Category: On The Run
Not many people know that I have written twelve books. I imagine even fewer care. Be that as it may. The fact remains that I have, without even really trying, built up what writers and publishers refer to as a ‘backlist’ and what writers’ wives call ‘those bloody boxes at the back of the garage’.
Some of you might even own one or two of my books. Now you have no excuse not to own all of them.
I am doing this is a public service and not because I have been told to clean out the garage.
Books will not be sent via the Post Office, unless you specifically want them in time for Christmas 2015.
Here, then, are the Dirty Dozen listed in order of their year of release. Point and click.
I can’t remember who came up with the idea, but it was in the middle of one of those warm family moments when everybody is fighting over the last of the crumpets and tequila and someone shouted: “Let’s go camping!”
About 72 hours later, when the monsoon swept in and the mood was sullen and ugly, everyone except me agreed it had been my idea.
Camping as a bonding activity is heavily overrated. It almost always leads to excessive drinking, embarrassing confessions, outraged denials and, ultimately, fist fights, hair pulling and an unsportsmanlike gouging of eyes.
My parents started taking me on camping trips when I was little more than a foetus. As soon as I was old enough to get a word in, I asked them: “Why are you doing this to me?” They would look at each other and say: “Ah, cute. He’s talking.” This hardly boosted the confidence of a nine-year-old.
Oops. A snippet of a Philip Larkin poem just fell into my head.
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
and add some extra, just for you.”
Anyway. Heaven forfend that dead English poets distract me.
Leaving Durban on any kind of trip is never easy. It is impossible to get away early because the first hour after waking is spent yawning, the second hour is spent sponging sweat from your face, the third hour is spent handing bananas to monkeys dangling from the burglar bars and the fourth is spent scratching mosquito bites and crotches which aren’t necessarily always your own.
Move too quickly in Durban and you run the risk of cardiac arrest. Or worse, being mistaken for someone from Joburg.
Going camping as a kid, my parents would shout at me to hurry up because we were leaving in five minutes. I would then spend anything up to three days waiting for them in the car.
This time it was different. I lay in bed until I heard my father hooting and my mother shouting, then I gave it another two hours and got up. Brenda was already dressed and waiting. She prefers to get out of bed before I wake up. I once pointed out to her that this wasn’t doing our sex life any favours and she said: “Yes it is.”
Four hours behind schedule, my parents were anxious to get on the road. They were sitting in their enormous white trash motorhome, my father revving the engine, my mother looking for fleas on a Maltese poodle on her lap. The dog is called something like Shpleedle, but I can’t swear to it because its name is only ever spoken in an incomprehensible, high-pitched baby-talk voice.
Brenda and my irrevocably gormless offspring, Clive, were waiting in the Land Rover that my father has offered to sell to me for a suspiciously low price. I am beginning to fear this National Front thug of a car constitutes the bulk of my inheritance.
The plan, if you could even call it that, was to drift down the South Coast and meander along the Wild Coast. Brenda was far from convinced that the Transkei was the right place for meandering, but I assured her it was perfectly safe now that it was called the Eastern Cape.
“Don’t we all feel a lot more secure driving down Broadway now that it’s called Swapo Avenue?” I said, patting Brenda on the knee. “Well, this is the same thing.”
Drifting down the South Coast is one thing; contending with Margate is another altogether. This malignant tumour of a town makes holiday sound like a dirty word, and the place is best negotiated with eyes tightly shut. Don’t worry if you hit something. It can only improve the aesthetics.
Port Edward finally hove into view, dirty, dusty and full of Mexicans trying to sneak across the border.
“Those aren’t Mexicans,” said Brenda, winding up her window. “Those are Xhosas.”
Clive started sobbing in the back, begging me to turn back before we were all murdered in our beds. I took the whelp by the jugular and reminded him that we hadn’t even found a bed yet. Besides, I said, now is the time of the Zulu. The Xhosa is done.
The brat began babbling about no-one knowing who was in charge because the legislature kept batting the course of history back and forth as if it were a cheap plastic volleyball, forcing me to slap him sharply upside the head. Rum and guava juice aside, there is nothing worse than a badly mixed metaphor.
“Now is the time to deploy the warriors in a pincer movement and strike while the nomads are weak like chickens!” I shouted, swerving for a goat.
Brenda said we should rather go to the Spar and get something for the braai. Coming from a long line of European vegetable sellers, I nodded meekly and took a sharp left.
Later, we joined up with the elders at a campsite on the banks of the Umtamvuna River which, not too long ago, was under 20m of flood water. Swatting at mosquitoes the size of footballs, I told a passing kid that if he hoped to live long enough to see his 10th birthday, he would surrender the paddle of the resort’s sole canoe and say not a word about it.
I hid out in the reeds drinking beer until Brenda grew tired of waiting and put up the tent on her own.
“Nice timing,” she said as I paddled back, feigning exhaustion. “I was fishing for our supper,” I said.
“Without a rod?”
“I don’t need a rod.”
“Well then, where are the fish?”
I told her that after reaching in and grabbing a giant barbel by the throat, it overpowered me and capsized the canoe, almost drowning both of us in the ensuing struggle. Brenda, Clive, my mother and my father laughed as one, so I put on my hurt face, fetched my bottle of Jose Cuervo and stalked off.
Having punished everyone by depriving them of my company, I headed back at around 3am. It transpired that while I was gone, somebody had changed the layout of the campsite and I was forced to spend the night in a caravan that smelled as if it had been abandoned by a family from the unwashed end of Ventersdorp.
Morning broke to the sound of godless heathens racing up and down on their turbo-charged jet skis. My father suggested stringing a length of fishing line across the river, but nobody was prepared to take it across to the other side. Anyway, we wanted to swim and the severed heads would have attracted every flesh-eating parasite in the area.
More and more big-boned Anglophobic meatheads began arriving in their Toyota Hilux double-deluxe-overhead-cam twin-shaft V12s trailing purple glitter power boats, the sole surviving reminder of a once-glorious era of white domination.
Meanwhile, their big-breasted, bony-arsed wives and genetically challenged spawn scuttled about setting up cheap plastic umbrellas and ferreting in cooler boxes the size of Benoni as if nothing had changed since 1982.
It was time to water the camels and hit the road. Time to forge the great divide and gaze upon the glittering jewel in South Africa’s proud provincial crown.
Indeed. It was time for the Eastern Cape, that magnificent example of what can be accomplished when politicians put aside their petty rivalries and say with pride: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for me and I’ll see what I can do for you.”
I was in Hermanus on Friday night when I stumbled across a rapidly forming mob at the old harbour. Sensing a fight, I began pushing my way to the front.
If you come across an outbreak of hostilities between rival gangs of perlemoen poachers, there is no point in hanging about at the back. You want to be close enough to hear the crack of teeth and the splinter of bone. You want to feel that whipspray of hot blood across your face. You want your words of encouragement to be heard by the combatants.
This was, after all, Good Friday – a day in history that is soaked in violence and steeped in shame.
Not for everyone, of course. The Rosicrucians, for example, treat Good Friday just like any other day of the week. Similarly, the day has little relevance to practicing Gymnosophists. Then again, so does food and clothing. For others, like the Rastafarians, every Friday is good.
Kicking ragged urchins out of my way and elbowing the elderly and infirm aside, I made it to a small clearing down by the water’s edge. In the middle were two burly bearded types wearing sheepskin car seat covers and carrying wooden shepherd’s crooks. They were nodding sagely at one another.
The crowd pressed in. The bearded men nodded some more. I have learnt through bitter experience that in Hermanus anything passes for entertainment, but this was just silly.
“Hit him!” I shouted. The men stopped nodding, glared at me briefly, then went back to their nodding.
“Use your crook!” I shouted, making hitting and thrusting motions.
Just then, a powerful spotlight snapped on. Thinking it was a police helicopter, I grabbed a young girl and, using her as a shield between the sharpshooter and me, I began fighting my way back through the throng.
“You’ll never take me alive!” I yelled.
An ancient person of indeterminate gender kicked me on the shin and told me to shush. I dropped the girl and she scuttled off like a giant crab. Maybe it was a crab that I had picked up. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
I raised my arms in the air and froze. Everyone around me did the same. It was like an extreme game of Simon Says, only this one bore all the signs of turning into a hideous bloodbath.
Then a voice boomed out across the harbour. It was as if God himself were speaking.
“Dawid,” thundered the voice, “kyk daar.”
I dropped my arms. God doesn’t speak Afrikaans, does he? Surely not! But what if the Boers are right? What if they really are God’s chosen people? But then where does that leave the Jews? The sheer heaviness of the moment made my head spin and I had to fall down for a bit.
When I got up, I was enormously pleased to discover that it wasn’t the Almighty at all, but a couple of out-of-work actors huddled on a grassy knoll looking rather more bibulous than biblical.
The spotlight picked them out like a pair of oversized dassies. Alongside them, a bright red laser burnt a star into the side of the cliff.
I looked around. There was no drunken brawl about to break out. No police ambush. My relief was swiftly tempered by the cruel realisation that I had walked slap-bang into the middle of a Passion Play, or, as they called it, ‘n Passiespel.
Ever since I was a little boy, I have only ever known Jesus to speak English. And I have yet to meet three wise men who can speak Afrikaans fluently.
I was shocked to my core. What I needed, far more than redemption, was a stiff drink. I could see the lights of the nearest bar twinkling far above me at the top of the cliff. But there was no way out. The crowd had closed in like pack ice in an Arctic winter. It was as if they knew.
Just then, the spotlight picked out a flock of faux Pharisees. One of them stood up and said: “We must stop this man before people start following him.” I assumed he was talking about Jesus and not me.
Delivered in Afrikaans, the line sounded not so much post-Julius Caesar as it did pre-FW de Klerk.
It was around the time that Jesus was getting his feet washed by that tawdry harlot Mary Magdalene that I started having brutal flashbacks to the army.
I must have passed out because the next thing I remember, a young married couple was helping me to my feet. Their eyes shone and they made little murmuring sounds. I shook them off and began trying once more to break through the throng.
Then the lights went off. I was the only one who screamed. A fat lady wearing a purple tea cosy on her head clenched me to her heaving bosom. I couldn’t tell whether she was under the impression that I was having a religious epiphany or had become possessed by some kind of godless demon, so I had to put my foot down pretty sharply.
The snapping on of a battery of arc lights drowned out the snapping of her tarsal bones.
The crowd swivelled and gasped as one. There, on the far side of the harbour, were three crosses ominously illuminated against the night sky. I, too, might have gasped had I not still been struggling for breath.
The crucifixion was mercifully brief and I began applauding the moment the lights went off. Nobody else clapped, though. They probably knew that wasn’t the end of it.
We had to wait a few minutes for Jesus to get down off the cross and get ready for his resurrection, but by this stage I had given up all hope of ever leaving the harbour.
My Easter weekend went downhill from there.
Like most people in privileged positions, Ted and I have been meeting regularly to discuss ways of capitalising on the global financial meltdown.
Unlike some, such as my good friend Nicky Oppenheimer who lost R7-billion in the credit crunch, neither Ted nor I have lost a cent. I’m not saying I am better with money than Nicky is, but the facts speak for themselves.
What we do is get out the bottle of Dom Perignon from last Christmas, fill it with brandy and coke, toss a few second-hand perlemoen on the braai and see how best we can benefit from the misfortune of others.
Ted said it was a good time to buy low and sell high. I was thinking scrap metal but he had his sights set on something a little more ambitious.
“Britain,” he said, “bought Vodacom for next to nothing.” When I asked him for his definition of next to nothing, he pretended to choke on a piece of perlemoen and rolled around on the floor, eyes bulging comically while brandy leaked from his nose and the dog humped his leg.
This went on for so long that I had to give him the Heimlich Manoeuvre, which involved confiscating his drink and shouting at him in German.
After refilling the Dom Perignon and totalling up our combined worth, it was clear that we would be a tad short when it came to buying a controlling stake in MTN. Or even in the Nigerian cellphone repair shop next to Adult World.
“It is not possible,” said Ted, “that we cannot come up with a single way to make money from all this suffering and misery around us.” I had to agree.
Here God was, destroying the world economy to make it easier for people like us to get rich, and our pathetic pea brains were unable to come up with anything that didn’t immediately require money and a fair amount of effort.
Ted went to his car to fetch the emergency kit to help us think more clearly but returned empty-handed. “The car has gone,” he said. I was horrified. “And the emergency kit?”
Two minutes later he received an SMS from his bank informing him that the car had been repossessed. This was terrible news. “Can we get the emergency kit back?” I asked.
Ted stood up and slapped me with a half-eaten perlemoen. “That’s it!” he shouted. “That’s our get-rich-quick scheme.”
Repo men. Of course. We should have seen it before. The banks are taking everything – cars, houses, furniture, the lot. Some of the more sensible consumers are sacrificing their children rather than give up the flat screen television.
It was dead simple. We get in with the banks – the biggest robbers of all – and make tons of money by stripping families of everything they own.
God came through for us in the end, after all. We tried to say a prayer but couldn’t think of anything so we drank to His health instead.
The beauty of this job is that you don’t need much in the way of equipment. A baseball cap, a black bomber jacket, steel-capped boots and a car with a tow-hitch, all of which I already owned.
We began scanning the news for reports of people in our area who had lost their jobs or had default judgements granted against them. “The worse it gets for them, the better it gets for us,” said Ted. We raised our glasses to God once more.
By the end of the week we had repossessed half a dozen cars and the contents of two houses, an old age home and a crèche. It was exciting work. A lot of fun, too.
Then we called the major banks and asked if any of these people were behind in their payments. In typical intransigent fashion, the banks refused to give out personal information.
“But we have their cars, fridges, defibrillators, children’s toys, bottles of expensive whiskey. Give us our cut and you can collect the stuff,” I shouted. They threatened to report me if I called again.
“Fine,” said Ted. “But until the banks come to their senses, I’m using Malema’s Range Rover.”
I had reservations when Brenda suggested we catch a ferry to Ibiza. Not the kind of reservations that sensible people make when they go on holiday, but more the kind that make you think twice about going to an island renowned for its wild sex and drug-soaked parties.
I was anxious. What if we couldn’t find the parties? Or worse, found the parties but weren’t allowed in because we talked funny and dressed like homeless people?
Brenda resolved my quandary by stepping through the doors of Iscomar’s office in the harbour town of Denia and buying two one-way tickets to this wicked isle of sin. One way? I raised an eyebrow and gave Brenda a quizzical look. She asked if my stomach was playing up again.
The ferry was oddly empty. So was Ibiza. When we landed, a chromium-plated platoon of bikers was waiting at the docks. As we disembarked a police siren cut through the air. Instead of making a run for it, some of the bikers hopped off their Harleys and started grooving to the mad, swooping sound. Then a cop joined in, waving his bullhorn in the air and howling like a dog.
“Yeehaaa!” I shouted, waggling my hips like Britney Spears. Everyone stopped and looked at me. Brenda made the international gesture for mental instability and quickly led me away.
The streets were virtually deserted and everything was shut.
“Maybe these fiesta fiends only get out of bed when the sun goes down,” I said hopefully. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Instead, we had once again run aground in the middle of a public holiday.
This kept happening to us. What were the odds, for heaven’s sake? After all, the country only has 342 public holidays a year.
Wherever we went people were either asleep or drunk in the name of either Jesus or any number of patron saints of flowers, horses, chickens, fish, wine and ham.
We sat down at a pavement café and, surprisingly, got served within five hours. This is the average length of time one spends trying to rouse a waiter in what the Spanish euphemistically call the low season. I think they left the ‘s’ off low.
“I don’t want a tortilla,” I said sulkily. “I want to gobble a fistful of methylenedioxymethamphetamine and dance like John Travolta from dusk to dawn.”
Being the sensitive man that I am, I left out the bit about wanting sweaty, semi-naked Balearic wenches to throw themselves at my feet.
Later, trawling side streets that hadn’t been upgraded since the Phoenicians were here in 654BC, we came across a shop renting out scooters that were last ridden during the Second Punic War.
I chose one that was relatively free of Carthaginian bloodstains and we spluttered off in search of hotbeds of abject hedonism.
Ibiza was bigger than I thought and we both ended up with sore bottoms for all the wrong reasons. Still and all, it’s a scenic enough island and most of the beaches have bars on them, which is more than I can say for our country where metro cops wrestle you to the floor and smash your head in if you open a bottle of wine anywhere outside a designated venue licensed by the state to sell alcoholic beverages.
We had only been there a couple of days when I discovered that the island’s autonomous government had introduced legislation forcing nightclubs to close by 6am. This was outrageous and I insisted we leave before the fascists put us under house arrest.
We fled to Formentera, a far smaller island half an hour’s boat ride away.
A cold front had moved in so we hired a car designed for midgets and set out on a voyage of discovery that took all of 20 minutes.
Formentera makes Craggy Island look like Borneo. I even saw the spitting image of Father Ted pass us on his bicycle.
“This place is deader than a stillborn sheep,” I said over a jug of sangria at a lonely beach bar. Brenda’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped. I thought she was having some sort of chemical reaction to the sangria so I quickly polished it off. “Look behind you,” she gasped.
And there, willy a-flap in the breeze, was the reason people come to Formentera. He was hung like a convicted killer and strolling brazen as you please past the bar.
Quite put me off my tapas, it did.
I dragged Brenda back to the car and we found another beach. This one had naked women on it, which made me feel marginally less appalled.
I took my trunks off and stood there for a bit but the sensation that a police sniper was drawing a bead on the back of my head was too much to bear so I put them on again and went for a swim feeling like an overdressed pervert.
Two days later we arrived in Barcelona. Well, not so much arrived as got sucked along in a raging torrent of cars, trucks and bikes and then spat out at Columbus’s statue at the bottom of the Ramblas.
We parked underground and I took Brenda to see where I had once holed up in the narrow back streets of the Barrio Gottica. I was horrified to see the changes.
“Where are the doe-eyed hookers? The hash dealers? Where are the Moroccan muggers in Nike running shoes?” All gone. Swept away when the city hosted the Olympics, an old man told me.
“It was better under Franco,” I said.