Here’s to the Loerie Awards

I’d like to buy the world a gram and garnish it with thrills, Grow dagga trees and jail keys, and snow white Mandrax pills.

Word on the street is that the advertising industry subsists on a diet of pure cocaine. I don’t believe it for a minute. Their coke, like everybody’s, is cut with headache powder and phenacetin, a yummy substance virtually guaranteed to give your children an early inheritance.

Personally I don’t give a hamster’s rectum if creative directors stuff crushed seal testicles up their nostrils. I do, however, have a problem when the substances they ingest results in the rest of us having to bear the consequences.

If the pony-tailed product pimps with pinprick pupils are dipping into the pharmaceutical goodie bag to help them come up with ever more ludicrous ideas, then the least they can do is provide us with drugs to help us cope. Every time we renew our TV licences (which should be never), we must be offered a year’s supply of the neuroleptic of our choice. I’ll take the Thorazine, thank you. It helps with mania and depression, illnesses common among those who are too lazy or stupid to hit the mute button when the commercials come on.

Advertising is not a science. It is witchcraft. Creative directors and copywriters are sorcerers by trade. They are spellbinders and dreamweavers. They are voodoo merchants trained to control minds. Bloodletting rituals have been replaced by coke-chopping rituals and instead of using bile of bat and eye of newt, they use aerial shots and digital effects.

These necromancers gifted in the dark art of enticing and entrancing do not go short in life. For their power to turn people into sheep, the warlocks and witches are richly rewarded by the kings and queens of commerce. They drive, use, wear, drink and eat everything that made it into this year’s Top Brands list. First they create then become their creations. They are like glittering mortal gods.

Television advertising has encroached so deep into programming that you’re unsure whether the blonde repeatedly washing her hair is a new character in the movie. It has also become more obscure, more deranged, more … of the same. Bigger, better, faster, more. But nothing new.

I tried watching a movie the other night. I have no idea what is was about because for every six minutes of movie, there were four minutes of people shouting at me to buy a new car, change my deodorant, drink something else or switch to “the bank that moves you”. Yes, indeed. You will find yourself moving about a week after you miss a bond repayment.

Hang on. What this? By purchasing a Natura laxative I could win a free trip to the Maldives? Whoo-hoo! Even if I miss my flight because of a prolonged bowel evacuation in the airport toilet, the experience will have been worth it.

A woman with glycerine eyes showed me how easy it is to get chocolate, grass, egg yolk, engine oil and blood stains out of my sheets. What the hell is going on in that house? Where I live, semen and wine stains are about as wild as it gets.

My palpitations had barely subsided when a silver car came rocketing out of a riverbed, up a mountain, down a cliff, through the sea and along a beach. I was told that dozens of motoring journalists had voted it Car of the Year. I wasn’t told that motoring journalists would sell their sisters on eBay for a prawn cocktail and two shots of whisky.

Just when I thought the movie was about to come back on, the screen was filled with half-naked women carrying on as if the world were suddenly free of men. Were they celebrating the end of genital mutilation in Somalia? The end of death by stoning for committing infidelity in Saudi Arabia? The end of gender-based salary discrepancies everywhere? No. They were celebrating the end of dry skin.

I was suffering from the onset of dry throat so I went to the kitchen to fetch a fresh six-pack. In the time that it took me to pick the lock on the fridge, I missed the next few minutes of movie and returned just in time to see a woman coughing as if her swine flu had developed tuberculosis. Should this happen to me, I was advised to speak to my pharmacist without delay. Then she keeled over onto the bed. Dead? I hoped so.

A man appeared, stroking his unshaven chin. Not unshaven like a homeless man, but unshaven like a man who has been too busy negotiating a good price for Necker Island to bother about shaving. Our hero reached for the hydrogel nanoparticles that would leave him soft and smooth and ready to single-handedly overthrow Egypt’s military junta.

By now I had forgotten what movie I was watching. Oh, look! A Formula 1 racing car has just pulled into a petrol station, filled up and roared away. This is clearly the car to drive if you want to avoid having to wait for a surly attendant to finish his mutton curry pie and get off his fat arse to ensure that you miss your appointment by washing your windows and dropping your change.

Then the movie came back on. A giant anaconda was eating an entire village. Once it had finished it waddled back to the murky waters of the Amazon and a man in a white coat looked me in the eye and recommended that I change my toothpaste. He was deeply concerned about my dental health and urged me to visit my dentist regularly. He said it would put the smile back on my face. But it won’t. My face will be numb for days. It is my dentist’s face that will be smiling. Open your mouth in a dentist’s chair and the first charge incurred will be for infection control. When your dentist goes to Bangkok on holiday, he will convert this money into baht and buy a bag of condoms. So you end up paying for his infection control as well as your own.

Back to the movie. Damn. Missed it while looking for an opener. But what’s this? A family is camping out in the bush. They are sitting around a fire. Maybe this is the movie. That won’t keep the anaconda away. Maybe they had guns. But they didn’t. They had Snuggets. Blankets with arms sewn into them. Of course. Why didn’t I think of it?

For all these years, whenever I felt chilly I put on my jacket. Sure, my jacket had arms. But it wasn’t fleecy and purple, nor did it reach all the way down to my feet. In the pre-Snugget era, I would sometimes wrap a blanket around myself when the weather turned really cold. But then I found I was unable to use my arms. The only way I could eat was to shove my face into my plate and grab whatever I could with my teeth. Eating soup was hell. I could never hug anyone or point at anything. I couldn’t even read because my hands were trapped inside that damn blanket – the blanket with no arms.

I no longer cared what happened to the anaconda. I am addicted to infomercials. The longer I watch, the more it feels like I am hallucinating. After the first minute my head starts spinning. The colours become sharper and my heart begins pounding. It’s like being on acid without the blind terror or uncontrollable laughter.

It’s not just television, either. Much like men, newspapers are getting thicker by the day and my heart leaps when I see a fat, new one sprawled in the shop. I mean a newspaper, not a man. Next to women and beer, I love newspapers the most. If I see a woman drinking beer and reading a newspaper, I am finished.

But when I take it home and open it up, it is – like so many of the women I have brought home – filled with nothing but lies and empty promises. Sandwiched between the feature on lesbian Panda bears and the latest corruption scandal is page after page of stuff that I have to possess if I do not wish to become a lonely outcast whom children pelt with stones on the rare occasion that I stray from my wretched hovel in search of a half-jack of gin and a couple of loose Lexington’s.

Oh, look darling, we simply have to acquire a case of 25-year-old Chivas Regal. It’s going for only R5 499 a bottle! This is a family newspaper, for god’s sake, and I don’t mean the Oppenheimer family. Does Patrice Motsepe circle the specials in the Ultra Liquors insert while checking his gold shares? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Ordinary people like you and me, well, you mainly, need to know where to find semi-sweet white wine in plastic bottles.

Normal people want supplements advertising guns with their serial numbers filed off. They want to know where they can get hijacked cars, stolen cellphones and speed that isn’t cut with strychnine. They are looking for pirated appliances and clothes that are cheaper to throw away than take to the laundromat.

Most of the supplements I come across are filled with glittering baubles and glamorous gizmos that I will never be able to afford. A Toys R Us supplement is enough to plunge me into a black depression. Growing up in a cardboard box on the N2, the only toys I had were the marrowbones I scavenged from packs of stray dogs once they were done sucking on them. And now I am too old for toys.

What the producers of merchandise and their marketing hit men are doing is akin to bombing Sudanese refugee camps with Woolworth’s food supplements. The longer I gaze upon these glossy pages offering a lifestyle I will never have, the more I realise what a waste it has all been. If only I had worked harder at school. If only I hadn’t overslept that day of the interview. If only I had enough rope to hang myself with.

Hold on. What’s this? Rope World has a special on nooses! What extraordinary luck.

 

I am not Patrice Motsepe

I feel sorry for Patrice Motsepe. For a start, he’s the fourth richest man in the country. Fourth is a terrible position. I always came fourth in athletics at school, regardless of the event, and it was hell competing for a place on a podium built for three.
I feel Patrice’s pain. To have three white men above him on Forbes’ list of billionaires can’t be an easy thing to wake up to every morning. Especially not when one of them sells cigarettes, the other dabbles in diamonds and the third sells chicken pieces and whatnot.
But the real reason I feel sorry for him (I won’t even mention that he’s only the 642nd richest person in the world) is that he must be snowed under by the sheer volume of emails and letters he gets from people wanting something from him.
Look, I want some of his money just as much as the next man, but writing to him and asking him to share his R30-billion rand fortune with you is futile. What you need to do is wait outside his house and when he comes out, grab him and … no, wait. That’s a terrible idea. A man like that doesn’t travel without bodyguards. If you want to get your hands on some of his money, your best bet would be to work for him. I get a feeling that, in one way or another, we all work for Patrice.
I did, however, write a preposterous begging letter to the great man two years ago. It’s on my blog if you want to read it. Around 70 people have responded so far. Not, as you might think, to gush over my rapier wit or even to issue death threats, but to make their own requests to Patrice. On my blog. Because, as everyone knows, the second thing Patrice does when he wakes up on his goldbed (it’s like a waterbed but filled with liquid gold) is read my blog. The first thing he does is buy his wife a small Baltic republic she can call her own.
Those who responded to my drivel seemed to think I either was Patrice Motsepe or was so close to him that he’d stop whatever he was doing so that I could read their messages to him. Here are a few verbatim excerpts:
* “Mr Motsepe you brought positive life in and made see things in a different eye,is such an honour to write you a letter.Sir iwas reguesting you to help us build our Day care.”
* “Plz help me i am wiling to plæ soccer plz help me persue my dream.”
* “I ama profetional distance athlete in kimberly i m asking for sponsorship. In terms of running equipment transport financialy.”
* “hy mr motsepe i realy want your help,i want to be a model so can u please help me.”
*”I want donation educational toys,matersses,painted,chair,table,and gate any found accept . thank very much I wish me one of the win.”
* “i want to be a millionaire and ive have a greet plan .investing in the money market for only a year ,i need you to lend me 10 million then i return 12 million in a year and il keep 3 million ,but this money wont be handed to me but the bank and i wont be able to touch it because it will all be in your name ,gimme a email and il tell you.”
Some of the responses were more eloquent than others. Some were genuine, others were clearly taking a chance. And still they write. Quite frankly, I find it all rather sad. Patrice, I know you’re reading this. Give me your email address so that I can forward the correspondence. I promise never to write about you again.
 
 
 

So very launched

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I don’t know why my publisher, Pan Macmillan, decided that I needed two launches for my book – Incognito – The Memoirs of Ben Trovato – in the space of a week in Cape Town. Perhaps they wanted a backup in case one of the launches had to be aborted like a cheap North Korean nuclear missile test.

Both events were wildly successful. Then again, I also think World War Two was wildly successful.

The man given the onerous task of interrogating me at Kalk Bay Books on 28th May and again at the Book Lounge on 5th June was the legendary troubadour and troublemaker, Roger Lucey.

The denizens of the Deep South emerged from their lairs to guzzle wine and beer at Kalk Bay Books, while the urbanistas did the same a week later at the Book Lounge, conveniently located across the road from the depraved Kimberley Hotel.

Thierry Cassuto – Maestro Geppetto of Puppet Nation ZA – had his contacts in the underworld deliver six bottles of Jameson’s to the Book Lounge, where shooters were shot and laughs were had.

Bella, who features in Incognito, stepped in to lend a hand. She said the only reason she let me live was because I had made myself look far worse than her in the book and she felt sorry for me.

Making my first public appearances after writing as Ben Trovato for over a decade was both terrifying and exhilarating. Apparently I have to do it all over again – twice – at the South African Book Fair next weekend. It’s enough to make one give up writing altogether.

Here are some photos from both launches.

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Buster Blood Vessel

Almost a year ago, I hired a bicycle and rode from Blue Lagoon to uShaka Marine World to investigate the state of the beachfront. I wrote a column about it. My body must have sensed that it was time for its annual work-out and insisted that I take it to the bike hire place next to Circus Circus.

Don’t be silly,” I said to my body. “You’ve got a hangover. Why not do it another time?”

My body crossed its arms and stamped its foot. “Because when another time comes around, you’ll have an excuse then, too. I’m atrophying, here. Take me for some exercise.”

Or else what?”

Or else I’ll stop your heart. Or tell your legs to run in front of a bus.”

My body has always had a bad attitude. Still, it’s not going to change now and I’d be an idiot to risk offending it.

How long will you need it for?” asked the comrade behind the counter.

Just a minute or two,” I said. My heart skipped a couple of beats.

Just relax,” I muttered. “I’ll take it for six hours.” My heart began racing. “Ha ha,” I laughed. “That had you worried, didn’t it”?

The comrade looked at me as if I were mentally disturbed. Come to think of it, he was wearing a pair of wraparound reflecting sunglasses. What I saw was a reflection of me looking at myself as if I were mentally disturbed. I handed him my expired driving licence as security and the comrade’s sidekick showed me to the bicycles. Which one did I want? They all looked identical.

Something called a Cruiser was extracted and wheeled over to me. The handlebars looked like as if they were designed by someone on acid. “Does it have gears?” The sidekick searched my face for signs that I was joking. All he could find were signs that I was from an era when bicycles were still made with only one gear.

With a gentle breeze at my back, I set off in first gear for Blue Lagoon. It wasn’t long before I was going too fast for first, so I clicked down to sixth. I detected a subtle change in pressure or drag or whatever the hell it’s called. But there was no sound of cogs meshing, as one might expect. Either this was the latest in gear design or the bloody thing was broken.

With my legs windmilling wildly, the kilometres flew by at a brisk walking pace. I was surprised to see that the Laguna Beach pools had been tarted up. A year earlier, they looked like the kind of recreational facility you might expect to find at Auschwitz. A bit of grass might have been nice, though. And a few more benches. I saw a family sitting on the brick paving. You may think nothing of this, but I should point out that this was a white family. I haven’t seen white people sitting on the ground since the AWB tried to invade Bophuthatswana. Well, they weren’t so much sitting on the ground as they were slumped next to their bakkies getting shot by a member of the local constabulary. Okay, bad example.

Reaching the mouth of the Umgeni, it was hard not to notice that the area was as desolate as it had been a year earlier. Is it a Hollywood set for Mad Max Beyond Blue Lagoon? Is it meant to be art? Is the council making some kind of anti-aesthetic statement by turning a once-bustling fishing, dopping and skyfing spot into a barren wasteland? I pedalled through a gate marked Do Not Enter. They needn’t bother with the sign. Sylvia Plath would have found it too depressing. Another sign said, “Vumani Civils”. Vumani is presumably Zulu for “We have given up and gone home.”

As I turned to make the long trek south, the buster came through. I thought that was a bit unnecessary. Riding into the teeth of a vicious headwind, first gear never felt so good. I had to keep my head down, which meant hitting a few things along the way. Some screamed, some didn’t.

I was grateful to come across Bike & Bean, a new addition since my last journey into these parts. I collapsed onto a stool. Here was clearly a man in urgent need of some kind of attention. Quite possibly medical. The two dudes behind the bar made a point of not looking at me. The white one, Bike, juggled a soccer ball while Bean, the black one, stared at his phone. I was the only customer. I staggered over to a fridge and helped myself to a Coke.

A sign said it was 5kms to Ushaka. A sob escaped my cracked lips.

Back in the saddle, I wobbled past Anant Singh’s magnificent new film studio where Natal Command once stood. Of course I couldn’t actually see the R40-million rand complex. It’s amazing what they can do with special effects these days.

The building next to the Rachel Finlayson pool still doesn’t have a restaurant in it, although I did see some kind of activity on the top floor. It’s probably a bunch of enterprising surfers setting up a grow house ahead of parliament’s adoption of the Ambrosini Bill, which will make it mandatory for people over the age of 18 to smoke marijuana at least once a month.

Several kilometres on, I spotted a yellow shipping container on the promenade not far from Addington Hospital. It seemed the perfect location to sell expired medication to the poor and I was looking forward to negotiating a good deal on a batch of hallucinogenics. I couldn’t see how I was going to finish this expedition without drugs.

But it was Afro’s Chicken. I couldn’t even sit down because the only three tables were taken by people stuffing birds into their faces. I had a look at a menu stuck on the window. If you’re going to sell “tjips”, then why not also sell “shikkin”, “koalslor” and “hambergiz”? There’s a fortune to be made from the semi-literate market.

The Children’s Hospital, I was delighted to see, no longer looks like a crack house bombed by Somali rebels and Addington Hospital has a shiny new entrance that will go a long way towards reassuring people that they might not necessarily die if they had to be treated there.

With my last ounce of strength, I rode up to Wazoos, dropped my bike and slumped at a table. Now and again, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a waitress. She seemed to be stalking me, then, just before I could make eye contact, she’d disappear. This went on for a while. My hangover now relentless in its demand for sustenance, I returned to the bicycle and pointed its snout northwards. I only had a couple of hundred metres to go before Piatti appeared like some kind of divine oasis. I crawled onto the veranda and dragged myself onto a chair. The only other couple there pretended not to notice me. As did the waiters. Eventually the other couple called for their bill and a waiter was forced to walk past my chair. I grabbed his shirt before he could escape.

A Windhoek lager and a menu. Please. Sorry. If it’s not too much trouble. Thank you.”

The wind changed. Then the seasons changed. It was the winter of 2016 when I went inside to look for my waiter. He had gone. It was as if he had never existed. Perhaps Anant Singh hired him.

The two greatest mysteries of this century – the whereabouts of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and my waiter.