Tag: Lung cancer

Up In Smoke

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


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

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

I thought the advert was going to advise me on what to do this festive season should I be confronted by a street smart sociopath suffering from dangerously low self-esteem and a violent drug-induced psychosis. But, no. It was a warning not to buy illegal cigarettes. Excuse me? Was this desperado going to hunt me down and shoot me if I bought a box of black market fags?

In a print size slightly smaller than WARNING, I was told: “The money you spend on illegal cigarettes, he could use to buy guns.”

Being a Cell C subscriber, I should be accustomed to having trouble making connections, but this was something else. My mental clutch was slipping badly. Then I read the even smaller print. “Often the person smuggling cigarettes is involved in other criminal activity. If you buy a pack of 20 cigarettes for under R13.50 it may be illegal. Stop your money from helping to pull the trigger.”

Firstly, what kind of self-respecting hoodlum needs to stand on street corners selling packs of fake Marlboro to be able to afford a gun? Here in Cape Town, if you want a gun, you stab the person who has one and take it away from him.

Your neighbour was shot by someone who wanted his car? Do you smoke? Are your cigarettes the genuine article? If not, you’re just as culpable and should hand yourself over to the police at once. Please let me know when you do, because I want to be there when the constable takes down your statement.

“Yes, officer, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. My neighbour was killed by a hijacker and I blame myself because I bought a packet of dodgy smokes last week while waiting for the lights to change. I insist you arrest me.”

Half a page is apparently not enough to drive home this valuable public service announcement. A separate advert, also with a WARNING, says that if you tick the box to any one of five statements, you could be in possession of illegal cigarettes.

Here’s one of them: “There are the wrong health warnings on the pack.” Would something like: “Choking hazard – not for children under three” fall into this category? Bit of a grey area.

Another says: “The readings on the pack are higher than 12mg Tar and 1.2mg of Nicotine.”

So what they’re saying, in effect, is that nobody should buy cigarettes that are cheap, strong and devoid of annoying health warnings. If I smoked, those are precisely the kind of cigarettes I would look for. What am I talking about? I do smoke. But only after the second hit of the fourth beer. Which, in my book, doesn’t make me a smoker. If anything, it makes me a latent dipsomaniac with self-destructive tendencies. Which is so much healthier.

The advert ends: “If you are in possession of illegal cigarettes and you continue to buy them, you are funding other criminal activity.”

Hmm. Something doesn’t quite gel, here. Isn’t it enough to warn people that buying illegal cigarettes is, well, illegal, without making them feel that they are also responsible for every violent crime committed in the country?

The advert helpfully provided an 0800 number for me to call, but I was unable to find out much because the phone was answered by a recording of a woman who sounded like she had been punched in the head one too many times. Probably as a result of someone having bought an entire carton of illegal cigarettes.

“Welcome to the TISA hotline. If you suspect illicit trading in tobacco or tobacco products, please leave a message …”

TISA is the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa. They protect the interests of the tobacco industry. Their members include British American Tobacco (BAT), JT International and Phillip Morris.

At first I thought TISA was behind this unbranded campaign. Then I discovered it was actually BAT itself. The company already sells around 20 billion cigarettes annually in South Africa. But that’s not enough, is it? If people stop buying contraband, BAT stands to sell an extra six billion cigs a year. That should keep the petty cash topped up for a while.

If there were any honesty or ethics in this filthy business, the advertisement would have read: “WARNING. The money you spend on illegal cigarettes should be spent on our products.” But that will never happen. Why? Because cigarette advertising is illegal.

I am going to give up beer and by doing so, give up casual smoking. No, I’m not. I am going to save up the money I would have spent on cigarettes and buy a gun. Then I am going to randomly shoot a bunch of people and blame the tobacco industry.

This is getting too complicated. I might just go and lie down for a bit.

* The author has since kicked the habit and befriended the monkey on his back.



I man a de Bush Doctor

Big up to Mario Oriani-Ambrosini. This week he stood up in parliament and appealed to President Jacob Zuma to legalise medicinal marijuana as an alternative treatment for cancer patients.

The Inkatha Freedom Party politician was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer last year. There is no stage five. His personal treatment plan included marijuana. If PW Botha were still president, this admission alone would have got Ambrosini ten years in jail and forty stitches for the police dog bites.

Would Zuma support the Medical Marijuana Bill? How could he not? I have never met a Zulu man who hasn’t smoked weed at some point in his life. Then again, most of the Zulu men I have met were the ones selling me weed in the first place. But that was then, when I was young and foolish.

I can’t imagine Sbu Mpisane returning to his La Lucia mansion after a hard day of doing whatever it is that nobody, not even the NPA or Sars, knows, loading up a gold-plated bong and sucking down a few sticky heads of primo intsangu before dispatching Shauwne to the kitchen to whip up a plate of toasted caviar and lobster munchies garnished with white truffles and drizzled with gold dust.

Ambrosini said it was a crime against humanity to deny medicinal marijuana to cancer patients. He was probably high when he said it, so we should cut him some slack. What Bashir al-Assad is doing to his own people in Syria is a crime against humanity. Let’s keep things in perspective.

Having said that, I was in an oncologist’s office in Morningside eighteen months ago. Me, my sister, my father and my mother. Mum was in a wheelchair because lung cancer makes you lose your appetite, which very quickly makes you lose all sorts of other things. She hadn’t yet come to terms with the fact that she was dying. I’m not sure she ever really did. When I tried to take her for lunch on Mother’s Day, she said, “Wait until I’m feeling better.”  She ran out of life before we could have that lunch.

The oncologist’s office was filled with oil paintings and sculptures and the fripperies of the rich. Perhaps he needed it. He was, after all, a doctor whose patients were almost guaranteed to die, regardless of whatever treatment he recommended.

He flashed his dazzling white teeth and used words like “palliative” and tossed out helpful phrases like “there’s no point bankrupting yourselves on the most expensive chemo”. In other words, the cheap shit is just as ineffective.

While he was showing us, on his laptop, the progression of the cancer, I asked if marijuana might not be an option. Again, the smile. A little less dazzling, this time.

“No,” he said, looking at me as if I were slightly retarded. “That doesn’t work.”

I didn’t mean as a cure. I meant as a way of way of stimulating my mother’s appetite. As a way of easing the pain that would eventually see her crying out for her own long-dead mother.

The drugs he prescribed didn’t work. From what I saw, at horrifically close quarters, they made my mother’s last few months infinitely worse. It wasn’t his fault. Specialists are trained not to divert from their well-trodden path.

In America, the possession of marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington. It has been decriminalised in fourteen states and is legal, medicinally, in twenty states.

In Uruguay, you can do whatever the hell you like with it.

In Spain and Switzerland, you can grow as much as you want on your property.

The Dutch don’t give a damn about it.

And in South Australia, which has Adelaide as its capital, you can legally grow one non-hydroponic plant for personal use. In Canberra, you may grow two hydroponic plants. Bloody anal Aussies.

If you want to use marijuana because you’ve got a touch of the old cancer or simply because you want to kick back and have a bit of a laugh, you might want to avoid the progressive democracies of Bulgaria, China, Latvia, Somalia, Syria, Slovakia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

And, of course, South Africa.


Tie A Tourniquet On Time

I have noticed a burgeoning fascination with youth that turns my stomach.

Look at the fuss made over that mewling whelp spawned in London this week. Now that the cossetted little prince is five days old, the running dogs of the media will have lost interest and sloped off to sniff out a story involving someone younger. Maybe a two-day-old Puerto Rican suckling who can speak seven languages and play La Borinqueña on the bars of its crib.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am.

I went to buy supper from the Spar in Ballito on Wednesday, which is depressing enough on its own, but when I proceeded to the checkout point, the wage slave rang up my half loaf of white bread and bottle of meths and said, “Pensioner?”

My mouth fell open. I looked at her in disbelief. “Pensioner?” I said. Had I misheard? She looked at me blankly. “Pensioner!?” I repeated three or four times, getting progressively louder and shriller.

I turned to the people in the queue, expecting them to join me in staring at the teller as if she were a sight-impaired person recently escaped from an institution for the criminally insane. Instead, they gave me weak, indulgent smiles and looked away. Their faces suggested they were thinking, “Shame, he’s obviously hard of hearing.” What? WHAT? How could they not detect the incredulity in my voice? How could they miss the twinkle in my eye and the spring in my step?

Okay, I was limping at the time. I suppose it could have been misconstrued as gout. I prefer to think of it as an old surfing injury. And my eyeballs have been ravaged by too many years of sun, surf, tears and beers. Also, it has been the kind of year that turns one’s hair dusky blond before its time. It probably didn’t help that I have a couple of teeth missing, thanks to a dentist who reached for the pliers at the crack of a tooth. I suspect he was hoping to score from all the implants I would no doubt be wanting. Tough luck, buddy. I’d rather look like a car guard than pay for your next trip to Thailand. That’ll teach him.

I have an idea what happened here. You know how white people think all black people look the same? Well, it’s obvious that darkies can’t tell how old whiteys are. It must be a rural thing. The bigger the tree, the older it is. Stands to reason, right? And since I am 1.93m tall, it’s no wonder she thought I was one of the ancients.

To calm my shattered nerves, I went around the corner to The Galley Beach Bar and Grill. I got a couple of stiff shots down me when this black dude came up off the beach. I was sitting at the table nearest the stairs. He was carrying a bunch of sticks and I braced myself for a fight. Instead of attacking me, he tried to sell me one. Normally, I would have waved him off. But he said something that turned my day around.

Holding up one of his carved sticks, he said, “They are not only for old people.” This was clearly a man who knew what he was talking about.

“This one is good for walking,” he said, holding up a stick identical to all the others. “You don’t need it.” Damn straight I don’t. He held up another that was good for leaving in your car in case of road rage. Then there was the Zulu fighting stick. I didn’t even haggle. If one were going to live in KZN, one would be an idiot not to own a stick specially designed to fend off the impis. It was made from tamboti and had a big knob on one end. I felt so virile limping out of the bar swinging my big-knobbed Zulu fighting stick that I wanted to go back to the Spar where the ageist teller would beg me to take her as one of my wives.

By the time I reached the car, I was out of breath and leaning heavily on my stick. On the way home I bought a magazine called Longevity in the hope of discovering some sort of Benjamin Button-type elixir to reverse the ageing process.

Worryingly, the giveaway sealed inside the plastic was a canister of ten vitamin A tablets and a paperback called The Camden Cowboy. I couldn’t work out if there was a connection between the two.

I flipped through it. “Once their peaks had been reached, leaving them both sated and satiated and their reunion finally and firmly sealed, Seth collapsed with his back to the …” I closed the book, desperately hoping it was a story about mountaineering and that Seth was exhausted after summiting the Matterhorn.

Being a late starter, I think it is only fair that I live to at least 140. I was relying on the magazine to help me get there. Right away, I wolfed the vitamin A and began searching for the secret to immortality.

I hoped they wouldn’t tell me to stay out of the sun. We live in Africa. What should we do? Go and live with the Mole People? I’ve tried that. It was a disaster. I can’t stand being jostled and pawed.

And I’m not interested in cosmetic surgery as a means of looking younger. On the other hand, my butt is my best feature. It’s extremely well preserved after sitting on it for so many years. I could get a transplant, I suppose. It wouldn’t be the first time I have been called assface.

I came across a remedy for hangovers. This was a good start. Hangovers take weeks off my life. Biologically, I am nine-years-old. By 2018, I expect I’ll be a foetus. Their advice? Exercise. Oh, come on. Those familiar with hangovers will know that anything more strenuous than slurching between the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom can kill you. Oh, wait. They’re not giving advice on how to feel better. They’re just saying that exercise can help repair brain damage caused by too much alcohol. What is too much alcohol? What is brain damage? What is what? I rest my case.

I spotted an advert for an incontinence product featuring three youngish women. They are having tea and scones and laughing and, presumably, weeing gently in their broeks. I’m not judging. It happened to me once, but it had nothing to do with tea. And I wasn’t even conscious at the time.

Memory loss and brain shrinkage can, apparently, be stopped with a daily cocktail of vitamin B and folic acid. I tried asking the barman at the Bush Tavern in Umdloti for a Long Island Iced Tea with a shot of B6 and B12 but he gave me the lazy eye and went off to phone for backup.

As for memory loss, I watched my mother die of lung cancer last year. I’m looking for something that can speed it up.

Something else I learnt. If you want to know whether you should be taking multivitamins, you need to check your homocysteine levels. That’s fine for some, but what about those of us who can’t even check their oil levels because they don’t know how to open the bonnet of their car?

There was a section on serums, but the only serum I’ve heard of is a truth serum. We need to get our hands on a million litres of the stuff, dump it in the Union Buildings’ water supply and rig the offices with hidden microphones.

I was told that five grams of salt is the recommended daily allowance for an adult. I don’t know what that looks like. Is it the same as five grams of cocaine? Seems a bit excessive. Unless, of course, you have friends around from the Bluff, in which case it’s probably not enough.

The back section of the magazine is taken up with depressing stuff about working out. How to do deadlifts, lunges and something called burpees. As a beer aficionado, I do plenty of burpees but they don’t make me feel any younger.

If you’re angry, their advice is to take up boxercise. They just make up words, these people. Here’s my advice. If you’re angry, become a police reservist and shoot a hijacker in the face. You might not live longer, but, more importantly, neither will he.

I was left with the distinct impression that the magazine was heavily slanted towards women. Why? They already outlive men. How much longer do they want to live? What are they planning? I’ve changed my mind about longevity. I don’t want to be around when they make their move.

Unless, of course, they already have.