5 ways to get the perfect pandemic body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Bored in the RSA

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

“The people will never fall for that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey babe, take a walk on the solo side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June goes well with alcohol

I cannot bring myself to write another column about the only thing people are writing columns about. How much more can be said about a virus, a lockdown or a government that … I can’t. I just can’t. All I can say is, at least we don’t live in America. Given the choice between a Clicks card and a Green Card, don’t bother looking for me at the airport. I’ll be at the self-medication counter.

What else do we have in common that’s unrelated to the mangled phantasmagoria that now passes for life on earth? A lack of appreciation for art? An aversion to hard work? A hankering for moist vanilla cake? Inspiring stuff. Hold on. How about June? We all have to live through June. April and May were the months of things of which we shan’t speak. But June. Now there’s a word redolent with possibility.

The ancient Romans had it that June was the most auspicious month in which to be married. My experience is that there is no good month in which to be married. November, though, is the best month in which to get divorced. The weather is good, holidays are around the corner and you don’t have to waste money buying presents for someone who enrages you on sight.

Juno, from whence June was named, is portrayed as either a cruel and savage goddess or a kind and loving one. Much like every woman I’ve ever known, depending on how hungry she was at any given time. Juno was married to Jupiter, king of the gods, who was also her brother. I imagine anyone would be a little unpredictable under those circumstances.

Not everyone in the world feels the same way about June. In the northern hemisphere, June makes people want to drink and have sex with each other. Out here in the southern hemisphere, June makes us want to drink and kill each other. Which isn’t all that different from other months, admittedly. It’s just that the onset of winter makes us more homicidal than usual.

In the United States, June is African-American Music Appreciation Month. Speaking from a panic room in the White House, President Trump called on black Americans to show more appreciation for their music and focus less on trying not to be murdered by the police.

June is National Smile Month is the United Kingdom’s largest oral health campaign, which is ironic given the torrent of filthy lies that spews from the mouths of Boris Johnson and his disturbing organ-grinder Dominic Cummings.

Monday, 1 June, was World Milk Day. It was also the day bottle stores reopened after weeks of prohibition. Forget milk. If you drank anything other than alcohol on Monday, you’re not a true South African and ought to be ashamed of yourself. I suggest that 1 June henceforth be celebrated in this country as National Drunk Day. June 2 should also be declared a public holiday. Let’s call it National Hangover Day.

Wednesday was Opium Suppression Movement Day in Taiwan. No wonder nobody wants to recognise them. If there’s one thing the world needs right now, it’s more opium. It should be piped into office buildings and shopping malls everywhere. Stop with the suppression, Taiwan. It’s not cool.

June 19 is World Sauntering Day. I am an accomplished saunterer and would easily take gold if sauntering were to ever become an Olympic sport.

June 23 is International Widows Day, a day for mourning and, for some, a day for celebrating.

No. I can’t do this either. I’d rather pour superglue into my eyes than keep writing about things that happen in June. The plague is the only thing to write about for the foreseeable future. There’s a redundant phrase for you. If the future is anything at all, it’s certainly not foreseeable.

I’m writing this on Monday afternoon after having opened my first beer in what feels like forever. That first cold gush of beery goodness sent my body into paroxysms of happiness. Well, maybe not my entire body. There will always be the odd organ or gland that sits there, arms folded, unwilling to join in the fun. “Here we go again,” they say, shaking their little sanctimonious heads.

I can’t say I’ve felt better for not drinking these past few weeks. Well, I suppose I can’t really say I haven’t been drinking. Technically, I did have a bit of gin and maybe a spot of rum. And the odd tequila shooter. But I don’t count that as drinking. That’s cocktails, that is. Now, beer. That’s different. Beer is a real drinking man’s drink. Look at that. I’ve only had one and already I’m making no sense.

Cursed with a pathological loathing for queues, there was no way I was going to go to the bottle store on Monday. I would give it two or three days to allow the stampede to subside to a dull roar. To my credit, I did make it to 10am before cracking.

The best thing about masks and social distancing is that it makes chatting to strangers difficult. I find chatting to friends difficult enough. I could see there were people in the queue who wanted to chat. What would we say? Been a while, hey. Yep. Thirsty. Yup. Looking forward to a sundowner. Yeah, right. Like you’re going to wait for sunset before tucking in. Haha. How about you? Well, since you ask, I intend experimenting heavily with many different kinds of alcohol and fully expect that, by the weekend, I will have met and married my third wife, discovered a vaccine for Covid-19 and learnt how to speak fluent cat. Never underestimate the power of alcohol.

Mostly, though, the people in the queue just wanted everyone else to think they aren’t like the desperadoes and berserkers who started queueing at 5am. We’re all just normal social drinkers lining up outside a liquor store at 10am on a Monday. Quite normal.

But their eyes betrayed them. Their eyes said they were anxious. What if they run out of stock before I can get inside? Should I become a wine drinker? And the unspoken fear of fears. What if I’ve actually enjoyed being sober and no longer relish that warm glow of incipient inebriation?

I want to turn around and reassure everyone that it’s all going to be okay. That this is only Level 3 and look at us, standing outside a bottle store that’s not shut or on fire. There are no vicious cops in sight, no carts being pushed through the village with a man shouting, “Bring out your dead!”

Life is good! We can buy rotisserie chickens! Our domestic workers can return! Life can only get better from here on. For a start, the giddy pleasures and wild delights of Level 2 have yet to be made known to us. And, if we are to speak of Level 1, let us do it in hushed, reverential tones. We dare not even contemplate what ineffable rewards our benevolent overlords may bestow upon our unworthy heads should we live long enough to make it to this mythical moment in time.

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/

Of pork pies and piglets

Bit tricksy, this lifting of the locky-locky.

We don’t know how it’s going to work, but then again, I’m pretty sure they don’t either. In South Africa, the word ‘they’ is a bullet that’s been fired discriminately for many years.

In this case, They be the masters and mistresses of our fate. We are very much in an Us and Them situation. And for once, it’s not a racial thing. Well, it is, but also it isn’t. It’s primarily a power thing. If you command the army and the police, you can do whatever you please. Liberal snowflakes like Hendrik Verwoerd and PW Botha knew this very well. It’s no coincidence that our police  minister wears a pork-pie hat just like they did. Oink-oink.

I drove to the mall this morning after realising that if I had to spend another entire day in my own company, I’d almost certainly do myself a mischief. No, not myself. I’m too gutless for that. I’d turn on someone else. My neighbours, perhaps. I have reached Level Blindly Lashing Out and, going by what I see on social media, I am far from alone.

On my way to line up outside the supermarket along with hordes of other potentially diseased wearers of unclean masks and recalcitrant maintainers of social distancing, I drove past my local township. It looked like any other pandemic-free Saturday. The vegetable market was buzzing, women were selling second-hand clothes on the pavement, men were chatting and laughing, children played among the debris of their broken dreams.

Fine with me. What do you want to do? Chase everyone back into their corrugated iron shacks? Force people to buy masks when they can barely afford food? Arrest all 40 000? That’s a lot of paperwork, sergeant. Keep driving. We saw nothing. Let’s go harass those surfer kids down the road. Bust them for being in the ocean. Maybe we get lucky and find a granny walking her dog after 9am.

For obvious reasons, townships aren’t complying with lockdown regulations and police have given up trying to enforce pretty much anything apart from prohibition and the curfew. For equally obvious reasons, infection hotspots are more likely to develop in areas where people are jammed into taxis and pension payout queues and are living la vida loco like there’s no tomorrow. Which, as we now know, there isn’t.

Meanwhile, over in Karenville, the cops are stalking the beaches and leafy suburbs hoping to nail errant whities for violating one or other of the government’s many unhinged new rules. Covid-19 is unlikely to devastate too many white suburbs because residents have masks and sanitisers and big houses with gardens and snitches for neighbours.

The gummint says they will or might or are thinking about imposing different lockdown levels based on where the hotspots are. On paper, this means townships would stay locked down forever, while white people are allowed to roam free. It’s never going to happen. The optics would be appalling. Brutalist sociological architecture comes at a price and it took a virus for whites to pay it. Collective responsibility, collective punishment. Nobody ever said life was fair.

The mall was, at least, a brief diversion from the madness. Most shops were open and there was more stuff I was allowed to buy. I still had free will. Not entirely, but enough to not want to firebomb the building, form a rebel army and overthrow the government.

In the bakery section I spotted two illicit pies lurking in one of those incubator affairs. I demanded both and began wolfing the chicken and mushroom one right away. It was like warmed up crack. The pie lady said she needed to put a price sticker on it and, with some reluctance, I returned the half-ravaged pastry to its mutilated packet. I made sure to keep one hand on it. I was so overcome with my pie that I inadvertently made off with another man’s trolley.

On my way out I stopped at Dis-Chem for a bottle of cough mixture to wash the pie down. There was a queue of four people outside the door. I watched them for a while while they watched me watching them. Were we smiling at each other? There was no way to tell. Just a lot of weird eye action. The regular enforcer at the door wasn’t there. What had happened was this. A woman had decided of her own volition to wait for someone to leave before she entered. More people had come up and were now standing behind her.

I looked into the shop. It was virtually empty. As I walked through the door, I made big farmyard animal eyes and a baa-baa sound. I imagine they thought I was mentally unwell.

Then I almost collapsed in the self-medication aisle when my stupid mask decided to murder me. I was sucking in massive amounts of nitrous oxide, or whatever the hell it is that comes out of my mouth, when suddenly my vision went all blurry and I had to stagger to the geriatric section and sit down in a wheelchair, where I fell asleep.

 

  • This column first appeared in The Citizen. Fresh ones 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.

 

 

 

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