Convincing anti-vaxxers to get shot

A small herd of well-heeled anti-vaxxers and middle-aged men who took too much acid when they were young flounced down the Sea Point promenade on Saturday, mewling and whining and waving their silly little placards as if a terrible injustice had been done to them.

They should have been herded into vans, taken to the Waterfront, pushed onto a boat and deposited on Robben Island. Apart from it once having been a leper colony – and what are anti-vaxxers and pandemic deniers if not social lepers – the island was also reserved for those deemed insane. Angrily refusing a potentially life-saving vaccine in the midst of a deadly pandemic has to be a sign of insanity. Even Donald Trump, who is madder than a bag of hammers, is recommending that people get vaccinated.

It’s time to stop treating the anti-vaxxers with empathy. They’re not victims. Our task is not to talk them off the ledge. They wouldn’t listen anyway. In this war of humans versus pathogens, they have chosen to side with the pathogens. C’mon, Cyril. Get mandatory on their selfish asses. You can’t give South Africans a choice. They’ll either do nothing or the wrong thing.

I’m not the only world leader who is running out of patience. 

If you’re in France and want to go to a restaurant or bar or take a domestic flight, you have to show your health pass. The new law was passed on Monday. To get the pass, you must prove you’re fully vaccinated, have recently tested negative or recently recovered from the virus. Health workers must be vaccinated by September 15 or face suspension.

President Macron says the measures are needed to protect vulnerable people and avoid new lockdowns. Our lemmings are virulently opposed to both lockdowns and vaccines, seemingly unable to make the connection between the two. That’s some high-octane cognitive dissonance right there. As for protecting the vulnerable, these people don’t care about the immunocompromised. Probably because it has the word compromise in it.

France also has its anti-vaxxers. Thousands of them took to the streets on Saturday shouting “Liberty!” and saying the government shouldn’t tell them what to do. Oddly enough, I have a daughter called Liberty and she also says I shouldn’t tell her what to do.

France doesn’t pussyfoot around. This is, after all, a country that punished insurrectionists and nobility alike by chopping off their heads in public. In fact, this was their official method of execution until the death penalty was abolished in 1981. The guillotine is too good for our anti-vaxxers. They should be rounded up, locked inside shipping containers and forced to listen to Steve Hofmeyr singing Pampoen interspersed with a Bheki Cele press conference on a loop until they go mad or agree to get jabbed.

And while there were protests in Paris, this also happened – 1.7 million people rushed to sign up for a shot within 24 hours of the new law being passed. Sometimes the hesitant just need a little nudge.

Greece and Italy have also had it with the anti-vaxxers. So has Germany. While concentration camps aren’t yet on the cards, Helge Braun (no relation to Eva), chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, said: “Vaccinated people will definitely have more freedom than unvaccinated people.”

Right now we’re in a situation where the vaccinated have to wear masks to protect the anti-vaxxers. It’s a violation of the laws of nature. It’s like expecting lions to look after springboks who are too stupid to flee in the face of danger. I’d be happy for natural selection to perform its magic on those who have been duped by misinformation and conspiracy theories, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that in this case. The more people refuse to get vaccinated, the more we’re going to keep getting locked down and deprived of our right to buy alcohol, surely one of the most important human rights enshrined in the Constitution.

The more reasonable among them say they’re worried about possible side effects. I don’t know, man. Life itself has some horrendous side effects. Paracetamol, which you take for a hangover, lists hypoxia, anaphylaxis and liver failure as potential side effects. Those birth control pills you encourage your girlfriend to take? Care for a side order of cancer, blood clots and heart attacks with that, darling?

Sure, it’s not a perfect vaccine, like those for polio, hepatitis, measles, chickenpox, rubella, smallpox and so on. The Covid muti is what’s known as a leaky vaccine. This means there’s still a small chance of you contracting the virus (probably from an anti-vaxxer), but it will be a much weaker version. It’s the equivalent of getting thrown out of the ANC. You (and the virus) have no real power to do any serious damage.

And yes, I’ve been vaccinated. I have never turned down free drugs and I’m not about to start now.

I saw this banner on CNN: “Getting shot still best protection against coronavirus.” They might want to be more specific for their viewers who are hard of thinking. The last thing we need are hordes of anti-vaxxers being admitted to hospital with bullet wounds.

Speaking as someone who only passed matric because teachers couldn’t bear the thought of having me for another year, I tend to trust people who have devoted their lives to studying things like virology, epidemiology and infectious diseases. When they say these vaccines can save your life, I am inclined to believe them.

Of course, I may be wrong. If the vaccines do end up killing us all, please accept my apologies.

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.

Orcas, Putin and the real Godzille

This pandemic malarkey is starting to get old. It’s all a bit 2020, really. Lockdown, schmockdown, right? Been there, done that. I mean, let’s be honest. When last were you shocked by any of the Covid-19 statistics or graphs trotted out each week by one or other government agency?

It’s been over a year and we’re bored. We need something new. If the media hope to keep our attention, they are going to have to come up with something altogether more captivating.

Hold on, what’s this? CNN is reporting that Russia’s developing something called the Poseidon 2M39 torpedo. This nuclear-powered beast is capable of carrying a multi-megaton warhead. Defence officials say it is designed to annihilate US coastal cities with radioactive tsunamis.

Yes! This is what I’m talking about. Regular tsunamis are one thing, but radioactive tsunamis! Now that’s something worth watching on the telly. I like to imagine that once Miami has been rendered even more uninhabitable than it already is, Vladimir Putin would appear shirtless on the back of an orca to survey the sheer awesomeness of his power.

While we’re waiting for climate change to melt more ice in the Arctic so that Vlad can create increasingly fabulous weapons of mass destruction, here are some other events I hope to see before the ANC’s internal squabbles finally drive me to pick up a pair of scissors and stab myself repeatedly in the eyes so that I never again have to read about them.

* Scientists at Wits University manage to successfully insert genes from the Melanorosaurus into Helen Zille’s genome. The Melanorosaurus lived in South Africa during the Late Triassic period, an era from which Zille draws many of her ideas. A herbivore with a large body and sturdy limbs, (the dinosaur, not Zille), Melanorosaurus means “Black Mountain Lizard” in ancient Greek. Analysts said the new species, Helenoboreus, meaning “White Beach Lizard”, could have a positive impact on the political landscape in that it wouldn’t be physically equipped for social media. It would, however, require its own seating arrangements in parliament and a fairly large salad bar.

* Researchers in the Transylvania region of central Romania discover a hairy-legged vampire bat that cures Covid-19. Patients infected with the coronavirus need to bite the bat and ingest at least 5ml of its blood. Side effects include an inexplicable desire to fight crime. The cured are advised to avoid joining the SA police as they will find themselves alone in their desire.

* Elon Musk renounces his American citizenship and moves to Gqeberha. He turns the Eastern Cape into a global powerhouse by growing and exporting the finest marijuana in the world. When police try to stop him, he buys the police. And then the army. Musk makes electric vehicles mandatory in the defence force. Eskom finally collapses and troops are issued with bicycles. Eswatini invades South Africa and two days later King Mswati moves into Mahlamba Ndlopfu and takes nine million new wives. Musk returns to America and is arrested as an illegal immigrant.

* To encourage creative thinking and a spirit of competition, the government abolishes salaries in the civil service and legalises the solicitation of bribes. Service delivery improves overnight.

* The conspiracy theorists are proven right about vaccines changing your DNA. Babies start being born with elephant trunks instead of noses. Old people begin barking like dogs. In Benoni, a diesel mechanic sprouts wings and flies out of his workshop and into a bus. 

* The Kraken turns out not to be fictitious and wakes on a Thursday afternoon off the coast of Norway. Half-crab, half-octopus, half-David Attenborough, it ambushes and kills the Norwegian and Icelandic whalers before swiftly moving through the world’s oceans. On its way to Japan, it stops off in the Faroe Islands and murders the men who slaughter hundreds of pilot whales each year. He also destroys bottom trawlers and visits the homes of executives who certify tuna to be dolphin-safe when they know it’s not.

* Ace Magashule abandons his political career, becomes a pastor and starts his own church. On The Run Ministries offers redemption and new identities, baptisms in holy revenue streams and a range of services that come with a 10% tithe. Confessions are not encouraged.

* Cannibalism is legalised, allowing the very poor to eat the very rich. Tuesdays only. Due to limited resources, the state will not assist the poor in catching their prey although exceptions can be made for the disabled. Hunting must be done on foot. No weapons permitted.

* With the government out of ideas on how to remedy the imbalances of the past, they reintroduce apartheid, with black people being reclassified as white and white people, black. There is mass confusion, but once the nation is properly informed about what is happening, everyone is happy. Everyone apart from the white people who are now black.

* A gecko has just fallen into my gin and tonic. This is not a news event. I apologise for the abrupt ending, but this requires my urgent attention. 

No more pura vida

My holiday in Costa Rica is over and I am on my way home. Three months have flown by in the blink of a fish on a bicycle. Since the concept of time has become meaningless, feel free to make up your own way of describing the passage of whatever that thing used to be.

With less than a week remaining on my visa, filled with loathing at the idea of returning to a country that can’t keep the lights on, the Costa Rican government decided to extend all tourist visas by another three months. All I would have to do is buy additional health insurance and change the return date on my air ticket. However, this being a region where tropical brain rot is not an uncommon affliction, even among politicians, they forgot to extend tourists’ driving licences at the same time. 

This meant that while I could stay, I couldn’t drive. Since I had been using a Jeep belonging to Bloke, my son-in-law, I told him that I was quite happy driving without a licence. From what I’d seen on the roads, nobody in Costa Rica had one anyway.

Bloke prised the keys from my hand and said the police would confiscate the car if I was caught. My insistence that I could outrun any cops fell on deaf ears, largely because I couldn’t back it up with any realistic evidence. And also because he’d left the room.

A lot of expats do a border run every three months. Cross over to neighbours Panama or Nicaragua, pick up an STI and a fledgling coke habit, and come back with a fresh visa. Thing is, Costa Rica’s land borders are still closed. So you can stay, but if you want to keep driving, you’d need to fly somewhere and fly back. Sheer lunacy. I checked out the options.

A return ticket to Panama City – a mere 90-minute flight – would cost me upwards of R8000. I’d also have to take one of those disgusting nasopharyngeal tests to get into Panama. I was outraged and demanded to speak to someone. Anyone. About anything. But there were no takers and I was left to rant and rave to myself. Eventually, I ran out of energy and rum and attempted to approach the issue as an adult might.

Instead of thinking with my heart or willy, as is my wont, I used my head. It got ugly at times but I eventually decided that it made more sense to go home, regroup and return when either the world normalised or the Costa Rican government emerged from its siesta.

Bloke and my increasingly irascible loinfruit refused to take me to San Jose airport, so I had to get a taxi for the four-hour hell run. Having spent three months learning to drive like a local, I realised how much I still had to learn. Like how to overtake on blind corners while texting with one hand and eating chicharrones with the other. Or when to accelerate (always)  and when to brake (never) on a dangerous mountain road. Thanks for the masterclass, Diego, if that’s your real name.

My travel agent, who appears to have taken up crystal meth as a coping mechanism, said she thought I might require a Covid-19 test either for Germany or South Africa. Thought? Might? These are ambiguous grounds upon which to base a decision on whether to allow one’s olfactory apparatus to be rudely invaded by strangers.

My natural inclination to throw caution to the dogs was tempered by the fear of being labelled a deadly health risk and dragged from the airport, so I found a backstreet clinic that promised a test turnaround time of three hours. Perfect. Just in time for my Lufthansa flight. A woman with beautiful eyes, dressed seductively in a white hazmat outfit, lured me into a cubicle and asked if I’d ever done this before.

I sniggered like a schoolboy and wiggled my eyebrows. There was an awkward silence before she turned and reached for an instrument the size of a child’s jousting lance. I’ve had some dodgy things up my nose before, but this was perfectly unpleasant. So was I. On my way out, a growler at the front desk said, “Don’t come back.” I like to think she meant they’d send me the results, but I can’t be sure.

Three hours later, I got an email saying that I was negative. I assumed this wasn’t a reference to my attitude.

Anyway, it wasn’t an entirely wasted effort as the hombre at check-in asked for my status. “Single,” I said, with an exaggerated wink. He sighed and put his hand out. I decided against taking it gently in mine and handed over the evidence that I wasn’t going to kill everybody on the aircraft. Then I begged him for an emergency exit seat to accommodate my freakishly long legs. No problem, he said, seating me in a middle row in the section that’s always first to disintegrate on impact.

An hour before boarding, the loinfruit sent me a message to say the government had announced the extension of visitors’ driving licences. Gracias por nada, amigos.

I am currently at Frankfurt International Airport. It’s 7°C and I’m still dressed for Costa Rica. My body clock says it’s 9am but the clock on the wall says 5pm. I have overruled my body and ordered a brace of Heinekens which cost the same as a downpayment on a small house in Durban North.

Someone on the PA keeps screaming, “Achtung!” and I really wish they wouldn’t. I’ve just survived a sleepless 12-hour flight and I’m starting to feel like Flight Lieutenant Andrew MacDonald in The Great Escape, who is arrested after a suspicious Gestapo agent at a train station tricks him into speaking English. There were certainly times when flight LH519 from Costa Rica felt like Stalag Luft III. I should probably learn a few rudimentary German phrases just in case.

Achtung! A policeman has threatened to arrest me for not wearing a mask. I was going to explain that I’m in transit but feared he might think I was transitioning to a woman and arrest me anyway. Instead, I pointed at my neat row of Heinekens and said, “But I’m drinking beer.” He looked at me with his cruel, young face and said, “There is no beer.” It seemed inadvisable to point out that there very clearly was beer. I backed down and put on my mask, a cheap fashion number that protects nobody but is very comfortable to wear.

He said he’d be back, presumably with a Panzer tank, if he caught me without my mask again.

In a few minutes, I have to get on another 12-hour flight. This time to Joburg. Then another to Cape Town. By the time I get home, I will have gone at least 50 hours without sleep. That kind of thing is fine if you have access to high-grade amphetamines. All I have is a small stuffed sloth. It’s not going to be enough.

 

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.

 

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.

5 ways to get the perfect pandemic body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Bored in the RSA

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

“The people will never fall for that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey babe, take a walk on the solo side

I was standing outside my house last week wondering if I should go for a stroll or scratch the day and go back to bed. It was about midday. Just then a car drove slowly past. The driver saw me and started hooting. His passenger, a dishevelled brute with a red bandanna lashed to his cranium, leaned out of the window and shouted, “You’ll never walk alone!”

I gave him the finger and went back to bed. I don’t need threats at this stage of my life. I’m done with people telling me what I can and can’t do. If it means having to fight for my right to walk alone, I’d rather stop walking.

I can’t imagine anything worse than always having someone at your side when you go for a walk. The endless whining, “Are we there yet?” The inevitable, “I think we’re lost.” The complaining about needing to stop and wee, not here, over there, by the trees, at the bottom of this gorge, come with me, I’m scared. And the chatter. The inexplicable need to chat while walking.

Let me make this clear. I am talking about women, here. Heterosexual men rarely invite their male friends to go on walks. I have never had a bloke call me up and say, “Let’s go for a walk and have a nice chat.” If that had to happen, I would know in an instant that he’d been paid to lure me to an isolated spot and murder me.

When it comes to recreational walking, it is almost always done at the initiative of a woman. Men suggest drives, usually for insalubrious reasons, while women require walks. If a woman suggests going for a drive and insists on doing the driving, there’s a good chance she’ll be taking you to an isolated spot and murdering you.

Later that day, I noticed on social media that countless people were being warned that they’d never walk alone. Was this some kind of weird jihad against perambulating misanthropes? Upon inspection, it turned out to be a slogan attached to Liverpool Football Club, who had won some or other prize. Apparently the last time they won it was in 1990. I also haven’t won a prize in the last 30 years, but you don’t see me driving around threatening strangers with accompanied walks.

Do you know how they won? Of course you do. But in the unlikely event that you don’t, let me tell you. They didn’t win, as you might expect, by scoring a heart-stopping goal in the dying minutes of the game. In fact, there was no game. Liverpool, whose players were at home in their underpants guzzling lager and shouting at the telly, won because Chelsea beat Manchester City. There wasn’t even a roaring crowd because nobody was allowed in to watch. Did it even happen? This sounds like something the Russians might be involved in.

I have come close to becoming addicted to one or two things in my so-called life, but I am most grateful for not having become addicted to English soccer. I have seen otherwise rational people screaming with joy and buying everyone a round one Saturday, and the very next, head-butting the barman and being forcibly restrained from burning down the pub. There are only two things that will make a grown man carry on like that – phencyclidine and Premier League football.

I actually went to an FA Cup final at Wembley a few years ago. I had been drinking a bit and was fairly high on Moroccan hash, like everyone else in the crowd, and it was a fantastic experience. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it memorable, since much of it is a blur. But I do remember not caring who won, which made everything so much more fun. The energy from the crowd was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. The voices raised in song, the flying of the colours, the weeing in the broeks. The bits I can remember were spectacular.

I’ve just checked who won. If I have the year right, it was Everton. Apparently one of their players fouled the Watford goalkeeper by heading the ball out of his hands. Go Everton! Elton John was the chairman of Watford and I think he might have been standing next to me. Jowly fellow with sunglasses. Could’ve been anyone, I suppose. Could’ve been a builder. I like to think it was Elton, though. He didn’t seem happy. Not because I wee’d on him. I’m not a complete animal. Not even back then. My shouting for Everton would have upset him more than the spontaneous micturition.

If I absolutely have to watch sport, I generally support the underdog – the side that’s throwing petrol bombs and staggering about with bleeding head wounds while dodging their opponent’s rubber bullets and stun grenades. Saturday’s encounter between Black Lives Matter United and a team fielded by the Louisville Police was a real nail-biter.

You know who should run this country? Soccer players. People don’t care about politics any more. They’ve had enough of politicians and their lying, thieving ways. What’s the worst thing a soccer player has ever done? Luis Suárez had a thing for handball and biting. Diego Maradona hoovered up half of Argentina’s GDP in cocaine. Benni McCarthy put on so much weight his club fined him. This is nothing compared to what politicians get up to.

Speaking of which, how come people can play soccer in the middle of a pandemic and I can’t go to a restaurant? What’s that? I can? Excuse me. I’ll be back soon.

I have cooked for myself for 95 straight days and might not even waste time getting dressed. I will appear out of the gloom like a ravening beast, naked and drooling, and they will have to let me in. They might ask me to leave, or at least erect screens around me, once they see how I behave around a plate of proper food.

There were only three other people in the restaurant, all women and all eating alone. Management couldn’t afford to throw me out, no matter how monstrous my behaviour. After leering at the other patrons for a bit, I realised they were mannequins brought in to ensure that we, the potentially diseased, were kept at a safe distance from one another. It was like something out of Westworld, but with a more coherent narrative.

The thrill of having palatable food brought to me was rudely tempered when the waiter asked what I wanted to drink. I have known the answer to this question for a very long time. But things are not what they were. Not being allowed to have a beer with my grilled chicken burger felt like an atrocity. A violation of my human rights. Being prevented from having a beer with my food felt like a deeply unnatural act. Like incest or line dancing, it wasn’t something I’d ever wanted to experience.

Can you even eat a chicken burger without a beer? For all I know, it’s never been attempted.

Whimpering like a freshly whipped puppy, I asked for a Coke. I had never felt more like someone with a drinking problem. It is, after all, only recovering alcoholics who order soft-drinks with their meal.

The next time I go there, I shall demand to sit with one of the mannequins. The conversation will be on a par with some dates I’ve been on, but at least I’ll be spared the relentlessly annoying, “Can I try some of yours?”

And if anyone walks in on their own, I will shout, “You’ll never eat alone!”