Give me a break

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my father’s health travails. Now it’s my turn. This is what happens when you get older. I’m going to be one of those people who, upon being asked, “How are you?” will pin you down, at gunpoint if necessary, and tell you in explicit detail.

It’s a good thing I’m not given to long, lingering illnesses. Get in, get sick, get out. Truth is, I don’t suffer much from poor health at all. I do, however, suffer from accidents. I have fallen into rivers and off mountains and been hit by everything from cars to bouncers.

This is why I am not terribly surprised to find myself with three fractured ribs. Disappointed, yes. Filled with self-loathing, absolutely. But not surprised.

Chest injuries were furthest from my mind when a friend called last Friday night and suggested I come around for dinner and other experiments. He fancies himself as something of an amateur scientist. You know the type. Has to understand how everything works. Was always blowing up the school laboratory. Except in this case, it wasn’t his school. Also, it was 3am. And he’d just turned 45.

Dinner was an experiment drawing heavily on his dangerously limited knowledge of plants, liquids and animals and how they react under certain conditions. He always insists on full audience participation and usually has his guests sign an indemnity form. He used my form to help start the braai.

The problem with homegrown scientists is that they don’t know when to stop. I had a bad feeling about the final experiment of the evening but he shouted me down. “What can go wrong?” he gibbered. Oh, I don’t know, I could’ve said. One of us might end up with fractured ribs, perhaps?

The body’s hematic system is composed of blood and the vessels that carry it through the body. On Friday night at approximately 11.45pm, our bloodstreams were made up of water, calcium, globulin, gin, glucose, tequila, potassium, beer, sodium and brandy. The introduction of tetrahydrocannibanol into hermatic systems already heavily contaminated with unstable toxicants was going to be a fascinating experiment. No, of course it wasn’t. It was an appalling idea from the start.

I don’t know at what point during my departure I decided to dispense with the stairs and simply glide effortlessly to my car. Author Douglas Adams said, “The knack of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” I clearly have a lot of learning to do.

I woke up in the morning paralysed with pain and waited to die. That didn’t happen. By Sunday I was starting to get hungry. Since the hospital was next to the shops, it made sense to stop off there first. I didn’t want to spend a fortune at Woolworths only to be told there’s a good chance I’d expire before the beef lasagne.

Sunday is a bad day to seek medical attention. Or anything, really. Everyone has the Sunday Fear and nobody is interested in your problems. I staggered into casualty clutching my chest and moaning with every step. This, in the eyes of the interested observer, would appear to be a man in cardiac arrest. In the absence of interested observers, I was given a form to fill in and told to take a seat.

There was a lot of pain below the ribs, which worried me more than the actual chest pain. Ribs are ridiculous bones. They can make a hell of a fuss but if you ignore them they pull themselves together sooner or later. There’s a reason God made women from a rib. I was more concerned about my liver. My best drinking days were still ahead of me and I couldn’t have a second large, meaty organ falling into disuse.

I weed in a cup, had blood taken for a liver function test and got X-rays done. The doctor said I had a fracture on the 12th rib, promised to call me in an hour when the results were back and sprinted for her Mercedes.

The following day another doctor looked at the X-rays and said there were fractures on the 3rd and 4th ribs, too. Also on my clavicle. “Is this sore?” she said, whacking me on the clavicle. Now it is. I had to wee in another cup. Presumably one of the night staff mistook the first one for an energy drink. Then it was off to radiology for an ultrasound. With my shirt off, I appeared to be in my third trimester. I joked about my baby while the radiologist smeared jelly on my belly but he wasn’t in the mood.

“I can’t see your pancreas,” he said. I told him that it had to be in there somewhere and encouraged him to keep looking. I said drinks were on me if he found it. Then he called my liver Fatty. I gave him the lazy eye. “You’re no supermodel yourself,” I said. After a bit more prodding and poking he gave up in disgust, tossed a paper towel onto my chest and walked out. I felt so used.

Now I have sacks of anti-inflammatories and painkillers, one of which works by “effectively tricking the brain into thinking that endorphins have been released”. Worth a shot. After all, I got into this mess after taking a herbal remedy that effectively tricked my brain into thinking I can fly.

Luckily I’m on Discovery Health’s hospital plan and have been for nearly 20 years. In all that time, I’ve claimed once. They owe me, big time.

Oh, wait. They’re refusing to pay for this latest treatment, presumably because I wasn’t flown in by air ambulance with at least two severed limbs and a brain tumour.



Guam – some helpful holiday hints

The Pacific island paradise of Guam is lovely at this time of year. Here are a few things you can do to help make your holiday a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For starters, don’t worry that you won’t know if the bomb has dropped. You are unlikely to mistake it for a car backfiring in the street. It will be louder than that. Once you have heard the blast, resist the urge to rush outside and see what happened. You need to wait for the radiation to blow away. Refrain from sexual activity. This is not a good time for a woman to conceive. Unless, of course, you can afford to have another three mouths to feed. And you don’t mind that they’re all on the same baby.

If the bomb drops before you can reach an underground shelter, quickly put on a floppy hat and a pair of decent sunglasses. The flash is very bright and could damage your eyesight. The flash is also very hot and can leave you with a nasty burn if you’re not careful. If this happens, smear a little butter on it right away.

The detonation of a 300-kiloton nuclear device releases 300 trillion calories within a millionth of a second. If you are in the habit of watching calories, you will need to have your wits about you. Get behind a wall or down on the floor and make yourself as small as possible. You really can’t afford to pile on more calories.

The energy of the blast will also create a giant fireball. This wouldn’t be so bad if the bomb had to drop on Cape Town in winter, but if you live in Durban and it was mid-summer, the additional heat would be unbearable and fewer people than usual would pitch up for work.

Waves of thermal energy will ignite fires across the city. If you are having trouble lighting a braai, you will welcome the extra help. Very hot high-speed gales will also spring up, so postpone kite surfing or paragliding if a nuclear attack is expected.

If you have any old furniture you’ve been meaning to strip down, leave it in the garden. The blast wave will remove the paint nicely.

Once the blast wave has passed, have a shower to wash off any lingering radiation and put the kettle on for a nice cup of tea. But be quick because the rising fireball will create a suction effect and a lot of stuff will start heading back towards ground zero. If you see cars, trees, animals and so on flying past your window, hold on to something until the winds die down.

There will be a lot of dust and other stuff in the air, so if you suffer from hay fever you may want to take an antihistamine. The streets will be quite warm from all that hot air passing over them and it’s best to put on a sturdy pair of shoes before venturing out. Things may look a little different and it’s important that you remain positive.

Take the opportunity to relax and enjoy the quiet.

South BeachDurban. Photograph Graeme Williams
South Beach Durban. Photograph Graeme Williams

Tuesday’s Great Confidence Trick

Dear Honourable and Dishonourable ANC Members of Parliament,

So, a big day for you on Tuesday. You get to tell the nation that you have confidence in Jacob Zuma as our president. At the same time, you’re also allowed to express your real feelings. That’s the beauty of democracy.

So I hope you’re all feeling strong and healthy and ready to do your bit for the motherland. It would be a terrible shame if some of you – 51 should do it – fell violently ill on Monday and called in sick on the day of the vote, thereby allowing the opposition to unseat the greatest leader the world has ever seen.

Nobody in their right mind would vote against a president who is one hundred percent committed to destroying the country, presumably so that it may be rebuilt stronger than ever. But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s get the destroying part done first. Our leader is under enough pressure as it is without his representatives in the legislature joining the counterrevolutionary proletariat in their irrational demands. There is a natural order to these things. Visions aren’t accomplished in a day.

Many of you have worked long and hard to help President Zuma succeed with Project Destroy. This is to your eternal credit and you will be richly rewarded, on top of the rewards you have already received. This is a project that never runs out of rewards. It’s like having timeshare in the Treasury.

This is your turn to eat. Unless, of course, you’re one of those MPs who weigh more than 150kg. In which case it’s your turn to buy a new car. Hell, buy two. Three. Spoil yourself. You’ve earned it. You have shown remarkable loyalty to a leader who works so selflessly and tirelessly to take money away from taxpayers to save them from themselves. Taxpayers drink and smoke and take drugs. They have casual sex and park on yellow lines. They gamble on the horses and in the casinos. They cannot be trusted with money. This is why our noble president must do what he does. Take their money and put in safekeeping. Not here, obviously. Large sums of money are best kept outside South Africa. Fortunately, the United Arab Emirates has made special provisions in this regard.

A vote of no confidence in the president would be a vote of no confidence in his humanitarian project. What kind self-respecting nationalist would do such a thing? American President Donald Trump has a similar plan, but he lacks our benevolent commander-in-chief’s intellect and ambition. Trump only wants to repeal Obamacare. Zuma wants to repeal the entire economy. I like a man who dreams big.

A massive 33% of voters approve of Trump’s performance in office. With the exception of one or two renegades who have clearly gone insane, every one of you slumped on an ANC bench approves of our noble president’s dream of uplifting the poor, even if it is only an impoverished family of humble Indian immigrants squatting in a shebeen in Saxonwold. Small steps.

Members of parliament who don’t have a blesser for a leader will vote against the president on Tuesday. This unpatriotic behaviour must be condemned. And when I say condemned, I mean they must be taken outside and shot. It’s the only language liberals and democrats understand.

At the time of writing this, Speaker Baleka Mbete was still trying to decide whether she should allow a secret ballot. I think voting should be open. Secrets are for governments with something to hide. Ours is a firm believer in transparency, even going so far as to loot and pillage in broad daylight right under our noses. We, the people, appreciate that kind of openness.

It’s only been 45 days since the Constitutional Court ruled that Mbete had the power to make the ballot a secret one. These things are not to be rushed. I once took a year to decide whether I should give my second marriage a third shot. The answer, of course, doesn’t lie in the decision ipso facto. It lies in the consequences.

Speaking of lies, ANC secretary-general Greedy Mantashe has made it clear that none of you is allowed to vote according to your conscience. And rightly so. Your membership fee entitles you to a T-shirt, a cap and unlimited access to the party’s free website. Also, if you know the right people, wealth beyond your wildest imaginings. It does not entitle you to a conscience. You are lawmakers and the business of making laws would be severely compromised if you had to start differentiating between right and wrong. That nonsense is the exclusive preserve of bong-puffing philosophers, kiddie fiddler priests and judges of the high court who spend more time on Tinder than on writing up judgements.

Mantashe emphasised that the ANC is not a party of free agents. It is a party of captured agents. And also travel agents, because you guys are always somewhere else. The DA is a party of bloody agents. The EFF is a party of secret agents. The Freedom Front Plus is a party of estate agents (willing buyer, willing seller or death). And so on.

By the way, have you heard about this new coalition called FutureSA? Members include – Sipho Pityana, Sydney Mufamadi, Kumi Naidoo, Terence Nombembe, Zac Yakoob and Bruce Fordyce – now apparently running against the comrades. Heavy hitters, but not as heavy as you. They get to bring Cape Town to a standstill on Tuesday, but if you vote as I expect you will, the entire country will eventually grind to a standstill. That’s what I call real power. And, as they say in Cuba, with real power comes real money.

Our angelic president has survived at least six votes of no confidence. This makes him a winner in anyone’s book. Don’t spoil his unblemished record. He will still lead us to the promised land. Maybe keep some money aside for a visa. Dubai charges R1 370 for 30 days. And, remember, no singing, dancing, drinking, swearing, gayness or public displays of affection. It’s not that kind of promised land.


Cut me loose, mongoose

The parking reserved for doctors was jammed with sparkly Mercs, BMWs and Audis. There was also a Toyota Corolla. Probably belonged to one of them Cuban doctors who come over here and take all our jobs. And our women. Bloody Cubans.

I had to park a fair distance from the entrance. Hospitals are designed that way deliberately. The longer your walk, the more exercise you get. And they don’t even charge you for it. The medical profession is full of good and kind people with nothing but your best interests at heart.

Speaking of which, mine was pounding savagely by the time I reached the sliding doors. Not from the 50m walk, as you might expect, but out of frustration from waiting for my 78-year-old father to catch up.

When we got out of the car, he kept dropping his walking stick. “What’s happening,” I said. “You got dropsy?” He gave me the lazy eye. “Actually, yes,” he said. Turns out that dropsy is the old-time name for oedema, an accumulation of fluid in the tissue. In his case, the legs. I like to think I laughed out of nervous tension and not because there’s something wrong with me.

The bottoms of his jeans are constantly damp. He drinks a glass of water and it comes out of his calves. That’s pretty hilarious when you think about it. But it gets better. His legs only leak because mongooses keep scratching him. For the last couple of years, a Durban North posse has been coming around for two meals a day. They get fish, peanuts, bananas and home-baked bread. They eat better than I do.


They don’t sit on the veranda table waiting politely to be fed, like the monkeys do, but stampede into the house – up to thirty at a time – looking for my father. In the kitchen, they gather around his feet squeaking and squabbling like a furry invasion force armed with tiny teeth and insatiable appetites. If he goes to sit down, they swarm all over him. Anyone’s legs would leak if they were set upon by rampaging hordes of carnivorous mammals using their claws as crampons.

I have never wanted to be a doctor. Sick people get on my nerves. I want to slap them and tell them it’s all in their head. This only really works for mental patients, though. Obviously I’m excluding myself, here. When I’m sick, I expect teams of attractive brow-moppers and solicitous murmurers working in shifts to attend to me. This is unlikely to happen and I have consequently given my body strict instructions to not fall seriously ill until I have found someone who is prepared to love me in sickness and in health without insisting on invoking the vows that inevitably sabotage the chances of it ever happening.

“Hurry up, you old bastard,” I said, as my father shuffled towards the entrance. He smiled through his beard. It might have been gas. “Old bastard” was a term of endearment used by my mother who died nearly five years ago. They were married for 55 years. I doubt she meant it as a term of endearment.

The day before, he had an appointment with the anaesthetist – or what might have been the anaesthetist’s assistant. Her report, emailed to my father later that day and copied to the relevant doctors, described him as “a pleasant gentleman, emaciated and unkempt”.

My mother would’ve disagreed with the pleasant part and I disagreed with the emaciated bit, but I was baffled by the unkempt remark. I thought he looked pretty smart, even if he did smell faintly of monkey poo. Was there perhaps something in the medical handbooks that dealt with matters of a sartorial nature?

Of course he looked dishevelled. An hour earlier, he’d been covered in mongooses. Sure, he cuts his own hair and hasn’t brushed it in 25 years, but Einstein’s hair was also a hot mess.

The old bastard has been a structural engineer for nearly half a century. He has built bridges, buildings and hospitals across KwaZulu-Natal. He can quote Shakespeare, understands the ancient Greeks and knows his way around thermals when strapped into a glider. Unkempt, my ass.

So through the sliding doors we went. He mumbled something about crossing the threshold from free will to destiny but I was having none of that nonsense and told him to pick up the pace. We had to get to the cafeteria before it filled up with people coming to visit the doomed. He’s a vegetarian and the menu was limited. I told him to start eating meat because time was against us. Well, not so much me. Although we never can be sure. But if I was going to have a heart attack, I couldn’t have chosen a better spot to have it in.

My sister was with us. She’s done a lot to keep him company and look after him, but then she knocked over her cappuccino and instantly we were back to nine years old, shouting at each other and interrupting my father who was telling us how he had calculated the cost of the operation against his projected time left to live and had wrestled with the decision to … we didn’t understand what he was talking about. Neither of us inherited his maths brain, my feet were soaked in coffee and my sister had somehow found a way to blame me for the spillage.

Then he was called to give blood, and by blood I mean money. For the next half an hour, he filled out forms and handed over his credit card. The cost of the hospital stay alone was horrendous. But not as horrendous as his decision, a few months earlier, to cancel his medical aid because they had increased the premium by what he deemed an unacceptable amount. My father doesn’t like to feel ripped off. It’s one of the reasons he interacts only with monkeys and mongooses.

Off to the surgical ward, then. Five beds to a room. It was like a backpackers for sick people. Truth is, only sick people would charge those prices in the first place. How about we treat the greed disease first? Oh, look. I’ve just stumbled upon the cure for the world. And moving on.

A woman arrived, wheeling something that looked like hand luggage. She assembled it and began probing his heart beat with some kind of wand. It was like an ultrasound. Nobody should have to see and hear their father’s heart beating on a screen. Or even see their father with his shirt off. It was all deeply unnatural and I had to turn away. I used those precious few moments to check if anyone in the hospital was on Tinder. They weren’t.

I wonder what the surgeons are thinking tonight. There will be two of them. One is removing a kidney, one will be doing something unspeakable with the intestines. I have no idea if they’ll be doing it simultaneously or taking turns to stab and slice. At the cafeteria, I thought of offering one of my kidneys. When the bill arrived, I took care of it. Dad was so grateful that I decided not to mention the kidney.

I’d be very worried if I were a surgeon with someone’s life in my hands tomorrow. I doubt I’d be able to sleep. I would toss and turn and eventually pass out just before dawn and then a hadeda would wake me up and I’d get to the hospital still a bit drunk and embarrass myself by accidentally lopping off a perfectly healthy lung. It happens.

The old curmudgeon fed and watered me for eighteen years and bailed me out more than once, in every sense. I hope he wakes up.


Home, James, and don’t spare the wotsits

Thirty hours and three flights later, I’m back from Bali. It was 29 degrees when I left Denpasar Airport wearing what I’d worn for a month – baggies, t-shirt and slops. It was four degrees the morning I landed in Johannesburg. In between, I had spent 12 hours in Singapore’s Changi Airport, which was like being in a mall the size of a small hyper-elitist city – a city where it’s easier to find a diamond tiara than a beer.

Dozens of high-end shops, scattered among fern-fringed lakes filled with gold-plated koi bigger than bull sharks, were offering permanent buy-two-get-one-free specials. Since my bag was already full, I could only buy stuff that I could carry in my tummy. After walking for days, I came across an Irish pub in which no proper Irishman would ever set foot. I told the waitress, an Indian woman, that I was extremely interested in their three-for-the-price-of-two specials and ordered a Tiger draught. The menu said it was 19 Singapore wotsits. Idly, I googled the exchange rate. The lager I was quaffing with such cavalier disregard was costing me R180. I choked, beer spurting from my nose. I quickly put my head down, licked it off the table and called for the bill.

The waitress brought it over. I was being charged 38 wotsits, seemingly on the assumption that I was emotionally invested in the special. Apparently in Singapore a man’s word is his bond. Not in South Africa, mate. I told the waitress in no uncertain terms that all deals were off. She pointed at the bill and wobbled her head. Durban Indians don’t do that head wobbling thing, but I understand it can mean a lot of things. For me, it meant I had to get out of there as quickly as possible. You don’t get to be the third richest country in the world by allowing feral foreigners to renege on verbal agreements. Wobbling a lot more than my head, I left 20 wotsits on the table and fled.

You know how crazy people say that when you die your soul goes somewhere to be judged and then you’re sent off to heaven or hell? Airports are like that place. Nobody is inside an airport because they want to be there. You’re only there so you can be somewhere else. Free will ends where the travelator begins. Once you’ve shown your boarding pass to the human equivalent of Cerberus and passed through the gates of aviation hell, there’s only one way out. You bought the ticket, you take the ride. There’s very little difference between being trapped in purgatory and trapped in transit.

Crushed together in a confined space with restricted freedom of movement and knowing we will never see each other again, we descend to the level of ravening beasts. Common decency and social graces quickly fall away. Filthy hands are deployed to stuff toxic airport food into snarling mouths. The strong elbow the weak aside in stampedes for the toilet. The fat and the furious sprawl selfishly across seats. With every fresh opportunity for free wifi, happy loving couples set about ignoring one another with grim determination for hours at a time.

And beneath it all, bubbling like a terrible boil constantly threatening to break the surface, we are all aware that in a very short space of time we could be hanging upside down in our seat with seconds left to live. That’s why I always ask for an emergency exit. If I’m going to die, I want to be able to put my seat back and stretch my legs out.

Airports also do something truly dreadful to children. Upon realising that their parents are slack-jawed and speechless with indifference, the sugared-up urchins waste no time mutating into ungovernable savages. It’s Lord of the Flyers wherever you look.

There was one in particular I had my eye on. It was shrieking in that incomprehensible tongue only toddlers can understand and appeared to be under the impression that it could run through solid objects. The yammering gibberish was interspersed with yowling and yelping and nobody but me seemed to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Some poor bastard is going to be sitting next to that, I thought. Yep. I was that poor bastard. Well, it was across the aisle from me, but still close enough to put me at risk of cardiac arrest or a homicide charge.

The insufferable troglodyte wept and wailed for ten minutes before we had even taken off. Then I heard a woman behind me say, “For God’s sake, stick something in its mouth!” I mentioned drugs but the mother’s attention was already locked on to the interloper in 45C. A strange woman telling a mother what to do with her child? That’s a declaration of war. There was a sudden outbreak of “don’t push my buttons, lady” and “last time I checked, you didn’t own the plane” and “you’re messing with the wrong lady, lady”.

I imagined that very soon a fight would break out and everyone on the plane would kill each other. The only survivors would be me and the brat, and I’d have to adopt it. The mother grabbed the mewling whelp from its bumbling father and stuck a nipple in its mouth. In an instant, the enfant terrible passed out. I wouldn’t have minded a hit of that myself.

As it was I had nothing to drink. I hadn’t even been able to successfully sneak a bottle of water onto the plane. How the hell did the Guptas manage to smuggle R40-billion out of the country without anyone but the president, the intelligence services and half the cabinet knowing about it?

The staff I encountered at OR Tambo International were friendly and cheerful. “Welcome home, sir,” said the immigration official, stamping my passport with a big smile. “Go right through,” said the customs guy, giving me a slap on the back. Ha ha. Yeah, right. Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Bali any more. I’m going to have to get used to being in the land of the surly and home of the sullen all over again.

On my 8am connecting flight to Durban, everyone was dressed for business meetings. I was dressed for the beach, hadn’t slept in 24 hours or shaved in two weeks. Nobody made eye contact with me. I asked for a Bloody Mary but was told that this was breakfast time. I pointed out that it was lunchtime in my brain – obviously referring to the fact that my brain was still running on Indonesian time – but she wasn’t to know this and simply thought there was something wrong with me. Which there is, but it’s not what she thinks it is.

Skimming the papers during the flight, I knew I was well and truly home when I read this, “Professor Zulu told the (Moerane) commission that if politicians, especially at councillor level, had to be qualified to take up their posts, murdering for positions would be greatly eliminated.”


The naming of cities is a difficult matter; it isn’t just one of your holiday games

There are evenings in which I toy with the idea of going into politics. Of forming my own party. Running for president. Declaring a three-day working week, introducing free-roaming lions to the suburbs, providing rum for the homeless. That sort of thing. How hard can it be? An idiot with a bucket on his head won 249 votes in the last British general election. Lord Buckethead represents the Gremloids, a party that might or might not exist. One of his manifesto promises was to legalise the hunting of fox hunters. For that alone, he has my vote. Well, he would have if I lived in England, which I don’t ever want to do under any circumstances.

I like titles. I think they’re important in a time when most men don’t even deserve to be called Mister, which is barely one place above Hey You on the list of honorifics. My first wife’s maiden name was Lister. She never took my surname when we married, although she was quite happy to take my dignity and masculinity. People meeting me for the first time would call me Mister Lister. She seemed to enjoy this. Me, less so.

Now look. I’ve had to open a bottle of vodka. It’s the only adult beverage recommended by psychologists for use in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

So what title would I choose should I get a call from President Gupta tomorrow morning? First prize would be minister of defence. I would institute weekly raves at every army base because dancing is the only way to get properly fit. Also, Zimbabwe would be ours by the weekend.

Second prize would be minister of arts and culture. It’s a portfolio that lends itself to flights of fancy. One imagines the position to only ever be occupied by warrior poets capable of flooring their dull-witted opponents with jagged rhyming couplets and then, as the gormless enemy reach for their thesauri, executing a bloodless coup de grace with a flawless quatrain coated in ironic iambic pentameter.

We are truly blessed to have such a man in Nathi Mthethwa. Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness – and the arts and culture portfolio – thrust upon them. After extinguishing himself as minister of police, he was handed what Macbeth described as a poisoned chalice. And while Macbeth went on to murder his cousin King Duncan and take the throne, there is little chance of Mthethwa doing the same. Not without the approval of the ANC branches, anyway.

While Macbeth is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, South Africa is a tragedy by Jacob Zuma. Shakespeare’s play dramatises the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake. Ah, yes, those were the days. Zuma’s power play has money as its sole incentive. Fair play to him. Or unfair, if not unethical, immoral and utterly illegal.

Anyway. Let us dispense with the hors d’oeuvres and crack on to the main course. A week ago, Mthethwa said he wanted a discussion within the ANC on finding an appropriate name for South Africa. Quite frankly, I think the discussion on finding an appropriate president for South Africa is more important. But he does have a point. Swapo never recognised the name South West Africa as anything more than a geographical location. Let us not even speak of Deutsch-Südwestafrika. At independence, the comrades changed the country’s name to Namibia. This was met with a fair amount of hissing and spitting among the obdurate right, both German and Afrikaner. Even Margaret Thatcher sniffily delivered an elegant expectoration into the Downing Street spittoon.

At first I was confused. It seemed to me that the minister was straying way beyond his remit. You wouldn’t expect the health minister to weigh in on the snoek quota, so why would the arts and culture minister start jabbering about changing the name of the country? Because, shockingly, he can. Apart from underfunding arts and misinterpreting culture, his department is also entitled to change the names of towns, streets and, apparently, the country.

Giving an example of the wrong naming of places, Mthethwa said, “Benjamin D’Urban named our place, eThekwini, after himself and called it Durban.” I don’t get paid enough to do research but I had to check this out. Sir Benjamin was born in Suffolk and died in Canada. He was awarded the Order of the Bath, which is ironic considering that most British people avoid bathing like the plague. That’s probably what started the plague.

By all accounts, he was an ass-creeping suck-up. This is how Wikipedia tells it. “He served in all the principle sieges and battles and never asked to go on leave.” Imagine being stuck in a pub with him. He spent some time in Cape Town where he upset the Dutch so much that they went on the Great Trek, which, if you read about it, wasn’t all that great. If it was, someone would’ve made a movie about it by now.

Then he upset the Xhosa, as we all do when we drive through the Transkei, and arrived in Durban which, in 1834, obviously wasn’t called Durban and almost certainly wasn’t called eThekwini. King Shaka, who went on to achieve immortality as an airport, put up with this nonsense for a while. He cut the whiteys some slack because they were of use to him. Not much has changed in that respect. Then the Voortrekkers pulled in and ruined everything by building ugly holiday homes on the coast and getting vrot on brandy and coke. Dingane showed Piet Retief what he thought of their idea of a Boer Republic this close to the beach and, with the help of the British, sent the Boers off to the Free State and Transvaal where many of them are still found today. A few come back to Durban every December but they don’t stay for long. A lot of them now live in Perth.

Comrade Nathi also wants a name change for Empangeni. “The area used to be called Embangweni Wombuso wakwa Mthethwa (infighting over the chiefdom of Mthethwa clans).” He’s absolutely right. We should also resurrect the infighting to make it even more authentic. Maybe charge an entrance fee. The British and Boers will have to pay a bit more, obviously. Reparations, like.

At the same “cadres meeting” in Molweni township outside Durban, the honourable minister accused Absa and FNB of racist donatery in the Knysna disaster. The banks’ donations of R10-million each, he said, would only benefit “rich white victims of the fire”. Saying the banks’ “selective response” justified President Zuma’s opposition to white monopoly capital, forgetting to explain to the cadres that white monopoly capital is a Machiavellian invention of a London-based public relations firm contracted by Zuma’s Indian blessers to draw attention away from allegations of state capture. And that the firm, Bell Pottinger, is owned exclusively by rich white people. Details, mere details.

Perhaps unwittingly giving credence to the theory that shape-shifting reptilians control Earth, our deeply sensitive minister of arts and culture asked, “Why chase a lizard when there are crocodiles?”

In our Rename South Africa competition, send suggestions on a postcard to President Jacob “Iguana” Zuma, Union Buildings, Private Bag X1000, Pretoria, 0001. The winner gets a free weekend in Dubai and the cabinet position of their choice.

Long haul to Bali

If you have to go to Bali at short notice but lack access to a high-powered boat fitted with supplementary vodka tanks, supersonic stabilisers and three depraved Scandinavian contortionists, you should probably fly Singapore Airlines. My contortionists were in for repairs so I decided to fly.

OR Tambo International Airport is nothing like the man. For a start, it lacks his outward sense of calm and order. Ironic, though, to name an airport after a man whose lexicon included regular use of a word that may not, under pain of imprisonment, be uttered in an airport. For the slow-witted, I’m talking about the word bomb.

I suppose I could’ve flown South African Airways. It would have been the patriotic thing to do. Then again, not allowing an immigrant family from Uttar Pradesh to ransack our state owned enterprises and loot the treasury would also have been the patriotic thing to do. Flying SAA is about as patriotic as giving Jacob Zuma a third term.

Singapore Airlines is everything that SAA isn’t. It runs on time, gives people free drinks and, unlike the rand, hardly ever crashes. The ten hour flight to Singapore was a pleasure. The pilot wasn’t even a little bit drunk. I have experienced more turbulence in hotel rooms. And their meals make SAA look like a soup kitchen for homeless war criminals.

Singapore is one of the many airlines that don’t fly from King Shaka International Airport. Hadedas barely fly from King Shaka. Most of them depart from the tree outside my bedroom window at 5.30am. Hadedas have the worst air traffic control in the world, shouting at each other whenever they take off or land. Or even just sit there.

To get to Singapore Airlines I had to fly from Durban to Joburg. I managed to get myself an emergency exit seat by weeping openly at the check-in counter while standing on my tip-toes, which brought my height to around three metres. I need extra leg room like sharks need to keep moving.

The cabin attendant pretended to give me instructions on what to do in the event of what she coyly described as a forced landing and I pretended to listen. We both knew that in the history of aviation, nobody in my position had ever swung that lever up, kicked the door open and helped his fellow passengers onto the wing.

The attendant then told me, with a straight face, that in the event of a water landing I should swim to the front of the plane where I’d find the life vests. So there was a chance we’d come down in the Umgeni River, then. Or maybe Zoo Lake? It was like a triathlon. Fly, swim, crawl to hospital.

Waiters in an airport bar took me hostage and only released me when they heard my name being called. Weaving off to the gate severely handicapped by a belly distended with beer, I made it just in time.

“Where were you, sir. We’ve been calling you,” said a gatekeeper with the face of a rejected kidney.

“I thought that was the voice of God,” I said.

This conversation might have taken place in my head. Living alone as I do, a fierce amount of conversations take place in my head.

It wasn’t long before I was on nodding terms with the onboard medication. But there comes a time on any long-haul flight when the airline treats its passengers as one would a bunch of parrots. They’ve barely fed and watered you when the blinds come down and the lights go off. It’s the equivalent of putting a blanket over a cage.

“More gin and tonic, air slave!”

“Sir, now is sleepy time, not drinky time.”

“What? This is an outrage! Drinky time has barely begun and you expect …”

“Sir, it is 2am in Singapore. Not drinky time at all.”

“Rubbish. It’s 6pm and it’s still light outside. Look.” I went to raise the plastic shutter thing.

“Mr Parrot, do not touch the fittings or we will have you shot.”

Singapore, you will remember, is the country that destroyed Helen Zille’s career. I shudder to think what their airline is capable of doing. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that Singapore is a country at all. I think it’s just a giant airport with travelators instead of roads, planes instead of trains and sliding glass doors instead of borders. I’ve visited smaller countries than Changi Airport, which appears to have a GDP considerably higher than most African states. Another reason I don’t think Singapore is a real country is their idea of what constitutes crime.

A teaser emblazoned on the front page of last week’s Singapore Sunday Times screamed, “The ugly side of bike sharing!” I assumed “bike sharing” was a polite euphemism for one or other less than salubrious activity. Human trafficking, perhaps. My brain salivating at the idea of receiving a dose of fresh filth, I flipped the paper open. The page two lead story was headlined, “LTA moves against badly parked bikes.” Ramming home the full horror, four photographs showed bicycles parked willy-nilly, some obstructing doorways, others partially blocking a staircase. A few have already been impounded. It was too terrible. I had to bite down hard on my knuckles so as not to cry out at the inhumanity of it all. But, despite the brutally indiscriminate parking of bicycles, Singapore will rebuild. Je suis Singapore.

To reach my connecting flight to Bali, I had to cross several topographical zones within the Singaporean People’s Republic of Changi. Across the temperate highlands of Duty Free through the megalopolis of pharmacies to the glittering cornucopia of Gucci, I soldiered bravely on. Rebel controlled roadblocks slowed my progress but, after handing over bottles of water, I was allowed to continue on my way.

I spent the flight with my knees around my ears, eating with T-Rex arms and shooting death stares at parents who think it’s somehow acceptable for their children to carry on like malfunctioning air raid sirens.

Black-gloved gunmen were waiting for me at Denpasar Airport. Were they to release me into the wilds of Bali with my bottle of rum and my bottle of gin, I would quite clearly be unable to resist the urge to violently overthrow the Indonesian government. They gave me a choice.

“Rum or gin,” said a beautiful combatant with sloe eyes and a quick draw. It was a vicious and cruel choice to have to make.

“Eat prey, love,” I muttered, handing over the gin before walking out into a thick soup of tropical humidity, Australian accents and seven billion motorbikes.