Wednesday started well enough with a near-drowning experience at North Beach and a few mugs of electric tea with the legendary lawyer Psycho Syd Taverner, followed by an unexpected nap and a frighteningly real nightmare that I was on deadline.
I was about to start writing when the power in the area went off. This is just one of the many delightful quirks of life in South Africa. Who wants to live in a country where everything works?
It’s far more exciting to drive around late at night in the middle of an electrical storm looking for a pub with free wi-fi while running the risk of getting hijacked, stuffed into the boot and skinned like a dumb animal on the banks of the Umgeni River.
I find a place on the edge of a boomslang-infested chunk of North Coast jungle and the werewolf at the door reluctantly allows me inside to filch some of their power. Armed with a Macbook, I’m clearly out looking for trouble.
The manager relaxes when I start chain-ordering double brandies and Coke. It’s like a secret signal among the brotherhood. If you drink Klippies, you’re okay.
It’s the same kind of thing that makes the owners of old Land Rovers wave to each other. It’s also one of the reasons I want to sell mine. All this waving at strange men defeats the point of driving a Defender in the first place – to assert your masculinity.
I adopt a defensive position against the far wall and size up the clientele. All I see is the very worst of humanity – estate agents doing deals at the bar. Crying babies. Lonely gin junkies eyeing me with intent. Happily married couples. Afrikaners. Cockneys who fled to the shires because London was getting too African and Asian and then, inexplicably, fled to Durban where they spend their time drinking imported ale and complaining about the blacks and the Indians.
The man at the table in front of me orders chicken livers. What kind of maniac eats an organ designed to filter toxins from the blood? Sis, man.
The woman asks the waiter if they serve vegetables. I want to shout, “Madam, they serve anyone.”
Estate agents have a pitch in their voice that is aimed squarely at your central nervous system. After hearing it for one minute, your senses start going numb. Two minutes, and you begin losing your ability to tell right from wrong. Three minutes, and you have to get away or your brain will turn to jelly and ooze from your ears. But you can’t escape because she has locked you inside. Your only way out is to buy the place.
One of those babies born with the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck is two tables away and is only now discovering it can make sounds. The parents think it’s cute. Every time their abominable loinfruit shrieks, they look around, smiling, as if to say, “We made this. Aren’t we clever?” No. You’re not clever. What you are is criminally inconsiderate, and I’m being generous here.
Babies should be reared on battery farms and only allowed out once they have learnt to harness the destructive power of their vocal chords.
Oh, look. It dropped its dummy. The mother picks it up. But she’s staring slack-jawed at rugby on the TV and sticks the dummy into its ear, then its eye. Eventually she plugs its noise-hole. It makes a sound like a wild pig being suffocated by a boa constrictor.
She removes the dummy and starts kissing it on its nasty little mouth. Their lips are lashed together for so long that I begin to wonder if she’s blowing it up. The creature changes colour. By now it’s twice the size it was when it came in. I cover my laptop in case it explodes.
Off to my left, the estate agent is making sure the entire suburb gets to hear about the quote he got on roof tiles that blew off in the storm. His appalling wife is dressed like a lumberjack. She has a voice like an angle grinder cutting into a sheep’s skull.
To my right is a young couple – not quite black diamonds, but certainly getting there. Black cubic zirconia, perhaps. They are drinking coffee and flicking through their iPhones. They haven’t said a word to each other since they arrived. The tension is killing me.
I want to lean over and introduce a topic of conversation. “So how about them strikes, eh? Bloody darkies. Ruining this country for everyone.” That should get things going.
Even when plates heaped with what look like a zebra’s rib cage arrive, they pick desultorily at them in silence. No mess, no fuss. Put a plate of ribs in front of a hungry white man and when he leaves he will have to be taken into the parking lot, stripped naked and hosed down. Maybe that’s just me.
There’s a man sitting at the bar wearing a baseball cap and a pair of cargo shorts big enough to fit a baby elephant. His blubber flows over the sides of the chair like something out of a Salvador Dali painting.
Lava man is having some kind of bar snack and yawning as he eats. I’m surprised he’s not a tourist attraction in these parts. See the amazing human hippo! Wait for him to yawn and try to throw a chicken wing into his mouth! Prizes to be won! Could be Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s biggest cash cow yet.
Then there are the gay dudes behind me. One is white and Afrikaans and the other brown and Afrikaans. They fill me with hope for this country. At the same time, they fill me with revulsion. Such are the quandaries faced by the English-speaking liberal.
The bruin-ou’s accent is easy on the ear. Got a bit of Cape lyricism to it. But the wit-ou? Sweet Jesus. He looks like one of those teenage farm boys with the strength and intellect of an ox. His consonants are so guttural that I begin to think he is choking on his pork medallions.
I know that if I pick him up from behind and give him the Heimlich manoeuvre, and I’m wrong, he will consider it to be foreplay and I won’t be able to go to the toilet again. Better that he chokes.
The waiter tells me it’s happy hour. At midnight? Where the hell am I? Paradise? Make it a double, comrade. And don’t spare the horses.