Tag: Durban

Swallowing is good for you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you mad? Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a. Jan van Riebeeck in 1652.

b. Cecil John Rhodes in 1890.

c. Patricia de Lille in 2013.

It wasn’t Jan or Cecil.

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

Barricades

Advertisements

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.

mongo2

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.

mongo

To not swallow or split

Last Wednesday was International Migratory Bird Day and I speak for the indigenous avian community when I say we’re happy to see the back of those annoying ingrates. I have never seen such arrogance and entitlement. Disrespecting international borders, they come over here every summer, exploit our good weather and do absolutely nothing to uplift the local economy.

I’m sorry, but it’s just not good enough to fly in on a balmy October morning and start shouting about your brilliant sense of direction when some of us struggle to find our way out of shopping malls. We won’t even speak of the flitting about hither and yon in the hope that someone will catch a glimpse of your florid undercarriage and cry out in delight.

Who do they think they are? They come from dinosaurs, for god’s sake. They’re pterodactyls. Sure, they have a better attitude, but only because they know that if they started snatching our children, we wouldn’t hesitate to make them extinct. Like we did with the pterodactyls.

Then, at the first sign of a chill in the air, they close their nests and bugger off to somewhere warmer without so much as a thank you. I spent the entire summer throwing my bread and spilling my seed into the garden and making sure the little bastards had water to bath their filthy lice-infested bodies.

Living alone as I do, they were the only friends I had. I was learning their language. Do you think they ever bothered to learn mine? Of course not. They are like the British who spend hundreds of winters on the Costa del Sol and still the only Spanish they know is, “Una mas cerveza and a steak, egg and chips, pronto Tonto.”

I’m not asking for a debate on Rabelaisian architecture – quite frankly I’m not sure Rabel was an architect at all – but a simple good morning would have been nice. There was one bird who appeared on the telephone wire at sunset who had a lot to say. He’s gone, now. Probably to the Canary Islands, where, if there’s any justice in this world, he won’t be allowed in because he’s not a canary. I suppose there’s a chance he is a local and can’t afford to migrate, in which case his sudden disappearance is quite likely linked to the neighbour’s cat.

I prefer to think that he was concerned about my well-being and was advising me to leave post haste because winter was drawing dangerously near.

“But where should I go?” I shouted into the twilight.

“Durban,” he tweeted. It’s true. He has a Twitter account. All birds do. They’ve just learnt not to follow anyone after that nasty business with Alfred Hitchcock when nobody got paid even though they totally carried the movie.

My feathered friend had been with me for most of the summer, arriving at dusk every day to see that I was okay. Or, more likely, to gloat. If I could fly I would so gloat at creatures that can’t fly.

He saw my living conditions, there in my shack in the milkwoods of Kommetjie, and must have known I couldn’t afford to migrate to the warmer breeding grounds in the north. He wasn’t even sure I was capable of breeding at all. Nor am I, quite frankly.

I had already been thinking about migrating to Durban for the winter, so please don’t assume that I take my instructions from birds. That would be mad. Unless, of course, it’s crows. You’d be a reckless fool to ignore advice dispensed by crows.

And so it was that on International Migratory Bird Day I fled my shack ahead of looming frontal attacks by wild arctic storms and clawless otters crazed from the cold. I snuck through the crippled milkwoods under cover of darkness and folded myself into the Subaru, hitting the road at 6.15am, the earliest recorded motorised departure in human history.

Apparently it wasn’t. Apparently there are other people on the road at this godless hour. Not one or two, either. Hundreds. Thousands. The entire M3 was backed up for 30kms. It was still night. I wasn’t even able to make out the occupants of the other cars. They could have been flightless birds – ostriches behind the wheel with hysterical penguins gibbering in the back seat – all desperate to migrate to Durban. Boots stuffed with illegal emus and cassowaries who came over by boat but lost their money gambling and can’t get back to Australia or wherever the hell they come from.

What a terrible world this is becoming. I want you here by 8am. But sir, the taxis are on strike, the buses aren’t running, the trains are burning, the roads are jammed, the robots are out, a stoned dodo drove into me … I don’t care. 8am or you’re fired.

We need another industrial revolution but with a lot less emphasis on the industrial. The original idea was eight hours work, eight hours play and eight hours sleep. Heavy traffic, exploitative bosses, watered down tequila and barking dogs have screwed with this formula.

Anyway. I don’t care. I’m in a bar in Jeffreys Bay drinking gallons of The Bird lager. It’s made by a mob of east coast reprobates at Poison City Brewing. I see it as part of the essential refuelling process, much like what the red-faced warblers do when they stop off in Morocco for a hit on the hash pipe before shacking up with those cute Portuguese birds on the Algarve.

Besides, one doesn’t simply spend summer in Cape Town and return to Durban in winter without stopping off in Jeffreys Bay to acclimatise. By acclimatise, I obviously mean surf and drink and gird one’s loins for the hell run through the Transkei. I can’t call it the Eastern Cape because it doesn’t behave like a normal province. There’s no corruption because the entire budget is stolen within minutes of being allocated. The traffic cops are trained in new and unusual methods of soliciting bribes – “Sorry sir. On this section of road, you are forbidden from wearing seat belts”. Dogs run into the street hoping to be put out of their misery.

Look, the notion of spending summers in Cape Town and winters in Durban appeals to me on a deep and primal level. Just don’t call me a swallow. Swallows are people who have a home in London and another in Hermanus. Swallows are wealthy and generally retired. I’m neither, as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this.

It’s quite simple, really. After spending seventeen winters in Cape Town, nine of them in a terrible state of marriage, I never again want to be cold. Or married.

Small change makes big trouble

I’ve been wondering if xenophobia really is a phobia at all. I mean, it’s nothing like arachnophobia, for instance. If it were, people who suffered from it would run screaming whenever they saw a Congolese car guard heading their way. Instead, our xenophobics actively seek out foreigners, then run aggressively towards them. It’s an odd way of showing fear.

Everybody seems to have something to say about the fresh hell erupting around Joburg. Here’s an excerpt from Trevor Noah’s contribution. “I don’t see (my) fellow African as a competitor, but a fellow compatriot who is struggling to feed his family and have some comfort in this short lifetime.”

Yeah, I guess you won’t see many unruly mobs of Africans outside your Manhattan studio fighting to get application forms for your job, Trev. Not much competition from these parts, mate. And, yes, of course you can relate to your fellow compatriot struggling to feed his family. After all, you’ve just bought an apartment in New York for the knock-down price of $10-million. That’s R130-million in our rinky-dink currency. Or, in a language your struggling African comrade might better understand, a billion Happy Meals for him and his skinny-ass family.

Moving on to that wretched cybernated universe infested with cats, food and other people’s children – yes, Facebook – where a DA uMhlanga councillor earlier this week pronounced on our own itinerant colonies of fringe-dwelling gutterpups.

“Wanna know why vagrancy is such an issue in North Durban? Cause some people still continue to give beggars and vagrants money. Like the man who just gave a beggar R50 bucks in Broadway, Durban North. There are NGOs and welfare organisations who would love that R50. Instead he will go make the bottle stores rich.”

While we’re making wild assumptions here, I bet it was a white man who gave the beggar that red lion. I’m also willing to wager that the mystery benefactor is involved in one or other white-collar crime. No law-abiding, wage-earning office drone has that kind of cash to give away willy-nilly. I’d say our guy is likely up to his eyeballs in one or other commercial crime. Whiteys, even the compassionate ones, love tax evasion and fraud more than they love fishing and golf. No mess, no fuss. Hell, if he’s a genuine empath he probably turned to crime just to be able to support the destitute as well as his family.

I give money to beggars at robots, but only if they get to my window before I can close it. If they tap on the glass, I drum on my steering wheel to create the impression that I can’t hear them because the music is too loud. Sometimes they jump on the bonnet and bang on the windscreen. Then I have to pretend I’m blind, which is harder to do.

When I was growing up in the area, Broadway was lined with trees alive with millions of screaming, defecating Indian mynahs. You wouldn’t be able to hear a beggar if he exploded. You’d see it, though, and perhaps wonder why a beggar had exploded. The only possible explanation would be that the mynahs had driven him mad and he’d blown himself up.

The trees and mynahs are long gone and, if the DA is to be believed, have been replaced by marauding bands of mooching dipsomaniacs who, upon receipt of a modest sum, will proceed as fast as their suppurating legs will take them to the nearest bottle store instead of doing the sensible thing and using the money to enroll their bastard children at Kearsney College.

In the minds of some, seekers of alms will forever be associated with alcohol. Journalists, too. When I get paid for this column, I take the money directly to the bottle store. The only difference between me and the Broadway beggar is that I work for it. Okay, fine, this can hardly be called work. In fact, I’m drinking on the job right now – something you rarely see beggars doing. I’m worse than a beggar.

Beggaring is a lot tougher than my job, let me tell you. On your feet all day staring beseechingly into one impassive face after another, a curt shake of the head or a dismissive wave of the hand the only validation that you even exist. God help us if they ever sober up enough to form a militia.

I don’t know if the councillor happened to be passing by when he witnessed this evil money-giving thing happening or if he regularly patrols Broadway monitoring the indigent. Incidentally, councillor, it’s called Swapo Avenue now. And has been for years. If you go berserk at the sight of someone giving R50 to a man who has nothing, I imagine you’re still not comfortable mentioning Swapo unless it’s followed by the word ‘terrorist’.

The councillor’s post received 20 ‘likes’ plus four ‘Wow’ and four ‘Angry’ emoticons. Vishen was the first to suggest that vagrancy in Durban North wasn’t so much caused by people giving beggars money as it was by the failure of the government, NGOs and welfare organisations to deal with homelessness in the first place. Pamela and Cristina agreed with Vishen. Bloody communists.

Rick said beggars are there because they want to be there. On three occasions he had offered R200 on condition they came to his house and did yard work. He said they refused. Of course they did. I wouldn’t get into a car with a strange white man either. Well, I might. But he’d have to offer a hell of a lot more than R200. I’d also expect unlimited access to beer once we were there. And a guarantee that I won’t have to take my broeks off.

Johan said, “I had some Aussie friends over a while ago and they were not impressed when approached by a beggar in Broadway.” Shame. I hope they went for trauma counseling. Australia doesn’t have a problem with indigenous folk loitering in the streets because they had the decency to allow themselves to be decimated by the settlers before going walkabout into areas where respectable white Australians wouldn’t have to be offended by looking at them.

Lurching back into the fray, the councillor threw a second punch in case anyone had mistaken him for a bleeding heart altruist. “People who donate money to beggars in Broadway do nothing but encourage alcoholism and drug abuse.” I always thought unscrupulous employers, appalling working conditions and an intolerant, insular society which shuns the sick, lonely and weak was responsible for that. And, of course, marriage, which has done more than anything to encourage people to hit the bottle or reach for the meds.

Claire, who seems to be another avid beggar-watcher, chipped in. “There is a vagrant who sleeps on Savell Ave by the petrol station. And as he gets food etc he stays.‬” This is outrageous. Money is one thing, but food? What next? Silk pyjamas? Tickets to the ballet? Timeshare in Margate? You give these people food and all they do is put on weight. The next time you see them, they expect a gym contract.

Nkosinathi, who must be one of the DA’s black members I’ve heard about, had his own tale of horror. “I’ve just seen 3 guys outside the church in Broadway, they looked quite high on something, definitely not from juice.‬” High on Jesus, maybe? I prefer to think they were high on life, Nkosinathi. After all, Durban North is essentially Stepford without the submissive and impossibly beautiful wives.

Theo was clearly on drugs when he wrote, “I will rather give that beggar the R50 irrespective of what he spends it on than give it to some organisation who takes R40 to cover their expenses and only R10 goes to the homeless.” We don’t need your kind here, Theo. Humanitarianism is nothing more than satanism in a cheap suit. Once word gets out that there are kind, generous people in Durban North, it’s only a matter of time before the Syrians start arriving with their tattered children, crudely severed limbs and cheap plastic begging bowls.

But don’t for a minute think that’s where our problems end. Our fearless councillor posted this a day earlier. “Have been keeping track of people in public restrooms. Wanna know why everyone is getting sick? So many people do their business and just walk out without washing their hands. It’s disgusting!” Trumpian parallels aside, I’d also be reluctant to hang about and wash my hands if a creepy white guy was standing in the corner watching me.

A few days earlier, he posted this. “Who can help their poor long suffering councillor with some furniture for his office? Need a coffee table and a couch or two.” Begging for a handout, councillor? Hmm. How do we know you’re not going to pawn that couch and buy a bottle of vodka or a bag of weed? It’s a slippery slope, my friend. It starts with free furniture and before you know it you’re sucking on a bong and snorting cocaine off a Cambodian hooker’s belly.

shebeen

A licence to chill

I try to avoid carrying a bulging wallet in my pants pocket in case a jumpy cop mistakes it for a gun and shoots me in the teeth. Or worse, a woman mistakes it for massive genitalia and tries to marry me.

This means I carry only banknotes, credit card and driver’s licence. During the regular movement of cash from pocket to bartender, it’s easy for a piece of plastic to go astray. This time it was my licence. I don’t understand why we need a licence to drive but not one to have children.

I don’t know who has my licence. All I know is that it’s not me. And hasn’t been for weeks. I don’t know what the consequences are of driving without a licence. They certainly can’t be as severe as, say, breeding without a brain. And there’s a hell of a lot of that going around these days.

I’m a little upset that I still haven’t been through a single roadblock. Threats of immediate imprisonment forced me to spend the entire festive season drinking within a three-metre radius nowhere near a public road, church or school. It was great. Actually, not so great when the paramedics couldn’t find me.

Normally, I wouldn’t bother about replacing my licence because I drive perfectly well without it. Also, in many ways, going to prison is a more attractive option than visiting the vehicle licensing department. Or any government office, really. The queuing, the weeping, the suicide attempts. It’s all too dreadful for words.

I do, however, need my driver’s licence for ID purposes, even though I’m against a world where people have the right to ask you to identify yourself before giving you whatever it is you want. It should be enough that you have a functioning human face and can speak at least one language.

Hiding out on the Cape peninsula, far from the febrile incubator that is Durban in summer, I went to the licensing office in Fish Hoek. The glittering jewel of the deep south holds a special place in my heart because it’s where my second marriage exploded damply like an over-inflated puffer fish.

There were only four people in front of me in the queue, but that didn’t stop me from sighing and muttering and rolling my eyes. I lost my place in the queue when I had to retrieve them from the other side of the room.

I’ve had a driving licence since I was 18 and hoped the system would show that I had over the years complied with the multitude of requirements – eye tests, fingerprints, photographs, polygraph, DNA samples, ability to simultaneously pat my head and rub my tummy while repeating Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry and so on – enabling me to simply pay a modest fee and get a duplicate on the spot.

Hope, however, is an alien concept among those who inhabit the dark world of motor vehicle licensing.

“Third door on the left,” said the man at enquiries. There were only two doors. The mythical third door is actually a corridor that leads to, I don’t know, a portal to another world, perhaps. A world where nobody needs permission for anything and mermaids frolic in fountains of cold beer while happy chocolate cows graze in lush fields of fresh marijuana. I felt myself salivating and started off down the corridor.

“You can’t go there,” said a woman with the eyes of a snoek on a hook.

“Why not?” I said. “Because of the drunk mermaids and edible cows?”

The man at enquiries says, “Third door on the left” around 150 times a day. That’s 36 000 times a year. It would be an atrocity – a human rights violation – to tell him there is, in fact, no third door. Blocked from entering the corridor of eternal pleasure, I returned to the counter.

“There is no third door to the left,” I said. He didn’t look at me so much as through me. It was as if I never existed. “Next,” he said. I backed off and made my way to the second door on the left.

“Is this for the eye tests?” I asked a woman at the end of a longer queue. She pointed at a sign above my head. “Eye Test” it said. I laughed and said I hadn’t noticed it because it wasn’t in braille. She did something with her mouth. I couldn’t be sure if it was a smile or a snarl. A smarl, maybe.

My turn in the chair coincided with a shift change. This wasn’t good. The tired dude who didn’t give a damn was being replaced by a fresh dude who didn’t give a damn. There’s not much you can do to get your eyes ready for a test. I opened them wide, blinked rapidly a few times, then rubbed them vigorously, turning the entire room into a blur.

The tester, whose eyes were redder than mine, asked me to confirm something on one of the forms I’d filled out. I couldn’t see what I’d written. Bad start. I also couldn’t find my reading glasses because I was wearing a pair of camo shorts with a multitude of pockets designed to accommodate ammunition, condoms, grenades, flick knives, puppies and all manner of illicit substances. By the time I found my glasses, he had lost interest and was waiting for me to wedge my face into the machine.

The test was basic. When the letter m appears in the viewfinder, push the toggle in the direction it’s facing. It quickly became apparent that I was going to have to wing it. After a while, it didn’t even look like the letter m. It could just as easily have been a little man in a rowing boat fishing on a lake. I joggled my toggle valiantly, at one point laughing openly at the futility of it all.

“You failed,” he said. It seemed possible.

“My left eye’s pretty good,” I said. He shook his head. I went on to explain that I’ve never had any trouble seeing cars, people or animals in the road, hence my still being alive. But if I ever did encounter a teeny tiny m loitering in the breakdown lane, I’d just ignore it. I wouldn’t shout, “Oh my God, a teeny tiny m!” and wrench the wheel, rolling the car and killing everyone around me. He gave me a smarl.

Luckily, I had an ace up my sleeve. En route, I’d stopped at the mall and gone to an optician for an eye test. I passed with flying colours. Well, flying enough. That test involved reading half a dozen letters on the back of her door (a test that has been in use since 500BC) and another test involving peripheral vision. That was my best result. One doesn’t survive two marriages without possessing excellent peripheral vision.

Somehow, an optician’s eye test outranks a government eye test. An admission that certain things are best left in the hands of the private sector doesn’t come along that often. If only it applied to more things. Like ministries.

So I now have a temporary driver’s licence valid for six months. Presumably I will at some point get a message that my permanent licence is ready for collection. I will pick it up and go off to celebrate at The Vic, where the card will once more fall from my pocket and eventually be picked up by some cheerful punter and used to chop a line in the bogs.

RoadblockBen.jpg

Tap-dancing gorillas and tenants from hell

Did you know that gorillas make up “food songs” while they eat? A German scientist discovered this “fun new fact” while working with the primates in the Congo. I don’t think it’s a fun fact at all. I can’t think of anything more terrifying than coming across a silverback gyrating its hips and singing Purple Rain with a mouth full of bamboo shoots.

Oh, look. Here’s another fun fact. Come November, Donald Trump could well be the 45th president of the United States of America.

While we’re on the subject of fun facts, did you know that 42% of Americans continue to believe that God created humans less than 10 000 years ago? Understand this and you’ll find it easier to understand why that orange maniac is the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.

I read somewhere that the world has experienced five mass extinctions over the last half a billion years and is on the brink of the sixth. Quite frankly, it can’t happen soon enough for me.

I don’t know what the hell this year thinks it’s doing. I went to Cape Town for Christmas and stumbled out three months later. I made an overnight stop in Jeffreys Bay and went to St Francis for lunch. Lunch lasted a month. Then, on my way back to Durban a few days ago, my biological GPS had a nervous breakdown and instead of driving past Rhodes University I found myself outside the University of Fort Hare in that glittering jewel of a town called Alice. Alice? Who the fuck is Alice?

I’m exhausted. If that’s what holidays do to you, then I need a proper job – one that restricts me to 21 days leave a year. It’s for my own good. Even heroin addicts live longer than freelance journalists. They at least have to move around to find money and drugs. We just need a laptop, a comfy chair and a running tab.

Some idiot once said that with great freedom comes great responsibility. This is absolute rubbish. With great freedom comes great freedom. That’s all there is to it.

Freedom is great. I would venture to say that freedom is greater than God because freedom doesn’t threaten to consign your soul to the eternal hellfires of damnation if you covet your neighbour’s ass. But it can be tiring.

So anyway, after eight hours of dodging Transkei road-kill and bent cops, I get home to find my refuge trashed. Not by burglars, but by the people who stayed here last. The thing with Airbnb is that you’re allowing complete strangers to abuse your house in return for nothing more than money. It’s a form of prostitution, really. It’s also a devilishly easy way to make money. This is something that speaks to me. Whoring my home comes naturally to me. I am a property pimp. There are worse things to be. At least I’m not a member of parliament.

Usually there is a domestic worker who gets dropped off by helicopter after a guest leaves, but this time she had been called away on urgent business in the Bahamas and failed to turn up. This meant I had to deal with the situation with no backup whatsoever.

I pulled in to the driveway saturated in road rage, the Land Rover bucking and snorting, and bellied up to the front door with my key in one hand and a Balinese fighting sword in the other. That’s my weapon of choice when I traverse the Transkei. Chopping off an arm here and there sends a clear signal to the local banditry. I learnt this from my Saudi Arabian friends.

The guests, luckily for them, had departed. Less luckily for me, they had left a mound of soiled cutlery and crockery in the sink, three pots of semi-cooked gunk on the stove and bits of half-eaten food in the fridge. I also found a packet of King Size Rizlas and an empty eyedropper of something called Ruthless. I don’t know what it is. The print on the bottle is too small to read. And my bedroom looks like Charlie Sheen was here. This guest from hell was an Afrikaner currently living overseas. He brought his girlfriend, his baby and his mother. It sounds like a sitcom written by the Marquis de Sade.

I suspect this is why Berlin has introduced a law banning homeowners from renting out their properties on Airbnb, although a more plausible reason might be that the city wants to keep random acts of cannibalism under control. Germans like nothing more than getting together on a Saturday night and eating bits of one another over a bottle or two of chianti. The new legislation is called Zweckentfremdungsverbot. Such a mellifluous language.

I returned to not only terrible scenes in my home, but also in parliament. A debate on the Presidency budget vote? That’s not what I saw. I saw a bunch of pot-bellied revolutionaries getting their arses handed to them by a plainclothes posse from the parking lot. Surely the whole point of wearing red is that you don’t care about getting blood on your clothes? I want to see some real fighters in the EFF. I want to see Mikey Schultz and Radovan Krecjir sitting behind Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu. Then we’ll see who gets thrown out of parliament.

Finally, let us not even speak of Matthew Theunissen, Cape Town’s latest contender for a Darwin award. After posting an ill-conceived anti-government diatribe on Facebook that would have made a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan blush, he said he “didn’t intend to say those words”. Fair enough. I didn’t intend to drink a dozen beers while writing this column either, but it happened nevertheless. Evil forces are clearly at work. Matthew has a Masters from Stellenbosch University, that shining beacon of progressive thought. I wasn’t aware that Maties offered post-graduate degrees in white supremacy. Maybe he thought you needed a Masters to be a fully-fledged member of the master race.

Matthew insisted that he wasn’t a racist; that he had “friends of colour”. By colour, I imagine he means the different shades of red his white friends turned when they realised what an utter fuckwit he is.

Bring on the sixth extinction.

 

 

 

Rent boy goes west

Mosquitoes have begun sending out the recces early this year. They’re coming in at high altitude late at night – not in packs, but in pairs. They split up once they’ve gained entrance to the bedroom. One makes for the head, the other the feet.

Being a reconnaissance mission, they are meant to check out conditions ahead of the summer advance, then leave quietly. But there are always one or two who can’t help themselves. Like some of our recces in 1976 who just had to push on to Luanda, these little suckers are hanging for a hit of blood so bad that they throw caution to the winds and embark upon a frolic of their own. Let it be said that they don’t always make it back to base.

Soon the mosquito queen – there hasn’t been a king since the Great Slapping of 1984 – will summons her wing commanders. The chief spokesmozzie will read out the reports from the scouts who have travelled from Port Edward to Kosi Bay, from Durban to wherever Kwazulu-Natal ends and Mordor begins.

The queen will put it to the vote. Is it properly summer? Are the targets slow enough? Drunk enough? Mosquitoes are easily excited – especially when their blood-blood levels are low – and the vote, conducted by a show of proboscises, will be unanimous. We attack at 3am.

I need to get out before the onslaught begins. Cape Town has three mosquitoes and a summer that doesn’t leave you perpetually drenched in sweat. I spent seventeen years there and only returned to the east coast after Brenda showed signs of being a lot colder and madder than all the winters put together.

My plan, if you can even call it that, is to spend summers in Cape Town and winters in Durban. However, due to the sudden but not altogether unforeseen change in my marital status, I no longer have a home there. This would mean having to rent. Given my budget and the feeding frenzy of greed around Cape Town’s property market, I’d be lucky to get an asbestos box downwind of Koeberg.

I am going to have to rent out my Durban spot and use that money to get something a bit closer to the action. I wouldn’t go so far as to say my place isn’t fit for human habitation, but it will certainly take more than a rug to pull the living room together.

I have four dining room chairs that were ripped to shreds by the cats formerly known as ours but which were really hers. I assume it was the cats. It could just as easily have been the ex sharpening her teeth late at night when the full moon was out. When I took them in to be reupholstered, the dude asked me what colour material I’d like. I told him it didn’t matter because I lived alone. He seemed to understand.

I don’t have a colour scheme. Or a scheme of any kind, really. I bought a microwave oven that’s too small to accommodate a dinner plate. All my meals are on side plates. The bathroom hasn’t had a light for months because I can’t get the cover off. None of the windows have curtains. I hung two metal elephant heads on the wall, knowing their protruding trunks would almost certainly put someone’s eye out. The beds are pushed up against the wall like prostitutes and their bases are naked. The local monkeys seem to think the place is theirs.

I want to advertise it on the accommodation site Airbnb since this would give me the flexibility to return should something unexpected happen, as I fully expect it to. It also means having to make an effort to get it looking more like a B&B and less like the result of senile squalor syndrome. The thing is, I can’t do it on my own. I need a woman. Studies have shown that women are genetically predisposed towards interior decorating. They understand what goes where and why. They understand colours. They understand concepts like flow, light and space. I don’t even understand how my stupid miniature microwave works.

I am, however, currently between women. And should I solicit advice from those with whom I have had dealings and dalliances, I’d be lucky to get more than a two-word response. One of them obviously being ‘off’.

So I did the unthinkable. I had a sex change. No, I didn’t. That wouldn’t help at all. I’d still have my useless man brain. On the other hand, it would allow me to become a lesbian and have sex with women. Hang on. I haven’t thought this through properly.

Anyway. I did the next most awkward thing. I went to the CNA and looked for a home décor magazine. Inexplicably, many of them insist on featuring gardens. I live in a complex. The garden is not my responsibility and plays no part in my life. I have a vague sense it’s out there somewhere, but beyond that I don’t really care what it does.

I wanted ideas on fairly basic stuff. Like how to make a bed look as if Charlie Sheen hadn’t just spent a week in it. And how to use scatter cushions without making Liberace seem butch. Also, where to put two enormous couches and a wooden table that were removed from the huge marital home in a fit of pique but which aren’t altogether suited to the new, reduced circumstances.

There were at least thirty magazines dealing with homes. In the end I settled for a pack of three. One of them was called Beautiful Kitchens. Every one of its 146 pages has to do with kitchens – a room most women hate being alone in and which most men know only as the place where the fridge lives.

I got home and saw they were all British magazines. That’s no good at all. Ooh, what a lovely lamp. And it’s … let me get my calculator … only R48 000 excluding shipping! What a steal. I’ll take a dozen.

After flipping through these magazines, I realised two things. One, that I’m not gay. And two, interior decorating has more to do with the actual structure than it does the decorations. For a start, it helps to have a fireplace, high ceilings, a staircase, wooden floors and bay windows overlooking two horses in a field.

People who peruse these periodicals are presumably looking for ideas. Well, I had one. It involves flying to London, catching a train to Wiltshire, going around to Andrew and Amanda Bannister’s converted 19th-century Baptist chapel, ringing the bell and, in the unlikely event that they open the door instead of unleashing the hounds, saying, “Love what you’ve done with the place. May I have it?”

I found this decorating tip. “Paint all the walls white, then wait a while before choosing a colour. That way you get used to the effect of the changing light.” You would have to be mental to follow this advice, and not only because it’s utter gibberish. I repainted my bedroom a couple of years ago. There was so much screaming and swearing that the body corporate sent someone around to have a word.

I can only assume advice like this is given by people who can afford to pay others to do the painting.

I don’t want to read about “intimate seating areas where you can curl up with a good book”. If I’m going to get intimate, it’s damn sure not going to be with a book. And at my age I want to be able to stretch out on my back at the first signs of intimacy.

“Jane and Roger have a Buddha from Nepal that creates a beautiful focal point.” I have an aggressive gecko from Westbrook. It creates a terrifying focal point for herpetophobics.

Decorating tip: “If you’re unsure about choosing colours for a room, just pick out an accent from a cushion and build the scheme around it.” Bru, I don’t know what you’re smoking, but if your cushions are talking to you in any kind of accent, regardless of what scheme you’ve got going, you need help.

“An off-white wall makes the perfect backdrop for a set of antlers.” Indeed. There is nothing quite like the skull of a dead stag above your bed to get you in the mood for love. Especially if you’re wearing pyjamas made from the foreskins of baby otters.

These magazines are full of attractive white people with perfect teeth and matching dogs and children called Jay, Poppy or Milo. They are constantly stumbling upon run-down farmhouses or barns and turning them into paragons of gorgeousness awash in Louis XIV couches. Here, we have run-down farmworkers sleeping on couches from Louis Fortuin Furnishers there by the bottle store.

Meanwhile, let me know if you want to spend summer in an eclectically furnished simplex on the north coast. Bring your own side plates. And mind the elephants.

Hovel

Ben Trovato takes a break from protesting to redecorate his home.