To not swallow or split

Last Wednesday was International Migratory Bird Day and I speak for the indigenous avian community when I say we’re happy to see the back of those annoying ingrates. I have never seen such arrogance and entitlement. Disrespecting international borders, they come over here every summer, exploit our good weather and do absolutely nothing to uplift the local economy.
I’m sorry, but it’s just not good enough to fly in on a balmy October morning and start shouting about your brilliant sense of direction when some of us struggle to find our way out of shopping malls. We won’t even speak of the flitting about hither and yon in the hope that someone will catch a glimpse of your florid undercarriage and cry out in delight.
Who do they think they are? They come from dinosaurs, for god’s sake. They’re pterodactyls. Sure, they have a better attitude, but only because they know that if they started snatching our children, we wouldn’t hesitate to make them extinct. Like we did with the pterodactyls.
Then, at the first sign of a chill in the air, they close their nests and bugger off to somewhere warmer without so much as a thank you. I spent the entire summer throwing my bread and spilling my seed into the garden and making sure the little bastards had water to bath their filthy lice-infested bodies.
Living alone as I do, they were the only friends I had. I was learning their language. Do you think they ever bothered to learn mine? Of course not. They are like the British who spend hundreds of winters on the Costa del Sol and still the only Spanish they know is, “Una mas cerveza and a steak, egg and chips, pronto Tonto.”
I’m not asking for a debate on Rabelaisian architecture – quite frankly I’m not sure Rabel was an architect at all – but a simple good morning would have been nice. There was one bird who appeared on the telephone wire at sunset who had a lot to say. He’s gone, now. Probably to the Canary Islands, where, if there’s any justice in this world, he won’t be allowed in because he’s not a canary. I suppose there’s a chance he is a local and can’t afford to migrate, in which case his sudden disappearance is quite likely linked to the neighbour’s cat.
I prefer to think that he was concerned about my well-being and was advising me to leave post haste because winter was drawing dangerously near.
“But where should I go?” I shouted into the twilight.
“Durban,” he tweeted. It’s true. He has a Twitter account. All birds do. They’ve just learnt not to follow anyone after that nasty business with Alfred Hitchcock when nobody got paid even though they totally carried the movie.
My feathered friend had been with me for most of the summer, arriving at dusk every day to see that I was okay. Or, more likely, to gloat. If I could fly I would so gloat at creatures that can’t fly.
He saw my living conditions, there in my shack in the milkwoods of Kommetjie, and must have known I couldn’t afford to migrate to the warmer breeding grounds in the north. He wasn’t even sure I was capable of breeding at all. Nor am I, quite frankly.
I had already been thinking about migrating to Durban for the winter, so please don’t assume that I take my instructions from birds. That would be mad. Unless, of course, it’s crows. You’d be a reckless fool to ignore advice dispensed by crows.
And so it was that on International Migratory Bird Day I fled my shack ahead of looming frontal attacks by wild arctic storms and clawless otters crazed from the cold. I snuck through the crippled milkwoods under cover of darkness and folded myself into the Subaru, hitting the road at 6.15am, the earliest recorded motorised departure in human history.
Apparently it wasn’t. Apparently there are other people on the road at this godless hour. Not one or two, either. Hundreds. Thousands. The entire M3 was backed up for 30kms. It was still night. I wasn’t even able to make out the occupants of the other cars. They could have been flightless birds – ostriches behind the wheel with hysterical penguins gibbering in the back seat – all desperate to migrate to Durban. Boots stuffed with illegal emus and cassowaries who came over by boat but lost their money gambling and can’t get back to Australia or wherever the hell they come from.
What a terrible world this is becoming. I want you here by 8am. But sir, the taxis are on strike, the buses aren’t running, the trains are burning, the roads are jammed, the robots are out, a stoned dodo drove into me … I don’t care. 8am or you’re fired.
We need another industrial revolution but with a lot less emphasis on the industrial. The original idea was eight hours work, eight hours play and eight hours sleep. Heavy traffic, exploitative bosses, watered down tequila and barking dogs have screwed with this formula.
Anyway. I don’t care. I’m in a bar in Jeffreys Bay drinking gallons of The Bird lager. It’s made by a mob of east coast reprobates at Poison City Brewing. I see it as part of the essential refuelling process, much like what the red-faced warblers do when they stop off in Morocco for a hit on the hash pipe before shacking up with those cute Portuguese birds on the Algarve.
Besides, one doesn’t simply spend summer in Cape Town and return to Durban in winter without stopping off in Jeffreys Bay to acclimatise. By acclimatise, I obviously mean surf and drink and gird one’s loins for the hell run through the Transkei. I can’t call it the Eastern Cape because it doesn’t behave like a normal province. There’s no corruption because the entire budget is stolen within minutes of being allocated. The traffic cops are trained in new and unusual methods of soliciting bribes – “Sorry sir. On this section of road, you are forbidden from wearing seat belts”. Dogs run into the street hoping to be put out of their misery.
Look, the notion of spending summers in Cape Town and winters in Durban appeals to me on a deep and primal level. Just don’t call me a swallow. Swallows are people who have a home in London and another in Hermanus. Swallows are wealthy and generally retired. I’m neither, as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this.
It’s quite simple, really. After spending seventeen winters in Cape Town, nine of them in a terrible state of marriage, I never again want to be cold. Or married.

Stumbleweeding Through Life

I hope there is some kind of predetermined plan here, and that it isn’t all just loosely held together by a series of random events, because I cannot figure out why, exactly, I am writing this in a noisy backpacker’s bar at 2am on the Wild Coast when, at my age, I should be in a gated community with a devoted wife, 2.4 children and a pair of golden labradors lying at my feet.

Returning from my holiday to Cape Town, which wasn’t so much a holiday as it was an apocalyptic clusterfuck, I stopped off at Jeffreys Bay to try out the new surfboard I bought from Titch Paul’s shop in Muizenberg.

A stiff offshore was blowing and the waves were epic. I jumped out of the car in the parking lot in Pepper Street, overlooking Supertubes, then staggered for a few paces and fell over. A dog came up  and barked at me. A mother hurried her child away. That parking lot has seen some pretty wild stuff over the years, no doubt about it, but not at 10am.

I could barely walk. My right foot felt as if red-hot shrapnel was embedded in it. Other surfers were putting on their wetsuits and waxing their boards. It’s a small town. I didn’t want to be known as that tall, unshaven freak who drives around with a surfboard on his roof, then stops and falls down for a bit and gets back in his car and leaves, but it seemed inevitable.

I went looking for drugs. For many years, drugs were easily obtainable in J-Bay. Then the orcs and uruk-hais from the hinterland descended, with their facebrick houses and facebrick churches and facebrick mentalities, and nothing was ever the same again. Now, you have to get your drugs from pharmacies instead of hippies.

None of the chemists speak English. I tried explaining my symptoms but fell silent when I realised I had forgotten the Afrikaans word for foot. She helped me out by saying, “Jou voet?” Foot. Voet. Hard to tell the difference. Why even bother with another language? Can’t we all just speak English and get along?

She said from the sound of it, I had gout. They speak funny in J-Bay, so I laughed and said, “For a minute there, I thought you said I had gout.” Ja, she said, gout. I was outraged. Gout is something from which fat, old, rich men suffer. I am not rich. What a silly woman. Could she not tell by the way I was dressed?

“How much did you last have to drink?” she said. An odd question. I was wearing sunglasses and, for all she knew, I was a Jehovah’s Witness. It is, after all, only by the eyes that one can tell someone who is partial to the odd dram, or, in my case, nineteen beers and four tequilas two nights earlier.

I removed my sunglasses and looked her square in the eye. She flinched, nodded once, turned to her stockpile of snake-oil solutions and rip-off remedies and handed me a canister of colchicine. “Take two …” I immediately lost interest and began scanning the shelves behind her. Ever since I was a child, I have been astonished at the amount of drugs that are available in pharmacies. I no longer want to try them all, but I remain astonished, nevertheless.

It was vitally important that I cured my foot while I was still in J-Bay, so I began gobbling the little white pills the moment I walked out. The more you take, the better you feel. Isn’t that the guiding credo for pharmaceuticals of any kind? Well, apart from acid. I overmedicated on acid once and had two-thirds of my face fall into my lap while I was sitting on a park bench in Barcelona. I had a terrible job fitting it back on.

Colchicine works on a different principle. One of the side effects of overdosing is that you swerve violently into someone’s driveway and vomit in their garden. In front of their children. On a Sunday morning.

“It’s gout,” I shout. I wouldn’t want them thinking I am spreading blackwater fever through the neighbourhood. But I can see they don’t understand. They have given their facebrick house a name. Something in Afrikaans. I don’t understand, either.

My organs and joints eventually calmed down enough for me to get into the water. Surfing at J-Bay is to surfers what kissing the pope’s ring is to Catholics, only more hygienic. Getting out of the water is another story. To get back to the beach, one has to negotiate a strip of razor-sharp rocks that runs for hundreds of metres. It’s brutal.

Driving out of town a couple of days later, I pulled up at the N2 T-junction and turned the engine off. Left back to Cape Town, right to Durban. I’ve done 23 years in Durban, 14 in Cape Town and the rest … well let’s not talk about the rest.

I could have gone either way. It didn’t really matter. Nobody was waiting for me, on the west coast or the east. I took out a R5 coin and flipped it. Heads. But forgot to call it. Just then, one of those giant satanic crows flew low overhead and banked sharply to the left. I couldn’t remember if it was black cats, black crows or black people that were bad luck, but either way it struck me as an ominous omen.

I swung the wheel to the right, opened a beer with my teeth and headed for the legendary roadworks of the Eastern Cape.