The watts and volts of making easy money

When I was growing up, nobody told me the only way to get rich is to make things that people needed. Or, better yet, hire other people to make them. Were my parents too busy to point this out? How did my teachers not bring this to my attention? Did they think my knowing the difference between the pharynx and the larynx and how oxbow lakes are formed would one day bring me unimaginable wealth?

I met an old school friend not long ago. Hadn’t seen him in decades. He was driving the latest BMW and dressed in a way that made me look homeless. I asked what he did for a living.

“I make pipes,” he said. I laughed. “Funny, that,” I said. “I was thinking of making a pipe just before I came here.” His eyes narrowed.

“Polyvinyl chloride pipes,” he said, sliding his iPhone beyond my reach. After asking the waiter for the wine list, something I have never done in my life, he went on to explain that PVC is the world’s third most widely produced synthetic plastic polymer.

“It comes in two basic forms,” he said, gravely. “Rigid and flexible.” I tried laughing again but it came out more like a death rattle. “Sort of like women?” I said hopefully.

He sniffed once and tapped a single freshly manicured fingernail on his car remote. Evidently suspecting that I had suffered some sort of mental trauma since school, he spent the rest of lunch slowly explaining the astounding properties of PVC piping. I began drinking heavily, wondering all the while if I could murder him right there and get away with it on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Or feign a cutlery malfunction and stab myself in the face. He would have to stop talking then. No, that wouldn’t work. He would insist on getting into the ambulance with me and he’d lean into my face with his disgusting wine breath and ask if I knew that PVC is insoluble in alcohol but slightly soluble in tetrahydrofuran.

“Not many people know that,” he would say, while the salad fork wobbled in my eye socket.

So, yeah. This guy obviously got the memo. Make stuff that people need. It doesn’t matter if it’s spigot joints, ball bearings or toilet seats. You can get very rich like that. You can also develop a superpower – the ability to bore people to death.

My superpower is to put words together in the hope they evince some sort of emotion. Unlike the construction of bridges and shopping malls, the construction of sentences and paragraphs is not necessary for people to survive. At best, it’s a nice-to-have.

Then, a few days ago, I read something that could change my life. Thanks to Cyril Ramaphosa getting Gwede Mantashe into a chokehold and forcing him to see the light, so to speak, a rare opportunity has arisen for late starters like me to make electricity and sell it to the government. I was very excited and called my old mate Ted right away. He didn’t think much of the idea but when I told him I had seven cases of beer, he was outside my house within minutes.

He arrived wearing a wetsuit, gumboots and yellow dishwashing gloves, explaining that if we were going to be making electricity, we would need to be well-grounded. He gave me the lazy eye and said I clearly wasn’t well-grounded and hadn’t been for a very long time.

“Right,” I said, handing him a six-pack and opening one for myself. “What generates electricity?”

Ted thought for two seconds. “Cats and balloons,” he shouted. I explained that he was thinking of static electricity.

“Do you,” I said, “have any idea how many cats and balloons we’d go through just to make one cupful of electricity?” Ted said South Africa had a massive surplus of cats and balloons and it was unlikely we’d run out, which wasn’t the point. He also said electricity doesn’t come in cupfuls and, on closer reflection and a second six-pack, I conceded that he might be right although he couldn’t say what it did come in so I won on a technicality.

“Solar is where it’s at,” I said. After calculating our finances, we agreed to start out with one panel. Then we argued about whose house we would put it on and who would keep it clean and that was the end of that idea.

A wind farm seemed the next best option. Since neither of us owned a farm, we felt that one smallish turbine would be sufficient. I’d seen dozens of them on a recent trip to Jeffreys Bay and it made sense to dig one up, put it on my roof racks and bring it home. Getting caught wasn’t an issue since theft is encouraged in the Eastern Cape. Maybe it only applies to municipalities.

After calculations done on the back of Ted’s hand, we reckoned we’d need to produce five thousand gigawatts a day, or maybe an hour, to make it worth the effort. And we’d need the government to pay at least R500 a megawatt or portion thereof. But even with a free microwatt thrown in for every fifty uberwatts, or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s with every kilowatt, it seemed unlikely our embattled Treasury could handle that kind of outlay. The idea was scrapped when we fought about who would be responsible for maintenance. South Africans hate doing maintenance. We can’t see the point. It’s a genetic flaw.

“How about,” I said, “if we bought, say, a million of those plastic windmills that children play with?” Ted stroked his beard, even though he doesn’t have one, and looked thoughtful. After a few minutes, I smacked him across the head and woke him up.

“Whirligigs!” he shouted, knocking his beer over. Sure, why not. Link them together with fibre optic cables and feed it straight into the government’s gaping maw. Half a day of digging up the neighbourhood and we’d have enough macrowatts to keep us in beer for the rest of the year.

The more we drank the less viable it seemed. Too many whirligigs. Too much effort.

“How do they make electricity at our power stations?” said Ted. Just then load-shedding kicked in. We sat in the dark for two hours, drinking quickly and silently, as if the absence of light somehow rendered our brains inactive. When the power returned, we hit on it at the same time. “Fossils!” We’d heard a lot about fossil fuel but had no idea where to get the fossils from. Ted seemed to think they were kept in caves, like Sterkfontein, but it sounded too far away. And anyway, the spine of a brontosaurus would never fit on my car.

“What about coal?” All we needed to do was keep fifty or so braais going around the clock and connect them to a bunch of car batteries. This was by far our best idea but it fell apart when we calculated out how much meat and alcohol we would have to buy. Our livers would liquify and our arteries would turn into carbon rods long before we could make enough to retire as wealthy men.

“How about gas?” said Ted, from the foetal position, and proceeded to fart the opening bars of the national anthem.

At this point, I ran out of renewable energy and had a spontaneous blackout.

WHO let the boozehounds out

Dear World Health Organization,

I recently came across your draft global alcohol action plan for 2022-2030 and might I say what a fine piece of work it is too. There was one particular paragraph that caught my eye. You say “appropriate attention” should be given to the prevention of drinking alcohol among children and adolescents, as well as “among pregnant women and women of childbearing age”.

I couldn’t agree more. Women between the ages of 16 and 50 should absolutely not be allowed to drink. I often struggle to get an order in at my local pub because the bar is seven-deep in hysterical jezebels screaming for more alcohol when they should be at home trying to fall pregnant.

Given how dangerous our streets are, it’s bad enough that women of childbearing age are allowed out at all. What if one of them were to get hit by a taxi? That’s one less opportunity for another precious baby to enter this world.

Some women are infertile, although I have yet to meet one. This doesn’t mean they should be deprived of the joy of having a newborn in the house. Any spare women of childbearing age could be assigned to these homes and encouraged to procreate with the head of the household. However, women of that age are at their most headstrong and one might have to put the frighteners on them to encourage their cooperation.

This would also remove the temptation for women not to have children of their own, possibly in the hope of being allowed alcohol. The decision is not theirs. Nor is the alcohol. That is for men like us. I assume you are a man. I cannot imagine a woman came up with this brilliant idea.

I am aware this scenario might sound a tad totalitarian to the liberals, but it’s nowhere near as dystopian as a world where healthy women with viable ovaries chug back the white wine, refuse to make dinner for their husbands and convert the spare room into a yoga studio instead of a nursery.

The current situation, where pre-pregnant women are allowed to drink, is untenable. Quite frankly, it is out of control and I cannot understand why governments everywhere haven’t clamped down on it. These women often drink heavily and get quite out of control, which is not good for our mental health. It’s bad enough that they are allowed to drive and have their own bank accounts.

When women drink, they frequently do it in groups. As part of the United Nations, you will know better than most how risky this is. Conversation frequently turns to talk of rebellion. I know this because I have a mole in their ranks. However, because she is no longer of childbearing age and seems to think she is free to drink to excess, her information is not always entirely reliable.

Left-wing heretics claim that alcohol affects the quality of a man’s sperm and therefore the quality of the baby. This is nothing more than seditious nonsense. My sperms are top drawer and they love alcohol. They go absolutely crazy. Sometimes I have to let them out after a few beers, even when there isn’t a compliant woman of childbearing age in the immediate area. A bit of a waste, but what can you do.

Thin-lipped zealots also maintain that alcohol fuels violence against women and that you might have mentioned something about this. Sure, some men get a bit frustrated if they can’t perform after drinking heavily, but you can’t blame the alcohol for that. Maybe you can. That’s not the point. It’s women’s behaviour that needs to be controlled. Besides, it’s been proven that a little light slapping gets the blood flowing and increases the chances of conception. Isn’t that what’s important here?

Women at the best of times cannot be trusted. Ban them from drinking and they will make their eyes big and say, “yes, sir”, but turn your back for a moment and they’ll set about your drinks cabinet in a feeding frenzy of terrifying proportions.

How would we even control those who live alone? The only solution would be to install cameras in homes occupied by women of childbearing age. Any evidence of backsliding could be met with … let me not be presumptuous. I’m sure you are already working on a first draft of an action plan for appropriate punishments. Nothing too drastic, I hope. Lopping off a finger or toe would be enough. We wouldn’t want to see our women being strung up in public or torn apart by dogs. We love them too much for that.

Anyway, chief. Keep up the good work. As they say in the classics, nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Swazi heads will roll

News that Eswatini’s despotic King Mswati III has fled to South Africa after pro-democracy protests broke out reminded me of a letter I wrote to his equally delightful brother, Prince Mahlaba, eleven years ago.


Dear Prince Mahlaba,

I read in one of our counter-revolutionary rags that you have threatened journalists with death if they continue to write negative things about Swaziland. Well done, sir.

On behalf of our glorious ruling party, the ANC, I applaud you for taking such a courageous stand against these unpatriotic vermin.

As King Mswati’s brother and a leading member of a highly influential royal advisory council, you would be failing in your duty if you remained silent and allowed these mendacious dogs to write anything that slopes into their poisoned minds.

As you so aptly put it: “It is a fact that journalists earn their living by writing lies. I want to warn the media to bury things that … are harmful to the country’s international image. Journalists who continue to write bad things about the country will die.”

Personally, I think death is too good for them. Kill them, by all means, but why not torture them first? It worked for the Spanish during the Inquisition, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t work for you in Swaziland, even if you aren’t Catholic. At the very least, these pub-crawling prevaricators will be encouraged to name their fellow conspirators. Subeditors and layout artists are part of the axis of evil, and they should not be allowed to escape the purges.

Yours is one of the most peaceful and democratic countries in the world, and anyone who says differently should be lashed to the rack and stretched until his spine snaps.

What’s more, any “journalist” who writes that Swaziland is a landlocked country should have his hands chopped off. If the world gets to hear that you don’t have a port, you can kiss foreign investment goodbye. Your harbour, sir, is one of the best in Africa. You can count on me to spread the word.

I have seen it written that Swaziland has the world’s highest prevalence of HIV/Aids. The purveyors of this rancid propaganda must be whipped with jellyfish tails and have spikes driven through their venomous forked tongues. There are no sick, bed-ridden people in Swaziland. There are only people who enjoy resting for long periods of time.

Anyone who writes that Swaziland is a small country with an unemployment rate of 40% deserves to have their toes sliced open and their hair set alight. Swaziland is huge. Bigger than Russia. And everyone has at least five jobs, three houses and a dozen or so cars. Not ordinary cars either. Like the king, most households have a Maybach in the garage.

Most importantly, Swaziland does not rely almost exclusively on South Africa for its economic survival. In fact, it is the other way around. You need to make your journalists understand that, without Swaziland, South Africa would be nothing more than a tin-pot dictatorship ruled by a despotic monarch with 84 teenage wives and several million children. Help them to understand this by ramming porcupine quills into their eyes.

Any reporter who quotes the fabricated Forbes 2009 list of the world’s richest royals as saying that King Mswati is worth $100-million should be reprimanded. I suggest you do this by summonsing the misguided hack and inserting the expandable Pear of Anguish into the orifice of your choosing. This was a popular form of chastisement during medieval times – a golden age when journalists could be relied upon to report accurately on their emperor’s new clothes.

You will be pleased to hear that our most excellent government here in South Africa is following your lead in supporting press freedom. Our chief of police, Comrade General Bheki Cele Sir, set his special unit, the Orcs, on a Sunday Times journalist this week, and many others are starting to see the error of their ways.

However, in the unlikely event that the pen turns out to be more powerful than the sword after all, I suggest you break out the guns. Swords are for tiny, impoverished nations so riddled with corruption and disease that they will probably disappear in a few years. Anyone who suggests Swaziland is such a nation should expect to have molten lead poured into their ears and their knees crushed in a vice.

Yours in the quest for truth,

Ben ‘Thumbscrew’ Trovato

We’re jabbin’, jabbin’, And I hope you like jabbin’, too

I never expected to hear back from the government after I registered on their vaccine site. I mean, this is the government, right? They only reach out when they want our money, blind trust or vote.

Then, astonishingly, I got an SMS to say I had an appointment at the Ocean View civic centre in three days’ time. I went into a panic and reached for the tequila. I was no longer sure if I even wanted it. What if the lunatic fringe was right and my body turned into a radioactive hotspot setting off car alarms and broadcasting Radio Moscow from my ass?

Ocean View is a two-minute drive from where I stay. Close enough to hear the gunshots on Friday nights but not so close that property prices are affected. The gangs are more violent than those from Masiphumelele down the road but the shebeens are better stocked. Murderous pit bulls, feral children and scraggy addicts roam the streets. An ideal vaccination site, in the eyes of our magnificent health department.

The appointment was for 10am. At 9.45am I was still in bed doing research and becoming increasingly confused. The vaccine won’t stop you from getting Covid or passing it on but it might save you from dying although it might also hack into your genetic code and implant microfiche and chips and turn you into a mutant.

I drained the last of the Jose Cuervo and seven minutes later, hopelessly lost, pulled up outside what looked like a crack house. I asked a man with a goat’s head tattooed on his neck for directions. 

“Gettin’ jabbed, yo,” I said, putting on my gangsta face. He had on his unimpressed face and made some kind of hand sign that was either directions or a death threat.

With steel mesh bolted across the windows and iron doors at the entrance, the site looked more like a prison than a civic centre. I joined the line of eight people outside. It looked promising. I’d be out in no time.

I might have known the real queue was inside, perched anxiously on three rows of plastic chairs. Everyone was white. Judging by the size of their eyes and the way the women were clutching their handbags, this was their first time in a township. An official was addressing them in a deep Cape Flats accent made even more incomprehensible by her mask.

She said something about the time and that if people didn’t have cellphones there was a clock on the wall. She pointed at the clock. People turned to look at it. The clock had quite clearly stopped working at 12.10, possibly in 1968. It worried me that nobody pointed this out. Did they really think that was the time? Perhaps they were past caring.

The strip lighting had been flickering since I walked in. Nobody seemed to care about this either. I turned to the moth-eaten woman next to me and said, “Nice for the epileptics.” She snorted behind her mask, then held up the pamphlet we’d been handed. “Have you read this?” she said. “Is it too late to flee?”

The pamphlet thanked us for getting vaccinated and warned that mild side effects were common. The symptoms sounded identical to those of a common hangover and I, consequently, was unafraid. We were also informed that up to four in a million might suffer a “severe allergic reaction”. Fighting odds, but still. Nobody wants to go into anaphylactic shock with a syringe hanging out of their arm while geriatrics burble bad advice and prod you with their Zimmer frames.

The queue was moving quickly. Go in, get poked, come out speaking Mandarin with bits of metal stuck to your face. Standing up and moving to the next chair was accompanied by the sound of knees going off like gunshots. Suddenly I was second in line. It wouldn’t have been my first time to cut and run at the last minute. “Next!” Damn. Too late. 

A nurse with eyes that begged me not to make conversation stuck a needle in my arm and told me to hang around for 15 minutes. It’s possible there is an old codger still sitting there staring at that broken clock. The reason for waiting is presumably to see if the vaccine makes your head explode or your genitalia fall off. I got bored after thirty seconds and drove home.

Later, I googled, “What is in the Pfizer vaccine?” This is a classic case of irresponsible drug use. Always find out what you’re taking before you take it.

In case you’re interested, it contains lipids, which are like tiny greasy tadpoles. Generally well-behaved unless provoked. Then there is salt, which I love, and sugar which “helps the molecules maintain their shape”. More than it does for my shape. Then comes the magic bullet. The mRNA. These devilishly cunning infiltrators come bearing a message. From Bill Gates? Probably not. But if it was, it would be him denying ever having been mates with Jeffrey Epstein. Or maybe some advice about signing a prenup before getting married.

Hot and cold dogs at the Chinese takeaway

Yep, it’s that time of year again. Here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago. Nothing has changed.

Oh, to be in the ancient Chinese prefecture-level city of Yulin right now. To walk along the shores of Lake Hongjiannao, smelling the peach blossoms and basking in the sultry summer air. To amble around the Dongkou market, languidly browsing through the schnauzers and the Chow Chows.

I do love the way Chinese towns each have their own delightful traditions. In Yulin, for example, visitors are encouraged to celebrate the summer solstice. This is best done by picking out a plump Pekingese and having it grilled right there in front of you. Your host will serve it with a side order of plump lychees and a glass of potent grain alcohol. Yum!

The annual festival is a vibrant swirl of sights and sounds – mainly the sounds of ten thousand dogs vying for the privilege of being barbecued, stir-fried or boiled. Much like the Chinese themselves, the dogs are happiest when called upon to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

Personally, I can’t think of a better pet than one you can play with and then, when you’re feeling peckish, snack on a leg or nibble on its tail. A playmate in the morning and dinner at night. What’s not to love?

The news report I read about this charming tradition of the orient said there were a few spoilsports who tried to dampen the festive spirit by shouting about cruelty to animals, but all this seemed to do was encourage vendors to hold their animals hostage. One dangled a dog from a noose and threatened to kill it unless the bunny-huggers paid him a handsome ransom. Now that’s what I call an entrepreneur.

There was also a swaddle of Buddhists who wandered about the market performing a religious rite to “console the souls of the slaughtered dogs”. I have no doubt the dogs were awfully grateful, but I can’t help feeling their cause might have been better served had a platoon of Tibetan monks armed with AK-47s turned up instead.

Vendors, like 55-year-old Zhou Jian, lamented the presence of people who think dogs belong on couches, not menus. This year he only managed to offload three Shar-Peis, two pugs and a Manchurian hairless. Most of his merchandise went unsold. “How am I meant to feed my family?” he whined, packing away several cages of Chinese crested dogs. “Oh, right. But that would be eating into my profits.”

The locals say that feasting on dog meat on the summer solstice provides health benefits that last through the winter. They may be right, given that the average age of a Chinese pensioner is 142. Then again, we don’t know if they have dogs to thank for that or some other tasty tidbit like bear bile or tiger testicles. Or snorting a gram of rhino horn twice a day.

Not everyone on that side of the Bamboo Curtain believes dogs are man’s best meal. Actress Yang Mi wrote, “Dogs are more loyal to people than I’d imagined – I think of dogs as friends, not meat.” That kind of talk can get you 20 years in a labour camp. Next thing you know, she’ll be thinking of pro-democracy dissidents as people with rights.

One local resident, Zhang Bing, defended the practice. “Yulin people eat dog meat in all seasons, just like Cantonese eat chicken every day and foreigners eat beef.” Mmmm. Labrador. A dog for all seasons.

Anyway. I’d like to hear what Professor Tim Noakes has to say on the subject. My guess is this: “Look, you get good Shih Tzu and bad Shih Tzu. Stay off the fast food, like whippets and greyhounds. And avoid the Yorkshire terrier pudding. It’s a killer. Retriever is dangerous because you’ll keep coming back for more. Dalmatian will make your skin blotchy and Husky will affect your voice. Bloodhound is too rich and Boerboel too tough. You can’t really go wrong with a lightly grilled Griffon Bleu de Gascogne or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a Miniature Schnauzer mit kartoffels und sauerkraut drizzled with Rottweiler jus. Remember. High-fat, low carb. Or is it the other way around? I do apologise. I had a bite of bulldog for breakfast and, as you know, they are very high in carbohydrates. I don’t feel well at all. You will have to excuse me.”




Dear Comrade President Cyril Ramaphosa the First…

Well done on reminding us that members of parliament are people, too. Real people with real feelings. If you tickle them, do they not laugh? If you cut them, do they not bleed? If you pay them R100 000 a month, do they not struggle to make ends meet?

We, the great unwashed, need to remember that these humble martyrs to democracy, who have sacrificed everything to serve the nation, spend weeks every year in an old building that offers no opportunities for shopping, fast food or even the chance to make a little extra on the side.

These courageous servants of an ungrateful public are committed to listening to interminable debates, finding out the party line and voting accordingly, and occasionally heaving themselves into a standing position to shout incoherently in the general direction of the opposition. As if this isn’t onerous enough, they have to be in Cape Town, a cold-blooded city that cares more about penguins than the homeless.

The plague has made their work even more challenging. Not only must they attend virtual meetings, but they also have to make sure their webcams don’t pick up half-naked concubines wandering about the premises. It’s a big ass. Sorry, ask. Finger trouble. Happens at our age.

Your recent remark implying that many parliamentarians struggle to keep their heads above water was met with cries, not, as you might expect, of sympathy, but of outrage and derision. This, from people who never have to make ends meet for the simple reason that they don’t earn enough money. The less you earn, the easier it is to make ends meet. Any idiot knows that. Members of the proletariat, among whose ranks idiots proliferate, are aware of their fiscal limitations and thus keep within their budgets.

By benefiting from the character-building experience of watching inflation regularly outstripping their wage increases, the peasants know instinctively not to buy more than four litres of brandy, two loaves of bread, a small bag of weed and a fresh, untraceable handgun in any given month.

If, however, you had to give them a parliamentarian’s salary, debt collectors from the corporate underworld would be lining up to break their legs. As a man who is worth over R6-billion, you understand better than most that the more you have, the more you want. Capitalism is a bit like sex in that way.

Your most indolent of backbenchers, the mouth breathers who regularly dislocate their jaws during extreme bouts of chain-yawning, are paid just over a million a year. If I had to start earning that kind of money, I, too, would soon enough struggle to make ends meet. The very first time my monthly reward landed in my account with a dull thud, I would order a $300-million yacht. If Jeff Bezos can have one, there’s no reason I can’t. I would be a Member of Parliament, a maker of laws. Bezos runs a courier company. Please. Make that two yachts.

I would then buy nine KFC franchises and hire my favourite relatives to run them so that we can all have free Streetwise 5 with Large Chips forever. Then I would buy a house in every province. Maybe not the Northern Cape. I would also buy eight cars, one for each day of the week and two for Sundays.

Eventually, I would find myself battling to make ends meet. And, just like your MPs, it wouldn’t be my fault. There’s a reason my mother never gave me a full year’s pocket money in one go. She knew I’d be addicted to heroin and hookers before the sun went down. So she gave me a little bit once a week. Just enough to buy a packet of liquorice allsorts and a Richie Rich comic. The principle is the same. Your disposable MPs earn R150 an hour around the clock, weekends included, whether they are awake or asleep.

I bet if you paid them by the hour, they’d learn how to make ends meet.

Anyway. You also deserve congratulations on other fronts. For instance, you haven’t fired a single loyal member of your faction, no matter how useless or corrupt they may be. Your sense of self-preservation, sir, is sharper than ever. Even I know it’s better to have the undesirables inside your tent peeing out than having them outside peeing in. It’s one of the reasons I no longer go camping. But you’re not a man who bothers with tents. And a good thing, too. Gaddafi was a tent man and look what happened to him.

I don’t envy you, comrade leader. You wake up every morning faced with a long list of very hard decisions. And I applaud you for not taking them. I wouldn’t, either. I’d also keep putting that list aside and, after ordering the staff to bring me a light breakfast of Tibetan quail eggs, white truffles and bacon sliced from the finest of Norwegian piglets, I would browse through my collection of fly fishing, golfing and buffalo breeding magazines for new ideas.

And who could blame you? When I wake up, the only decision I have to make is whether to go to the beach or the bottle store. The weather has quite a big influence, which is probably not the case in your life. Rain or shine, there you are, avoiding the media and the big decisions.

The other good news is that Uncle Gwede is arranging for a flotilla of Turkish ships to come over so that we can at least charge our phones. So that’s something to look forward to.

The light at the end of the tunnel has gone out

I was on deadline when an Eskom attack dog was unleashed on Twitter, snarling that stage 4 load shedding was imminent and anyone who had a problem could meet him outside in the parking lot. Like cancer, there is no stage 5.

Hysterical, I ran naked around my shack in the milkwoods shouting at the cat to get ready. A few hours earlier we had been subjected to stage 2, resulting in lukewarm beer for me and tepid milk for her. We were less than impressed but at least we weren’t panicking. There was still stage 3 to go.

But that didn’t happen.

Proceeding directly from stage 2 to stage 4 meant that something terrible was happening. We weren’t sure what it was because Eskom won’t tell us how it’s possible to go from months and months of wallowing in electricity to having almost none at all. In the space of a few hours.

They don’t explain because they either think we are too stupid to understand or they fear that we will unite across racial and political lines and march on Megatwatt Park and burn their building to the ground. So. Stupid it is then.

The cat licked her paw and set about washing her face. She must have seen some truly appalling things in her life to be able to remain calm in the face of a stage 4 clusterfuck.

Seven minutes later the lights went out. I hadn’t even found my pants yet. The cat raised its damp paw and pointed at its mouth. I pretended not to see. “Mroww,” she said. I am semi-fluent in cat as I’m sure she is in English but we keep it to ourselves out of mutual fear of exploitation.

“I can’t see you!” I shouted. “You’re a black cat in a power failure on a moonless night in a country poised to hurl itself into a stygian abyss. Give me a break.” She yawned and fell over. It was all I could do not to follow suit.

The ill-advised advisories began oozing out like ectoplasm. “Generating units are still tripping”. So am I, bro. But you don’t see me plunging the country into chaos.

“Expect defective traffic lights.” Oh, please. It would have come as a tremendous shock to get a message that all traffic lights were working.

“Since this morning we have unexpectedly lost six generating units and are consequently at war with Germany.” Oops. I’m getting my chilling announcements mixed up.

I sympathise with Eskom. Things go astray. I’ve lost many things over the years, including my car keys, mind and virginity. What I don’t understand is how you unexpectedly lose six generating units, which are probably bigger than, say, a Bic lighter. Perhaps they meant it literally. Everyone went on lunch and when they came back, six units were missing. People will steal anything these days. But they probably mean that the units were lost in much the same way that soldiers are unexpectedly lost in battle. A management sniper firing deadly bursts of incompetence and neglect brought them down in the prime of their lives.

Eskom should at least have the decency to erect a memorial in their honour. They gave their lives so that we could, however briefly, have light. There could be a Tomb of the Unknown Unit dedicated to all the unsung units who have sacrificed their lives since the great plundering of 2008.

Weirdly, Eskom still blames us. There’s too much pressure on the system, they whine. It’s those people in Durban. The temperature drops below 28 degrees and it’s out with the electric blankets and turbo-charged heaters, draining the national grid and forcing the rest of us to suffer horribly. Selfish bastards.

Trapped knee-deep in a treacherous quagmire of political compromise and public expectations like a deer in the headlines – I mix better martinis than metaphors – our noble president announced the other day that Eskom would be unbundled. Generation, transmission, distribution. Many of us would also like to see the utility’s top management split into three parts. Head, torso, limbs.

Ramaphosa’s plan means that bribes will in future have to be split three ways. The old days of one family and a couple of cadres getting everything are over. This is a perfect blend of capitalism and socialism and works very well in a model kakistocracy such as ours.

I say let’s put Eskom in private hands. From where I sit I can see my neighbor having a braai. He doesn’t have any friends, but nor does Eskom. The fire has gone out and he is on his knees throwing up into the swimming pool. Let him run Eskom. He couldn’t possibly do a worse job.

I’m on deadline and it’s a race against time to finish this before the beers get undrinkable and the pirated battery in my laptop load sheds itself.

Don’t talk to me about pressure on the system.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

South Africans are up in arms over a proposed amendment that says self-defence is not a good enough reason to be awarded a gun licence.

Cold, dead hands notwithstanding, if your husband goes shopping and comes home with, say, a slow cooker, you stand a chance of getting supper. If, on the other hand, he comes home with a gun, you stand a chance of getting shot. I’d rather take my chances with a slow cooker type of guy any time.

I like the idea of guns more than I like guns themselves. They’re a bit like women. And I don’t mean loud and capable of going off for no reason. I mean you feel invincible when you have one, but take it away and you spend your nights in the foetal position crying yourself to sleep.

Guns are weirdly supernatural. I don’t understand how they work. I also find television and electricity weirdly supernatural. The idea of being able to kill someone a kilometer away is strangely compelling, though. You needn’t even stand up. Simply put your beer down, rest your rifle on a small child’s head, aim and pull the trigger. Bam! One less person on the beach.

Google spits up 1.2 billion results if you search for “guns”. I googled “sex” and got 4.6 billion results. Then I got distracted and googled “sex and guns” and immediately regretted it.

“A small community in Virginia mourns as a man dies after having sex with his revolver.” It got worse, with references being made to Guns N’ Roses, a band that toured Europe in the late 1940s, precipitating the early surrender of the Nazis.

I prefer knives to guns. Throw a gun at someone and you’ll just make him angrier. But throw a knife and there’s a chance he will think you’re a Ninja and take cover, giving you time to run away. Also, when you’re not stabbing someone, you can use the knife to put Marmite on your toast. Try doing that with a gun.

When I was a kid my father would take me and his Walther PPK pistol down to the dunes near the mouth of the Umgeni River. The first time it happened I thought he was planning to kill me. Especially when he sat down and polished off half a dozen beers. Instead, he lined up the empties. Then he put the gun in my little hand and told me to pretend the cans were communists. I pulled the trigger and the metal beast barked and bucked, almost breaking my fragile wrist. It was an exhilarating example of cause and effect. Pull on this little thing and something wild and inexplicable happens. It’s why boys love magic. It’s also why they love masturbating.

However, if this was a rite of passage, I failed miserably.

“Stand closer,” he said. I kept missing. It was ridiculous. I was wasting the entire month’s food budget on ammunition but he wouldn’t let me stop.

“Squeeze the trigger, don’t pull it!” he shouted. “Let’s try a bit closer.” The barrel eventually rested lightly against a can. This wasn’t target practice. It was an execution. He never took me shooting again.

If the government won’t let me get a gun, I’ll probably order one from America. I found Springfield Armory online. I liked the sound of it because the Simpsons come from Springfield. If it’s good enough for Homer, it’s good enough for me.

According to their website, in 1777 George Washington “ordered the creation of Springfield Armory to store revolutionary ammunition and gun carriages”. I won’t bore you with the details of what happened between then and now. There’s a saying that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I failed to learn history and got 17% in matric. I was damned if I was going to repeat it.

They have several categories of guns including competition, concealed carry, home defence and short to long-range. We don’t mess about with categories in South Africa. We just go to a township and ask around. Or take one off a sleeping policeman.

I was immediately drawn to the concealed carry category because I have always liked hiding things. This probably explains my failed marriages.

“Whether you’re looking for the most possible capacity or the deepest possible concealment, you can find it here.” One shouldn’t expect impeccable grammar from arms dealers, but how deep is the deepest possible concealment? And if we’re talking uterus or lower bowel, how would you get it out in a hurry?

The multi-purpose category has many handguns to choose from. “Perhaps you want something to put on the nightstand after spending the day with it on the range. Or maybe you want something that you’ll shoot as often as you carry it.” I don’t understand what any of this means. I want to be able to pull the trigger and have a piece of lead ejected at 1000m a second. Forget all this talk of nightstands. You don’t want your gun reminding you of bed – you want to be reminded that it makes living things dead.

“The good news is that Springfield Armory produces several ergonomically pleasing and feature-rich firearms with plenty of capacity and power.” This is good news for victims. Imagine the indignity of dying in a pool of your own blood after being shot with a firearm that was less than ergonomically pleasing. What a horrible way to go.

Speaking of which, I’m disappointed that the shape of guns has barely changed since they were invented. Look at the range of bubble guns in toyshops. I saw one the other day shaped like a seahorse. I, for one, would be far more inclined to arm myself if I could buy a pistol shaped like a mongoose or a dolphin. Come on, gun people. Let’s put the fun back into fundamentalism.

In the meantime, it seems we have two options. Ban firearms and ramp up the sentencing laws. If you’re found with a gun, you go to jail for 20 years. Or stop fannying about with amendments and arm the nation. Allow the poor and mentally handicapped to qualify for state-subsidised guns. Offer weapons training as part of the school curriculum. Death skills, perhaps, as a counterpoint to life skills.

Bars can run specials. Trigger-Happy Hour! A free 9mm round with every shot of tequila.

And forget about background checks. If you can tie your shoelaces, you’re eligible to own a gun. If you don’t have shoes, you will have to perform some other competency test. You could be asked to count to ten, for instance. If you can’t get further than five, you’re fit only for a small-caliber pistol. Get all the way to ten and you can have an AK-47.

A parliament of berserkers

I watched a clip of EFF leader Julius Malema at the Pan-African Parliament raising a point of order in true South African fashion. “I’ll kill you outside!” he shouted, pointing at a fellow honourable member of this shadowy organisation that seems to exist for no reason other than to prove how laughable African unity is as a concept. 

“I’ll kill you!” shouted Malema again. Then, to make sure there were no misunderstandings, he repeated the death threat a third time.

In effect, Malema was challenging his African brother to a duel. Instead of putting on his headphones and taking his seat, the Malian should have accepted the challenge. In terms of the rules governing duelling, he would have the right to choose what weapons would be used. If he knew anything of Malema’s background, he would have done well to decide that the combatants would make their weapons out of wood within a limited period of time. Being from Mali, he’d be able to carve himself a deadly knobkerrie in two shakes of a mamba’s tail. Malema, who won no prizes for woodwork at school, would be hard-pressed to come up with anything more dangerous than a backscratcher.

Since high-level prosecutions don’t seem to be happening and the police might as well not even exist, we need to start looking at other ways ordinary South Africans can get redress for their taxes being stolen and misused by the greedy, incompetent and corrupt. I suggest we revive duelling. In medieval times, duels were based on a code of honour. The ANC also has a code of honour. It’s called Omertà.

When I was sentenced to five years of high school at the tender age of 13, I soon enough discovered the existence of a primitive form of duelling. While I never did the challenging, I was on occasion challenged. There was very little chivalry involved, and I can’t recall there being any agreed-upon rules either. It generally involved a semi-literate brute with more than his share of Neanderthal DNA grabbing me with his prehensile paw and grunting, “Dongas. After school.” The dongas were an apocalyptic wasteland of eroded sandstone that lay just beyond the fence. The weapons were always the same. Fists, heads, teeth, feet, knees, elbows. Obviously I never turned up and consequently spent my time at St Bastards in a permanent state of dishonour. Rather that than a permanent state of pain.

Duelling was even popular in America at one stage. In fact, the first US Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, was killed in a duel against the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr, in 1804. What a shame Biden couldn’t have taken Trump out with a rapier. 

I’d be keen on challenging health minister Zweli Mkhize to a duel. I wonder what weapon he’d choose. Overpriced televised debates at dawn, probably. On the other hand, there’s a good chance he would simply deny ever having received notification of my challenge. I would have to physically accost him and slap him across the face with a surgical glove, not that his protectors would ever allow me to get close enough for that. If it were up to me, I’d choose polygraph machines wired up to our testicles. We would fire questions at each other, with the liar never being able to have children again. I’m confident that my bollocks would survive intact, which is more than I can say for his.

Duelling is cheaper than elections, plus there’s no chance of the results being rigged. As far as democracy goes, it makes perfect sense to have, say, the leaders of every political party fighting it out mano a mano in duels. I, for one, would pay good money to see John Steenhuisen facing off against Cyril Ramaphosa. Cyril would obviously choose golf clubs as the weapon. He’d elect to use a driver because he must have several lying around at home. Not to mention asleep in the car. John would be at a distinctive disadvantage. Coming from Durban and only having a matric, it’s unlikely he knows his way around a golf club.

Given that the courts are backed up and the cops are soundly asleep at the wheel, there are other forms of conflict resolution we should consider. Trial by combat, which worked nicely in Game of Thrones, is more effective than legal action because it is over quickly and no lawyers are involved. In England, land disputes were once resolved in this way. Sounds better than fannying about with expropriation without compensation. “You want my land? Fine, fight me for it.”

The Vikings had something called holmgang, a legal way of solving disputes through the judicious application of a long-handled axe to the cranium. The berserkers spoilt the fun by tripping on mushrooms and using holmgang as an excuse to steal money and women from their less extreme compatriots. Floyd Shivambu would have been a berserker.

Anyway. It’s just a thought. Only trying to help.

Who’s a pretty polyandrist, then?

Polygamy is a one-way street in South Africa. You can have more than one wife, but you can’t have more than one husband. Polygyny is fine but polyandry, in the words of the clearly repressed Bishop Marothi Mashashane, is a “sexual immorality”. The government is currently considering changes to the Marriage Act to allow it.

Polyandry makes perfect sense to me. If I were a woman, and I do hope to be one someday, I wouldn’t be satisfied with just one husband. No one man on his own can fulfill a woman’s needs. I don’t even mean physical needs. That’s the least of it. Google ‘sex toys’ and you’ll get an idea of just how close men are to redundancy in this department.

I’m talking about other needs. My research, which I’m making up as I go along, shows that 12 is the ideal number of husbands a woman requires to maintain consistent levels of contentment and good humour.

Here are the types of men needed for a successful polyandrous relationship. I mean successful from the woman’s point of view, obviously. Bear in mind that non-polyandrous women, through a combination of overwritten chick-lit, unrealistic romcoms, fairytales and bad advice from their mothers, still expect one man to fill all of these roles. It’s an impossible task and the reason why they eventually cheat, file for divorce or commit husbandcide.

The Fixer. A lot of men pride themselves on being able to fix things. They think it is a desirable quality. However, most women would rather have a man who knows how to fix horse races. That being said, women do appreciate having a handyman around the house. My first wife once expected me to repair a set of solar panels. I couldn’t even find a way onto the roof. She liked me less after that.

The Cook. Women were once genetically programmed to cook. This is no longer the case. They don’t have time to cook. And especially not if they have 12 husbands. But even those of a more traditional bent are increasingly disinclined to prepare an evening meal on a regular basis. Some will say this is because they refuse to conform to the sexist expectations of the patriarchy. Others will be honest and say that they just don’t feel like it and if you’re hungry you can sort yourself out. This also frequently applies to horny. A woman appreciates a man who knows how to cook. Or so I’ve heard. I have never needed to be appreciated that badly.

The Chauffeur. One of the worst things about children is that they expect to be constantly ferried about because their stupid little legs can’t reach the accelerator pedal. Their transport demands spiral out of control as they grow older and develop a pathological desire to see their friends, go to the mall or buy drugs. If you’re fortunate, they’ll get it all done at the mall and you won’t need to make three stops. Women pretend not to mind playing taxi because they know the alternative is far worse – having a recalcitrant teenager in the house.

The Cleaner. Much like cooking, the cleaning gene has been almost entirely bred out of women. They have become relatively feral in comparison to their mothers and are content to live in levels of squalor that would have been hitherto unacceptable. The delegation of cleaning duties might require more than one husband. While a man can be cajoled or threatened into doing the dishes or vacuuming, expecting him to do both is a bridge too far. Men prefer to specialise. Introductions at parties could be along the lines of, “This is Roger, my laundry husband, and Steve, my sweeping guy…”

The Protector. Women need good men to protect them from bad men. Or, in the case of my last marriage, from themselves. Quite often, good men turn into bad men. The converse rarely occurs. Some women don’t need men for protection because they have dogs, guns and restraining orders. But I imagine it is nice to have someone with muscles and testosterone in the house who will go outside and investigate strange noises rather than risk being branded a coward. I have always found the branding option to be less dangerous.

The Pet-Carer. Women love cats and dogs, especially when they are on the bed wedged between her and the husband. But they’re not always that keen on the feeding and exercising of the pets. They might need one husband to do the feeding and another to do the walking. It is unusual to find a man who is prepared to do both. He knows the payoff is negligible.

The Gardener. Let’s face it, women don’t like to garden. They pretend they do, but they don’t really. And the feeling is mutual. Plants are afraid of women. And who can blame them? I rather enjoy a bit of watering if I have a high-powered nozzle and don’t have to move about too much, but planting isn’t for me. A woman should aim to get a planter and waterer in one.

The Caller. Nobody, whether heterosexual or LGBTQI, wants to be the one to call Telkom, a government department or a service provider of any kind. Polyandry provides a woman with the possibility of finding a man who can make these calls without resorting to death threats and smashing the furniture. I am not that man, but that’s not to say they aren’t out there.

The Shopper. When it comes to clothes, a polyandrist won’t need help from one of her husbands. His whining will only become increasingly annoying as she tries on an infinite number of things and she will eventually have to murder him. There’s also no need for a husband for grocery shopping since he couldn’t be trusted to buy what’s on the list. She does, however, need him to make sure the home is never without alcohol. Women are reluctant to be seen shopping on their own in bottle stores. I don’t know why this is.

The Flatterer. He will be expected to respond to questions like, “Does my bum look big in this?” and “Do you still find it cute when I snore?” All men are genetically programmed to lie but some are better at it than others.

The Conversationalist. An essential part of being a woman is the need to talk to and about people, themselves and things. They are very good at it some do appreciate a husband who can participate on a level beyond shrugs, grunts and monosyllables. He will have a sparkling wit, be erudite and empathetic and, above all, know when to shut up and listen.

The Shagmeister. While all husbands would be expected to present themselves for shagging duties as and when required, one man will be tasked with drawing up the roster. He will also be expected to maintain order when the men, as ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe fears should polyandry become legal, turn into wild animals and all want her at the same time.