I have been rudely ejected from my own home by complete strangers who want to give me money in return for the front door keys and me not being there. It’s outrageous. Sure, the outrage dissipated slightly when their filthy lucre landed in my account, but still. This is the problem with capitalism. We do the most degrading things – journalism being just one of them – in order to be able to survive in a system that’s not of our making. There has to be a better way. Got it. Make everything free. #Payingforstuffmustfall.
Temporarily losing my home meant embarking on a road trip from the east coast to the west and road trips are always good, except when they’re not. I generally set off with the notion that somewhere along the road I’ll either have a spectacularly torrid affair or die in a giant fireball. Admittedly, I have had the odd carnal encounter where, in hindsight, the fireball would have been a better option.
I set my alarm for half past hadeda, thinking I’d be the only person on the road at 6am. The M4 was jammed so I veered onto the N2, which was even worse. What the hell was going on here? Is it like this every day? These people should have still been in bed at that hour. I at least was on a cross-country expedition, even if it did only involve sitting on my arse for eight hours, yawning and scratching my nuts and trying not to fall asleep. Mind you, I suppose it’s the same for a lot of them, especially the ones who work for the municipality.
I recently did this trip in the opposite direction in my ancient Land Rover. It took me over a week and cost me dearly in physical, financial and emotional terms. I sold the beast shortly after and went out to test drive a Suzuki Vitara. I came home with a Subaru Forester. It’s like when you go to the SPCA to look for a kitten and fall in love with a pit bull instead. Not that I’m in love with the Subaru, but she responds well to my touch and hasn’t let me down. Unlike certain exes I could name but won’t.
She also goes a lot faster than the Landy, which means a lot more speeding fines and a lot more of not answering the door. Summons. What an ugly word. No hint of a please or thank you. Until the criminal justice system learns some manners, I shan’t be complying.
After filling up in the blot on the landscape that constitutes Kokstad, I pointed the Subaru’s snout at the Transkei and floored it. A lot of people won’t drive through the province of the damned without a bag of phosphorous grenades and a brace of high-powered handguns. All I had was a short-handled Zulu stabbing spear. Yes, I know. Culturally insensitive considering I was on Xhosa turf, but I reckoned that wouldn’t be the chief complaint were I forced to use it. Anyway, missionaries came here in the 1800s and told the locals they’d burn in an invisible subterranean pit if they didn’t start covering up their willies and going to church. That’s way ruder than getting poked with a pointy stick, even if it was invented by a rival tribe.
I swarmed into my usual stop in Cintsa – a backpackers offering top end accommodation with bottom end service – threw my bags into my room and ran for the bar. Celebrations are called for after one has successfully negotiated the unholy trinity of Mthatha, Dutywa and Butterworth without having to deploy one’s short-handled stabbing spear.
A gaggle of gawky flatfooted slackpackers loped past en route to share lodgings and bodily fluids. Each carried half a litre of bottled water. Listen, tourists. Don’t come to our country and drink all our water. We need it to make beer.
The wifi doesn’t quite extend all the way to the bar because the modem is at reception, a good fifteen metres away. Wifi is like crack to backpackers. If this was Europe, there’d be a riot. Actually, there’d be nobody staying here. Sure, the view over the lagoon and ocean is spectacular, but if you can’t get wifi in the bar, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking at unicorns and mermaids fornicating beneath a perpetual waterfall of free money.
The following day I was, not for the first or even second time, sucked into the chaotic maw of King William’s Town. Desperate to escape its gravitational pull, I switched on Google Maps. A tiny woman living inside my cellphone started babbling about non-existent roundabouts, then directed me deep into the taxi rank where I became trapped in an electronic black hole. The taxi rank in King William’s Town is South Africa’s Bermuda Triangle. That’s where all our missing people are.
Later I drove through the longest stretch of roadworks since construction began on the Great Wall of China. It goes from before Grahamstown all the way to Port Elizabeth. I waited so long at a stop and go that I had to fetch a beer from my boot or risk perishing from thirst. The boot of my car. I don’t keep beers in my footwear.
It was a darkling sky by the time I reached Knysna and I checked in to a place with walls so thin I could hear my neighbour sighing heavily. To avoid overhearing a suicide, I drove down to the waterfront where I came across a copy of one of my books. At a bookshop, of all places. It was marked down to R40. I was so embarrassed that I bought it myself. Then I was so depressed that I went to a bar and ordered a double gin and tonic. It cost R40. Basically, I write so that I can afford alcohol. One book, one drink. What a time to be alive.
Soon enough I found myself in Cape Town flailing helplessly in the diabolical netherworld inhabited by estate agents. A world where the sands of reality shift treacherously beneath your feet and nothing is as it seems. Where double volume means you can stand upright and contemporary means it was built this century. Where cosy means you can cook, shower and defecate simultaneously. A world where a distant glimpse of the ocean adds another R5000 onto the already heinously rapacious rent.
I put my name down for a one-bedroom hovel in Fish Hoek’s avenues of the doomed. There were thirty names above mine. The application ran to a dozen pages requiring everything from six months’ of bank statements to three DNA samples and my grandmother’s birth certificate. Also, a R150 non-refundable fee for a preliminary credit check. I suggested the agent notify the owner that I am a Famous Writer, gambling that this would rocket me to the top of the list. The agent came back, saying the owner is indeed familiar with my writing and that I should definitely apply (and pay the R150). A week later the agent called and said the owner had chosen someone else. I suppose it’s possible that name-dropping myself actually worked against me, but I suspect the more likely scenario is that the agency is making a tidy amount from all the non-refundables everyone has to pay for their application to even be considered.
I was on the point of resigning myself to a few months in the Haven night shelter when Hestia, the virgin goddess of accommodation among other things, came through. A friend knew of a cottage in Kommetjie that might be available. It was. And it was cheap. Best of all, it’s one row back from the beach. It’s also set deep in the milkwoods and completely secluded, which means I can be murdered without any interruptions. It’s a bit like the cabin in which Henry David Thoreau wrote On Walden Pond. Then again, it’s also very much like the shack in which Ted Kaczynski wrote his Unabomber manifesto.
Perhaps I shall do my best work here. Not that you can call this work.