Wednesday is Ben’s Day

I know somebody who knows somebody who recently adopted a baby in her fifties. The woman, not the baby. Although it must be said that Donald Trump has shown it’s quite possible to be a baby well into your seventies.

I hope I’m not offending anyone when I say you would have to be certifiably insane to want anything at all to do with babies right now. I mean more the deliberate conceiving of, I suppose. If the whelp has already been spawned and is up for adoption and you feel your life hasn’t been disrupted enough, then good luck to you. Personally, I’d sooner adopt a dog.

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And so begins today’s Cut ‘n Run column in The Citizen.

In terms of the new rules, you’ll have to pay money if you want to read the rest. Not to me, unfortunately. To the newspaper. Who, I guess, ends up paying me for it anyway. It’s a bit like money laundering.

Subscribe monthly or even pay for just a single edition. That’s R7.70. You can’t even get a beer for that. Not that you can get a beer.

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The art of applying for a job – #3

Here is #3 in my helpful series on what the ideal job application should look like.

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To the Directorate: Agricultural Disaster Management for the position of Agricultural Scientist

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am not altogether sure why you are looking for a scientist when it is patently obvious that you don’t need to be an expert to work in the agricultural field. Whether you are planting crops or cattle, the rules are the same: Give them plenty of water and watch out for poachers. It’s common sense, really.

When it comes to managing disasters, I am your man. You will doubtlessly agree that one of the biggest disasters to hit agriculture in this country occurred when cheap papsak wine was banned. This forced thousands of farmworkers to rely on the unethical ‘money’ system whereby they were expected to take hard cash and exchange it for bottles of more expensive wine. As your new scientist, I will work hard to ensure a return to the more equitable dop system.

I will also focus on cloning as an agricultural tool. I can assure you that the breeding of genetically modified employees will go a long way towards improving productivity. Not only will I create a workforce capable of staying awake for the duration of the planting and harvesting seasons, but, through DNA engineering, I intend creating farm animals that are just as unique to South Africa.

We have all driven through farmlands and seen herds of cows, goats, pigs and whatnot lolling about idly sunning themselves or, worse, fast asleep. My dream is to create transgenic animals that utilise their time more efficiently. Imagine what the world would think of us if we began rearing Nguni cattle that laid eggs! Instead of giving birth to a single calf once a year, they could produce one every 24 hours. While hatching the egg, the cow could use the time to milk itself.

Maize is our country’s staple crop. Second only to the potato, it is also our country’s most boring crop. Let’s face it. Maize is dull. It might have fibre but it lacks character. Nobody talks about it because there is so little to say. As your chief scientist, I will take it upon myself to crossbreed maize with marijuana.

The new crop, mieliejuana, will be tasty and filling while simultaneously provoking feelings of euphoria and goodwill. The more people eat, the happier they become. I estimate that within six months of coming on the market, the mieliejuana plant will have created a completely crime-free society. A possible side effect is that nobody will want to work. To counter this, I intend developing a nutritional pick-me-up hybrid plant made from khat and paramethoxyamphetamine.

I understand that people like Dr Wouter Basson have given white scientists a bad reputation, but I can assure you that I have never killed anyone. Not deliberately, anyway.

Please let me know when I can report for work.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Ben Trovato

 

Durban Poison still available

The bastard pandemic interrupted distribution of my latest book, Durban Poison, but copies can still be ordered from bookshops and online through sites like Loot. Nice try, Covid-19.

Check out some reviews:

Book Review: Durban Poison

 

New from Ben Trovato – Durban Poison: A Collection of Vitriol and Wit

‘Durban Poison: A Collection of Vitriol and Wit’ by Ben Trovato is the funniest book I’ve read all year

Durban Poison is a marvellously toxic read

Read of the Week

An interview with the author:

https://www.iol.co.za/sunday-tribune/i-aim-for-100-words-per-beer-ben-trovato-talks-new-book-36052829

Durban Poison is available from:

https://www.loot.co.za/search?cat=qb&terms=Durban+Poison

https://www.kobo.com/ww/en/ebook/durban-poison-1

https://www.exclusivebooks.co.za/product/9781928420668

 

The art of applying for a job – #2

Here is #2 in my helpful series on what the ideal job application should look like.

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To Gold Fields for the position of Senior Metallurgist

Dear Sir or Madam,

Ever since I was a boy I have wanted to work on a gold mine. There is something about the idea of being 30kms underground with a group of rough men stripped to the waist and gleaming with sweat that makes me come over all dizzy and weak. Not too weak to wield a power tool, mind you.

It is probably best to tell you right now that I am not 100% sure what it is exactly that a Senior Mentalurgerist does. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that this is the person who encourages the miners to keep working when their spirits are low. Like, for instance, just after a rock fall, when they might need cheering up the most. Or when their hopes have once again been crushed during wage talks.

One of my morale-boosting techniques would be to apply a smattering of gold dust to my face and put on a bit of a show for the lads. There is nothing like a song and dance to take one’s mind off the prospect of a lingering, painful death, whether through suffocation or poverty.

The mental state of your workers is important and you will not regret hiring me. I would also like to assure you that I will not be stealing any of your gold. I have been told that it is silver and not gold that brings out my eyes and I have no use for this drab rock. Or metal. Or whatever the hell it is.

Please do not go to any extra trouble as far as clothing or equipment goes. I have my own orange jumpsuit from when I worked for six months in a state facility just outside Mafikeng. I also have a drill and a plastic helmet thingy from my days as the lead singer in a Village People tribute band.

Trust me. I have what it takes to entertain the boys down below. If you get my drift.

Yours sincerely,

Ben ‘Dover’ Trovato

A new series: The art of applying for a job

The mayhem being wrought by Covid-19 has, with considerable help from the government, caused thousands of people to lose their jobs. Many are looking outside their areas of expertise and will have to take whatever they can find.

I am highly experienced in the field of job-seeking and, as a public service, will be publishing a series of posts to give you an idea of what the ideal application should look like.

You can thank me later.

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Application to Sea Harvest for Fleet Manager: Trawling Division

Dear Sir,

You might as well save yourself some time and shred all the other applications right now. I am your man. There is no doubt about it. I know boats. I was born in a boat. I went to school on a boat. Some people say I am half man, half boat. More importantly, I know fish. Me and fish, we go back. I have hooked, netted, gaffed and bludgeoned, cooked, grilled, fried and filleted everything from kabeljou to koi.

You need a real man for a job like this. A man who enjoys being at sea with other men for weeks at a time. A man who knows how to discipline his crew. Fishermen respond well to violence. They understand it better than they understand their wives. If one of my crew takes too many drugs and gets out of hand, I won’t have to say a word. I will let Gabriel, my tungsten steel baseball bat, do all the talking. This is how a captain gets respect. And this is why I have never had a mutiny on my hands.

I assume it is company policy to provide your fishermen with automatic weapons and RPG7 grenade launchers. I would not want to work for you otherwise. When my crew and I are off the coast of Somalia, or even Muizenberg, it is essential that we are not outgunned by pirates. Once, while fishing for giant squid off Mozambique, I single-handedly slaughtered 27 wild-eyed buccaneers who were attempting to commandeer my ship and make off with its precious cargo. Some of them were my own men.

Having said that, I should make it clear that I am not averse to a spot of plundering of my own. We can discuss this further when I report for work, but I expect that Sea Harvest is open to a little turning of the old blind eye when it comes to pillaging vessels owned by the competition. I am sure you will agree that maritime piracy is the best way to maximise catch rates in this harsh economic climate.

There is nothing stopping us from running up the Jolly Roger and calling ourselves the Vikings of the Atlantic. On stormy days, our boats can raid villages along the Angolan coast, capture hundreds of slaves and put them to work in your processing plants. Catching fish will, however, remain our core business.

As fleet manager, I intend stepping up the rum ration.

Yours sincerely,

“Black Ben” Trovato.

PS. Well done on exporting all your prime quality fish. South Africans can’t tell their bass from their butterfish. Let them eat hake.

Buy the ticket, take the ride

Dear SANParks,

I hear you are looking for people to help you kill some animals. Well, look no further. I am your man. This filthy pandemic, and our government’s unhinged response to it, has made me very angry. I have been wanting to murder something since March. Thing is, you kill a person these days and you can go to jail for up to, I don’t know, what’s the going rate … two weeks? A month?

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Right. There’s obviously more to this than meets the eye. This is the start of the column that appears in today’s edition of The Citizen.

The editor, who graciously offered to host my column 18 months ago, has asked me to refrain from posting my weekly literary expectorations here and on social media.

He would prefer it that my unruly legion of readers either bought or subscribed to the newspaper if they wished to read my column. This is understandable.

Prostitutes are faced with a similar situation when it comes to men who, swan-like, pledge their loyalty to only one person forever more. It’s bad for business. If you can get the same service for free at home, why would you pay to get it from us?

Since I am now aware that the editor knows I have been posting my column here a day or two after he has had his way with it, let me just say that I am in no way equating him with a prostitute. I felt in need of a metaphor and it was the only one that came along.

We live in a world of unfairness and it would seem, well, unfair, to add to it. Not without being rewarded, anyway. I post my Citizen column online in the hope that as many people as possible will read it and then shower me with adoration. Or hate mail. I don’t really mind either way. Like any decent drug dealer, I know distribution is the key that unlocks the golden pig. I have yet to find the pig.

By whorishly putting my words about for any grizzled punter to come along and read for free, I am taking money out of the mouths of everyone who works at The Citizen.

Okay, that might be overstating things. But it seems fairly obvious that the paper wouldn’t be able to afford columnists (or anything at all) if nobody bought it. By offering my column for free, once it’s been published, I am effectively sabotaging myself. It’s almost Shakespearean.

So. There it is. If you love me as much as you say you do, and I’ve been married twice so there’s no reason to think you’re lying, you will either buy the paper or subscribe. If you’re really strapped, you can even just buy the Wednesday edition, when my column comes out. It’s, like, R7 or something. If you can’t afford that, you have no business being online.

And for those of you who think Eschel Rhoodie is still in charge of The Citizen, you can fuck right off.

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5 ways to get the perfect pandemic body

Lockdown has gnawed away at my fitness levels and I need to remedy this in case we become a proper police state. I don’t want to have Cele’s boys after me and find myself having to stop every couple of minutes to catch my breath. Mind you, they’d be doing the same. It would be the least dramatic foot chase ever. If our rest periods coincided, we could keep going for months. We’d have to go in circles because of the inter-provincial travel ban.

I got more exercise during Level 5 then I do in this latest turbocharged 24-karat deluxe version of Level 3. That’s because we were told that exercise, under Level 5, was not allowed. If you tell me not to do something, you can be sure I’ll do it. My parents realised early on that I was a prime target for reverse psychology. My mother would tell me that under no circumstances was I to tidy my bedroom while she was out. And if I dared do the dishes, there’d be trouble. The house would be sparkling when she got back.

It got worse as I grew up. People would tell me not to binge drink or take drugs. Don’t study journalism or sleep with other men’s girlfriends, they’d say. And never, ever get married. I showed them, alright. Oh, yes.

Then, many years later, someone in China eats a dodgy bat and coughs on someone else and the next thing you know, Cyril Ramaphosa is telling me I’m not allowed to exercise. I am, however, permitted to go to the supermarket should food become absolutely necessary. I would then go to Checkers and do push-ups in the canned goods aisle, sit-ups in the dairy department and jog between the baked goods and fresh produce sections. Take that, government. I’ll see your Level 5 and raise you Level Kiss-My-Ass.

They must have got wind that people were illegally exercising while shopping and subsequently brought us up to Level 4. The moment they said we were allowed out to exercise between 6am and 9am, I lost all interest.

Then came Level 3 version 1.0 and we were told we could exercise whenever we liked. That was the beginning of the end. It was as if they no longer cared about people who could only do something in reaction to being told not to do it.

I was devastated and stayed in bed for … well, I’m writing this from my bed now. I get up occasionally to visit the bathroom and kitchen, but it’s not much as far as cardio workouts go.

The moment I heard we were no longer allowed to buy alcohol, I put in an order with my local bootlegger for seven bottles of gin. I don’t even particularly like gin. It makes me cry. Then again, right now cat videos make me cry. Show me a crippled labrador splashing in a puddle and I’m a mess for days.

But there’s little joy to be found in illicit gin if one is unable to muster the strength to remove the cap from the tonic, let alone find the motivation to refill the ice trays. As for locating a knife sharp enough to slice the lemon that you don’t even have, the less said the better.

Flicking through Facebook with my last functional finger, an advert for a fitness website popped up. “Highly effective core exercises for seniors – no equipment needed.” What? I’m not a … am I? Zuckerberg’s androids must be mistaking me for someone else. Someone old.

Anyway, what exactly is a senior? I might be a little delusional at times, but I do know that I’m not a junior. The picture on the website is of an old man standing on one leg with his eyes closed. Please. I can do that. I did karate when I was a kid. My sensei, who carried a gun in his briefcase, told us the trick was to picture yourself as a tree with roots in the ground. I would practice in the garden at home and my sister would sneak up and water me. That explains why I grew half a metre in Grade 9.

“The core exercises in this article have been tested by over 1000 seniors!” They don’t say what happened after that. Did anyone die? Were there lawsuits?

They give a dictionary definition of the word “core”, which I found unhelpful, and explain how a strong core helps reduce the risk of falling. Thanks chaps, but the ban on alcohol has taken care of that already.

Then it starts. “Pretend I’m standing in front of you. Now imagine I have my hands on your shoulders and I trying to push you away. What would your reaction be?” Well, my first reaction would be to correct your grammar. Then, if you were a bloke, I’d knee you swiftly in the testicles. If you were a woman, I would, like any red-blooded South African man, take it as a sign that you fancied me.

The correct reaction, apparently, is to brace all my muscles and make my body stiff. And that’s what it feels like to engage your core. It also feels like rigor mortis prematurely setting in.

I am told to brace my core while walking, taking stairs, moving objects and picking things up off the floor. That’s ridiculous. I pay other people to do those things for me. Anyway, I don’t have any damn core muscles to brace. That’s why I’m doing this. If there was money involved, I’d ask for it back.

Now we get to the “highly effective core exercises for seniors”. Maybe they mean señors. It’s probably a Mexican thing. Make strong for to Rio Grande cross.

The first exercise is to bring your knees to your chest while standing. Not at the same time, obviously. You are allowed to hold onto a chair, presumably if you’re very hungover. The recommendation is: “x2 sets of x5-8 repetitions”. What does this mean? If I wanted a maths test, I’d go somewhere else. It almost made me give up.

Exercise #2 is basically sitting on a chair, then standing, then sitting, then standing … if you do this in public, men in white coats will come to take you away.

#3 is Heel Raises. In which you raise yourself on your toes. “Once you get as high as possible, pause for one second…” I don’t think anyone’s ever got as high as possible. New limits are being set all the time. Worth a try, though.

#4 is Bird Dog. I liked the sound of this one. Scampering about the neighbourhood, picking up dead pigeons with my mouth and giving them to the needy. Sadly, not. It does involve going down on all fours, though, but that’s where the fun ends.

#5 is Bridges. You lie on your back and repeatedly thrust your hips into the air. I felt comfortable with this one and kept going until I started having flashbacks to my first honeymoon and wound up in the foetal position whimpering like an abandoned chimp.

We are told to do this routine three times a week. Well, that’s ruined it. If they had instructed me to never try it again, I’d be at it all the time.

I felt a little better the next day when I read a headline that said, “Fitness industry on the verge of collapse.” I’m no virgin and I might not be very active, but if an entire industry can collapse without anyone caring, then so can I.

 

  • This column first appeared in The Citizen on 22 July. More every Wednesday. Subscribe here: https://citizen.co.za/bundle-subscriptions/

That time I did my bit for Mandela Day

My contribution to Mandela Day 2020 is to repost this column I wrote a few years ago at a time when hospitals weren’t quite the disaster zones they are today.

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On Mandela Day, the entrance to Addington Hospital resembled the entrance to the municipal market in Maputo when a fresh shipment of cocaine arrives. The doorway was jammed with hawkers and hustlers, malingerers and malcontents, and at least one second-hand sardine salesman, making it almost impossible for me and Ted to get inside.

“Out of our way, you murderous troglodytes!” Ted shouted, swinging his mop. “We’re on a mission from God!” That’s a bit strong, I thought. Mandela might be responsible for delivering South Africa unto democracy and saving our lily-white asses, but he’s not the ruler of heaven and earth. I am.

Earlier, we had agreed that this year we would do the 67 minutes of community service required of all red-blooded patriots. It seemed a small enough sacrifice compared to what Mandela went through, although having seen this week’s pictures of him at 94, it does seem as if island life agreed with him. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but plenty of fresh sea air, simple meals and early nights do have their benefits. If you lack the discipline to stick with it, hire a baton-wielding white supremacist to keep you focused.

I suggested we spend 67 minutes on North Beach assisting the lifeguards but Ted had ideas of his own. He had heard people were being asked to report to Addington Hospital to help clean up this abysmal hell-hole. Having something of a history with this terrible place, I was less than enchanted. As a 10-year-old, I spent Christmas Day there having my face stitched up after my uncle tried to kill me with a surfboard. Then, a decade later, a couple of friends carried me in at 2am after a car ploughed into me. The driver was drunk, I was drunk, my friends were drunk, the doctors and nurses were drunk. It was one of those steamy summer nights when everyone in Durban is either drunk or stoned.

Anyway. I wasn’t wild about returning to a place that held such painful memories.

“What do you find in hospitals?” he said, trying to open a beer in my eye socket. I pushed him off. “Sick people,” I said, making the international sign for vomiting. “And drugs,” he said, wiggling his hips. “Lots and lots of them.”

Ted’s plan was that while hundreds of sanctimonious do-gooders were cleaning this pestilential bastion of squalor and disease, we would take advantage of the confusion and stock up on recreational pharmaceuticals.

It was a stupid plan fraught with such danger and potential for disaster that I thought it might just work. So, he with his mop and me with my broom, we fought our way off the street and into the hospital. A security guard tried to stop us but we were too quick for him.

Before we could get into the elevator, a woman with hippopotamic hips and a face like a melted Frisbee escorted us to the volunteer registration station. I was reluctant to register because once your name is on a government list, you’ll spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder. Once they know there are people out there who are prepared to work for free and don’t belong to a union, you will never sleep easily. The knock on your door could come at any time.

“Come quickly,” they will say. “A million Zimbabweans need to be processed.” Or, “Get dressed, you’re the commissioner of police this week.”

We were each handed a lurid orange bib and a bottle of window cleaner and strict instructions not to go above the second floor. Ted said if the plan failed, we could always become car guards. I warned him about self-fulfilling prophesies but he said I was being paranoid and referred me to the psychiatric ward.

We got into the lift and hit the button for the 15th floor. There wasn’t much up there apart from a view of the harbour and a chapel that looked like it was designed by a committee of German atheists.

Working our way down the stairwell, we stopped off at every floor and went into every ward. You can tell the difference between state and private hospitals by the smell. Private hospitals smell of disinfectant. Government hospitals smell of stasis. And overtime.

We walked through the tuberculosis ward and I held my breath for seven minutes. Ted seemed to think TB wasn’t contagious and offered to lick the wall to prove it. His tongue was rubbing up against the peeling paint when a sister, who looked more like a brother, came around the corner and saw this monstrous act of depravity. In accordance with the government’s see-no-evil policy, she walked right on by.

Many of the wards showed no signs of life, let alone drugs. The obstetrics and gynae department was unnaturally quiet. I was disappointed. There is no more exquisite sound than a woman in full throat during a natural birth.

Ted wandered off hoping to stumble across some kind of pre-parturition peep show while I studied a poster showing a range of labour positions. If Cosatu were that flexible this country’s unemployment crisis would be over.

The baby ward was sealed off with glass doors, presumably to keep the stench from permeating the entire building. It’s not working. They need the kind of doors that are fitted to the Large Hadron Collider.

We sniffed around the circumcision clinic but everything was locked up, which was fortuitous because at this point we would have gladly traded half our willies for a couple of shots of pethidine.

Out on the street, freshly absorbed pathogens incubating in our bodies, a man handed Ted five rand before getting into his car. Better than a kick in the teeth, I suppose.

A last word of advice. If you’re going to be a patient at Addington, you might want to bring your own drugs.

Bored in the RSA

I am starting to get the feeling this government might not think we’re all that bright. I can understand where it comes from, I suppose, this notion that South Africans are morons. I can almost hear the conversations at the Coronavirus Command Council.

“The people will never fall for that.”

“Of course they will. They keep voting for us, right? They’re complete idiots.”

This is why our president can look us in the eye and tell us that we’re still on Level 3 when it’s quite clear that we are, in fact, somewhere between Mordor and Saudi Arabia.

There are still people out there who think Cyril Ramaphosa is some kind of divine saviour. Sure, Jacob Zuma set the bar as low as it could go, so it’s perhaps understandable that Cyril wormed his way into our hearts. Next to Zuma, even Trump would have been an improvement. But only just.

Somehow, though, there are those who have forgotten that politicians are professional blame-shifters with only a tangential entanglement with the truth.

If it were up to me, Ramaphosa would be strapped into a polygraph machine for the duration of Fellow South Africans. The sophistry starts right off the bat. By calling us his fellow South Africans, he is telling us that we are the same, that we are part of one glorious united brotherhood. That his struggles are our struggles. Bollocks. He’s worth R6-billion. We are only his fellow South Africans in that we share a common citizenship.

And when he says things like, “After careful consideration of expert advice…” what he really means is, “After days spent in Zoom meetings screaming, crying and threatening each other…”

A tried-and-tested method of torture is to give someone something they need, and then take it away. Then give it back. And take it away again. Repeat until they confess or go mad. Yes, obviously I’m talking about alcohol. I wasn’t the only fellow South African with “bottle store” at the top of Monday’s to-do list. Banning booze with immediate effect seemed unnecessarily cruel and vindictive. He couldn’t give us a day or two to stock up?

We are told that the public health system is coming apart at the seams because some people couldn’t handle their liquor and wound up hogging all the hospital beds. Yes, that’s the reason. Definitely not because the government failed to adequately prepare for the surge.

Anyway, why should people with Covid-19 be more entitled to a hospital bed than someone who does themselves a mischief while drunk? It’s elitist and could lead to Covid patients demanding Woolworths food and Netflix. There are people in hospital with Covid because they didn’t wear a mask, keep their distance from others or bother to wash their hands. That’s no less irresponsible than the guy in the next bed who got stabbed in the face by his mother for not sharing the last of the brandy.

I have been drinking for decades (pausing only to draw breath or shout for more beer) and have never hurt anyone other than myself. Nothing that required hospitalisation, I might add. Injuries to one’s person are among the less agreeable side effects of alcohol, but it’s an occupational hazard and those who drink know the risks.

We also know that some people handle alcohol better than others. It’s been that way since Nero got wasted and knocked over a candle, causing Rome to burn to the ground. When he woke up, he blamed the Christians and fed them to the lions.

By banning alcohol, the government is punishing the majority for the actions of a tiny minority. It’s absurd. Collective responsibility is an ANC thing. It’s how they shield each other from consequences. The same principle can’t be applied to the entire population. It’s like when King Herod ordered the execution of all boy children under the age of two because someone’s toddler got on his nerves. Stopping us from drinking responsibly is our own massacre of the innocents.

We are, right now, the only non-Muslim country in the world where alcohol is outlawed. Throw in the face coverings, a ban on smoking and patrols by Mustafa Bheki bin Cele’s morality police and we’re well on our way to becoming a caliphate. If we are going the Sharia law route, we might as well start chopping off the hands of those who steal. The number of amputees in municipalities alone would keep the prosthetics industry going for years.

I don’t mind the curfew so much. Sure, it’s a brutal violation of our right to freedom of movement, but if you are on the streets after 9pm in winter, you’re either a rapist or homeless and deserve to be locked up.

The good news is that we can now go to auctions, which are full of hustlers and gangsters, and we can also go to parks, which are full of muggers and perverts. Whoopee.

I’m still confused about tourism. Not as confused as tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, admittedly, but there are some things I don’t get. A couple of weeks ago, we could travel for leisure inside our provinces and stay in hotels and guesthouses. Now we aren’t allowed to stay anywhere. Presumably we can still travel, but we have to sleep in our cars or under a tree on the side of the road and if we get eaten by lions or Christians, it’s our own damn fault.

The taxi industry, which could give the official opposition a few pointers on how to behave like a government in waiting, has succeeded in scaring the ANC into submission. Taxis get you where you want to be – but then so does alcohol. In both cases, the wheels sometimes come off. Anyway.

Taxi drivers are now free to fill every seat on trips shorter than 200kms. What could possibly go wrong? As long as everyone wears a mask ha ha. Also, the windows must stay open. Cape Town’s hospitals will soon be overflowing with hypothermia victims.

Returning to the booze ban. I think we all agree that alcohol and guns are equally dangerous in the wrong hands. So let’s do this. If you want to buy liquor, you must be registered on a government database. You will be asked to complete a psychological profile and your records will be checked for any alcohol-related incidents.

If your registration is approved, you will have to undergo a competency test. After booking at a designated centre, an official from the newly formed Ministry of Alcohol will put you through your paces. Different drinks will be matched with different scenarios. For instance, you are given nine double brandies and locked in a room with a woman who pokes you in the chest and shouts at you for being drunk. Or you are given a dozen beers and a child to look after. Or you are placed in a simulated bar environment and plied with tequila shooters while being jostled by bearded men who taunt you about your religious and political beliefs.

Your response is carefully monitored. Any loss of control or violent outbursts and your registration is cancelled, your name goes on a national blacklist, and you will never be served alcohol again.

The sheer bureaucracy will encourage many people to give up drinking altogether. Or make them want to drink more.

Finally, before the cleaners came in to get rid of the smoke and clear away the mirrors, Ramaphosa ended Sunday’s requiem for a nightmare by saying, “We will restore our country to health and prosperity.”

The last line went unspoken: “But if we don’t, it will be your fault.”

 

  • This column first appeared in The Citizen on 15 July. More every Wednesday. Subscribe here: https://citizen.co.za/bundle-subscriptions/

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Scotch, say the pie rats

Hello. My name is Ben, and I am an addict.

Ever since the government unbanned the sale and possession of hot pies, I have been roaming the streets looking to score. I can’t get enough of them. No sooner have I wolfed a mutton curry than I want a chicken and mushroom. I finish that and almost immediately I need a steak and kidney.

Cornish pasties are the crack cocaine of pies. It doesn’t matter how many other kinds I’ve already had, if I can’t get my hands on a Cornish to wrap up it all up, I become jittery and more unpleasant than usual. Not violent. Not yet, anyway. Just insufferable in a passively-aggressive taciturn kind of way. Women will know what I’m talking about.

Since the government’s berserk clampdown on hot pies and its subsequent flip-flop (which, incidentally, might still be banned), some outlets remain afraid to stock them. Pies, not flip-flops. I imagine they fear some sort of Orwellian trap. They could be right. Lure us into a false sense of security and then, once our trolleys and faces are stuffed with pies, BAM! It’s spreadeagled in the parking lot with a knee on the neck and a whole lot of shouting about the source of the pies. We pie addicts don’t snitch. Pie dealers are safe. They need to know this. I would sooner give up my first born than the name of a reliable pie merchant.

It’s like what happened with marijuana, except in reverse. One day you’re doing fifteen to life for a joint, and the next, a sergeant with a sniffer dog is helping you find the stash you lost in your garage. That’s South Africa for you.

So anyway. On Sunday morning I was jonesing bad for a Cornish. My regular supplier was out. He said there’d been a run on Cornishes just after midnight and that a fresh shipment was being held up at the border. He refused to say which border. I think he’s lying. There’s no such thing as cross-border trafficking in pasties. If I do become a snitch, and I’m not saying I will, his name will be the first I give up.

There’s only one other dealer I know of that supplies proper quality gear. Pies that are 85% pure and rarely cut with penguin giblets or other unethical substances smuggled in from the coast. Pies that will make your pupils dilate and your heart race. That dealer is King Pie. If you want to make it in the cutthroat pie trade, you don’t want to be fannying about with cryptic names. You don’t want people coming around wanting to put R50 on number seven in the fourth race. No ambiguity. That’s the secret. Hide in plain sight. The Pie Police aren’t the brightest. They wouldn’t suspect a thing. Besides, they’ve all been redeployed to the Cigarette Squad.

There’s a King Pie in my area that’s too far to walk and too close to drive. It’s a problem. I might have to move. It would be easier if they moved. Thinking I’d suggest this to management, I drove 800m there, parked the car, and walked the remaining 200m. It seemed a healthy compromise.

Fellow pie junkies will know that King Pie is not a shop. Not in the sense that Woolworths is a shop. There is no standing in a hellish queue, then having your hands disfigured by dangerously cheap sanitiser before being allowed inside to browse like a gormless five-toed ungulate. It’s a counter. There is no going inside, per se.

I walked past a few times to make sure it wasn’t a set-up. For all I knew, the government had taken us back to Level 5 on my way over and undercover agents were watching every King Pie in the country.

Steeled for an ambush, I bellied up to the counter. “Cornish,” I said, “How many?” said the dealer. “All of them,” I said, checking over my shoulder. When I turned back, I expected to find her filling the bags. Instead, she had a gun pointed at my head. Slowly, I raised my hands. “I’m not a cop,” I said. “Just give me the good stuff and you’ll never see me again.”

Her face hardened and she extended her arm until the barrel was virtually pressed against my forehead. I closed my eyes. I was happy to die in the presence of my beloved pies. There are worse ways to go. Eating a pie as she pulled the trigger would have been first prize, but I was in no position to make demands.

After what seemed like an eternity, I heard her say, “35.6.” I opened my eyes. She had lowered the gun and was moving to the warmer with a pair of tongs. I watched her warily as she emptied the Cornish section.

“What?” I said.

“35.6,” she said. “You’re normal.” It’s been a while since anyone called me that and I wasn’t sure how it made me feel.

Right away, I went through the five stages of grief, except it wasn’t grief I was feeling and there were only two stages. Disbelief followed by outrage. Here I was, needing pies pretty damn badly, and this stranger had decided, of her own volition, to see if I was afflicted with the coronavirus.

You come in for a sack of pies and the next thing you know, someone presses a hidden button or blows a whistle and before you can flee, you’re wrestled to the floor by thugs in hazmat suits and dragged off to a rat-infested government facility to spend the rest of your life in quarantine. Doesn’t seem right. I turned bright red and my temperature shot up to at least 39.6. It took three Cornishes and a sausage roll to bring it down to manageable levels.

“How very dare you?” I shouted, spraying gristle across the counter. Things are spiralling out of control. What’s next? Cops outside bottle stores taking DNA samples to check if you’ve killed anyone? Psych students in shopping centres randomly selecting people to undergo the Hare Psychopathy Checklist? Actually, that’s not a bad idea.

You might think this flagrant violation of one’s rights couldn’t get any worse, but it does. Guy Hawthorne, who works at this very newspaper, had the gun pointed at his head at three different stores in under 45 minutes. His readings were 32.4, 35.8 and 33.7. You don’t do this to South African journalists of Scottish extraction. These people are unpredictable at the best of times and are almost certainly going to react badly to the news that they are in the final stages of hypothermia and will probably be dead within an hour.

Responding to the health emergency in the only way he knows how, Guy reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a half-jack of Highland Queen and, with a bloodcurdling cry last heard at the Battle of Bannockburn, brought himself back from the brink right there and then.

“Take it now, ye wee sassenach!” he shouted. So she did. This time, it was 46.5 and he was asked to leave the mall at once. He was never going to go quietly. His sort rarely do.

“They may take our temperatures,” he shouted, as security closed in, “but they will never take our freedom!”