The festive season is almost here. And we all know what that means. Lying naked on the beach guzzling buckets of fried chicken washed down with barrels of beer. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. This happy holiday scenario has a dark side that all too often leaves a trail of death and misery in its wake.
Nobody seems to know exactly how many people drown off South Africa’s beaches each year because some of them simply vanish and their bodies are never found. In the case of white people, these are generally recorded as bona fide drownings. But if the person is from one of the war-torn, poverty-stricken basket-cases east, west and north of us, then he probably swam underwater for a bit, came up where nobody could see him and hitchhiked to Johannesburg where he is waiting tables in Rosebank by day and selling crack in Hillbrow by night.
In cases like these, police divers don’t even bother getting out of their cars. In their report, they use the word “suspect” rather than “victim” and “disappeared” instead of “drowned”.
If you do find yourself drowning this holiday, there are two ways to get the lifeguard’s attention. The first is to put on a blonde wig and scream in a high-pitched girly voice. Lifesavers rarely bother to save men unless they themselves are gay. I can’t speak for you, but I would rather drown than be dragged from the surf by a raving queen in a little red Speedo who then gives me mouth-to-mouth in front of a rowdy crowd shouting, “Get in there! Slip him some tongue!”
The second is to raise your right arm high enough for him to see the R200 note in your hand. When he swims out to you, he is going to want to slap you around a bit. This is what lifesavers do to punish bathers for distracting them from flirting with underage farm girls. The slapping will make you hysterical. To calm you down, he will then punch or even headbutt you. It is important to remember that the Marquis of Queensbury rules do not apply on the high seas. Retaliate by gouging his eyes, pulling his hair and biting his face. Fight like a girl. Nobody can see you out there. Adrenalin will course through your body and you will begin to get the upper hand. Your assailant’s resolve will weaken and he will try to get away from you. Go after him. When you get within striking distance, dive down and swim underwater. He will turn around and think that you have drowned. Sink your teeth into the fleshy part of his leg. He will believe a shark is attacking him and he will pass out with fright.
Flip onto your back and drag his body on top of yours. Use one arm to hold his head above water. Paddle backwards with your free arm. If he regains consciousness, tighten your grip and cut off his oxygen supply. If you feel it is necessary to crank up the humiliation levels, you may want to remove his Speedo before you get to the beach. By the time you hit the sand, a crowd will have gathered. If there are news cameras on the scene, pretend to give him mouth-to-mouth. Make sure the reporters get your name right and then leave the area the moment the lifeguard’s eyes open.
Another thing you will encounter this festive season are do-gooders consistently warning you not to drink and swim. I have never heard such nonsense. What are you going to do? Lose control on the backstroke and sideswipe a buoy? Burst a water-wing and roll? Have a head-on collision with a jellyfish? The ocean is by far the safest place in which to drink. For a start, it is impossible to fall over. That means no more inexplicable cuts and bruises the next day. There are no roadblocks to ruin your life. No chance of irresponsible sex with someone whose name you can’t remember. The only problem I ever encountered while drinking and swimming was my beer getting diluted with seawater.
Apart from the great white shark and the Congolese man selling beaded flowers, the thing next most likely to ruin your day at the beach is the bluebottle. This little scoundrel is also known as the Portuguese Man o’ War, although we are no longer allowed to call them that because the Portuguese say it portrays them as an excitable people who are always up for a fight. I thought that was the whole point of being Portuguese.
The tentacles of the bluebottle trail through the water with the aim of snaring plankton and small crustaceans. Whenever I go into the sea, they trail through my shorts with the aim of snaring my testicles. Growing up in Durban, I was stung so many times that my friends began calling me Welt Boy.
One of the first times I was stung, a friend said the best way to make the pain go away was to urinate on the affected area. Since I had been stung on my neck, he volunteered to help out. Our friendship was never the same after that. As I grew up, I heard more and more about people weeing on each other without even having been stung by bluebottles. As far as I could tell, they hadn’t even been near a beach.
I find it all rather disturbing.