Let the vax speak for themselves

The global scramble for Covid vaccines is becoming a little undignified. Show some class, people. Let’s try to keep this fight clean.

Right now, vaccines are all anyone seems to care about. Well, that and whether the festering human groundhog in the White House will try to blow something up before being dragged kicking and screaming from the Oval Office.

There are at least 40 governments that have started vaccinating their citizens. South Africa is not among them, for reasons which make perfect sense and no sense at all. This is how it should be. One of the good things about being South African is that we are so accustomed to being lied to and screwed over that we can no longer tell what is in our best interests. I don’t know why this is a good thing. It’s just a feeling I have. I’m sure it will pass.

Costa Rica, to which I might have inadvertently emigrated, gave the first shot of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine three weeks ago to a 91-year-old nursing home resident. Afterwards she said she was very grateful to God, which is a bit of a kick in the teeth for those who worked around the clock to develop the vaccine in the first place.

If I developed a vaccine, I’d want full credit and wouldn’t share it with a supernatural being who almost certainly doesn’t exist, but if he/she does, I have questions for him/her and I shan’t settle for any of this “works in mysterious ways” malarkey.

Come to think of it, I have developed a vaccine. It’s taken orally around 5pm every day and I need around two litres to start feeling better. Unfortunately, this particular vaccine is currently banned in South Africa. I am fortunate to be able to continue medicating in Costa Rica, a second world country blessed with no aspirations to join the increasingly unpleasant first world.

Even a developing country like Belgium has given someone their first dose. It went to a 96-year-old man at a nursing home in a town where Pfizer’s production facility is located. “I feel 30 years younger,” he said afterwards. What? That’s not how it’s supposed to work. I imagine they gave him a shot of something made of Viagra, vodka and Ecstasy. Now there’s a vaccine we could all get our teeth into.

A week ago I had the misfortune of booking myself into a casita in Playa Hermosa that had a TV with 45 channels of mad people shouting hysterically in Spanish. The only English language channel was CNN, a drug which I had been trying to wean myself off. Suffering from the side effects of a particularly extravagant dose of my special vaccine, I turned to it. The big story at the time was Trump’s call to Georgia’s secretary of state threatening him with dire consequences if he didn’t come up with a way to reverse Joe Biden’s victory, which seems a bit out of keeping in a state that has “Wisdom, Justice and Moderation” as its motto – three things utterly lacking in Trump’s toxic universe.

Even though the beast has less than two weeks left in office, CNN’s anchors smelled blood in the water and they were thrashing about in a full-blown feeding frenzy, all teeth and vengeance. Hell, why not. This is a man who deserves to be stabbed with many metaphorical daggers before it’s all over. On his last day, he must be stripped naked and whipped all the way into St John’s Church in Lafayette Square and be forced to beg for absolution. He won’t get it, but it would be lovely to see him beg.

You see? This is what CNN does to a person. One minute you’re having a rational conversation about vaccines, and the next you’ve got a flaming torch in one hand and a pitchfork in the other and you’re demanding violent retribution against a 74-year-old man who has clearly lost his mind. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

If you watch enough news, you come to realise just how little everyone knows about viruses and vaccines. Watch their eyes, these fakers and fabulists, blusterers and buskers. When I was a kid, I naturally assumed grown-ups had a firm grip on things. Now that I am one, I can see how mistaken I was.

From what I can gather, as I sit here in this rustic bar on a palm-fringed beach, the government has dropped the ball early in the second half of the game. Countries like Belarus and Romania, where people wear animal skins and speak languages that nobody, not even themselves, can understand, are in possession of vaccines.

The European Commission was quick off the mark when it came to negotiating for vaccines for EU citizens. The African Union, on the other hand, is still negotiating with Thabo Mbeki to return a djembe drum he “borrowed” while on a state visit to Ghana.

Thing is, we can’t have nice things. Give us the vaccine and we’ll dilute it with Oros and sell it to our neighbours for double the price. Our skills in the banditry business mutate faster than Covid ever could and the only reason there’s a delay is because the government is haggling for a bonsella. Or asleep at the wheel.

British scientists say they are concerned the vaccine might not work on the new strain in South Africa. Oh, so now you care about us? You’re 200 years late, mate. Besides, we’re used to things not working. We expect stuff to break or to be taken away from us. Over-promising and under-delivering is part of the fabric of who we are. We don’t want to live in a world where everything makes sense and the trains run on time. If we did, we’d move to Switzerland. Not that they’d have us.

And just because some vaccines need to be stored at -70°C doesn’t mean we can’t have them. We can strap them to Helen Zille, the coldest object in the country. Although we’d probably have to join the DA to get a shot. Might not be worth it.

Meanwhile, I think we need to start encouraging rather than criticising the anti-vaxxers. Let them have their stand. By all means, bro, don’t take a vaccine. It means more for the rest of us and, at the same time, all the mucky bits in the gene pool will eventually get flushed out.

 

Golfing with twats

News that Gary Player has accepted the Medal of Freedom from his scumbag mate Donald Trump reminded me of a column I wrote 15 years ago.

…………………

Writing a book about golf has brought with it many benefits, one of which is that I have been declared persona non grata at Fancourt. Another is that I was given VIP status at the Nelson Mandela Invitational at Arabella last weekend.

Assuming I was being invited to play, I rushed off to Cash Converters and invested in a putter, two sand wedges and a driver that looked like it could send a ball to the moon. I also bought one black glove from a Sea Point hustler who tried to sell me two for double the price.

Before I even had a chance to get my car out of the disabled parking bay, I was given the opportunity of practising my swing on a previously disadvantaged gentleman who seemed to think that a yellow bib gave him the right to look at me in an accusing fashion. Back home, I wiped the blood off my putter and rifled through the press kit that had been sent to me. I was appalled to discover that the tournament was presented by Coca Cola and hosted by Gary Player.

As a seasoned journalist, I knew that al-Qaeda couldn’t be far behind. I have no doubt that Osama bin Laden drinks Coke when nobody is watching, but it’s an altogether more serious matter when a fatwah is declared on our small but perfectly formed golfing icon.

In the event that the organisers had failed to invite the mandatory quota of disabled Muslim lesbians, I stopped off at the gun shop and bought myself a Proudly South African bullet-proof vest. All I needed was a caddy.

While I was considering the most ethical way of forcing a young black man to carry my bag for as little money as possible, Ted arrived at the house with a sack full of beer. I guzzled a six-pack and explained that I could take him, Brenda or the Illicit Consort with me to Arabella. The brat, Clive, was due for his bi-weekly electroconvulsive therapy session, so that was one less thing to worry about.

Ted smacked me on the side of the head and began explaining the finer points of golf tournaments. I smacked him back and told him that as a man who has just written a book on golf, I did not need advice from the likes of him. He got up and began questioning my credentials, so I smacked him even harder and this time he just lay there and drank his beer from a supine position.

His point, once he could articulate it through his smashed mouth, was that the Nelson Mandela Invitational is based on the fourball system. I grabbed him by the throat and demanded to know how each golfer could play four balls and still be done by Christmas. Kneeing me in the crotch, Ted pointed out that a fourball meant we could all play. Me, him, Brenda and the Illicit Consort.

The trouble started from the moment I hit the orange traffic cones outside Arabella. Brenda shouted at me to go back and pick them up. Ted said there’s no going back, ever. The Consort urged me to go faster. Suddenly I was surrounded by men in moustaches and day-glo orange vests performing hand signals that made no sense. After a mutual exchange of racial epithets and at least one reference to Gary Player’s mother, we were directed to the VIP parking area.

While Ted was trying to commandeer a golf cart, the Illicit Consort began demanding to know how an icon like Nelson Mandela could give his name to a golf tournament. She was shouting something about the Mother Teresa Classic and the Pope Benedict World Series when a man with a serious face came up and asked her to be quiet. I jabbed him in the ribs with my sand wedge.

“We are golfers,” I said. “Now get out of our way.”

The competition had started without us so we jumped straight in at the seventh hole, throwing our balls as close to the green as we could get them. We were still putting when a ball came out of nowhere and hit Brenda in the head. I was dragging her out of the way so that I could play my shot when a fast-moving knot of men arrived.

They demanded to know what we thought we were doing. “It’s hard to say,” said Ted, addressing himself to the leader of the pack. “Why are you dressed all in black?”

The little man with the face of a turtle looked at us in disbelief. “You fools. Don’t you know that I am the Black Knight?”

The Consort began laughing so robustly that she tripped over her putter and crashed to the green. A dissolute version of Peter Pan appeared out of nowhere and helped her up. “Who are you?” she asked, clutching on to his hand a little too tightly.

“I am Ronan Keating,” he said, smiling just enough for the sunlight to bounce off his teeth. Sensing that he was being upstaged, the Black Knight elbowed the Irish upstart aside, drew himself up to his full height, looked me squarely in the kneecaps, and said: “I am a living legend and I am the saviour of needy children.”

Seeing that we were inexplicably unmoved by this information, he added: “I also have Nelson Mandela’s cellphone number.” Just then, a large black man walked onto the green. “Bring my bag,” barked the little golfer.

“Sorry boss,” said Vincent Tshabalala, “those days are over.”

Getting high in Central America

A clammy equatorial fug hit me as I sloped out of Juan Santamaria International Airport with the ink of a three-month visa still wet in my passport. Fug this, I thought. Worse than Durban in February. But there was no turning back. Loinfruit and Bloke had booked me a hotel room and promised to fetch me in the morning.

I was savagely jet-lagged and in no mood for plans to go awry, as they usually do when my family is involved. I came close to causing an undiplomatic incident when I discovered the minibar in my room was empty, but then let is slide when my brain reminded me it was still operating on SA time and that it’s probably not the best idea to start drinking at 4am. Stupid brain. It knows nothing about such matters.

The hotel was near the airport and the roar of outgoing flights had me thrashing about in sweat-soaked sheets shouting, “No, no! Not seat 38C!”

Loinfruit and Bloke arrived late. “Pura vida,” she said, pushing a cold Imperial beer into my sweaty paw. “Let’s roll, daddy-o.” The sides of her head were shaved and she had new tattoos. They were driving a modified Suzuki Samurai with tinted windows and raised shocks. It was like being on a jetski in choppy seas. I was told to stop squealing like a castrated goat every time we went around a bend. In Costa Rica, there are no roads without bends. This is serious hill country.

Bloke seemed at ease driving on the wrong side of the road and was amused by my repeated flinching. He told me to relax and claimed that countries with suicidal drivers have the fewest accidents. When pressed for his sources, he changed the subject and opened a beer. It sprayed his sunglasses and there was a long moment when nobody was driving the car.

“Jesus, take the wheel!” I shouted, assuming the brace position, which isn’t easy in the back of a Suzuki.

We wound our way down to the coast while I shouted and gestured at other drivers who were clearly out to kill us. Loinfruit and Bloke seemed oblivious. They live in Namibia, came here for a short holiday and got trapped by the lockdown. That was nine months ago.

They’ve since bought a house and show no signs of ever wanting to return home. Flexible generation, the Millennials.

I spotted a turnoff to a beach town called Jaco and suggested we check it out. Bloke said it was full of seedy bars, hookers and hustlers. Sounds fantastic, I said, bouncing up and down like a hyperactive child. Loinfruit gave me the lazy eye and Bloke kept on driving.

Their house is in the mountains. It’s probably about 3km from the coast as the pigeon flies. I mean a local pigeon, not one of our idiots that would get lost or forget where it was going or get distracted by a girl pigeon who might be up for a bit of a shag.

In a car, it takes thirty minutes to climb 900m. There are so many switchbacks that I lost track of which direction we were travelling in. Hemmed in by the jungle, we went through several climate zones and I soon began to feel like Edmund Hillary trying to summit Everest in a Suzuki.

“Hypoxia is setting in,” I whined. Loinfruit and Bloke glanced at one another. She turned around and frowned. “Do you think you might have the Rona?” I know these people. If they thought there was any risk of them catching something nasty, they wouldn’t hesitate to leave me on the side of the road.

“I’m fine,” I said. “You can’t even catch the attention of a cabin attendant on Lufthansa, let alone a disease.”

At the top of a misty hill, we took a sharp left and went bouncing down a dirt track in such appalling condition that we were all drenched in beer by the time we finally reached their house. We were deep in Tico turf. The locals are called Ticos. We’re called gringos. I’m sure there are less polite names for us. Well, for the Americans anyway.

The house looked like something Pablo Escobar might have used as one of his holiday homes while on annual leave from the Medellin Cartel. Mind you, the man who built the villa was a general in the Ukrainian army. He probably made Pablo look like a Boy Scout.

I didn’t want to ask where they got the money to buy a place like this. It’s unlikely I would get the truth. If they do turn out to be running guns or drugs, well, there are worse people to have in your family. In a best case scenario, I would have had a second kid who became a lawyer.

Christmas was fun. Bloke found a plastic Christmas tree left behind by the general. It’s probably still broadcasting to the Ministry of Defence in Kiev. Good luck deciphering those conversations, comrade. I barely understood them myself, largely because everyone was drunk by 10am. Which, I imagine, is standard operating procedure for the Ukrainian military.

Bloke gave me a razor-sharp machete as a gift, which was fantastic because I’ve always had a thing for blades. I showed them a couple of moves I’d learnt with a panga in Durban’s cane fields when I was younger. Loinfruit threatened to take it away from me after Bloke narrowly missed losing an ear.

“We thought you might be old enough to have one of these, but apparently we were mistaken,” she said, sucking on her 10th beer of the morning while swaying gently in the tropical breeze.

They warned me about the dangers of the jungle but I couldn’t wait to get out there. Fer-de-lance? Please. You speak with forked tongue, señor viper, and you shall feel the sharp edge of my weapon. Bloke told me about the Brazilian Wandering Spider whose bite can cause an erection lasting for up to four hours. Bring it on. The worst thing that could happen is that I’d have to join Tinder.

Apparently it also causes cramps, hypothermia, vertigo, blurred vision, intense sweating and convulsions, all of which are normal side effects of sex anyway, if you’re doing it properly.

I watched Cyril’s family monologue last week and it’s clear I got out just in time. Here, I can go to the beach and buy beer in the local supermarket whenever I want. The sea is 28ºC and there are no power cuts. The towns and villages are clean and the government takes good care of its citizens. There is no army and protected national parks everywhere. There are sloths and toucans and nobody wants to break into your house and iron your face just for the hell of it.

If anyone can think of any good reasons why I should come back, do let me know.

 

A guide to surviving New Year’s Eve

Here’s something I wrote in happier times, when we were still allowed to drink and go out at night.

……………………….

I have felt uncomfortable about making a huge thing out of December 31 ever since discovering that the Gregorian calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The Catholics have done some truly appalling things over the ages and for all I know the calendar is one of them.

               The Liver

There is one school of thought that says the liver is the human body’s largest and most complex organ. This is generally the opinion of everyone who hasn’t seen me naked. Yes, Mrs Worthington of Margate, I’m talking about you.

An unsightly and consequently rather shy organ, the liver is one of the few parts of the body that are prepared to suffer in relative silence. The poor could learn a thing or two from the liver.

It must be said, however, that the liver is not as perfect as it likes to think. For starters, it takes its job way too seriously. The heart, on the other hand, knows how to have a bit of fun. It speeds up, slows down, murmurs to itself, does an Irish jig, stops altogether and then, just when you think you’re dead, starts up again. It is an impish organ that understands the art of comedic timing.

Simply put, the liver does not know how to have a good time. I find this odd, considering the amount of drugs, alcohol and nicotine that pass through it on an average Friday night.

Perhaps it’s not so strange. If we want to be really unkind, the liver is little more than the body’s policeman. It’s a sullen cop manning a permanent roadblock. What’s this? Tetrahydrocannibanol, eh? You’re coming with me. I’m going to detoxify and neutralise all the goodness out of you. Bastard.

But there is more to surviving New Year’s Eve than merely letting your liver know that it’s not the boss of you.

When Pope Gregory established December 31st as the night upon which the faithful and the faithless join hands in drunken revelry, he probably never had roadblocks in mind.

               Roadblocks

When I am president, and I will be one day, I shall give every police officer the night off on New Year’s Eve. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to party with the rest of us? After all, cops are people, too. Well, most of them are. Sort of.

All I ask for is one night of the year in which we can go out without worrying about getting slammed up against a van full of snarling dogs, cavity searched and tossed into a stinking cell to be remorselessly ravaged by a diseased convict. Is it too much to ask that we be allowed one night free of fear?

We are all adults, apart from those who aren’t, and if we are prepared to take our chances with motherless drivers, desperate divorcees and psychos on tik, then that is our choice. If you prefer to spend your New Year’s Eve clutching a glass of warm Pepsi and getting all misty eyed over ridiculous songs like Auld Lang Syne, then stay at home. By going out and expecting Mr Plod to keep you safe, you are ruining it for the rest of us.

Since I am not yet president, we have to face the reality that state-appointed arbiters of appropriate behaviour will be out there looking to ruin our lives and reputations. As if we can’t do that all by ourselves.

Fact is, even if you haven’t touched a drop all night and then you kiss someone whose blood alcohol level is above 00000.01, this would put you over the limit and you will be dragged behind the police caravan, pistol-whipped and read the last rites in a language you don’t understand.

Roadblocks can be dealt with in several ways. One is to slip into the passenger seat and tell the officer that your driver ran away. The officer may wish to attach electrodes to your testicles to determine the veracity of your story, but, unless you enjoy that sort of thing, you should remind him that the constitution frowns on torture.

Do not attempt this if there are two of you in the car. Police are trained to spot suspicious behaviour and there is nothing more suspicious than an empty driver’s seat and someone sitting on your lap in the passenger seat.

Also what you can do is pretend to have a speech impediment. Most cops treat the disabled marginally better than they do the rest of us. But don’t lean out of the window and say: “Good afterble consternoon.” That is a speech impeded by vodka shooters as opposed to, say, blunt trauma to the head.

I used to get stopped a lot before I became a master of disguise and the cops would always ask me why my eyes were so red. “I have pterygiums, officer,” I would say, opening my eyes as big as they would go without me passing out. Cops don’t want to take your statement knowing they are going to have to ask you to spell whatever the hell it was that you said you had.

You may be asked to provide a urine sample. “But I just went,” is not a valid excuse. What you need to do is invest in a fake penis. Adult World is full of them. Or so I have heard. Drill a hole down the middle of it and fill it with your dog’s urine. The cop will be so impressed by the size of your willy that he will shake you by the hand and send you on your way.

               Medical Treatment

A basic knowledge of First Aid is essential for anyone who plans on celebrating New Year’s Eve properly. There will be injuries and you need to be prepared. Under no circumstances do you want to have anything to do with state hospitals this evening. The doctors have been working for nine straight days and the nurses earn R2.50 an hour. They will not share your sense of humour no matter how much you laugh and poke your finger into your gaping head wound.

Stitches are piece of cake if you have a fish hook and a piece of gut. If you don’t at least have that in the boot of your car, you’re not a real South African and you deserve to be deported.

Carry a roll of bubble wrap in your car. The moment your girlfriend gets the wobblies,  wrap it around her. She won’t hurt herself when she plummets off the north face of her bar stool and the rest of the bar will join you in a game of Popping The Drunk.

If someone loses an eye, ask the barman for a glass of ice and stick it in there. It will be good for 24 hours.

Avoid amputations because they can be messy if you don’t have access to serviettes. A lot of people complain of severed limbs but if you look closely you will often find their leg bent behind their head.

Open heart surgery is easily conducted with a bottle of whisky and a steak knife. If you don’t have a knife, rush to the nearest restaurant and order a steak.

Right, that’s it. In the immortal words of Pope Gregory, “Te audire non possum. Musa sapientum fixa est in aure.”

Welcome to Pandemic Air

I am sitting under a tree in the northern hemisphere in the middle of winter with barely any clothes on. Before you start feeling sorry for me, I should add that hypothermia is not about to set in any time soon. In fact, if I weren’t guzzling cold beers, it might very well be dehydration that finishes me off.

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up and realised I was in the wrong place altogether. Where I should be, I said, pushing the neighbour’s cat off my face, is in Costa Rica. The cat sat up, half closed its eyes and nodded as if to say, “Obviously, you idiot.”

A few days later I was shambling around a deserted Cape Town International Airport, hungover, dragging a suitcase held together with packing tape, facing not one but two 12-hour flights, and trying to find a way to blame the cat.

Was this a good time to be flying to the other side of the planet? At a time when a layer of pestilence has formed between the troposphere and the stratosphere? Inside a metal tube with the virally tainted for company? Of course. There is no better time to travel.

A friend had offered me one of those weird semi-prosthetic neck cushions for people with heads that flop around like beached sardines every time they close their eyes. I was having none of it. It’s not the risk of floppy head that keeps me from sleeping on a plane. It’s the trying to fit a 1.9m body into an economy class seat. Bits of me have to take it in turns to sleep. A foot here, an arm there. Never the brain, though. The brain thinks only murderous thoughts all the way through.

I glanced around at the masked vectors of infection and tried to pinpoint who would be the one to kill me. They all looked like attempted murderers escaping the country ahead of consequences. Not that we have those in South Africa.

Some were dressed for summer. Had these people never flown before? You dress for the climate at your destination, surely. What kind of monster gets on a long-haul flight to Frankfurt wearing shorts? Didn’t they know it was winter in Europe?

The plane stood on the apron for ages because there was something wrong with the machine that charts the route. You’d think the pilot would know the way by now. How hard can it be? Swallows do it every bloody year and they don’t need a machine.

The flight was half full but I preferred to think of it as half empty. A flight attendant with a disturbing resemblance to Charlotte Rampling in Night Porter said if I was quick enough I could snag myself an entire middle row after takeoff. I was nowhere nearly quick enough, even though I wanted this more than I’d ever wanted money or women. Germans are supernaturally good at grabbing things for themselves e.g. pool loungers, tables near the buffet, Poland etc.

By the time I got my seatbelt off, the only empty seats left were a window and aisle, both of which are useless for sleeping because the middle armrests are welded into place to prevent South Africans from stealing them.

We landed at dawn in a heavy fog. As we touched down, Charlotte clapped once, shouted “We made it!”, looked across the aisle at her buddy in the other jump seat and gave a double thumbs up. Bit worrying.

Security at Frankfurt airport was tighter than Jupiter and Saturn were the other night. I am partial to a girl in uniform, but not when she’s my height bulked up with kevlar body armour and an automatic weapon slung across her substantial chest.

It’s roughly at this point, after my stuff gets sent down a conveyor belt and into a darkened tunnel, that I expect to be arrested. It happens every time I fly. I almost assume the position to save them the trouble. Actually, there was a position to be assumed, beneath a moulded plastic arch. Some kind of X-ray device that sees through clothing. Feet in the footprints place, ja. Hände hoch!

A woman with the eyes of a jumping spider kept me in position for longer than necessary. Getting a good look at my willy, no doubt. I wiggled my hips suggestively but she seemed unappreciative and ordered me to move on to the next step, which involved a young deviant with obsidian eyes giving me a full-body frisk. It didn’t feel as unpleasant as it should have.

Everything was foreplay up to that point. The real heavy duty stuff, or in my case, duty free stuff, came at the end of the process. You’ve passed the body test, but you don’t know what they might have found in your belongings. I was almost home free when a gloved hand shot out. He picked up my Tanqueray and Havana Club and told me to come with him. He unlocked what looked like a broom closet. I baulked. No way was there room for both of us in there. What did he have in mind? A bit of my brandy and a little heavy petting? Instead, he put the gin into a scanner. I asked what he was looking for. Explosives, he said. I laughed and said I’d had some pretty explosive evenings on that filth but I sensed he wasn’t interested in hearing more.

Ten hours later I boarded the plane to Costa Rica. It was packed with Germans fleeing their country’s hard lockdown.

I had a window seat and a vial of Xanax and intended to make full use of both. The plan changed almost immediately when a hefty fräulein hove into view and began making moves to wedge herself into the aisle seat. The fear of being trapped between her and the aircraft was overpowering. I suggested we swap seats. Little Lotta grunted in what I took to be agreement. The way she carried on after that, it was as if we had exchanged bodily fluids, not seats. Everything I had potentially touched, she wiped down with sanitiser. She also flinched every time we inadvertently made contact. It was horrible.

I couldn’t even risk taking the Xanax because I would have slumped unconscious into the aisle and it would have taken four strong men to haul me back into my seat and strap me in place. I would wake at 3am two hundred miles above Haiti and find myself in restraints. It would get ugly. Someone from the cockpit would be summonsed to stab me in the neck with a tranquilliser dart and police would be waiting when we landed.

Despite asking the man-child in front if he wouldn’t mind not reclining his seat on account of me not having anywhere to put my legs, he did it anyway. My headphones weren’t working properly so I couldn’t even watch a movie. And I certainly couldn’t risk falling asleep on Little Lotta’s shoulder.

Costa Rica seemed a long way off. It’s unlikely I will be returning home any time soon.

Home for the holidays

Since we’re all relying heavily on memories and reminisces to stop us from reaching for the razor blades, here’s a flashback to a Christmas past.

………..

Home for the holidays. It sounds like such a benign, cheerful concept. Yet it is only once you are there that the occasion mutates into a short-term psychological evaluation in an institute for the criminally insane.

In my case, the institute is located in a Durban suburb. In defiance of convention, it is the criminally insane who presume to evaluate me, the son and heir to the family fortune which, I discovered, fits snugly into the back of my car.

The last few days have taken a terrible toll on me. I arrived in Durban with a song in my heart and a spring in my step. I left on crutches, wild-eyed and half-mad from lack of sleep.

If you want to see where I grew up, log onto Google Earth and hover above Durban North at a height of around 2000m. See the beautiful homes with sparkling pools and carefully manicured gardens? Keep looking. There it is, over on the left. But that’s just a patch of bush, you cry. And well may you cry. I did, too. For most of my childhood, friends were banned from coming over to play. Their parents wouldn’t allow it after little Sydney Taverner disappeared in the garden. He was found three months later living off dove eggs and rainwater. He never recovered and today he rides with a biker gang and goes by the name of Psycho Syd.

My parents have been in the same house for 47 years. I find this almost as disturbing as having to use a machete and a GPS to get from the gate to the front door.

I don’t come from a big family. One sister. I probably had other siblings once, but I expect they crawled into the garden as babies and were never seen again. It wouldn’t surprise me if I were genetically related to half the stuff that’s growing there. Not girly things like ferns, obviously, but certainly some of the taller, good-looking trees.

My father converted my bedroom into a study the moment I moved out, even though I warned him I would be back. I remember him saying there would always be a bed here for me. Then he dragged my bed into the garden and set fire to it.

This festive season I slept on a mattress in a section of the house where intruders regularly start their day by picking through the remnants of my inheritance.

If you get your throat slit, try not to bleed on the carpet,” said my mother, her eyes twinkling with the Christmas spirit. By 3am I was praying for a quick death. Successive raids by mosquitoes the size of humming birds made sleep impossible. It was worse than Pearl Harbour. And when the mosquitoes lumbered off to digest my blood and regroup for the next wave of attacks, swarms of over-excited fruit bats began shrieking and yelping outside the window. If they can’t see properly, they shouldn’t be flying in the first place. They should rather walk or hop, like the giant toads that were now contributing to this hellish chorus.

Then, around 4am, everything went quiet. Hysterical with fatigue, I cried myself to sleep. Almost. From the kitchen came a terrible gnawing and crunching. It didn’t sound like the dog eating something. It sounded like something eating the dog.

Armed with a Madagascan conch shell, I edged down the passage with murder in my heart – a heart that almost stopped when I bumped into my father who was also edging down the passage in what little remained of his underpants.

There’s something evil in the kitchen,” I hissed. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s just the rat.” He took my arm and led me back to my mattress. The gnawing subsided. Dawn began to break. I started dozing off. This was the moment the hadeda was waiting for. A hadeda is the antichrist of the avian world. He stands waist-high in his socks and has the voice of a Catholic nun possessed by the devil. He also has a lethal weapon for a beak, long enough to plunge into your eyeball and suck out your brains. They rarely do this, however, but only because they can’t shut the fuck up and everyone hears them coming from a mile off.

Over breakfast the next morning, I inquired about the rat. It turns out that a few months ago my father began leaving tasty little snacks out for him at night. Then he met a lady and started breeding. The rat, not my father. It wasn’t long before Dad was spending his evenings making rat starters, rat mains and rat puddings. Mom put her foot down – not on the rat, because in my family nothing ever gets killed – and now they are using some kind of high frequency electronic device that is meant to encourage rodents to pack up and move next door. Their rat loves the sound and he hosts rave parties that go on late into the night.

When I was reprimanded for not sharing my fruit salad with the monkeys at breakfast the next day, I knew it was time to fly back to Cape Town.

I always try to choose a woman to do my checking in at the airport because I stand a better chance of winning her heart with my insouciant charm and boyish good looks. Being a 1.93m tall claustrophobic misanthrope, it is vital that I get a seat capable of accommodating my legs. Sadly, women are not what they used to be. To put it bluntly, charm and looks count for nothing. If you have a willy, you’re a bastard and should be tossed into the hold along with your suitcase.

Perhaps I should be seeking out the gay check-in attendants. However, I am unfamiliar with the secret codes and signals that homosexuals use when they want to be seated at one of the emergency exits.

When it was my turn to check in, I smiled, wiggled my hips, batted my eyelids and used every bit of body language in my repertoire. The check-in person asked if I was suffering from cerebral palsy. Stupidly, I said I wasn’t. “In that case, sir, we only have middle seats left.”

A kid with the face of a juvenile bull terrier had the best seat in the plane. He lay back and stretched out his pudgy legs, chewed gum and nodded along to his iPod. I offered him R100 to swap seats and he looked at me as if I were some kind of low-rent hustler who had no right to even be on the plane. I should have gone to the galley and slipped four grams of ketamine into his orange juice, then taken his seat when the seizures began.

Cuervo, cane rats and couches

It’s the nights that are the killers. What to do when the sun goes down. There is only so much beer the human stomach can accommodate before exploding.

I am divorced and the child is grown. The dream is gone. I have become uncomfortably numb. The air is heavy with pestilence and I dare not venture far from my bubble. Not that I have one. There isn’t even a word for people with no bubble. How terribly sad.

I suppose there is always television. Not that I have one of those either. If you’re thinking of calling Gift of the Givers, please don’t. I’m fine. I have a car and clothes and I weigh 100kg. My body could feed off itself for months before it needs restocking.

It’s the nights. I am starting to get on my nerves and I don’t have access to the kind of medication one requires to get away from oneself. There is no need to involve psychiatrists. Not yet. Not while I still have two constantly copulating pigeons to feed and a resident rat to talk to. The rat has been kind enough to retain his quarters in the garden, although I am sure he would move in with me were an invitation to be extended.

While I lack a television, I do have a screen which is allegedly hooked up to Netflix. Having a screen of any kind is enough to get the werewolves of the SABC’s legal department smashing down doors and putting people in chokeholds until they cough up a licence fee. Or arterial blood. Word is they are happy to settle for either. I am ready for them.

While I nurse my beer – or my beer nurses me, one can never be sure of the order – I look around at the furniture. It can only have been bought at a secondhand shop at the bad end of the 1980s. Probably near a harbour. An Asian-looking woman would have been behind the counter, smoking a cheroot laced with cheap opium. It would have been a time when cane furniture was popular. A time when cane lent a room a vaguely colonial ambience long before shabby was chic.

Like hamsters and very small children, cane furniture was never designed to be sat on. You’d be more comfortable reclining on a chair made of pangolins. Or on the floor, which is where most people with cane furniture end up because they are too hammered to make it to the bedroom. Or so I’ve heard.

If you ever have the misfortune to visit people with cane furniture, they will pretend to be out of cabernet sauvignon and offer you a glass of Cape to Rio. To match the furniture? Sure, why the hell not.

I cannot sit in this room, which only qualifies as a lounge because it has cane furniture in it, and watch Netflix on the big screen. It’s not even that big. Most people these days have screens the size of a netball court. The problem is that my body is ill-suited to cane furniture. Being 1.9m tall, the chassis needs to unravel and mould itself to the environment. It is a body made for Coricraft couches. They once had girls’ names, these couches. I remember falling for one called Jezebel. Maybe that was … I don’t know. Couches, girls, it can be hard to tell them apart when you’re perpetually on the rebound.

I do apologise. Journalists are meant to avoid using brand names because it could look like we’re angling for freebies. I am certainly not fishing for a free couch, no matter what her name is. Obviously I’d prefer it if a tequila company came forward, but it would be unethical to mention names. Am I right, Jose Cuervo?

But back to the long, crazy nights of pandemia. I have begun watching the latest series of The Queen. Not from the lounge, obviously. I take my laptop to the bedroom, just like you do. Covid-19 has reminded me that I am able to meet all my professional and personal needs from the supine position. Thank you, Mr Virus. Sometimes I feel there isn’t enough appreciation for what you have done for those of us who prefer to work from home, in bed.

Having watched previous seasons with a girlfriend of whom we shall not speak, I knew I ran the risk of being triggered by watching The Crown on my own. I went to bed and pressed play. But instead of being overwhelmed by loneliness, resentment and remorse, I felt increasingly comforted.

My emotions were quickly channeled into a fierce hunger for Princess Diana and a deep and abiding revulsion for Prince Charles and his shameless side chick, Camilla.

I was also reminded, in every minute of every episode, that there are families out there way more dysfunctional than my own. A warm glow of schadenfreude remained with me long after the final credits rolled and it seemed that not having a bubble might be the way to go after all.

So thank you for that, your majesty.

  • This column first appeared in The Citizen on 2 December.

To the Class of 2020

What an exciting time to be venturing out into the world! It’s not every generation that gets to begin life’s journey in the middle of a pandemic. Such a story to tell your children. Assuming you survive, of course.

When I left school, the prospect of dying an early death with a ventilator lashed to my face wasn’t something I had to consider. On the other hand, I did have to consider the prospect of dying an early death somewhere north of Oshakati.

Spoilt brats, you are. The next time you complain about having to wear a mask, just remember that I had a Soviet-made anti-tank missile explode in my face. Well, it might have if I hadn’t spent the war in a signals office in Defence HQ in Pretoria, which, let me add, came with hazards of its own. Mostly related to drinking, admittedly.

Have exams been going well? I imagine not. I imagine it’s been devilishly hard to focus on square roots and dangling participles when you’ve spent virtually the entire year with grown-ups telling you that if you cough near your classmate her grandfather could die, and that if your mother doesn’t disinfect the shopping you can be sure she is trying to kill you.

I apologise, on behalf of the education department, for your having to learn stuff that is available almost instantaneously on your phone. Google has made school obsolete. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Dates in history have become meaningless. The only date that matters is March 5th, that sultry summer’s day when the health minister announced our very first case of Covid-19.

“The patient is a 38-year-old male who travelled to Italy with his wife,” said Dr Zweli Mkhize proudly.

Being the red-blooded patriot I am, I might well have applauded the news. Our first case. Hoorah! What a shame we don’t know who he is. We might have erected a statue in his honour. Or declared March 5th a public holiday in his name. Or we might have hunted him down and set his house alight, which would seem the more South African thing to do.

The very next day, the education department should have called a press conference to announce that the curriculum was changing and that nothing would ever be the same again. Henceforth, there would only be two classes and two exams. Sex education and survivalism.

You would learn foraging and tracking skills. How to light a fire in the rain. Where best to build your shelter. How to give yourself stitches. Learn to use a bow and arrow and live by what little of your wits remain after twelve years of government education.

And when it comes to sex, it’s no longer a simple matter of coyly asking, “Do you have protection?” or, in my case, “Are you old enough to have stopped ovulating?” Now one needs to ask one’s partner to keep his or her mask on or, even better, remain in the other room while matters are taken in hand.

I don’t personally know anyone who is writing matric at the moment, but I imagine the cry, “Why are we doing this when the world is so irrevocably changed?” is not an unfamiliar one. I know quite a few adults who don’t know the meaning of “irrevocably” and they’re doing fine. Not really.

Your generation no longer needs to know words of five syllables. In fact, it’s best you don’t use them at all. The last thing you want are people leaning into your personal space shouting wetly, “What was that?” Our muzzles have made grunting an acceptable method of communication.

You are entering a regressive world, boys and girls. Everything is going backwards. It’s a global reset and you have to be ready for it. Yes, the adults did nothing to help you to be ready, but it’s better than an anti-tank missile in the face.

Survivalism is the new capitalism. Forget carving out careers. Find a tree trunk and carve out a statue of the twelve gods of destruction. Sell it for a million dollars to a Swedish tourist. Or recruit your most outlandish friends and ride fast and furious through the Karoo on heavily chromed XT500 motorcycles as the new horsemen of the apocalypse. People will give you money. Or try to kill you. It is what it is. Take what you get.

Right now and for the foreseeable future, everything is a gamble. You would be a fool not to gamble. As you peer anxiously across the narrowing ravine that you must traverse to become an adult, you absolutely have to take giant leaps of faith and go laughingly into the unknown.

Your parents will be sad to see you go. For about an hour. My father turned my bedroom into his office within a week of me moving out.

I feel I should apologise for the mess you’re inheriting. I can’t really, though. And not just because I’m a man and would rather hammer a porcupine quill into my earhole than apologise. The real mess started long before I was even born.

Anyway, good luck changing the system. If you do inexplicably feel the need to breed, please don’t call any of your children Vaccine.

A survival guide to Black Friday

Here’s something I apparently wrote a year ago to the day. I don’t remember writing it so there’s little chance you will remember reading it. Anyway. Let us be reminded of a kinder, gentler pre-plague time.

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It’s that time of year when we all turn into gibbering idiots and experts take it upon themselves to advise us on the blindingly obvious. In the event of a thunderstorm, avoid standing in an open field waving a golf club at the sky while wearing a tinfoil hat.

The annual plummeting of the national IQ is exacerbated by Black Friday, a day upon which pornographic greed and an overwhelming fear of missing out come together and cause people to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need.

Here’s how one news story started the week. “With Black Friday and festive shopping mayhem fast approaching, experts have urged consumers to stay alert and safe.” It’s not every journalist who can combine a harmless American tradition with Jesus’s birthday and still manage to strike terror into our hearts.

It’s my opinion that mayhem is best experienced suddenly and without warning. You really don’t want to see it coming. You want to be yawning and scratching your crotch when it heads your way. Be unprepared. That’s my motto.

One of the experts trained in the art of staying alert and safe urged shoppers to be vigilant at malls and shopping centres. I remember a time when it was the streets that weren’t safe. A time when you would seek refuge in malls to avoid getting hit by crossfire, recruited into a biker gang or offered stolen goods you couldn’t afford.

Now, the streets are full of unemployed humanities graduates whose accusing stares fill us with guilt, damn their selfish hollow eyes, but they are mostly harmless. The real danger lurks where the ravening beasts of capitalism have made their loathsome lairs. If it’s sanctuary you’re after, you are safer in a crack house than a mall at this time of year.

The expert urges us to “be aware of the general spike in follow-home incidents”. If I ever start a rebel army – it’s on my bucket list – I shall demand to be called General Spike. Are you listening, Julius? The name is taken. You can have General Dealer, unless my rebel army rebels against me and I start a cannabis farm, in which case it’s mine.

One of the main reasons I go to a mall is in the hope that someone will follow me home. Don’t judge me. I live alone. I’m not the only one who does this. Look around the next time you’re at a mall. Almost everyone who is on their own is hoping for a follow-home incident. Not necessarily by four armed men in a BMW with tinted windows and no licence plates, admittedly. But nobody shops solo with the singular intention of buying things. It’s a deeply unnatural act. How would you even decide what to get without having a second person to consult? After one of my many break-ups, I made the rookie mistake of going to a flea market on my own. I was never the same after that.

The expert says criminals are in the malls watching what you buy. The trick is to have a decoy trolley filled with nappies and bottles of Purity. Not even burglars want to break into a house infested with the freshly born. Your real trolley, full of expensive gear, will have to be pushed by a decoy person. Maybe a friend or relative you don’t particularly like. Get them to take it to their house. You can pick it up the following day, if they’re still alive.

The expert advises that if you think you’re being followed, “drive immediately to a police station”. This is where it gets tricky. What if you are drunk or high? I can’t imagine shopping any other way. The last thing you want is to reel into the charge office babbling about imaginary bandits on your tail. “They were right there, ossifer. I swear.” Brazen it out. Demand a police escort. Then, when you get home, threaten to report them for abusing state resources unless they give you money.

The expert also suggests that when you get home, you should “wait in the road for the gate to open before driving in”. Are there people out there who drive in without waiting for the gate to open? Their gate budget must be ridiculous. We don’t all have gates, though, and I’m certainly not going to wait in the road until the gate people can come around and put one in.

Another piece of advice is to “carry as little as possible in your handbag or pockets”. Has this expert even met a woman? Can you imagine the carnage if husbands had to insist on wives emptying their pockets and handbags before going shopping?

Besides, do we still have pickpockets and bag-snatchers? Bit Dickensian. I suppose you could put scorpions in your pockets and a small improvised explosive device in your bag capable of being detonated remotely. Also useful if your bloke goes into your bag without permission. Then again, if he loses his hands, your workload in the bedroom doubles. Might not be worth it.

Another expert, valued for his razor-sharp acumen, warned against over-spending. Thanks, mate. If it wasn’t for you, I’d be in a homeless shelter. I have no self-control whatsoever. I can’t tell the difference between income and expenditure any more than I can boil an egg without adult supervision.

He also suggested we save money by eating at home instead of in restaurants. I don’t know, bro. Pravin Gordhan is poisoning a lot of people these days and you never know when he might get the address wrong.

The expert said that instead of maxing out your credit card, “rather save up over time for that big-ticket, luxury item”. I’m not so sure. We don’t have a whole lot of time. The country is flying on one engine. If that flames out, there will only be little-ticket items available. Like bread. And maybe a chop if you’re lucky. I say go big now.

The expert also suggests that you put your wallet in the front pocket of your trousers. I’ve tried that but I find it attracts a fair amount of unwanted attention. I have to stop myself from shouting, “My eyes are up here!” Girl, you’re already holding hands with a dude. Behave yourself.

We should also leave “unnecessary bank cards and large amounts of cash” at home. Who are these people with unnecessary bank cards and large amounts of cash? Drug dealers? I suggest you follow them home and steal their drugs. Give you a taste of their own medicine.

Apparently people who get year-end bonuses are most at risk of being robbed. It’s a good thing I’m a freelancer, then. I haven’t had a bonus in fifteen years. No wonder I’m still alive. What extraordinary luck.

The lighter side of domestic violence

Here’s something I wrote a while ago, but it’s a good time of year to give it another outing.

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Unlike witch-burning, wife-beating has never really declined in popularity among the ill-bred lower classes. Men who work with their hands (if they work at all) have for centuries used assault and battery as a means of ensuring that their dinner was on time and their women remained loving and faithful.

The landed gentry, on the other hand, have traditionally controlled their wives by hitting them where it really hurts – their line of credit. Withdrawing Gold Card privileges is frequently more effective than bludgeoning. For a start, it saves on medical expenses and hardly ever leaves unsightly stains on the carpet.

However, well-spoken educated men are increasingly incorporating a little violence into their disciplinary code of conduct. Some analysts believe this trend of mixing and matching was a direct response to Oprah’s doomed campaign to get Hillary Clinton into the White House and thus pave the way for women to take over the world.

It is important for entry level wife-beaters to remember that spousal abuse is no longer the brutal sport it was when our parents were young. The application of minimal force through the use of smart slaps has become the feng shui of home-based violence. The Japanese even have a name for it – they call it karate, the way of the open fist, although they practice something else when it comes to killing whales.

Punches are passé and, to be honest, a bit rude. Traditional weapons like baseball bats and 9mm pistols are also on their way out as more men discover that it is better to lie back and accept the gratitude of a repentant woman than it is to spend your evening buried in paperwork at the casualty ward or take time off work to appear on homicide charges in front of a judge who is drunk on power but more likely vodka.

The open-handed slap is the workhorse of domestic violence and remains a firm favourite among men of all ages, from rural villages to the Tuscan townhouses of Houghton.

Sensitive men with a degree of self-control – architects, for instance – take pride in utilising the full range of slaps as they apply to different situations. Unlike, for example, a semi-literate welder who comes home early and finds his wife watching Jerry Springer instead of doing the laundry. Rather than using a low-level bitch-slap with marginal wrist action, he opts for the big-swing straight-arm whack-slap with full follow-through. This is the mother of all slaps and should be reserved for special occasions such as infidelity.

Should your wife be one of those skittish types who tend to bolt like a startled horse at the first sign of trouble, it is considered good etiquette to give her a head start. One minute is usually sufficient for the small to medium-sized woman. However, if she is one of those gargantuan behemoths whose idea of exercise is to open and close the fridge door 80 times a day, you might want to give her a bit longer. Like 20 years.

Husband-beating, on the other hand, is still in its infancy. This is largely because most men lack the capacity to appreciate the lighter side of physical abuse when they are on the receiving end. Unlike wife-beating, etiquette plays a secondary role in husband-beating. Because women are physically weaker, the use of blunt objects is acceptable.

However, if you are stronger than your husband, it would be only fair to rely on your innate weapons, i.e. your vicious tongue and supersonic voice, both of which can be equally damaging. You may also want to take a closer look at your sexuality. Marrying a man whom you can overpower with one arm behind your back sends disturbing signals on a number of levels. For a start, it suggests that you care not a fig for the traditional masculine/feminine divide. Fair enough. But be warned. Too much bullying raises a man’s oestrogen levels. It’s bad enough that he can’t find your clitoris. Do you really want him to start misplacing the car keys as well?

If you are a normal woman, it is likely that you will have small hands and feet. These are useless when it comes to husband beating. As a relative of the cat family, you would do better to use your teeth and nails.

When you use your teeth on your husband, his nerve endings will send out a message. Not, as you might expect, to his brain. The message first goes to his penis. His penis will then analyse the message. Depending on how much he has had to drink, your husband will respond in one of two ways. Either his penis will interpret the biting as foreplay and he will become aroused, or it will forward a new message to his brain indicating that the biting is an act of war and that his penis wants no part of this terrible business.

Since you are meant to be punishing him, it is unlikely that you would want his penis to misread the situation. Bite hard, but not so hard that you end up with a mouthful of flesh. That would be poor etiquette. Choose your spot carefully and avoid quick, random bites. You are not a piranha fish. Steer clear of erogenous zones. When it comes to men, this leaves you with two options – the top of his head (hard to grip unless you are a snaggle-toothed freak) or the numb fleshy bit on his elbow. Anywhere else and you risk turning him on.

If you would rather use your nails than your teeth, you need to once again ensure that both his brain and his penis fully understand that you are attacking and not sexually molesting him. Do not, under any circumstances, dig your nails into his back. This will only encourage him.

Good luck. Let the games begin.