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!”

Money for nothing, Covid for free

Aside from dying, another unpleasant side effect of this contemptible virus is that everything comes with a form that needs filling in. For instance, if you have lost your job and hope to get money from the government, you’ll need to be physically and mentally prepared. Venturing into the UIF-Covid-19 Ters National Disaster Application System is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, if there is anything at all wrong with your heart, don’t even risk it.

I haven’t applied because, although my heart is strong, I don’t have the stomach for it. Ever since I was a child, forms have made me break out in hives. There are too many questions with not enough space for the answers. Religion, for instance. Everyone seems to ask that, whether you’re having gender reassignment surgery or applying for a fishing licence. The question tormented me when I was younger because my answer tended to run over into the next six or seven questions and then onto the back of the page. Later, I learnt that a simple ,”No, thanks” would do.

Look, I could probably fortify myself with the right drugs and take a stab at the application if it meant getting free money out of it. I’m a big fan of free money. Like the ANC, I don’t believe money should be earned. Money is a basic human right, but, basically, for certain people only. Done properly, wealth should be accumulated through phone calls, WhatsApp messages or, if you absolutely have to leave the office, a game of golf. The principle of less work, more money, served the government well during the Zuma years, but some of those taps have now been shut, or more likely stolen, and civil servants are having to become more creative in their approach.

I’ve been short of money ever since being asked to leave school. Does that make me a bad person? No. An idiot? Possibly. There are certain things you can do from a fairly young age that go a long way towards minimising the odds of it all ending in a pauper’s grave. Becoming a journalist isn’t one of them. When it comes to paying the rent, wildly exciting, lashings of fun and incipient cirrhosis just doesn’t cut it.

Thing is, I haven’t ever really needed money. Not in the same way that the very poor and the very rich need money. In the latter’s case, that’s a weird acquisitive addiction and they should probably have it seen to. Rehab for people who are never satisfied, no matter how much money they have.

It’s the others I feel sorry for. Those whom the lockdown has pushed to the point of penury and whose only lifeline is the elegantly named Unemployment Insurance Fund Covid-19 Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme National Disaster Application System.

Apparently R40-billion is up for grabs. Well, that was in April. It’s probably down to vouchers for Nando’s by now.

Desperately poor people, and others who are doing just fine but are nevertheless keen to exploit the system, need to go to the labour department’s website and register. There’s an explanation of what it is. “A special UIF benefit to pay employees that are not being paid or are being paid less as a result of Covid-19.” Already the lies start. The virus can be blamed for many things, but people’s inability to earn an income is a direct result of the government’s frequently irrational lockdown laws. Yes, yes, which are also a direct result of the virus, but let’s not waste an opportunity to blame the government.

To qualify for free money, you have to be a business in distress or “any employee who is a contributor (works more than 24 hours a month) and there is an employer and employee relationship”. For a start, nobody in this country works more than 24 hours a month. It’s not the South African way and we’re proud of it. To hell with the Japanese and their outrageous work ethic. We’ll see who lives longest. As for the other bit, well, I’ve had a couple of employer/employee relationships in my time and there were no demands for compensation afterwards. Not from me, anyway.

Once you have registered, you must accept the Memorandum of Agreement Terms and Conditions and the Letter of Agreement Terms and Conditions. If you are illiterate or too weak from hunger to peruse this welter of legalese, just agree and move on. It’s a government contract. Nothing can go wrong.

At some point you are likely to encounter an Excel spreadsheet which requires conversion into a CSV file. This is quite likely the cause of at least a few incidents of gender-based violence. History is littered with examples of brutality sparked by Excel spreadsheets. Without them, Stalin might never have done his purges. Poland would never have been invaded. And I’d still be married.

You are asked to check your profile for updates on the status of your application. Also, your application will be updated faster “if you have captured your employees manually”. It’s unclear if this includes the use of dart guns, nets and lassoes. It doesn’t really matter. Do whatever you have to. The important thing is that they are captured. Alive, preferably.

If you haven’t heard from the department and are not yet dead, you can check your payment status online. If your stolen laptop has been stolen, steal another. This is what you will be told: “If the Rand Value is zero, this means that there has been a rejection.” Coming at a time when you no longer have a job or friends and are likely to end up on a ventilator if someone with Covid-breath coughs on you, rejection is probably the last thing you need.

For those whom the UIF deems sufficiently worthy to be paid, bosses are asked to provide the department with proof that they have distributed the funds to their employees. This is where things get a bit loose. If it were me, it would be proof enough to submit a photo of the employee posing with two bottles of freshly bought brandy and a case of beer. Or, in the case of beneficiaries like Tshepang Phohole, who somehow got the UIF to give him R5.7-million, posing with a Porsche 911 Turbo, two Range Rovers and a race horse.

To be sure, there are bosses, coming from the treacherous class as they do, who will pocket the money and, with big moon eyes, tell their employees their claims were rejected. Such behaviour forms the bedrock of a new post-pandemic capitalism and should not go unrewarded. Employers who show initiative in exploiting the workforce in new and unusual ways are a shining example of the kind of private/public partnership the government strives for in its efforts to give corruption a more acceptable face.

There is, however, an in-built glitch in the system. After the Serengeti-like stampede for free money, it’s beginning to run out. Our lockdown-violating, camo-wearing Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu seems not to have been the only one who never expected the lockdown to be so crippling for the poor. If you don’t know any poor people, or are unable to grasp how money actually works, this is entirely understandable.

And this is why the lockdown has virtually been lifted. The government desperately needs to wean people off the hind tit of the Temporary Employment Relief Scam and get them back to work before this exhausted cash cow is well and truly milked to death.

Finally, if you suspect your employer of fraud, you can call the UIF on 0800-03007. If you suspect the UIF of fraud, I don’t have a number for that.

Surfers waive the rules

In these outlandish times, the measure of all things needs to be constantly recalibrated if we hope to stand a chance of emerging relatively healthy and sane. So I don’t know if what is happening is a good thing or a bad thing.

I went surfing the other day. Don’t judge me. I didn’t drive through the suburbs spreading death and disease to get to the beach. I walk out of my gate, over some rocks and into the big wet thing. Yes, technically I broke the Law, but I, too, feel broken by the Law, and that’s all I can say about that.

I was among a handful of outlaws bobbing about in a cold, undulating ocean. A few guys and girls in their early twenties, a smattering of wild-eyed teenagers. One kid couldn’t have been more than twelve.

The waves were on the small side and there was no aggressive hustling as there usually is at this spot. Everyone was getting their turn. The sun, fat and orange like Donald Trump but way more useful, headed for the horizon as flocks of sacred ibises flew overhead in perfect formation. Then, in an instant, the mood darkened. Four police vans pulled up in the parking lot. They were about as welcome as a swarm of orcs gatecrashing Bilbo Baggins’s birthday party.

For surfers surfing illegally, there aren’t too many options in a situation like this. You could try paddling to Australia but you’d just get thrown into one of their filthy internment camps. The best is to sit tight and hope that the cops get hungry and go back to the station for a bunch of confiscated pies.

I wasn’t too worried. I’ve been arrested before – once in the 1980s under the Police Act, which was interesting. What I wasn’t keen on was spending a night in the cells in my wetsuit. A man of my boyish good looks and natural charm, wearing nothing but a figure-hugging latex rubber bodysuit, could easily find himself in trouble. Maybe they’d let me go home and change. Slip into something less comfortable. It seemed unlikely.

The younger kids, though. They were panicking. Their parents had encouraged them to get the hell out of the house for an hour or two so that mommy and daddy can have some alone time. Now look.

Unlike sex, surfing is not a team sport. Someone might paddle over and begrudgingly give a hand if it looks like you’re drowning, but generally it’s every man for himself. The coronavirus doesn’t stand a chance. You’d have to pay a surfer to get him to give you Covid-19.

The youngest of the crew was sitting near me. He had been having a great time until the cops arrived. The unsmiling enforcers of our insane new laws had spread out, sealing off the beach, and were settling in to wait for their catch of the day.

As I said, your choices are limited. You could pretend to be a piece of kelp and stay very still and hope that a great white shark doesn’t mistake you for a wounded seal. Or you could just keep surfing and wait for cover of darkness.

“What should we do?” the kid said to me, the very last person anyone should ask for sensible advice. His little privileged face was creased with concern and he seemed close to tears.

And that’s when it struck me. In the days of yore, white South Africans saw the police as allies. You’d call the Flying Squad if you were in trouble. Or if you saw a darkie acting suspiciously by, say, walking in your street after dark.

Sure, that particular kid wasn’t around in those days, but even so, it’s unlikely he or anyone in his family had ever considered the cops to be anything other than the Good Guys.

This whole fearing, dodging and lying to the police is all very new to white people. Out of nowhere (China), a virus is rapidly causing them to rethink their loyalty to an elected government and reconsider their trust in a police service which is quite clearly more of a force than a service.

Even though most whities never really bought into the ANC as a party capable of governing, they still clung to the idea that they could call 10111 and know that help would be on its way.

Now, they’re not so sure. Now the police no longer seem like the kind of people you’d want to call under any circumstances. If you had to, say, suffer an ischemic event while out for an illegal walk at 10am, you’d call anyone but the cops. Nobody wants to face additional charges of being drunk in public because their speech is slurred. Police are trained to recognise the symptoms of drinking, not strokes.

Obviously not all cops are vicious brutes incapable of independent, rational thought. But some people simply can’t help turning into instant assholes the moment you put them in a uniform. Hitler was probably pretty chilled on weekends, slopping about the Berghof in T-shirt and leather lederhosen, getting high on Bavarian skunk while painting tastefully lit nudes of Eva Braun. But come Monday, it’s on with the Schirmmütze and jackboots and suddenly it’s all, “Erschlagen alle Juden!”

People say children are adaptable and can handle anything. I don’t know about that. The kid in the water with me looked genuinely scared. This was clearly his first face-off with a bunch of angry black men with guns and handcuffs. Rookie.

He also knew that if he was arrested, his parents would discover that he was out surfing instead of doing virtual homework in his bedroom. During lockdown, angering mothers especially is to be avoided at all costs. Having had their husbands in the house day and night for two straight months, they are perilously close to cracking. There would be repercussions. Banned from surfing and without access to his phone, there’d be no point in living. I feel the same.

A lot of white kids, unless they come from a family of self-righteous snitches, are discovering that the authorities are not necessarily on their side. It’s quite an awakening. Breaking the law is a novel experience for a lot of whities and there’s a good chance they will develop a taste for it. As I said in the beginning, I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It could go either way.

I didn’t surf today. Instead, I poured myself a bootlegged gin and tonic and stood in my sand dune of a garden, watching the sun melt into the sea. I saw a dad push his kid onto a wave. He couldn’t have been more than seven or eight. The kid, not the father, although they do start young in these parts.

Life seems so much better when the police aren’t around.

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  • This column first appeared in The Citizen on 27 May. More every Wednesday. Subscribe here: https://citizen.co.za/bundle-subscriptions/

Truth, lies and exercise

I hear lots of crazy stuff all day long and it’s not always just in my head either. For instance, I heard that the reason the government is keeping its Covid-19 modelling data from the public is because it wants to avoid sowing panic.

Fair enough. Nothing frightens South Africans more than hearing the truth. We have grown accustomed to being lied to – from the National Party warning us about the communists to the ANC claiming they are anti-corruption. We’re comfortable with deceit, dishonesty and distortion.

But the truth? We can’t handle the truth. The government is right. In this country, the truth won’t set us free. It will only make us panic. At the same time, we are South Africans. We live in a permanent state of low-grade panic.

Maybe the real truth is that it’s the government panicking because there is no data modelling going on at all. Maybe the Command Council is just a bunch of people behind closed doors eating snacks, yawning and staring out of the window. Occasionally someone sits up, shouts a random number and reaches for another vol-au-vent before slumping back into his chair, while the others chew vacuously and flick through their phones.

A lot of people seem to be worrying about their health these days, or whatever they are. Are we still calling them days? Two aeons ago, these same people would circle a mall’s parking lot for an hour looking for a spot near the entrance just to avoid walking an extra fifty metres.

Now they are setting their alarm clocks for 5.30am. Even though our state-sanctioned exercise period only starts at 6am, they are terrified of missing a minute of it. They use the 30-minute build-up to do stretching exercises and colour-code their masks and outfits while the father feeds the brats. It is the women who have claimed the exercise time as their own. The men can tag along if they wish, and the kids if they have to, but the hours of 6am to 9am belong to the women. That’s okay. Rather have them pounding the pavement than their loved ones.

I don’t have an alarm clock. They are bad for one’s health. Worse than heroin. The sound scares the bejesus out of the central nervous system and sends adrenalin coursing through the body, putting it into a full-blown fight or flight frenzy. I can’t use alarm clocks because it triggers a fight and flight response in my body. As a child, I would regularly destroy my bedroom while simultaneously fighting and fleeing the invisible furies. Eventually my mother realised it was better for all concerned if I woke up naturally, even if it meant being late for school. I once slept through an entire grade.

My pathological aversion to bells or sirens shattering my sleep means that I frequently miss our morning freedom altogether. Some days I wake up to find that I have only five minutes in which to cram three hours of exercise. Often there is no time to even put clothes on. I burst from my front gate, willy a-flap in the breeze, and run at top speed for two and a half minutes in any direction, then turn around and run home at an even more top speed because the police are chasing me. I don’t think it’s doing me much good. When I get home I have to drink rum and coke to slow my heart down. Sometimes I get the dosage wrong and it slows down too much and then I lie on the floor for the rest of the day waiting to die.

One thing is certain. The huddled masses are growing restless. Look at the state we’re in, we cry. Open the hairdressers! Let the beauticians operate! Even Trevor Manuel is saying the lockdown is turning into a bad idea, and this is a man who fought his way out of the Cape Flats with nothing more than an Okapi knife and a head for figures.

Some unions are saying that nobody should return to work unless it’s completely safe. That makes no sense. Work has always been the least safe place on earth. You can get trapped in the elevator, poisoned by cafeteria food, accused of arson and attempted frottage, hauled before a disciplinary committee and run out of town. I’m not saying this happened to me. Well, not all in one job, anyway.

A lot of people are also going a bit mental with this incarceration lark. Sure, most of them were probably mental to start with. But there’s nothing like being forced to stay indoors with people you increasingly want to murder to push you over the edge. It’s probably good for some marriages, though. There can’t be too many people still shouting, “Where have you been?” at their partners.

Living alone definitely has its pros and cons. As does living in general, I suppose.

Here’s an interesting thing to think about. In a 2014 study, participants were given a choice between sitting in silence with their own thoughts for fifteen minutes or giving themselves electric shocks. Most chose to shock themselves. It should be said that the study was conducted in Charlottesville, Virginia, home to neo-Nazis, white supremacists and, in the words of Donald Trump, other “very fine people”.

Trump is not the kind of man who could be left alone with his thoughts for very long, but only because he doesn’t have any. Well, not the kind that you or I might consider to be thoughts. I imagine if you could tap into what passes for his brain, you’d hear a rush of static. Or something like the sound of a burger and onions being fried in hot oil.

Anyway. Here I am, adjusting my heart rate with various medications, and it occurs to me that writing and prostitution are quite possibly the only two ways of making money while lying in bed. If you know of any others, do let me know.

Dear Cyril …

Dear Comrade President Ramaphosa, Defender of the Lockdown, Punisher of the Pandemic, Destroyer of the Economy, Nemesis of Smokers and Drinkers.

May I call you Cyril? I don’t mean to be overfamiliar but you have had such an impact on my life that you feel like you are a close friend or maybe a distant relative. You’ve been a good parent to us. You might even have saved some of our lives, although from what I’ve heard, dying of the coronavirus is about as rare as getting morning fellatio after ten years of marriage. That was crude. I apologise. We are all descending to the level of savage beasts. I don’t mean you, obviously. You have a support system to prevent that from happening. I only have myself and a cat who goes out of her way to avoid me.

I wish I could have seen the look on your face on, like, day 20 of the lockdown, when it dawned on you that people were still obeying your order to stay at home. We both know South Africans aren’t the most obedient people. You tell them not to rape, pillage and steal and the next thing you know, there they are, raping, pillaging and stealing. You tell them to stay indoors, and they do. It’s inexplicable. How did you manage that? Did you have our water supply spiked with Rohypnol?

I imagine you must have suspected a trap. Is this why you mobilised the army? You anticipated some kind of Dingane/Piet Retief ambush situation, right? As it turns out, we are exactly what we seem. Just millions of compliant, docile worker ants and drones paying obeisance to their queen.

It’s like some kind of Jedi mind trick you pulled. Speaking of which, I currently look like a cross between Jabba the Hutt and Chewbacca and talk like Yoda because I live alone and have lost the ability to communicate.

Also, you don’t want to see the state of my sheets. I am filled with self-loathing every time I get into my petri dish of a bed. Please open the laundromats. Covid-19 hates washing machines. Tell the hawks in the Coronavirus Command Council that social distancing isn’t a problem in laundromats. Nobody goes there to hook up or party. You drop your clothes and leave. If you like to hang around laundromats, there’s something wrong with you.

I’m surprised it has taken this long for people to start pushing back. South Africans are born fighters. We don’t take shit from anyone. We have fought the British, the Boers, the Zulus and each other and yet here we are, as disunited as ever, still obeying your command to stay inside even if it does mean losing our jobs, sanity and will to live. It’s wearing a bit thin, though. You might have noticed.

People started turning against you after that disaster with the fags. No, I don’t mean … I’m talking about cigarettes. The nation erupted in a happy chorus of hacking coughs when you unequivocally said that the sale of ciggies would be allowed when the country goes to Level 4 on 1 May.

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma angrily stamped her small but perfectly formed foot and said there’d be none of that. Who the hell is in charge over there? This is not the time for flip-floppery or jellyfishing, collective or no collective. You’re the president. You have a massive amount of power. You’re just a bit shy to use it.

It doesn’t matter. You are rich enough to pay other people to change your mind for you. I have to do that kind of dirty work myself. For instance, I often say, “I am never drinking again” but then, two days later, there I am, chucking the filth down my neck like there’s no tomorrow. That was before I ran out, obviously.

We were all very grateful when the Collective decided to let us out of our cages for three hours every morning on condition that we didn’t stray further than five kilometres. Things is, I can only walk for 800m or so before having to lie down for a bit. It’s very triggering to see people running past and getting their full quota of 5kms. If I can’t do it, nobody should be allowed to do it. Please ask your prime minister to reduce it to one kilometre.

It should also be said that I am a special needs case. I have no children who need schooling, nor do I have a dog that requires walking. I don’t recall ever having run anywhere unless being pursued by the law and I think bicycles are for children. All I ask, really, is that you allow me to get into the ocean and do a bit of surfing now and again. I had a rather poorly timed birthday recently and I don’t have many good years left.

Living, as you do, in the hinterland, you might not be familiar with surfing. I’m fairly sure your sports minister is unaware of it. For a start, it’s not a blood sport like rugby, which should absolutely be banned even when there’s not a pandemic. Generally surfers are a peaceful lot who want nothing more than to be given access to the ocean. And maybe some beers for after. Anyway, see what you can do. Next to laundromats, Covid-19 hates sea water the most.

I’m still enjoying the Command Council briefings. However, like the lockdown regulations, they can be quite hard to follow in terms of coherence and logic so I’ve started watching the sign-language interpreter instead. I’m happy to say that, thanks to Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, I now know how to tell a deaf person, “It’s your turn to roll a joint.”

The compulsory masks have made things interesting. In the old days, a smile would tell us everything we needed to know. But with our mouths covered, we need to learn how to use our eyes to convey emotions. My first wife’s eyebrows spoke a language of their own. Man, those things could express whatever she was feeling. It was mostly disappointment and anger, but still. There were nuances. This one time, I thought she was giving me the bedroom eyebrows and I whipped off my trousers and rolled onto my back but she was, in fact, giving me the I-want-a-divorce eyebrows. Reading eyes and eyebrows is not an exact science and misunderstandings are to be expected.

People are complaining that we are becoming a police state. What absolute rubbish. There is still a long way to go. Right now, we fall squarely between a nanny state and a police state. I do, however, feel the nanny could be more like Julie Andrews and less like a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Imelda Marcos. It would also be nice if Field Marshall Bheki Cele stopped carrying on as if he’s from the Papa Doc Duvalier School of Policing. More lovey, less Haiti. Know what I’m saying?

Anyway, you must think we’re quite cute, with our petitions and campaigns, waving our little fists and making high-pitched mewling sounds, all the while under the impression that the government is paying us heed. I wouldn’t listen to us either if I were you. We’re all over the place. One day we want food, the next it’s jobs. There’s just no end to it.

 

 

 

The working class (and Covid-19) can kiss my arse

The 1st of May used to be an actual thing. Now, nobody cares. Here’s something I wrote a few years ago during happier times.

………………………

The month of May will not be merry. There will be more power cuts, higher interest rates, spiralling corruption, fewer jobs and at least one of God’s more spectacular acts that leaves thousands dead. (How’s that for prescient, eh?).

On the upside, Workers’ Day this year falls on a Friday. And since the South African working week only starts at around 2.30pm on a Tuesday, the public holiday will have no discernible impact on the economy.

I always thought May Day was the invention of those lazy commie bastards who we good Christian folk were taught to fear with a passion bordering on fanaticism. Oddly enough, it turns out that those lazy Aussie bastards are behind the whole thing. Now we hate them even more than we hated the commies. Come back, Karl Marx, all is forgiven.

If my research is accurate, which it may well not be, Australian workers started this nonsense way back in 1856. They used their underground communications network to organise a work stoppage on the 1st of May. Were they demanding that their bosses stop treating them like a bunch of expatriate convicts? Did they want medical aid and pension benefits? No. They went on strike to push for an eight-hour working day.

That’s right. The Australian proletariat is directly responsible for us having to work from eight to five with one filthy hour for lunch. What were they thinking? If they had started out high with a five-hour day, they could have settled for six and the world would be a better place today. As if it wasn’t enough that they gave us Port Jacksons, Kylie Minogue and a cavalier attitude towards women.

New information has just come to light. The Australians might not, after all, be to blame. But you won’t catch me apologising. Not now, not ever.

It seems the lazy Pommy bastards are at fault. Or, more accurately, one Pom in particular. His name was Robert Owen, a heavy-handed, dogmatic authoritarian who was alternately revered and cursed as the father of English socialism – an ideal that today can be found bleeding and gasping its last in a gutter off Brick Lane in the east end of London.

It was in 1810 that Comrade Owen unilaterally instituted a 10-hour day at his sweatshop in New Lanark and proceeded to demand the same for workers throughout England. The government, much like the unemployed of the time, thought he was mad. It took seven years and a high staff turnover for Owen to realise his mistake. It was on a Saturday night, after a hit of particularly good opium, that the cranky old socialist came up with the slogan, “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”

The idea looked good on paper, but, as we have all discovered at one time or another, eight hours of recreation quickly turns into twelve. Factor in hot monkey sex followed by gnarly rush hour traffic and you are left with maybe three hours of rest. Which means that maybe one out of the eight hours of labour will be productive, with the rest being spent slumped in your chair slack-jawed and drooling.

The British government, careful as always not to be seen to be caving in to pressure from a socialist, implemented Owen’s original demand 37 years after he made it. With a rider, of course. Only women and children would benefit from the new 10-hour day. Men would continue working until they dropped. And they still are. Well, maybe not since the dole made it possible to acquire a heroin habit, a Mohawk, a full body tattoo and still earn the same as an entry-level astronaut.

That was then, before Britain became an American colony. Before America realised the danger of setting aside one day of the year for the bourgeoisie to rally around. They already had Thanksgiving Day, a day devoted to the Pilgrims who all took a long shower after breaking in Pocahontas down at the river, thereby ensuring a solid defence if any Puritan had to be accused of spreading dread diseases throughout the New World.

The children of the Mayflower generation should be made to crawl on their hands and knees across shards of glass every fourth Friday in November instead of ramming turkey and candied bourbon flavoured yams down their ungrateful white throats.

Since the Bolsheviks and other grubby Eastern Europeans had hijacked May 1st, the Americans decided that they would mark Labour Day in September. Successive right-wing administrations have succeeded in turning the day into a drunken orgy in which everyone celebrates the last day of summer and nobody mentions the working class.

Even the Roman Catholic Church co-opted May Day, announcing in 1955 that the 1st of May would henceforth be known as the day of Saint Joseph the Worker. This did little to stop virile pagans from committing random acts of degeneracy in the name of the great unwashed. Besides, anarchists and other dubious radicals of their ilk know Joseph more as a man who made his wife pregnant and then claimed afterwards that he hadn’t laid a finger on her.

An immaculate deception, indeed.

Lockdown Extended – words to make you weep

My ungovernable publisher, Melinda Ferguson, has made good on her threat to bring out a new ebook by this weekend.

Lockdown Extended is now available for download on Kindle or Kobo (links below).

Ferguson describes the book as “an incredible collection of 30 of South Africa’s most hip, most talented, most interesting and most adorable writers … it will make you think, it will make you laugh, it will make you weep, it will make your heart sing and it will give you hope that despair is not all we can feel during these unprecedented times.”

Here are a couple of excerpts from my contribution:

“We are no longer the people we were two months ago. Our inner adolescents are crying out for someone to tell us that it’s all going to be okay. That it’s fine not to shave or wear deodorant. That nobody will judge us if we start drinking at 10am. Yes, we are turning into filthy, frightened children rapidly developing an alcohol problem. The problem being that supplies are starting to run dangerously low.”

……………..

“The government has left me no alternative. I am going to have to craft a new set of bowls using raw materials and brute cunning. Tortoise shells and monkey skulls come to mind. I am leaning more towards tortoises since they are easier to apprehend and the shells would be a decent size for breakfast cereal as well as soup. Monkey skulls, on the other hand, are easier to stack and would do well as receptacles for soy sauce and other exotic condiments. They are, however, almost impossible to catch. Also, there are no monkeys where I live. I would have to drive to the Eastern Cape, risking arrest and possible death at the hands of the Pandemic Paramilitaries. Seems a bit risky just for bowls.”

https://www.kobo.com/za/en/ebook/lockdown-extended

 

“Fuck this” – The tribe has spoken

Well, this is a birthday I won’t forget in a hurry. It’s quite a milestone, too. Not to mention a millstone. I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m meant to be on a remote jungle-fringed beach in Costa Rica drinking a guaro sour with a sloth in my lap.

I bought my ticket on 6 February. Five weeks later, Lufthansa grounded my flight. I blame Donald Trump. At the time I made the booking, there were already eleven cases of Covid-19 in the US. What did this monstrous aberration of a human do? He went golfing. He could have alerted the world that trouble was on its way, which would have made me think twice before spending my life savings on an air ticket.

I also blame China, God and my daughter, who is currently on lockdown in Costa Rica. Come over for your birthday, she said. It’ll be fun, she said.

Now look. No guaro sours. No sloths. Just me playing achingly sad love songs while wrapping an old Swazi candle in newspaper so that I have something to open at the surprise party I’m having for myself this evening.

So who was it? Which one of you privileged dog-walking, bike-riding, jogging narcissists was responsible for making our president extend the lockdown? I know it wasn’t me. I haven’t been out in thirteen centuries.

My suburb is tightly locked down. There are snitches and curtain-twitchers in every second house. Nobody dare leave their home for fear of being named and shamed on one or other neofascist community WhatsApp group. Five kilometres down the road, the streets of the township are as busy and festive as ever. Fair play to them. I’d break a lot more than lockdown laws if I had to live in those conditions.

Life is turning into a cross between Survivor and The Hunger Games. On Survivor the tribes compete in challenges to win immunity. Here, we can’t get immunity unless we are infected with Covid-19. And we can’t get infected unless someone who already has the virus sneezes into our open mouths. But sneezing has been banned. We are also not allowed to show our mouths in public. Smoking, drinking and gambling is forbidden and police are flogging people in the streets. I think it’s safe to say that the Islamic State has accomplished at least some of its goals.

I don’t know what happens in The Hunger Games because I’ve never watched it, but presumably it’s set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future where starving people hijack pastry delivery trucks and fight each other to the death over pre-heated steak and kidney pies. So, nothing like us then. We’re still pre-apocalyptic. Although there is a worrying pie connection.

I don’t panic easily, but I have to say that I am beginning to get a little concerned. Not about the virus. This birthday has made me realise that I am more afraid of not living than I am of dying. Time is not on my side and there are things I still need to do. Things that can’t be done while I am shut inside my house. Things that involve guaro sours and sloths and going further than Checkers once a week.

The portents are ominous. It’s almost as if, on or about April 15, aliens abducted the entire cabinet and replaced them with robotic replicas lacking only the capacity for logic. It’s like something out of Westworld, but in this never-ending episode, liquid LSD leaked into the hosts’ circuit boards and they are now randomly changing narratives for no apparent reason.

Last night I took a horse tranquilliser and tuned to CNN just in time to see an American doctor say, “We don’t even know what we don’t know.” I’m gonna need a bigger tranquilliser. Elephant, maybe.

A few days ago, a motorist was arrested for trying to smuggle his girlfriend out of Gauteng and into Mpumalanga. She was hiding in the boot of his car and was also arrested. I can’t say what movie this reminds me of. I don’t think it’s been made yet. Nobody would believe it. Bladerunner, maybe, except this wasn’t a pair of violent replicants on the run. It was just a dude trying to get his girl back to his place for the lockdown. Do androids dream of electric sheep? We might never know.

Here’s another. Same day, different headline. “Roadblock cops arrest man in possession of dagga worth R250k.” How is it the police don’t know that arresting this man is not in their best interests? Did they not learn at police school that in times of a pandemic, it is better to allow the general populace to remain as high as possible? Stoners don’t want to go outside. Ever. They just want to sit in a comfy chair, eat snacks and watch cartoons. You take their weed away, they’re going to be out there in the streets. Not doing much, admittedly, but they will be violating the lockdown. Which means they will have to be shot. Rather let the weed get through and save the bullets for those who really deserve it.

South Africans are patient to a fault, but there will come a last straw. I thought it might be when the government banned supermarkets from selling rotisserie chickens and other lightly warmed comfort cuisine of that ilk. Thing is, the kind of people who buy chicken pieces or samoosas or vetkoek come from all walks of life and it would be difficult to track them down and get them to rise up and overthrow whatever it is that needs overthrowing, whether it be tables, laws or even the government itself.

I want us to become the first country to have a coup d’etat because the government denied its people their right to roast chicken. That’s the kind of country I’d be proud to live in. And when we won, which we would because we of the Chickenista National Liberation Front are smarter than the enemy, we’d hoist our flag over the Union Buildings and it would feature the mother of all chickens, rampant, in all her insurgent glory. Viva the Chickenistas!

It won’t have escaped the government’s notice that murmurings of civil disobedience are emerging from among the chattering classes. This is a good sign. This could be our 2010 World Cup all over again. Race, creed, religion, gender and language, united as one. It’s what the ANC always wanted, right? Okay, they didn’t expect us to unite against them necessarily, but it’s the unity that counts. There is a movement building. Perhaps, once you have clapped for the healthcare workers in the evening, you can be like Howard Beale in Network and shout, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Meanwhile, the lockdown is causing some interesting throwbacks to a kinder, gentler time. The Phoenicians were one of the great trading powers in the ancient world and this lockdown is bringing out the inner Phoenician in many of us.

A friend came around the other day to barter a bottle of her Red Heart for my Gilbey’s. She had dyed her hair to avoid being recognised by the local snitches. It looked like a dog had eaten a rainbow and thrown up on her head. I tossed in a couple of lemons and a bottle of tonic. She definitely got the better deal.

Trade is breaking out all over. And not just for alcohol either. There’s chocolate being exchanged for cigarettes, shoes being swapped for weed … an entire alternative economy is developing. We might not even want to go back to money when this is over.

Briefly returning to the pandemic. Some countries say that aggressive testing is key to reopening the economy. We’re a bit slow on the testing, but damn, we sure do the aggressive part better than most. Will that do? Can we come out now?

  • This column first appeared in The Citizen on 22 April. Newspapers need support like any other business. A single edition – such as the one that features my column every Wednesday – costs R7.70. Cheaper than a beer and way more available.

http://thecitizen.pressreader.com

Publisher goes berserk – brings out second book

Less than three weeks ago, my out of control publisher Melinda Ferguson got the demented idea of bringing out an eBook called Lockdown – The Corona Chronicles, featuring seventeen South African writers.

Now she has gone and done it again with a follow-up called Lockdown – Extended.

This time there are contributions from 30 writers, which minimises my royalties but maximises your reading pleasure.

It will be available for download on Amazon (Kindle) and Kobo as early as this weekend. Cheaper than a case of beer and way more legal.

Coronavirus: Snitches get stitches

There seems little point in getting out of bed before 11am when you don’t have rabid children leaping on you or a wife standing in the doorway with one feral eyebrow raised, asking if you plan on lying there for the rest of the day.

I am still at the point where I think, “Right, let’s get up, get dressed and …” This is where the plan falls apart. And do what? Stand outside for a few minutes, then go back inside? It’s not enough of an incentive.

Some people have started exercising. I don’t have any equipment apart from a bicycle, which right now is about as useful as a Virgin Active membership. I could lift it above my head but I doubt I’d manage it more than two or three times. The chance of doing myself a mischief far outweighs the potential health benefits.

Suffering from an acute outbreak of Groundhog Day syndrome, I drove to the mall hoping for a high-octane battle of wits with a military unit manning the barricades to protect the population from people like me. Armed with a grocery list – the new dompas – I raced through the empty streets praying that someone would flag me down and interrogate me at gunpoint. No such luck.

The lockdown has revealed some interesting character traits in our fellow citizens. Right now, it’s Lord of the Flies on social media and people are turning on one another faster than ferrets down a Yorkshireman’s trousers.

Yes, indeed. There are a lot of sub-optimal humans out there, and I’m not even talking about the ones ignoring the lockdown. Or the security forces behaving as if they were trained by the Tonton Macoutes.

The suburbs are infested with the kind of people who, had they been living in Berlin in 1938, might have been inclined to whisper, “Psst, Sturmscharführer, there are Jews living in number seven.”

I have never seen white South Africans so demanding, judgemental and united in wanting to “do the right thing”. If only they had been this outspoken during apartheid. Facebook is awash in posts from self-appointed informants – people who were almost certainly prefects at school. In my area, a woman is asking if anyone has a drone to monitor the streets. Ideally, I imagine, a weaponised one capable of swooping in and firing poisoned darts into an errant cyclist’s back.

“Does anyone know this guy?” they shriek, posting blurry pictures of someone in the distance sitting alone on a park bench or paddling a canoe in the middle of a river. As we speak, people are dialling 10111 because they saw a neighbour walking their dog. Where I come from, snitches get stitches.

Nobody dare even mention that they miss being able to go for a jog for fear of being labelled a selfish, entitled mass murderer. The mob has wasted no time shutting down that particular award-winning whine. “There are poor people living in shacks who don’t even have legs and you want to jog what’s wrong with you JUST STAY INSIDE!!?!” they scream, rearing up in their imported Jefferson Chesterfield armchairs, spraying bits of Beluga caviar over the Persian (cat and carpet).

Remember when you were a kid and your mother forced you to eat your broccoli because there are children starving in Ethiopia? Well, Italy has become the new Ethiopia. “Don’t you think people in Rome would also like to walk their dogs but they can’t because they are DEAD thanks to KILLERS LIKE YOU??!!?”

When the national grid finally fails and the water supply runs out, these same manic street preachers will get on their impeccably groomed high horses and say, “Stop moaning, there are millions in this country who live in the dark and have never seen a tap.” And when men in Robocop outfits start smashing down doors and dragging away the artists, poets and intellectuals, they’ll say, “Just let the police do their jobs! Jeez people, the Rwandans had the genocide and they didn’t complain.”

As if we’re not in enough trouble, Moody’s scored the mother of all economic hat-tricks when they became the third ratings agency to kick us in the nuts. We have now swept the boards in the premier junk status league. The government says the downgrade “couldn’t have come at a worse time”. This suggests there might be another time when the government would be able to say, “There has never been a better time for a downgrade.”

Can’t really blame Moody’s, though. The real culprit is in Nkandla, doggie paddling in his fire pool. There are others, of course, both in Dubai and the ANC’s national executive committee, where they continue to successfully maintain social distancing from prosecution.

I find it increasingly difficult to follow the news. The international channels are full of talking heads shouting numbers at me and I can’t watch the local ministerial briefings for more than two or three minutes without wanting to take my own life.

There are so many graphs, models and projections out there that I thought I’d do my own. After a lot of head-scratching and heavy drinking, my calculations showed that 4.2 billion people would be dead by Easter. And that was just in Durban.

Meanwhile, complaints are mounting that police act differently in the way they treat black and white people who violate the lockdown. This is making us look badder than we already are. We need whiteys who are prepared to go out there and provoke the cops into giving them a light whipping to show there is equality and injustice for all, regardless of colour.

Any takers?