Month: October 2017

How to Stay Alive

With all this talk of farm murders and other crimes of a less savage nature, I thought it a good time to share a chapter from my book Ben Trovato’s Art of Survival.

 

BUYING property is a big decision. Bigger even than choosing a wife. These days it is far easier to divorce a dud wife than it is to sell a dud house.

You home is your castle. You worked hard for it and you have the right to defend it with your life. Or, preferably, someone else’s life.

When it comes to choosing where to buy, a lot of people make straight for the gated villages and security estates. I am not a big fan of these for a number of reasons, chief among them the fact that you can’t escape easily if the sheriff comes looking for you.

Whether you opt to live in the leaf-riddled suburbs, within the walls of a fortified compound or free-range on a farm, you need to pay close attention to the points of entry. Some people prefer to stay in apartments high up in the sky where the yellow-eyed varmints can’t get to them. The estate agents call this a lock-up-and-go. All my life, wherever I have lived, I have simply locked up and gone. And yet I have been burgled more times than I care to mention. So much for that idea.

The suburbs are the natural habitat of the common housebreaker. Although they are solitary animals, it is not uncommon to find two or three of them hunting together. These shy creatures are easily startled and are difficult to spot during the day. Nocturnal by nature, they have a keen eye for detail, especially when it comes to alarm systems and dogs.

Police have warned that “scouts” leave coded messages on the pavement indicating which houses are safe to be robbed. Green crème soda cans let the boys know it’s open house. Red Coke cans signify that a little force might be required. Police urge residents to report strange objects that appear on the pavements outside their homes. Among the unusual objects that regularly appear on my pavement are drunk homeless people. I am still trying to work out what this signifies. I also on occasion leave half-empty beer bottles outside my house. I hope this strange new code gives the varmints sleepless nights.

The only way to ensure that you are never broken into is to make your house impregnable. Doors and windows are the weakest security points. These must be bricked up. Make sure you do this from the inside. If you have a chimney, seal it off. Burglars can also gain entry through your roof so you will need to replace your ceiling with a concrete slab. Your house should now be completely safe. Nobody will be able to get in to rob you. Nobody will be able to get out, either, so make sure you have enough food to last for the rest of your life. If you are married to someone who insists on getting out now and again, then you should probably consider other options.

Here are a few ways you can minimise the chances of getting burgled.

Moats

Apart from being one of the sillier words in the English language, a moat can be highly effective in keeping the varmints at bay. To minimise your water bill, it is best to run hoses from taps around the neighbourhood. If you live near a stream or river, go out late at night with a spade and divert it so that it fills your moat.

Once your moat is full, you may want to make a feature of it by adding water lilies, fountains and a couple of crocodiles to take care of those housebreakers who, as adults, have learned to swim.

Crocodiles are easily obtained in South Africa. Lake St Lucia is well stocked with these brutes. In Zululand, nature conservation officials move slower than the crocs so you need not worry about getting caught. You should worry more about getting eaten. With that in mind, try to avoid taking fully-grown crocs. As tempting as may be to have instant security, you will have trouble fitting more than one adult in the boot of your car. You could tie another to your roof racks if you don’t mind attracting attention.

If you are pressed for time, it makes more sense to load up on eggs. You can visit one of our crocodile farms and stuff the eggs down your pants when nobody is looking or you can get them on eBay for a few dollars apiece.

The eggs of saltwater crocodiles take about 80 days to hatch, but I would suggest you stay away from these unless you are prepared to go to the trouble of converting your moat. Some people say chlorine is best, others swear by salt. I don’t want to get involved. This argument has claimed lives.

You are most likely to end up with Nile crocodiles. Crocodylus niloticus can grow to over five metres long and weigh up to a ton so it is best to get them while they are young. Unless you want the SPCA on your case, you will have to feed your crocodiles on a regular basis. Although they will get to eat the occasional drunk who falls into your moat, this should be seen more as a dietary supplement than anything else.

One of the major benefits of using crocodiles instead of other aquatic species such as geese or hippos is that crocodiles can live for up to 80 years in captivity. Not having to replace your watchcrocs will save you a lot of money in the long run. Don’t forget to get the drawbridge people in before you fill your moat.

Landmines

Some people have a thing about landmines. Princess Diana was one. She decorated two entire rooms at Balmoral with disarmed mines. The green room was reserved for anti-tank mines, the red room for anti-personnel mines. They were all there, from the Soviet POMZ-2 to the American M-18 Claymore. A particular favourite of Diana’s was the Valmara 69. Produced in Singapore, this little baby can shoot more than a thousand metal fragments over a 25-metre radius. Sometimes, when William and Harry were little, she would bring out the OZM-3 jumping mine as a special treat and let them play with it. The princes had hours of fun trying to catch it as it bounced through the castle.

None of this, however, is of any concern to you. All you have to do is remember where you laid your mines. I have heard of people who went to the trouble of sowing a minefield around their house only to step outside to fetch the newspaper and get blown up. It is essential that you create a map showing precisely where the mines are.

Most housebreakers prefer to take the path less trodden, so you might want to scatter some of those mines in the more inaccessible areas of your garden. Try not to bury any in the flowerbeds. Reliable gardeners are hard to find these days.

If you are a real patriot you will want to get your hands on something homegrown. During the 1980s Armscor turned out some damn fine blast and fragmentation mines. Unfortunately these have not been stocked at local hardware stores since Nelson Mandela was released. You could try getting your mines from the Russian mafia in Cape Town, but be advised that it is very difficult to get through to them. On all levels.

Here’s an idea. Why not make it a fun outing? Take the family to Angola for the weekend. Even though the country is a little run-down, landmines can still be found in most of the rural areas. It might take a while, but with a little poking around, you, mom or one of the kids are almost guaranteed to pick up a few good-quality mines for use around the home.

Walls and fences

The Germans and Israelis have done more to popularise defensive walls than any other nation in recent times. The trend was started by Roman emperor Hadrian in 122 AD when he built a stone wall right across Great Britain. It was the only way he could keep the lunatic Scots at bay. The feat impressed the electorate back in Rome and simultaneously served as a warning that Romans would not hesitate to build stone walls should anyone dare try to stop them from taking over the world.

Today, Hadrian’s Wall is the most popular attraction in northern England and tourists are often seen walking the length of it. Considering what else is on offer in northern England, this is extreme adventure at its best.

If we had to be honest we would admit that the Chinese started this nonsense with walls around 220 BC, but they claim credit for way too much already and I doubt that I shall mention them again.

Not everybody believes in the power of walls. The anti-wallers believe that by erecting a wall you are converting your home into a prison. What’s wrong with that? When last did you hear of a prison being broken into? How often does the head warden get back to his office to find his door kicked in and his TV missing? It just doesn’t happen. Prisons are the safest places on earth because they have walls around them.

Barbed wire vs blade wire

Anyone who grew up in South Africa will have a soft spot for barbed wire. Anyone who is white, of course. Barbed wire was invented to keep the darkies in their place and out of yours. Barbed wire sent out an unambiguous signal. Barbed wire was on the side of right. Barbed wire was strong. Trustworthy. It had principles.

Barbed wire topped the fences around our military bases. It lined the streets whenever the natives got restless. It lay there in tight reassuring coils in hardware stores throughout this once great country. If it weren’t for barbed wire, parliament would have fallen to the communists long before 1994. And if barbed wire is good enough for Guantanamo Bay, it’s good enough for your home.

The only negative thing I can say about barbed wire is that it is very working class. If you have received a good education and are well spoken (i.e. English-speaking), the chances are that you will prefer to secure your house with something that has a little more breeding. I am talking about razor wire, also known as blade wire. The Germans came up with it in World War One. And even though they eventually lost the war, they did succeed in killing several million enemy soldiers before admitting defeat. This was not bad going for a country that had little more than the crumbling Ottoman Empire and a couple of stoned Hungarians on their side.

It was at 11am of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 that a ceasefire came into effect. At 10.58am, a German sniper shot Canadian George Price through the head. Being the last soldier to die in the Great War showed the world once and for all what Canadians really are – a bunch of no-hope losers with an appalling sense of time and place.

This has nothing to do with razor wire.

Eina ivy

The most aesthetically pleasing device to come out of the home security industry. Its spikes will tear your burglar to shreds, but at least he can admire its shroud of lifelike plastic green leaves while slowly bleeding to death in the hydrangeas.

Alarms

Home alarm systems remain one of the most popular deterrents to people who lie around all day drinking wine from plastic bottles and smoking crystal meth and then when everything runs out they think they can come over to your house and take your stuff and sell it for a fraction of its worth so that they can stay drunk and wired for another three days. If it were that easy, we would all be doing it.

Alarms work by frightening off burglars who suffer from hyperacusis, an abnormal sensitivity to loud noises. These burglars, who make up 0.1% of the housebreaking fraternity, now wear earplugs to work.

Alarms are also designed to alert the neighbours that there is trouble next door. However, neighbours in South Africa have long since learnt not to get involved in anything that happens beyond their garden gate. The house next door could be dismantled piece-by-piece and carried away by a chorus line of transvestites in fishnet stockings and latex rubber leotards singing “Hi ho hi ho it’s off to work we go” and still the neighbours would say, “Didn’t hear a thing. We had the rugby on, you know.”

These days most alarms are linked to armed response companies. Keep in mind that most housebreaking syndicates are also linked to armed response companies.

If you are at home and your alarm is activated, all it really does is induce cardiac arrest in the elderly and infirm, give you a splitting migraine and encourage your cats and dogs to find a new home in the next town.

If you insist on an alarm that makes a conventional wailing sound, I suggest you invest in the type that Israel uses to warn people in Haifa that Hezbollah is about to ruin their day. If your alarm can be heard by every police station in the city, the odds are dramatically increased that someone might come around and investigate. If it’s not lunchtime, that is.

Try to get your hands on a Chrysler Air Raid Siren. It is the size of a car and weighs three tons but if you can hoist it up on to your roof, it would be a desperate burglar who would keep robbing you with 138dB howling into his head.

You may want to impress or even terrify your neighbours by acquiring a siren that has the ability to broadcast voice messages. These electronic sirens are similar to conventional sirens except for the fact that they rely on a series of electrodynamic, horn-loaded loudspeaker drivers to produce sound. I presume you record your message in much the same way that you would on your telephone answering machine. Here are a few suggestions in case you can’t come up with any of your own:

“The house is surrounded. Get down on the floor. If you move, you will be shot.” (Edit in background sound of helicopters and dogs barking).

“This is God speaking. Stop that at once.” (Insert background sound of thunder and a chorus of celestial voices raised in anger).

“Freeze! I’m Ma Baker! Put your hands in the air and gimme all your money!” (Boney M instrumentals in the background).

CCTV

Closed-circuit television has revolutionised home security. Cameras mounted in strategic places are able to monitor a housebreaker as he climbs over your garden wall, enters through a downstairs window, walks down the passage, grabs a beer from the kitchen, heads up the stairs and sidles into your bedroom where he ties you up and steals all your valuables, leaving you with a unique video of an unidentified man in a balaclava roaming around your house and robbing you blind, which you can then show to all your friends and use as justification for emigrating to Perth. You may find it more rewarding to use your CCTV system to make cheap porn.

Armed response

Armed response units are to police what paramedics are to doctors. They walk, talk and smell just like real cops but are quicker on the draw because they don’t have to fill in as much paperwork after gunning down a varmint. On the down side, they are paid almost as badly as cops. And, like cops, they also have habits to feed, gambling debts to pay and kids to put through reformatory. This is worth bearing in mind when you invite them into your home to inspect the entry and exit points and provide them with your secret code and a detailed schedule of your movements.

Dogs

Let us be clear on one thing. Dogs are animals. They are not meant to be kept as pets. We have all been to the beach or to a park and seen someone throw a ball for a dog. Perhaps you have even done it yourself. You people make me so angry. Why in god’s name are you encouraging your dog to chase balls when it is blindingly obvious to all who care about these things that he should be chasing criminals? Every time your dog runs after a ball, somewhere out there is a criminal not being chased.

And you, you with that fur-covered beach ball. Oh, it’s a Labrador, is it? Shame, give him another piece of cake. Watch him go into cardiac arrest through the sheer effort of wagging his anaconda-like tail. You, madam, are doing your dog and this country a great disservice. Your Labrador should be a lean, mean killing machine. He should be at home patrolling your perimeter fence, fangs a-slaver and barking mightily at anything that moves.

Big dogs are the infantry in our fight against crime. Their position is at the front. If you only have one dog, get another to watch the back. They are the first line of defence against those who wish to take our stuff and our lives.

Little dogs are signallers in this war. They form part of an early warning system and should be scattered about the property. Their job is to alert the big dogs that something might need checking out.

It is also useful to keep a supply of miniature breeds inside your house. If a burglar does gain entrance, one of the more effective methods of slowing him down is to throw them at him. Do not waste your dogs. Use them wisely. If you have done your job properly, your handheld dogs will have been trained to bite on impact. There are very few burglars who feel comfortable robbing you with two or three lapdogs hanging from their face. On the down side, small dogs frequently come with a manufacturer’s defect. Once they start yapping they frequently forget how to stop. A finger up the bum usually turns them off.

Breeds

Alsatians make the best guard dogs. Originally bred as all-purpose working dogs, they have a proud history of keeping darkies out of white areas. They also spent a lot of time on Jesus’s side of the Berlin Wall helping to fight communism.

They are handsome hounds, even if a bit right wing, and you will have to watch out for those neighbourhood bitches slipping in for a quickie while your dog is meant to be working.

If you are in the market for an Alsatian, pop in to your local police station and see if there are any on special. Try to get a dog from the drug squad. That way the days of misplacing your stash will be over.

Alsatians have their own governing body called the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde. Being German, the dogs understand what this means but they are often reluctant to talk about it. Perhaps it is like belonging to the Freemasons.

Some famous Alsatians are Hitler’s dog, Blondi; Rex the Wonder Dog; Rin Tin Tin and Orca of the SAPS KZN Midlands K9 Unit.

Bull terriers would make ideal guard dogs if you could only get them to open their jaws and let go. Nobody wants to pay top dollar for a pedigree dog and then have to cut its head off so the burglar can be thrown into a police car/mortuary van/hole in your back yard.

Whippets are faster than cheetahs in built-up areas. Obviously, out on the plains the cheetah will whip the whippet’s ass any day. When it comes to protecting your house, the whippet isn’t much good. Nobody is likely to be deterred by the sight of its tiny head, huge chest and ridiculously long legs. That its tail is permanently wedged between its legs is also less than intimidating.

A whippet will only care about whether the strange man climbing over your wall has any food in his pockets. Look at him in a friendly fashion and he will grin gratefully, roll over onto his back and open his legs. If I ever get the chance to dabble in genetics, I am going to cross breed a whippet with a woman.

Your whippet comes into his own when the burglar tries to flee. To see some real sport, tie something soft and furry (a pair of bunny slippers would work) to the burglar’s ankles and give him a 30-second head start.

Dachshunds are a bit of a gamble insofar as security is concerned. If the burglar does not incapacitate himself with laughter, you might want to have a back-up plan.

Zulu hunting dogs only work if the intruder is Zulu.

crocmoat

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Swallowing is good for you

The European swallow stands about five-foot-six in its socks, burns easily in the sun and enjoys a pint or two with the lads. It is also a small migratory bird.

In our summer months, the European swallow of the featherless variety can be spotted in coastal towns from Umhlanga to Hermanus. Come winter, he returns to his natural habitat and can be spotted in The Cock and Balls in Fulham High Street.

I am an African swallow. We prefer to conserve our energy – not to mention our limited financial resources – and migrate within the country. Winters in Durban, summers in Cape Town. Sprawled in my nest in Westbrook on the east coast, nursing a damaged wing after attempting to fly home from a friend’s house one unhinged Friday night, it struck me that the seasons had turned. My instincts said it was time to head west. My instincts have never been wrong, give or take a couple of marriages and a career in journalism.

And so I find myself hunkered down in a shack in the milkwoods of Kommetjie typing with fingers crippled from frostbite. I am clothed in a stinking onesie stitched from the fur of a dozen dassies and lined with the skins of two careless Cape seals.

I appear to have mistimed the migration. Cape Town alone decides when to call it summer. There’s nothing I can do about it now. I’d rather die of hypothermia than head back down the Transkei’s Roadkill Road.

A cloud of panic hangs over this southern tip of Africa. It used to be bong smoke, but now it’s panic. Word on the street is that Cape Town will run out of water by March next year. This is good news. I should be back in Durban by then. What? Don’t look at me like that. Okay, fine. It’s bad news for the people who live here. They could always move to Durban. By next Christmas we’ll all be drinking Chardonnay and paying R5m for a roach-infested rat hole in Gillespie Street.

I’ve never been a huge fan of water. Salt water, yes, but only because the ocean is made of it. I can understand why people would buy bottled water in a country where landmine victims outnumber cars, but nobody ever died in South Africa from drinking tap water. Unless maybe the tap belonged to a neighbour who suspected you of trying to turn him into a frog and shot you in the back while you were bent over drinking. Which probably happens fairly often in Limpopo.

Every day there are fresh statistics to scare the living hell out of everyone in Cape Town. The six dams that supply the city are currently at 38% capacity. Isn’t this quite good? It’s more than I got for maths in matric and I turned out okay.

In the old days when rain was a thing, consumption in the metropole was at 1.1 billion litres per day. It now stands at 585 million litres. A massive reduction. But the number is still too big for us to fully udnerstand. Look at it this way. We’re consuming the equivalent of 292 Windhoek draughts for every man, woman and child. Per day. That’s a reasonable average for the Cape Flats, but you’re not going to get those heroic levels in Constantia and Bishops Court.

I suppose not all of it is getting chucked down people’s throats. There’s bathing and watering gardens and washing cars and a lot gets wasted in places like workshops and hospitals where staff get grease and blood under their fingernails.

But apparently that’s still too much. The city wants people to shower for no longer than a minute. If you get caught running a bath, you’re stripped naked and publicly flogged in Adderley Street. I tried showering for one minute. At six-foot-four, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Sixty seconds was just enough to lather up into a striking resemblance of the abominable snowman. So no rinsing then? Seems unduly harsh. I went and stood outside, letting the freezing wind blow the suds from my quivering body. I didn’t want to use a towel because that would’ve meant having to wash it at some point. The penalty for washing towels is a light stoning. For now. I expect it will be escalated to the amputation of a hand by January. I went to the mall later with flaking patches of dried soap on my face and arms. Mothers covered their children’s eyes. I saw one woman gag.

It has also been recommended that you don’t flush the toilet if you’ve only had a wee. This isn’t a problem for me because I wee outside. Not in the street. In my garden. It’s a territorial thing. When I was married I’d sometimes do it indoors if it was very cold outside. One night my wife caught me in the act of marking my territory in the lounge. I stood there with my willy out, telling her it was the cat. That I was the cat. And the cat was me. Luckily she was hallucinating on benzos and found it all quite plausible. She poured me a saucer of milk and went back to bed. Actually, she didn’t even bother with the saucer.

In Cape Town, you’re also supposed to stand in a bucket when you shower, then use that water to wash the children who have to stand in their lunch boxes, then use that water to wash the baby in a soup bowl, then use whatever’s left over to water the one plant you have chosen to save.

On the rare occasion it does rain, the roads of suddenly full of people driving around aimlessly.

“Quick, get in the car. We’re going to Knysna.”

“Are you mad? Why?”

“They’re having rain. The car’s filthy.”

People are advised to close the toilet lid when flushing, presumably to save the seven drops that might splash onto the floor. They are also encouraged to use disinfectants, face masks and gloves where required. I don’t know about you, but once I’ve done my ablutions I generally don’t need to have the crime scene cleaners around.

Apparently Phase 1 of the disaster plan had been implemented. I didn’t even know there was a plan. A better one might have been to make provision for this crisis several years ago. They knew. Oh, yes. They knew alright. But there’s nothing sexy about desalination and groundwater abstraction projects. Not when you live in a city of mountains and beaches and a waterfront that makes Durban’s look like a dumping ground for junkies, vagrants and medical waste. Which is what it is.

We are warned that supply might be disrupted during peak water usage times. Being ‘self-employed’ I don’t know what this means but it seems unlikely I’ll be affected. People who live in high-lying areas will experience outages. I live two metres above sea level. I’ll be fine up until Donald Trump melts Antarctica and, in the middle of a drought, I drown in my sleep.

The city has appealed to people in low-lying areas – like Mitchell’s Plain and Gugulethu – to curb their usage to help their less fortunate brothers and sisters who are suffering terribly up on the slopes of Clifton and Camps Bay. Seems fair.

The city has also installed seven thousand “water management devices” on the properties of “delinquent” water uses. These are not juvenile delinquents. These are grown-ass people who just don’t give a damn. So their pipes are fitted with the equivalent of ankle monitors.

The city is divided into pressure zones. For instance, there’s no pressure in Observatory. You can wake up at midday, smoke a blunt and get a tattoo or a shot of tequila right there in the main road. No pressure at all.

There’s been talk of remotely manipulating valves in the reticulation network, but this seems to be some sort of code and nobody understands what it means. Apparently it reassures people. Not the paranoiacs, obviously.

If an area is using water above the daily limit, pressure will be reduced to force consumption down. Once consumption is reduced, pressure will be restored. It’s the old “I’ll have sex with you when you give up drinking” ploy. It’s the carrot and stick method, although I’ve never used either during sex, and it doesn’t work because there’s always one guy who wants to fill up his pool and wash his Range Rover, racehorse and trophy wife.

On my way for a surf at Muizenberg the other day, I passed two lots of people down on their hands and knees on the side of the road. This being Cape Town, I reckoned they were drunk, praying or doing yoga. Being the deep south, it could easily have been all three. But no. They were hunkered around an outlet from a mountain stream, desperately filling bottles and drums.

One of them looked a bit like Immortan Joe, the disgruntled civil servant who featured in Mad Max: Fury Road, a documentary about water shortages and how even a woman from Benoni can survive without an arm or leg or even a sense of humour.

Let’s end on a history lesson. Who said this? “It has only been through a century of dedication and a commitment to engineering excellence that the City of Cape Town has been able to guarantee clean water for an ever-expanding population. We are more than up to the task.”

a. Jan van Riebeeck in 1652.

b. Cecil John Rhodes in 1890.

c. Patricia de Lille in 2013.

It wasn’t Jan or Cecil.

It just occurred to me that a water shortage might also mean a beer shortage. Let the stockpiling begin.

Barricades

An open letter to Bill Gates

Dear Bill,

Please accept my heartfelt condolences. The news must have come as a terrible shock and my prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time. Nobody deserves to wake up in the morning and discover that their world is crashing down around them before they have even had a chance to dip in to a simple breakfast of grilled coelacanth drizzled with ambrosia and lightly coated with flakes of gold.

When I saw the headline, “Gates No Longer World’s Richest Man” I wept at the injustice of it all. How are the children bearing up? It can’t be easy for them. On Monday Phoebe, Jenny and Rory are the most popular kids in school and by Friday, bam, they’re wearing oil-stained rags and mugging pre-schoolers for their lunch money.

You once said that when you die you don’t want to leave your children the burden of tremendous wealth and that’s why you would only bequeath them $10-million each. Please let them know that if they ever run short, and they will, they can call on me any time. What’s mine will always be theirs. And I hope there is no reason to think the reverse doesn’t apply.

Melinda must be taking it hardest of all, what with people coming up to her in the street and saying cruel things like, “Aren’t you married to that loser who is no longer the richest man in the world?”

A word of advice, Bill. Keep her close. Even though money might be tight, buy her shiny baubles and fresh flowers now and again, even if they are from the garage. She is nine years younger than you and I expect her eye will begin wandering now that you are on the skids. The last thing you need is packs of salivating divorce lawyers on your tail.

But let’s get back to what is really important here – the imposter who has usurped your richly-deserved title. Who the hell does this Jeff Bezos interloper think he is? And what the hell kind of name is Bezos, anyway? Did you know that he was born in Mexico? Well, New Mexico. It’s no different to the old Mexico. It just happens to be in America. But only just. So he runs Amazon. Big deal. He’s nothing more than a glorified mailman.

Bezos is worth nearly $94-billion while you’re making hardly any money at all these days because everything is pirated. Millions of computers get sold each year in China alone and you don’t see a blue cent. A few years ago, you spoke at the University of Washington and said, “As long as they are going to steal (software), we want them to steal ours. They’ll get sort of addicted and then we’ll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.”

Methamphetamine dealers use a similar strategy when targeting primary schools in the Western Cape. If it works for them, it should work for you.

I hear that you have deleted your Facebook account because nobody wants to be your friend any more. Screw them, Bill. If they don’t want to know you because you’re down to your last $89-billion, they were never real friends in the first place.

I bet now you’re regretting having retired so young. Do you have a pension? I understand you spend a lot of your free time helping alleviate global poverty. This is admirable when you consider that three billion people around the world live on less than $2 per day. Given that Windows 10 Pro costs $199 (more on the Djibouti black market), it’s no wonder that CNN is always full of pictures of starving people in Africa. They are obviously saving up their food money to buy the new software. You are on the right track, Bill. Forget the Chinese. Get the Africans addicted and you’ll be back on top in no time at all.

I understand that your Foundation has a specific interest in improving the health of people in developing countries. This makes perfect sense. Imagine what a tragedy it would be if everyone kept dying before they could buy the latest upgrade!

You could begin by throwing some cash our way. A lot of South Africans are suffering from high blood pressure, splitting headaches, damaged eyesight, strained wrists and crippling backache. Well, those of us with computers, anyway.

Hope to see you back in pole position soon!

Yours truly,

Ben Trovato

Aisles of outrage

I live in the disunited states of South Africa. My own personal state is one of outrage. Yours might be anxiety or depression or quite possibly all three. I suppose there are those who live in a permanent state of bliss, but I don’t have access to that sort of money or those kind of drugs.

My outrage was refuelled recently when I heard about the Dove advert featuring a black woman taking off her top to reveal a white woman. That bit was okay. I’m all for a product that can create different women simply by rubbing them with it. I watched the advertisement in its entirety and felt my outrage waning. This was just a series of women of different races taking their tops off. So I went back online and read a few comments sections until my outrage was burning brightly and fiercely once again. And, unhappily, all was not well with the world once again.

While sitting at home alone one night, my outrage bubbling and festering as it does every night, it occurred to me that Dove might not be the only product doing its damnedest to foment division and hostility among we, the people. And so, come dawn, I set out to the nearest mall to see for myself what other horrors lurked on our shelves.

I had barely set foot in the godless place when I came across a restaurant. Your Sole Provider, said the sign with a nod and a wink. I wasn’t in the mood for nodding or winking. As an atheist, I was outraged that I was now forced to contend with not only a poor pun, but also the misplaced notion that humans had souls which needed to be nurtured. Later, I googled the words “soul provider” and an appalling man called Michael Bolton thrust his leather-clad hips into my face.

Lurking alongside the fish place was Pizzaman. I was immediately offended. Where is Pizzawoman? Pummelling dough in the back room and making sure Pizzaboy does his homework while trying to explain to Pizzagirl why her Pizzafilth boyfriend is bad news? I’ll buy one when they change their name to Pizzaperson. Maybe.

Next to that was the Spur. The Michigan Spur. Named after an American state that is home to one of the most berserk right-wing militias in the country and featuring stained glass images of a Native American chief while offering “bottomless ribs” to the casual passerby. Listen brother, them ribs? They gonna reach yer bottom sooner or later.

Moving on, I passed a bank. It had a sign up. Opening hours. That’s pretty damn timeist. What if my hours don’t coincide with yours? That’s the end of your business right there. You want my money? Fine. Fit in with my hours. And what do you mean no helmets? No smoking? No firearms? Guide dogs only? Oh, but you have wifi. I don’t care. Wifi is only fun when you have guns and weed and mad dogs jumping on the furniture.

My outrage nudging the red, I got to a bookshop. I’ve been published but a lot of people haven’t. It’s insensitive of bookshops to publicly display thousands of titles knowing that there are people whose day will be ruined by being reminded that their writing will never be good enough to be published. Bookshops need to ply their sick trade out of the public eye. Stop raising false hopes. And stop charging the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries for a novel.

Next up was Food Lover’s Market. An offensive name to bulimics. I went inside to find an entire wall covered in tubes filled with nuts. Nuts. Offensive to mad people. The back section was jammed with farmyard animals in various forms of mutilation. Offensive to vegetarians. There were plastic bags filled with half lambs for R900. What kind of family needs half a lamb all in one go? It used to be a couple of chops. Maybe a shank. Now it’s half the animal? How big is your braai? How fatty is your liver?

I saw a pamphlet taped to a fridge. “Pork you can trust” it promised. Truth. A pig has never betrayed me. Not once. Pigs don’t lie. I trust the pig more than I trust anyone in this chain of carnage.

Outraged, I walked into a clothing store to calm down. Men on the right, women on the left, children in the middle, babies in the corner. How very dare they assign us in such a brutal manner? Women have endless racks and stacks of morning, evening and underwear, all of which are too small or too big or just plain why-don’t-you-go-wait-in-the-car wrong.

I want to be able to walk into a bar on a hot summer’s day wearing a yellow skirt and a floppy wide-brimmed hat without being punched in the head. I googled who invented pants and the oracle from hell spewed up a weird mishmash of answers ranging from Chinese pastoralists to Jesus. Women have a massive range of clothing and accessories to choose from. Men have long pants, short pants and shirts. The entire notion of clothing is discriminatory and needs to be abolished at once.

Pulsating with outrage, I moved deeper into the belly of the beast. Into the children’s section. Blue for boys, pink for girls. Why is this still allowed? My sister got to wear frilly stuff with sparklies on the front and went to ballet to dance with white girls she’d never met. I got to wear browns with grenades on the front and went to Angola to kill black men I’d never met. It seemed somehow unfair.

Blinded by tears of outrage, I found myself in the bedding section. Among the mattress protectors. We live in a country where mattresses get better protection than the citizens.

In the food section I was surrounded by Pink Lady and Granny Smith apples. Where are the Brown Gentleman and Grandpa Mbeki apples? This is racist. And it’s not just the fruit, either. Butter lettuce. Make up your mind. Are you butter or lettuce? You can’t be both. And the infants. Baby marrow, baby carrots, baby spinach. Don’t buy them. They need to grow up and take responsibility for their actions.

Cultured yoghurt? Well, excuse me. Play some Mozart and we’ll talk. Caesar dressing? Sounds like the bandage they put on Julius after he was stabbed. If you think I’m talking about Malema, you shouldn’t be reading this unsupervised.

FutureLife? What exactly are you promising here? That there’s a life after this one? And that I should at least have enough self respect to get into shape for that one because I’ve clearly left it to late for this one? Fair enough. They call it Smart Food. All my life I’ve been eating Stupid Food and it’s too late to stop now.

I went over to the body care aisle and hit the motherlode. The company that caused all the trouble. Dove. A company that named itself after a bird that will walk into your lounge and shag right there in front of you before going off to sit on the curtain rail for a week because it doesn’t understand that it can go out the same way it came in.

I came across a display that said, “Discover new baby Dove!” It didn’t say what was wrong with the old baby Dove. Perhaps it turned white babies black.

I found a rack of toilet paper called Baby Soft. I was outraged. Babies look soft but they aren’t. Have a baby fall on your head from a reasonable height and you’ll know all about it.

Gripe water? What is this stuff? My guess is that white people drink it and then complain for 24 hours.

On my way out I passed a shelf stacked with bags full of what looked like white sugar or roughly chopped cocaine. This was in the health foods section. Below it was a picture of a bunch of happy Labrador puppies. The sign said, “Xylitol is deadly toxic to dogs.”

I continue to be offended by people and outraged by their stupidity.

Under the influencer

I recently turned down a job paying R10 000.

Saying no to the equivalent of fifty cases of beer made me so ill that I couldn’t get out of bed for three days. I need not even have spent it all on beer. I could have been clever and bought 25 cases, a hundred chicken burgers and an AK-47 from Temba at the garage. It would have been the best weekend of my life.

Ten grand is a not insubstantial sum of money for someone with very little chance of ever making it onto the Gupta’s list of preferred supplicants and liars.

I expect you’re thinking it must have been a pretty horrendous job for me to turn it down. After all, everyone knows my standards are lower than the prospects of Jacob Zuma ever standing trial. Right? That’s what I thought, too. Until this job came up, I believed there was nothing I wouldn’t do for money. The fact that I have very little of it today is only because my spirit animal is a sloth.

If I wanted this money, I would have had to agree to become something called an influencer. You might have heard of them. They walk among us. An influencer is someone who the marketing industry thinks has enough social media clout to influence consumers to buy specific products or brands.

Durban resident Makhosini is one of them. He has 25 000 followers on Instagram and is apparently a popular influencer in the field of fashion. His mom says he likes to have a say in his look for the day. Fair enough. You’d expect nothing less if you were also 18 months old.

The job is timed to coincide with Christmas, an apocalyptic festival of compulsive buying and selling culminating in ceremonial stabbings and traditional divorces. My responsibility would be to encourage people to show their appreciation for one another with poorly wrapped gifts they neither need nor deserve. It’s what Jesus would want, even though he never really got much in the way of birthday presents himself. Paul gave him a new pair of sandals for his 21st, Peter got him a rabbit for his 30th – it was one of those joke gifts that require a miracle to stop them from multiplying – and his mother gave him hell for disappearing for 18 years. Judas gave him a kiss when he turned 32 and that was that.

From the moment we are born as beautiful, hideous tabulae rasae waiting to be ripened and ruined by nature and nurture, we begin to be influenced. One of my biggest influences has been beer. Thank you, beer. You changed my life. However, for me to agree to be an influencer in the diabolical world of commerce, I would first have to sign up to the world’s most powerful religion, Capitalism. We’re all members, of course. I just don’t visit that church very much these days. Call me lapsed. If you’re selling something, don’t call me at all.

Capitalism will always be with us, thanks to the rabid zealotry of the madams, pimps, whores and johns who work tirelessly to keep those grubby wheels grinding. The madams – almost entirely male – own the shops and the means of production. The pimps are the distributors. They make sure the shit gets out there. The whores are the marketers and the advertisers. Influencers have now joined their squalid ranks. The johns, mostly female, are the customers. I’m not being sexist. Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases. Go into any department store and see for yourself. There will be two men for every ten women. One will be mumbling, “It looks lovely. You should take it.” The other will be inside a changing booth with his head in his hands. Muffled sounds of weeping are not uncommon.

When I was offered the job of influencer, I asked if I could sleep on it before giving my answer. It was a typical whore move. When there’s money involved, you sleep on it. Or with it, at any rate. I really wanted the money. But I also really didn’t want to have to “share the joy of technology” with strangers whose soft, vulnerable brains I’d be expected to wash. Besides, I’m rubbish at technology and even worse at sharing. I’ve tried sharing my life with women – not necessarily all at the same time – and it has always ended in tears. Through no fault of my own, obviously.

Returning to the maladroit metaphor of capitalism as a brothel, this particular one sells mostly electronics and appliances. My job would be to try out one of their products every week over the festive season and write about it on Facebook, Twitter or any other network that ravenously devours what little time I have left on this planet, then link back to the store to encourage my “followers” and “friends” to get one for themselves. The kind of people who follow me on social media are cheap, fickle swine who’d sooner come around to my place and use my gizmo than buy their own.

I would also have to take part in a photo shoot so that my image could be shared in-store as part of the campaign. A life-sized cardboard cutout of me resembling the demented love-child of Darth Vader and Voldemort standing on a Segway (only R85 000!) brandishing a cherry red Nutribullet in one hand and a Smeg blender in the other might be out of keeping with the Christmas spirit. It would terrify the kiddies and all the moms would want me and not the merchandise for sure.

Lastly, I’d have to write a product review or column for the in-house magazine. I’d end up getting sued and have to use my R10 000 fee to hire the worst lawyer in the country. And even then he might not even be able to take time off from advising the president.

So that’s my dilemma. I have done things in my life of which I haven’t been terribly proud, but never for money. Hardly ever for money. Okay, there was a career in journalism, but in my defence it was the only one where drinking on the job was encouraged.

This, however, was different. This I had slept on. It wasn’t even a one-night stand. I had slept on it for nearly a week. There could be no excuses down the line. Once Christmas was over and the money had been squandered, my hard-earned reputation as a man who couldn’t be bought would lie in tatters. Someone would paint a scarlet letter on my door late one night. Tattered people, destitute after failing to resist the dark magic of the influencers, would hiss “whore!” and spit at me as I passed by.

On the other hand, I might be overestimating the value of integrity in these corrupt times. All I know is that when I see a journalist endorsing a product, I don’t believe anything he or she says after that. This doesn’t really apply to my situation, though. I gave up hard news – the hardest drug peddled by the profession – a few years ago. Kicked the habit cold. Never looked back. Apart from at the end of every month when a salary failed to arrive.

Given what I do now, plausibility is superfluous to requirements. In fact, it’s more of a hindrance than anything. I should’ve taken the money. I was a damn fool.

If you can’t join them, beat them

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini says the problem with education today is that teachers are no longer allowed to beat the children. Speaking at a gathering of principals and school governing bodies recently, the patron of education in KwaZulu-Natal emphasised that children needed to be corrected. The best way to do this is not to put a red line through an incorrect answer, but to leave a red line on the idiot’s bum. That’s a mark he won’t forget in a hurry.

My school in Durban North was a hotbed of thrashings. I don’t know how the staff found the time to get any teaching done. Around every corner there was a line of boys waiting to be ordered to bend over and take it like a man. I grew up thinking this sort of thing must happen to men all the time. But it doesn’t. I have never once heard an interaction of that nature between two adult males. Well, there was this one time in a nightclub … never mind.

Another favourite method of discipline was throwing things. You’d be staring out of the window wondering who would win in a fight between a kangaroo and an ostrich and for no good reason at all, a blackboard duster would be launched at your head from close range. I got hit so many times that when I finished school I was diagnosed with minimal brain damage and had no alternative but to pursue a career in journalism.

The use of corporal punishment in schools has historically been justified by the English common-law doctrine in loco parentis, which means parents are morons and as a result teachers have the right to punish children in their care.

King Zwelithini said children were motivated to do their best simply by seeing a stick. Obviously this won’t work if they don’t make the connection between pain and the stick. It’s no good just showing them a stick and hoping it will act as a deterrent. All that will happen is they’ll go, “Oh look, a stick” and continue with their experiments in human sacrifice and adolescent impregnations.

Everyone must therefore have a taste of the stick for them to understand what it represents. Children are no different to hamsters or rats when it comes to learned behaviour. And the king is right when he says the stick needs to be seen. What better place to put it than on the education department’s logo? Right now the logo features a lion with a spear and a wildebeest with a knobkierie fighting over what looks like a giant Easter egg. My money’s on the lion. I can’t read the motto on this internet image. It’s too small and my eyes are too weak. Or maybe just lazy. They deserve to be beaten. But whatever it is, it needs to be changed to something in Latin, a language born from blood. Ledo illis non cognoscere, vel ad fugiendum has a nice ring to it. It means, Hit them until they learn or run away.

Thing is, the use of the rod is, I don’t know, so very apartheid era. The king needs to move with the times. Sticks are all very well, but they are dull and commonplace and wielding one requires no skill at all. Besides, bludgeoning is heavy work and teachers in humid KZN wouldn’t want to get their Pep shirts all sticky with sweat and maybe even blood. So instead of beating kids with sticks, I suggest we use stun guns or Tasers in urban schools and cattle prods in rural areas.

Teachers could also use pepper spray to help children understand the importance of looking at the blackboard instead of their cellphones. And reusable sound grenades delivering a 130 decibel sonic blast will get any kids’ attention, no matter how ADD they are. Using these modern methods will send a message to the world that we are technologically advanced and not to be trifled with.

King Zwelithini doesn’t say whether corporal punishment should be administered across the board. Or across the gluteus maximus, for that matter. Some teachers might prefer to whack an outstretched palm while others might express a preference for the soles of the feet. What I’m saying is, should girls be treated the same as boys? I don’t think it’s a good idea. Girls have an insatiable desire for revenge. Smack her and years later she will hunt you down and kill you and then kill your entire family and your family’s friends and all their pets. If you don’t believe me, you obviously haven’t watched the documentary Kill Bill.

Quite frankly, I don’t think the king takes it far enough. Why stop with wayward kids when we have so many ill-disciplined civil servants? When I first heard there was something called a Chief Whip, I assumed his job was to flagellate the buttocks of backsliding members of parliament. I, for one, would pay good money to watch Jackson Mthembu flaying Malusi Gigaba across one of the front benches.

There’d also be a lot less malfeasance, negligence and general time-wasting if each department was overseen by a Director of Punitive Measures who dispensed floggings to the incompetent and the crooked on Friday afternoons.

Our police minister, Fikile “Fokofpolisiekardashian” Mbalula, has already got the ball rolling by urging cops to slap suspects, run them down, return fire with fire, crush their balls, make them drink their own urine, and, if they still haven’t learnt their lesson, follow him on Twitter. Presumably we are entitled to do the same to corrupt cops.

In this country, it’s not the children whose behaviour needs modifying.

Kidcontrol

Even the good times are bad

There was a knock on my front door on Wednesday morning.  I opened it to find a matching pair of men in cheap suits standing on my Go Away mat with simulated smiles stuck on their stupid faces.

“Have you heard the good news?” said the tall one. “God loves …”

“Beer?” I said. “Yeah, I know.” And shut the door.

I’ve just about had all the good news a man can take right now. It’s bad news I’m after and there simply isn’t enough of it to go around these days. We’re all too damn cheerful at the moment. Drinking only makes things worse. So much for alcohol being a depressant. A couple of beers and suddenly life seems too short to waste on protesting against the Zuptas. I mean, this isn’t bloody Yemen, right? And it’s a lot easier getting another drink than another party into power.

There’s even good news in the fight against crime. Police minister Fikile Mbalula has notched up one million followers on Twitter. First out of the gates to congratulate him was himself, closely followed by the official SA Police twitter account, which may or may not be run by the minister.

If I was thinking about pursuing a life of crime – and I do, several times a day – I would be completely put off after learning of the size of Mbalua’s twitter following. It’s a major deterrent. Charles Manson had only, like, twelve followers and I wouldn’t mess with him. Maybe I’m thinking of Jesus. But just imagine how popular and powerful a man with a million followers must be. Our police minister is like a Kardashian. No wonder criminals are cowering in fear.

More good news is that 36 Dutch tourists cut their holiday short and went home after not being able to buy weed in any of our coffee shops. Good riddance, I say. Look what happened the last time the Dutch overstayed their welcome. They developed a taste for brandy and a thing for the kitchen staff and it wasn’t long before they were tampering with the phonetics, segregating the beaches and sending Nelson Mandela to Robben Island.

What else? Oh yes. The presidency – the nerve centre of corruption – showed its appreciation for irony this week when it tweeted that the number of people convicted for corruption had, in the last three years, soared from 52 to 110. Nice one, guys. It’s important to retain a sense of humour.

There’s even good news from America, where black sportsmen are finally showing their gratitude for the abolition of slavery by dropping to one knee whenever the anthem is played. If our darkies were that grateful for an end to apartheid we wouldn’t have a racism problem in this country.

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died this week, which is good news for a coterie of young women who can now spend their evenings in the company of men not old enough to be their great-grandfather. Also, they can finally go back to their natural hair colour. The editor of the now defunct South African version of Playboy once asked me to write a piece for the magazine. He seemed surprised when I asked about his rate. He seemed to think the honour of being published in Playboy would be payment enough. Exploiting women is one thing. But writers? That’s where I draw the line.

Over in the Faroe Islands, the Danes are doing their best to rid the world of pods of aggressive, entitled dolphins. Well done. The world needs fewer dolphins, especially those arrogant white-sided ones. Give them an inch and next thing you know it’s us who are jumping through hoops and clapping our withered hands for scraps of fish.

In Thailand, the former prime minister was sentenced to five years in prison over a rice subsidy scheme. Oh, what we’d give to have a president implicated in dodgy rice deals. Here, a mid-level grain-related crime will get you the Order of the Baobab.

Happy news out of Nepal is that there is one less spoiled brat on the streets after a three-year-old girl was taken from her home to live among strangers in a castle where she will be allowed out only thirteen times a year. A small price to pay for being accorded godlike status as the new Kumari of Kathmandu. Selection criteria for aspiring Kumaris includes specific physical attributes such as an unblemished body, a chest like a lion and thighs like a deer. Even if a girl fulfils all the physical requirements, she must prove her bravery by not crying at the sight of a sacrificed buffalo. I imagine the buffalo would be the least of her worries.

My personal run of good luck continued this week when I discovered that, according to the latest income figures, I fall squarely into the emerging middle class bracket. I used to be higher up the ladder but someone greased the rungs, causing me to have a bit of a slip. Ten percent of the population falls in the top two most affluent income groups. When I say falls, I obviously mean wallows. To be a member of the 10% club, you have to earn a minimum of R65 000 per month. Affluent starts at R141 000. There is no maximum. Well, apart from maximum security prison, of course, which is where most of the people in this bracket deserve to be.

Someone asked me the other day if I’ve done any retirement planning. Of course I have. The plan involves being a burden on my friends and family. It’s popular among the emerging middle class, particularly those who never actually emerge.

I thought I’d stumbled across some really good news when I found a website promising a cure for hangovers. They lied, naturally. But something positive came of it because they also told me, perhaps to make up for their lies, about the warning signs of a stroke. If you think someone is having a stroke, ask them to raise both their arms. And get them to smile. If they can’t do it, call an ambulance. If they can, well, they’re already in the position. You might as well take their wallet.

Meanwhile, my search for silver linings in the darkest of clouds will continue apace.