Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Not Funny

“And the more we fought, the more irritated I was by certain aspects of his behaviour and his appearance.”

“For example?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Little things; stupid things.” I thought she didn’t want to elaborate. Maybe it was too personal, or too painful. But after a while she resumed. “Like the smell of his piss on the toilet floor.”

“Most men tend to splash,” I said. “Especially those with a foreskin.”

“I know. It’s revolting. And he expected me to clean up after him, with my bare hands.”

“Filthy bastard,” I said. From the hard look she gave me, she probably thought I was being flippant, so I hurried on. “It ties in with what you said about him having no respect. And his appearance? What irritated you about his appearance?”

“Well, he’s overweight, isn’t he? I never used to imagine I’d be with someone who was fat.”

“Mmm,” I said.

“And there was something about the back of his head,” she said.

“The back of his head? What was wrong with the back of his head, for Christ’s sake?”

“It was kind of flat,” she said. “It made him look like a moron.” Anger and tears came to her eyes. “That fucking bitch mother of his must have caused it when he was a baby.”

“What? How could …?”

“Don’t you know how soft a baby’s skull is? If you neglect a baby and leave it lying on its back too much, it can affect the eventual shape of its head. Haven’t you heard about that? Damn you! You think what I’ve been going through is funny? I knew I couldn’t …”

“No, please! I’m not laughing at you. Really. It’s the situation that I find absurd, and you know how I relish black comedy and the way absurdity allows us to cope with the tragic by making it comic. Talking about the shape of his head made me think of the Phrenologists. Heard of Phrenology? You watched Django Unchained? Remember that scene where the plantation owner produces the skull of one of his Negro slaves and starts pointing out the characteristics that prove – in inverted commas – that Africans are predisposed to certain qualities. Like subservience. Which means it’s all right to have Negro slaves. Total bullshit, of course. But in the nineteenth century this pseudo science was used to explain and justify all sorts of dubious practices. Your linking of the shape of his head to his mental capacity just struck me as …well … absurdly phrenological.”

“I know it’s all ridiculous,” she said. “But it’s too soon for me to find it funny.” And she started crying again.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

God Again

I was sure he would be back and, lo and behold, there he was, shaking me out of slumber like he had no respect for my basic human right to a sound night’s sleep.

“Now listen good,” he said. “If you don’t get it this time, then fuck you, and you can live with the consequences, because this is your last chance. I’ve got better things to do with my time than …”

“Alright, alright,” I said. “You don’t have to shout. I’m awake and I’m sober. And I’ll write it down when you’ve finished.”

He then delivered a short lecture on story structure. I had heard it all before, from other sources, but I jotted down the main points anyway. We tell stories to find meaning and impose order on the world. (Yawn.) All good stories contain a protagonist, an antagonistic force, an inciting incident, a crisis, a climax and a resolution. (Formula for the Hollywood dreck cocktail, without the alcohol.) The universal narrative pattern consists of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Or flaw, challenge, resolution. (Ho-hum.) He prattled on about the basic elements of a good story.

“Where’s this going?” I said, interrupting him.

“Going? It’s probably going nowhere on account of your mulish nature,” he said. “Listen, Sonny-boy, I’m trying to advise you on how to write something that will actually sell.”

“I’ve got no problem with the formula,” I said. “Who says I’m trying to find a new formula?”

“Look,” he said, “I was about to tell you that although the formula is essential, there is more to it than that. A satisfactory story must also fit into a certain moral scheme.”

“Oh, like good triumphs over evil?” I said.

“Exactly,” he said. “But that needn’t confine you to happy-ever-after endings.”

“Huh!” I said. “Just so long as I put in some shit about the indomitable human spirit?”

“Right. People don’t want to be told they belong to a despicable species of animal and there is no purpose to their sordid existence. They want to be reassured that all will be well,” he said. “And they want to be entertained.”

“Ah, man!” I said. “Basically, what you’re telling me is that I should write what the vast majority of readers want, and that is genre kak.”

“And what’s wrong with genre kak?” he said. “If you’ve got a good plot, like I have just outlined, and you create interesting, three-dimensional characters, you can do a lot with genre kak. And it sells.”

“Okay,” I said, getting back into bed. “Thanks for the great advice, but now I must be getting my shut-eye. Please let yourself out the way you let yourself in.” And I turned over and went back to sleep.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Ever Heard Of An “Other Coloured’?

Fifteen years ago, there was no way you could have bought two prosthetic limbs for just R549.95. So it’s a bit misleading when I say I paid an arm and a leg for this book in 1998. But that is how it felt at the time, and I was afflicted by both guilt and resentment at shelling out all that moolah for a single volume. Yet I have never regretted the acquisition of A Dictionary Of South African English On Historical Principles. The price has turned out to be trifling, considering all the information I have gleaned from this book over the past decade and a half.

Just the other day I heard someone refer to a tortoise as a padloper. Ah, I thought to myself, I must look that one up when I get back. And I did indeed find an informative entry in the dictionary. However, on the way to P, my eye was distracted by something under O. Other Coloured? I had to stop and read it.

other coloured ppl adj. phr. and n. phr. Hist. Freq. with initial capitals. [See COLOURED.]
A. ppl adj. phr. Of or pertaining to a person who, during the apartheid era, was defined as ‘Other Coloured’ (see quot.1959) in the system of race classification. See also COLOURED ppl adj.
1959 Govt Gaz. Vol.195 No.6191, 11 Other Coloured Group: In the Other Coloured Group shall be included any person who is not included in the Cape Coloured Group, the Malay Group, the Griqua Group, the Chinese Group, the Indian Group or the Other Asiatic Group, and who is not a white person or a native as defined in section one of the Population Registration Act, 1950. 1971 [see CLASSIFICATION]. 1989 Frontline Apr. 32 In my family there were brothers classified ‘Cape Coloured’ and others classified ‘Other Coloured’, which caused a problem because the ‘Cape Coloureds’ were supposed to be the real thing. 1991 B. ROBERTSON in Sunday Times 14 July (Extra) 8 There were
many children of Oriental sailors and white prostitutes who were brought to welfare agencies ... The seamen were classified honorary whites and their offsprings were classified ‘Other Coloured’.
B. n. phr. One who, during the apartheid era, was classified as a member of the officially-defined ‘Other Coloured’ group, a sub-group of the ‘coloured’ group in terms of the POPULATION REGISTRATION ACT. See also COLOURED n.
1978 Drum June 79 The offspring of a coloured guy and a black girl would usually be classified as an ‘other coloured’. I say usually because there are some cases when the child is able to choose whether he wants to be classified as coloured or black.

One tends to forget what it was like living under apartheid, which is understandable but not wise. It is better to refresh the memory, now and again, by reading entries such as this one. It is then possible to keep within one’s grasp just how insane apartheid was, and how intellectually and morally deranged its architects and supporters were.

I am inclined to believe that by keeping an eye on human idiocy in the past one is better able to recognise lunacy that is endorsed or overlooked in the present. Like today’s
neoliberal economic dogma that condemns millions of people to unnecessary unemployment and poverty, while a small minority are able to amass excessive wealth for themselves and their families. As was apartheid, this too is a crazy system and one day it will be looked back on with disbelief.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Baboon Talk

It is widely known that the baboon is capable of speech. Naturally, people of European descent do not accept this as fact, and treat the claim with scorn. That no white person has ever been able to engage a baboon in conversation does not, however, prove that baboons are unable to speak. What it means is that baboons are unwilling to reveal their verbal capacity to non-Africans.  It was decided a long time ago that it would not be in the primates’ interest to learn to communicate with European settlers. But many baboons are fluent in at least one of the Bantu languages, depending on the geographical distribution of their troop.

To explain this selective reticence one must go back to the time when Europeans first set foot in Africa. Baboons were able to observe the interactions between the indigenous people and the new arrivals, and soon it became clear that the newcomers were intent on simultaneously enslaving the people and exterminating the animals of Africa. The baboons were faced with a dilemma. Should they reveal their true cognitive potential and make themselves useful to the settlers, thereby gaining some degree of protection, or should they continue to act dumb in order to avoid the degradation and humiliation being suffered by the blacks, and as a consequence face decimation?

It was a difficult choice to make, but the cruelty of the colonists in the way they subjugated the blacks, drove them off their land, and condemned them to a life of menial labour and poverty, convinced the baboons that the risk of annihilation was preferable to the ignominious fate imposed on the blacks. They vowed to conceal their speech faculty and successfully avoided being put to work by the whites.


The intention behind this fable is ambivalent, especially if read in the context of present day South Africa. Yes, the European is portrayed as an invader whose inhumanity is evident to all, even the animals. But there is a hint of self-deprecation here too. If the baboons were smart enough to dupe the colonists, why were the people of Africa,who are surely smarter than baboons, not able to resist foreign domination in the first instance, and, more disconcertingly, how is it that they have not been able to close the social and economic gap between the black majority and white minority? Even after nineteen years of liberation, democracy and political ascendancy? Maybe this story supports the suggestion that Africans continue to think like victims and remain hamstrung by a misplaced sense of inferiority.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Coming And Going

She came back a second time. By then we both had Chlymidia.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Sexy Story

The bitch left me, came back to give me Chlamydia, and then fucked off again.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Gatekeeper Attacked

Most security work is fraught with danger, and gate keeping is no exception. On 17 April David Tyfield was brutally attacked while on duty at the entrance to the Genuine Poets Society. He had just turned away a rowdy crowd of rappers, street artists and performance poets led by Aryan Kaganof. After being knocked to the ground, Tyfield was severely beaten by his assailant, robbed of his credentials, and left for dead. His attacker, later identified as Andrew Miller, is still at large.
Speaking from his hospital bed, David said he was through with gate keeping. “I’ll probably look for a job as a car guard,” he told the press.

“Remembering Stephen Watson. A legacy at risk” David Tyfield SLIPNET
“Poetry matters (even when you don’t like it)” Andrew MillerDAILY MAVERICK

God Woke Me

Last night God woke me and gave instructions.
But I had been drinking heavily and was somewhat befuddled.
Now I can’t remember a damn thing, which is a pity, because it could have been important.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

 Do I Look Like A Racist, Or What?


I am accustomed to the way things are in this fucked up country, and now that I’m in my sixties I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else, even if I could. But that’s not to say that I am resigned, or that my exasperation never turns to anger. On the contrary, my seething emotions frequently drive me towards confrontation of the dangerously violent kind. Like the other day when I was walking with the dog and enjoying the warm sun on my back and the sea air in my face.

It was in Crest Road, on the way to the beach. A man of about my age was unloading tools from the back of a Toyota bakkie. He was a short man with a small to medium-sized potbelly, and there was a white bandage wrapped around the forefinger of his left hand. I assumed that he had inflicted the injury to himself using a hammer, and when I recognised him as Snyman of Twist Street, I hoped that it wouldn’t be long before he delivered another blow to that finger. We had exchanged words on only one occasion, and that was when he falsely accused my dog of shitting on his pavement.

It would have been boorish to ignore him, and I try not to act like a boor, because I despise crassness and insensitivity in others, so I nodded a greeting as I passed.

“Did they also break in by you?” he said, lifting a stepladder over the tailgate.


“They’re breaking in all over,” he said, and explained that he was doing repairs to yet another house that had been burgled. This was the tenth in less than two weeks.

“Must be linked to the high unemployment,” I said.

He looked at me for a bit and then commenced his racist tirade, the like of which I have not heard in twenty years, and thought I would never be subjected to again.

“Nothing to do with unemployment,” he said. “The kaffers will steal from the white man anytime they can. The fokken kaffer is an ‘it.’ “It” is not human. It is half human and half baboon. The fokken kaffer is a halfmens. Look what they did to that farmer and his wife in the Free State. A human being doesn’t do that.”

“Atrocities are being committed all over the world all the time,” I said. “Look at how the Nazis behaved in the Second World War.”

“No,” he said. “”It’s just a pity the Germans were defeated. Adolf Hitler was right. If he had won the war there would be no fokken kaffers anywhere now.”

“I can’t believe this!” I was spluttering and had to wipe the spittle from my lips. “So you’re not only a racist but a neo-Nazi as well?”

He laughed and took it as a compliment.

“You know,” he said, “I was talking to a doctor and he explained to me that it has been proved that the fokken kaffer is not human like us. He is still half a baboon, and that’s why he behaves like a fokken kaffer. This is the missing link between real humans and baboons.”

“When was your doctor struck off the roll?” I said. “Was it before or after he talked this shit to you? You know about DNA testing? If they analysed your DNA they’d find black blood in you and all the other Afrikaners. That makes you a halfmens as well.”

“Yes, but the forefathers only frootled with the kleurling meide. Not the kaffer meide.”

“Ah, fuck man!” I said, and struck my forehead with the palm of my hand.

“You just got to look at the shape of the fokken kaffer’s head. Take Zuma. See how big the back of his head is? That’s because the front of his brain is at the back. And Mandela too. I’ve got a screen saver on my computer that changes from baboon to Mandela, and back to baboon, and you can see it is true.”

And there was more of this shit. It followed me as I walked away, and I could still hear it as I turned into Marine Road. Maybe if I had been carrying a firearm I would have shot him dead. Who knows?

And then, just three days later, I was again on my walk when Jack Prinsloo stopped his car. This is the Jack Prinsloo from Ridge Road.  The man who flies the old flag and whose eyebrows encroach on his hairline. He leaned out the window.

“Yissus, but that’s a mooi hond!” he said. “Yissus, but he’s going to be big! Has he already bitten a kaffer? You must let him bite a kaffer so he can get the taste. Ha, ha, ha!”

I did a quick about-turn, hurried home, and poured myself a brandy and Coke that was more like a Coke and brandy, it was so biased on the side of brandy.

Yissus, I thought to myself, am I being targeted by these halfmense? Why are they attacking me like this? Do they think that I am one of their kind, just because I happen to be white? No, I said to myself, there’s no hope for these people. They are incapable of change, and the sooner their generation, my generation, dies out, the better.

I then fell into a mood of deep melancholy. It was no good trying to fool myself that the problem lay with the dinosaurs, and once they were extinct this kind of bigotry would also disappear. Hadn’t I been to the shop yesterday and overheard a conversation between a woman of no more than 25 and the tannie behind the till that disproved such feeble-minded optimism?

“I don’t like these new banknotes,” said the tannie.

“Yes,” agreed the young woman. “And now we’ve got to look at that face every time.”

I nearly dropped the sachet of low fat milk I was holding, I was so stunned. An abyss of disappointment had opened up in front of me and I was about to fall into it, just like that poor guy who was swallowed up by a sink ole. She had acquired the virus and no amount of reason would cure her. Nelson Mandela, for Christ’s sake!

Maybe it is just Afrikaners, I thought, clutching at straws. But on reflection I had to admit English speakers of my acquaintance are just as racist, even if the disease is a little harder to detect. The sneering remarks about ‘those people’ and the dismissive way they talk about ‘the government’ is evidence of their contempt. Not to mention the endless anecdotes about corruption, inefficiency, stupidity and incompetence. And the blatant prejudice exhibited by small-minded contributors on social media platforms like news24.

It would have been better if us whites had been butchered, or driven into the sea, back then in 1994, I thought in despair. Nearly 20 years down the line I go for a walk or buy a loaf of bread at the shop, and these horrible people who insist on giving expression to their naked racism confront me. But, I realise with deepening despair, there is something even worse than this harassment by the white racists. It is the hostility shown towards me by ordinary black folk. When I greet them in the street they avert their eyes and try to ignore me. Their demeanour is surly and resentful, and it is clear they regard me as one of those good old boys from the apartheid era. Both black and white take one look at me and assume that I am a racist. We are all racists. There is no way to alter this reality, and all we can do is drink more brandy and Coke and try to come to terms with our condition.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Updike was a student of the human condition not just in his fictional portrayals but in his commentary on the role of fiction in understanding ourselves. In a turn-of-the-millennium magazine article, he endorsed evolutionary psychology and presented a fiction writers viewpoint on human nature that is as insightful as any I have seen: ‘A writer of fiction, a professional liar, is paradoxically obsessed with what is true, and the unit of truth, at least for a fiction writer, is the human animal, belonging to the species Homo sapiens, unchanged for at least 100,000 years. ... To be human is to be in the tense condition of a death-foreseeing, consciously libidinous animal. No other earthly creature suffers such a capacity for thought, such a complexity of envisioned but frustrated possibilities, such a troubling ability to question the tribal and biological imperatives. So conflicted and ingenious a creature makes an endlessly interesting focus for the meditations of fiction.’ Simply brilliant.
Alain de Botton
- See more at:

Steven Pinker On John Updike

  Updike was a student of the human condition not just in his fictional portrayals but in his commentary on the role of fiction in understanding ourselves. In a turn-of-the-millennium magazine article, he endorsed evolutionary psychology and presented a fiction writers viewpoint on human nature that is as insightful as any I have seen: ‘A writer of fiction, a professional liar, is paradoxically obsessed with what is true, and the unit of truth, at least for a fiction writer, is the human animal, belonging to the species Homo sapiens, unchanged for at least 100,000 years. ... To be human is to be in the tense condition of a death-foreseeing, consciously libidinous animal. No other earthly creature suffers such a capacity for thought, such a complexity of envisioned but frustrated possibilities, such a troubling ability to question the tribal and biological imperatives. So conflicted and ingenious a creature makes an endlessly interesting focus for the meditations of fiction.’ Simply brilliant.

Taken from Updike Remembered in Granta Magazine.

Updike was a student of the human condition not just in his fictional portrayals but in his commentary on the role of fiction in understanding ourselves. In a turn-of-the-millennium magazine article, he endorsed evolutionary psychology and presented a fiction writers viewpoint on human nature that is as insightful as any I have seen: ‘A writer of fiction, a professional liar, is paradoxically obsessed with what is true, and the unit of truth, at least for a fiction writer, is the human animal, belonging to the species Homo sapiens, unchanged for at least 100,000 years. ... To be human is to be in the tense condition of a death-foreseeing, consciously libidinous animal. No other earthly creature suffers such a capacity for thought, such a complexity of envisioned but frustrated possibilities, such a troubling ability to question the tribal and biological imperatives. So conflicted and ingenious a creature makes an endlessly interesting focus for the meditations of fiction.’ Simply brilliant.
Alain de Botton
- See more at:
Updike was a student of the human condition not just in his fictional portrayals but in his commentary on the role of fiction in understanding ourselves. In a turn-of-the-millennium magazine article, he endorsed evolutionary psychology and presented a fiction writers viewpoint on human nature that is as insightful as any I have seen: ‘A writer of fiction, a professional liar, is paradoxically obsessed with what is true, and the unit of truth, at least for a fiction writer, is the human animal, belonging to the species Homo sapiens, unchanged for at least 100,000 years. ... To be human is to be in the tense condition of a death-foreseeing, consciously libidinous animal. No other earthly creature suffers such a capacity for thought, such a complexity of envisioned but frustrated possibilities, such a troubling ability to question the tribal and biological imperatives. So conflicted and ingenious a creature makes an endlessly interesting focus for the meditations of fiction.’ Simply brilliant.
Alain de Botton
- See more at:

Updike was a student of the human condition not just in his fictional portrayals but in his commentary on the role of fiction in understanding ourselves. In a turn-of-the-millennium magazine article, he endorsed evolutionary psychology and presented a fiction writers viewpoint on human nature that is as insightful as any I have seen: ‘A writer of fiction, a professional liar, is paradoxically obsessed with what is true, and the unit of truth, at least for a fiction writer, is the human animal, belonging to the species Homo sapiens, unchanged for at least 100,000 years. ... To be human is to be in the tense condition of a death-foreseeing, consciously libidinous animal. No other earthly creature suffers such a capacity for thought, such a complexity of envisioned but frustrated possibilities, such a troubling ability to question the tribal and biological imperatives. So conflicted and ingenious a creature makes an endlessly interesting focus for the meditations of fiction.’ Simply brilliant. - See more at:

Updike was a student of the human condition not just in his fictional portrayals but in his commentary on the role of fiction in understanding ourselves. In a turn-of-the-millennium magazine article, he endorsed evolutionary psychology and presented a fiction writers viewpoint on human nature that is as insightful as any I have seen: ‘A writer of fiction, a professional liar, is paradoxically obsessed with what is true, and the unit of truth, at least for a fiction writer, is the human animal, belonging to the species Homo sapiens, unchanged for at least 100,000 years. ... To be human is to be in the tense condition of a death-foreseeing, consciously libidinous animal. No other earthly creature suffers such a capacity for thought, such a complexity of envisioned but frustrated possibilities, such a troubling ability to question the tribal and biological imperatives. So conflicted and ingenious a creature makes an endlessly interesting focus for the meditations of fiction.’ Simply brilliant. - See more at:

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Time To Wise Up, Children

Remember how I told you about Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? And about how God loves you and will always look after you? Well, it was all a load of bull. Sorry about that.

And, while I’m in a confessional mood, I might as well come clean on some other stuff that has more to do with wishful thinking than actual reality. Stuff like Crime never pays, Always stick to the truth, Never accept or pay a bribe, Respect the law because everyone is equal before it, and The Constitution guarantees all your human rights. Well, I’m afraid this is also a load of delusional horse manure and, now you are getting big, it’s better if I fill you in on how it really is out there. Otherwise you are never going to cope.

I will take just two examples to illustrate how things work, as opposed to how they are meant to work. The first involves His Excellency, The Honourable Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, State President of South Africa. Now, you would think that the State President, being State President and both honourable and excellent, would behave in a way that is beyond reproach. Well, you think wrong. A court of law found that he was in a corrupt relationship with the convicted fraudster Shabir Shaik. Shaik got 15 years, but the case against Zuma was never pursued. Not fair, you say. Everybody should be treated equally, even the President. Huh! Jacob and his cronies were able to influence the judiciary and make the allegations go away. Abracadabra.

The other example is the Oscar Pistorius case. From the circumstantial evidence this is what happened. He had an altercation with his girlfriend, flew into a jealous rage and threatened her with his firearm. She fled to the bathroom and then locked herself in the toilet. Oscar entered the bathroom and fired four shots through the toilet door, knowing that his girlfriend was on the other side. An open and shut case, you would think. But Oscar claims it wasn’t like that. No, he thought the person locked in the toilet was a dangerous intruder. Don’t make me laugh, you say. Only a total fuckwit, unable to imagine his way into Oscar’s luxury abode, would buy that version.

The President is a proven crook by association, and if you care to Wiki him, you will see that there is a long list of dodgy activity that he is involved in. But in spite of this, he became our State President and is likely to be re-elected for a second term in 2014.

Oscar Pistorius is out on bail and preparing for his trial. It is more than likely he will walk free when his very expensive hotshot lawyers rip to shreds the case brought by the damn-fool prosecution. He will then get on with his life and leave this unpleasant incident behind him.

See the pattern, kids? See how it works? Learn the lessons from these two examples and adjust your moral code accordingly. To help with the priorities I will summarize as follows:

Making money is the most important thing in life
Money can buy you anything
Make friends with people in power
Never do favours for those who can’t reciprocate
Don’t waste your time on ordinary people unless you can exploit them
Everyone expects a bribe or a kickback
Always insist on getting your own way
Learn how to badmouth the competition when their backs are turned
We all have our price
The weak and the ignorant deserve to be taken advantage of
It is possible to buy or lie your way out of any situation
Never admit that you were wrong

I hope this little crash course on how to make it in the real world has brought you up to speed, my lovelies. Now go on out there and make your mark on life. The best of luck!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Leopold Bloom Takes A Crap

This is an excerpt from Ulysses by James Joyce.

The cat, having cleaned all her fur, returned to the meatstained paper, nosed at it and stalked to the door. She looked back at him, mewing. Wants to go out. Wait before a door sometime it will open. Let her wait. Has the fidgets. Electric. Thunder in the air. Was washing at her ear with her back to the fire too.
He felt heavy, full: then a gentle loosening of his bowels. He stood up, undoing the waistband of his trousers. The cat mewed to him.
—Miaow! he said in answer. Wait till I'm ready.
Heaviness: hot day coming. Too much trouble to fag up the stairs to the landing.
A paper. He liked to read at stool. Hope no ape comes knocking just as I'm.
In the tabledrawer he found an old number of Titbits. He folded it under his armpit, went to the door and opened it. The cat went up in soft bounds. Ah, wanted to go upstairs, curl up in a ball on the bed.
Listening, he heard her voice:
—Come, come, pussy. Come.
He went out through the backdoor into the garden: stood to listen towards the next garden. No sound. Perhaps hanging clothes out to dry. The maid was in the garden. Fine morning.
He bent down to regard a lean file of spearmint growing by the wall. Make a summerhouse here. Scarlet runners. Virginia creepers. Want to manure the whole place over, scabby soil. A coat of liver of sulphur. All soil like that without dung. Household slops. Loam, what is this that is? The hens in the next garden: their droppings are very good top dressing. Best of all though are the cattle, especially when they are fed on those oilcakes. Mulch of dung. Best thing to clean ladies' kid gloves. Dirty cleans. Ashes too. Reclaim the whole place. Grow peas in that corner there. Lettuce. Always have fresh greens then. Still gardens have their drawbacks. That bee or bluebottle here Whitmonday.
He walked on. Where is my hat, by the way? Must have put it back on the peg. Or hanging up on the floor. Funny I don't remember that. Hallstand too full. Four umbrellas, her raincloak. Picking up the letters. Drago's shopbell ringing. Queer I was just thinking that moment. Brown brillantined hair over his collar. Just had a wash and brushup. Wonder have I time for a bath this morning. Tara street. Chap in the paybox there got away James Stephens, they say. O'Brien.
Deep voice that fellow Dlugacz has. Agendath what is it? Now, my miss. Enthusiast.
He kicked open the crazy door of the jakes. Better be careful not to get these trousers dirty for the funeral. He went in, bowing his head under the low lintel. Leaving the door ajar, amid the stench of mouldy limewash and stale cobwebs he undid his braces. Before sitting down he peered through a chink up at the nextdoor windows. The king was in his countinghouse. Nobody.
Asquat on the cuckstool he folded out his paper, turning its pages over on his bared knees. Something new and easy. No great hurry. Keep it a bit. Our prize titbit: Matcham's Masterstroke. Written by Mr Philip Beaufoy, Playgoers' Club, London. Payment at the rate of one guinea a column has been made to the writer. Three and a half. Three pounds three. Three pounds, thirteen and six.
Quietly he read, restraining himself, the first column and, yielding but resisting, began the second. Midway, his last resistance yielding, he allowed his bowels to ease themselves quietly as he read, reading still patiently that slight constipation of yesterday quite gone. Hope it's not too big bring on piles again. No, just right. So. Ah! Costive. One tabloid of cascara sagrada. Life might be so. It did not move or touch him but it was something quick and neat. Print anything now. Silly season. He read on, seated calm above his own rising smell. Neat certainly. Matcham often thinks of the masterstroke by which he won the laughing witch who now. Begins and ends morally. Hand in hand. Smart. He glanced back through what he had read and, while feeling his water flow quietly, he envied kindly Mr Beaufoy who had written it and received payment of three pounds, thirteen and six.
Might manage a sketch. By Mr and Mrs L. M. Bloom. Invent a story for some proverb. Which? Time I used to try jotting down on my cuff what she said dressing. Dislike dressing together. Nicked myself shaving. Biting her nether lip, hooking the placket of her skirt. Timing her. 9.l5. Did Roberts pay you yet? 9.20. What had Gretta Conroy on? 9.23. What possessed me to buy this comb? 9.24. I'm swelled after that cabbage. A speck of dust on the patent leather of her boot.
Rubbing smartly in turn each welt against her stockinged calf. Morning after the bazaar dance when May's band played Ponchielli's dance of the hours. Explain that: morning hours, noon, then evening coming on, then night hours. Washing her teeth. That was the first night. Her head dancing. Her fansticks clicking. Is that Boylan well off? He has money. Why? I noticed he had a good rich smell off his breath dancing. No use humming then. Allude to it. Strange kind of music that last night. The mirror was in shadow. She rubbed her handglass briskly on her woollen vest against her full wagging bub. Peering into it. Lines in her eyes. It wouldn't pan out somehow.
Evening hours, girls in grey gauze. Night hours then: black with daggers and eyemasks. Poetical idea: pink, then golden, then grey, then black. Still, true to life also. Day: then the night.
He tore away half the prize story sharply and wiped himself with it. Then he girded up his trousers, braced and buttoned himself. He pulled back the jerky shaky door of the jakes and came forth from the gloom into the air.

Humble Squatters

From the newspaper box I took an old copy of the Cape Times and went outside, closing the door behind me. I didn’t want the dog following and making a nuisance of herself. It was going to be a warm day, the sun was already high, and I was glad to be wearing a hat.

The indigenous bush has grown up on the adjoining plot to form an unkempt fynbos garden. A path snakes through the low but dense vegetation to a clearing near the centre of the property. I passed a tortoise coming my way, and then disturbed a family of francolin trying to take a dust bath.

In the clearing I set the business supplement to one side, then opened the main section in the middle and spread it on the ground. Stepping out of my Crocs, I removed shorts and underpants and draped them over a bastard olive. Then I moved onto the newspaper and squatted down.

I didn’t have more than a few moments to wait. A single fart heralded the immanent arrival, my sphincter relaxed, and the faecal serpent slithered from my colon, where it had been waiting with growing impatience. Beyond my dangling genitals I could see it settling itself on the newspaper in a rich brown coil of potter’s clay. The familiar odour of my excrement filled my nostrils in a way that I found extravagantly offensive.

Well, I thought as I tore a strip of paper off the Business Report, that was easy enough. But, directing a stream of yellow urine away from the Cape Times and enjoying the feeling of relief as my bladder emptied, I accepted that it was time to deal with the consequences.

Wiping a hairy arse can at times prove to be a messy affair, even when using good quality two-ply. Newsprint is nowhere near as absorbent as toilet paper and tends to smear rather than clean. I would hate having to contend with this mess every time I had a bowel movement.

Fully clothed once more, I was obliged to deal with the next essential stage of the ritual, which was to dispose of the repugnant product lying there on the ground. I lifted the nearest edge of the Ccape Times, which was a little soggy, and folded it over in order to cover the heap. Then the back edge forward and the two sides in. I picked up the parcel, weighing it and feeling its warmth, and realised with annoyance that I should have first spread the Business Report, ready to receive the wrapped waste matter. Now I had to set it to one side, spread the supplement, and fold the Times in on itself once more before bundling it in the additional sheets.

Back at the house I dropped the bundle into the black bag lining the dustbin and replaced the lid. Washing my hands in the bathroom, I congratulated myself on having accomplished exactly what I had set out to do. Now it was time for quiet reflection.

Why had I chosen to relieve myself in this manner, when there was a working flush toilet in a hygienic condition at my disposal? Why go outside, crouch down so close to my own dung, wipe myself with rough newspaper, and then be obliged to wrap the stuff up and dispose of it? What had prompted this unusual behaviour?

It had been the reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. That is what had got me thinking about defecation. Every now and then, over the years, I pick up my copy of ‘the most influential novel of the 20th century’, and dip into it. This time I had found myself shoving open the door of a Dublin outbuilding to discover Leopold Bloom at stool and reading the paper. Excerpt here.

So this is what they called obscene back then in the middle of the 1900s. After two World Wars and the Holocaust, they considered the description of a man taking a crap out the back too distasteful and subversive to be offered to the reading public for their entertainment and appreciation. Maybe, I mused, there is something threatening to authority about such a description. Could it be that those in power resist any suggestion that they belong to the same species as the brutish creatures they lord it over? Maybe they don’t like to be reminded that when it comes to the basic bodily functions the gulf between them and us disappears. Whether we are black or white, rich or poor, a CEO or a labourer, a man or woman, we are all subjected to the same ignominy every day of our lives. This is what serves to remind us that we are not a cut above the rest of humanity.

Of course there is no doubt that a clean toilet makes it so much easier to delude ourselves. To an extent, the seat cuts us off from the reality beneath us, and washing our hands helps to cleanse our memory of the stench. The experience is reduced to a minor private ordeal that we have no desire to dwell on. Some of us can even pretend it doesn’t happen at all!

Before long my train of thought was chugging through squatter country with me spotting any number of well-known people huddling bare bummed over their little piles of stinking muck. There was Barak Obama taking up position on the stars and stripes, and the Pope a little way off, desperately searching for his ass amongst all those whites. An old girl with her dress about her waist and fleshy pink bum just inches above the ground was identifiable as the Queen of England by the huge hat she was wearing. And who was this coming into view? Our very own State President! Crouched low, he was ringed about by several large women, and behind them were a couple of dozen youngsters, all engaged in the same smelly activity.

This scatological vision left me chuckling but I soon began to examine it in a more serious light. Could it be that by requiring every middle class citizen, along with the captains of industry, the politicians, the church leaders, the academics and the artists to regularly squat, it might be possible to improve this dysfunctional society we live in? By getting them to defecate on a sheet of newspaper, and then making them dispose of it, would surely take some of the arrogance out of their swagger and induce a little empathy for the millions of poor buggers who are denied decent sanitation.

The idea struck me as nothing less than inspired, and that is why I went out there and performed the ritual as a kind of experiment. And do I now feel more humble for having shat on the ground like an animal? Well, yes, most certainly. That is why I am making an appeal to all those who read this to set aside half an hour every third Sunday of the month in order to do likewise. I sincerely believe that by squatting together we can make a difference.

(If no garden space is available, I suggest the garage as an alternative. Failing that, it will have to be in the house, preferably on a tiled floor.)

Please look out for Humble Squatters on Facebook, and don’t forget to tweet about your bowel movement on the special day.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Henry's Comforters

When I was a young man, not yet 30, I was unfortunate enough to be caught in flagrante delicto with another fellow’s wife. The furious cuckold crept up on us and threw a jug of boiling hot water over me. Apart from the unspeakable agony I suffered, I also nearly lost my manhood. Well, I learned a lesson, and since that time have behaved impeccably whenever in the company of a married woman, especially when I suspect her of being in heat.

I have dealt with this painful incident in “The Life Of Henry Fuckit”, my autobiographical novel in progress.

Nothing like pain if you're looking for distraction. Takes your mind off things.
That's for sure. You know, I read somewhere, just recently, in some nondescript waiting room, indistinguishable from so many other waiting rooms, I read a fragment from an article in one of those coffee table magazines, covering a sublimely ridiculous range of topics, something about the appreciation of pain. (Pauses) Yes, the appreciation of pain. It said something like this: Pain isn't suffering. No, it's the pain we associate with suffering that we fear.
That's a neat turn of phrase. Sounds good. But what's it got to do with this poor cunt lying here? Prone for three weeks! And that's even without mentioning the second-degree agony! Isn't that pain enough? What's this kak about suffering without pain?
No man, for fuck's sake listen to what I'm saying. Pain on its own isn't suffering. It's not possible to adequately describe pain, the actual experience that makes you groan or scream. Because you can't communicate it you become cut off and powerless. All you can do is submit to it and concentrate on it, attentively and slavishly. That's why I agree with Joe when he says it takes your mind off your other problems. Pain demands your undivided attention.
Hmmm. So for the past three weeks lover-boy here has been totally unperturbed by the futility of his miserable existence. He's had a complete break from all existentialist anguish. A nice little holiday.
Jesus, you call it a holiday?! You call this a holiday, all this pain and humiliation? Second degree burns to your buttocks, your thighs and your scrotum? I don't think I'd call this a holiday.
Christ man, don't get me wrong. Do you think I don't have sympathy for what he's been going through? I mean, it sounds as if he nearly lost his balls when it all started going septic, what with all the shit he was lying in. If Ivor hadn't discovered him when he did I dread to think…What made you decide to call on him, Ivor?
Well, it was just coincidence, luck. I hadn't seen him for more than a year, not since my wedding. It was school holidays and I had some time on my hands. On the Tuesday I tried to phone him at the Dockyard for a chat, but they said he hadn't been in for two days. I had to go to Fish Hoek the next day, so I decided to call in at Kalk Bay on the off chance of finding him at home.
That was the Wednesday, so he'd been lying in his room for four days. Yisiss, he must have been in one helluva condition! How'd you get in? Wasn't the door locked?
No, fortunately not. I knocked and called and tried the handle. Jesus, what a sight! And the smell!
Please, man, spare us the sickening details. Cut that bit short. So you called an ambulance and got him to Groote Schuur and here he is on the road to recovery. But the cause of the…er…the injuries…the accident…? He was delirious, so how did…?
It was that little Greek shit himself who told me when I went to phone. Bastard said I should call the rubbish truck, not the ambulance. And I saw his wife there: two black eyes and an arm in a sling.
Ah, but there you are! A crime of passion. Can you blame the guy? How would you like to find your wife being pomped on a table in the back room? Especially these Mediterranean grease-balls, they take it seriously. They get married in a church and they've got their certificate - that means they've taken out sole fucking rights on the woman and that's the end of it.
Well, put like that, I suppose you can term it 'rough justice'. (Thinks about it.) Yes, Henry had it coming to him. He took a chance and it didn't pay off. Hey, Henry, how about a grape? Joe and STEVE here went and bought you a nice bunch of export grapes to help you recuperate. No? Don't mind if we try them do you? Oh yes, and I've brought you a bottle of good old Government House Port.
Yuk! Export?! No wonder South Africa's a pariah state. Ggiptooh! (Spits grape skin into sputum mug on locker.) Sour leather! (Passes sputum mug to STEVE and Ivor who also spit out half-chewed grapes.)
What did that fucking smous on the pavement say to us? Sweet as honey, Master. No pips, Master. Skins so thin and soft you don't need teeff, Master. This grapes is what the Queen of England eat, Master. Fuck the Queen of England! If that half-caste poes is still there when we…Hey. (Distracted by bowl of grapes on neighbouring patient's locker.)
Gee, it's a good thing we decided to sample them. What would Henry have thought of us? He might even have choked on one. I once met a man in the bar at the Glencairn Hotel whose uncle nearly died from choking on a grape. But there happened to be a doctor present and just when this oke had turned blue in the face and was about to fall down asphyxiated the quack grabs him from behind in a bear hug and gives him one helluva squeeze. It's a special manoeuvre, named after one of Hitler's henchmen for some reason. Either Himmler or Eichman, I forget which. Apparently the grape shot out with such force that it knocked over a full bottle of beer on the other side of the room.
Amazing. So this guy owed his life to the quick action of the doctor? Got to know what you're doing though.
Not really. This was actually a medical student, not a full-on physician, and he was a bit pissed and overdid it with the manoeuvre. Broke several ribs and punctured both lungs. Instead of choking to death on a grape Uncle drowned in his own blood. (Steve returns with exchanged grapes. Offers them round.)
Try these. Now these are what I call grapes. I'm afraid the old toppie next door will never taste the fruit of the vine again, by the looks of him. Can hardly breathe, let alone savour the sweet plump flesh of a prime honey-pot. Far gone, far gone. (Shakes his head in sorrow.) Took a dekko at one of his cards. 'Get well soon'. Jeez! 'Looking forward to having you home again.' The only way he's going home is as ash in a fancy little urn. The human propensity for self-delusion - it's truly astounding. All right, that's enough. Leave some for Henry. (Places bowl on locker.) I mean, he's the one supposed to be enjoying them.
We don't seem to be doing much to cheer you up, Henry. You've hardly said a word since we arrived. Do I detect resentment in your reticence? Maybe you feel that true friends would have been more attentive to your well-being; that our neglect is partly to blame for your… um… your accident; that if we had been at your side we would have distracted you from your besottedness; we would have jolted you out of your moral stupefaction; we would have warned you with such strident emphasis that you would have turned aside from your suicidal folly; we would have reminded you that God gave you a strong right hand in order to cope with these powerful temptations.
Come on Ivor, its all-very well for you to talk, a married man. A nice pair of tits to fondle whenever you like, and putting your cock in most nights of the week if you're not too pissed. Have you forgotten what it's like to be a starving bachelor going crazy with hunger?
Yes, Ivor, you're coming over decidedly judgmental. It must be this cosy bourgeois lifestyle doing things to you - on the permanent staff, snotty school, smart car, smart flat, smart wife with fabulous tits and a good job, as well as….
(Angrily.) Will you guys leave my wife's tits out of this?
Alright, alright. Calm down. Where's that bottle you were talking about? I'm sure the patient would appreciate a drop of medicine. Hey Henry?
Yah, let's try and cheer old Henry up. (Empties tumbler of water into urine bottle.) He can have the glass; we'll have to share the bottle, in humble deference to necessity. (Pours generously for Henry.) Yah, these hospital scenes can be fucking depressing, what with being surrounded by the sick and dying, being assailed by the mingled odours of antiseptic, disinfectant, stale food and overflowing bedpans, and listening to a background of groaning, coughing and spitting. Fucking depressing.
Come on, Henry old chap, raise yourself and have some of this lovely stuff. This is what Alfred Lord Tennysan used to drink when composing his best poetry. Or was it Lord Byron?
Is that the origin of the expression 'Pissed as a lord'? That's my boy, Henry. (Henry gets to his knees, takes glass, raises it, sniffs, takes a sip, then drinks greedily.) Cheers! To your speedy recovery. (Takes a swig and passes bottle to Ivor.)
Hey, Henry, whilst you're semi out of the prone position, now would be a good time to let us inspect your wounds. Out of curiosity and for the record so to speak. (Takes bottle and knocks it back.) Ah, just what the doctor ordered!
Good idea. Hey, Joe, pull those curtains will you? Don't want any of these visitors gawking in prurient abandon as if it's a free show or something.
Nosy bunch of fucking perverts. The visual evidence of Henry's private shame and agony is for his friends' eyes only. Not so, Henry? That's it; undo those strings. Careful now, for Christ' sake! Jesus, wow!
Henry, you poor fucker.
Fuuuck! (Henry kneels in bed, posterior aspect presented. Drains glass and puts it on the locker.)
Well, look…Jesus…at least it's all new skin. I mean it's healing up nicely now. I mean, it's not as if there's any gaping wounds. And what about the, er…the area where it went septic? That all under control too?
Henry, just bend forward a little, if you don't mind. That's it. Could actually do with a torch. (The three visitors cluster at foot of bed, peering at Henry's buttocks, thighs and testicles.)
No, not too bad. It also looks to be on the mend there. Lucky he didn't lose them.
That's for sure. No, they seem to be hanging quite normally. Once that scab comes off they'll probably discharge him.
Mm. You know, this reminds me of a nurse I once knew. A bloody wild woman with a vicious sense of humour. Our brief relationship was memorable for its violence and its depravity. Her parting shot was to say, with a horrible sneer on her face, which I can still see in my mind's eye, that not only did I have an exceptionally short prick, but that I was a freak of nature too. She claimed that, in the line of duty on the wards, and off duty as an unfettered nymphomaniac, she had come into contact with thousands of pairs of balls, all of them lopsided, but mine were the only ones to tip the scales to the left and not the right. Totally shattered my self-esteem. Took several days of humiliating surveys and research to expose her pernicious lie and restore my equilibrium.
Does it matter? Anyway, Henry doesn't have to worry. His right ball is definitely in the ascendancy. Okay, Henry, thank you. You can cover up and make yourself comfortable again. Why don't you lie on your side a bit? Shit man, look at this! (Takes bottle and drains it.) You guys have gone and finished the whole bottle. Hey, Mike! (Notices Mike de Jongh's head framed by curtains.)
Hi, man. Glad you could make it. A bit late though, they'll soon be ringing the bell and throwing us out.
Greetings, gentlemen. (Formally shakes hands.) Hello, Fackit. Glad to see you, and so sorry to hear about your mishap. (Shakes Henry's hand vigorously.) I brought you some assorted dried fruit to promote digestion and regularity. And also some reading matter - I know you've always got your nose in a book. I asked the bookshop owner to recommend something philosophical, but none of that damn existentialist crap you were so fond of. Something to uplift you and strengthen the character.
What was your choice? Dale Carnegie? Billy Graham?
(Takes book from packet.) 'The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.' Not a bad choice, Mike.
Stone cold stoicism. I don't know about STRENGTHENING the character. STRANGLING the character is more like it. Stoicism, asceticism, Spartanism, flagellation, self-deprivation, cold showers, abstinence, frugality, humility, chastity, and all manner of self-loathing. A mirthless devotion to duty and virtue. I don't know, Mike. I somehow doubt whether he's ready for the straight and narrow, but I might be wrong.
Ah, here we are Henry. This is for you. "Do not say 'How unlucky I am, that this should have happened to me!' By no means; say rather, 'How lucky I am, that it has left me with no bitterness; unshaken by the past, and undismayed by the future.'
Ag, it's all very well to urge an oke to be dispassionate and long-suffering, but does that deal with any of the underlying problems? What Henry needs to do is analyse where he went wrong and how he got himself into this condition in the first place.
Not so easy. How do you pinpoint a moment or an event in your life and say, This is where I fucked up. Too facile.
Kak. What's facile about self-analysis? I've actually given this some thought already. Cast your mind back seven or eight years to those days in Bedford Street. Free-and-easy, rebellious, irresponsible. But eventually we all got our bits of paper and moved along on the roads we'd chosen, for better or for worse. Except Henry. Henry, looking back now, don't you regret not having done a degree and embarked on something, anything, instead of wasting yourself in that bloody Dockyard? Don't you regret not having made a choice, not having made a commitment?
Steve, I think you might have put your finger on it. None of us could be said to have had a vocation. No voice called us. I started out studying Law, thoroughly detested it, and switched to Economics because it was the only subject that interested me at the time. Now I teach it. And you, with Architecture, and Joe with Librarianship. Arbitrary, arbitrary. Even our dentist here - would have preferred to be a brain surgeon or something, but you've got to be realistic.
Not Henry.
No, not Henry. This is what I'm saying. Instead of accepting some basic realities and humbling himself enough to embark on something specific, he preferred to drift without direction, uncommitted, unwilling to place his bet for fear of losing.
I'm inclined to agree with him, Henry. If you analyse it and put it in a nutshell it comes down to this: your main problem is a fundamental lack of courage. You can't face the prospect of discovering you're an unexceptional, boring nonentity like the rest of us. What do you say, Joe?
Well, I don't know. I suppose you're right, in a way. But remember how he used to talk about being a dilettante? His vocation was to be a dabbler. Not just in the arts, but in life itself. Life with a capital L. I liked that idea, and it wasn't a weak excuse for not choosing something else. Henry, my old china, I'll tell you where I think you went wrong. You lost your identity as a dilettante. Your concentration wavered and you stopped focusing on what was important to you. You stopped dabbling. Instead of remaining interested in everything under the sun, you gradually became oppressed by everything under the sun. Either you should have given up the notion of being a dilettante and chosen a career, any fucking career, as Ivor suggests, or you should have stuck to your guns and kept moving and making a superficial study of this and that, and expressing your shallow opinions on every aspect of life you chose to dabble in. (Looks at Mike, who has become increasingly restless, shifting from one foot to the other, half raising his right hand as if to gain attention and permission to interject.) What say you, Mike? You seem a little agitated, as if you were struggling to ignore the urgent demands of an anal itch.
Damn you, you…. Now listen here, I've heard nothing but bally rubbish from the three of you. Now it's my turn. Henry, I'm not going to say I don't sympathise with you and the dreadful pain you've had to suffer, but there's no getting away from the fact that you brought it upon yourself. This is the consequence of a lifestyle I warned you against years ago. Your life has fallen apart because there was no structure to it. Just drinking and smoking, reading all that obscene, subversive junk you called Literature and Philosophy, sitting about talking endless crap, attacking all the tried and tested social values, profaning every religious principle you could think of, denouncing your own country and people, applauding communists and terrorists as they murdered and burnt, and always, always despising the hard working, the responsible, the consistent, the decent. God, you make my blood boil! No wonder you've landed yourself in hot water. No wonder…
Nice pun that, Mike. Ha, ha. Hear that, Henry? Landed yourself in hot water. Didn't burn your fingers though. Burnt your bum instead.
Oh, shut up! The three of you are almost as bad as Henry. I'm surprised you haven't ended up in trouble yourselves what with the cynical approach to life and the lack of belief in anything. Henry, for your own good, you'd better change your ways. Treat this incident as a final warning. Heed the warning and start the long process of building yourself up into a proper man, with principles, integrity and backbone. Ignore the warning, and in no time you'll find yourself in the gutter and headed for an early grave. (There is silence. Then Henry struggles to his knees and crouches facing them. At last his eyes have come alight and he speaks with fierce indignation.)
Alright, enough is enough. I've had to listen to all four of you and this is my response: Fuck you too! What right have any of you to pass judgement on my life? I'm not interested in your career counselling and your sermonising. What do you know about my inner conflicts and the writhing of my soul? You advise me to capitulate and become a dispirited nonentity, then you chastise me for not having obeyed my original instincts to resist the dispirited nonentity temptation, and finally you tell me no, forget about being a dispirited nonentity and rather become an insufferable hypocrite and a bigot. Your collective advice would be enough to turn any sane man into a gibbering schizoid. You don't have the faintest idea of what it is to be a genuine dilettante. It's because you gave up the struggle without a fight, or you weren't even aware of a struggle in the first place. You talk about commitment and choice! I have made the hardest choice: to commit myself to nothing. I have elected to drift through life, letting things happen, examining whatever comes my way, observing myself, exposing myself as completely as I can to what it is to be human. Do you think that's easy? No, you are the ones who made the easy choice. You've backed into your mental caves, fortified the entrances, and now peer out apprehensively, your eyes filled with suspicion and fear. No, I don't need your sympathy. You are the pitiful ones; you are the ones too timid to live in the open. Fuck off back to your caves. Leave me to be buffeted by life, and maybe even caressed by it too, who knows. Even if it does mean the gutter and an early death, at least I will have LIVED! Go! Get out! (Shouting wildly.) Ring the bell, you fucking bitches! Look at the time. Get them out! Get them out! (Bell rings.)

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Genuine South African Braaihout

The bloody dog was barking again. Was she just bored, or was someone really going by in the road? I got up from my desk (for the third time that morning) and went to the open door, calling out, Alright, good dog! You tell them to clear off. Good dog!

She was down at the gate, on the other side of which was a white man of about 30. Shit, I thought, what does this character want? Better not be a Jehovah’s Witness. No, didn’t look like a Jehovah’s Witness. T-shirt, rugby shorts and bare feet. A boertjie.

Yes, he addressed me in Afrikaans, calling me Uncle, which further irritated me. I was in a shop in Goons Bay a while back, when an 18 year-old assistant referred to a 25 year-old customer as ‘Oom.” The customer scowled and said, ‘Jou moer! Ek is nie jou fokken oom nie!’ This is what I felt like saying to this boetie but didn’t, because I was probably older than his father, and he was only trying to be respectful, I suppose.

He asked me where he should offload the wood. His bakkie was standing in the road. Wood? Wood? Yes, braai wood. For number 68. Jesus, this guy was wasting my time! And insulting me. Did I look like a geriatric? Or some moneyed arsehole too lazy to cut his own firewood? Man, for thirty years I haven’t bought a stick of firewood. Why should I waste money on firewood when I’ve got a bush saw and an axe? And I’m surrounded by a sea of rooikrans waiting to be cut down? I’ve always cut my own wood, and I go through a lot of wood. Three fires a week, and when we had the Dover stove … It’s one of the advantages of living at the back of beyond.

He went to his bakkie for his boekie and came back. A thousand pieces for Mr Martin, number 68. What? Who ordered this? I’m not paying for wood that I never ordered.

Klaar betaal, he said .He read out the phone number.

My own boy! I had been wondering about him, the way he hadn’t cut any wood for me this time. Four weeks of self-indulgence, being waited on by his ageing parents, and now he was back in Joburg this salving of conscience.

Japie – I don’t remember if his name was Japie or Hennie, but because he looked like a plaasjapie I’ll call him Japie – anyway, Japie reversed his bakkie up against the fence. Now this bakkie had a canopy, and because the windows were covered in dust from the dirt road it was hard to see inside. When the canopy flap opened, seemingly of its own accord, and pieces of wood started flying out, I realised with some surprise that a person was in there with the load.

Japie reached into the cab and took out a little kid of about three. She had blond hair and wore a yellow track suit. She said something about ‘piepie’ and her father took her onto the grass verge, pulled down her pants and held her while she relieved herself.  Then we stood in the shade of a manatoka and watched the pieces of wood flying and the heap growing.

Japie cracked a joke about me calling up my son and saying thanks for the wood, but where’s the meat? Then the wood stopped coming and the canopy flap closed. Japie and the kid got into the cab and headed off back to the plaas, or wherever it was they came from.

I stood there looking at this huge pile of braai wood that had just been dumped on me, and thought that there was something surreal about what had happened. It had to do with the anonymous figure crouched in the back. There had been absolutely no communication with this shadow, as if it had no identity. If I had ordered a bakkie load of wood 30 years ago, this is how it would have been. Back then black people weren’t really human. But now, in 2013? Well, obviously nothing had changed. I felt a stab of guilt but it soon passed when it occurred to me that I now had to get all this wood up to the house. That would be my penance.