It’s Blood River All Over Again

Today, 174 years ago, the Voortrekkers defeated a Zulu army at the Battle of Blood River. And today, the Boers and the Zulus will join forces to defeat me at the Battle of Gateway Shopping Centre.

The Zulus will stream in through strategic entrances to isolate me in a pincer movement that would have made King Shaka proud. And the Boers will use their traditional tactics of walking eight abreast, scoffing ice-creams and knocking us out of the way with their meaty hips and big asses. I don’t stand a chance.

William Butler Yeats wrote, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Here, they’re slouching out of Bethlehem (there by the Free State) and into Durban.

Quite frankly, these people scare me. If I had the space, I would explain how one can tell the difference between trolls, homunculi and troglodytes.

I did a recce at Gateway earlier in the week to check out the exits and locate the shops that sell weapons. If it was going to turn ugly, I wasn’t going down without a fight. To hell with reconciliation. At this time of year, it’s every man for himself.

The first thing I noticed was that Christmas decorations aren’t as Christian as they used to be. In the old days you could barely walk through a mall without smacking your head into a simpering polystyrene angel swinging from the rafters. These days it’s all disco balls and plastic dross swaddled in fairy lights.

It’s not so much Santa’s grotto as it is Hugh Hefner’s grotto, although in Game you do have a slightly smaller risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease.

You’d think at this time of year the very least God could do is send down a few real angels to pretty up the city. Maybe we’ve been doing it wrong and everyone has gone straight to hell. Or perhaps this is hell. Perhaps heaven is another planet with mountains of marijuana and rivers of beer and beautiful women who don’t mind if you never call them but who will still whip up a hearty breakfast if you happen to drop by early on a Sunday morning, horny and bleeding.

Orphans are big this year. I saw several shops offering to donate a percentage of purchases over R100 to those who are lucky enough not to have parents. They never say how much goes to the orphans, though. It could be 0000.2% of each purchase. This means that by the end of the holidays, three orphans in a village north of the Tugela will each get a tin of soup. Next year, if they are really lucky, they will get a tin opener.

As I made my way through the mall, hugging the walls and keeping to the shadows, retracing my steps to confuse the sniffer dogs and darting from doorway to doorway to prevent the snipers from drawing a bead on me, I saw a brawl break out in Dis-Chem. My money was on a geriatric with purple hair and no teeth. I got the idea this wasn’t her first Zimmer frame fight.

The war for drugs escalates at this time of year. Too many family reunions, dinners and parties mean that old and young alike are desperate for their meds. If you’re new at this, I recommend something from the benzodiazepine family.

Ativan and Librium will do nicely if all you need to do is get through Christmas lunch without cutting a sibling’s throat. However, if you’re worried about getting drunk and exposing Uncle Pervy for the paedophile that he is, you might need one of the neuroleptics.

Thorazine works well, but get your timing right. You don’t want to be slack-jawed and drooling into the turkey with your paper hat over one eye while everyone else is pulling crackers.

I saw a sign saying, “Add more sparkle to your festive season – shop with American Express!” Yeah, sure. It’s all fun and sparkles now, but what happens next year? It’s bad enough what the local banks will to do to you, but you fuck with the Americans at your peril. I’ve heard Guantanamo Bay isn’t a prison for political detainees at all. It’s for people – Muslims, mainly – who have maxed out their American Express cards and are late with the repayments.

I saw another sign. “Gateway recycles 248 378 litres of fuel – enough to send a single car 87 times around the circumference of the Earth.” Hang on. Wouldn’t the carbon footprint of this car be worse for the environment than if the fuel hadn’t been recycled? More importantly – can this car turn into a boat? No wonder our children suck at geography.

A 10-piece nativity set caught my eye. It was rather nicely done, if a bit outdated. If it were today, the three wise men would be unemployed academics with substance abuse problems, Joseph would be out working overtime to pay for the new baby and the shepherds would be on strike.

I also came across a very nice shredder for only R199. Guess what’s going to be the most popular gift in the Union Buildings this year.

And a box saying, “Magic fish – real living fish! Watch them hatch and grow before your very eyes!” We are expected to believe a lot of made-up stuff at this time of year, but I draw the line at magic fish. Or do I? Ah, what the hell. I’ll take one. They may even turn out to be talking fish, in which case I can stop this nonsense and buy an island in the Caribbean.

I saw television sets so big you would have to sell your house, buy a piece of land and build a new house around the telly. Where will it end, this race for the biggest television? Will new homes eventually offer plasma screens instead of walls? I hope so. I already spend hours staring at the wall. I may as well be watching something.

And lava lamps are still being sold even though weed remains illegal. It makes no sense. You genuinely have to be on drugs to fully appreciate a lava lamp. I’m surprised that each purchase doesn’t come with a bankie of Durban Poison and to hell with the consequences.

I spent some time in the toy section because it reminds me of my childhood, none of which I can recall, although I must have had one.

There’s a doll that speaks six lines. Or does six lines. I can’t remember. Cocaine Barbie, perhaps.

For the boys, there are millions of heavily armed action figures that don’t look as macho as they do gay. This is a good thing. If you want your son to grow up believing he can kill with impunity, rather he does it wearing nothing but short hair, a moustache and a pair of tight red shorts. At least that way we’ll see him coming.

I found a paramedic’s kit but it lacked a plastic handgun for when the ambulance has to go into the Cape Flats on a Friday night.

Then I came across a whole series of things you can do in the tub. “Shaving in the tub” was one. This is a filthy habit, whether you’re a girl or a boy, and you should only get this for your child if you have someone other than yourself who cleans the bath. Everything on the box is in French, which makes sense when you consider what these people regard as acceptable behaviour.

What next? Wine in the Jacuzzi? Frog’s legs in the bed? Pissing in the pool?

There’s also a talking octopus. I once met an octopus while snorkelling and I can honestly say that in the brief moment our eyes met, we both knew there was nothing we had to say to each other. If octopi could talk, I expect they would say, “Please take that pointy stick out of my head and return me to the rock pool from whence I came.” Well, the educated ones would. The more common ones would probably squirt ink everywhere and try to strangle you with a tentacle.

A shop assistant has just caught me looking up a doll’s skirt. Awkward. I simply wanted to ascertain whether it was anatomically correct. With the education system as it is, I wouldn’t want my nephew growing up thinking all girls have a piece of hard plastic between their legs. Not that I have a nephew.

My Little Iron apparently makes realistic sounds. Like “I’m sick of slaving away for these ungrateful white bastards” and “Why doesn’t your useless father ever do this?” and “Open the safe or I’ll iron your face.”

I felt my masculinity listing badly and headed to a shop selling goodies capable of blinding, crippling or even killing your enemy, many of whom were jostling me and pushing their trolleys into my ankles.

They had a matt black rifle mounted on a stand at the entrance. Gamo Big Cats, it was called. I rather fancy myself as a big game hunter so I bought it. Knowing my luck, I’ll discover that it’s barely powerful enough to take out the feral tabbies of Umdloti just as the last white lion of the Kalahari lunges for my throat.

With my blood-alcohol levels dangerously low, I repaired to the restaurant area where several companies appeared to be having their get-togethers. Christmas parties used to be held at night. There would be carousing and fornicating and the company would happily pay your bail the next day. Now the grinches offer their employees a free lunch.

As if there’s such a thing.

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