Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Excerpt from The Aran Islands by JM Synge

 Pats story

One day I was travelling on foot from Galway to Dublin, and the darkness came on me and I ten miles from the town I was wanting to pass the night in. Then a hard rain began to fall and I was tired walking, so when I saw a sort of a house with no roof on it up against the road, I got in the way the walls would give me shelter.
As I was looking round I saw a light in some trees two perches off, and thinking any sort of a house would be better than where I was, I got over a wall and went up to the house to look in at the window.
I saw a dead man laid on a table, and candles lighted, and a woman watching him. I was frightened when I saw him, but it was raining hard, and I said to myself, if he was dead he couldn't hurt me. Then I knocked on the door and the woman came and opened it.
'Good evening, ma'am,' says I.
'Good evening kindly, stranger,' says she, 'Come in out of the rain.' Then she took me in and told me her husband was after dying on her, and she was watching him that night.
'But it's thirsty you'll be, stranger,' says she, 'Come into the parlour.' Then she took me into the parlour—and it was a fine clean house—and she put a cup, with a saucer under it, on the table before me with fine sugar and bread.
When I'd had a cup of tea I went back into the kitchen where the dead man was lying, and she gave me a fine new pipe off the table with a drop of spirits.
'Stranger,' says she, 'would you be afeard to be alone with himself?'
'Not a bit in the world, ma'am,' says I; 'he that's dead can do no hurt,' Then she said she wanted to go over and tell the neighbours the way her husband was after dying on her, and she went out and locked the door behind her.
I smoked one pipe, and I leaned out and took another off the table. I was smoking it with my hand on the back of my chair—the way you are yourself this minute, God bless you—and I looking on the dead man, when he opened his eyes as wide as myself and looked at me.
'Don't be afraid, stranger,' said the dead man; 'I'm not dead at all in the world. Come here and help me up and I'll tell you all about it.'
Well, I went up and took the sheet off of him, and I saw that he had a fine clean shirt on his body, and fine flannel drawers.
He sat up then, and says he—
'I've got a bad wife, stranger, and I let on to be dead the way I'd catch her goings on.'
Then he got two fine sticks he had to keep down his wife, and he put them at each side of his body, and he laid himself out again as if he was dead.
In half an hour his wife came back and a young man along with her. Well, she gave him his tea, and she told him he was tired, and he would do right to go and lie down in the bedroom.
The young man went in and the woman sat down to watch by the dead man. A while after she got up and 'Stranger,' says she, 'I'm going in to get the candle out of the room; I'm thinking the young man will be asleep by this time.' She went into the bedroom, but the divil a bit of her came back.
Then the dead man got up, and he took one stick, and he gave the other to myself. We went in and saw them lying together with her head on his arm.
The dead man hit him a blow with the stick so that the blood out of him leapt up and hit the gallery.
That is my story.

Excerpt taken from here

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Paradoxical Materialism

"The stinking rich will always be with us,” I said. “It’s in the Bible.”

“I thought it was the poor who will always be with us,” said the other guy. “Jeez, how long is it going to take this idiot to let us in? All he has to do is push a button.”

“Not so easy,” I said. “There must be a hundred buttons to choose from in that digital fortress.”

We were sitting in the other guy’s car looking at the big sliding gate, waiting for Cupcaked to work out the difference between his arse and his elbow.

“It’s in both the New and Old Testicle,” I went on, “So every exploiter of labour, whether Christian or Jew, feels perfectly justified in paying his workers a pittance, while amassing as much personal wealth as he possibly can. God gave him permission. Ah, at last!”

While the gate got out of our way, the other guy started up, engaged gear, and then stalled the engine. We began to roll back towards the street and there was a long blast from a passing vehicle.

“Nice driving,” I said. “You nearly managed to put a dent in the newest and biggest Merc in the country.”

Cupcake met us in the driveway and indicated where we should park. He seemed pleased to see us.

“I need to show you around,” he said, leading the way towards the house. “You see this?” pointing to the big pond with water feature at the centre of the circular drive. “It’s full of koi, 2k apiece. Two thousand rand for one fucking fish!”  And he spat on the water in disgust. A fish immediately surfaced and made short work of the insult.

We skirted a bed of dwarf cypresses and followed him across an expanse of meticulously raked gravel.

“This is supposed to be a Zen garden,” he said, dragging his feet and then trampling a bonsai oak. We arrived at the front door and stepped inside the grand residence.

Modern, airy, full of light.

“You see what I mean?” said Cupcake, as if we knew what he had been ranting about in his head. “Marble throughout, even on the terraces. Rosa Aurora imported from Portugal”

“Cold in winter,” said the other guy, trying to be helpful.

“Underfloor heating!” snapped Cupcake. “This is the fucking atrium. His Highness likes to lie here a lot.” There were some very comfortable looking recliners. “Looking out to sea by day, and up at the fiery firmament at night, glass of single malt in hand.”

“Single malt?” I said. “Sounds promising.”

Cupcake gave me a hostile look and said, “This is what I mean. This place starts corrupting you the moment you step inside.”

He led the way to a sitting room with a fireplace.

“You see that mantelpiece and the surround? Granite. Stolen from the Acropolis, or the Parthenon, or somewhere. This is the sound system.” He opened the door of a cabinet to reveal electronic equipment. “Speakers in every room. The place is wired so your remote works anywhere in the house. What do you want to listen to? Graceland?Now let me show you the fucking summer lounge.”

The summer lounge also served as the dining room.

“You see these art works everywhere? Very classy, you think. This guy must be a connoisseur. Such good taste. Like fuck! All this cunt does is sign the cheques. The architect designs the house, the design company furnishes it, down to last detail, and the landscape guru sorts out the garden. This is how it works. And check this thing.”

We were heading for the kitchen and in a corner of some interim space stood an old fashioned jukebox.

“This is a genuine imitation jukebox from the 1950s. Art deco crap. You put your dime in, the mechanical arm selects a 7-single, and you’re listening to Fats Domino or Little Richard, crystal clear because it’s all digital and not really the real thing.”

We breezed through the designer kitchen and out to the breakfast nook, which was a kind of glass-walled rondavel jutting out into the garden.

“Now let me show you the master bedroom and hot tub spa,” said Cupcake.

“Don’t bother,” I said. “We’ve got the picture.”

We went and stood on the main terrace and looked out over about a thousand hectares of lawn to the lagoon and the sea in the distance.

“You see those tall palms next to the swimming pool?” said Cupcake. “They were brought in by helicopter. And the pool is kept heated twelve months of the year, even though he is hardly ever in residence.”

“Very nice,” I said. “Now how about offering us some of that famous whisky?”

We made ourselves comfortable in the atrium and were soon joined by Cupcake bearing a tray loaded with a bottle of single malt, ice, Sparletta and glasses.

“This is the life,’ I said.

“Yah,” said the other guy. “This isn’t work. Only a fool would complain about a job like this.” He was looking at Cupcake. “What’s your problem?”

“Problem?” said Cupcake. “This house is my problem, mate. This house is a beautiful woman without a vagina. You know what I mean?”

We looked out at the distant strip of blue sea, with the line of white breakers in front and the blue sky at the back, and thought about it.

“Sorry, I don’t get it,” said the other guy.

“Not a bad metaphor,” I said, savouring the subtle blend of highland peat and sheep’s piss infused in water from a bonny brook. “To fall in love with the beautiful exterior, only to discover that one can never get at the honey pot inside must leave one feeling desolate, man, desolate.”

“Okay, now I see,” said the other guy. “You’re not content with living in luxury if you don’t also possess the fortune that makes it possible.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” said Cupcake. “That’s not what I mean at all. What I mean is that all this is initially seductive, but it’s superficial and largely worthless. I’ve been housesitting the place for three weeks now, and it’s making me suicidal. It’s like living in an empty waiting room, it’s so impersonal and cold. And it doesn’t make the owner happy, either. You should see him. He’s 50, fat, got an ulcer, and just had a triple bypass. He’s divorced and his kids only contact him when they want more money. And you should see his neighbour up the road. One of the richest men in South Africa and a real miserable looking bastard who wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.”

“Hey,” I said, “That must be the old dude we nearly crashed into. Does he look like a malevolent toad? Like he’s got no chin he’s so obese?’

“That’s him,’ Sid Cupcake.

“So would you prefer to be looking after some poky two-roomed apartment in a dilapidated block in a rundown part of the city?” asked the other guy. “Where the entrance smells of dustbins and broken plumbing, and there’s a screaming baby next door, and dope fiends overhead trying to kill each other?”

“No, I wouldn’t,’ said Cupcake. “But that’s not what I’m getting at. Look, for the first week or so I couldn’t believe my luck and I was beginning to think that this way of life was what one should aspire to. But then I started to feel uneasy and restless. There was something wrong. It took another three days of worrying about it before I suddenly realised what it was about. The materialism paradox.”

“Too much value attached to the goodies money can buy?” I said. “Tell that to a man who lives in a shack.”

“Why is it a paradox?” asked the other guy.

“Because,’ said Cupcake, “I realised that the millionaire who owns this mansion is, on a certain level, far less of a materialist than I am. Or the man in the shack.

“How so?’

“Look,” said Cupcake, “Let’s take my old Corolla, for example. It’s a crappy old car and it gives me a lot of grief, but I can’t afford an upgrade. When it performs, I’m grateful; and when it misbehaves, I curse and threaten it. I have fond memories of having sex in the back seat, and every dent in the bodywork has a story to tell. You see, I have a relationship with that car. Now take the millionaire. He has a sports car and an SUV standing in the garage. They are hardly ever driven and their owner looks upon them with a total lack of sentiment. He sees them for what they are: disposable commodities that come with a price tag. He values them for the advertising hype about performance, craftsmanship and elegant styling, but only because it confers status. And it’s the same with everything else. This house, the contents, the garden, the fish – they have value for him only because he can afford them and put them on display. He doesn’t relate to the material world the way we do.”

“Well,” I said, “I suppose you could be onto something there. It’s a different way of looking at it. But surely you’re not suggesting this millionaire has a superior value system to yours?”

“Of course not,” said Cupcake. “What I’m saying is that he has become detached from the material objects he possesses. What he values most is the prestige associated with conspicuous consumption. He judges his own success not by how much he enjoys the fruits of his wealth but by the respect, admiration and envy his wealth is able to command. That’s why people like him are driven to make more and more money. There’s always someone able to behave more ostentatiously than you, though, so satisfaction is forever fleeting. I can see what it’s about and it fills me with feelings of meaninglessness and futility. I can’t take this sinecure any longer.”

“Hey, take it easy, man,” said the other guy, getting up to fill the glasses. Cupcake was showing signs of psychological distress, and on the point of becoming seriously distraught. “Keep a grip on the here-and-now. Hold on to the reality of genuine materialism, not that other kak. Here, drink this. This thousand-bucks whisky tastes better with lemonade and gives you more of a kick.”

“Yah,’ I said. “Just because this scumbag materialist has lost his soul down the toilet doesn’t mean we can’t try an wake the dead in his marble-floored mausoleum. We could start with a pool party. Tomorrow.”

“A topless pool party sounds cool,’ said the other guy. “With a venue like this a whole new world of possibilities could open up. What sports car did you say this creep has got in the garage?”

The flicker of interest in Cupcake’s eyes was encouraging. It meant that futility and meaninglessness hadn’t gained the upper hand just yet.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Relative Importance Of Passing Time

It was clear from the outset that the relationship between Henry Fuckit and Alfred Whitehead was going to be similar to the relationship between a grit of sand and an oyster. The constant nagging irritation would result in a many-layered product greatly adding to the value of the sand but being of doubtful benefit to the shellfish. Innumerable conversations were to take place in that office on the second floor, most of them centred on the subject of Time, and The Passage of Time.

.      Alf Whi
tehead:You do understand the theory of Relativity, don't you?
Of course. Both. My grandfather was doorman at the Savoy in London back in nineteen-voetsak and he opened a door for Albert Einstein. It was a momentous moment, not for my grandfather, who didn't know a slide rule from an anal thermometer, but for Herr Egghead. Just imagine the implications if my grandfather had not opened that door.
Somebody else would have opened it. Or he would have opened it himself.
Precisely. You come up with two possibilities without even thinking about it. If we accept the possibility of my grandfather not opening the door as he was required to then the ENTIRE HISTORY OF SCIENCE could have been altered. No. THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE WORLD FROM THAT MOMENT.
Oh for goodness sake! You're trying to tie my testicles in a knot. You know perfectly well that once the moving finger has written etcetera, etcetera. I wish you wouldn't introduce any of your degenerate relations into serious conversation.
Yah, but haven't you heard about South Africa's secret space project? At this very moment a spaceship…
PLEASE!! (Shouts in a frantic whisper, face contorted in alarm. Puts finger to lips and goes to window. Leans out then quickly pulls back.) Just as I thought, you bloody fool. You know their rules about discussing secret projects. They're always trying to catch terrorists and communists, and spies and rooinek traitors. Hand me that hook. (Henry hands him the six-foot window opener standing in corner of room. Leans out and pulls. A scream is heard simultaneously with a clattering and bumping sound.) That'll teach them. Bloody Ape disguised as a Monkey window cleaner. Now where were we? Alright, but keep your voice down.
They've launched a spaceship with one person on board: twenty year old Shadrach. His twin brother Meshach they've got in a cage at Apollofontein. The craft will progressively accelerate until it reaches a velocity of 372 000 miles per second. That's really fucking fast. Initially they aimed at Alpha Crucis, the brightest star in Crux Australis, but then chickened out and are now headed for the middle of the Coalsack Nebula for fear of hitting something. The spaceship will travel for half a year and then do a U-turn and come back to earth. Obviously when it gets back after a year Meshach will celebrate his twenty-first birthday with a double helping of putu and five gallons of skokiaan. But Shadrach, South Africa's first astronaut and the world's first time traveller, will find that he's only eleven years old. He will have shrunk in stature, his big manly voice will have turned again to childish treble and his foreskin will have regenerated to its undiminished proportion and elasticity. Our top scientists recently gained access to a special version of the Special Theory of Relativity and have come up with their own conclusion. They talk about contracting time. If this experiment is successful the world will sit up and realise that we're not just a bunch of fascist shitheads with brains the size of peas.
I see. Mmm. Yes, it makes sense. The implications boggle the credulity. Our leaders could remain young forever. Just a little sabbatical, a time trip, and the years would fall away.
For the select few it would mean immortality. Only one problem though.
What's that?
The K factor. Heard the one about the Englishman, the German, the Japanese and the Kaffir? They're each given three iron balls and told to do something with them. I forget how it goes exactly… Anyway the other three do something or other each… I think the Englishman balances one on top of the other and the Jap copies him and the German… Anyway. But the Kaffir - this is where we get the K factor - the Kaffir loses one and breaks the other two.
Yes I've heard it several times, in different versions in both official languages and yours is far and away the poorest rendition. I don't see any profit in trivializing a serious discussion with badly told jokes of dubious wit.
Do you think humour and science are incompatible? I suppose you must, from the disapproving way you tighten your lips in imitation of a cat's anus. The point is the South African astronaut is BLACK and brilliantly imaginative and with a sense of humour light years beyond the grasp of the bush professors on the ground at Appollofontein. ANYTHING MIGHT HAPPEN.
This might or might not be true. You know that I suspect you of being a bloody liar. A bloody wisecrack. Be that as it may. I can elevate myself above the slings and arrows of swinish pricks. My thoughts dwell in the realms of metaphysics and pure science. Let us resume the discussion having, in a spirit of magnanimity, wiped your filthy slate clean on the strict understanding that you refrain from all further attempts at levity or frivolity. I am your senior in years, position, wisdom and decency. Kindly refer to me as Mr Whitehead and not Alf, Alfred or Fred. Are we in agreement?
Yah sure. Anything to make you feel good. Mr Whitehead. Sir. Just call me Fuckit.
Very well then. That seems to have cleared the air a bit. Now let us discuss The Measurement of Time, a subject of central importance to each and every member of civilian staff working in this Dockyard. Damn the imposition! (Annoyance at the phone ringing on his desk.) You answer it. If it's anything to do with work tell them I'm in the midst of a total re-inventorization of screws, brass, self-tapping, and can't possibly be disturbed.
(Henry picks up phone. Speaks slowly and clearly.)
Central Store. Assistant Stores officer Henry Fuckit at your service. Good day. Sentrale Stoor. Assistent Stoor beampte Hendrik Fokdit op jou diens. Goeie dag… Oh, hello… Yes Madam. He's just been in conference with the Admiral but I can see if he's available… Yes… okay… I've got it. I'll make sure he gets the message immediately. Thank you. Goodbye. (Replaces phone).
My wife?
Yes. She says don't forget to make the copies of her knitting patterns and also have you phoned your sister in Canada to find out whether they received the photographs.
Damn it! I'd clean forgotten the copies.
She also said you have a head like a sieve. Mr Whitehead. Sir.
Ahem. Yes, well that's… No damn business to… as we were saying. Thank you for the message. As we were saying, The Measurement of Time goes back to time immemorial. Our first thinking ancestors became aware that the sun comes up and the sun goes down, the sun comes up and the sun goes down, the sun comes up and the sun goes down. Yes, and it was the movement of the sun, or shall we say the APPARENT movement of the sun, for as you might know the sun does not move about the earth but the earth rotates on its axis and gives the false impression of the sun being in motion about us, east to west, when in fact it is we who are moving west to east. The appearance of the sun moving across the sky having made man aware of the passage of time. The first clock was the sun in the sky and days were regulated accordingly. Now we are at present talking in terms of SOLAR time which I will define in precise and cogent phraseology as time measured by the Earth's daily rotation relative to the Sun resulting in Apparent Solar time which is the time indicated by a sundial marking the position of the Sun relative to the meridian upon which the sundial is located. So far so good and all reasonable and within the grasp of the meanest intelligence. Now the motion of the Sun relative to the stars is not uniform; neither is the orbit of the Earth truly circular but indeed elliptical, both of which factors having resulted in variations in Apparent Solar Time during the course of one year. To remove these damnably irritating little discrepancies we have devised Mean Solar Time which I will now endeavour to explain but require you to sharpen your concentration and to hang upon each and every word in order not to render the time and effort I am expending in elucidation totally null and void. (Henry slaps face and pinches ear lobes.) These variations are corrected by turning our gaze from the Sun to the stars in order to obtain Sidereal Time, Sidereal Time being measured again in accordance with the rotation of the Earth but this time relative to the stars and not the Sun. Unfortunately matters are complicated by the fact that a Sidereal Day is four minutes shorter than a Mean Solar Day and a mathematical formula beyond your grasp must be applied via Sidereal Time to Apparent Solar Time in order to arrive at Mean Solar Time. Yes?
Two questions. First, if there's a four-minute difference between the two systems what's to stop them going completely out of synch after a few years; and second…
Enough! If you wish to ask questions you may submit them in writing. Where there's a will there's a way. Now the Mean Solar Day is divided as follows: one Mean Solar Day equals twenty four Mean Solar Hours; one Mean Solar Hour equals sixty Mean Solar Minutes; one Mean Solar Minute equals sixty Mean Solar Seconds and, ipso facto, one Mean Solar Day comprises 86 400 Mean Solar Seconds. The Mean Solar Day is reckoned to begin at midnight and run through twenty four hours, or to comprise two twelve hour portions, one from midnight to noon and the other from noon to midnight. In the twenty-four-hour system the hours and minutes are given as a four-digit number. For example 0028 means twenty-eight minutes past midnight and 1240 means forty minutes past noon. But, and here we encounter a problem of disastrous proportions, 2400 of September 30 is the same as 0000 of September 31. Now in the twelve-hour system…
Excuse me.
Damn it! I said no questions.
This isn't a question, it's a point of order. Thirty days hath September.
What? For God's sake don't be so bloody pedantic. The twelve-hour system has twelve hours from midnight to noon designated ante meridian, and twelve hours from noon to midnight designated post meridian. However an even more serious ambiguity arises. 12 AM and 12 PM are mutually indistinguishable unless one adds the word 'noon' or 'midnight' to 12. I shall now proceed to discuss in some detail Greenwich Mean Time, Ephemeris Time, Co-ordinated Universal Time, and the Rolls Royce in time, Atomic Time. Now GMT or Greenwich…
Please! For Christ's sake, this is INKRREDIBLY boring.
Boring? BORING? Understand me correctly: do I understand you correctly? Are you saying that you find the most important aspect of your life BORING? I can only put this down to subhuman intelligence. Also you are new here. You are immature, you have not learned. I pity you. You are defenceless. Arm yourself before it is too late. How are you to cope with the years of emptiness that lie ahead? You speak of boredom? Every day of every week of every month of every year will be a nightmare of choking black boredom. Addiction, insanity, suicide. That is what awaits the man not equipped to deal with time.
Alright, alright. Tell me about Atomic Time.
Atomic Time? Very well then but heed my warning. I see danger in your path. There is something amoral and reckless about you. And you are coarse. Be that as it may, you have been warned. Atomic Time. Yes, now Atomic Time is pure and beautiful and the contemplation of its crisp precision never fails to uplift my spirits and help me place one foot in front of the other. Unlike Solar Time and Sidereal Time and Ephemeris Time, which are dynamical and involve the motion of bodies such as Earth, Sun, Moon, Stars and Satellites, Atomic Time is measured by cycles of electromagnetic radiation. There are some fifty-one Atomic Clocks scattered about the world and one of them right here in Simonstown Dockyard. They are all independent but regularly compare recordings and it is conservatively estimated that after a period of three thousand years between them there will be a combined difference in readings of less than one second. This is what makes life tolerable, knowing that every instant of our day is determined and there can be no doubt about the order of each individual succession, in the progress from seven thirty to four thirty, of thirty two thousand four hundred seconds. (Long pause in which they regard each other.)
Yes. And don't call me 'Boss'.
Don't take offence but can I ask you a personal question?
Certainly not. I don't want any of your bloody insulting rubbish.
It helps to pass some of those dreary seconds. Alright. How about showing me the Atomic Clock?
Not now. All in good time.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

What A View!

How To Get South Africa Working

“So what’s this ‘brainstorming’ story about?”
“I thought it might be an interesting exercise,” I said. “After going into Zwelihle the other day and sitting in the car while we were waiting … just sitting there observing the crap conditions people have to live under …. Well, I thought, shit, there must be a way out of this. It’s like this idea of being trapped in a narrative. I’ve been trying to come up with a way to change the dead-end story we’re living in.”
We were still climbing but the road had levelled out a bit and the Grootbos sign was coming into view.
“Every second citizen has got a pet theory about how to solve the world’s problems,’ said Cupcake. “Who the hell is going to listen to your version of utopia? I mean, you might be sincere and very earnest, and all that, but you’re a nobody. You got fokol credentials.”
“That’s alright,” I said. “That’s not the point. What matters is to make the effort and do the exercise.”
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. We stopped at the boom and a woman dressed like a Conservation Officer came out from the gatehouse. She was holding a clipboard.
“Tell her we’re coming to lunch,” I said.
She let us through with a friendly smile.
The road was only wide enough for one vehicle and wound through some dense Milkwood forest before coming out into open fynbos. The other guy pulled off in a passing bay to let an oncoming car through.
‘Hey, hold it!” Cupcake called out.
A male baboon had emerged from the bush and was heading for a sign some 20 metres away. On reaching it, he pulled himself up and perched on top of one of the two uprights. The sign read A FED BABOON IS A DEAD BABOON.
“Man, this is classic!” said Cupcake, taking pictures with his mobile.
“I wonder what our cousin would have to say if he could read the message,” I said.
“Probably think it neo-colonial propaganda,” said the other guy. “Like ‘Don’t give the natives strong drink because they can’t handle it’.”
At the Lodge there weren’t many cars in the parking area. We strolled along a path through ericas and proteas, passed a water feature and entered the reception foyer. The restaurant was a long room separated from the famous view by a wall of glass. We went straight to the bar and ordered drinks.
“Let’s sit over here,” I said, leading the way to some comfortable chairs in the far corner.
We took in the classy décor, admired the wide angle display of veld, ocean, mountain and sky, and settled ourselves around a low table. I opened my notebook.
“You’re taking this seriously,” Cupcake commented.
“Yep,” I said. “I’ve even got an agenda: we define the problem; we identify the causes; we propose solutions.”
“Sounds pretty basic,’ said the other guy. “No difficulty in defining the problem. Everybody talks about it, the threefold curse of poverty, unemployment and inequality.”
“Agreed,” I said, “Analysing the causes is going to be more complex, though.”
“We can start with apartheid,” said Cupcake. “Everything can be blamed on apartheid. That’s if we don’t want to lay the blame on the ANC and corruption and incompetence.”
“What about Capitalism?” said the other guy. “The neo-liberal feeding frenzy has brought the world economy to the brink of another Great Depression.”
“I’m glad you mention the Great Depression,” I said. I wrote in my notebook and then lowered the level of my glass, which contained a mix of one tot whisky to one bottle Carling Black Label. “We can learn some useful lessons from the Great Depression.”
“An unregulated banking system caused the Depression,” said Cupcake. “And the present financial crisis, which is beginning to affect us more and more, can be laid at the door of the financial sector – greedy scumbags speculating with assets that don’t exist.”
“And then there’s Globalisation,” said the other guy. “We were incredibly stupid to allow ourselves to be duped into joining the WTO and stop protecting our own manufacturing sector. Free trade is a confidence trick. We’ve lost hundreds of thousands of jobs because of free trade, and now the shops are stocked with cheap Chinese crap that no one can afford because they don’t earn anything.”
“Competition is another con,” said Cupcake. “Competition almost invariably means lower wages and worse working conditions. South Africa has absolutely no chance of competing with China and other Asian countries when it comes to manufacturing basic consumer goods. Look at our textile, clothing and shoe industries. They have all but disappeared because they couldn’t compete with China.”
“Yah, but the Chinese are also in trouble now,” said the other guy. “China’s heading for a fall if …”
“Maybe,” I said. “But listen, we’re getting sidetracked. And we need another drink.”
Both Cupcake and the other guy agreed that I should get the next round, seeing as this outing was my idea.
“Alright,” I said when I returned from the bar. “We’re making progress with our learned discussion. But I’d like to fast forward to the solution part now, if you don’t mind.”
“Okay with me,” said Cupcake. “But we’ve only scratched the surface with the analysis bit.”
“He can’t wait to get up on his soapbox,” said the other guy. Then, to me: “Go for it. Tell us how you propose finding everyone a decent job.”
“The politicians, the economists, , the intellectuals, even the average citizen, they all acknowledge the system isn’t working, and something needs to happen, like tomorrow,” I said. “But nobody has a clue about how to fix it.”
“Nobody,” said Cupcake, “apart from you and a few individuals at Valkenberg and Weskoppies.”
“That’s right,’ I said. “What we need is something drastic, something really bold. Like the New Deal Roosevelt brought in during the Depression. It was pure socialism but it got America working again.”
“I thought it was the Second World War that really got the US economy going?” said Cupcake.
“The New Deal got them started,” I said.
“Jesus, we don’t need a war,” said the other guy. “So tell us, what’s your bold new deal for Mzansi?”
“Well,” I said, “It’s as if our minds have been attacked by some virus that paralyses us and convinces us that we are powerless to change our situation. We just keep repeating the same old stuff about growing the economy, but we don’t actually do anything to make things happen.”
“Yah, it’s strange that we can’t get our asses moving,’ said the other guy. “Especially when you think what South Africa was able to achieve in 2010.”
“The World Cup was another con and a huge waste of resources,” said Cupcake. “But it demonstrated what can be done if we get fired up.”
“Exactly,” I said. “We need to snap out of this collective coma we’ve fallen into, and throw ourselves at another big project. But not something stupid like the FIFA World Cup.”
“That’s for sure,” said the other guy. “The World Cup made some filthy rich folks even richer, and left the country with incredibly expensive stadiums that we don’t need and can’t use. No more of that kind of shit, thank you. But come on, tell us about your amazing plan to get South Africa moving.”
It was at this point that the two men who had been hovering nearby pretending to be looking at the view, but who were actually eavesdropping, decided to cast social decorum aside and draw even closer.
“Please excuse us for interrupting and intruding,” said the older of the two. He was about 40 and spoke with just the faintest hint of a German accent. “We couldn’t help overhearing your most interesting conversation, and wondered whether we …”
Now, when a courteous individual employs ellipsis on me, I generally tend to react graciously. Not like Cupcake, who muttered something about a bloody cheek.
“Please join us,” I said, getting to my feet and holding out my hand for them to shake. My buddies also got to their feet, which was nice of them, and we all introduced ourselves. I noted with suspicion that Cupcake was now grinning sociably.
Dieter and Peter (Dieter was the older of the two) pulled up a chair apiece and we all sat down. Then, almost immediately, Cupcake took up his near empty glass, examined its contents, and then poured them down his throat.
“Aah!” he said with satisfaction, and put the glass back on the table. The other guy then performed the exact same ritual, right down to the appreciative but slightly disappointed ‘Aah!’. My own glass was already empty.
“Barman!” Dieter called imperiously. “Barman! Please send the waitress.”
The waitress arrived and he insisted on buying a round. While we waited for her to come back with the drinks, we exchanged pleasantries. They both worked in the German film industry and were on a working holiday in South Africa. They were knowledgeable and their interest in the country appeared genuine.
When the drinks arrived I was urged to continue with my grand scheme.
“Well, yes, thank you,” I said. “I was going to say that we have to start by changing our perception of the poor. Instead of seeing their needs as a liability and a drain on state resources, we should wake up to the staggeringly vast field of opportunities they offer us. Upliftment of the poor should become the main driving force in our economy. And by upliftment I don’t mean moving a family from a one-roomed shack into a two-roomed RDP hovel. There’s no dignity in living like that, and kids will never reach their potential if they have to grow up in those conditions.”
“You want to build everyone a bloody great mansion?” said the other guy. “You’ve got to be out of your tiny mind.”
“Not a mansion,” I said. “Mansions should be discouraged. No, what I had in mind was something modest but with all mod cons, like three bedrooms, two toilets, bath and shower, and a garage and a small garden. All built to First World standards.”
“Very nice,” said Cupcake. “And it would sort out unemployment for a while. But one small problem: where are you going to get the bucks for all this?”
“Print it,’ I said, and noted a look of derision on the four faces of my audience. “And why not? What I propose is the setting up of a state bank that would lend money at a minimal interest rate for this and other developmental projects. People tend to forget that money has no intrinsic value, and is only created to facilitate trade in goods and services. It’s the goods and services that have value. And this isn’t money that’s being given away. If the loan isn’t repaid the bank can foreclose, just like the private banks do.”
“Mmm, I see,” said the other guy as he sipped his drink, which was a double rum and Coke. “A big housing boom would definitely get the economy roaring.”
“It would also give the manufacturing sector a massive boost,” said Cupcake. “How many houses are we talking about?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “But I would guess at least 5 million. Anyway, 5 million is a nice number to work with. Can you imagine building 5 million houses at one million per unit? That’s 5 trillion rand! And everything must be 100 percent locally produced.”
“With such a project, on such a large scale, we would go from massive unemployment to a shortage of labour,” said Cupcake.
“We would need to fast track a whole lot of trade schools and training colleges,” said the other guy.
“In Germany we have developed a good system for artisan training,” said Peter. “A good artisan is as important as a good doctor. We could share this with you.”
“That’s it, Peter,” I said. “We could learn best practice from Germany and other countries where good systems have been worked out. No need to reinvent the wheel.”
“With so many natural resources,” said Dieter, “Your potential for growth is almost unlimited. Your idea is … Ah, but here come the ladies. Allow me to introduce you.”
The ladies were bearing down on us. Wow! So this is what they meant by a working holiday.
My buddies were on their feet and rapidly metamorphosing from one identity to another. Amazing what affect the presence of young females has on men.
“I hope you and your two friends will join us for lunch?” Dieter said to me. “We can continue the conversation at the table. And maybe you even have some ideas on how to solve the Euro zone crisis?”

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Rape Scene From Kikaffir

The Madam, the mistress of the manor, opened her eyes. She had tossed and turned all night and only fallen asleep at the threat of day. And now? She turned to look at the clock. After ten.
She lay on the big bed under the thatch and listened to mid morning at Klein Paradijs. The big bed that had replaced the sacrificial altar upon which the previous owner had been taken apart. It was very quiet. Where was Patience?
Very quiet. She suddenly realised that it was so very still because there was no background rumble from the generator. She had become accustomed to the ever-present, muffled roar of the power plant, the way she was accustomed to the muted hubbub of the sea at their house in the Fog. Now, without that subliminal presence, she felt even more alone and isolated.
Of course the bedside lamp was dead. No power, no light. That meant there would be no hot coffee and no cooked breakfast. This was a bad start to the day and she could feel the anger and frustration mounting in her. What were those lazy bastards up to? Why didn’t they get the fucking generator working?
She got up, put on gown and slippers, and unlocked her bedroom door. Out in the passage there was no maid busy with dustpan and brush. At the head of the stairs she stood and listened for a minute. Two minutes, three. No clatter from the kitchen, no voices, nothing.
She went downstairs, and she was working herself into a state. How dare they take the day off without consulting her! Just because the generator had broken down.
To her surprise, one of the doors to the terrace stood wide open. In the kitchen all was neat and orderly from the previous night, but obviously no one had been in this morning. The house was deserted; she was on her own.
Bunch of fucking poeses! She thought, as she stomped upstairs. Well, she’d take a shower, get dressed, and go out there to the servants’ quarters and give them hell. When Mike gets back he must make an example of one of them. And Patience! She was surprised at Patience, and disappointed. She had been doing so well, having taken over from Miriam with such an air of calm self-confidence. Maybe she was sick, though. That would explain it.
Sickness was definitely on the increase. There had been three deaths in the past week alone. Mike said he didn’t think it was anything infectious. It was just a result of breathing in all that shit in the atmosphere, and they were all equally susceptible. Well Patience mustn’t go and get sick and die. God, what would she do without her?
As she slipped out of her nightwear, Lady wondered whether the water would still be hot. How long had the power been off? Although it didn’t really matter. The day was already so fucking hot she was sweating at the slightest exertion. So much for Klein Paradijs’s ideal climate! The fog was retreating as the ice disappeared, and soon they would have to move from here. But to where?

Getting into the shower she thought she heard a vehicle in the distance. Probably the mechanics working on the generator. The water was adequately hot.
After drying herself she powdered her armpits and her feet, squirted some eu de cologne into the palm of her left hand and patted her fanny and surrounds. Some days the odour was worse than on others. If she used enough scent and perfume she could mask it most of the time. Ah! Someone had come into the bedroom. Probably Patience; or one of the maids. They’d better have a bloody good story ready!
She wrapped her towel about her, pulled off the shower cap and shook her hair down. Hairbrush in hand, she pulled back the door and stepped into the bedroom.
“H..h..h..h!” Her breath was wrenched into her lungs so fast it juddered in the back of her throat. A gallon of adrenalin was being pumped into her system and her heart would have preferred to shut down forever, rather than take on such a workload. Her eye muscles had never been called upon to get this much light onto the retina. Her brain erupted in a billion explosions to produce one response – terror. Nothing feeble and demure like surprise or anger. No, this was stark naked terror. Because everywhere, written in big letters on the wall, on the ceiling, the floor, the window, the door – everywhere she looked – were the words NOW YOU’RE IN TROUBLE, BABY.
She had dropped her brush, her right hand clutched the top of her towel, her left pulled at the bottom of it, and she leaned forward, her knees together.
Seated on the bed was a young black man and she recognised him immediately. He was examining her pistol – the pillow lay to one side – and he looked up when she entered the room.
“Hi,” he said, in a super casual sort of way.
“W..w..what are you…What are you doing in my room?” she managed to say, her voice on the rise. “Get out of my room!” She was beginning to shout. “Get out! Get out! Mike is going to kill you!”
“No he won’t.”
She screamed and jumped sideways, which was the whole idea, because now she couldn’t retreat into the bathroom with the second man blocking the doorway. He had been standing to one side of it and she hadn’t noticed him.
It was Malcolm’s driver; she had seen him often, and had never liked the look of him. He was older than the gardener and had a mean look about him. Now he was sneering with satisfaction at the effect his voice had had on her. And the towel had slipped and she was desperately trying to get it back in place.
“When Bigboy comes back he’s gonna be dead meat,” the driver said. “Malcolm’s the boss now.”
She could smell alcohol but they didn’t look drunk.
“It’s true,” said the gardener. His features were more refined than his brother’s, but there was nothing friendly about the way he was looking at her, nor was there any softness in his voice. “Many of the men are sick and dying. Some of them are dead because they didn’t want to listen to Malcolm. And the rest are right behind him. Mike was a fool to go away, and he was fucking stupid to leave you alone.”
Here was the first thinly veiled threat of what was to come. She was panting with fear and her mind reeled in panic. The driver spoke.
“Malcolm said we must come and visit you.”
The gardener stood up and she backed into the corner. Her eyes were wild and bright, like those of a rat that knows the only way to go is up. But that would require superhuman qualities she didn’t possess. He went and put the pistol on the dressing table and came and stood in front of her.
“You can drop the towel now,” he said.
She didn’t realise it but she was down to her last three options. Screaming for help, fighting, and pleading. All three were equally bad in terms of likely outcome.
“Did you hear what he said?” The driver had also moved closer.
“Keep away from me!” she said. “Keep away!” she screamed. “Leave me! Leave me!”
Like an experienced boxer the driver feinted with a left jab to the head, she instinctively raised her hands to protect herself, and the towel was whipped away so deftly it looked like a well-practised trick.
“Wow!” said the driver, staring. “Man!”
They were both staring, and they had begun to pant, getting as much oxygen into their bloodstreams as possible.
She was trying to hide behind her hands and arms but they offered her so little cover she might as well not have bothered.
“Please! Please don’t do this to me.” She was sobbing now. “Please, I’ll do anything, but please don’t do this to me.”
Of course, by switching to pleading she triggered that other lust in them – the lust to inflict pain and humiliation.
“Did I hear you say please?” the gardener said. “That’s very nice; very good manners.” He was standing with his hands on his hips. “You know who I am, don’t you?”
She nodded.
“What is my name?’
“No, you fucking bitch!” He was suddenly angry, or pretending to be angry. “Not ‘P..Percy’. Percy. Say it.”
“Percy,” she sobbed, nearly messing it up again.
“That’s it,” he said with satisfaction. “Percy. I am Percy the Pig.”
And I am Rover the Rottweiler,” his brother chipped in. He obviously found it funny because he started laughing, but in such an offensive way it couldn’t have had much to do with humour and wit.
“You know that my tail is short?” Percy asked.
She tried to nod, the tears streaming. She knew where this was leading – any shithead could see where it was going. Acting like the victim she had become, she now began to believe she had brought this upon herself. She was being made to see her own guilt.
“Say it then. Say, ‘Your tail is short.’”
“Your tail is short,” she managed to say, as well as, “Oh my God!”
“But?” he demanded. “What else?”
She wept and quivered.
“What else?” he shouted. “What else, you fucking bitch? Say it! Say it!”
“Your cock is big.” There, she had said it.
“Ah, so I’ve got a big cock, have I?” He sounded rather pleased. “And do you know how big it is?”
What could she say?
“Well, I’m going to show you how big it is.”
He unbuckled his belt, undid the waist band button, pulled down the zip, and began to slide his jeans downwards. All very slowly, watching her standing there in her corner clutching herself, trying to look away, crying and whimpering.
First pubic hair and then the organ. Down, down, down until the full length of it was exposed and hung free like a long sausage. He let his pants go and they fell to his knees. From then on erection was extremely rapid, for the sensation of heaviness and stiffness fired his excitement, which in turn accelerated the pace at which tumescence took place. Up it came, higher and higher, until the process was complete, except for some fine tuning in order to reach maximum pressure and torsion, and he announced,
“That’s how big it is.”
She was trying to look the other way but couldn’t have failed to see what had happened. Christ, he was standing less than two metres from her!
“I’ve also got one of those,” said Rover. “It’s not as long as that, but it’s thicker.” And he indulged in another of those jeering, bully-boy laughs of his.
Percy bent over, pulled off his shoes and removed his trousers. He straightened up and moved a bit closer, his weapon swaying and bouncing back and forth.
As they closed in on her she broke off her terrified snivelling and began to snarl and spit, her eyes wild her lips drawn back. A hand reached out to grab her and she lunged with her talons.
“Leave me! Leave me!” she screamed. “Leave me, you fucking animals!”
They stood back, not because they were daunted but because they were preparing to pounce – like they were taking aim.
“Animals, are we?” said Percy. “We’re animals, all three of us. And you’re an animal too, you fucking whore bitch!”
They jumped at the same time, sending her crashing into the wall, knocking the breath out of her. They had both of her wrists, and then Percy was behind her, holding her arms in a half nelson. She tried to kick out at Rover but he parried her foot with his knee and then punched her in the stomach. As she jerked forward in agony he slapped her once, twice, open-handed and back-handed, so hard that she almost lost her senses.
That was it, the fight was over. Amazing what a bit of brute force can do.
The gardener’s hands were on her tits, cupping them, feeling their roundness, weighing their heaviness, and his fingers were at her nipples, his cock hard in the small of her back. She was hardly aware of him because the pain in her stomach was making her retch, and her head was still going round and round. Also, the stinging in her cheeks was almost unbearable.
He bent his knees and pushed his cock between her thighs until its head poked through, protruding beyond her pubic hair. He rubbed it back and forth a few times and said,
“I’m Percy, Percy, Percy the Pig. My tail is short but my cock is big. Now I’m going to show you what it’s like to be fucked by a pig. Get down. Come on, get down on the floor. Down, you bitch. Down!”
He forced her onto her knees and then she was on all fours. There was no point in any more resistance, she could see that. They were going to have their way, even if it meant beating her to a pulp.
“I’m Percy the Pig!” he shouted, also down on the floor now. “Here I come, you fucking bitch. Oink, oink, oink!” He began to butt her with his dick, first in her ass and then lower down, looking for the main entrance. His snout was slippery with semen. She could feel the battering ram at the door, forcing its way in. Oink, oink, oink. Into the vestibule it burst. Oink, oink, oink. It forced its way down the hallway, oink, oink, oink. It had broken all the way in and was about to defile the temple.
Meanwhile, the driver had lost no time in getting his shoes and his pants off, and was standing stiffly to attention, eagerly awaiting his turn to rush into battle.
“Oink! Oink! Aaaah!” The pig gave an ecstatic squeal and ceased all oinking.
He slowly withdrew his slimy black cock and got to his feet, all glassy eyed.
“Woof, woof! I am Rover. Woof, woof!”
Lady looked over her shoulder in time to see the Rottweiler coming at her. She shrieked and tried to crawl away.
“Fetch, Rover! Fetch!” the gardener called to his brother. He was recovering fast and was ready for some post coital entertainment.
Also down on hands and knees, Rover rushed at her and sank his teeth into her fleshy rump. She screamed in pain, much to Percy’s amusement.
Now she was being mounted by the dog. The pig had pioneered the way, making it dead easy for the second animal to gain immediate access, even if this piston did require a slightly bigger bore. Barking excitedly, he began to thrust away, hard and fast. So fast that in next to no time he gave a yelp and a groan and came to a standstill, all urgency suddenly gone out the window. He extricated his length of dripping meat and got up. It was his turn to look upon the world with jaded eyes.
“Keep her there like that,” said Percy, “while I fetch him.”
He opened the bedroom door and went out into the passage.
“Stay like that, bitch,” Rover warned Lady, and he began to laugh his ugly laugh.
“He’s just going to get our friend. You’ll like him. Ha, ha, ha! He’s actually a scientist. A very famous scientist. Ah, here he comes now.”
They could hear rapid footsteps and Percy’s voice. He was saying something reassuring, something encouraging. Then the third rapist appeared in the doorway and Lady let out a terrified scream and tried to get up. Rover grabbed her by the back of her neck, got in front of her and pushed her head down.
Yes, there he was, a fine specimen of evolutionary development, none other than Charles Darwin himself. He stood on the threshold, leaning on his knuckles, his beady eyes taking in the scene, his nostrils quivering.
Even Rover was a little shocked. He had only ever seen Mr Darwin from a distance and hadn’t realised just how big he was. In fact, he was fucking huge. And he was already in the pink and reaching for the sky.
Now, the fact that Lady’s face was being shoved into the carpet meant that her ass was elevated and her gaping cunt was displayed in an obscenely provocative way. As Darwin launched himself into the room, aiming at the target and going for bull’s eye, Percy shouted,
“Go for it, Charlie! Fuck the bitch!”
His only act of foreplay was to give the poes a good sniff, and then the baboon was onto her and into her, his long arms wrapped about her waist, his coarse hair scratching her skin, his hot breath on her shoulder, his bestial grunting in her ear. No wonder she screamed.
And, Jesus, talk about a fucking jackhammer! This guy pomped at such a breakneck speed he almost disappeared in a blur. In less than a minute the grunting crescendo reached its climax. Charlie gave a howling bark as he attempted to pass his genes on to future generations, then almost immediately lost interest. He went and sat in the corner, somewhat dejected, his bone back in the cupboard. All lustre had gone from his eyes and they had acquired exactly the same glazed-over look that the pig’s eyes and the dog’s eyes had taken on.
There was nothing glassy about Percy’s eyes right now. In fact, they were shining intensely and his member was back in business. Watching first his canine brother, and then his simian friend giving it to the bitch where she deserved it most had re-ignited his lust. In he leapt with gusto.
Technical problem, though. Over-lubrication on account of all the body fluid. It was as if his dick had gone numb and he could feel fuckall. To remedy the problem he was obliged to withdraw a short distance at each stroke, and then plunge back in. After a few minutes of using this technique he again went into the aah, aah, aaah and glassy eyes rigmarole.
Christ, this was becoming repetitious! And would you believe it? His cunt-fucking brother was hard as hell again and limbering up for round two. Man, this was becoming downright boring!
But not for long.
Mr Charles Darwin got the focus back in his eyeballs at about the same time as Rover was giving his cock a few strokes up and down to get it in tip top tone and ready for more of the old in-out. Satisfied, he began to take aim. It was at this stage that Mr Darwin behaved in a most ungentlemanly fashion.
He jumped to his feet, rushed forward, shouldered the man out of the way, and shoved his own pinko in as deep as it would go. Then the pneumatic drill got going.
No wonder Rover was indignant! How dare he jump the queue like this! Did he think he was a fucking American?
“Fuck you, Charlie!” he shouted. “You wait your fucking turn, you cheeky bastard!” And he grabbed the ill-mannered ape by the tail and yanked him right out.
With an enraged roar Charlie spun round, his formidable fangs flashing, and threw himself at Rover. Down they both went and human blood was flowing. Percy snapped out of his post-orgasmic daze and leapt upon the brute’s hairy back. All three of them began to roll about, making one helluva racket.
Lady raised her head and turned her long-suffering eyes towards the commotion. It slowly dawned on her that it didn’t make sense for her to remain where she was, crouched on the floor passively presenting her poes for the next prick to come and dip his wick.
Up she got, and across the room did trot, as fast as she could caper. So fast she fell over the corner of the bed and nearly hit her head on the dressing table. Reaching up, she groped about and found her pistol. It was the same type as Mike’s, which meant that its full clip contained 17 slugs.
On her knees, the gun held in both hands, she aimed at the centre of the entangled trio writhing on the floor, and began firing.

Read the odious story in its entirety. Buy Kikaffir

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Constructing The Narrative

The mind is located not within the individual but in the individual-in-social interaction. The learning process is not the passive reception of a pre-existing, objective reality but a process of creation in which the individual structures experience through interplay with the social environment.
Our understanding of the world is not an interpretation of what is, but a summary of attitudes formed by social interchanges within the present historical context. Likewise, truth and meaning are culturally determined constructions, not absolutes.
This is taken from Chris Rohmann’s Dictionary of Ideas And Thinkers. It’s embedded in the Social Constructionism entry.

I had intended to meet them at Grootbos but some people who needed wheels took three of mine in the night, leaving me with only one, plus the spare. I suppose it’s possible to drive a car on just two wheels if you’re an experienced stunt man, but it’s probably illegal and I’m not an experienced stunt man. My buddies had to come and pick me up.

“So the fucking bastards stole your wheels?”

“Yah,” I said. “Three of them.”

“Sign of the times,” said Cupcake.

“I wonder why they didn’t take all four?” said the other guy. “Did you call the cops?”

“No,” I said. “I’m not insured.”

We were approaching the bridge at Uilkraals and I told the other guy to slow right down. Ah, I love that unspoilt vista upstream, and sometimes, if I’m lucky there are giant kingfishers on the line staring down into the water, as if contemplating suicide.

“What’s so great about it?” asked Cupcake, sweeping the scene with an undiscerning glance.

“As an old sangoma once told me, you should never ignore the presence of a river,” I said. “A river is a metaphor that reminds us of our mortality and the transience of existence. We need metaphors and narratives to interpret reality. Get my drift?’

“Yah,” said the other guy. “Like the river of life, and ‘time flows like a river’.”

“Right,” said Cupcake. “And we can choose whether we’re on the bank watching time pass, or we’re in the river being carried along by the flow of life.”

“Acknowledging the presence of a river helps to deflate the ego,” I said.

“So the river is a metaphor,” said Cupcake. “That’s nice. Where does the narrative come in?”

We were approaching the first 4-way STOP this side of Gansbaai.

“There are three kinds of narrative: the minor, the major and the grand,” I said. “A multitude of minor narratives are going on at any given moment - like us undertaking this trip to Grootbos for a brain storming session.”

“I thought we were going for a drink and to admire the view,” said the other guy, slowing to a halt at the white line.

There were still some small groups of men waiting forlornly beside the road, hoping to have their labour exploited for the day.

“And a major narrative?’

“Something like a war, or a revolution,” I said. It could also be a social movement or a cultural shift. Apartheid was a major narrative.”

“Badly told story, that one,” said Cupcake.

“And of course,” I said, “the Grand Narrative is the human condition, which is told in the form of a joke.”

The morning traffic was backed up and moving very slowly, which was strange, it being mid week and out of season. At the next STOP we saw why. Right in the middle of the intersection a short-legged mongrel was attempting to mate with a bitch nearly four times his size. The discrepancy in height was causing him problems, for to achieve penetration he was obliged to stand on tip-toe, and the moment he hunched his back in order to thrust, his feet left the ground and he fell out. To add to his difficulties the bitch was clearly unimpressed, and was making no attempt to co-operate.

The traffic was now at a complete standstill in all four directions. Even some shopkeepers were joining the pedestrians on the pavement, and everybody was watching and waiting patiently, out of a mixture of politeness and prurience.
Everybody, that is, except the sour-faced woman in the Audi roadster behind us. She began to hoot.

The other guy held up his middle finger for her to see. Furiously she engaged reverse and shot back so as to gain space to pull out and pass. The vehicle she crunched into was an elderly but still robust Land Rover.

“Rich bitch,” said Cupcake, as we pulled away, the canine bitch having lost all patience with her suitor and run off. “Typical. Fokol respect for anyone or anything.”

“Now,” I said, returning to the topic I had broached as we were crossing the Uilkraalsrivier, “I’m not talking about narratives just to make conversation, like chit-chatting about the weather to pass the time of day as we make our way to Grootbos. I’m actually going somewhere with this.”

“That’s good to hear,” said Cupcake. “I thought you were trying to distract yourself, so you didn’t have to think about how the fucking bastards stole your wheels in the night.”

“He can work on that narrative later,” said the other guy.

“We are all being written into different narratives all the time,” I said. “On all three levels: minor, major and grand. Most of us are too preoccupied, or too stupid, to be aware of this and believe we can have any influence on the story of our life.”

“Who’s being written into a story?” Cupcake looked at the other guy and said, “Do you know what he’s going on about?”

“Look,” I said, “I’ll give you an example. Let’s take a Second World War scenario. Remember Saving Private Ryan? That scene where they’re landing on a beach? Right, so a kid from a lower middle-class family finishes school and finds a job. Then the war breaks out and he’s called up. The first action he sees is on a Normandy beach. He steps from the landing craft into waist-deep water. He wades forward toward the shore. One pace, two, three. Then some German boy behind a machine gun in the dunes presses the trigger and pumps about twenty bullets into him. End of story. A pathetic non-story.”

“But what could he have done to change the story?” asked Cupcake.

“A fertile imagination could come up with any number of stratagems,” I said. “Shoot himself in the foot during training; feign insanity; work himself into a non-combat position; become a conscientious objector; hide in a cave – the list is long. But he has to believe it’s possible to alter the direction of his own story. He must be convinced.”

“Okay,” said Cupcake, “let’s say that this hypothetical soldier could have avoided becoming cannon fodder by letting some other idiot take his place and attack the filthy Huns. He would have rewritten what you call a minor narrative. But how could he affect the major narrative, the war itself? How can a humble citizen hope to affect the circumstances giving rise to something like a world war? It’d be like trying to change the course of history.”

We passed the police station and picked up speed, the half dead, one-horse dorp now behind us.

“For a start,” I said, “we stop thinking ‘humble’. On a minor level it’s about personal choices, like wiping out another human being, or blasting a hole in your foot. But on the major level it’s about collective action. Adolf Hitler had diabolical ideas that were so obscenely vigorous they infected minds and destroyed lives by the million. But the course of history could have been changed by putting a Marshall Plan in place after the First World War, instead of shortsighted retribution; or by the early assassination of Hitler; or by throwing a lot of resources at Einstein and the nuclear physicists in order to speed up the bomb. Again, the possibilities are numerous. But it would have required people with clear vision and firm resolve.”

“Okay,’ said Cupcake. “Now I get it. We’re off to Grootbos for a brainstorming session that will alter the course of history. We – us three geniuses – are going to devise a master plan that will lift millions out of poverty and transform South Africa from a nation of losers into world-class leaders. Right?”

“Right,’ I said, ignoring the sarcastic tone.

We passed the De Kelders turnoff and a sign told us that the speed limit had been raised and we could drive at 100 if we wanted to. But we had come up behind a truck, a big 18-wheeler loaded with canned fish on its way to Cape Town. The road was starting to twist and climb, and the other guy was content to dawdle along at between 70 and 80.

“And when we’ve sorted out this particular narrative I suppose we’ll tackle the grand narrative?” said Cupcake.

“I thought a grand narrative was something like an ideology, like Christianity, or Marxism, or some other world view?” said the other guy.

“No,” I said. “The grand narrative has got to do with the human condition, which isn’t perceived in the same way by everybody. But, in general, it’s about being aware of certain intractable questions that preoccupy some of us to a greater or lesser extent. It depends on our personality, intelligence, education, life experiences – that kind of thing.”

“Intractable questions?” said Cupcake. “Like?”

“Like the questions we start asking when we consciously grapple with meaning and morality, and suffering and death.”

“I hope,” said Cupcake, “you’re not going to claim that it’s possible to rewrite the human condition. That would be tantamount to playing God.”

“Leave God out of this, please,” I said. “But you’re right, in a way. We can’t tamper with the grand narrative. Or can we? If the human brain was to evolve into a more powerful organ we might be able to think ourselves out of our predicament. Or maybe it’s a matter of learning how to use the one we’ve got in a more creative way.”

“Sounds a bit like penis enlargement,” said the other guy. “Not much point in having a big one if you can’t put it to use.”

“Grootbos turnoff coming up,” said Cupcake. “Slow right down and start indicating.”

“And watch that car coming down,’ I said. “Don’t try turning until it’s past.”

“Okay, okay,” said the other guy. “Just relax. It’s too soon to be written off. This story has got a long way to go yet.”

These Darkies Have Got No Self Respect

#South Africa, with a population of 50 million, is the most unequal nation on Earth.
The top 10% of earners in South Africa take away 101 times the earnings of the bottom 10% of the population.
#Fifty percent of the population live on 8% of the national income, and
the top 50% live on 92% of national income. The top 5% earners take 30 times what the bottom 5% earners take.
#According to a 2009 study, 41% of South Africans live on less than
R20 a day (2.8 million live on less than R5 a day; 6.7 million live on
R5-10 a day and 8.8 million live on R10-20 a day).
47% of the population, or 20.9 million people live on R20-140 a day.
#The UNDP 2010 Report indicates that 6 million people live on less than
R10 a day who in turn support4 people, resulting in 30 million South Africans living on less than R10 a day. Fifteen million people rely on social grants for survival. Almost 25% of South African households have inadequate access to food.
#The Stats SA Quarterly Labour Force Survey reveals that unemployment,
by the narrow definition which excludes those who have given up looking for work, is 25%. The more realistic expanded figure,
which includes discouraged workers, is 36%.
Among Africans of working age only 36% are absorbed into employment.
Seventy two percent of the unemployed are young people. Ninety five percent of them do not have tertiary education.
Unemployment among Africans was estimated to be 38% in
1995, 45% in 2005, and 50%in 2011.
#The life expectancy of a white South African is 71 years and for a
black South African 48 years.
And so on and so forth.

“These darkies have got no self respect.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Look at how they live,” Cupcake said, gesturing towards the ghetto on the other side of the windscreen. “Put your nose out there again and tell me what you smell.”
“Human shit,” said the other guy, rolling up the driver’s window.
We were parked outside an RDP hok with a corrugated iron add-on and two wrecks in the yard.
“Not only human shit,” said Cupcake. “There are dogs and chickens and goats as well. “
“I’ve seen at least two donkey carts,” I said. “What does donkey shit smell like? Anyone know?”
“Horse shit,’ said the other guy.
“Yah, but it’s not only shit out there. There’s a whole lot of other shit going on.’
I lowered my window a bit and savoured the winter air, which was beginning to warm up as midday approached.
“Mmm,” I said. “This is a rich bouquet. I detect all manner of fragrances. Both coal smoke and wood smoke mingling with the fumes from a thousand paraffin stoves.”
“And there’s that rubbish dump smell as well,’ said the other guy. He and Cupcake had lowered their windows again. ‘The toxic stench of smouldering garbage.”
“And that blocked drain,” said Cupcake.
A standpipe stood in the middle of a dam of stagnant grey sludge.
“I smell the stink of unwashed humanity huddled in overcrowded shanties,” said the other guy.
“My nose tells me that many a simple meal is being prepared at this very moment,” I said. “Ah, smell that? Somebody is braaiing a choice piece of wors. Not bad, hey? This, my friends, is the characteristic aroma of a genuine South African township. If one could capture this unique blend of odours and put it in a can, one could make a lot of money selling it to foreign tourists.”
“Yah,” said Cupcake. “They could take it home to remind them how lucky they are they don’t have to live like this. No, I tell you, these people have got fokol self respect.”
“I suppose they actually enjoy living like this?” I tried to make my voice sound heavy with sarcasm.
“Of course not,” said Cupcake. “But they don’t need to.”
“What he means,” said the other guy, “is that they don’t need to keep voting for the ANC.”
We were sitting there waiting for the parcel that the dude from the RDP hok said would be ready now-now, my brothers. That was nearly half an hour ago in real time. Not being entirely naïve, we were aware that now-now time was a whole different philosophical concept to real time. Like the way some people think of time present and time past as being somehow present in time future, and time future being contained in time past. Knowing this about now-now time I had been intelligent enough to go across to the spaza for a six-pack. And now we were chilling nicely until the right time had run its course and elapsed sufficiently for our parcel to arrive.
“So you think it’s the ANC’s fault that all these unfortunates live like this?” I asked.
“For sure,” said Cupcake. “But not entirely. It’s also their own fault for not having seen the picture.”
“Pretty picture,” said the other guy. “But at least the government is trying to provide everyone with basic services like standpipes and chemical toilets.
“Anyone need a piss?”
Me and the other guy can spot a rhetorical question a mile off, so we didn’t bother to reply.
“I challenge one of you to go and take a leak in that public facility, and come back and report on the state of hygiene you find there.’
As he spoke the door to the green cubicle on the street corner began to open. A middle aged woman appeared. She was as shapeless as a sack of mielie meal on legs, and her legs were so waterlogged they seemed about to burst open like pork sausages on the grid. She paused, uncertain as to her next move. In one hand she clutched a Pick n Pay packet. There was only one step down but it obviously filled her with fear, because there was nothing to hold on to. She lifted a foot, hesitated, lurched, came down hard, and staggered three paces before falling on all fours into the pool of grey sludge. She had dropped the plastic bag and it spilled out a toilet roll, also into the filthy water.
“Oh my fuck!” said the other guy.
“Fuck!” snarled Cupcake. “We can’t just watch.”
Three doors flew open, and three feet found the ground. But, at the very same moment, two teenage girls appeared from nowhere and hurried towards the floundering mama. We got our appendages back in the car and closed the doors.
Ankle deep in the cold muck, the girls were scolding the woman as they helped to get her upright.
“This is what I’m talking about!” shouted Cupcake, and he seemed dangerously close to doing something violent, like pounding the other guy’s dashboard with his fist.
“Calm down,” I said. “She’s not your mother. She’s not even white.”
“Fuck you!” said Cupcake.
“Yah,” said the other guy, looking over his shoulder. “Shut the fuck up with that kind of shit.”
“He’s the one saying they’ve got no self respect,” I said.
“Don’t you get it? He’s saying they shouldn’t put up with being treated like this any more. He doesn’t really …”
An old Beemer 3-series jumped into view and came at us with aggressive intent. At the last moment it skidded to a halt, just in time to spare us the head-on crunch we were bracing ourselves for. The driver gave three blasts on his bugle and the middleman dude from the RDP hok came hurrying out.
The transaction was concluded in a gentlemanly fashion and we began to make our way from ghetto back to suburb.
“You know,” I said, “I don’t think these darkies are going to be able to get themselves out of this dystopian shithole without a little help.”
“Oh yeah,” said the other guy. “White man to the rescue?”
“White man got them into this; white man must help get them out.”