Thursday, February 11, 2016

Crossroads

In 2007, shortly after Apetown was published, I began work on short story called Crossroads. It was to tell the tale of an affluent family living in Plattekloof who became engaged in a battle of egos and budgets with their next door neighbours over the megalithic water-features located in their respective front yards.

The idea was to paint a portrait of the banality of a South African family whose life revolves around consumerism and materialism and to then take this family’s story and put it on a collision course with the life of a family fighting for survival on the fringes of the economy.

Like most of my writing projects it went off course. In this case running aground when I realized that the tale I had to tell was beyond the scope of a short story – forcing me to conclude it sooner than I’d have liked to by having the rivalry between the two families result in a landslide that destroyed their entire neighbourhood. It also wasn’t very good.

So while I’m probably not going to resurrect the concept, moving to Johannesburg has frequently reminded me of it and moved it beyond metaphor. In Johannesburg crossroads are often (and occasionally fatally) the places where the lives of the extremely affluent and the poverty stricken collide.

And with long daily commutes part and parcel of the Johannesburg lifestyle, I’ve had countless hours to witness these collisions and incubate a growing sense of alarm at what it all means for the future of South Africa.

When I first moved to Joburg I was surprised by the activity that takes place around many street intersections. Almost every intersection has at least one desperately poor beggar, often young men or boys, with no shoes and filthy, torn clothing who day after day kneel and bow on the tarmac whenever cars queue to a stop. Sometimes it’s abandoned mothers with babies, standing at crossroads all day with their possessions in plastic bags beside the road.

The busier intersections attract a wider cast. You’ll find clowns and jugglers who put on frantic 30 second shows before soliciting tips from the massed traffic. One intersection in Bryanston is home to an old lady who sweeps the side of the street in return for charity from passing motorists. The beggars at the busy intersections sometimes have humorous placards, a popular one requests bail money for a cat that was jailed for stealing the neighbour’s milk.

Then there are the hawkers, selling selfie sticks, sunglasses, ID covers and cellphone chargers. There are people handing out flyers for patio covers or security clusters starting at R1.8 million, cheap. There’s an entire crossroad industry built around selling energy drinks or pink ice lollies to taxis. You can buy sponges that buff your shoes while you wait for your turn to inch past a broken traffic light, and as dusk settles over the city young men walk beside the traffic selling sacks of mealies that look far too big to fit in a pot.

When all you’re used to is the occasional hawker and the odd sun-weathered heroin user begging on an arterial Cape Town road, this can feel quite overwhelming. The first time I found myself in an attempted mugging on an M1 off-ramp I thought the two men who accosted my vehicle were typically overenthusiastic hawkers trying to sell me something, which confused them, before one of them confused me by pointing something at me through his jacket pocket, at which point I told him ‘no thanks’ and we made the decision to part ways in amicable mutual confusion.

It can also be funny. One day while driving along Witkoppen Road I came across a teenager dressed up in a full cat costume with a perky tail doing Michael Jackson-esque dance moves in front of bemused motorists. Driving in the opposite direction to the traffic I felt a surge of warmth in seeing smile after smile light up the faces of terminally pissed-off and late Johannesburg drivers.

But as I got used to it all, the humour, warmth and novelty faded quite fast.

I’ve since spent endless hours sitting in load-shedding or accident-induced traffic on William Nicol, Rivonia and Witkoppen Road, wondering at the stories of the people who pass around me in my bubble. I watch the faces of the men gathered beneath overpasses or on the back of bakkies as processions of luxury cars inch past them. I wonder what it is like to have to stand out in the darkness, trying to sell a bag of mealies, to live with a constant absence of security or hope of security, let alone future prosperity.

And what I see often, and increasingly, is anger, resentment and frustration. I’ve seen both beggars and hawkers lose their cool after a long series of rejections from passing motorists and stalk a single motorist, banging on their window as the terrified driver attempts to steer their car away through gridlock traffic. I’ve learned the people who live off the trade created by the city’s seething traffic don’t take well to the pre-emptive dismissal implied by averted eyes or fixed stares at a windshield, that just being acknowledged means something to them.

Many of them seem really young. Youngsters forced to turn their daily fight for survival into a public spectacle, an infinite series of rejections broken by the occasional gesture of kindness or patronage, stretching into a future that promises them nothing.

I watch the people in the cars around me too. Quite often they are seated in luxury cars - Porsche Cayenne SUVs are a common sight in a city where even the metropolitan police drive around in orange and white Audis and BMWs.

I try to catch a glimpse of these commuters’ faces through their tinted windows and I wonder how they can afford a car that costs hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of Rand. What kind of money must you earn to buy something like that and still live in a palatial home on a gated estate? What kinds of jobs pay that generously?

In fairness I do see the wealthy extend generosity to the poverty stricken, even make the occasional easy connection across this massive gap in wealth and opportunity.

You’ve probably seen all this for yourself too, and I’m telling you nothing new. I’m just describing the reality of this country’s skewing Gini-Coefficient, growing population and fractious politics mapped out at public road intersections.

The thing is, the longer I watch the less I can believe that everything is somehow going to come right. I know that South Africa is amazingly robust, its people incredibly forgiving despite everything, that we’re buoyed by an ability to see the funny side of virtually anything. But despite this I sense that I am witnessing invisible, inviolable, irreversible forces of nature ploughing through all aspects of South African society like a slow motion tsunami.

And I think that those South Africans who can’t see or articulate this, feel it anyway, which is where the frustration and anger come into it. Which is why the pressure to find someone to blame increases daily, a political party, a social class, an ethnic group, a figurehead, an isolated heretic. There are the weekly witch hunts, the impassioned and sometimes violent diatribes on social media, the petitions and marches.

And the political class is obviously the easiest faction to blame for all of this, particularly where it overlaps or merges with monopoly capital. And while these guys are surely not blameless, from the crossroads all politicians and oligarchs are starting to look like flies on a steering wheel to me, moving in the same direction as the wheel, exerting the illusion of control of a situation that dwarfs and ultimately controls them.

So what’s the point of this essay, you may ask. What do I have to offer that can distinguish this from run-of-the-mill middle class hand-wringing and South Africa’s venerable tradition of doomsday propheteering? The answer is ‘nothing’, unfortunately.

I don’t even have a convenient set of neat, impassioned solutions to offer to the problems I have described. I think that the many people who are that way oriented already give of their time and resources to those in need and don’t need anyone’s advice on how to do so.

Those who aren’t that way oriented will continue to browse travertine paved malls with the curious indifference of millionaires browsing the gift shop of a sinking Titanic, and won’t be convinced to awaken by anything that I have to say. Even if they were, I’m not sure it would do anything to forestall what is coming, and I can’t even say what that may be.

Not to mention the fact that as a country we’re becoming increasingly impervious to logic and increasingly responsive to emotional arguments, no matter how idiotic or banal. Which means even if a perfectly reasonable solution was presented it would be buried beneath a collective verbal assault backed by preconceptions that refuse to be challenged.

So I guess maybe the only point of this exercise is to have some of release from writing honestly about what I see, to chart my own conversion from idealism to realism. And to share with you the pithily nihilistic observation that I have arrived at through my hours spent waiting at South Africa’s crossroads – that we’re a lesson to ourselves that we refuse to learn from.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Invitation only


Over the past year an airy loft in the Cape Town inner city has been serving as a meeting point for the Persons of Exceptional Significance - an elite society of the finest minds in South African culture, media and academia (and indeed the universe).

Participants in the Persons Of Exceptional Significance events convene to drink, acknowledge each other’s brilliance, set up independent non-partisan award committees to ensure that members are adquately recognized for this brilliance, express suitably emotive and enthusiastic support and indignation over the Cause Of The Week™, ridicule people who think they’re better than other people, and delight in scrumptious artisanal organic locavore fare from the village Woolworths.

This weekend was a particularly special and festive occasion, as our visitors had an opportunity to batter down one of the last and most stubborn of the outmoded, antiquated traditional social norms that hold back human progress. In short, they gathered to express the deepest nuances of their viscera to one another in a calm, safe and encouraging environment.

Host and recent star graduate of the UCT Faculty of Film & Economic Studies, Clarenceby Silverspooned Shyte-Spigot, went first.

Commentary from the assembled guests proceeds from his initial expression d’p├ęter.

Thomas Tedious-Twattertoff: Astounding Clarenceby! Somehow you have managed to echo the themes, mood and substance of the essay you shared with us last week. Oh don’t look at me like that! You know the one! The one about the significance of the spoons in my own Sociological Thesis on the oppression of levers in Wolfgang Petersen’s tedious fascist production, Das Boot!

That is to say, the delivery was brazen, an initial austerity of sensory perception which lulled one into a sense of cautiously thrilled anticipation before our senses were overwhelmed by notes of literal-mindedness and a whiff of caecum. A cracker of an icebreaker! I..

Sean Whitesteed: If I may interrupt, Thomas, we’re all terribly excited to find out what the lovely Nigella Sollip-Cyst has to offer us this afternoon.  Nigella, a little bird at your gallery told me that you spend no shortage of your time refining your expressions in the gallery broom cupboard. This must require truly daring levels of self-regard.

Nigella Sollip-Cyst: Sean, don’t be silly. I’d much rather see what you have to offer.

Sean Whitesteed: Cert..

Nigella Sollip-Cyst: No? WELL! The truth is I have been working on something special in my spare time. A Spartan diet of hard boiled eggs and champagne ensures that my ability to deliver convincingly coincides with the moment of inspiration from my muses. I also find that readings of Gramsci and Marcuse tend to filter through to, and inspire, my expressions at a profound level. Allow me to prepare a moment

Sean: Yes of course Nigella. Take as long as you need.

Clarenceby: Nigella won’t disappoint us.

A breathless hush ensued, and for a moment we feared that Nigella had lost patience and had enjoyed her expression by herself before coming over. But then it emerged in all its sonorous, majestic glory.

Jessica von Brassica-Haben: Good. God. Nigella. That was outstanding!

Clarenceby: May I! May I!

A brief altercation ensued, in which the gathered group argued playfully about who should have the right to first interpret Nigella’s minuet in methane. Clarenceby eventually won through, but was prevented from taking the podium by the premature, and prolonged, release of Professor Ivorytower-Tenure, who had become overwhelmed by all the excitement.

By the time that had droned away to a final, moist flourish, Nigella’s effort had been entirely drowned out by the Professor’s production, with its evocation of bookjacket dust, tobacco and choleric rice paddies. So Clarenceby simply reprimanded the professor for his poor form, before charitably indicating appreciation for the overall substance of the prof’s contribution. The floor was then opened for discussion of the two necropolitan productions we had just experienced.

Everyone agreed that words were probably not capable of communicating the brilliance of Nigella’s effort, while the Professor’s contribution had spoken for itself. Sean Whitesteed then offered to delay his own contribution until our next meeting so that he might compose a suitable and reciprocal homage to Nigella’s evocative expression.

After this there seemed little else to say, so the baton was passed to one of the VIPs at our event, political scientist Sylvester Houghton-Crib, who had recently resigned from his consultancy position at an autoproctologists union in order to dedicate himself to being permanently offended.

Sylvester rose to his feet and bowed gracefully.

Sylvester Houghton-Crib: With my compliments.

For several moments the attendant group waited expectantly. When nothing transpired an excited wave of murmuring washed across the gathering. One member whispered just loudly enough for everyone to hear whether Sylvester hadn’t perhaps been a little too generous with the gin earlier in the afternoon.

Then the genius of Sylvester’s play hit us all simultaneously, sparking spontaneous applause across the room.

Thomas: Sylvester you Devil. It was about substance and not style all along!

Jessica von Brassica-Haben: Brilliantly wrong footed. Just. Ouffff!

Nigella: Strains of Lloyd-Weber’s Phantom of the Opera, music of the night? And more subtly do I detect a tribute to the abstract expressionism of Newman?

At which point everyone agreed that it would only be charitable to open a window to share Sylvester’s genius with the city below.

Several other participants ventured their performances before attention turned to three time Edgy Award nominee, Pastichia Saint-Beaucoup’or, who'd risen to universal prominence by modelling the latest ideological fashions on the runways of London, New York and Pyongyang.

As was always the case when Pastichia had the floor, a breathless hush fell over the room. Then she spoke.

Pastichia: Thank you my brilliant friends. Before I proceed a little background on my humble creation.

To avoid being exclusive, and to stay unique and creative, I travelled around Cape Town sampling expressions from cool, happening people. Now people. It people. I travelled all the way from Kloof Street to Long Street, sampling talent wherever I could find it.

I was so inspired by what I saw. Thousands of intensely individualistic, so, so, so interesting upper-middle class 20-40 something white people, all expressing solidarity in ideology, opinion, dress, artistic preferences, attitude and hairstyle. It was incredible. These weren’t your run of the mill status-whoring fast adapters, these were people who could actually appreciate the incredible daring and personal integrity that is required to sublimate oneself entirely to dominant establishment narratives.

In my conversations it became apparent that not one of these paladins of progress had allowed their deep commitment to their personal materialism get in the way of their equally intense devotion to radical leftist ideology. It was inspiring and intoxicating. Often I’d nip in while the artist was snuffing her- or him-self on the balcony of a local doucherie, sample a whiff and then snap my sampling cup shut on a little piece of self-expressed history…

The audience sat rapt, waiting for Pastichia to continue.

Pastichia: The key to my pending performance was to then siphon this saprobic scent into my sinuses, using yoga to encourage it to breath through the core of my being and merge with my own scent, birthing something entirely new. Something… revolutionary.

I then invented an apparatus out of a retro oxygen mask and a hosepipe (patent pending), generating a feedback loop that allowed me to internally distill the essence of my creation. For three days and three nights I allowed it to circulate through me. It was a religious experience. I encountered my own greatness, then surpassed it, fantastical ideas and concepts sparked through my brain. Soul burning, I finally arrived at the expression I plan to share with you today.

A breathless silence descended upon the room once again. The fervor of Sylvester and the Professor’s prolix post-perineal polemics had long since subsided. The audience watched as Pastichia slowly and deliberately pulled herself into the lotus position, took three or four deep breaths, and performed an act of pelvic pranayama so profound that several of the attendant members slipped from consciousness, while the rest of us wept openly in a state of near-religious rapture.

Then the plaudits began to pour in.

Clarenceby: Transcendental. I'm nominating you for both the Shyte-Spigot Praxis Award and the Diamond Medal in Significance immediately.

Professor Ivorytower-Tenure: Sublime, my dear. Notes of oak, evocations of Handel being played in a bathtub.

Sean: Your best ever. Wow. Just wow.

Jessica von Brassica-Haben: I love, love, love what you have done here.

Thomas: Perfection? Perfection. I wish I could have one of those first, thing, every morning. You should bottle it. You really should. It’s that good.

And there were too many more to mention. Sylvester was too moved to speak; the lenses of his sternly framed spectacles misted over, his face a picture of longing - and the faintest, piquant whiff of young pinot noir rising from his seat.

The room eventually settled into a semblance of order, but only once Sean Whitesteed had made a show of hunting around the room for every last delectable snuff of Pastichia’s genius.

After that it was agreed by all to move onto lunch, where our collective acts of daring self-expression were discussed over a plate of Woolworths soft eating bread.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Xtreme Freedom Manifesto

Inspired by the re-emergence of Marxist-Leninist movements around the world, but disheartened by their reactionary rightist discourse that settles for only the most humble visions of a Utopian World, I have taken it upon myself to set up the The Most Leftist Party of Upper Middle Class Doctrinally Convinced Revolutionaries Evar in order to remedy the state of the planet, the character of humanity, and that most reactionary of socially constructed elements, reality itself.

I herewith declare the 16 points of the Extreme Freedom Manifesto:


1.    Every man woman and child on the planet shall allowed the use of a piece of land, which shall include, but not be limited to, one 4 bedroom double storey house and a private beach.

2.    Every man woman and child on the planet shall have recourse to free education in government approved establishments for the pre- and post-rectification of reactionary tendencies and inculcation of extreme enlightenment. Education shall be compulsory and life-long.

3.    The Party shall provide to all citizens free medical care of first world standards, free educational movies on Tuesdays and Thursdays, free clothing, and free food. *All and any necessary measures shall be applied to ensure that the Doctor to citizen ratio remains high, possibly including educating more Doctors.

4.    All privately owned businesses will be taken over by the state without compensation. This will guarantee the elimination of the insidious dangers of monopoly by giving the state control over every element of the economy.

Simplicity is the key to our vision, and it is irrefutable that the ideologically vetted wisdom and vision of one Party technocrat centrally planning an economy is superior in scope and vision to the fault-prone and chaotic visions of millions of untrustworthy and unrestrained capitalists making decisions independent of the Party based on deluded notions of experience and expertise in their respective fields.

5.    Not one man woman and child on the planet shall be required to work unless they wish to, and only then for a daily period in accordance with their levels of motivation and only then in fields in which they have an interest. *Unless selected for compulsory voluntary participation in an economic supplementation programme at the Party’s discretion at a site of our choosing for a period of the Party’s determination.

6.    The weekend shall run from Monday to Sunday due to sustained levels of excellent economic output anticipated. On these days the Party shall organize festivals and parties between 6am and 1am, where citizens shall be robustly encouraged to operate Soviet era machinery in glorious symphonies of coordinated expression of creative praxis through effort. *Participation in Festivals shall fall under compulsory voluntary ordinances.

7.    Individuals are nesting grounds of reactionary tendencies, and to alleviate them of these irresponsible tendencies, they shall be relieved of the ownership of all personal property and the fruits of their labour lest they be tempted to indulge in bourgeoism and prideful behaviour. The Party shall take the onerous challenge of taking custodianship of all property upon its incorruptible self.

8.    The reallocation of this property for purposes deemed suitable by the state shall fall into the hands of the enlightened representatives of the Party, who in keeping with the great revolutionary tradition, shall ensure that it is distributed wisely and fairly, with no preference for social status or station, but only with due attention to those qualities and personal traits that have been sanctioned by the Party elders on behalf of the collective.

9.    The Party, by virtue of its virtuous self-elective capacities and consequent inherent wisdom, shall be the only party eligible to hold and bear arms. Martial arts shall be outlawed, as shall projectile weapons ranging from guns to catties, metal cutlery, sticks longer than 2cm, ropes, stones weighing over 20.52 grams, containers of water deeper than 35mm and the physical properties known as ‘pointiness’ and ‘sharpness’. Where necessary offenders' actual arms may also be removed. This shall ensure the safety of the collective and reduce disruptions when weeding out non-compliant reactionary forces within the collective.

10.    In line with these enlightened procedures, which are certain to eliminate all poverty and suffering instantaneously, poverty shall henceforth be banned so that it shall never return to this planet. *Members of the collective found in violation of this principle shall be entitled to voluntary compulsory enrollment in the state’s poverty reduction program. Participants are required to bring their state-approved plastic shovels and something to splash on.

11.    The Party shall stand firm against that insufferable reactionary force known as death. Our policy is irrefutable and non-negotiable, death shall be banned forthwith, and shall only be permitted as punishment in the cases where adhesion to this policy is disregarded by the members of the collective, or in cases where the Party determines it is necessary for the wellbeing of the collective.

12.     Personal choice and self-expression shall be encouraged and celebrated to whatever extent it does not impact on the clean, pragmatic and pure expression of Party Doctrine. Do What Thou Wilt shall be the whole of the law to the extent it does not violate the other whole of the law that is to respect to the authority of the Party in all matters that actually matter.

13.    The outdated mode of pseudo-collectivist contrivance known as the family shall be banned. The Party shall be the parent of the collective, and they its loving children. Piety towards biological parents shall be outlawed, just as carnal love – preferably expressed by frequent and varied sexual intercourse with as wide a range of random partners as possible – shall be encouraged. This shall inculcate in the masses the deepest principles of love, restraint, devotion and unselfish conduct.

14.    Gods shall be banned from the planet, for the Party shall under no circumstances tolerate the belief in the presence of beings that consider themselves omniscient, unimpeachable, irreplaceable and capable of dictating and managing the minutiae of the daily life of a citizen. Virtue shall not be defined by a distant and cold figure, but rather by a dead German man who didn't know how to use a razor and also wrote bad poetry.

15.    Speech will be free, and will be rationed out on Fridays and Sundays at Party approved free speech outlets. Any words, thoughts, opinions or ideas not included in this ration shall be considered to be black-market materials and use or ownership thereof shall be punishable by death.

In addition the post-'Sticks and Stones' milieu in which we regrettably find ourselves (which can result in instant death for anyone exposed to words they don't like or agree with), causing offence to anyone at all shall also be subject to the death penalty  (please note that the Bureau of Partisan Tolerance will waive this penalty for all offences verbal or otherwise, rained on capitalists, dissidents, individualists and other non-persons).

These methods shall encourage high-spirits, open and relaxed discourse, a more pure doctrine, absolute certainty in our certainty and 100% truth by consensus. We encourage an ideologically plural society in which everyone is in complete agreement with one another.

16.  Climate change shall be halted. Once the Party is in power the climate shall remain at 27 degrees, partly cloudy and with a refreshing breeze for eternity. Any deviations from these climatic conditions will be easily identifiable as the activities of dissidents within the civilian ranks, and we shall hunt down and shoot dissident voices until such a point as the brotherly climate has been normalized and consistent Utopian Saturday afternoon conditions have been achieved.

In conclusion, in return for your consent for us to remove from you the burdens of private property and individual responsibility, we offer you freedom for want, work, death and poverty, along with a free house, food, education and a private beach.

If this merely sounds like the latest version of a familiar scam designed to lure gullible fools into giving up everything they have while fastening the shackles of enslavement to their, and their fellows, ankles in return for something that sounds really good, this is purely coincidental.

In reality, making this new world a reality is simple. All it requires is all of your money, property, labour, energy, unwavering faith, support, co-operation, and, above all, patience. Utopia can arrive tomorrow, once the Party has sufficient centuries in power to tackle the delicate and complex task of reversing the decimations of the bourgeoisie, removing reactionary tendencies from citizens, building many monuments and palaces, and generally sowing the ground for social change using the highest quality human fertilizer.

Should enough of us join together, we shall sweep away the old world in a tidal wave of extreme revolutionary change. The claws of the capitalists shall be ripped free of your skins, and your lives shall be placed to nestle safely in the wise and compassionate hands of the Party elders.

Many will be required to joyously give up their lives for this pursuit. However, a few million deaths should not be seen as barbarous murders callously committed by criminally minded cynical sociopaths, supported by feeble minded sycophants and funded by monopoly capitalists in pursuit of unfettered power and wealth, but rather as the blood sacrifices that shall inevitably accompany the birthing of a more just and kind world.

In return for my humble desire to transform the entire planet, I require little in return. Simply the love of my people, the adoration of the Party that wants only the best for you, and a small relief statue of my wizened face carved into the sea-facing wall of Table Mountain.

Yours in emancipation and humility.

Comrade Commandant Field-Marshall Eick, PHD Economics (Extreme Victims Unit, The Marx Institute of Cape Town (formerly UCT))

Thursday, January 31, 2013

10 reasons to say fuck the weather in Cape Town

So the other day, in the midst of an extended course of near gale force Cape southeaster, I went onto Google to find out if anyone else thinks that Cape Town has possibly the shittest weather on the planet, and definitely the shittest weather on the planet for any city that invests so much time in commending itself for being incredibly, staggeringly awesome.

I didn't come across any Cape Town weather hate clubs. The marketers have done too good a job on this one. What I did find was this which I was at first tempted to think was the finest example of satire I had seen in my life, before it gradually dawned on me that the author meant every damned word of it.

Allow me to respond to some of the questions and ideas she pitches at the reader in that article (which you will probably need to read to make sense of my responses):

1. Winter, what's that?
What's that? Allow me to direct your attention to the season that spans the brief seven month period between the time the first cold fronts roll into town in April and roll out of town in October. You know it's there because you are cold. All the time. You know it's there because you are suddenly spending more money on running the heaters in your house than you are on paying back your car.

Winter in Cape Town is not just cold, it's clammy. A deep insiduous clammy that reaches down into your bones and makes you so cold that simple remedies like hot water bottles and heaters cease to be effective. This is a cold that functions like spider venom, digesting you from the inside out, so that once you are cold you can take a hot shower or lie under ten layers of blankets and still be cold.

Winter is being too scared to make the trip from your bed to the shower each morning unless you first spend a hundred bucks on electricity to warm your room sufficiently for you to survive the trip. Winter is endless turbulent cold fronts sweeping across the peninsula, driven in from the Atlantic, so that for months at a time there's just cold, grey and wet.

And because Capetonians have somehow managed to ignore the weather, they don't do central heating. It's entirely possible for your house to be as cold as it is outside, and chances are, unless you're a millionaire, it will be.

Think about it, seven months of this. And just for the glorious fuck of it, you'll get rogue cold fronts blowing over the peninsula into early December, just to remind you what's coming to get you in four months time.

2. The Cape Doctor
Oh, the Cape Doctor! How quaint! Think Dr Josef Mengele, think Dr Kevorkian. This thing may blow away the smog, but it blows everything else away too. It blows away any hope of spending time outdoors unless you're an avid, and possibly immortal, kite or windsurfer. It blows away trees, it blows away sand - turning a beach walk into an encounter with a sandblaster.

It just blows and blows and blows, often for weeks on end. You have to nail your doors and windows shut - or pad them with clothing (as I am forced to do) - or your entire home will rattle constantly. The wind howls and howls like a banshee on crystal meth, fucking up your braai, your kiddies party, your wedding, your entire fucking life, for three to four months straight.

And just as a big 'fuck you', it does it during summer, just when you thought it was safe to go outside. The article says you'll have a good view of Cape Town from Table Mountain when the SE is blowing. I assume that's on the off chance that the cable car is actually running, and that the enjoying the view part will happen in the few seconds you have before you're buffeted right off the mountain by the wind or run for cover.

And just out of interest, every year this demonic wind kills people. It blows doors into them as they walk down the street, it blows gates into them, it rips the doors off cars or dents them into other cars. It'll blow you off your scooter, and shunt your car into oncoming traffic. These things really happen.

The 'Cape Doctor' is an entire peninsula being possessed by a howling demon for three months. Now you know.

3. Ideal Conditions for Extreme Sports
No really, extreme sport number one being Survival. I mean how many people do extreme sports anyway? Is that really an attraction? I guess if it is then Cape Town is great, because walking down the street or driving to the corner store become extreme sports, so it's a cheap option for enthusiasts.

One thing is for sure, you can't surf, because the wind blows out the surf for weeks on end. The False Bay side is perpetually onshore, and looks like dishwashing liquid being struck by a hurricane, while the Atlantic Coast has all its warm water blown out to sea, so if you get in the water you need to wear two wetsuits or give up any hope of having children.

Yes kitesurfers like it, although I suspect the kitesurfers who didn't like it are unable to share their opinion on the matter by virtue of the fact that they are now living on Tristan de Cunha after being  blown off course, or have been eaten by sharks 300km out to sea (oh yeah, and Cape Town doesn't bother itself with shark nets, which is why it has the only popular public beaches in South Africa where people routinely get eaten by sharks cruising around looking for a tasty meat popsicle).

4. Spring Flower Festivals
Once a year, the fynbos - a remarkably unremarkable indigenous knee-high brush that blankets the Cape - experiments briefly with the concept of colour. This lasts anywhere between one and two weeks before the wind kills every single one of those pretty little flowers and the countryside goes back to being a dull green/brown and windswept. But hey, go ahead, don't let this picture stop you from living in a cold, wind-demon haunted African version of Patagonia year-round so that you can watch some pretty wildflowers being murdered by the climate once a year.

5. The autumn colours in the winelands
This one confused me, because strictly speaking Cape Town has two seasons, winter and summer, occasionally in the same day. There's some sort of transition phase in there, but there are not four separate seasons. It's fucking hot and windy, and then it goes to being fucking cold and windy and wet. The autumn colours in the winelands are the results of leaves dying, and in a way I agree that these scenes are remarkable, if only because it's astonishing that the trees in Cape Town are able to retain any of their leaves in the face of the southeaster.

6. Photogenic Cape Town
I'll give her this one, Cape Town is photogenic, and mostly because the wind is invisible to cameras - although if you're paying attention you might realise that trees growing sideways is not entirely normal. Also, that blue Camps Bay ocean looks very different on a photograph compared to when you're actually in it and have just inadvertently put your testicles into cryogenic storage. So my advice is enjoy photogenic Cape Town by looking at photographs of it taken by people with their backs turned to the Cape Flats (a sprawling, garbage strewn, portion of the city where over a million of its inhabitants live in poverty).

7. The Table Cloth
Sometimes Table Mountain is covered in clouds and it looks pretty. I can't fault this one. It's even known to happen when you can stand outdoors without having to hold onto something, and can take your time to admire it.

8. Hiking and Cycling in Cape Town
Possibly two of the most dangerous activities to attempt in Cape Town after trying to befriend a local. The choice is really between getting mugged and getting run over. There used to be some good hiking available on Table Mountain, at least until gangs of muggers set up shop on the flanks of the mountain and started routinely mugging and stabbing people. If you don't believe me search for 'Mugging' and 'Table Mountain' on Google News (here's the IOL celebrating the fact that mountain muggings have been cut down to just over 1 a month in 2012).

So that leaves cycling. To its credit Cape Town has built some cycle lanes on the West Coast, which means you're safe from being hit by cars if you stick to these. Unfortunately these lanes lie at a 90 degree angle to - and in the direct path of - the 'wind tunnel' mentioned in the article, which gives kite-surfers their lift on Blouberg Beach. If you instead choose to ride in the road then you leave yourself at the mercy of Cape Town drivers, who comprise a topic all of their own and are beyond the scope of this article.

9. Life's a beach
I agree, life is much like a Capetonian beach. It's full of shit, plastic bits you don't want or need, and occasional moments of beauty and calm. While the city councils make an effort, most Cape Town beaches are essentially sandboxes where people take their dogs to take a dump, people who can't figure out how to use an ashtray put out their cigarettes, and Chinese seamen working on passing container vessels send small plastic fragments and the occasional shoe to die. Noordhoek's not bad, once you get past the dumping zone, if you don't mind driving 40 minutes to get to a decent beach in a place that is surrounded by beaches.

The article claims that Cape Town summer days rarely get hotter than 30 degrees, which is untrue even before you take into consideration the fact that many parts of Cape Town spend weeks at a time in flames thanks to the charming local habit of throwing cigarette butts into the tinderbox fynbos at the height of the windiest part of summer.

10. Never bad weather in Cape Town
Hitler called this kind of statement the 'big lie' - a suggestion so preposterous that it's easier to believe it than to believe that anyone could possibly be dishonest or insane enough to tell such a monumental untruth. If you don't call endless months of clammy cold and damp 'bad', if you don't call the strongest prevailing wind in the country 'bad', if you don't call entire mountain ranges burning to cinders because of the combination of extreme heat and extreme wind 'bad', you're telling a Big Lie right there. Unless. Unless the author meant to say that the weather in Cape Town is not bad, because the word 'bad' simply isn't up to the job of describing how utterly fucking, hideously awful it is.

I know this article will upset those who think Cape Town is the bees knees because you can order seven different kinds of latte while working on refining your Narcissistic Personality Disorder in some overpriced doucherie in Kloof Street, but if you're not from Cape Town, take heed. There are some great things about living in Cape Town, but the weather isn't one of them - they called it the Cape of Storms for a reason.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Interview with the Feminist

Bishops Court resident Virginia Longcup-Cakebottom recently contacted Vokpops requesting an interview to share with us her experience of her conversion to feminism.

A victim of parentally-endorsed suburban slave trafficking in stay-at-home moms from the tender age of 23, Mrs Longcup-Cakebottom recently realised that the manicured hedges around her front lawn and the taffeta curtains in the parlour had been conspiring to conceal from her the conditions of her bondage.

Mrs L-C is part of a new wave of converts to the feminist cause, who has had the courage to see beyond the her superficially comfortable existence and recognise this for the enslavement it really is.

"It started with my father, really," Mrs L-C confided to me over a flute of Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 1995 champagne. "I always found it rather suspicious that the First World War was also described as the 'Great' War. It was clearly a patriarchal slip, for all the moaning about the Somme and Verdun, they couldn't quite hide that it was actually a great time had by all."

"The oppressor [editors note: men] likes nothing more than running around with guns and dodging explosions, and I suspect that they had a ball. Why, my own father was literally left speechless by the fun he had, and it doesn't really surprise me that he returned from the front with a drinking problem cultivated by an unending succession of ribald parties in the trenches."

Like many young women born before the 1960s, and even today, Mrs L-C spent much of her childhood oblivious to the strands of oppression that enshrouded her. She failed to see that the sunny afternoons spent playing with gender-stereotyped dolls in her mini-maisonette, and with her miniature china tea-set, were a subtle process of indoctrination designed to groom her for the conditions of her future enslavement as a domestic serf.

As was bound to happen, with the conditions for eternal servitude so painstaking laid down by the heinous patriarchy and their crafty accomplices the toy-makers, young Miss Longcup soon had a run in with the superficially charming Mr Cakebottom, and the cage door slammed shut 12 months later once she had been lured into perpetual bondage in his starter home in Wynberg by a gleaming piece of rock attached to a small band of metal.

"I felt like Sigourney Weaver in those extra-terrestrial movies," Mrs L-C continued. "My husband carelessly implanted a seed in me, transforming me into a human replication machine. Before I knew it I was well into my twenties, with all my time taken up with the care of children and the agony of domestic minutiae. Never for me the breathless camaraderie of the factory floor, or the glory of the cubicle! Oh no. Instead I was left to rot at home, cooking, making beds and caring for the two selfish little wretches which my husband had begat upon me."

"The weekends were the worst. My husband would come home, mow the lawn, potter around in the garden, cook our meals over an open fire and play with the children - a sick parody of my daily life that was intended to reinforce the capitalist notion that my situation was in some way beneficial to me, or even pleasant and desirable."

"To make matters worse, my husband beat me and the children relentlessly on these frightful weekends," Mrs L-C said, her voice shaking. "Monopoly, Scrabble. If wasn't for 5 card Rummy my self-esteem would have been totally destroyed by the capitalist, imperialist pig. He could at least have let one of the children win - but it isn't in him."

Eternally frustrated by her servitude, Mrs L-C breathed a sigh of relief once the children were of school-going age, and spent her time listlessly roaming the halls of shopping malls, boiling with envy at those who worked in the stores, so callously disregardful of the joys of 9 to 5 employment.

"Imagine! By the age of 35 I had never paid tax, never given or taken an order or instruction, never been fired, never sat in a three hour meeting jousting playfully with fellow employees and employers over business matters of no importance and failing to find resolution on these. I'd never even experienced the adrenaline rush of impending redundancy. I was stuck in the doldrums of eternal servitude, and only rescued by my book club, which introduced me to Germaine Greer's 'The Female Eunuch'."

Greer's book had a profound effect on Mrs L-C's life - not only was it confirmed that her husband, like all men, hated her, and this was why she found herself in her present condition, but she also discovered that all men were in fact demons from the deepest pits of the lower 5th dimension. The most logical resolution to the situation was obvious: the best way to celebrate the divine female principle was to become like a man.

Beds went unmade and children were fed on take-aways as she cut her chains and re-joined an amateur theater group which she had briefly been a member of between the ages of 20 and 32.

"Freedom was heady," Mrs L-C reminisces. "Unbound from the purgatory of domestic life, I rediscovered myself and my passions. I joined a small publishing company, and worked on an internal project - a book about writing books to make a statement about escaping the clutches of capitalist patriarchy."

"During this time I began to scrutinise the activities of my husband more closely, and it soon became apparent to me that he was a racist. His kitchen refurbishing company would hire only black men to perform the demeaning menial tasks required to install the cupboards. When I went into his accounts, I found that instead of redistributing his profits to his labourers he was simply using it to murder more trees and build more cupboards - a relentless cycle of destruction and greed."

It didn't stop there as Mrs L-C, freed from heteronormativity along with loading the dishwasher, experimented with lesbianism.

"Well not really experimented, as such," Mrs L-C concludes. "So far I have just cut a straight line across my fringe, while changing from medium to extra firm tofu and spending more time hanging out on Kloof Street."

- Vokpops

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Road - A Parody

After reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road and manfully resisting the urge to kill myself, I felt a parody of The Road was in order.

First there was The Road, then there was...

They Strode (or maybe Cannibal Hobos of the Apocalypse)

The rain rapped down endlessly on the stinking plastic tarp, neither getting stronger nor stopping. The man lay in the cold endless dawn wishing he was dead, but then cursed himself for thinking such cheerful thoughts and instead lay imagining himself cutting his eyelids off with the serrated rainrusted lid of a tin can. Eventually he turned to the boy, wrapped up in his filthy blanket, bedraggled blond hair coated in the tiny carcasses of dead lice. The man watched as one last straggler hauled itself to the edge of a tuft of hair, hesitated and then threw itself off. It twitched once on the icy tarmac and then lay still. Merciful God. Even the lice are giving up.
Wake up.
Im really tired papa.
Were starving.
Again?
Again.
Okay.
Okay.

They ate the last of the dog food out of a dented can, waiting for the rain to stop. It didn’t. Eventually the man put the boy in the empty cart and draped the tarp over him and set off down the road. The front right wheel of the cart dangling uselessly and causing it to oversteer to the right. The man stopped and thought. Then he asked the boy to get out the cart and walk, before strapping the cart to his back and continuing down the road.

The solemn sun circled above the ashen rainclouds, wandering around the earth like a chemotherapy patient around a cancer ward in a blackout. They walked through sodden drifts of ash, mixed in with unidentifiable bones and trash, while the boy played with a broken yoyo by throwing it up in the air and catching it again.
Are we there yet?
Where?
The place where we’re going.
The coast?
The coast.
No.
Why are we going there.
Because I want you to see the ocean and it was getting too cold at home.
But its cold now.
It was colder at home.
But it wasnt cold in the good place.
No it wasnt.
So why did we leave. There was plenty of food there, and beds, coffee, lighters. Now I am starving.
Me too. Because we would have been found.
Why didn’t we just move the stuff out of the shelter and into one room of the house? We could have covered the shelter again, nobody would have seen us. We could have searched the town. Maybe there was a hospital or a pharmacy where we could have found some medicine for you.
Since when do you communicate in multiple sentences?
Don’t be angry papa.
I’m not angry.
Okay.
Okay.
We could have stayed there and eaten all the food and rested until you were better and then left when we had just enough stuff left to put in the cart.
I’m getting angry.
Okay.
What’s by the ocean anyway?
I don’t know.
Well at least we have a plan.
Who said that. You? Or me?
I don’t know – this kind of dialogue can get complicated. I think I’m the boy and you’re the man, so I guess you said it. You’re the man. Why don’t we have names?
Because theres no God, if there was he'd hate us and the world is cruel cruel cruel.

They nighted beneath a burnt tree. The boy scouted around and found two desiccated twinkies lying in a pile of trash. They saved one and toasted the remaining one over the fire on a burnt piece of branch until the cream foamed out of the twinkie and the sponge cake turned dark brown. The man fed it to the boy with a broken fork.
Its really good papa.
Here have a tinned peach to wash it down.
Where did you get that?
I dont know we always seem to have some tinned peaches left.

In the morning they tramped back onto the road. The rain had turned to sleet, mixed with ash and bits of old snow. They passed a crashed Boeing 747, its innards hanging into the road. A broken wing pointed hopelessly at the sky. A mess of oxygen masks, pillaged luggage and burnt tortured bodies twined around its aluminum skeleton.
Wait here.
I’m really scared papa.
I said wait here.
No I am really scared papa.
Wait here or I am selling you as a catamite to the next band of cannibals we see on the road.
Okay.
Okay.
Im so really scared Id shit my pants if I had anything in my system to shit.
Shit your twinkie.
Okay.

The man dug around the inside of the plane working his way methodically from the tail down to the cockpit. He found a Gameboy in the knapsack of a tiny backpack with a burnt teddy bear hanging off it on a rusted keychain. In a luggage compartment he found a felt fedora. He put it on his head and moved forward. In the cockpit he found the pilots still sitting there. Flight caps perched on the caramel brown of their skulls. In the lap of one a thesaurus, swollen by damp, the print still barely legible.

The man put the thesaurus in his pocket and rifled through the cockpit. He found three cans of peaches a Zippo lighter and a samurai sword. The man climbed down out of the plane to show the boy what he’d found. The boy was gone and an icy hand clutched at the mans heart.

He found the boy standing on the top of the rise overlooking the plane. His back to the man, staring down at the field beyond. The boy was jumping up and down in fear. His eyes wide. Clapping his hands and pointing.
Whats wrong?
I’m..
Really scared?
How did you know?
What’s wrong?
The boy pointed again. The man turned his head and looked. He didn’t think he’d ever be okay again. On the savage ashed plain beneath the rise, hidden from the road, a field of stakes. On the top of each a head, covered in matted golden fur, leatherlike tongue lolling out over rotted teeth. Each head never to bark in joyous welcome again.
Golden Retrievers.
What?
Golden Retriever puppies.
Puppies?
The boy started crying.
I’m sorry.
I want a puppy.
The puppies are dead. Im so sorry.
Why papa why?
Because this is just going to keep on getting unimaginably worse until the writer gets a Pulitzer prize just to make him stop.
Okay.
Okay.
So the man picked up the boy and turned away from the field of dead puppies.
Look what I found. A thesaurus.
Can we eat it papa?
No. Look.
The man crouched down in the sodden ash and flipped the thesaurus open, ruffling through the pages.
What are you doing papa? Im really hungry.
Very.
The man pointed at a page of the thesaurus.
What?
You're very hungry. Veritably hungry. Absolutely, bloody, clearly, decisively, determinedly, distinctly, downright, emphatically, flat out, for a fact, in spades, no holds barred, no ifs ands or buts, no mistake, no strings attached, positively, straight out, strongly, terribly, terrifically, unequivocally, unmistakably, fucking hungry.
Okay.

In the laudanum evening the two located the trolley. The man labouriously strapped it to his back and they moved into the firescarred woods looking for shelter from the wet, cold, sepulcher dark.

The End.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Conversation with God

(First published in the 2003 Laugh It Off Annual)

God please be here now, we are in trouble.

You have reached Heaven. Pray 1 to hear your current sin balance, pray 2 to make a request or remain on hold and an Angel will be with you shortly.
You are currently 1,234,255,376 in the line.


Uh…

Good morning this is Heaven, how may I provide you with excellent service?

I need to speak with God, I’m praying from Earth. The situation here is serious.

I’m afraid God is not available right now. I can put you through to our complaints department. Please remain on hold.

Um…

Good morning this is the complaints department, how may I help you?

I’m trying to get a hold of God, there’s some pretty serious stuff happening down here on Earth.

Yes. Yes. Of Course. That’s why I am here to help you. What seems to be the problem?

Well it’s really something I’d like to discuss personally with him if you don’t mind. I’m trying to write a book to take his message…

Please hold the line.

…back to the people of Earth…

Hello?

Hello God?

Yes? Who is it? Is this a sales Prayer?

No! I’m praying from Earth and we are in some serious trouble, I think Satan and his forces are raging out of control.

And you’re taking a message from me back to the people of Earth?

Yes.

I see. A prophet. Very well, what was the problem again?

Well, Satan is raging out of control…

Impossible.

Impossible?

Yes. It can’t be Satan. I happen to know for a fact that Satan is playing golf right at this moment.

What?

He’s semi-retired! Didn’t you know? Heaven was involved in a hostile takeover of Hell a few months ago.

No?!

Oh, well we already had some of our Church’s best people well placed there. It was a cost cutting exercise really. The rental on Heaven was killing us, and since then we’ve moved most of our operation down under and retained a small Hell department. Of course the Devil is still around, but he’s really just a ceremonial figure now. Spends a lot of time playing golf, and hanging out at fashion shows.

Well then who is responsible for the stuff going on down here then?

Let me check my files quick… Ah! Yes we have subcontracted Hell operations on your planet to the American ruling establishment. We got an excellent deal really, because they agreed to do it for free as part of their regular operations. And although I think old Satan would hate to admit it, they are really rather better at the job than he was.

Yes I suppose that makes sense…

Yes. They have really done an excellent marketing job in making Hell appealing, and the people on your planet seem to be responding well. Now that we’ve taken Hell away from an easily identifiable bad guy and put it into the hands of trans-national corporations things seem to be working far more smoothly. They’ve come up with some excellent concepts. Tying up concepts of truth, virtue and righteousness with the worst kinds of stupidity, mediocrity and inhumanity. Their vision is rather breathtaking. I mean, nothing can surpass consumerism in really making Hell palatable to the masses and getting them to tune into their own worst tendencies.

Really.

Uh Huh. In fact we are thinking of moving the Hell department up to your planet because they are doing such an excellent job of propagating the right working environment for our demons. That will allow us down here to focus on the things we do best in Heaven.

It doesn’t bother you that this place may be completely overrun by evil?

Well, yes it does of course, but by moving Hell to Earth we’ll soon be able to hold your planet up to the galactic masses as an example of what happens when the forces of evil run rife. So try remember its all for a good cause.

So I guess this means you won’t be able to help us.

No, for the present moment, I’m afraid not. You’re going to have to help yourself, because if I got involved that would be akin to insider trading.

Er.. Yes I see.

Look. Armageddon isn't far off, so it would probably be easier for you to ingest some of Hell’s morphia and just hang on till we get around to shutting down its operations. We have already negotiated settlement deals with Beelzebub and several of the other senior Demons and once things are in place, give or take a few Millennia, I’m sure things will be sorted out.

I was hoping for something a little more prompt.

I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t have the time to continue this conversation. To be perfectly honest the problem lies in your brain. You can either attempt to use it properly, which quite frankly would just complicate matters for us, or else you can switch it off permanently, which is preferable and easier for you. I recommend that you attend a football match, eat at McDonalds, go to the movies or watch an hour of TV a day. Doing any of these on a regular basis is guaranteed to produce results within a few weeks. I wish you well. If you get confused just watch what the rest of the people on your planet are doing and follow their example. Thanks for Praying.


"To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson in humility, which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society—a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals." Friedrich Hayek