The Idiot's Guide to Surviving the Holidays

After months of suffering the slings and arrows of corporate exploitation, millions of people are now free to do as they wish. Sure, we’ll give you a job. All you have to do is make sure you’re behind your desk by no later than 8.02am every Monday to Friday for 49 straight weeks. In return, we’ll let you off the leash for a whole three weeks. Woohoo. What a fabulous deal.
If you are among those who have chosen to live on your knees rather than die on your feet, it is vital that you make full use of your 21 days. This means no sleeping at all. Unconsciousness induced by anything other than alcohol or a sharp blow to the head is unacceptable and I urge the government to play its part.
Civil servants must be deployed to operate mobile pharmacies on the outskirts of every town. They must dispense polystyrene packs of amphetamines to needy motorists, much like fat people dispense bananas to runners in the Comrades Marathon.
My advice is that you gobble handfuls of speed at the first signs of tiring. You cannot afford to waste a moment of your leave. If you are driving from Johannesburg to Durban, you should be able to reach your hotel within two hours. Don’t worry about speed traps. With all the changing of street names, the summons will turn yellow and disintegrate long before the sheriff works out where you live.
A word of warning. Don’t be greedy. If you mix your phentermines with your dexamphetamines and then have a cup of coffee, you may be tempted to take the scenic route to Cape Town, via Egypt.
Meanwhile, hospital staff are bracing themselves for the annual outbreak of beach-related disasters.
A lot of people drown at this time of year. Nobody knows exactly how many because some of them simply vanish and their bodies are never found. In the case of white people, these are generally recorded as bona fide drownings. But if the person is from one of the poverty-stricken basket cases to the north of us, then he probably swam underwater for a bit, came up where nobody could see him and hitchhiked to Johannesburg where he is waiting tables in Rosebank by day and selling crack in Hillbrow by night.
In cases like these, police divers don’t even bother getting out of their cars. In their reports, they use the word “suspect” rather than “victim” and “disappeared” instead of “drowned”.
If you do find yourself drowning, there are two ways to catch the attention of the lifeguard on the beach. The first is to put on a blonde wig and scream in a high-pitched girly voice. Lifesavers rarely bother to rescue men unless they themselves are gay. I can’t speak for you, but I would rather drown than be dragged from the surf by a raving queen in a little red Speedo who then gives me mouth-to-mouth in front of a rowdy crowd shouting things like, “Get in there! Slip him some tongue!”
The second is to raise your right arm high enough for him to see the R200 note in your hand. When he swims out to you, he is going to want to slap you around a bit. This is what lifesavers do to punish bathers for distracting them from flirting with underage farm girls. The slapping will make you hysterical. To calm you down, he will then punch or even head butt you. It is important to remember that the Marquis of Queensbury rules do not apply on the high seas. Retaliate by gouging his eyes, pulling his hair and biting his face. Fight like a girl, if you have to. Nobody can see you out there.
Adrenalin will course through your body and you will begin to get the upper hand. Your assailant’s resolve will weaken and he will try to get away from you. Go after him. When you get within striking distance, dive down and swim underwater. He will turn around and think that you have drowned. Bite bite him hard in the fleshy part of his leg. He will believe a shark is attacking him and he will pass out with fright. Flip over on to your back and drag his body on top of yours. Use one arm to hold his head above water. Paddle backwards with your free arm. If he regains consciousness, tighten your grip and cut off his oxygen supply. It is not essential, but you may want to remove his Speedo before you get to the beach. By the time you hit the sand, a crowd will have gathered. If there are news cameras on the scene, pretend to give him mouth-to-mouth. Make sure the reporters get your name right and then leave the area the moment his eyes open.
My mother always told me not to go swimming right after a meal. When we went to the beach for a picnic, she would force-feed me giant ham and cheese rolls. I was the only kid on the beach who had to sit under the umbrella and digest his food while everyone else was in the water. I had no idea what was going on in my stomach. Nothing, as far as I could tell. But my mother knew. She could hear my salivary enzymes breaking down the roll. She knew when a mouthful would enter my oesophagus and how long it would take for peristalsis to force it down into my stomach. She knew precisely how much gastric acid was needed to convert my roll into chyme and exactly when it would enter my duodenum, jejunum and ileum. She could feel the moment the inner wall of my small intestine began secreting bile and pancreatic enzymes and she knew when my large intestine had begun removing water and electrolytes from the little that remained of my lunch.
She also knew the names of the Latin-speaking bacteria that came out to help. “Bacteroides, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella,” she would whisper under her breath, a faraway look in her eyes. Then up, up into the ascending colon went my roll. There was no stopping it now. It sped across my transverse colon and then, with barely a pause, rocketed down my descending colon and through my sigmoid colon. At this point, my mother’s breath would get heavy and ragged. It was as if it were she and not the roll that was on this exhilarating roller coaster ride through my abdomen. Then, sweating and trembling, she would cry out and fall back on her towel. Squeezed of everything good, my lunch had finally made it to my rectum. This was the moment when my mother would say, “You need to go to the toilet. Then you can swim.” My father would say, “Sharks feed at dusk. You can swim another day.”
Since then, the human body has evolved. When the children of today eat, the food proceeds directly from their mouths to their bums. This means that your kids can eat and swim immediately afterwards. Hell, let them eat in the water if they want to. Pack a floating lunch. They will be fine.
You may also safely ignore the fundamentalists who go around warning people not to drink and swim. I have never heard such nonsense. What are you going to do? Lose control on the backstroke and sideswipe a buoy? Burst a water-wing and roll? Have a head-on collision with a jellyfish? The ocean is by far the safest place in which to drink. For a start, it is impossible to fall over. That means no more inexplicable cuts and bruises the next day. There are no roadblocks to ruin your life. No chance of irresponsible sex with someone whose name you can’t remember. The only problem I ever encountered while drinking and swimming was my beer getting diluted with seawater.
Apart from sharks and the Congolese man selling beaded flowers, the thing next most likely to ruin your day at the beach is the bluebottle. This little scoundrel is also known as the Portuguese Man o’ War, although we are no longer allowed to call them that because the Portuguese say it portrays them as an excitable people who are always up for a fight. I thought that was the whole point of being Portuguese.
The only thing I remember about bluebottles from Mr Phipps’ biology class was that they are hermaphrodites and that reproduction is carried out by the gonozooids, a type of polyp. By the end of the year, I was convinced that Mr Phipps himself was a type of polyp, such was his questionable fascination with anything remotely connected to the process of reproduction.
The tentacles of the bluebottle trail through the water with the intention of snaring plankton and small crustaceans. Whenever I go into the sea, they trail through my baggies with the intention of snaring my testicles. Growing up in Durban, I was stung so many times that my friends began calling me Welt Boy. Even when the ocean was seemingly free of bluebottles I would end up running from the surf, one hand scrabbling inside my shorts, the other clawing at my face.
One of the first times I was stung, a friend said the best way to make the pain go away was to wee on the affected area. Since I had been stung on my back, he volunteered to help out. Our friendship was never the same after that. Later, after leaving school, I heard that he had joined the priesthood. As I grew up, I heard more and more about people weeing on each other without even having been stung by bluebottles. As far as I could tell, they hadn’t even been near the beach. I found it all rather disturbing.
 
 

Death or glory

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

My bum is a mess of weeping couch sores and my face looks like roadkill. And still I cannot stop. If there is a game of soccer on the telly, I have to watch. I wallow in my own filth and watch. Fifa has turned me into a low-rent junkie and it’s pathetic.

Trying to get me off the couch right now is like leaving a gram of coke on the heated seat of Maradona’s diamond-encrusted bidet and expecting him to flush it away. It’s simply asking too much.

During Wednesday’s game between Spain and Chile, the bad yellow-eyed woman skulked in the kitchen repeatedly smashing a meat tenderiser into what I assumed was my dinner. As it turned out, there was no dinner.

At one point she stood over me and reached into her pocket. I knew the odds were high that she was going for the pearl-handled shooter she uses to keep the barbarians at bay. But even as I sensed that death was only moments away, I was too weak to move. “Beer,” I croaked, waving feebly in the direction of the fridge.

She withdrew her hand and I closed my eyes. Well, one of them. I kept the other on the telly in case someone scored. The sound of thousands of voices shouting in Spanish drowned out the gunshot and I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in my chest. A wet patch spread across my heart and everything went black. Goodbye, cruel world.

Apparently I passed out, not away. Low blood sugar combined with an angina attack and the prospect of the defending champions being knocked out of the World Cup was too much for my shattered central nervous system. The wet patch was beer, not blood. The bad yellow-eyed woman slapped me back into consciousness and brandished a calculator at me. Was she going to bludgeon me to death with it?

“By the end of the weekend, you will have watched 34 consecutive games without moving,” she barked. She prodded angrily at the calculator. “Thirty-four games over 11 days. That’s 3060 minutes. Let’s make it 52 hours, including injury time.”

Injury time? That didn’t sound good. Perhaps she meant the time it would take the paramedics to surgically separate me from the couch.

I have had careers that lasted less than 52 hours. Still, I wasn’t precisely sure what point she was trying to make. It’s been like this all week. At some point I lost my vision.

“I’ve gone blind,” I shouted. There was cheering coming from the television. “Who scored?”

I heard the bad yellow-eyed woman walk into the room. “Who’s playing?” she said. A cruel trick to play on a man who had done little more than swallow and shout in well over a week; a man who had consumed enough alcohol to incapacitate a herd of wildebeest; a man who … who the hell was playing? Through my swollen eyeballs, I could barely make out the field. It looked like there were 500 people on it. Some were riding elephants, others were dressed as rabbits. I began to get afraid.

“It’s an advert,” she said. “And it’s half-time. Korea against Russia. Do you even know where some of these countries are?” Of course I did. Korea was just to the left of Japan, down a bit, to the right, down a bit, more, more, to the left, up a bit, not too much, stop. Thank you. That felt wonderful.

There are still 14 days to go before this terrible business is over. The pressure is enormous, especially on my bladder, and I have already booked my place in the downstairs toilet for 10pm on the night of 13 July.

I may have lost the use of my legs by then and my only hope is that I am not too weak to crawl.

 

An Open Letter To The African Union

Dear AU,

Congratulation on turning 50! You’ve come a long way without actually going anywhere.

You’ve gone through quite a few changes, too. I remember when you were the Organisation of African Unity. Like so many youngsters, you fell in with the wrong crowd as soon as you were old enough to let go of your colonial coattails.

I remember you hanging out with lovable rogues like Mobutu Sese Seko, Muammar Gaddafi, Idi Amin and Haile Selassie, who was a step up from the rest because he at least invented reggae music and smoked weed. You certainly earned the right to be known as the Dictators’ Club.

You changed your name to the African Union in 2002, presumably after realising that African unity was, like, the biggest pie you ever saw in the sky. There isn’t even a family on this continent, let alone a government, that has managed to achieve unity. When Gaddafi started blabbing on about being the president of the United States of Africa, you had to hire the Americans to put him down. Unity is heavily overrated. Look at Europe. I got a call last night from Brussels begging me to lend money to Spain.

Like me, as you get older, you’re moving a bit slower with each passing year. When that scuffle broke out in Mali last year, it took forever before you tried to do anything about it. I expect you’ll be addressing the Mau Mau rebellion at any moment.

Now that you’re officially middle-aged, you will probably find that you start forgetting things. Like who co-founded you. “Thabo who?” I hear you say. You must be relieved that there is no more talk of the African Renaissance. Like a freshly peeled mango, it was a concept that many of your members found hard to grasp.

I see your foreign ministers have backed a request by Kenya for the International Criminal Court to stop badgering their president. Crimes against humanity aren’t what they used to be. In the good old days, you would have to murder half your population to get that kind of attention. Now you turn a blind eye to a spot of post-electoral pushing and slapping and it’s off to The Hague for you.

Nearly half of the 20 most corrupt countries in the world are African. This is excellent news. All of them might have been African. This is real progress.

The quality of leadership is also improving. Our own president, for instance, makes Barack Obama look like a swivel-eyed illiterate. As for Robert Mugabe, well, there is no finer example of the perfect democrat.

Best of luck in spending the next 50 years searching for African solutions to African problems. Self-sharpening machetes would be a good place to start.

An Open Letter to President Jacob Zuma

Dear #1,

Do you mind if I call you Number One? It has the ring of victory to it. Oh sure, it also has ablutionary connotations, but you won’t find anyone in my circle of friends saying things like, “I need to make a Zuma.” That’s DA talk, that is. I will have no truck with open toilet humour.

I wanted to congratulate you on your efforts to avoid any of the Gupta muck sticking to you. They don’t call you the Teflon President for nothing! Personally, I don’t buy the Teflon thing. Unless, of course, you really are made of Teflon, in which case I am with you all the way.

I have learnt many of my survival skills from watching animals. Well, watching Animal Planet, anyway. You wouldn’t catch me anywhere near those filthy beasts. When there is danger, for instance, the hyena will run away. When I see the police, I also run away. But if a burglar, perhaps a smallish woman, breaks into my home and is unarmed, I will confront her, much like the elephant confronts the honey badger when he tries to steal the elephant’s honey.

You seem to have mainly been watching programmes on ostriches. Good for you. They are magnificent birds, especially when marinated in monkey gland sauce. But they are also very good at ignoring a problem until it disappears.

When an ostrich senses danger and cannot run away, perhaps because its legs are being cooked at a nearby shisa nyama, it flops to the ground and remains still. This clearly worked for you. I hope there were no nasty spills as civil servants stampeded for the exits at 3.30pm every day. I expect staff were warned to step over you.

An ostrich is born to run. You were also born to run – for president. Did you know that ostriches eat whatever is available? Plants, lizards, rocks. It’s all food to them. It wouldn’t surprise me if your nephew Khulubuse had a bit of ostrich in him.

Getting back to the problem that doesn’t exist. What are you doing about that Lieutenant-Colonel Christine Anderson? She distinctly said Number One was aware of the Gupterian takeover of Waterkloof Air Force Base. I hope you have offered her a suitable gift to keep her mouth shut. You know what women are like. You frequently have to buy their silence. I cannot begin to imagine how much you have to fork out to get some peace and quiet at Nkandla.

Don’t get her the same gift that was given to chief of state protocol, Bruce Koloane. She won’t feel special and will tell everyone that you were with Lee Harvey Oswald the day JFK was shot.