Sunday, December 27, 2009

Barrels of Fun

I’ve never been sealed in a barrel and sent over a waterfall. I went to the Niagara Falls once, when I was two years old. I was so overwhelmed by the mass of water surging over the cliff, that I threw my favourite toy train over the lookout point. It was maybe a na├»ve sacrificial acknowledgement that the power of nature was far more able to impress me than a manmade object. Somewhere in the roiling mass below the falls, my toy train sinks and rises in the world’s biggest toilet flush, and will keep me at that tender age of innocence. One of my first memories.

I’ve never actually shot fish in a barrel. I have overfed several goldfish, though, which amounts to the same thing. At county fairs in the UK when I was small, it was perfectly normal to come home with a plastic bag of fish at the end of the evening, having snagged a hook with a ring, or some such challenge. They flitted around the bowl for long enough to get a name and some anthropomorphic attachment (That one seems gloomy, let’s call him Saddy) before the last meal, as final as that of the condemned criminal before his execution. One pinch of the fishy smelling flakes too much, and Saddy would be spiraling down the toilet bowl in a somber farewell ceremony the following morning.

I’ve never had a barrel full of laughs. But I have laughed until I cried. My brother and father used to tickle me until I wept. I no longer enjoy that at all, but the kind of laughs I am talking about are the ones when something just snaps into place, and you can’t look the person you are with in the eye without having to fall to the table and beat it with your hands, begging for mercy as your chest implodes with laughter. If I could figure out how to gather those moments up and stick them in a barrel, I would.

Barrels can be full of challenges, persecution or unbridled joy. The best part about them is that they are not meant to remain sealed, but that whatever is in them will come bursting out at the right time, and that because they are limited in size, the persecution and challenges will be overcome, but the laughter never runs out. Challenges and persecution come as predictably as clockwork, but laughter comes suddenly and fills you up when you most need it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Singing in Pink

I need women in my life. Women who sing. Women who sing about love and loss, failure and disappointment. Women who can take a microphone and use it as a scalpel to open me up and operate on me. Women who can also howl and growl about hope and joy. Women do things differently to men

I have quite a few CDs on rotation at the moment. All dealing with the above emotions and life experiences, but done by men. Brilliant music, and equally capable of intricate surgical maneuvers, but still, fundamentally different to women.

I work with Non-governmental Organizations. NGOs. In South Africa. That means every action performed by the organization must be examined according to fair employment practices. In particular, representation must be made at every level by women and black people. We associate closely with governments, and it is imperative that as an organization we are building a team which reflects the multi-faceted nature of our society. I like that. The only way we will effect change is by reviewing our task teams and asking if everyone has been given a fair opportunity. For those of you who insist that this practice is unfair, and leads to promotion of people beyond their skills level or maturity, I am not saying that. All I am saying is, it is good to avoid homogeneity in a group. And thankfully, we do not battle to find skilled women, blacks, coloureds or pretty much any ‘group’ you could choose. Often, the inclusion of diverse people with different social backgrounds adds some eye-opening flavour to a brain-storming session. Some of us may think differently, but when those differences are steered towards achieving a common goal, the results are so much better than the lukewarm broth that comes from one group all hatched from the same nest. (Yeah, so I suck at metaphors- I have dealt with that).

Anyway, as I was saying, before I naively reeled into the pathway of the runaway race truck, I need some new music. I need to have the tenderness and insight women can put into lyrics and performance. I need to dip deeper than the clever posturing of men, to the sheer chest-split-open heart surgery of listening to women. From Nina Simone to Amy Winehouse, from Celine to my own favourite, Mary Gauthier, I need them to fill the spaces on my CD rack, to balance out the men. I use music to feed into certain moods, and I keep looking for the right CD, only to realize it is a woman, and I don’t own her music. It’s like craving McDonalds, and getting served lettuce.

Some people only read books written by women, or only listen to music performed by them. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that for all of our differences, we need each other in order to have a clear idea of what life is like for someone not like me. I am crossing fingers that I get a voucher this Christmas- I’ll be browsing the CD racks, looking for the right feminine voices for my headspace. Siouxsie, KD Lang, Patti Smith, the Slits, Patsy Cline, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, heck, even Alanis and others like her.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

He'd sealed up the monster within the tomb!

A Treat: A Powerful Poetic Beginning:
The weapons were selected; they stood there back to back,
Marched ten tiny paces, in their suits of formal black.
They stopped and drew, the bullets flew, and both fell bleeding, dead.
The brains they hadn’t thought with splashed pinkly from their heads.
Turned out that there was only one, reflected in a glass,
And he had merely shot himself, the poor deluded arse.

Its standard police procedure (I’m assuming it is- I’m an expert on it having watched police programs from Kojak to Dexter), to ask the surviving relatives if the stiff, or the vic, had any enemies, so that they can ID the perp.

This is a useful debriefing procedure when you are interrogating yourself in the wee hours. One of you sits hunched in a chair, hollow-eyed and jonesin’ for a coffee or a smoke, while the other circles you. No good cop, bad cop, but rather just a mean lying rat-assed bastard of an inquisitor, second guessing everything you thought was true, but now have lost your bearings with. The lack of sleep and the constant revisiting of scenes of crimes, real and imagined warp the timelines and coordinates of reality. Soon you are adding to your mild wrongdoings a list of heinous activities that is almost genocidal in its documented form. The endless questioning has you longing for the stark comfort of your cell, where the fears and memories are contained and almost disarmed.

So what you need to do is ask what or who your enemies are. For some it maybe the guy at work who shamelessly takes credit for your labours but belittles you in meetings. It could be a family member with whom you refuse to share space at family events. Could be an actual enemy, who has genuinely threatened you. But don’t forget to add yourself to the list of suspects. Yup. Who knows better about how to mess with your head than you? Who can flick your buttons and twist your screws? Who knows that the worst kind of enemy is one from whom you cannot hide?

It’s not a death sentence. You can separate the fictions from the realities, and parse the evil from the good. The best defense against an inner enemy is an inner ally. It helps to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth, and provide reinforcements of encouragement and love. Thank you for doing that.

Note: Poe did it first, in William Wilson. This occurred to me afterwards, but he does it to far better effect…

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Uhming and Ahing.

When I listen to your bad news, words fail me. I sit and feel like I have a mouth full of dough. My head gets empty and all I can do is blurt the most inadequate nonsense, like “Shame!” or, ”No!” When what I want to do is cover you in a secure blanket of reassurances and promises. When you talk about troubles and difficulties, I loathe the Dr Phil aphorisms that drip from my mouth like deceiving syrup on a pancake- sweet for a few minutes, but just causing the brief fizz in the bloodstream before the sweetness is absorbed by the ruthlessly continuing mechanics of life.

When I hear your good news, I want to use the most humungous, ginormous, awesome hyperbole to shower you with the acknowledgement you deserve to feel. I want you to feel better than sex or drugs or rock n roll could ever make you feel, and yet, the best I can come up with in the power of your moment of shared joy is “That’s nice”.

When I’ve screwed up, yep, I do that, what I want to do is fall to my knees begging for forgiveness; make you physically aware of the humiliation and the shame, the recriminations and the guilt. Instead I say “I’m sorry”.

When I feel love, disappointment, joy, anger, hope, rage, optimism, faith, disgust, delight, grief, fear, regret, enthusiasm, sadness, elation- I want to have a mouth that speaks the words I have elbowing each other around in the waiting room of my head. Please know that. Please know that my verbal inadequacy is not a reflection of the complexity within. I don’t express it well enough, so if you hear something that sounds good, it really is well-meant. If I disappoint you with my stumbling phrases when you need encouragement and love, I promise you, those words are there, and I mean you to hear them.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Floating feeling

You want to know what I crave? Probably not, but if you want funny stories about kittens or helpful links to techie trouble shooting stuff, you’ve come to the wrong place. Without regurgitating all the stuff that has happened, I have come to a place where I need to float.

I look at my lava lamp, and I’m almost envious of the way the golden blobs of wax get to drift in glowing suspension, rolling over and over with unhurried tranquility, on a stress-free surge and drop cycle in a thick protected glass skin.

I see jellyfish. Well, not actually see them, although more architects should embrace giant seawater tanks as walls- pulsing with calm and gentle thrusts through the lukewarm azure seas. I don’t think of their propensity for violence, only the womb-beat rhythm of their journeys.

A bubble blown by a child who is still able to extract joy from such a simple act, sending shimmering rainbows as it catches a summer breeze and lifts into the very air which constitutes it.

A swimming pool in a deserted garden, the breathy hiss of summer winds in the nearby trees- the lapping of the water as it lifts you out of circumstance and connection to this world.

The reassuring words of the masked anesthetist as he counts back from ten and you are gloriously dulled to the removal of dangers, hurts and pain.

Floating, a leaf in a cool stream, a herb for garnish on a bowl of homemade soup, an insect with meniscus-swollen feet walking an impossible track.

Floating would be perfect right now.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Be kind to an Anarchist Today

Ask almost anybody. It’s the way we think. Go up to them and tell them you like to stick to the rules. They’ll put on a mock-sly grin and say without irony, ‘Rules were made to be broken…’ So this is the moral anarchy in which we live. The old tanks of certainty and protection lie burned out in the parade ground outside the palace, Molotov cocktails of free will and denial having scorched their rigid interiors.

But that’s the world we live in. Sure, there are some immutable rules, such as personal hygiene and looking twice before you cross the road, but for the rest, it’s not a rule so much as a general indication to be loosely interpreted as: Do whatever the hell you like. Incidentally, why is it that Cape Town is the only city I know of where you have to look both ways when crossing a one-way street?

Perhaps it’s a South African thing. As a cricket loving country, we’re conditioned to celebrate when boundaries are crossed. The boundary is not a limitation, it’s a challenge. We’re not entirely satisfied unless we hit the ball right out of the park. A boundary is just a random point marking our ascension to bigger and better things, more points on the scoreboard.

So there needs to be a new personal management system in place- if we consider ourselves to be governed by freedom to choose what we want to do with our skills and resources, we need to have a clear idea of where the buck stops. Most of us would agree that whereas rules were made to be broken, laws, on the other hand, should be obeyed. Which creates a tension, and the criminalization of society- Never been caught copying that movie? It’s still against the law. Just because your boss never found out that you’ve been squirreling away funds into the Cayman Islands doesn’t mean that he’d be entirely happy with you.

I won’t get all Ten Commandments on you. You do have your own conscience. You should listen to the small, still voice saying it is NOT ok to murder your irritating colleague. Possession is NOT nine tenths of the law. But we need to increase our listening skills. Figure out how to be better, no, wait, the best possible individuals we can be. Rather than looking for angles to get away with things, we can look for ways to improve the quality of life for those around us, be criminally kind and loving. So off you go- break some rules… Be anarchically good.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Behind Closed Doors

Just spent half an hour in the wardrobe department, getting changed for my new job. I’m an anti-parenting guru. I have shunned the grey pants and white shoes of the Dobson generation. I have shoe-horned myself into skintight jeans and a tiny t-shirt, and am ready to undo the nonsense you have been taught by your mothers and their mothers before them. Somewhere back there in history is the original mother who looked at the pink blobs of dependence before her and thought to herself ‘Oh. Shit. What the hell do I do now’?

She’s my heroine. The real mother. Not the woman who has more household skills than an overachieving girl scout has badges. Rather:
The woman who does not end her day in a peach-coloured glow of satisfaction at the way in which her nurturing skills have nudged her innocents towards wholeness and adulthood. The woman whose tears are concealed as collateral damage from cutting onions for the meat and two veg meal. The woman who has a very sore finger from hitting a door frame instead of the child in her care who drip, drip, drips water torture of nagging and whining until she’s infanticidal. The woman whose allies are the stranger-support network she plugs into on the internet and the banshee yells of music she is revisiting to remind her of the carefree person she used to be.

The woman whose fractured future is subsumed by the unpatterned chaos of the present. The woman whose sanity is not defined by coming up with a day full of educational distractions, but who cries herself to sleep praying to a god she no longer believes in that she won’t dream. The woman who knows society has norms, but tells a clerk to go and fuck themselves because that off switch sheared off at three am while trying to mutter loving words to an incessantly crying child. The woman whose bulging life is reduced to a flabby-stomached emptiness after the pills cauterized her ability to enjoy highs and lows.

The woman whose only friends are the DVD player that buys an endless loop of time in which she can remind herself again of all the household flaws which need attention, and the wine bottle which seems to be emptier earlier and earlier.

It may not be you. But it’s someone you know. What do you do for her? Love her, don’t lie to her. Allow her to hurt, but help her to heal. Point out the lies from the truth. Hold her. Whisper to her. Love her. It isn’t pretty, but it is the truth.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I have XY chromosomes, too.

I wasn’t deliberately trying to hurt her. She was just part of the haphazard crowd we knew then. Brought together under trying circumstances and made to co-labour under the watchful eye of the overseer. We’d get hopelessly absorbed in the minutiae of the mundane and puerile tasks invented to keep us sane, and escape like migrating ungulates during the short period of fresh air allotted to us. There was no seething discontent, no fermenting malevolence. As quickly as the sun is eclipsed by the moon, my sense of moral value slipped into shadow.

She was perfect, in almost every way, and in the surge of violence that rose through my veins, I hated her and wanted to destroy her. For no reason other than that she was in competition with me, she challenged my emerging manhood. The room, its’ institutionalized nature confirmed in grey paint, was too small for both of us. Life and lives can change in an instant. Mine did. 34 years on, I can remember the meaningless bloated feeling of pride as I destroyed her. I took her carefully crayoned picture with the painstakingly curved name written underneath, and tore it up; she’d created something more beautiful than I. I was caught- violence against women is sometimes an immature response to emotion, and so, ill-concealed, and duly punished. I have never forgotten or repeated this kind of aggression to a woman.

You could read this and think I am taking the piss, but I am not. Violence against women starts at age four, or five, like this. It grows and metastasizes, and becomes an all-consuming force, which finds release in adulthood. I was a child. I tore up a girl’s picture in the first grade. I could have cultivated that and become like other men, my brother men, whose violence was nurtured in classrooms just like mine. Some men do not develop control mechanisms. Some men are raw emotion, shambling children who respond to life as ids- Life for them is about food, sex and satisfaction. I am barely better.

So. I will respect women. I will teach my sons to do it, too. I’ll teach my daughter to demand it. The most important lessons learned in school are often not the ones graded in black (or swathes of red, in my case), but the ones you carry with you beyond the ‘I can drink smoke get a job be a grown-up’ day of graduation

Watch your children. They learn, they absorb. They are the ones whose ley lines are still malleable, whose continents and oceans have yet to settle.

*16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign
The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children is a United Nations campaign. It takes place annually from the 25th November (International Day of No Violence against Women) to the 10th December (International Human Rights Day). Since 1999 the South African Government has run a parallel campaign that includes issues relating to violence against children. This campaign focuses primarily on generating an increased awareness of the negative impact of violence on women and children as well as society as a whole.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We'll be friends... Forever...

Hope this isn’t just me… When I was young, the end of a friendship usually came with a harmless drifting apart. Friends could get through the weirdest issues, even violent pull-your-jumper-over-your-head fights, and still stick together. I don’t know if it’s universal, but we used to say:
“Make friends, make friends, never, ever break friends. If you do, you’ll catch the flu, and that will be the end of YOU” During this recitation, you’d be shaking hands vigorously.

So it was natural that social networking sites got much of their success from primal friendships such as these. Suddenly, you are thirty five, and not able to hang out with your mates every day, and it comes to you in a flash- Whatever happened to that guy I used to be best friends with in grade three? With those early sites, you could track them down with some minor detective work, and find out that they are now just as middle-aged as you, working as a printer, and have 1/3/5 children and two exes.

Right there, you wonder what the hell happened to the kid you used to chase around the playground, the one who taught you swearwords like dammit, and fudge. The one with the dirty knees and the scabbed elbows, who could score a goal from the halfway line (well, the prefab classroom). You send a couple of messages, and eventually he’s just listed as a friend.

Then came Facebook. You never truly had friends until you had at least 500 of them on FB. Friends who poked you, invited you to become part of their zombie force, friends who sent you growing flowers and birthday cards, and fanpages, and events invitations, and pictures of their holidays at the seaside and their pets. You could spend hours thinking up a status, with just the right punch to reach as many as possible.

Then the fatigue set in. The endless keeping track of hundreds of people, the weariness of opening and closing chat windows, the realisation that most of them weren’t really friends. In fact, some of them pissed you off a little bit every time you saw the amusing avatar they’d designed.

So began the unfriending- apparently the most popular word in the UK last year. The sloughing off of dead skin friendships. Cathartic, yeah!

There must be a point to this…
Oh, yes. I’m not trashing FB, or networking sites (apart from MySpace, which is like, sooo old, dude, and that school one which has refused to let me deregister. I’ll be stuck in school forever, always a fear of mine)- but rather just taking a look at what friendship is, or isn’t.

Some of the best friends I’ve met in ages have been new ones, on Twitter. Seems unlikely, but it’s true. Cool people, normal people. Funny people and sad people. It’s like walking into this room full of friends at almost any time of day. You can sit and have a drink, or laugh, or even ROFL or PML. That’s actually not such a bad thing. You can ignore or block the bullies, and if you want to be alone, you switch off.

Is it superficial? I don’t think so. Most of the people on there are actually friends in some way or another, and happy to include you (or at least too polite to tell you to sod off). You can’t shake on the friendship, but you also can’t pull the other person’s jumper over their head or try and gob in their eye.

So. Social Media made it possible to be friends forever. Even after you die, your profile sits grinning out, a perky cartoon figure, or a sinister eye. There is no end, to you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm not afraid of heights

Remember the first day of school? It was a momentous thing. I was four and a half, dressed up in my best denim suit which matched my brother’s, and wearing remarkable tan-coloured semi-platform shoes. It was the 70’s. My friend from up the road came and took part in what was to become an annual tradition, the taking of photos of new haircuts and feet about to get blisters after the summer holidays of running through grass barefoot. It wasn’t a bad day, and I was allowed to take my teddy; he helped. But I never got over that tension of starting something new.

It came back throughout school, especially since we moved quite a bit, and also when we emigrated from the UK to South Africa in 1981. A new country. The feeling of being out of your depth is both tantalising and terrifying- you have no frame of reference other than what you have already experienced, and sometimes it isn’t enough. It happened with first girlfriends and job interviews. It happened with first TV interviews and radio spots. It happened with travelling and parenthood.

There’s part of me that remains a small boy squinting into the sun, the camera trying to capture a moment in time. I stand there with my school satchel, hoping that the presence of Teddy Edward will somehow bring comfort, and ease the distress of shifting from one environment to the next. I’m that kid. The one about to meet new friends, and discover the esoteric wonders of writing and learning. It’s always been worth it in the end. The first step, but I realise too, that I’m not afraid of heights.
I’m afraid of plummeting*.
*I had to go and do a post-post google- two other sites with similar phrases. But not ones I've seen before. So kiss my ass, other sites :-)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Things Are Looking Up

Sometimes I am the angry indication of an accidental fire, blanketing the innocents around me.
Sometimes I am a jet stream, a memory of power, of surging to a destination.
Sometimes I am just a wisp, a series of horse tails flicking at the cool outer reaches of the atmosphere, remote.
Sometimes I am the big-bellied pregnant mother of the skies, threatening to break water over needy landscapes.
Sometimes, I am a gallery of surreal portraits, none remaining constant- I can’t stay still.
Sometimes I am the accessories drawer to the sun, my purples and pinks and oranges there to show off her beauty.
Sometimes I am a magician, with my pockets full of rainbows.
Sometimes I am an artist, my palette and my canvas full of blank promise.
Sometimes I like to lean on mountains for support- they never shift.
Sometimes I wait for the evening to descend, and in the morning, like an afterthought, I lift.
Sometimes I lift the hems of my cloak, to display my hoarded silver.
Sometimes I seem as full-bodied as the earth, and
Sometimes I am merely an echo of breath on a cool morning.
Sometimes I am as small as a man’s hand, cupped over the horizon, and
Sometimes I dominate, a shadow-parent adopting all of mankind.

Some Stains Never Come Out

It’s laundry day. After a few weeks of defending mankind against fiendish megalomaniacs, your spandex tends to start smelling a bit gamey. Your architect was initially puzzled by the request to have a telephone booth installed in the master bedroom, but he was a professional, and managed to match the lamps and curtains in a way that it all came together in an aesthetically pleasing manner. You always remember to check your pockets these days- last time a defused neutron bomb you had stashed in your cloak accidentally went into the fast-spin mode, it took days to hose off the walls, and the cat has never trusted you since. You won’t make the mistake of mixing colours, either. Part of the point of having a cool costume is so that people will look at you in awe, and feel a deep sense of trust. They tend not to do that so much if you have a pink tie-dyed chest mantle. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long for the gear to dry. In all your years as a crime-busting demigod, only once have you exposed your butt by having to speed after an out-of-control satellite plummeting towards earth clad only on a towel. The YouTube clips are enough of a sore reminder for you not to do that again. Took you ages to lose the epithet ‘Mighty Buns’.

It’s actually quite soothing; waiting for the rinse cycle to finish, and you can see the charm in it that makes ordinary mortals want to do it every day. Besides, it gets to be a bit of a drag- being on call all the time. Just when you want to watch a rerun of the last series of Will and Grace, the signal comes through, and you have to rescue AGAIN some spineless person from whatever space zombie/clone/bald dictator. You’d think people would think twice about hoarding money in steel vaults or cooking up super drugs in unsecured laboratories, but they never seem to learn.

There’ve been at least two occasions in the last four months alone where you’ve spilt your pot noodles, and had to go through the whole washing process again. Could they not turn down the volume on the Rescue Alert siren? For goodness sakes, it may sound loud to them, but you have the hearing of an alert puppy, it’s bound to make you jump a little in your La-z-boy. Yeah. Life isn’t just all fame and glory when you are awesome. When you have a spare moment (as if!) you make a mental note to visit the people at Marvel comics and tell them so. They have a responsibility as media professionals to tell the truth. Maybe if the kids didn’t grow up with such an inflated opinion of you, you could go to the Holiday Inn near the sea for a few days occasionally, and sip pink drinks with little umbrellas in them. Fat chance.

{It’s been a long year. My super powers are waning. Anyone offering to buff up my booties? No, man, I mean the ones on my feet. Sheesh. Mortals. Can’t take ‘em anywhere}.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How Not To Be A Psychopath

There are always two options. Choice is sometimes as easy as coffee with milk or without, or to wear a t-shirt or buttoned shirt. Sometimes, though choices are harder. That’s because they come with more lasting consequences. If you want to win a card game, you could stick an ace up your sleeve, or shoot your opponent in the forehead. Clearly, the consequences here are having soggy bits of playing cards inside your shirt on wash day, or difficult to remove bloodstains. The governing mechanism for consequences is called a conscience. A conscience is what makes you different from someone who is a psychopath. A psychopath can have a chest freezer full of dismembered whores and wander off to watch Days of Our Lives without a second thought. If you have a conscience, you will never waste your time on mindless soapies.

Sadly, these are mostly things beyond your control. If you are gardening, and you have to throw some snails over the wall into your neighbour’s seedling herb garden, then this is just one of those incontrovertible acts that makes up life. Should your neighbour then decide to ‘go organic’ and build a massive compost heap against your wall, it reflects a sore lack of judgement on his part, and it is a good thing to help him in some way, such as making use of all that money he spends on home insurance by tossing a Molotov cocktail though his bedroom window on a breezy summery evening. Neighbourliness is good. Once the home has been rebuilt, and the inheritors of his estate move in, bake them a cake, and gently tell them the Rules to Living Next Door To You.

The great irony in life is that it is always others whose character flaws are the biggest stumbling blocks to you on your path to enlightenment. Never waste your time being with people who think they are doing their bit for society by exhibiting tough love, or dishing out constructive criticism. Those things are really just out there to piss you off, so rather only befriend fawning sycophants and toadies. They are loyal and generous, and your butt will always glow pleasantly with the saliva of their subservient kisses.

It isn’t easy to give you advice for the whole of life in one go, so start small. Buy a can of petrol, a few bottles and some rags, and maybe a whetting stone for your knife collection. Knives should never be left dull. You can thank me later, when everything starts falling into place for you, and I shall meekly offer the other cheek for you to kiss.

*note: psychopaths steal images off google. I, however, merely enhance them with my brilliance. You can thank me later, Herge.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Felt, but not forgotten.

Songs, tastes and smells are the eternal echoes of childhood. They ring off the walls of our brain-pans, reminding us of snapshots in time, of firsts and lasts- the perfumed cacophonies of memory.

For me, touch and texture is just as evocative. I can shut my eyes against the images, close my ears to the music, and clamp my jaws against the sweet-and-sours of youth, and still hold in my mind some pivotal remembrances.

The rasp of my father’s cheek against mine, the cool of my mother wiping my mouth with a spit-dampened tissue, the feeling of thick pile carpets under my feet, the tactile absorption I used to used to feel as a child when stroking soft velour fabric in reverse, the coolness of sheets against the damp fevers of childhood illness, the grittiness of sand on a beach- warm under an Indian summer thunderhead, the promising yield of pressed play-dough as small fingers conjured shapeless prehistoric beasts from the mock-creation toy, the this-won’t-hurt sting of an inoculation, the this-is-going-to-hurt-you-more-than-it-hurts-me of a caning, the waxy feeling of the heel of your hand after scribbling with crayons, the warmth of a parent’s hand guiding you through snowy woods, the strange heat versus cold of sitting in front of a bonfire with the night behind you, the surprise of a paper cut, the transference of feeling rooted to the soil as you clasp the patterned bark of a climbing tree, the coolness of glass as you trace the path of a raindrop down a window pane, the yammering pulse of the broken-winged crow you found under a bush, and the terminal feeling of evocativeness when tracing the chiselled words on a marble gravestone.

Close your eyes, reach out, and create memories.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

He puts it WHERE?

When two people love each other very much, they kiss a lot, and when they have both decided to, they may have sex. Sex is when the man puts his penis into the woman’s vagina, and then something called sperm comes out of his penis. A woman’s body produces eggs every month, and if the sperm meets the egg, a baby can be made. A man and a woman sometimes have sex because it is fun, and it feels nice when it is with someone you love. Men and women sometimes also touch themselves on their penises or vaginas, which also feels nice, but doesn’t make babies. That’s called masturbation. It isn’t bad, but you should only do it in private. Sex should also only be in private, and only when you are old enough to look after a baby. The other thing you need to know is that sometimes bad men or women might try to make you have sex when you don’t want to, and that is wrong. You should always say no, if you don’t feel good about it. You must tell a grownup like your mom or dad, or a teacher if someone tries to make you have sex. Sex is very special, but only for for grownups who love each other. If you have sex with a girl or a woman, it can make a baby, which is a lot of hard work, and costs a lot of money to look after. The other important thing you need to know, is that having sex can also pass on sicknesses, like HIV AIDS, and other things. It is very dangerous to have sex with someone you don’t know very well. If you are careful, and you know the person, you will be able to talk about sex before you decide to do it, and you will know if it is safe or not. A man should wear a condom, which is like a rubber hat, on his penis. A condom helps to stop the woman from getting pregnant, because it catches the sperm, and it also helps to stop sicknesses from getting passed on. You know, you can always ask mom or dad about something if you aren’t sure. Sex is not a bad thing, but it can be very confusing, and that is why it is better to wait until you are old enough, and you feel ready. Any questions?

Yes. The time has come to have a chat with my oldest son (10). Despite being a father to three children, I feel totally ill-equipped to talk about sex, which remains a mystery to me even now. Anyone have any tips/edits or additions to my crude sex-talk format? Please don’t forward any pictures :-)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


They lie, motionless, occasionally you see a glimmer of light in their emotionless eyes. They know they are being selected, that their bodies are being scanned, their curves and protrusions examined and weighed. They seem to try and blend into the corners, and hide their ripe flesh from hungry gazes. To no avail, they are beckoned out of their hiding places, and resign themselves to being served before you. You take it slowly, knowing that they are unwilling participants in this, until at last your appetite robs you of self-control and you tear into their soft pink thighs, the audible splitting sound both terminal and erotic. As their soft and perfect inner parts yield to your assault, you need to pause, and wipe your mouth; you call for more, until the sauces and juices have spilled down your chin and to the floor. Their nakedness does not offend, it stirs you, drives the primeval passion, your id seems in control, and you will not, cannot stop until the act is done and you fall back among the ruined evidences of your gluttony. Their sacrifice was your satisfaction, your desire their ruination.

There has to be a better way of doing this. I have the horrible idea I’m going to get crabs, next.

I need to get out more.

The rules have changed. In decades past, it used to be considered vulgar to use exaggerated language, to overdo emotions and adjectives. That was before the word ‘awesome’ became ‘AAAAAAAAAWWWWWEEEEEESSSSSSSOMMME’
I like to abuse language. What’s the point in having a vocabulary if all you do is whisper tiny nothings like ‘nice’, or ‘pretty’, or ‘good’? I like authors who aren’t afraid to take a passage of writing, dress it up in full fancy dress and then rip it all off again in the space of a sentence, sometimes even skinny-dipping a phrase or two.

Having said that, I do appreciate authors who can take the verbal equivalent of three sticks and build a log cabin image with them. People whose prose is like staring at a field of flowers, or an expanse of sea until one tiny detail becomes highlighted and exposed, all the more beautiful for the way it stands out in the utter sameness of its surroundings.

So in two paragraphs I’ve managed to put forth two contradictory arguments. That’s ok. The rules are flexible and mutable. Which is why I can do whatever I please. Yay Me!

So instead of saying I have a slight headache, I could say that I’m lost in the gabble of voices, the cacophony of the monkeys, angels and devils cawing and chanting out their temptations and refutations on each shoulder, the decisions being made after five different and needless arguments often based on nothing more than insecurities and the gutlessness that comes with being a non-rational adult, one whose life is framed and padded by whimsy and elation, rather than stern reflection and applied logic. The electron microscope of self-examination which ends in the exposure of feelings and self-absorption on the vast screen in front of my eyelids, the screen which seems to filter the evils of other people, reverse them and turn them into failings of my own. Lacking these ornaments of modern life, the technology, the complications, I become obsolete in my affections and my affectations. The sun scores a third-degree path across the inside of my skull, searing it’s way through organised thought, desiccating any attempt to reach out to others.

Just a thought. It happens sometimes. I need a bigger bass track in my head. The pace seems to be either too fast or too slow. Somebody switch on the metronome, so I can get outside my head, please.

Now. Let’s talk about you.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

And in the News today...

I’m not afraid of people with green faces and pointy hats, or shrouded in sheets with chains a jangling. I’m not scared of zombies or werewolves, vampires or trolls. I generally don’t suspect that school janitors with screws loose are hiding in my closet armed with cleavers, and graveyards are just a place where dead people become soil.

The horror of Halloween is just a caricature of what superstition and ignorance once considered scary. It’s actually quite funny to see people dressing like Goths and hamming it up. If Halloween was about real horror and fear, it would be about the endless snippets of human tragedy on CNN, or the mundane confessions handed over in the courtrooms and police stations across the world. We’d dress as anchormen and women, and practice saying things like ‘and at the top of the hour today we bring you breaking news of a plane crash/suicide bombing/earthquake… Hundreds dead’. We’d be social workers and court-appointed psychiatrists, trying to make sense of murdered children and abused women. We’d be doctors having to break the news to teenagers that they really could, and have, contracted HIV from their first sexual experience. We’d be working at clinics watching drug addicts riding the broken rollercoaster from hell, or be swabbing the bedsores of the neglected aged as they lie in death’s waiting room.

Horror is what we choose to accept as the norm in a world of human pain and suffering. Horror is watching a child no longer have the option to ride the subway of innocence under city streets of dissipation and criminality. For those who insist that Halloween is about glorifying witchcraft and other arcane lifestyles, perhaps you should redefine horror. It’s in your face, and it isn’t getting celebrated at parties or forming the backbone of the fancy dress industry.

Perhaps that what Joseph Conrad saw (The horror! The horror!). The real evil of this age is not in camp costuming and fake blood, it’s in the sinkhole of humanity that has formed beneath the eroded self-respect of society. The fear that we carry as humankind of the temporal nature of life should not stop us from trying to enjoy the time we have, that enjoyment being in sharing the lives we lead with others, and carrying their pain and suffering.

So pass me the white theatrical facepaint, and a vial of fake blood, I’m heading out into the real world, where the full moon is just an astronomical phenomenon, and a skeleton is what keeps me from being a bendy toy.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

After a night of thinking too much.

Fear is thinking that the scenarios in your head could actually come true. That the things that went bump in the night could be more than rogue draughts under the ill-fitting doorways to your heart. That the glass which seems half-full will no longer remain so once you put your thirst into practice. Fear is the irrationality of a nightmare becoming flesh, and overruling your concept of stability and normalcy. Fear is paralysing and debilitating. Fear is the full-body cast of plaster on your damaged frame, pinning you to the place where bedsores of anxiety and paranoia perpetuate a cycle of emotional infirmity.

Fear is the awareness that the end of your existence is a phone call away, the confirmation of the imminent collapse of your brittle architecture. Fear is the knowledge that others can find a place on the lifeboat, but your inflatable vest will leave you vulnerable to attacks from below.

Fear will petrify you- not in the ghoul-in-the-cupboard-under-the-stairs way, but like a life-form made stone by scorching forces from within the bowels of the earth. It puts you on trial, with a never-ending parade of witnesses, an archive of irrefutable evidence. It judges and condemns, and sentences, and shows no mercy. Fear decapitates and disembowels, it takes the body and preserves it as a cloudy formalin-soaked husk in a jar.

Fear brings an empty sack and a sawn-off shotgun to your heart, and holds you hostage while it rummages through your belongings, looking for anything of value and destroying the rest. It burglarises and robs, and is ignorant of human rights or constitutions.

Fear is a lie.

The truth? The truth is a lost object suddenly uncovered in the back of a drawer. Truth is putting on new clothes and feeling fresh. Truth is being discharged from the hospital ward, a certificate saying that you are healthy enough to carry on. Truth is in the experiences of others, the validation that comes with common knowledge. Truth says you are not alone, that hope exists and we can endure. Truth mobilises and encourages, and heals. Truth is a surprise gift in the mailbox, the reuniting of long-lost relatives. Truth restores and brings restitution. Truth is an exposure of false evidence and a verdict of Not Guilty. Truth is transparent- it’s always there, but sometimes you look right through, and miss it. Truth rewrites endings and revises condemnation. It defies destruction and cynicism with happy endings, and erases the meaningless graffiti of emotional vandalism with a fresh coat of paint. Truth is there. You can grab it, share it, hold it, live it. The truth will always be the truth, relative to nothing but itself. Truth is not a Winfrey-ism or a motto on a badge, but more real than the landscape which surrounds you. Truth is sulphuric acid to fear. Truth smothers it and dissolves it, reveals it as nothing but holograms and mirrors.

Fear fears truth. Truth fears nothing.

I don’t particularly give a hoot if you don’t relate to this non-entry. I need to set some boundaries in my head, so you can skip this one and go to the next, which may be funny, or it may not. Thanks for reading if you made it this far.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Out of the freezer, into the dustbin

If you leave the freezer open, the meat is gonna go off. (Why did that sound like Dr Phil just took over my head?)
If your meat aint frozen, you’d better get the fire a burnin’.
(May as well just go with it)
You throw a raw meat party, a lotta flies are gonna gatecrash.
Salad is just there to make meat seem less aggressive. Kinda like a tie on a homicidal maniac when his trial goes to court.
Why is it that the freezer couldn’t keep the meat cold, but the salad compartment was still cold enough to freeze the lettuce leaves solid? If ya can’t keep the balance between hot and cold, you’ll end up luke-warm and rancid.

I’ll step off the ‘wise’ southern aphorism elevator for a while. I’m just going through a wee life crisis- you know, when the freezer defrosts by accident, and it seems like a personal affront? If you spill something on the floor, and you have to tidy it up, it appears that the spilt substance was out to get you? You don’t have much in the way of stuff, but what you do have starts rebelling against you in a totally personal way. Yup. Crisis.

You stop saying things like ‘I burnt my hand on the stove’, and instead say ‘the stove burned ME’.

I planted some flowers the other day. The seedlings are starting to push through the earth. I shouldn’t be angry that snails are somehow managing to eat them- that’s what snails do. But what bugs me is that I can’t catch them at it. I tried building a small hide on the roof of the house, wearing camo to make me more roofish in appearance, and lay still for 48 hours, occasionally making slothlike reaches for the paper cup to relieve myself, but the snails would not appear. They must have perfected mind-control techniques, though, for when I finally leapt to the ground, snagging my tile-camo on the gutter, and having to do a parachutists roll into the trash can, I discovered that the seedlings had been eaten. Again. Is it too much to ask that the baby alyssum and nasturtiums and black-eyed susans have a chance at life?

The trouble with railing against inanimate objects is that they stonewall you. You can’t look into their eyes and chill them with a look of contempt, or burst into tears and appeal to their maternal instincts. I have it as unhappily proven fact that when you slam your fist into a wall in frustration, the wall wins. Slamming doors doesn’t help, either, particularly when they tend to bounce back and snag your toes. The trick is to think like an inanimate object.

Next time my boss asks me why things aren’t getting done, I’ll act like a defrosting freezer, or an overheated stove, and keep my emotions deeper down than the online account to which I’ve forgotten the password. I’ll not retaliate, nor defend myself, but merely sit in cold, aloof, appliance-like malevolence. I’ll be meaner than a washing machine, man.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Adding the Mean to Meaning

Modern Moral Number One:
The first little pig was quite enamoured with green architecture, so having consulted the very latest edition of the Architect’s Yearbook, opted for a house built out of straw bales. This ensured a natural insulation against cold and heat, while limiting the carbon footprint and ultimately the rate of attrition of the polar ice caps. Fortunately, wolves were limited these days to one or two individuals cross-bred with huskies, and so preferred kibble to live porcine flesh, so there was no huffing or puffing. The other two pigs decided to teach English as a foreign language, and unfortunately ended up in small bowls, served with noodles and sweet and sour sauce.

Modern Moral Number Two:
Goldilocks was pretty damned good with alarm systems- using software on her mobile phone, she was able to bypass the sensors and gain entry to the three bears’ house. She spent some time in the open plan kitchen admiring their cell phones, which were all recharging. She rejected the Nokia immediately, the classic shape would have made her just another blonde with a mobile. The more serious debate came to her as she weighed up the benefits of Blackberrys vs iPhones. She was fond of the Blackberry for its heft, the gently curved keyboard, but finally chose the endless Apps of the iPhone. She would have gotten away with it, too, had she not left her Twitter page open on the Blackberry as she left, unwittingly allowing the three bears to gain revenge by hacking into her Facebook account and posting pornographic status updates until she was entirely friendless.

Modern Moral Number Three:
Rapunzel was bored. She had to live in the penthouse of her luxury Tuscan Townhouse development, and wasn’t allowed out because of the crime levels which were supposedly just beyond the electrified razorwire of her confines. She spent most of the days ordering soggy fast food delivered by one-degree-away-from-the-breadline middle-aged retrenched middle managers now working for Mr Delivery, and aimlessly posting pointless lies about enjoying Walks in the Forest and Fine Dining on dating websites. She tried some speed dating online, but the guys weren’t interested in hearing about her sad childhood, and only wanted her to do unspeakable things to them with battery-powered curiosities. Listless and bored, she thought to herself, Screw it, long hair is sooo last year, and became a celibate lesbian, passing the rest of her life contentedly watching entire TV series collected on DVD, and comparing the way different brands of fast food altered the quality of her flatulence.

No real people were harmed here. No people were edified, either.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The one with the waggly tail

It’s a legal thing. I signed a bit of paper saying I can’t, so I don’t. But there are always loopholes. I read the small print, and I accepted it, but I have my own small print- so small in fact, that it is like the ‘zee’ in the Cat in the Hat’s hat.

It comes down to definitions- a pet is a domestic animal. No arguments there. Some landlords don’t allow domestic animals being cultivated on their properties. Fair enough. But wild ones- they can colonise at will. My friend, the completely wild and undomesticated gecko likes to twitch across the walls in the cool of the evening, starting skinny, but eventually bulbously-bellied as he feasts on the smaller wild creatures shacking up in webs and cracks.

He’s pretty cheerful- always grinning, and happy to nod hello when he catches sight of me. In act, it seems as though he’s surprised to see me, as if he was the one with the doleful music on the CD player, sitting on the couch with a beer, and I was the creature figure-eighting on his ceiling.

Familiarity breeds contempt, so I try not to get too close. No names, no details. We opt for a healthy distance, a begrudging respect. He admires my toast-making ability, I am secretly awed that he can cling to vertical surfaces with his webbed toes. But he is not a pet. He doesn’t come and cuddle on my lap, and in return I don’t have an online photo account with pictures of him in amusing poses.

You could argue that a cat, for example, is not a domestic animal. That cats tend to haunt the outskirts of our lives, or tolerate our presence with undomesticated aloofness. But the problem with a cat is that you think everything is cool, the boundaries are there, when one lonely evening, you’ve maybe had too much to drink. You unthinkingly reach out and cuff her under her chin, slide your fingers over her furry spine, and the dynamic is ruined. You can’t return from that. Once you’ve kissed her with your fingers, you are lost. Maybe you have both slipped into the wilds, the remote forests of emotions of distant epochs, rather than domesticated her, but the legal implications are clear- you have violated the lease. No cats for me.

So Gecko can stay, for now, or come, as he wishes. I don’t set a place for him at the table at mealtimes, or make tiny gift-wrapped parcels on his birthday. I am careless when I open the back door; if he has slipped into the cracks and is crushed, it will not be on my conscience. He’s welcome, anytime, his smile, his wide-eyed amity is comforting. His presence is part of me, his powdered tangibility made soluble by the liquid of my loneliness.

I have no idea what that last sentence means, either, but it was oddly arousing.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to Offend Almost Everyone

There’s a certain amount of religiosity when it comes to having children. They approach life with the attitude that it is all about personal enlightenment through experience and the acquiring of arcane knowledge. They repeat pleas for stuff as though they are chanting, and come up with meaningless epithets and koans without even trying.

They study the visual scriptures of Disney and Pixar, happily absorbing themselves in these up to five times a day, the TV facing west to avoid the glare of the sun, the spectral glow informing their decisions and slowly cramping their ability to make independent decisions.

They commune with nature in a personal way, summoning up spirits and emotions direct from the soil and the plants within it, personalising and deifying the creatures lurking within. They name them and anthropomorphise them, give them human frailties and powers. The eternal mysteries of sun and moon govern their lucid hours, and the control of light is imperative to their settled sleep, much as the ancients constructed temples of standing stones to echo the course of the sun and moon, the nightlight becomes the security beneath which dreams are fashioned of endless pleasure, rather than the gnawing fear of ill-defined monsters lurking in the dark.

God is in the details, for them. The complexities of how deceased domestic animals pass the time in eternity a deep philosophical problem. Yet in their innocence it is accepted that animals are good, and humans also, in some way, redeemable. Small things can shake them in a massive way, and, conversely, huge issues are merely subsumed by a general acceptance that life is a continuum of mystery and confusion, and that some concepts are larger than the mushy span of grey matter inside our heads.

They live with heart, pure hearts. They are quick to acknowledge the presence of evil and the unpleasantness it causes when it infiltrates the architecture of their existences.

And asleep, they are beatific, holy even, their tiny faces not in constant struggle, but at peace. In the same way that people follow austere gurus or meditative holy men or women, the absolute nothingness of a child at sleep is something to be craved.

This isn’t a comment on religion, on who or what you pursue in your quest for fulfillment- that’s up to you- but merely an idea that, perhaps, children are a hand’s-breadth closer to god than we shall ever be as adults.

And they come up with jokes like: Why did the priest take a machine gun to church? He wanted to make the people hole-y.

Friday, October 16, 2009

In the Employ of Evil

Work. The final frontier. The carefree life of a quail farmer- loads of tiny boxes, special tweezers to extract the eggs. Or the sweat-and-blood existence of a macaroni core extractor, labouring day after day with his miniature pasta swizzle, to create hollow delights for you and me.

Honest work.

Truth is, it is hard to come by. Harder to keep. No matter how sweet the dream, how intense the effort. You may have lofty goals of being an office administrator when you are six years old, but there are only so many offices in the world. If of an entrepreneurial bent, you could open your own office to administer, buy the stationery, create a filing system, but you need the lesser roles of management in order to give your dream substance. You’ll need money to hire a university graduate who knows how to speak in the diarrhoeal verbosity of someone with a library full of tomes such as ‘Take Your Cheese and Shove it’, or, ‘the Lonely Life of the Long-distance Skyper’

As it is said, “The devil makes work for idle hands”. He did. It’s called email. Sometimes I feel like the sum total of my professional life is clicking send, reply to all, please find document attached, warm regards… Of course, when I was a child, there was no email- no personal computer either- so it is fair that my pre-adolescent dreams of finding the fossilised skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the back garden seemed realistic. If you’d told me I’d be spending my days shooting messages down cables, I would have laughed so loud it would have drowned out the Buck Rogers re-runs on the technicolour television.

Something I still don’t get about text messages and emails- you confirm receipt, and then the other person sends a message thanking you for the confirmation of receipt, and then you thank them for their confirmation of your confirmation. Where does it end? By the time of the second confirmation, you usually need to correct something in the original email, so it starts all over again… There should be a polite way of saying ENOUGH! THIS CONVERSATION IS HEREBY DEAD!

I can’t be alone in trying to deal with emails over the weekend- to come into work on a Monday morning and find an intray with 20, 30, 40 emails is unnerving. You can spend the entire day confirming this, cc’ing that. I suppose the expression ‘going postal’ refers to the way all the paper mail used to arrive in the mail sorting office on a Monday, sending the post guy off the deep end. Now we all have the luxury of having our own post offices, and the opportunity to go off the deep end on our own.

And no matter how hard you read what you’ve just typed, the law of email states that after seeing the confirmation message ‘sent’ you will notice the most glaring of errors- misspelling of names, nonsense words like thnkyou, or warm regrads… It’s the curse. The devil has you on his chain gang, and you’ll never escape.

Please find the attached document with information on how to break free.
No message attached! Please resend.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The inner hobo

You’d think that the simple act of helping someone out in their hour of need would be reward in itself. Sure, the warm fuzzy glow of knowing that you are in a position to answer the void, whether it is emotional or monetary, or something more practical is there- settling like a butterfly on the petals of your heart, but, having sucked the sweet nectar from the flesh, it flits away again.

Where I live there are beggars. Poor people. Homeless people. Perhaps that doesn’t seem strange in South Africa, where the gulf between rich and poor, or even solvent and poor is wider than the laughing maw of Mexico. Mostly, the poor people I have around me, sleeping in doorways, peddling diseased bodies on street corners or merely passing a life by sleeping in the park are not just unemployed. They have the terminal pleasures of cheap booze and mind-scorching narcotics to blame for their marginalisation.

That’s why it’s hard to help. The streetkids are two sniffs away of the glue from stabbing an old lady for her handbag, the drunks incapable of setting boundaries. If you have a day when you have some money or extra food, and you hand it over like Elvis did jewellery at his sunset concerts, you consider it a job well done. Until the person appears at your door with a slightly different version of the story which induced your generosity. Again, and again.

Eventually you find yourself undermining all your selflessness by shouting at them, when they are threatening you, and telling them to get the hell away and not return. They are immune to threats, and the dulled emotions from the drugs do not respond to threats of police. I’m not violent, but these beggars have clearly had their share of violent giving.

Ultimately, it is not better to give than to receive. The money goes on drugs, the food gets discarded, and the person is disempowered to the point of stretching out their tendrils around the neighbourhood until they cannot leave. It’s a horrible feeling turning people away, and yet it seems to be the only way to avoid this warped culture of dependency. The charities all insist that it is better to give to an organisation, but when these organisations are often merely subsistent; paying salaries and subsuming all the donations, then this, too seems futile.

I sometimes look at indigents, beggars, down-and-outs; socially bankrupt people, and see myself in them. I remain one salary check away from a backpack and the kindness of strangers. We survive. I make it through the month, and feel no joy on pay day, only the staving off of the fear of bedding down on cardboard for another month. Is this just more paranoia, or is there really a soup kitchen with my name on it? Look closely, I could be the man in the browned clothes, the one with the haggard desperate look and the lying hook- I need some money because… because…

Is it freedom to live without bills or bonds, responsibilities? I don’t think so. We live with the knowledge that we are all striving to create some fossil imprint in the earth, but sometimes, even while we live, we blow away as ash, dust, powder.

Cheerful, eh?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Inner Collapse

He gets onto the same train every day. Looking slightly surprised as if there should be a train at all, and steps through the door hesitantly. There’s a brief moment when you see something in him, something that seems familiar, something vulnerable. He finds a square space to stand and plants, replants his feet. He has the stature of a prop-forward; his massive shoulders roll down into huge fists, although he is the same height as me. His neck is wide; the triangle of his back taut as it pushes up into his head.

He looks at his watch. Twice. Then at his wrist. He looks to the left, although his eyes never quite focus on the crowds. His head snaps to the right, and he shrugs, rolls his massive shoulders, tucks his jaw into his collarbone. He shuffles to the left, and to the right. His head snaps back and he looks straight up, then looks at his watch again- a cheap watch, but even I can see that if I were to ask him what the time was after this brief double take, he wouldn’t know.

He’s the man with the tic.

His powerful build is surely in part due to the constant checking and rechecking, the compulsion to act out in certain ways has taught his muscles how to support the irregular yet regular activity. When I try and catch his eye, read his feelings, his head shakes to the left and the right, his eyes struggling to find something, nothing, to focus on.

I see the man with the tic, and I wonder if it is tension that he feels, or whether he is relaxed inside, and it is merely a muscular activity going on. The jerkiness of his movements seems to suggest some inner conflict, and I have to resist the urge to pat him on the shoulder, and say in my best soothing voice, it’s ok, friend, its ok.

When I see him, I feel less uncomfortable in my own stature- as if his apparent discomfort makes me feel more confident, his disability seems to translate into my feeling able and secure. Normally, I am not the most confident of people- seeming uncomfortable or nervous- actually- felling that way, too, but the man with the tic helps me to set my feet solidly in place, and to feel that despite my insecurities, I have at least a normal lack of confidence, or at best, I am at peace with myself.

I don’t mean to mock what is an obvious challenge to him, or to seem cruel by feeding off his weakness, but rather I am made aware that I have one less challenge than I could have in this world, and that his daily struggle is not one I share, although there is no reason why he should have that affliction and not I. I have my own inner tics and foibles, the voices telling me that I am this way or that, or that I am in some ways incapable of normalcy, but despite these chatterings and mutterings, I am able to present a person who, at least at face level, seems normal.

I hope it is human and not totally selfish to think this way: Does seeing a sight or hearing impaired person make you appreciate the things you are able to hear and see? Does a person sitting with withered angled limbs in a wheelchair make you appreciate being able to stride to the shop, and feel less inclined to complain about having to stand for too long? Perhaps I am selfish, although I know that these people with their outward challenges have inner beings too. That they are sometimes pleasant people, sometimes bitter. Sometimes filled with the capacity for love, sometimes hate. They are in every sense like me, only my afflictions are within.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Please Respond Mildly

“He went and joined that stupid club”.

Not the one where you have to give a fanciful password in order to gain access to a muggy wendy house, and eat home-made cookies, drink orange pop and fantasize about the possible criminal activities of your neighbours.

Not the one where you have to maintain a cool wardrobe and make sure that you are on speaking terms with the mountains of testosterone guarding the door.

Not the one where you get together on Sundays and wear sweat-stiffened leathers and roar through the countryside scaring the crap out of the local fauna (the jury is out on whether or not flora can be scared, too).

Nope- the other club. That was the one Kurt Cobain’s mother was talking about in the quote above. The one where the only two qualifications have to be fame and early death. The membership is growing, and the members never age. Immortals. Sometimes immortalised for their final act of senselessness or debauchery, sometimes by accident. You can’t get in by being recommended by a current member, or by bribing the right person. The best way to get in is to have a string of popular or controversial singles, maybe an album, and then to have a sudden death either induced by substance abuse or a dodgy aeroplane engine.

The club is odd- it has a huge fan base, but a tiny membership. The members become larger than life at the moment of their running the gauntlet. They come with their personal myths and legends, and it is never mentioned that they were foolish or stupid, or that they, too, had to go to the toilet; eat, sleep and occasionally bathe. Their creative output excuses their personal excess, and they even manage to recruit people into mock admission- the kids who can’t bear the thought of living without another poster or song being made of their loser-heroes, and string themselves up in the closet using the cord from their Paddington Bear pyjamas.

The club includes Cobain, Vicious, Joplin, Morrison, Townsend, Bolan, Hendrix, Socrates (ok, ok, just threw in the last one to appear clever) and some others, although people like Michael Hutchence and people like him aren’t real members. The club is for musicians, but people like Elvis, Michael Jackson and John Lennon have their own clubs. They don’t need the fellowship of other members, just the firm foundation of idolisation.

The throw-away society we live in is always ready to admit people to the club who don’t deserve to be there. Take part in your grade school talent show, and then suffer a peanut-related fatality, and suddenly you seem eligible. Wrong. The fickleness of celebrity can only take you so far. You wouldn’t really want to join, anyway. Bookies have run odds on whether (or how soon) Amy Winehouse or Pete Docherty will join, and it is to be hoped that the Roman citizens clamouring for the death of these pop culture gladiators will realise that their lives are not currency, or entertainment. The tabloids can create the myth, but that is all they are. When you become a brand, you are no longer an individual, and that brand can be subject to the most hostile of take-overs.
We seem to thrive on hysteria. On being the first to find out and disseminate information about untimely deaths. On gazing at screens at footage of sheet-shrouded people on gurneys being shoved into coroner’s vans. We urge their posthumous nomination at awards evenings, and everyone has a favourite story to tell of how sweet or clever or funny the dead guy was. As Elvis (purportedly) used to say: As funny as a turd in a punch bowl.

Ok. You’ve read this far, and you are hoping for a clever twist, or some point that will make this entry useful. Ha! You can’t catch me out! I refuse to be caught up in the excesses of fame and adoration, so I will remain a non-joiner, and aim to keep this stuff as crappy as possible.

I bet I’d write better after a handful of speedballs and some Wild Turkey, though. Any offers?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Lost Art of Portraiture

Some people hate having photos taken of themselves. Forgive me- but especially women. They see the lens, and fear the click. It’s understandable- these days a photo is an afterthought, an accidental moment caught in pixels, deletable, sure, but more likely to appear on Facebook, or another online album. In the olden days, (lets call them the ‘80s), a snapshot had to be printed out, then selected- remember booboo bins?- and the whole process was so tedious that we sat with undeveloped films in drawers and cameras for months at a time. When we did get around to developing them, we considered it an act of pride to migrate the best of those into an album. A photograph was something special, a talisman to contain an instant of your life, and in the small rectangle to summarise memories, dreams and reflections.

Fast forward: Now we whip out our phones and digital cameras that are only slightly bigger than an old roll of film used to be and click the shutters like we are pumping a semi-automatic rifle like the deranged and terrified troops at the start of Saving Private Ryan. Within an instant, we are uploading them from our phones onto the internet, where anyone in the world can see them. We tag them unthinkingly, and in some formats, this means that all five hundred of your closest ‘friends’ will see you with your eyes half closed, your accidental post-real-smile-rictus-grin, or a tell-tale glistening just inside your left nostril.

Worse than that: the tense ‘I’m trying to look like me’ face that you adopt for passport and identity document photographs. The ones you know you will never be able to show anyone without adding the caveat that ‘passport photos are always dreadful'. I know that feeling. In my ID book, my photo is of a wide-eyed (I was on drugs) nineteen-year old with hair, my passport has a mugshot of some stranger with a very ill-conceived goatee beard.

As if that weren’t enough, we can now scan in all the hideous photos from our childhoods- the ones that should have been booboo’ed, and remind everyone of the horrors of hair and fashion that belong to previous decades. And those self-taken photos (see above) with the weird camera shooting down your arm angle... Lovely.

Whatever happened to the old way of posing for photos, holding those poses for minutes because of the time it took to take a shot? See the photo I’m holding? Those two guys with the ramrod straight postures are relatives of mine. Pocket watches, hats, and a polar bear rug. Nary a beer bottle in sight. Those were the days. My brother complained (justifiably) when I put pictures of him up on the internet- they were horrifying ones- so I’m more careful now. I also found out that photos of my children in the bath got a creepy amount of hits. (Check that put if you have ever put up photos like that- I promise you, they’ll be taken down in an instant).

Still, I’m not complaining if people stick pictures of me up- at least I feel a bit more like I exist, even though I am a lopsided, crosser and older version of how I feel. I need a body double. An avatar. Someone who only has a good side…
Now. I have my webcam on, and have created some new software, so as you read this, hold still…. and… smile…

Friday, October 9, 2009

Getting Your Rocks Off

It’s no big deal- stop panicking! So a big orb of rock and dust is going to be pocked with tiny missile craters? Pech!! It isn’t as though we’ll miss it if it turns out to be a huge grey party balloon, which will deflate, shooting across the universe with the loudest sound of flatulence EVER.

Maybe there will be a star-struck romantic who will no longer be able to gaze at the moon and think of a distant lover looking at the same.
Maybe the cow will have to find something else to jump over.
Maybe lunar-gardeners can take up air guitar, instead.
Maybe it isn’t so bad- we’ll never be plagued by lycanthropic lunatics again.
Maybe we won’t miss college students shoving their backsides out of moving cars.
Maybe there will be a vein of pure stilton running through the heart of it.
Maybe those who follow a lunar calendar will have to just count on their toes.
Maybe it isn’t so bad for industry- flag designers are about to make a loooot of money redesigning.
Maybe I’m not the only person who has instant nausea on hearing the song which contains the lyrics “I saw Brigadoooooon”
Come to think of it, what about the one about the river being “wider than a mile”, and the other about the “big pizza pie”?

Culturally, we’ve not got much to miss when they bomb the moon.

But I will miss the cool blue reflected glow of the arbiter and orbiter of our nightly histories. Farewell, sky blob.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Wretched Tale of the Scabbed Head

Recently I moved into a house with no mirrors. After a couple of days of shaving my ears, I realised that I needed to see myself again. What kind of a house has no bathroom mirror (or hook to hang one on)? I can only imagine that the previous occupant was a vampire without a reflection, or someone with self-esteem issues.

So I bought one. A snazzy small one which I put on the bathroom windowsill. It was double sided, and pivoted around, to show a magnified version of my face. (For that early morning startling feeling) I carefully examined my nicked ears and the tufts of facial hair growing at randomly skipped intervals, and felt human again. I see myself, therefore I exist?

Stupid wind blew the stupid mirror into the bath, where it exploded. Seven years of bad luck, beginning with a lacerated butt?

Next, I bought two other mirrors. Cheap ones (my mirror budget appearing to now depleted with the destruction of the first). The trouble with cheap mirrors is that they tend to distort your appearance. In the tall one, I look like a Modigliani bendy-toy portrait, and in the other, an old sad guy. Ok, the latter is how I currently look, but then a mirror should at least do a Snow White commentary- “Damn, dude, you are lookin’ scooooorchin’ today” would be nice.

It comes down to life crises- I’ve been “immediately forgetting what I look like”. The mirror-image version of me is similar, but with definite warped features. Maybe it really is the house. Like something Poe could have written- The Twisted Mirror. Well, this raven is going to quoth nevermore, soon. I think I’ll go back to shaving parma ham slivers off my nose, and walking around with congealed egg on my chin. The only other option is to seek out a tranquil brook, and gaze at my reflection in that, but tranquil brooks are a mite scarce near my house, and also tend to be damp on the banks. It isn’t summer yet.

Seven years. Good grief. I’m trying to remember the one I broke seven years ago, and fourteen years ago and…. Well. You get the picture. As warped as it is.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Catching Up

Maaaaaybe I was kidnapped and held underground in a coffin-like box with a rubber air-hose.
I grew my pinky nails and clawed my way up through the musty sand.
Lots of changes too dull to discuss here, but I'll be moving urls. In fact, maybe I already have. (I'm a bit clueless about this). The name of this rather pointless blog will also change, pointlessly, to another pointless name. The best part of it is that I'll see you all here, or in a circus mirror version of here shortly.
I'll attempt to redirect you, and follow you from the new URL.
If all this techno crap fails me, I'll start a new blog and put up details for ya.
Thanks for listening, you've been very kind...
The old URL:
The new one:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

You say amohbay, I say ameebuh

Life would be much simpler with a few small adjustments to our bodies. Who can honestly say that they haven’t, at some point, hankered after a thatch of stinging tentacles?* Instant solution to crowds and queuing.

A prehensile tail wouldn’t hurt, either. No more having to open the door while carrying keys, bags and food packages, while pushing a bicycle suspended from an umbrella. With a tail you can do all of this, while drinking an amusing beverage, or doing rude hand gestures to your neighbours (behind their backs, of course).

In fact, there are many novel body features we could do with. Ears in our knees, nostrils on the tops of our heads, nictitating membranes on our eyes, claws on our heels, and water-based propulsion systems.

Big whoop. So we get well-developed brains (in relation to our size). Lovely. So we can handle tools, construct complex languages and think up fiendish revenge plots. And overthink to the point of immobility.

Oprah’s guest speakers claim that life is all about decluttering, simplification, getting rid of complexity in the home and the workplace. Hmm. Something floaty sea creatures have been doing for ages, anyway.
I like the purple ones. Yup, purple. They are so purpley. Aaaaah. I feel simpler already.

*I always have to say the word 'tentacles' slowly, in case it comes out wrong. I thought you'd like to know that.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Invoking Gloria Gaynor

Hey! You! Yeah, YOU!
You aren’t much to look at, and probably have more complexes than parts of Tableview, but you know what? You survived. Unless of course you are the living dead, and you think you’d rather spend your damned eternity reading blogs. Could be some people’s idea of hell, I guess. I digress. MOST of you reading this are alive, and have survived until reading age. I suggest that unless you are quite a bit older than reading age, you disappear for a few years.

You may not be happy in your job, family, relationship/s, team, general environment, but you are alive. I am too. Spambots aren’t known for their rapier wit and tendency towards moroseness.

I survived: Sleeping on my tummy in my cot as a baby, sleeping on my back ditto, crawling around near exposed wires and plug outlets, eating foods containing allergens, being given toys like fireworks, penknives, tool sets, bicycles, chemistry sets and a skateboard. I survived climbing trees, travelling on planes, running while carrying glass bottles, swallowing coins and other small objects, setting my clothes on fire by accident, a few surgical procedures, lying to my parents, jumping off roofs, jumping off rocks into unknown waters, balancing on rickety things, grabbing electric fences, sticking a fork in a live toaster, small car crashes, patting sleeping dogs, being attacked by awake dogs, first break-ups, falling out with friends, realising that adults are screwed up, the ends of favourite TV series, the ends of good books, bad dreams, scary movies, real life monsters, potential kidnappers, sleazy men with pockets full of sweets, first jobs, first unemployment, failing exams, being called hurtful things, being hit by bullies, becoming a parent, and
watching all of these things start to happen all over again
to a new generation.

It’s a wonder any of us survived.
But we did.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Amplifications: The author's own.

Read this:
*“Another five would-be initiates died in the Eastern Cape on the weekend, bringing the winter circumcision death toll to 36, the provincial health department said on Monday”.
And further on in the same article:

“…one youth was admitted to Canzibe Hospital at Ngqeleni on Sunday, and as he was admitted, his gangrenous penis fell off.
And wait! There’s more!
“…of the 36, six had suffered "spontaneous amputations" when their penises dropped off, and two lost parts of their penises.Three had been referred to Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital with grade-four gangrene and faced medical amputation”.

In one season, 36 young men are dead because of circumcision-related injuries. This is South Africa. If this had happened in some country village school in sleepy England, the entire country would have been calling for new laws, imprisonment for those doing the ‘surgery’, and the banning of all sweetened food. Ok, the last one was just a nod to the nanny state that is the UK, but you get the point.

Initiation amongst the Xhosa, for example:

*“The Initiation to Adulthood
In order to be accepted as adults by their community, young Xhosa men must go through initiation. Many aspects of Xhosa initiation are handed down and adapted following early interactions with the KhoiSan. Young boys from traditional families must go through the khwetha or circumcision school. Khwetha is regarded as an essential step into manhood. The youth's departure for the initiation lodge is a significant event and may be marked by the sacrifice of a goat. The lodge is usually located in a remote location near a stream and specially built for the purpose. Initiates are usually instructed by a 'father' and assisted by 'guardians.' There are many secret rites and ceremonies associated with initiation, and the process can last up to three months ' although in modern times, this is often shorter because many young men need to return to work. After a period of seclusion, young initiates smear their naked bodies with white clay and are covered in a single blanket or, in the old days, a sheepskin kaross. The white clay serves to conceal their identity and protect them from evil. Contact with women is forbidden, and apart from the staple foods brought to them by children, the boys fend for themselves ' usually by hunting. Before their circumcision, they must sit in the stream to cleanse themselves while confessing their misdeeds to the adults. After the ritual is completed, the new 'adults' wash the white clay from their bodies and the simple grass huts in which they lived are set alight in a ritual that symbolizes the burning of their past. In this way, they leave behind their childhood and are accepted as men. In the past, initiates were expected to wait approximately four years after their khwetha ceremonies before they were permitted to take a wife”.

I recently read of an addendum to the initiation- an initiate must not sleep with his own girlfriend afterwards, but the first time he ‘tests’ his penis, it must be with a woman in the community not held in respect (usually a prostitute). You can imagine how this exacerbates HIV in the community.
Now, I am not a Xhosa male. I am not ever going to go through that experience. I cannot comment on the cultural importance of it, but I can, and will, say that this loss of life is unacceptable. There are doctors willing to do the actual surgery, so that the circumcision taking place at the schools is largely ceremonial. There has been a massive drive to close illegal schools. In the past, young men were often forced to undergo initiation- kidnapped and taken away- this has also become less common.
Seriously, though, it makes me glad that although I hated the Western form of initiation (mocking, alcohol consumption until vomiting, towel-flicking in change-rooms, smoking behind bicycle sheds at school etc), I have never been in danger of something as physically and emotionally devastating as a ‘spontaneous amputation’.

What can be said? Well, voices of complaint issuing forth from the leafy suburbs of the cities are not going to impact society as much as the community leaders in rural areas putting an end to the life-threatening behaviour happening in these schools. Sure, cultural identity cannot be denied these young men, and, indeed, should be protected, but with the added benefit of other human rights. Access to healthcare,dignity, and the right to life.
I am not a pith-helmeted colonialist with ears closed to the wishes of the people, just a regular person who is utterly shocked at the statistics.

*The quoted parts belong to other people somewhere- follow the links...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

But what's it for?

Thanks, Steers, for this. The kind of marketing any restaurant chain would envy. Some marketing director was paid huge amounts of money for this. Probably sourced from some Asian country, it's a ball, a very hard one, that tends to bounce up and hit you in the face. Hard. And it has amusing hair...
Ha. Ha. Ha.
This should be a more in-depth post about happy meal toys in general, but this one kinda sums them up:
They are all as useful as a hairy ball.