acts of courage, compassion and love to people around them, who will never receive thanks, their goodness never noted, they are the people I love most and are my biggest heroes and heroines

When and where were you happiest?
Here. Now. Happiness is a choice, it's a conscious decision, a daily act. The more we take an interest in people the more their positive energy reflects back on us and gives a sense of fulfilment and real ongoing joy. On the burglar bars outside my bedroom window (this is Johannesburg after all) I have a metal sign, with the words, "Happiness" on it. Happiness is our greatest single quest. It makes life worth living

What's your biggest vice?
Oy oy oy! I must say this in public? And tell the truth? I never stop at one glass of wine, I always have two, but thereafter I stop. I'm a bit boring really, but once my book is finished (I'm working on my 11th), I hope I have time to create more vices

What were you like at school?
Clever, rebellious, shy


What are you doing next?
Finishing my chapter on "The Challenges Facing Men: Belonging and Identity" for my next book :) After that only two more chapters to go and I will be finished. Hallelujah!!!

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