Ben Trovato’s Art of Survival – Chapter 14

Chapter 14



South Africans are among the most accident-prone people in the world. Get into a car with one and you will end up with your face on back to front. Ask them to cut something and they will chop off their head by mistake. Or more likely your head. They drown in the sea and fall off mountains. They burn down their houses and slip in the bath. They fly into hillsides and slam their fingers in doors. Women fall pregnant and men fall down. They drop things, spill things, bump into things and trip over things. This happens all the time. Day and night. Cities and towns around the country reverberate to the sound of sirens rushing the accident-prone to hospitals, clinics and police stations.

It’s an accident when a schoolboy playing rugby breaks his neck in a scuffle and it’s an accident when a cable thief electrocutes himself. A woman is found in flagrante delicto with her husband’s best friend and it turns out to be an accident. A government denies forty million people the vote, then detains and tortures thousands of them. Oops. Sorry. That was most definitely an accident.

Here are some other accidents you are likely to have in your lifetime:

Eating & Swimming

My mother always told me not to go swimming right after a meal. Then, when we went to the beach for a picnic, she would force-feed me giant ham and cheese rolls.

I was the only kid on the beach who had to sit under the umbrella and digest his food while everyone else was having a whale of a time in the water. I had no idea what was going on in my stomach. Nothing, as far as I could tell. But my mother knew. She could hear my salivary enzymes breaking down the roll. She knew when a mouthful would enter my oesophagus and how long it would take for peristalsis to force it down into my stomach. She knew precisely how much gastric acid was needed to convert my roll into chyme and exactly when it would enter my duodenum, jejunum and ileum. She could feel the moment the inner wall of my small intestine began secreting bile and pancreatic enzymes and she knew when my large intestine had begun removing water and electrolytes from the little that remained of my lunch. She also knew the names of the Latin-speaking bacteria that came out to help. “Bacteroides, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella,” she would whisper under her breath, a faraway look in her eyes.

Then up, up into the ascending colon went my roll. There was no stopping it now. It sped across my transverse colon and then, with barely a pause, rocketed down my descending colon and through my sigmoid colon. At this point, my mother’s breath would get heavy and ragged. It was as if it were she and not the roll that was on this exhilarating roller coaster ride through my abdomen. Then, sweating and trembling, she would cry out and fall back on her towel. Squeezed of everything good, my lunch had finally made it to my rectum. This was the moment when my mother would gasp, “You need to go to the toilet. Then you can swim.” My father would say, “Sharks feed at dusk. You can swim another day.”

It is because of my mother that I am alive today. If I had not listened to her, and had instead gone into the sea right after eating my ham and cheese roll, my skinny body would have been wracked with agonising cramps and I would have drowned in the six inches of water I wanted to paddle in. And that is a terrible way for any 16-year-old to die.

Since then, the human body has evolved. When today’s children eat, the food proceeds directly from their mouths to their bums. This means that your kids can eat and swim immediately afterwards. Hell, let them eat in the water if they want to. Pack a floating lunch. They will be fine.


A lot of people drown off South Africa’s beaches each year. Nobody seems to know exactly how many because some of them simply vanish and their bodies are never found. In the case of white people, these are generally recorded as bona fide drownings. But if the person is from one of the war-torn, poverty-stricken, disease-riddled basket cases east, west and north of us, then he probably swam underwater for a bit, came up where nobody could see him and hitchhiked to Johannesburg where he is waiting tables in Rosebank by day and selling crack in Hillbrow by night.

In cases like these, police divers don’t even bother getting out of their cars. In their reports, they use the word “suspect” rather than “victim” and

“disappeared” instead of “drowned”.

If you do find yourself drowning, there are two ways to catch the attention of the lifeguard on the beach. The first is to put on a blonde wig and scream in a high-pitched girly voice. Lifesavers rarely bother to save men unless they themselves are gay.

I can’t speak for you, but I would rather drown than be dragged from the surf by a raving queen in a little red Speedo who gives me mouth-to-mouth in front of a rowdy crowd shouting things like, “Get in there! Slip him some tongue!”

The second is to raise your right arm high enough for him to see the R200 note in your hand. When he swims out to you, he is going to want to slap you around a bit. This is what lifesavers do to punish bathers for distracting them from flirting with underage farm girls. The slapping will make you hysterical. To calm you down, he will then punch or even head butt you. It is important to remember that the Marquis of Queensbury rules do not apply on the high seas. Retaliate by gouging his eyes, pulling his hair and biting his face. Fight like a girl, if you have to. Nobody can see you out there.

Adrenalin will course through your body and you will begin to get the upper hand. Your assailant’s resolve will weaken and he will try to get away from you. Go after him. When you get within striking distance, dive down and swim underwater. He will turn around and think that you have drowned. Then bite him hard in the fleshy part of his leg. He will believe a shark is attacking him and he will pass out with fright. Flip over on to your back and drag his body on top of yours. Use one arm to hold his head above water. Paddle backwards with your free arm. If he regains consciousness, tighten your grip and cut off his oxygen supply. It is not essential, but you may want to remove his Speedo before you get to the beach. By the time you hit the sand, a crowd will have gathered. If there are news cameras on the scene, pretend to give him mouth-to-mouth. Make sure the reporters get your name right and then leave the area the moment his eyes open.

Drinking & Swimming

Lifeguards consistently warn you not to drink and swim. I have never heard such nonsense. What are you going to do? Lose control on the backstroke and sideswipe a buoy? Burst a water-wing and roll? Have a head-on collision with a jellyfish? The ocean is by far the safest place in which to drink. For a start, it is impossible to fall over. That means no more inexplicable cuts and bruises the next day. There are no roadblocks to ruin your life. No chance of irresponsible sex with someone whose name you can’t remember. The only problem I ever encountered while drinking and swimming was having my drink diluted with seawater.

The good news is that I am in the process of developing a watertight three-litre container that can be strapped to your back. A plastic hose runs from the container to your mouth, much like the bottles cyclists use to suck steroids from during long-distance races. I am also working on a 10-litre container for those who would like to swim from Cape Town to Luanda. The beauty of this invention is that the more you drink, the more buoyant the container becomes. Eventually, when the container is empty, all you have to do is lie back and let the Benguela current do all the work.


Only you will know whether your pregnancy is the result of a terrible accident, an act of God or an act of the Devil. If you still aren’t sure by the time you give birth, the answer will become increasingly clear as the little monster grows up.

Some couples struggle for years to conceive. Others just bath together and the next thing you know there are babies everywhere. Some men have sperm like tiger fish, other have tadpoles. Some women make eggs like ostriches, others have the eggs of a hummingbird. Don’t ask me why.

One thing I do know is that women have been “accidentally” falling pregnant ever since God was a little girl. They do this because they either want to be a mom without all the attendant trauma of having a man permanently in the house, or they know the only way they can nail the poor unsuspecting fool is to get him to put a bun in her oven and hope he does the right thing. Then comes the agonising dilemma. She can never tell him that the pregnancy was a deliberate accident and her dirty little secret gnaws at her night and day. She is doomed to spend the rest of her life wondering if he ever would have proposed to her if she hadn’t cut the ends off his condoms.

“How will I ever know if he really, really, really loves me,” she asks herself over and over again. Distraught, she turns to Prozac and loses her sex drive. Confused, her husband turns to Sarah from downstairs. And the accidental baby remains determined to ensure that nobody gets any sleep ever again.

I think it is important to tell a child if he is the result of an accident. That way there is less pressure on him to succeed. If the kid knew that you planned to have him, he would have to go through life feeling obliged to make you proud, or worse, make you rich. He would be suffocated with the fear of failure and would always feel indebted to you for giving him the gift of life, no matter how useless it may turn out to be.

But if he knew that when mom and dad were dating they drank too much one night and got careless, he would be able to live a carefree life and choose to be whatever he wanted to be, secure in the knowledge that since he wasn’t planned, there could be no expectations.

He would also be cursed with the knowledge that ultimately he was a mistake – that his mom and dad never really wanted to have him. To numb the pain he falls in with a bad crowd, turns to drugs, shacks up with a middle-aged crack whore and eventually commits suicide in a rat-infested hovel down by the harbour. Maybe it’s best not to tell him.

Pregnancy seems to be more of a big deal for women than it is for men. I think this is because women are more conscious of their body image. The first thought that crosses a woman’s mind when she discovers she is pregnant is, “Omigod! What am I going to wear?” The first thought that crosses a man’s mind when he discovers he has got someone pregnant is, “Omigod! What am I going to drink?”

For a woman, one of the hardest things about being heavily pregnant is learning to ignore all the “hey, fat chick!” remarks whenever she steps outside. For a man, one of the hardest things about having a heavily pregnant girlfriend or wife is learning to ignore his erection.

Surviving pregnancy in itself is not difficult. What poses more of a challenge is staying alive after having given in to the cravings for raw blowfish served on a bed of Namibian charcoal and drizzled with multigrade engine oil.

Emergency Childbirth

If you are on a bus or train or aeroplane or on the beach or just walking down the street and you see a pregnant woman’s waters break, the first thing you need to do is panic. This is a big moment for her and the last thing she wants is people to act nonchalant. She will probably want you to take a photograph. First make sure she is comfortable (put your jacket or shoes under her head) and then take the photograph. Do it tastefully. You have not been commissioned by Hustler.

Some people say that childbirth is the most natural thing in the world. Of course it is. What could be more natural than a miniature human growing inside your body for months and months and then one day, when it has become really large, have it squeeze through an aperture designed to accommodate nothing bigger than a penis and sundry accoutrements from Adult World?

It is inadvisable to rely too heavily on Nature for a hand with the delivery. If it were such a wonderfully natural thing, the two of you could share a couple of beers and chat about your favourite books while she popped it out right there in the bar.

When confronted with an emergency delivery, you will find yourself in the rare position of having a woman hoik up her skirt and open her legs without you having to beg. Don’t make a big thing of it. However, the entire process is fairly personal so you might want to get her phone number before getting down to business. If it turns out that she doesn’t know who the father is, forget the phone number. You don’t want to end up a surrogate dad for some little bastard born on a pavement.

When it comes to the birth, follow these pointers and everything should be fine:

  • Refrain from commenting on her vagina, no matter how complimentary you mean to be.
  • Tell her to push.
  • Tell her that she has dilated by, say, half a metre. That will encourage her to push even more.
  • Tell her to leave your mother out of this.
  • When you see the baby’s head appear, resist the impulse to shout, “Alien spawn!” and run away.
  • If the baby is taking its time to come out, stick your hand in there and give it a good tug.
  • If you don’t have a knife or pair of scissors, chew through the umbilical cord and tie a knot in it. Close your eyes and pretend you are on Fear Factor.
  • If the baby is not breathing, this means he has already started with his nonsense and should be reprimanded with a gentle smack.
  • He will then start crying. So will his mother. It is best that you cry, too. If a crowd has gathered, ask them to join in.
  • Wait a few minutes for the afterbirth to appear. I don’t know why it doesn’t just come out with the rest of the carnage.
  • Put the afterbirth in some sort of container. A lot of mothers like to take it home and use it as a conversation piece.
  • Give the mother gin, cigarettes, drugs – whatever you have in your pockets. She deserves it.

Plummeting Elevator

When an elevator cable snaps, it could be an act of God or an act of the Devil. It all depends on who is in the elevator with you at the time. If it is Wouter Basson, it is an act of God. If it is Nelson Mandela, it is an act of the Devil. If it is Charlize Theron, it is an act of the Devil because she may be so badly hurt that she can never act again. And yet it is also an act of God because you get to loosen her clothing and give her mouth-to-mouth. That’s assuming you’re okay.

The only thing you can do if the elevator goes into freefall is to climb up the tallest person there. If your feet are not touching the floor at the moment of impact, you stand a very good chance of surviving. If the very tall person tries to get you off, cling to him like a baby monkey. Place your legs around his waist and your arms around his neck. Hold on tight. You may even want to make baby monkey sounds so that he feels sorry for you.

Brake Failure

If you want someone else’s brakes to fail, it is a simple matter of draining the brake fluid from their car or cutting their brake cables. I would tell you how to do this but I have no interest in being charged as an accessory to murder. Not that I have anything against appearing in court. In fact, I relish the opportunity to speak without being interrupted by a woman. It is just that I don’t want to get involved in your sordid attempt to kill your wife, husband, husband’s lover, wife’s lover or boss. Unless, of course, there is something in it for me. I am not talking about anything as crass as money. I want love. True love.

If you are driving down a long, steep road when the brakes fail, there are several things you can to do to minimise the odds of certain death. Once you accept that you have no way of stopping, you can give up stabbing at the brake pedal and start panicking. Remaining calm will do you no good at all. You need your body to pump out as much adrenalin as it can produce. Your fight or flight response must be peaking at maximum power if you hope to have any chance of survival.

If you choose flight, open your door and curl yourself up into a ball as quickly as you can. It is vital that you have no protruding bits. Tuck your head as far down between your legs as it will go. Don’t get distracted. Only double-jointed people and dogs can do that. Then, lift your knees until they are touching your shoulders. Next, fold your legs until they are flush against your chest. Wedge your arms into the space between your thighs and your body. You are now ready to roll. Tip yourself out of the door if there is no oncoming traffic.

When you hit the tar it is essential that you retain your ball shape. If a foot or hand comes loose, it could spin you out of control and send you plunging over the edge. You will roll for as long as you keep your ball shape. Lean into corners and try to stay on your side of the road. It may not seem like it while you are rolling, but the road has to flatten out eventually. Wait until you have come to a complete standstill before unrolling yourself. You will have the odd bruise and scratch and will probably feel a bit stiff the next day, but at least you will be alive.

When you get home, hire the best lawyer in town to defend you on the culpable homicide charges that arose as a result of your car smashing into a van full of disabled orphans on their way to see the ocean for the first time.

If you choose fight over flight, you are going to have to do some fast thinking. Screaming and closing your eyes is not going to help. Your first move is to get your car to slow down. Trying to gear down or use the handbrake will be senseless at that speed, so don’t even try it. Well, try it if you think I am lying, but you are wasting valuable time. With every passing second, your car is getting more out of control. Here are some methods you could use to reduce speed:

  • If you come across a pack of cyclists riding on the shoulder, make sure you hit them squarely in the middle of your bonnet. You want the impact to slow you down, not cause you to veer sharply to the left or right.
  • Pull the catch on your bonnet. The wind should flip it up and create considerable drag. You might have to put your head out of the window to see where you are going.
  • Pick a vehicle that is going slower than you (all of them should be going slower than you). Drive into the back of one of them. Try to lock bumpers. Unless you have snapped the driver’s spine, he will bring his vehicle and yours to a halt. He may not be in the right frame of mind for stories about brakes, so get out and run away the moment you stop.

Runaway Police Horse

It sometimes happens that you are ambling down the street swearing at street kids and fending off drug merchants when you hear the thunder of hooves growing louder and louder. Unless you live in the country, this indicates that a runaway police horse is heading your way. It may or may not have a policeman on its back. It doesn’t really matter. If the officer has not yet fallen off, it will only be a matter of time before he does. The cops who join the cavalry are not trained to ride fast-moving horses. They are trained to stay in the saddle at a slow walk and say things like, “You can’t do that here” and “There are no public toilets in the city”.

The moment you see the runaway horse coming your way, you need to draw yourself up to your full height and shout, “Whoa! Not so fast, Mr Horse!” Do not lie down or curl up into a ball. The horse will think you are a crocodile or an armadillo and he will take fright. It is better to have a spooked horse on an open street than inside a shoe shop.

Start running in the same direction as the horse when it is approximately thirty metres from you. Tourists, especially those from Spain, are likely to think it is some kind of sport and will want to join in. Lash out at them while you are running. Shout things like, “¿parecen los toros, usted los bastardos estúpidos?”

If you see the horse has lost its policeman, wait until it has drawn level with you and then grab the reins. Swing yourself up into the driver’s seat and hold on tightly with your thighs. Lean forward and smack her across the side of the head three or four times. Then whisper into her ear, “You want to know something? You’re pretty damn cute for a horse. I’ve seen you around here before. What do you say we slow things down to a canter and get to know each other a little better?”

She will either take you up on your offer or deliberately speed up to let you know that she is not that kind of horse. In this case, you have to go back to the ear. Instead of whispering sweet nothings, sink your teeth into it. Horses are like dogs, only bigger. They both understand that any animal capable of biting its ear is of superior strength and intellect and they will immediately capitulate.

Terrified pedestrians will see you bring the horse under control after putting your mouth to its ear. The media will call you a hero and dub you the “horse whisperer”. Use the opportunity to write a book about one man’s extraordinary talent to communicate with horses. That man, of course, will be you. But nobody need know that. Fiction sells better than fact. And if you play your cards right there could even be a movie deal in it. I was thinking that you should try to get Robert Redford for the lead, but you might want someone a little less weather-beaten. Try for Brad Pitt. I hear these days he’s looking for any excuse to get a break from the orphans and that mentally disturbed bisexual wife of his.

If you don’t know how to ride a horse, there would be no point in trying to be a hero. You would fall off like Eugene Terreblanche and everyone would laugh at you and you would have to go out and beat up an old black man just to regain your self-esteem.

If you have never learnt to ride, the chances are that you don’t particularly like horses. I don’t understand what makes them tick. They are furtive, devious animals and it is impossible to tell a happy horse from a sad horse. No matter how they feel, they always have a long face. Any animal that hides its emotions to that extent is certain to be hiding other things – dark things that sometimes cause them to snap and turn into killers. People get bitten, trampled and thrown all the time. And yet we still give our daughters ponies without once pausing to consider that these cute, gentle creatures are little more than murderous understudies to their bigger brethren.

If you feel the same as I do about horses, it is likely that you wouldn’t be caught dead on his back. All you can do then is wait until you can see the whites of his eyes, reach down and remove the 9mm pistol strapped to your ankle and fire a single clean shot into his brain.

People who recognise horses for what they really are will still regard you as a hero. But there will be the others, the people who wear scratchy jumpers, stained khaki trousers and sensible shoes, who will bay for your blood and who will not rest until you are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. They really do talk like that.

Before you pull the trigger, it is only fair that you consider the very real possibility that the horse is, in fact, running away from the police. Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. Imagine walking around all day long with a policeman sitting on your back. And then imagine having to defecate openly in front of people having their breakfast at pavement cafes. Wouldn’t you also want to throw the cop and bolt? I know I would.

If there is any doubt in your mind, don’t shoot. Let him run. Let him run down the N1, take the slipway at Century City and then left on to the N7. Then it’s straight on for a week or so, an easy swim across the Orange River and left at the Luderitz turnoff. After two hours, a sharp right into the dunes and it won’t be long before the wild horses of the Namib take him in and teach him the ways of the desert.





4 thoughts on “Ben Trovato’s Art of Survival – Chapter 14

  1. You’re a shit, Trovato.

    I paid good money for this, and now you’re dishing it out for free? The one-time classic must be only worth about R25 now since you’ve decided to air it.

    I should have have sold it last year, then maybe I would have recouped my investment.


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