Author: Ben Trovato – Durban Poison

Skeletons in the closet


Dear Comrade Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Apex Predator of the Civil Service, Trader of Bones and Nemesis of Big Cats Everywhere.

Well done on your decision to allow fifteen hundred lion skeletons to be shipped out of the country over the next twelve months. That’ll teach them. They became insufferable after finding out that we call them the king of the jungle and their attitude has only worsened over the years.

You can’t go to the Kruger Park these days without coming across flocks of lions copulating openly on the roads. This is a terrible thing for our children to see. And if they’re not shagging they’re trying to bite a tourist’s head off. This is not the kind of behaviour we expect from our lions. During apartheid, yes. But not now.

Fifteen hundred skeletons. That means on average the bones of 4.2 lions will leave the country every day for a year. Since the lions are being broken up into pieces, it is technically possible to get .2 of a lion. You probably wouldn’t need much more than a shoebox for that bit. I suppose not everyone wants a whole skeleton. Smaller families might be happy with just a couple of scapula and a bag of vertebrae. If they’re lucky they might even find some tiger in among their lion.


It was a smart move not letting anyone know that you were doubling the quota and then making it retroactive to avoid upsetting our limp-wristed lion lovers while also preempting protests at the CITES meeting in Geneva where trophy hunting management with special focus on leopards and lions is being discussed. I don’t know what there is to discuss. Breed ’em, shoot ’em, skin ’em, sell ’em. If that’s not already your ministry’s motto, it should be. Take it, it’s yours. My gift to you.


South Africa has 3 500 lions in the wild and killing 1 500 a year will barely make a dent. Okay, maybe a small dent. But lions recover quickly. Maybe not from death, but certainly from sex. I once stumbled upon some kind of lion orgy where they were all going at it at once, boys on boys, girls on girls, it was terribly exciting to be honest. When we returned to our rondavel I pounced on my wife and attempted to take her roughly from behind, the preferred position of the Panthera leo, but it ended badly and medical assistance was required.

I assume at some point we will run out of wild lions. It’s a good thing, then, that we have so many kind-hearted people devoting their lives to raising lions in captivity. There are currently around seven thousand domesticated cats living in facilities which I am told are little more than luxurious feline brothels where they fornicate to their heart’s content. Not a bad life at all. I wouldn’t mind it for myself, even if it did mean waking up one morning and getting shot in the face, beheaded and deboned.


There is something I’m a little curious about. When I wake up in the morning (or sometimes afternoon) I often say to myself, “I could really do with scrambled eggs and a Bloody Mary right now.” But are there people somewhere in the world who say, “What a lovely day for a picnic. Have we got any lion bones left over?” Or however you’d say it in Mandarin.

As your Southeast Asian market knows, lion bones (licked, chewed or crushed and snorted) give you the strength, hairstyle and sexual prowess of a lion and you should be commended for encouraging this enlightened way of thinking. Just don’t let South African men get wind of this! They’d give up beer and switch to lion bone wine and there wouldn’t be enough lions in the world to satisfy that market.


Anyway, I’d be surprised if the United Nations didn’t want to award you some sort of medal for promoting the magical properties of big cat bones. Did you know that you can also get oil from snakes? We should totally be selling that, too.

I like the way you think, comrade. You said if the supply of lion skeletons from breeding facilities was restricted, dealers and addicts would simply get their fix through poaching or robbing the stockpile. And that would mean depriving a lot of people of the traditional kickbacks and bribes, the backbone of our economy.

Supply and demand feed off one another with all the enthusiasm of Hanoi villagers enjoying a rhino horn and lion bone blowout during the Tet festival. This is why it’s important that people like you keep dem bones coming. The government makes money, you make interesting new friends in the animal trade and our captive-bred lions are spared the indignity of growing old.


Speaking of dem bones, do you remember that song? The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone, the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the Xaysavang Network, the Xaysavang Network’s connected to the Vannaseng Trading Company, the Vannaseng Trading Company’s connected to DKC Trading, DKC Trading’s connected to the Department of Environmental Affairs and so on.

While we’re getting nostalgic, I remember a time you could take the kids to the circus and they’d all want to be lion tamers when they grew up. Now they’re all going to want to be lion farmers. Or even taxidermists, like the adorable mom-and-son outfit Sandra Linde Taksidermie in the Free State province which has been shipping the bones of big cats to mainly Vietnam since at least 2009.


Have you heard that China has begun issuing permits for trade in leopard bones? Of course you have. You’re a woman who knows her business and it’s unlikely that you’d miss a chance to turn our wildlife into hard currency. So captive-bred leopards soon? Excellent. They’ve had it coming for a long time. Leopards are narcissistic and belligerent and they make almost no effort to be spotted by tourists who have paid a lot of money to tick them off the Big Five list. Get their bones out. Once they’re all gone, we can offer visitors the Big Four. Or maybe promote hippos into the premier league. Sure, they are overweight and not very bright, but in South Africa this is often all that’s required to be given a position of power.

Needless to say, a lot of people from vegetarian countries won’t want to come here once they realise our government is encouraging international trade in wild animal body parts while playing footsie with smugglers and syndicates, but that’s their problem. We don’t need their filthy euros.

Have you been to the Golden Triangle, by the way? I believe the pangolin pies, tiger skull soup and bear bile shooters are on special at this time of year. You can get anything you want in Laos. A lot of it will have been harvested from our very own animals, of course, but that’s no reason not to support the local traders.

With your commitment to conservation, comrade, you must have been awarded plenty of trophies. I bet your favourite is the buffalo.


Can I help you? And other loaded questions

In the 1700s, when I was just a young cabin boy, ships going into battle flew the flag of their country. However, some would fly a flag from a different country so as to trick the enemy into thinking they were an ally. Then, when they were within range, they’d run up their real flag and attack. This is where the phrase “showing their true colours” comes from.

Why am I telling you this? I have no idea. No, wait. It’s coming back to me. The country is at some weird kind of war with itself and there is much hiding of one’s true colours. A high-octane game of political hide-and-seek is on the boil but it’s all dangerously interchangeable. At any given time the hiders become the seekers and the seekers become the hiders and, just when you think you know what’s going on, they switch it up.

Take Dali Mpofu. As chairman of the Economic Freedom Fighters, you’d think his true colours are red. The colour of revolution. Also love. The two are entwined. True revolutionaries love the poor. They have to or nobody would support them. Then they get elected and turn into fascists or dictators and the poor end up even poorer. Love and hate, eh. Funny old business.

Mpofu is a master at flag-flying and he’s not overly concerned about which flag happens to be flying at any given time. I think he probably just runs them all up and sails into battle with the aim of confusing the enemy. It’s not a bad tactic. Just as long as his commander-in-chief, wife, friends and colleagues at the bar know what he’s doing and why. Not that bar. The other one.

Then there’s Alochna Moodley who was removed from a Kulula flight and subsequently lost her job for using the k-word in an SMS. Later, she apologised to Reverend Solumuzi Mabuza who had been seated next to her and who read her SMS while she was writing it. Swiftly changing flags, Moodley said her schooling was to blame for not having taught her about apartheid.

Meanwhile, I am casting an early vote in the Orwellian future that awaits us for Rev. Mabuza to head the Thought Police in the Ministry of Truth. He’ll clean up this mess in no time at all.

And then there’s Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini. He calls an imbizo to explain why the government shouldn’t be allowed to get its filthy hands on the vast tracts of rent-collecting land owned by his Ingonyama Trust, all the while running up Zulu war flags alongside flags that say war is the last thing the Zulus want.

President Ramaphosa flies a flag signifying good, clean, honest governance. He is worth R6-billion. You don’t accumulate that kind of money by adhering to the ten commandments. But that was then and this is now. Cyril might well have a skull and crossbones in his closet, but it’s unlikely he will ever deploy it because he’s just too damn decent. Jacob Zuma set the bar so … no, he took the bar, repeatedly whacked the taxpayers in the face with it, chopped it up and painted the pieces yellow and sold them as gold nuggets to his friends and family who broke it into even smaller pieces and … you get the idea. And for his entire truncated term, Zuma’s flagpole remained as naked as his avaricious ambition.

Speaking of misjudging books by their covers, I was on my way to rob the Standard Bank in my local mall a few days ago when I stopped off at Wordsworth Books to have a look at all the new releases I can’t afford. I don’t usually make it further than the sale table at the entrance because it’s too depressing to be reminded of the number of people who make a proper living from writing.

While browsing, I noticed a middle-aged man with a beard behind the counter watching me. I watched him watching me for a bit, then returned to the marked-down books. It took him about thirty seconds to get to me.

“Can I help you?” he barked. Momentarily confused, I shook my head and said I was fine. This wasn’t strictly true, but he didn’t seem like the kind of person who’d be interested in hearing about my rapidly escalating aversion to humankind, telephones and winter.

I sauntered over to the ghetto that is SA non-fiction to make sure that nobody had bought the last remaining copy of my memoirs. There it was on the bottom shelf where it belonged. The only way you’d even know it was there was if you had to suffer a cardiac event and collapse. I like to think whoever it was might reach for it as he lay there and perhaps, if the paramedics were stuck in traffic, die with a smile on his lips.

Then I left. Walking through the mall, I caught a glimpse of myself in a shop window. It wasn’t pretty. I had come directly from a two-hour surf. My hair was wild and tangled and bleached more from age than the sun. My eyes were scarlet from the salt water, my 15-year-old jacket looked like a Salvation Army reject and I hadn’t shaved in five days.

That’s when it struck me. The manager of the bookshop had pegged me as a homeless shoplifter and hurried over to make sure I knew that he knew. There was no other explanation for it. Staff in South African bookshops never initiate contact with customers. It might even be in their contracts. Most of the time they actively avoid you in case you ask them a question involving books, a subject many of them know little about. But they do know that you are there to browse and that if you need help, you’ll ask. Bookshops are almost unique like that. Nobody goes to Sheet Street to browse. There, you expect to be asked if you need help with anything. But in bookshops, nobody expects to be harassed by shop assistants.

It was patently obviously that I was a browser. There were other people in the bookshop who were also quite clearly browsing. The bearded man, having been trained to manage a bookshop, will have known how to recognise a browser. They are the ones who wander in, pick up books at random, read the back cover, mumble the title to themselves to hear how it sounds, shake their head at the price, then wander out.

He singled me out. There was no cheery greeting. No chit-chat about the weather. Not even a smile. Just a pair of raised eyebrows and a curt “Can I help you?” The same question whiteys ask when they come across an unidentified darkie sitting on the verge outside their home. It’s a warning, not a question.

But even if I did look a bit rough around the edges, what the hell kind of idiot homeless person would go into a bookshop to shoplift? Did he think I’d wandered down off the mountain to slip a James Patterson down my broeks when nobody was looking? Upon which I would hole up in my lair for three days reading voraciously before sloping back to the bookshop. Maybe to slip it back onto the shelf and steal something with a little more intellectual heft.

I only thought of it later, but what I should have done was call him out on it. Ask him outright if he thought I was a kleptomaniac hobo. The passive-aggression would have startled him enough to call security. That would’ve been my cue to dart over to the ghetto, grab my book and hold it up.

“Recognise the jacket?” I’d say. Because in my author photo I really am wearing the same jacket. The face is shaved, hair is more or less under control and eyes have been whitened thanks to Photoshop, but even he would have to admit that the customer who stood before him, limping slightly after taking a surfboard rail to the testicular department only twenty minutes earlier, might not be not an unhinged vagabond after all.

Fun fact. Bookshops make at least three times more than any author on each copy sold. Perhaps I’d look less like a desperado if I got the 40% and they got the 12%.


Up In Smoke

BEN TROVATO – Durban Poison

For a little light relief, here is a column I wrote some time ago.


There was a sphincter-clenching advertisement in last week’s Sunday papers. It came with a WARNING and featured a giant photograph of a thug pointing a revolver directly at my head. I automatically ducked and spilled hot coffee on Brenda who shot of bed and stood on the cat who attacked the dog who jumped on the bed and bit me in the leg.

After the paramedics left, I went back for a second look at the advert that caused all the trouble. WARNING. Sounded serious. The gangster with the gun looked pretty damn serious, too. He had the face of a man who has just walked in from a hard night of smoking tik with the boys, to find me shtupping his mother.

I thought the advert was going to advise me on what to do…

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A letter to King Goodwill Zwelithini

A bit of an oldie, but apparently still all relevant as hell.

BEN TROVATO – Durban Poison

Dear Comrade King,

You, sir, are a true king. You are not only the king of the Zulus, but you are also king of the land claims.

While everyone else is pussyfooting around, demanding a farm here or a game reserve there, you are putting in a claim for the entire province of Kwazulu-Natal. Now that’s what I call a land claim!

And why not? This is, after all, where the Zulus lived quite happily for years until those British bastards came along and ruined things for everyone.

The Ingonyama Trust, which is coordinating the claim on your behalf, currently owns 2.8 million hectares in the province. This is clearly not enough. What can a man do with 2.8 million hectares? Not a great deal. Not if you want to spread out a bit. Plant stuff. Grow some cows. That kind of thing takes room.

I see you’re also after…

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The odds of dying …

I’ve been told that I have a 12.7% chance of having a stroke or heart attack within the next ten years. This wasn’t, as you might think, shouted at me by an embittered ex-wife or someone I cut off in the traffic. This came from my doctor.

That’s the risk you take when you visit a general practitioner and he sends you for blood tests, as he will, regardless. You can be there for a broken toe and within two minutes he will have you pinned to the floor poking and prodding and listening to your organs. When he lets you up, he’ll prescribe something to ease the pain and humiliation he’s just caused you and tell you to go for blood tests.

I was only there because, while saving a drowning child from a shark infested lagoon, something went in my lower back. Okay, fine. I was bending over the sink. It might have been the toilet. It felt like I had been shot with a speargun.

My doctor shares a building with other doctors and I never have to wait very long to see him. I’ve barely started flirting with the diseased and dying when my name is called. I have considered that I might be his only patient.

Being familiar with his style, I often start undressing in the waiting room. This seems to upset some people but that’s not my problem. We are all there because something is wrong with us. To avoid creating the impression that I have mental health issues, I feign a limp or a cough. Sometimes I lure a child while the mother is busy on Facebook and get him to sit next to me so that people think I’m there with a sick boy. It helps when he starts crying, and he almost always does. Facebook – making human trafficking easier for everyone.

Before the doctor has even closed his door I am completely naked and waiting in position. Once the gloves are off and our breathing is back under control, we sit on opposite sides of the desk and exchange gifts. No, of course we don’t. We exchange pleasantries. How is the baby? Doctors always have babies. If not their own, then someone else’s. And if they don’t like the baby they have, they can always swap it for another. It’s one of the perks of being a doctor.

He scribbles something on his pad, tears it off and slides it across the desk. I look at it, shake my head and slide it back. I tell him the pharmacists in the area aren’t familiar with Esperanto and make him do it again.

He does what I ask but only on condition that I go for blood tests. I don’t like the idea. I never do well in tests. I got nine percent for history in matric. He asks what I’d like to have done. Liposuction on my face and a willy like a racehorse, I say. He puts me down for cholesterol, blood sugar, prostate and liver function. I was under the impression we’d just done prostate. He smiles and wags a finger at me. I feel ill but decide against mentioning it.

I take the form, stand up and put my hand out. Doctors have a pathological aversion to shaking hands with patients but it’s important that we force them to do it. A lot of them need socialising and this is one way we can help.

Of course I can’t just nip next door to PathCare and allow a stranger to open a vein in my arm. That would be too easy. I have to go home and fast. Nil per mouth. I once went to a gay bar and wore a wristband that said nil per bum. It got a big laugh. I don’t know. It was very noisy. They might not have been laughing.

The fasting starts at 10pm, which is annoying because that’s when my need for feeding and watering begins to peak. Not being able to shovel stuff into myself after 10pm is like loadshedding for the body.

Weak from hunger and thirst, I wake at crack of dawn with some kind of wild animal licking what little remains of my face. I wasn’t happy about forfeiting my traditional weekday breakfast of two bloody Marys and a starter portion of magic mushrooms on toast, but a fast is a fast and the faster I got to the vampires the faster I could end the fast.

PathCare doesn’t do bookings. First come, first served. Being a gentleman, I stood aside to allow three women through the door ahead of me. Won’t make that mistake again. When my turn came, a woman with the bedside manner of Genghis Khan told me to roll up my sleeve and make a fist. I rolled up both sleeves and made as if I was going to rabbit-punch her in the kidneys followed by a roundhouse to the head. I bet she gets that all the time. When she strapped a tourniquet around my arm I wanted to say something witty about heroin but nothing suitable came to mind.

“You’re going to feel a little prick,” she said.

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” I said. Right away I saw in her eyes that she had misinterpreted the remark. At best I had a thing for genitally challenged men. At worst I was a paedophile. I wanted to explain that I was talking about myself. Should I show her? Given the circumstances, my willy had almost certainly shrunk to the size of an Etruscan shrew.

Three days later the doctor called. He said my results had come back. This was followed by a long silence. I thought he might be trying not to laugh. After checking that I was still on the line, he rattled off a bunch of numbers that made no sense, then dropped the bombshell about the stroke/heart attack odds. I barely heard a word after that.

Picking up my palpitations over the phone, he reassured me that as far as odds go for a man my age, 12.7% wasn’t bad at all. And, what’s more, if I did something about my blood pressure and cholesterol, this could come down to 8%. I don’t care. This is still too high.

If you’re going to give me odds, give me the good ones. I want to hear about my odds of being struck by lightning while riding an elephant. What are my chances of drowning while having sex? How likely is it that I will get back with one of my ex-wives?

When it comes to Very Bad Things, I want to be told there is a 0% likelihood of any of them happening. Now all I’ll do for next decade is wake up every morning and wonder if this is the day the 12.7% comes knocking. This is why I hate maths. Numbers are dictators. Words are democrats. There is wiggle-room with words that you don’t get with numbers.

Thanks anyway, doc. A man who has sworn an oath to do nothing but good has gone and told me something that will make me worry so much that I’ll have cancer by Thursday and be dead by the weekend.


The buck stops here

BEN TROVATO – Durban Poison


Dear Tess Thompson Talley,

I had no idea someone as beautiful and brave as you existed in America until you posted that picture of yourself moments after executing an African giraffe. I don’t even care if you aren’t a real blonde. But if you are, praise the Lord! Which is exactly what you seem to be doing in one of the photos – thanking the Almighty for having guided this cloven-hoofed beast from hell into your crosshairs.

Tess-Giraffe-Praise God-Landscape

Your caption was so inspiring that it’s worth repeating. “Prayers for my once in a lifetime dream hunt came true today! Spotted this rare black giraffe bull and stalked him for quite a while. I knew it was the one. He was over 15 years old, 4000lbs, and was blessed to be able to get 2000lbs of meat from him.”

On behalf of Africa, thank you for ridding us of another giraffe…

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The buck stops here


Dear Tess Thompson Talley,

I had no idea someone as beautiful and brave as you existed in America until you posted that picture of yourself moments after executing an African giraffe. I don’t even care if you aren’t a real blonde. But if you are, praise the Lord! Which is exactly what you seem to be doing in one of the photos – thanking the Almighty for having guided this cloven-hoofed beast from hell into your crosshairs.

Tess-Giraffe-Praise God-Landscape

Your caption was so inspiring that it’s worth repeating. “Prayers for my once in a lifetime dream hunt came true today! Spotted this rare black giraffe bull and stalked him for quite a while. I knew it was the one. He was over 15 years old, 4000lbs, and was blessed to be able to get 2000lbs of meat from him.”

On behalf of Africa, thank you for ridding us of another giraffe. They are violent, arrogant creatures who strut about the bush looking down on all the other animals. It’s no wonder so many of the little ones, like warthogs, suffer from self-esteem issues.

Stalking a giraffe isn’t for the faint-hearted. They move so slowly that even an experienced hunter like yourself runs the risk of falling asleep and being unexpectedly eaten by a passing lion.

If it weren’t for people like you, the giraffe population would spiral out of control and it wouldn’t be long before they started moving into our neighbourhoods and sending their kids to our schools. That your giraffe was black is obviously a sign. Or bonus. Whatever.

As you say, these ones are rare. But rare only means there are others like him still out there. Thanks to your fearless efforts, his kind will soon be extinct and we will all sleep a little more soundly in our beds at night. Unless, of course, you mean that you cooked him rare.

Love the picture of you and the dead kangaroo. It can’t be easy shooting one of those brutes, what with all their bouncing up and down. And you got to do it on your birthday! It must be every little girl’s dream to shoot a kangaroo in the face when they turn 35.


Did you convert one of its front legs into a backscratcher like your buddy Dustin suggested? Here’s another cool idea. Use his pouch to store your ammunition in! You said your roo was going to make a great mount. Don’t you use husband Andrew for that sort of thing? I’m not judging. If you want to get jiggy with a dead kangaroo, that’s your business. The French do worse things.

I see hubby has a pic of himself kneeling next to a dead sheep. Bravery seems to run in the family. It’s a good thing he was wearing full camo. There’s no telling what a sheep is capable of doing if it sees you coming.

And you’ve been redecorating your new home! Love the pic of nineteen decapitated heads scattered on the floor. I spent a fun few minutes spotting game in your living room. I saw a warthog, wildebeest, plenty of buck, an animal that looks like someone’s dog and even a turkey. And you still had eight more coming from South Africa?


I can almost hear Andrew from here. “Hun, we’re gonna need a bigger house!” You ain’t gonna stop killing so, yeah, maybe you should build a second house just for the heads. That way you can visit them without having their glass eyes staring coldly at you the whole time. I hate the way dead animals always seem to judge you. Do you ever get the urge to shoot them a second time?

I didn’t see the portrait of your awesome president on the lounge wall. Maybe you hadn’t unpacked it yet. Or is it in the bedroom? Of course it is. I bet you get really turned on having Donald Trump watching you undress. Or is that more hubby’s thing?

I loved the picture of the cookies you baked. Little doughy deer, each with its own bleeding bullet wound. What a fantastic idea for a kid’s birthday party. You should bring out a compilation of your recipes. Call it The Psychopath’s Cookbook. Guaranteed bestseller. In West Texas, anyway.


So you were in our very own Limpopo province not long ago. A place called Marken? Never heard of it. Judging by the carnage, you and Andrew must have been on your second honeymoon. There’s nothing more romantic than a woman and her man walking through the African bush while gunning down animals side by side.

Great pic of you with your dead Vervet monkey and Andrew with his baboon. Tabatha asked what you’re going to do with them and you said, “Full body mounts. These ya don’t eat.” There are animals you don’t eat? What’s happening, darlin’? Don’t get soft on us. You turn your nose up at monkey and the next thing you know you’re one of them snowflake vegan chicks driving a Prius and treating Mexicans like they’re real people.


Stephenia asked if your monkey had blue balls. For a moment I thought she was talking about Andrew but then you said, “Such a pretty color huh lol.” Glad you can still appreciate the beauty in nature lol.

You told Regina that the US don’t allow you to bring none of that meat home, not even the giraffe even though he had such a yummy sweet taste. “But everything piece of meat gets ate,” you reassured her in your own special ex-cheerleader way. How do you stay so thin after putting away 2000lbs of giraffe?

So, anyway. If my government ever starts taking conservation seriously and bans trophy hunting, you could always stalk the children of illegal immigrants right there in Texas. Trump will probably move the kids out of cages now and into open-air enclosures where they at least have a sporting chance of survival. It could be fun. Anyone who makes it to 18 without getting shot is given a Green Card. You can’t get more humanitarian than that.

Odessa must be so proud of you, Tess. Not only does does your town have the highest rate of violent crime in Texas, but they also have the cutest killer in the whole damn state.

Yeehaa, baby.

Aviation for the nation

The naming of airports is a difficult matter,

It isn’t just one of your holiday games;

You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

When I tell you an airport must have three different names.

That’s what TS Eliot might have written if he had airports instead of cats on his mind.

It’s just as well he was more of a cat person than an airport person. Three different names would confuse a tremendous number of pilots. Just because they wear ironed uniforms with peaked caps and gold braid on their shoulders doesn’t mean they’re demi-gods, you know. They really are just drivers of big flying taxis. We don’t even know how good they are because there’s nothing to crash into up there. Apart from other flying taxis, obviously. And maybe the odd mountain if they’re not paying attention.

South Africa has once again been dragged to the brink of civil war, this time over the renaming of airports. Cape Town, Kimberley and I can’t remember where the others are. It doesn’t matter. It’s only Cape Town anyone cares about.

Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn if it’s renamed Harry The Strandloper International or even Joe Masepus International. If you live in Cape Town and take a taxi to the airport – which you will have to do if you have friends like mine – you’re going to say to the driver, “Please take me to the airport.” You don’t even have to say please. If you like, you can hold a gun to his head and simply say, “Airport.” There’s less chance of him turning in his seat and saying, “Which airport?” than there is of him saying, “Airport? The movie was way better than the book. Man, that suicide bomber getting sucked out of the plane was something else!”

If you live in any of our major cities and say you’re going to the airport, people are going to know which airport you’re talking about without you having to name it. This means that nobody will ever actually speak its name, old or new. I’ve lived in Durban for much of my life and I’ve never used the words King Shaka International because everyone seems to understand what I mean by “airport”.

I have, however, been to parties where, if I had to say I’m going to King Shaka in the morning, there would be at least one white person who would get me on my own and warn me not to make the same mistake Piet Retief made.

The only time you need to use the full name of any airport is when you make your online booking so that when you finally reach the check-in counter, the surly hungover boarding card-dispenser doesn’t put you on a plane to some or other godforsaken hellhole like Mogadishu. Or worse, Port Elizabeth.

The other thing about airports is that they are desperately sad places that people only go to so they can get somewhere else.

This conversation, for instance, has never happened.

Man: Get your things, we’re going to the airport.

Woman: *shriek* You’re taking me on holiday?

Man: Even better, baby. I’m taking you to the Soaring Falcon Spur Steak Ranch!

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are people who go to airports to eat and shop, watch people waving and weeping and hugging, then drive back home. I don’t know anyone who has done this. It seems like a deeply weird thing to do.

But back to the real issue. Airports shouldn’t be named after awesome people for the same reason Point Road should never have been renamed in honour of Mahatma Gandhi. Point Road should’ve been renamed after one of the city’s indestructible degenerates who has outshone all others in his lifelong quest for drink, drugs and whores. There are many candidates worthier than I.

The overarching emotions in airports are ones of irascibility and sadness, undercut with notes of frustration, bouquets of boredom and a rich aroma of feet. Cape Town airport should therefore be named after the angriest, most miserable person in the city. Competitions could be held. My money would be on one of the tellers at my local Spar. She reacts to greetings as if they were mortal insults and takes my credit card with the antipathy of a mother being handed a court order repossessing her children. And it’s not only me, if you’re wondering.

A few moments ago I googled restaurants at King Shaka and instead of being showered with a mouthwatering buffet of options, I was prevented from continuing and redirected to the electronic equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. “Our systems have detected unusual traffic from your computer network,” it warned. My sphincter snapped shut like a startled sea anemone. I was then instructed to verify that it really was me sending the request, and not a robot.

A big square filled with smaller squares showing pictures of roads appeared. I was ordered to select all images with a bus. Cold sweat dripped onto my keyboard. Is that a truck or a bus? One square had what looked like it could be the bumper of a bus. Another had vehicles in the distance. Was that a bus among the cars? Impossible to tell. It looked like an elephant. Christ, what if it turns out that I am a robot? I’ll never be able to have sex again. I’ll be reduced to making awkward jerking movements for the rest of my life.

And what is this unusual traffic of which I have been accused? Is showing me pictures of real traffic their idea of a sick joke? Who are these people? I retraced my steps. Oh dear. I mentioned suicide bomber and airport in the same sentence. But how would they know? I barely remember writing that myself.

Something is going on. You only have to mention, say, dwarf-tossing on Twitter and the next thing you know your Facebook timeline is full of little people offering to be thrown about in bars. They want money, of course. Who doesn’t these days? I wouldn’t mind getting sewn into a Velcro suit and chucked against a Velcro wall if it meant free drinks and a ride home.

But it goes beyond that. More and more people are discovering connections between their conversations and the ads that pop up on social media minutes if not seconds after those conversations have taken place. It seems apparent that trigger words are setting the whole thing off. And now that I’ve said trigger, bomb and airport in a single column, I can expect my front door to be kicked in at 2pm tomorrow by heavily armed men wearing wetsuits and night vision goggles.

Actually, given the efficiency of crime intelligence in this country, the guy two streets away with the same number as mine will be having his door kicked in. He probably deserves it.


Daft bats, fraidy cats and expats

While Mark Zuckerberg is almost certainly the antichrist and his creation a thing of great evil, Facebook does toss up some interesting things as we snuffle about like derelict bottom feeders sifting through the blighted viscera of humanity.

I was, for instance, surprised to find myself a member of a group called The Lekker Old Days. It’s a closed group, as one might expect, with an impressive 134 000 members. The South African military has 78 000 members. Just saying. Someone must have added me without my knowing.

A lot of my friends from back then have emigrated over the years. I’ve never tried to find out why but I expect it was for one or other of the usual reasons. We all know what they are. Less crime, more job opportunities, a future for the kids, better pubs, stronger weed etc.

South Africans are probably not unique in getting all melancholy and misty-eyed about a time when their country was regarded as the red-headed stepchild of the international family of nations, but I can’t help finding it all a bit strange.

It’s unlikely that you’d walk into a bar in Berlin today and overhear a conversation about how Germany was such a cool place to live when Hitler was in charge. Or go to a Kigali shebeen and retired members of the Interahamwe would be reminiscing about that glorious autumn in 1994 when any old Hutu off the streets could lop off as many Tutsi limbs as he wished.

So, since I was a member of the group, I thought I’d see how the okes were doing in their new homes there by the overseas.

First up was Julie suggesting a get-together for ex-South Africans now living in the UK. “Could take a lot of planning but could be worth it just to know there are other people just as homesick as I am! Maybe a braai, a few Castles, a couple of brandies and a bit of the old biltong!” she squealed excitedly.

Quick to mansplain that she was homesick for something that no longer existed, miserable old codger John said, “If you returned to SA for a few days, you would find very little that would be familiar to you and be glad to board a plane and get back to your new home.”

That’s right, Julie. You’d be horribly disappointed. Black people are allowed on the beaches now. You’d be frightfully confused and think you had landed in Nigeria by mistake. There’s nothing more terrifying than the familiar being rendered unfamiliar by the brutal imposition of human rights and I expect you’d want to return to the airport immediately.

I was prepared to give Julie the benefit of the doubt in that perhaps she really did miss nothing more than making salads while the okes braaied, but then she ruined it with a subsequent comment. “I would love to go back to see my dear friends, who were family to me, and hopefully come back to the UK thinking ‘thank God I don’t live there any more’.” Hopefully? That’s your best case scenario, Julie? That you’d hate the new South Africa? What’s the worst case? That you’d find it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as you imagined it? That you might not want to go back to bleak, insular England and its rude people with their ugly clothes, bad teeth and vile children? Their indoor heating and overpriced everything? You’re screwed then, Julie. It’s probably best you don’t come back. You don’t want to risk finding out that home is nowhere near as bad as you thought it was.

Jeanne-Mari asks Julie where she’s living and reassures her that “there is loads off get together and sokkies all around the UK”. Shudder.

Turns out that our Julie lives in the charming seaside town of Morecombe. It’s a blot on the landscape with no pier and  mudflats for a beach. There is no fairground or swimming pool. In December a doctor warned that local kids were suffering from malnourishment and developing rickets.

On the other hand, the town is fairly well known for its potted shrimps. Oh, and there’s a statue of comedian Eric Morecombe, described the other day on TripAdvisor as “the only thing worth visiting in Morecombe”. The West End of the town has been called one of the most deprived areas in England. Suddenly I feel desperately sorry for Julie.


Craig suggests Julie joins another expat forum which promises lots of events with “lots from all over SA wanting to speak about the lekker old days”. I would have thought the Truth and Reconciliation Commission might have been a more appropriate forum for that sort of thing.

Barry tells the group about a get-together at a caravan park near Derby a few years ago where “over 100 people from the Vanderbijlpark/Vereeniging area met for three amazing days (despite the torrential rain).” It sounds more than amazing. I’m so sorry I missed it. Also, the same place has a braai this July where not only South Africans but also “Rhodesians” will gather. I can’t imagine a party I’d rather go to than one that’s awash in drunk South African and Rhodesian expats. Well, apart from maybe a lynching party in Alabama.

Eileen ruins the mood a bit when she shyly admits to still being in SA. “I just can’t get the South African bush out of me,” she admits. Given our propensity for falling down on weekends, she might well be talking literally.

Glynnis, who is clearly drunk, has an outrageous suggestion. “Why don’t you all just come home?” After an awkward silence, Rob says, “For what? To be in the same boat as everyone else?” Rob has clearly been misinformed. Not every white person owns a boat. He must be thinking of the lekker old days.

Justin, who might well have been dropped on his head as a baby, suggests a get-together for South Africans still in South Africa to “remember the good old South Africa”. Give AfriForum a call, my boy. They’ll find some nice new friends for you.

In a separate thread this week, John asked the group what they’d like to have back from the good old days. A lot of people said their mothers or fathers, which I don’t think John meant at all. Dawn and Peter said they’d like their virginity back.

Yuri said, “Law and order the way it used to be.” Akkedis said, “To be free again without you know what.” And Neels said, “The 21:00 curfew.” I grew up in the good old days so it’s easy for me to crack this code. The lads are referring to a time when the suburbs were white-by-night. The maids had to be in their kayas and the men back in the townships. It wasn’t easy to be a housebreaker in the good old days, let me tell you.

Wilhelm misses the days when there was no TV and they built treehouses and formed gangs to fight against the English. S’oraait, pel. The good old days can also mean the Anglo-Boer War, mos.

Dezray doesn’t give a damn and comes right out with it. “White government, NOT de Klerk,” she says. While she doesn’t give her preference a name, I imagine it’s somewhere in the vicinity of Steve Hofmeyr. But only until the Boeremag leadership gets out of jail. Wilhelm likes her comment.

Hannelie misses her farm. “In those days it was so safe. We played outside till late, walked in the road safe and sound. We could leave on holiday for 2 weeks, come back and nothing was wrong.” Ag shame, man. I don’t want to be the one to tell you this, skattie, but there were a couple of things wrong.

Faried misses pre-1994 South Africa “but without petty apartheid”. Faried is obviously on drugs and has lost his way. Everyone ignores him.

Errol strays into existentialism and says he misses himself, Sharon misses decent bread and Esme misses the death penalty.

Marie misses being able to walk outside without being murdered. Marie, sweetie, I don’t know how long you’ve been inside, but it’s time to come out. The odds of you not being murdered are heavily in your favour. If, however, you do come out and get murdered, I apologise. Thoughts and prayers.

Rob misses homemade bacon cut a quarter of an inch thick. I don’t remember there even being homemade pigs where I grew up.

Johan says South Africa came closest to being a first world country prior to 1994. But then “the doom happened”. I think it’s only right that our history books should in future refer to South Africa’s transition to a democracy as “The Doom”.

As for the rest of it, well, it’s an innocuous mélange of homegrown nostalgia mostly free of malice and racism. I’m sure the administrators have their work cut out for them when it comes to comments by expats still suffering from the master race syndrome, though.

A lot of South Africans who have emigrated don’t like to be reminded of the fact that the lives and lifestyles of ordinary white people who chose to stay have remained almost entirely unchanged. Sure, we’ve lost our automatic entry to the job market but otherwise it’s all still braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Porsche Cayennes.


Whale meat again …

“More than 120 pregnant whales were slaughtered in the latest Japanese whale hunt in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, reigniting calls for Australia to step up efforts to stop the annual killing spree. A further 114 immature whales were killed as part of Japan’s so-called “scientific” whaling program. Japan’s summer hunt stretches into Australian whale sanctuaries.” – News reports.

Here’s a column I wrote eight years ago.

JAPAN, Norway and Iceland have killed more than 30 000 great whales since 1986. And if you think that’s good news, wait until you hear this.

A new deal being negotiated behind closed doors could see a lot more whale meat on our plates come dinner time. To be honest, I haven’t sunk my teeth into a decent southern right steak since I was a child. As a special treat my mother would buy us whale meat. I remember it clearly. It came in a yellow box with a caricature of a blue whale on the front. The whale was spouting and grinning. It might even have been winking. It was the happiest whale I had ever seen. It was the only whale I had ever seen.

At some point I discovered that this tasty cetacean snack was meant as pet food. Thanks, mom.

I had no idea where the whale in my sarmies came from. I tried asking my mother the other day but she recently adopted a position of denying everything and it was hard enough getting her to acknowledge that she had a son at all. I never thought to enquire about the origins of my lunch at the time. I was just happy to have something to eat, even if it was cat food.

Then, one day, whale was no longer served in my house. I can’t remember what replaced it. Tortoise, probably. It was the end of an era. I lost 180kgs and girls stopped asking to see my blowhole.

The whaling station on the Bluff shut down in 1975 – 70 years after Jacob Egeland, the Norwegian consul in Durban, and his sidekick Johan Bryde, formed the South African Whaling Company. If you think the beachfront smells bad today, you don’t want to know what it was like when the Scandinavians were up to their elbows in sperm whale.

In their first year they harpooned 106 of the brutes. Always eager to please, a pod of whales got together off Umhlanga and voted to name themselves after Bryde, who they had grown particularly fond of as a result of his remarkably good aim. A clean head shot, every time. Whales appreciate this sort of attention to detail.

Meanwhile, a group of jersey-wearing jellyfish on the International Whaling Commission is at this very moment conniving with powerful interests who are just as comfortable with flensing knives as they are with numbered bank accounts.

For the first time since 1986, commercial whaling is poised to make a comeback and every budding Cap’n Ahab out there is dusting off his old harpoon and getting ready to sail for the Southern Ocean.

The carnage should be spectacular.

Speaking of large mammals, did you know that 50% of South African girls aged 15 to 19 are overweight and 30% obese? Boys waddle in at 29 and nine percent respectively.

Parents need to get their kids onto some kind of programme. I can recommend a good weight-loss tape. It’s called duct tape. You stick it over their big fat mouths.

28 March 2010


And here’s a letter I wrote to the Japanese ambassador seventeen years ago.

Dear Ambassador,

I see that one of your government officials has described Minke whales as the “cockroaches of the sea”. I could not agree more. Dirty great things cluttering up the ocean. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. Unlike land-based cockroaches, they at least don’t fly at your head when you least expect it. Getting struck in the face by an airborne Minke could ruin a good day’s fishing.

The Minke are vermin. Scum of the seas. They are forever lying there half-submerged waiting for unsuspecting yachts to come along. Many a sailor has cursed the smirking Minke while watching his boat sink. They are also far too big. Any fish that weights fifteen tons is a freak of nature. They upset the feng shui of the ocean and deserve to die.

I cannot understand why the members of the International Whaling Commission refuse to lift the ban on commercial hunting. We don’t even need them. They scoff all the shrimp and wallow about idly belching from their blowholes. And the whales are no better.

It was pure genius on the part of your government to tell the world that you are only catching Minke whales for “scientific research”. There is, after all, so much to learn from a dead whale. Made any exciting new discoveries lately.

By research, you presumably mean men in white coats inspect the meat as it is chopped into 1kg blocks and sold to fish and chip shops around Japan. Given the fact that 2500 tons of blubber are consumed in your country every year, I find it remarkable that there are so few fat Japanese. Do you feed it all to your sumo wrestlers?

As you know, whale season here in the Western Cape is around the corner. In fact, a few Southern Rights have already been spotted in False Bay. An old hand-held harpoon has been in my family for generations and I’ve been thinking of giving it a whirl. If I manage to bag a medium-sized aquatic cockroach, I can have it transported to the embassy in no time at all. What do you say to a thousand rand a ton? Translate that into yen and you’ve got a damn fine deal.

In the meantime, here’s R10 in “development aid”. Use it wisely.

Let’s stamp out the whales!

Yours truly,

Ben Trovato


A few days later, the First Secretary of the Embassy replied.

He basically said they’d love to chat about the subject but that “it would be somewhat difficult to do so if one’s opinion is based on inaccurate information”. I assumed he was talking about me. This was followed by a pack of lies about their “scientific research”.

And my R10 was returned. “We are, unfortunately, not in a a position to accept the attached donation as the Government of Japan does not allow any of its bodies to accept any form of donation as worthy as it may be.”