Money, Monkeys and Serendipity

Serendipity is “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”.

This is something I experienced on a recent trip to the UK. And then again when I returned to my home. Both after some, shall we say, trying circumstances.

In a wintry December London, my daughter and I set off from our residence to visit two museums in the centre of the city. After walking 15 minutes to the underground train station daughter realised she didn’t have her travel card with her. While she was contemplating spending her last pounds on an expensive day ticket I popped into the WH Smith to buy a magazine and realised I didn’t have my wallet with me. Now we were in a quandary. Putting our loosely screwed heads together we debated what to do, when – serendipitously – my son-in-law arrived at the station on his way to work. After hearing our pathetic story he opened his very thin wallet, preparing to give us his meagre spare change, when – serendipitously – I happened to glance over at an ATM machine just two metres away from us. There, lying on the ledge of the machine was a ten pound note. Honestly. The previous customer must have accidentally dropped it after drawing money. And there it was. In our moment of need. But we hesitated. Well, daughter and I did. If we took it wouldn’t that be – er – stealing? Son-in-law had no such qualms. He gave us his change, picked up the ten pound note and went on his way. And we, happily, resumed our journey to the museums.

Fast forward a month or so and I was back in South Africa enjoying my mum’s matchless Christmas cake. This cake is made and given to me every year after many weeks of hard work and bottles of brandy. I love it. Unfortunately, so does my husband. I have begged and pleaded with mum to make us our own cake each but she refuses. And so, after 25 years of marriage I have devised a way of dealing fairly with this issue. I cut the cake exactly in half and each half goes into a separate tin, one half for each of us. Neither of us is allowed to touch the other’s cake after that. One afternoon I was working away in my home office when I heard a commotion. I ran through to the kitchen and there was a large monkey helping himself to (my husband’s) Christmas cake. Honestly. It opened the tin and then – when it saw me bearing down on it yelling and waving my arms – it took off with the cake and vanished through the back door. I couldn’t believe it. The precious Christmas cake was gone. I couldn’t possibly tell mum about it. Two minutes later husband arrives home and I start telling him how a monkey just stole his cake when I realise that – after our tense history – he must think I was lying. That I must have scoffed his cake and then pretended that a monkey stole it.

Obviously playing on my mind, a couple of hours later, eager to venerate myself, I went out the back door to check if, by any chance, the cake was anywhere. And there – serendipitously – lying on the roof was husband’s Christmas cake. The monkey was gone. I was so excited I leapt up on a plastic bin nearby, promptly putting my foot straight through the lid. Limping off with the lid stuck around my limb I found a ladder, climbed up sensibly and retrieved the – largely unharmed – cake. I gave it a quick dash under the tap and trimmed off all the sides and put it back in the tin. All was happily restored.

I’m not sure why the monkey dropped the cake. Perhaps it was too heavy to carry far. Or maybe the Vervet didn’t like brandy. Whatever, I know that with only teetotalling, lightweight monkeys around the only competition I have for the cake is inside the house.

A Perfect Day

A newspaper headline I read this week stated: Missiles hit children’s hospital. Next to it was a picture of a smiling woman alongside Spectre’s James Bond Aston Martin. The car was about to go on auction and was expected to raise between £1 million and £1.5 million. The incongruence of these two stories right next to each other in the newspaper forms a good picture for the message A Perfect Day tries to portray. Set “somewhere in the Balkans” (as the opening subtitle announces), A Perfect Day shows the daily struggle ordinary people in a war zone face just to live. The aid workers who come in to help these people – from Europe and the Americas – represent countries where life is “normal”, a state which simply cannot be achieved in this dried out, half-ruined place.


Benicio Del Toro. Source:

The opening scene is filmed from the bottom of a well. In the water floats the bloated body of a man. Foreign Aid workers B (Tim Robbins), Mambrú (a well-cast Benicio Del Toro) and Sophie (Mélanie Thierry) try to remove the body from the well but the frayed old rope they are using snaps. What ensues is a long, ridiculous attempt by the workers to find more rope to extract the man from the well before he infects the water. Their efforts make up the bulk of the story, highlighting along the way the effects of war on civilians, the mindless bureaucracy of aid organisations, and the ludicrous inefficiencies of the UN.

But it’s not all misery and angst. There is humour too. Some of it rather silly and drawn out, an aspect of A Perfect Day I didn’t enjoy. But other humour is put to good use. The locals, an interpreter informs the aid workers, laugh all the time at everything – a coping mechanism, I imagine, as life here is not very humorous. Or is it? Humour does seem to win out in the end; despite all the efforts of the workers it is serendipity that triumphs, hence: A Perfect Day.

A Perfect Day – a movie that emphasises the importance of living just for the moment (for yesterday and tomorrow do not exist says Mambrú) – is a slow-moving film that will not be to everyone’s taste. It is worth watching though for its very uniqueness. It is currently showing at select Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa.