Fairway to heaven


Charles, who had just come on duty, asked us if we wanted an ABF and we told him that we already ordered that one. A little later we ordered the ABFF, or the AABF, I am not sure which one, seeing that I had lost track somewhere in the 3rd hour on the 19th hole. His black pants had “ICC” embroidered on the hip, in red, and I wondered for a moment why he was wearing International Cricket Council gear. Then I remembered that we were sitting on the stoep at the Irene Country Club. I shared that moment of confusion, as one does after a couple of Savanna Drys when one tends to think that every thought that goes through one’s head is worth sharing. It was received with good humour, as shared thoughts are during this time. The conversation included, in such spirit, a brief agreement that the people who did not understand why the 19th hole is so important are people who simply don’t like to play golf.

This is a great pity, and a great loss to such folk, because there is a wild creativity that characterises conversation once the togs have been brushed and the bags have been stowed in the car. Problems are solved and secrets are revealed; there is no limit to the intimate camaraderie inspired by the view of the lush greens beyond the bar, and the safe happiness of a foursome ordering a second round.

Uncomfortable topics like The Poor are tackled, confidently, while being served beer by a man wearing a fez (the only nod, really, to being in Africa), in a luxury establishment only a stone’s throw away from Snor City, former bastion of oppression and inequality and current stronghold of the newly, immensely wealthy. Where else would you hear an informed debate about capitalism, crayfish diving in Nicaragua and the failure of Fair Trade culminate in speculation about why some people need to pee more often than others? Impressive, I know.

I don’t want to suggest that I am a golfer. That would be an insult to golfers everywhere. I have, in the last ten-odd years, taken some few lessons, bought a set of irons, a bag, a glove and a golf shirt, and I have spent time on a driving range. When Mandy and I had our last lesson-of-ten with the delectable Francois at the Wanderers – THAT time – he took us to play nine holes on the course. We teed off at about five and had to abandon holes 7-9 because it became too dark to play. Just to give you an idea.

So last week I played, for the first time in my life, a full 18 holes on an actual course and it was the best fun I’ve had wearing a turquoise Nike golf shirt ever. In fact, it was most entertaining eight hours I have spent in a long time. Only five of these were spent on the course, although I imagine that the female septuagenarian four-ball behind us may have experienced this period as considerably longer. They kept on leaning on their clubs, half a hole behind us, staring like bristling, veteran vultures waiting for their turn at the kill. I guess when your time is getting shorter, you tend to walk a little faster. Kallie and Neville kept on making jokes about turning off the taps on their oxygen tanks, which could easily be mistaken for the four bags on wheels. (No, the ladies themselves were walking; apparently determined to turn the game into actual exercise, they shunned both golf carts and caddies, and even while wheeling along their gear they managed to catch up with us regularly.)

At one stage, on the second nine, a marshal zipped by in a golf cart and told us to play faster. I was mortally offended since we could see, mostly, the four ball about one hole ahead of us. Later the boys would tell us that male players in a hurry would eventually simply tee off over your head. Kallie told the marshal that unlike us, the old ladies only had the half breakfast at the half-way mark, so they just had to wait a little, but he simply zoomed on, unamused.

We soldiered on. I played at least four excellent shots – the kind that makes one determined to take one’s seven wood to the driving range more often. And in the end, I shot 119 on a 72 par course, which I was ecstatic with. Apparently my handicap would be 34, more than 10 years below my age. I blushed with pride. We ordered another round.


The emptiness of things left unsaid: Ridley Scott’s The Counselor

the counsellor 2

One of the great things about spending most of the end-of-year holidays in Joeys is that one can go and see many films, even during the day, often back-to-back, and feel utter guilt free. To end 2013, I cooked prawns for my newly relocated mother and took her to a movie. Unfortunately, the opening was a strong indication that I had made a terrible choice for a mother-daughter outing.

For starters, I don’t think any single girl with very different sexual mores from her ma will fail to squirm during an opening scene where Penelope Cruz tells Michael Fassbender that she got wet fantasising about his “sweet face” between her legs, and watching him promptly realise the fantasy. I wished that I had sneaked in the half bottle of MCC we left at the house. This was not something we were going to talk about on the way home.

Things got worse after that, so, in a way, The Counselor was an appropriate way to end a fairly bewildering year. It had been a bit of a Yarborough, and I don’t feel at all bad about not achieving the goals I set for myself. In fact, the film inspired me to not set any goals for 2014. Although good things also happened, and gains were made, last year simply did not score a ten.

Ridley Scott should feel the same. If I had to choose favourite directors, his would not be the first name on my list. Iñárritu, Almodovar, the Cohen brothers, Scorsese, Cassavetes, Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Peter Weir and Gus van Sant are ahead of him. I am not sure why, seeing that he directed one of my favourite films of all time – Blade Runner – and others that I loved almost as much: Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Alien, American Gangster. A few, less awesome in my book, were nonetheless taut, disciplined stories that were beautifully told: Body of Lies, G.I. Jane – Scott is a prolific filmmaker and a very good one.

So The Counselor was a disappointment. It is a thriller about an unnamed lawyer involved in the murkier side of his client’s business dealings, who pays, and pays. One is never sure why he gets himself embroiled at all. He seems to be doing well, he drives a flash car, lives in an expensive apartment, buys his fiancée a mother of a rock and takes her to the polo. He claims to his client/partner-in-crime that his “back is against the wall”, but you don’t see it. You learn that he resisted a similar proposition (from a fantastically colourful Javier Bardem)some years before. And from the off-screen, top-of-the-drug-chain POV, you never really understand why he is necessary for the deal.

Predictably, considering the darkness of the film’s universe, everything ends in a shit pile (literally) and our protagonist is left unredeemed. Not that redemption is a deal-breaker. Woody Allen is equally vicious with the eponym of Blue Jasmine, but his film is an intimate, acute and profoundly moving character study.

One does not get close to the counsellor, as much as one might desire to. It is impossible to connect with him; instead, one is cast in a mildly (although perhaps not so mildly, if you are watching with your mother) voyeuristic role where his only subtext is expressed through his relationship with a woman that he loves passionately. “Life is being in bed with you,” he tells her, “everything else is waiting.” This is a large declaration to a character who only has about four calls in the film.

Instead, the antagonists seem to get puzzling quantities of airtime. There are scenes with Cameron Diaz that have nothing to do with the story: a bizarre attempt at Catholic confession and a confounding pornography on a Ferrari’s windscreen. Why are we spending this time with her?

And you never really understand what many of the other characters – fascinating, flamboyant, with seriously philosophical monologues – are doing there. Very often one does not know who they are. They appear from nowhere; they are co-incidences on our hero’s highway to hell even though indications are that they should somehow be significant. Their job appears to be the closing of the barn doors after the horse has bolted. As some of the write ups and crits have remarked, much of the action happens off screen. Too much, I think.

There are good things about the film that get lost in the scrambling narrative: Bardem and Brad Pitt embrace their whacko roles with commitment and enthusiasm. One wishes that they were good guys. And the relentlessness of the narrow path to which the counsellor strays, the consequences of his bad decisions and the cataclysmic backdrop are beautifully filmed and immaculately art directed and explored. But it is not enough to make it a good film.

My mother did not have much to say about the film as we drove home, other than that it clearly shows that drug trafficking was a bad idea. This, I think, is undisputed. But I could feel her not saying a helluva lot more. I think that is what Ridley Scott did too, and as is often the case with things left unsaid, it may have been remiss.

Vino, vidi, vici


Before we start I must state that I know very little about the art of wine. For example, all I know about ‘terroir’ is that it is the French word for ‘earth’. I am an absolute beginner (yes, and a David Bowie fan) so my contributions at wine club are usually limited to “yum”, “double/triple yum” or “it’s OK”. But I am learning, and I love wine a lot, especially a good Chardonnay that spent much time in small oak barrels. The Rustenberg Five Soldiers, for example, has the same effect on me that black lacy suspenders and three-inch stilettos have on the average man. It is for this reason that I think I should start a wine club for people with a passion for wooded chard. Then I can print club T-shirts that read, “I like a lot of wood”. It is always so disappointing when wine merchants at festivals hesitate, slightly alarmed, even squirming a tad, when you ask them if their chard has been oaked. More often than not they respond with, “Very little.” And then they look you straight in the eye, trying to gauge whether you think six months in second-fill barrels is a little or a lot.

The delightful exception at this year’s Cellar Rats Spring Wine Festival at the Old Mill in Magaliesberg was the woman from Alvi’s Drift. She was a gushing champion for the AD chard, which tasted like the 11 months it spent in French oak and was just wonderful. She answered the question with “Lots!” but did not seem to know exactly how much. But she appeared to be bouncing with the pure joy of the thought, and, bouncing, leaned forward to find the wine in the brochure that was open on the table. She could not quite focus her fingers, so she just waved them across the page and said, “Kyk daarso, baie!” We looked and then we tasted, and without being moved in the slightest by the great number of awards bestowed on it, I made a positive note in my book. I was still busy with my first circle of the stands, so I was hoping to find lots more wood along the way. I found some.

The Christina van Loveren was of the lightly wooded variety, so I hurried by to stop at Freedom Hill. I had to wait a little for a couple that got there first. The very pretty blonde woman held our her tasting glass and asked for “semi-sweet white wine”. The vendor (I call them vendors, but often the winemaker or owner will personally attend the stand, sometimes you are advised by a merchant or wine master who may or may not be directly associated with the estate, sometimes family members pitch in, and sometimes you luck out with a student who tried to learn the specs before the show but failed) was only speechless for a second. “Eh… we don’t have that here. Try the Sauvignon Blanc over there,” he smiled, and pointed her away from his collection, trying to be helpful.

It was the first real indication that wine snobs were not the majority of attendees at the festival. Most of the folk who were there just loved the sunny weather out and a couple of glasses of wine before, after and in between meals. Like art, there were many who did not know much about the product, but knew what they liked. Some liked to clutch their beer with their thumb, index-, middle- and ring fingers, while holding the foot of their tasting glass against the bottom of the beer cup with their pinky. I suspect these were a “beer, with a Bordeaux blend chaser” crowd. They may have mistaken the small tasting samples as shots.

The great variety of wines, ciders and home-made brews certainly meant that there was something for everyone. Like, for the group of young enthusiasts who were told by an apparent veteran, “Bru, last year we were here until they started taking down the tents and we were drinking straight out of the bottle,” there appeared to be a lot.

For me, there was the Freedom Hill 2010 Chardonnay – thirteen months in 100% new French oak barrels. It really was delicious and pipped Alvi’s Drift at the post. It was not the overall winner. In the end, shortly before the tents came down and after a terrible row with my credit card, I had to give the blue ribbon to the Bartinney chard and take it home with me. But Freedom Hill signalled the end of the first round of tasting.

I have a few personal guidelines when it comes to wine festivals. I usually start with some bubbly, trying to find the ones I am not familiar with, and then stick to one cultivar, which means that I usually end up tasting Pinot Noir, mainly because the good ones are too expensive to buy, ever. This is a good strategy at Winex, where the Sandton Convention Centre draws the kind of crowd that will most probably order the Pinot by the case load, so the estates tend to dust off a couple of bottles from the single barrel of nectar they produced, and bring them along to taste. This was not so much the case at the Old Mill, so I had to abandon the cultivar approach and try to drink what was good. I decided to have a round of white, take a break, sit down, drink some water, listen to the old-toppie band (which shone with many years’ practice) and then do a round of red.

This meant that I tasted a number of wines I would normally only have at wine club, and there were some real gems: the Meinert Riesling, which was light and fruity and not too turpine (I think Riesling often smells like turpentine and tastes like petrol, but apparently that’s only the ones Rudi calls ‘good’); the Sutherland Viognier/Rousanne blend – unusual, new, and partially wooded; and possibly the best reds at the festival, from Idiom. I tasted the Cape Blend, which slipped down like silk, and the Zinfandel (Primitivo), which tempts one into fantasising that one may be able to afford to drink R190 bottles of wine if one, say, halved one’s consumption and then halved it again, and perhaps stopped drinking in September and March altogether. Or something. They were really very special.

I started my red round a little late, so the Meinert Synchronicity was finished by the time I got there, but I tasted the La Barry and the Merlot – the former smooth, uncomplicated and easy-drinking, the latter an impressive attempt with a grape that, some say, rarely does well on its own. The Meinert Merlot would get a double yum at wine club. And I had a great chat with Martin Meinert, who is affable and keen to engage any arbitrary passer-by in conversation about wine at a level they can actually understand. I was completely charmed, and did not feel like an idiot once. Something for everyone, as I said.

It was my first time at the festival, an annual institution at the Old Mill, and I was chuffed no end to have made it this year. It is an energetic and happy affair. Hundreds of people brought blankets, eezy shades, chairs, food, children and dogs and the carefree melange of these elements spread itself on the Highveld winter grass in the spirit of generous neighbourliness. We sat under a tree close to the band who played passionate, pitch-perfect covers of popular songs that were on average 20 years old. One could sing right along. There was no drunken uproar, there was no aggravation that I saw. It was a cool-but-sunny spring afternoon filled with music and a bunch of folk communing with Dionysus. It was very groovy. It was also nearly time to go.

In a last look around, I held out my tasting glass for the Tierhoek Chardonnay. It was wooded,and in spite of its meagre six months’ oak I had a little taste – I get sentimental towards home time at the end of a splendid party. It was surprisingly pleasing. I hesitated. I asked a second opinion – it is so rare to find a value-for-money chard that is also lovely to drink (the last one I discovered was the Cloverfield; at something like R42 a bottle it still has the best deliciousness-to-rand ratio of any wine for me, ever) that one has to be careful to keep one’s wits about one – sometimes the wine lies.

I read the Tierhoek label, and I think I fell a little bit in love. The farm is described as “one of the loneliest wineries in the Cape” a devilishly cunning phrase that touches your heart even before you go to the website and see the pictures of the simplicity and remoteness of this Sandveld estate, 760m high in the Piekenierskloof on the edge of the Cederberg. It is one of my favourite parts of the country, relentlessly rugged and beautiful. The thought of making wonderful wine in such a place is almost unbearable. It was clearly time to go home and recover. 

I was sober enough not to buy cases of the chard, something that will probably bother me for a couple of months, ceaselessly, when I will call the estate to find out where I can find a bottle in Joeys for a 2nd tasting. In my imaginary wine club for wooded-Chardonnay lovers, that would be the right thing to do.

Bottoms Up, Tom

new year 6

So. For the New Year, some years ago, I resolved again to go back to gym. I saw Evan (über-physio) for the first time about this time – late January.  After exchanging good wishes he asked me if I made any resolutions, and I said, yes, I am going back to gym this year. He looked slightly amused. So go then, he said, it’s almost February. And I think I went.

Going back to gym never featured again in my annual list of good intentions. I now just try to carry on going, regardless of the size of the gap between visits. One day, one week, one month: in a sense the gym resolution is the opposite of the quit-smoking one. Mercia Axon told us (Smokenders) that people who say that they had, in the past, stopped smoking for a week, a month or a year, only to start again, did not really stop. They only took a break. I now try to apply that principle to the gym thing. I don’t have to go back; I can just carry on going. It works in a weird way.

I make a list every year even though, strictly speaking, I have only ever managed to stick to one resolution – the one to recycle. In a fragment of a 702 discussion I heard in the car early in Jan some expert told Redi Hlabi that resolutions are more likely to be kept if they are linked to a personal value, or if they are seen as long-term goals, rather than do-or-die ultimatums. This explains the recycling thing. This, and the fact that I installed a simple and manageable system, based on Nicola and Ofer’s, in my kitchen.

Every now and then I separate plastic and cans – the wine bottles have their own special place – and drive to the Melrose dump where I can feel even more virtuous if I tip the guy that helps me offload R10. Of course, when the visits to the dump are too infrequent, the wine bottles become a rather embarrassing mountain in the shopping trolley I use to haul them past the neighbouring flats, down in the lift, through the foyer and into the garage. Sometimes I manage to hide them under the plastic, but I am always convinced that Esther and Joe from next door are watching through the peep hole and judging me.

Anyway. My resolutions this year include un-cluttering my life and my flat, cooking new things, learning new things, seeing friends more, making my world bigger (not sure yet how, but working on a couple of things) and to blog more often.

What I should have resolved instead is to no longer see any Tom Cruise movies. I once decided not to see any more Charlie Sheen films, and I have stopped paying for anything starring Sarah Jessica Parker last year, but I am not sure if those efforts were, strictly, on the resolutions list. I considered that their agents may just have chosen crap scripts for them, but SJP shares the CAA stable with Cate Blanchett and George Clooney, who have both managed impeccable filmographies. On the other hand, she also shares it with Tom Cruise, whose Jack Reacher was a colourless and incredible affair, flailing in spite of its excellent bad guys – Jai Courtney and Werner Hertzog – and Robert Duvall. The main characters, Reacher and Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), lawyer, love interest and rebellious daughter of District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins), are a poorly defined, dull pair with absolutely no raison d’être. We have no idea who Reacher is – a fuzzy history expediently revealed in the dialogue only makes him more impenetrable – or why Helen decides to defy her father. If there has ever been a good lesson in how not write a back story, Jack Reacher would be it.

The film was so bad that the entire franchise it was supposed to launch has apparently been canned. One might suggest that director Christopher McQuarrie sticks to writing screenplays (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie and The Tourist) where he seems to know his craft. Anyway, I resolve to forego Tom Cruise movies in future. Excluding, maybe Mission: Impossible 5, in spite of the fact that McQuarrie may direct, again. They do seem to be getting better and better. (Does this mean I am already resolving to break my resolution?) Maybe I’ll wait to hear what Barry says. I think 2013 is going to be a very good year.

Not quite


It is that time of the year all right, and in spite of it being Monday, I am glad that it is. Only because I finished and dispatched my 3000 words to PP, and I only have one more programme to mix (code for “my work is just about done”) – tomorrow. So, it’s like being not quite on holiday,  which helps one cope with the end-of-year madness that would otherwise frustrate one if one still had serious work to do.

Like, for example, the fact that everybody and their aunt is forever out-of-friggen-office having a celebratory booze-up somewhere. Our little open-plan broom cupboard felt a like a tomb this morning – one where the corpse had come back to life and is off somewhere sucking the blood out of people with deadline stress. Not like me. Monday has never been so rosy.

In anticipation of this halcyon dream and because I have not seen them for ages, I had lunch with the girls at Ciro’s  yesterday.  I have not really been there much since my last birthday supper, perhaps three years ago, when the duck was dry, and Ciro unapologetically put it on the bill. Before that I went there regularly. Not anymore.

And yesterday I remembered why not. Look, it’s hard to find a better place to have good food under cool trees made cooler by that fine-mist cool-down spray contraption in the summer. The tables are prettily laid with cloth tablecloths and real serviettes. And mostly, Ciro’s food is still very good. Jacques says that Ciro makes the best risotto in Johannesburg after mine. (OK maybe he did not say that, but this is almost certainly the case.) But I do not think that the food in a restaurant that charges R110 for a starter that does not – at the very least – contain truffles and foie gras or Alaskan king crab, should be “mostly very good”. It should be consistently excellent, and Chiro’s is not.

I had the chicken, stuffed with couscous, crumbed with polenta and served with a delicious cream sauce of some kind (but not too much). The chicken had a great range of textures (the polenta really crisps on the outside) and was sufficiently full of flavour. I chose the chicken, perversely, because I knew the cost-to-labour ratio was low. I know how long  it takes to make little roulades out of chicken breast, to crumb them, and deep fry them.

By comparison, slapping a curry-like sauce on top of a piece of salmon is a one-hand-behind-your-back job.  And I did not like the salmon. I thought it was a waste of a good piece of fish, and other than the curry splat on the top, did not really taste like R175,00.  Ruth shared a bit with me, and she said she liked it. Jules, lactose intolerant, had pizza with prawns and capers. That was also excellent, not a crumb remained.

And  then it was time for pudding. I ordered the tarte tatin and Jules the crème brulee. Ruth likes to share when it comes to dessert. The crème brulee had separated: none of that silken, dense, melt-in-your-mouth vanilla custard stuff. I took us quite a long time to get someone to take it away, and by then the bit where we dipped our spoon was looking quite watery, as if you added some scrambled egg to dishwater. The tarte tatin was a pleasant apple-tart kind of a thing, but not quite a tarte tatin, which, as we all know, has golden, deeply caramelised apples, rich and moist, on top of a crisp pastry. To see what a beautiful mini tarte tatin should look like, go here. Or even  here. What a beautiful tarte tatin looks like is no mystery.

Ciro’s version is more like  a small stack of sweet, pale, slightly dry slices of unpeeled apple on op top of a crisp pastry. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the pastry. It was served with some custard, and it was, as I said, a pleasant apple-dish-thing.

I felt vindicated, a little, that we took our own bottle of bubbly. (Has anybody noticed that when you take your own MCC to a restaurant that they always give you the most amazingly cheap glasses?)

I know Ciro’s is very popular in spite of the dazzling price tag, but I suspect, nay, FEAR, that the bulk of Johannesburgers may not always have palates equal to those of our snotty compatriots of the mountain. There really is no other explanation.

Anyway. I am off to PE on Thursday, where I will practice mini tarte tatins in my mother’s kitchen and put pictures on the blog.

Aluta Continua.

According to the Daily Maverick this morning, most people spend 12 minutes every Monday complaining. Just saying.

Against the odds, shit happens

I don’t know what is wrong with me and the thousands of other Lions supporters. We remain loyal and hopeful against all odds. If you subscribe to Einstein’s postulation that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, we must be mad. Not as mad, however, as the (even more) thousands of Stormers fans who would be bawling into their Ohlssons’ tonight if SAB had not discontinued the brand a long time ago. I always think of Western Provincers as Ohlssons drinkers – you now that joke of the similarity between Ohlssons and making love in a canoe? Etc.

Even though I cannot find it in myself to support the Stormers (almost) ever*, I made an exception this weekend, being a patriot. It’s the Lion in me – or at least I hope that’s it. Whatever. I was going with the odds of us (SA) winning the Super Rugby. Historically (apparently, according to darling) no team has ever travelled away for a final and won, with the exception of the time the Bulls nudged a victory over the Sharks in the shark tank in 2007. But let’s face it; they did not travel much further than they would reasonably do for a family holiday by the sea, so perhaps that does not count.

So the Sharks, having kicked ass down under against the Reds the week before while the Stormers did their roots and went for massages, were unlikely victors at Newlands on Saturday.  The Sharks (or “Sarks”, according to Ashwell Willemse in the Supersport studio) put the first points on the board and the Stormers never managed to catch up, not even in the second half when they appeared to have finally tied the laces to their boots. We might have to rename them the Centipedes.

In spite of myself, I was a little in shock. Ashwell calls the upcoming final in NZ the “Sarks’ Mission Impossible” and although we hope it turns out for them like it always turns out for Tom Cruise, we hope against the odds. Because as we know, Super Rugby is not Hollywood, where shit happening is de rigueur, but the odds are that things will turn out OK.

It occurred to me, at the end of the game, that my relationship with darling was more like Super Rugby than like Hollywood. Considering my track record, the odds were also in favour of shit happening, but like the S15, things did not turn out OK when it did. So the final whistle also blew for us. (That’s not him in the picture, and I only wish a tiny little bit it was, really.) It was a hard game, and in the end, rugby was the winner. Or love, or something. More of a Viggo Mortensen movie than a Tom Cruise one, I guess.

Good luck to the Sarks. Rugby club will convene, no doubt, to cheer them on in Melville, and we will love them either way when they get back. Just like we do the Lions. Perhaps they will shine in the Curry Cup. We hope against the odds.

* I want to put it on record that although I am not a Stormers fan, this does not mean that I don’t give credit where it is due. I think Peter Grant’s time as the Springbok flyhalf is long overdue, and that Jean de Villiers did a great job against the English in the last test series. And I did feel very sorry for Bryan when he cried like a baby on Saturday.

A thousand words (or, the emperor’s new clothes)

First of all, I want to say, “Go Brett Murray, go! Excellent work.” Just so that my delight in the Hail to the Thief II exhibition cannot be perceived as ambiguous in any way.  I loved it. I found it reassuring, witty, acute; it expresses absolutely everything I feel about the current ANC government (with the exception perhaps of Aaron Motsoaledi, who I think is soldering on, trying to do the right thing under trying circumstances).

It also momentarily removed me from the precipice of anger and despair. I don’t have anything to add to the debate as such, seething and rampant as it is already, other than to say that I think Mike van Graan’s review of the work itself, Pierre de Vos’ assessment of a possible legal wrangle and J Brooks Spector’s analysis of the furore are the soundest formal contributions to it.

The thing that got me going this morning, actually – and also in the wake of the “tiresome race card” that came with the president’s-spear pandemonium, if I must admit – was the EWN headline “ANC shocked by arrogant Zille”. The thing about the ruling party is that it is so easily shocked by things that are not really shocking. Not so long ago they were shocked by judge Leon Halgryn’s finding that “the publication and chanting of the words ‘dubula ibhunu’, prima facie satisfies the crime of incitement to murder”, and, on top of it, refused the ANC leave to appeal. This left them “perturbed and shocked”.  Helen’s claim – that Thuli Madonsela’s prematurely, and apparently mischievously, released draft report on the Western Cape government’s communications tender process may be legally flawed – is not shocking. It’s just politics. The report suggests that the WCG’s contract with advertising agency TWBA is invalid. Even Thuli said that Helen’s response is reasonable: if the WCG is not happy with the report, it can challenge it in court. The story is ongoing, and I cannot figure out why the presence of a special advisor on the bid evaluation committee is improper, especially seeing that he apparently failed to influence the outcome of the award. Even if it was an ANC advisor and even if it was an ANC tender – if there is no evidence of someone being personally and illegally enriched by the outcome of a process that, according Section 217(1) of the Constitution, should be fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective, then, who cares? Is Helen a director in the company that lost the tender? Is Ryan Coetzee? I am not committed to this point view, but for now, I am sticking to it.

What is shocking, on the other hand, is Zuma’s reinstatement of crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli in spite of strong evidence of nepotism, influencing witnesses and looting the secret services account, and his suspected involvement in murder. And what is shocking (to get back to the Spear) is that he slept with – allegedly raped – his HIV-positive niece and that he fathered a love child with the daughter of a friend. I think he can have as many wives as he pleases, but I find it shocking that the taxpayer is footing the bill for every single one of them. Both politically and personally, the president’s track record is basically a list of shocking outrages and obscenities. The painting is not just about philandering and womanising; it is about a leadership style that celebrates the increasing gap between rich and poor; the ongoing inability of the state to provide the kind of education that could, eventually close that gap, and enrichment of his immediate family at the expense of hundreds of devastated miners.

That  is shocking… really.

May the fourth be with you

I had a groovy birthday. Ruth made kick-ass oxtail for lunch, by way of celebration the next day, and I baked a cake. Many wished me happy birthday on FB. I was against FB for a very long time, suspicious and dismissive, reading all the conspiracy theories and other alarmist propaganda journalism literature. But I succumbed, and am happy that I did. FB reminds you about people’s birthdays – sometimes, and then I can wish them happy birthday in return. This is good. Sometimes you get a request for birthday info from a friend and the request turns out to be some app that demands all your information – email, phone, sexual-, medical- and institutional history, ID number, literacy level and whether or not you can make mayonnaise without a recipe, so I often just cancel the whole process half-way. It smacks of the rampant invasion of privacy that early sceptics warned about. I no longer wish to be reminded of that. Besides, now when I post, the link goes onto my FB page and then, sometimes, more than ten people read the blog.

But back to my birthday. I share the 4th of May with an unsurprisingly long list of people, but not many famous ones, which makes one wonder how Wikipedia decided who to include. Although, I guess if you were a Greek football fan in the 1970s, you might have known who Antonis Minou was. Robbie probably knows who he was, but I don’t think that makes him famous.  (No, Robbie IS famous.) Their general anonymity, on the other hand, is surprising because a large number of these people were actors and musicians. I was pleased to see that I shared a birthday with Audrey Hepburn and Pia Zadora. Better than Hitler, Wouter Basson or Britney Spears, I say. At the turn of the previous millennium there were a couple of heads of state, and in this millennium, one scientist, one mathematician, one trans-gender surgeon-pioneer,  one bishop and Hosni Mubarak. But mostly the list consists of artists, writers, sportsmen (no sportswomen, actually) and a couple of politicians. I am no exception to this rule. Like most of the people on it, I am also not famous. Which I think is OK. Famous people really have to watch the shit they write – just ask Helen Zille.

I am not going to muse more about turning older, except to say that I find it gets harder as you go along, mostly because of constant improvements in medical science and face creams. Combined with the current fashionable tendency to live healthier lives, innovation in these fields means that we are never ever going to be able to afford to retire: by the time we die the annuity would have been kaput for two decades or more. That stuff is expensive, as I am sure you know. Anyway. I had a good day. Thanks for the good wishes, and may we all turn a wonderful age this year.

Back in the saddle

Well, I have no excuses left, of course, the research report is done, and I am now officially the recipient of a master’s degree in investigative journalism from Wits University. Or will be, once I pay the R90 copyright fee that the fees office claims I owe Wits for my report. I argue that I have already paid the R90, and surely they do not charge you R90 for every year that you are registered. Etc. Considering the thousands of rand that this particular upskilling has cost me, many may suggest that I should just pay and graduate already. But enough is enough. Anyway. There is no other writing, no other guilt, nothing whatsoever that keeps me from resuming the blog.

And what better inspiration than the discovery of a lovely word that serves both to educate and to entertain? A priapism is a persistent, long-lasting erection. Although I know of some imagine there are many… people… who would find this a desirable er, state, not so poor Henry Wolf from San Francisco who has suffered from such a priapism since 1 May 2010. Henry believes it was brought on by two back-to-back two-hour rides on his 1993 BMW motorcycle and the poorly designed ridge on the seat. (Seriously Henry? It didn’t even hurt?) He is very distressed and is suing BMW. He cannot have sex, which has brought him much anguish, understandably.  He is also suing for lost wages and so on. This story appeared in the Huffington Post today, exactly two years after the tragic event occurred. I wondered briefly if it had really been an April fool’s story that was spiked at the time and saved for later use – you know, stuff that would never float it past the public prosecutor here is often taken quite seriously in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But no, it seems quite serious. The obvious question is, of course, why did it take Henry so long to lay a charge? There are two possibilities. Either their court backlog is at least as dire as ours, or the (possible) initial charm of the er, situation started to wear a bit thin. Nonetheless, I am sure his mother told him that motorbikes were dangerous, and he just didn’t listen.


Towards the end…


Towards the end, during the closing statements, I thought that it had been remiss of me not to count how many times Cyril Ramaphosa had said that we should not be afraid; that we should not fear. Should the constitution then later be ravaged by the ANC, I could refer back to this post and write a new one about how Comrade Breakthrough was sent to the launch of One Law, One Nation: The Making of the South African Constitution at the Constitutional Court last week to make reassuring noises while his comrades looted the Bill of Rights. It was a negative moment, true, in an evening that was otherwise quite pleasant.

I like Cyril. Sometimes I think that he may be a good president… one day. But there is something indecipherable about him and even as one is drawn to his easy and reasonable charm, he remains inaccessible, and it is impossible to know if the words from his mouth are just words. I only met him once. A few years ago I interviewed him for a Nelson Mandela obit doccie (that happily remains in the SABC archives for now) and he said a very strange thing to me while the crew was setting up and I was making preliminary conversation: something to the effect of “from under which rock have you crawled?” It was a disconcerting moment, and I cannot remember how I responded but although the words were nasty, there was nothing in his demeanour but curiosity and humour. I think this describes it.

Anyway. I realise that, as the chairman of the Constitutional Assembly he was not sent to the event by the ANC. He is, after all, on the cover of the book. The photograph captures the striking moment in which he, standing next to Madiba at the signing of the constitution on 10 December 1996, holds the bound document aloft. They are both smiling; his eyes are crinkling. The only words on the first page are also his.

I lifted the constitution into the air in the heat of the moment. I hadn’t planned it. I had to do it to show the people that this is it. This is the document that they had struggled for, died for and wept for. This document binds us all together to a common destiny, a common future and a joint aspiration of what this country should be.

Amen. Or, actually, ahem. Only time will tell, but contrary to Cyril’s crooning reassurance, I think some fear may be called for.