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.


Well, maybe

I have always been a great fan of the saying, “if you keep too much of an open mind, your brain will fall out”. I do not have many principles, but this aphorism has been useful and encouraging for at least a decade (I cannot remember when I first read it, but it feels like a decade ago) at the grindstone, so I have embraced it as such. Still, now, with age and other wrinkles at the corners of my eyes, another thought, or question, keeps niggling at me. How much is too much? How open is too open?

The question is not the result of idle speculation. I am not a philosopher, even though I sometimes wonder if my true love was that guy who thought I knew a lot about Nietzsche when I did not twenty years ago.  Of course I am not calling the demanding, even gruelling academic discipline of philosophy “idle speculation”. I have tried to read Thus Spoke Zarathustra a number of times since that first bunch of actual roses on Valentine’s Day, but have not managed, to this day, to live up to the expectations I created by randomly quoting cool-sounding adages. I think you know what I mean.

Anyway. I honestly believe that we get smarter as we get older. This is, of course, assuming that we were smart to start off with. Without some initial smarts, this theory is just a theory.

When I think of myself at seventeen I don’t feel a great fondness for a braver, more innocent and more energetic version of myself. There are glimpses of the bull-headed naiveté that made it possible for a small-town girl to make a 30-minute fiction film in a big city when she knew virtually nobody, but just thought it was possible to do so. There is no nostalgia in the act of looking back, only small moments of horror. It’s no sentimental journey, no sir, just trip to Cringeville: the details are too harrowing to go into here.

But I should not be so hard on myself, or in fact, young people in general. I turned out OK, you can take me anywhere, for sure, and just because I could read and write full sentences in two languages by the time I finished school, it does not make me better than the average high school graduate in a post-apartheid South Africa.

But back to the open mind. How open is too open? One of my other favourite quotes that I hesitate to use since the disappointing Nietzsche incident is by Albert Einstein: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. Although it is tempting for an exceedingly smart person to believe that the world is wrong and she is right (as a rule) eventually she must be overwhelmed by the volume and duration of idiocy she will be confronted during her lifetime, and she must see the sense in capitulation as a practical alternative to shuffling off the mortal coil in sheer exasperation. I exaggerate of course.

It will be hard to embrace the idea that in spite of knowing how the world should be, I should try to live in it as it is. That is – for me – incredibly open-minded. It may sound like a step in the the right direction, but even so, as I go, I think I will be holding my head. Just in case.

Smoke gets in your eyes

I think there are many smokers who don’t want to give up smoking because they think that they will be boring people. This might be true – I concede that I may have been a tad wearisome myself ever since I kicked the habit. I do that terrible thing of frowning at smokers, I wave away wafting smoke, I move away and so on. All very uppity and anti-social.

I am not sure why I was thinking about these things this evening. I think I was thinking (first) about the fact that I feel like a very dull person at the moment. We (the girls and I) are writing and editing a M&E report (monitoring and evaluation, I had to find out what that was after the first meeting) for a company that, well, is involved in HIV/AIDS on some level or the other. They produce an annual report for one of the larger municipalities about what is being done, who is doing it, and what is the state of HIV/AIDS generally in the city.

The spending of money on organisations and companies who mostly monitor the use of aid money by other organisations and companies I find completely senseless. You know what somebody should do a report on? The amount of aid money that is spent on writing reports about how aid money is spent. Really. That is what it amounts to. In all areas: education, Aids, development. You name it. But hey, I am a girl with a bond to pay, and I’ll have my slice of the PEPFAR pie, thank you very much.

So we are writing this report. Now, when it comes to HIV/AIDS, there are many, many figures involved. Numbers, calculations, estimates, projections. And very often they are wrong, or they don’t make sense, or they are simply not updated for three or four years, which makes it frustrating as hell to write an annual report – when there is little evidence of change or progress since the last annual report. You know what I mean?

I am going to leave that there. There is no point in discussing it, really. It is what it is, almost like a CSN song. For variety, and to forget about the fact that I am already a whole day behind my schedule, and because I promised a friend I would write a story for him, I went to the Dive Expo at the Northgate dome this afternoon. I swear, I have not seen so many white people and big bakkies together in one place since, well, since we had that all-day relay race at school and we all got those blue drizabone windbreakers and “She’s Got Bette Davis Eyes” was on the top twenty on Springbok radio. Yes, I know that was a very long time ago. It was BEFORE Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize, and that is all I am going to say about when that was.

But I had a beer and talked to a few people about learning to dive (I think I am actually going to do a course, and then write another story). I asked the guys why there were no black people around. I am not kidding. There were more than, I dunno, two thousand people, (Gray said six thousand, but I doubt it) and in the three hours I wandered about, I saw two black guys who worked there, two couples, and one guy hurrying down the corridor with a pamphlet in his hand. Some exceedingly ambitious teenager asked him if he was a diver, and he just shook his head and hurried along. There were no real answers. One guy said that it was not a “visible” sport – implying that if it’s not bling, it’s not in. Another one said he thought black people were generally afraid of water. This borders, of course, on saying that blacks cannot swim. It was a bit of a time-warp situation. Even the cleaners, he said, keep a safe distance from the pool. Whatever the story, the dome was packed with boats, jetski’s, wake- and boogie boards, and more than two thousand people, and the situation was, to put it mildly, non-representative.

There was a company that sponsors 20 instructors’ courses for “previously disadvantaged” people annually.  But  I don’t know if that means anything, as such.

Anyway. So there was the dome full of white people and boats on a Sunday afternoon, and aid money being spent on checking how the aid money was being spent. You could read this stuff in the papers, but sometimes you have to drive north for half an hour and see for yourself that the world is a crazy place.

Things I don’t understand on Friday

I am thinking about renaming the blog “things I don’t understand”. There are so many of these, and I find them mostly very interesting. Like Royal Canin donating 1.6 million tons of dog food and 1.2 million tons of cat food to a shelter that feeds 750 cats and 17 dogs. I understand that calculation so little it borders on WTF.

Currently my experience of the world vacillates mostly between bafflement and outrage, with bafflement tipping the scale. This is good, of course. Between the two there are moments of wonder, like this evening when the early moon hovered like a huge, mutant orange between the dark shapes of the Johburg skyline as I left Mint Road, and rose slowly as I drove home on the thawing city streets. Fordsburg itself is a joy on a temperate Friday evening. The streets buzz with families and cool guys punching each other on the shoulder, and informal commerce, and cooking food. I wished for a moment that I could just hang around, but then I got in my car and around the corner I caught the moon. So that wasn’t bad either.   

I edited a wellness manual for soccer players this week. There was a lot of information in there that I found very interesting. I did not know, for example, that women are born with about a million  immature eggs (protected by hollow balls of cells in the ovarian follicles) tucked in their ovaries. About half of the ovarian follicles (and their eggs) are absorbed by the body before puberty, at which point 10-20 ova start maturing on a monthly basis. Only one mature egg is usually released by the ovaries during ovulation. I knew that last bit about the one-montly-egg, of course, but to complete the story, the mature (free!) egg then swans its way down the fallopian tubes in the hope of being accosted within 24 hours by millions of quivering sperm swimming in the opposite direction, all wanting to get in there.

Not all of this was in the manual. I found most of  it on some website. The manual’s writers chose/had to simplify the whole thing, of course. Their target audience is soccer players, and a soccer player with even “vagina” in his vocab must be a rare enough  gem (with the exception of Roger, of course. I am quite sure that he is well-versed in female anatomy), so maybe they thought that “ovarian follicle” would be pushing things a bit.

So. Discovering something about one’s body is not baffling. But the body’s sums, just like Royal Canin’s, seem so… inexplicable. Let’s say a woman ovulates for about 40 years (a very generous and old-fashioned estimate, which assumes that puberty starts at 12 and menopause at 52). That means she ovulates 520-odd times. In that period, about 10 400  (generous estimate, again) eggs will start the process of maturation, and only 520 will be released. (Although in biology, a one-in-twenty survival rate seems great, actually.)

Let’s say (to make the calculation easy, but not necessarily out-of-the-ballpark) that by the beginning of puberty, a woman has about half a million immature eggs tucked away in her ovaries. It means, ultimately, that out of every 900-ish eggs, one makes it down the tubes. So to speak. And ULTIMATELY, only 2-3 of the whole lot turn into human beings. Those are terrible odds – one in 250 000, average – it sucks, really. Tadpoles have a better survival rate where on average, five frog eggs out of every 2000 become adult frogs. Human sperm, on the other hand, do much worse. Perhaps this is where we should start with redefining biological determinism.

Another thing that puzzled me today was the Mail and Guardian’s apparent determination to fuel hysteria about swine flu. I know two people have died, including one strong, healthy 20-something Stellenbosch rugby player, but more people die of regular flu every year. I tried to find general stats on flu deaths on the net, but failed again. There is no site at the moment that marries “death” and “flu” without throwing in “swine” as a qualifier.

Generally, I had a good week in terms of work, but a more frustrating time in terms of the things that make life puzzling, and interesting.

Something I do understand now is how come Bill has such a roving eye. With Hillary on safari in Mzanzi, it has been possible to scrutinise her very closely. She looks more and more matronly by the day… waving heavily to puzzled crowds and lurching onto podiums and so on. I did some video research on Madiba (the SABC has stopped striking, so it was possible) on Wednesday, and spent a bit of time watching him meet a whole range of absolutely gorgeous women during and after his tour of duty.  He looked like he just loved it. The TV pictures of him and Hillary this week were very… eh… formal, in spite of the close relationship he has with her husband, and I could clearly imagine his next conversation with the other ex-president: “So… Bill… about that Monica girl….”

Things I do not understand #2: the secret life of cat lovers

Barbara told me an interesting thing at lunch today. She said that when you breed Persian cats you have to keep your queen(s) inside all the time and away from the Tom-next-door. Apparently, if said Tom gets a load in, your queen will be spoilt for life, and any chance of cajoling her into putting out for a Persian boyfriend after that will be ruined forever. For… ever. Forever more, she will be pining for Tom – the bad boy who did her and dumped her for the ginger Abyssinian slut a across the street. Figures I guess. I had no trouble believing that story.

It need not be a tragedy, actually. If Barbara and one’s own eyes are to be believed, it is clear that your average Persian is short of leg and large of body, not to mention the mass of fur that could insulate a Boeing. Short, stocky, rotund… these qualities are not high on the list of a Hollywood casting couch looking for a romantic lead. And if this is all a pure-bred ball of hair has the right to dream of her entire life, then I say, screw that, or rather, screw Tom from next door.

OK… so I am not really writing about the cat. I am not a cat lover, or even a cat person. I have no problem with cats and appreciate that they have symbolic value, and are creatures that inspire love and affection in others, sometimes to a rather alarming degree.

For example, all true cat people can speak cat. My friend Bridget has claimed on more than one occasion that she is fluent in Siamese, and over the years I have witnessed very endearing repartee between her and her cats. The tendency of cat lovers to translate such repartee to a heathen like myself, however, is something I indulge only in people that I am terribly fond of. I think lots of people probably know what I am talking about.

What I do appreciate is that this crazy cat-talk activity is only funny insofar as cats are given human characteristics, foibles, and eccentricities by their interpreters. I don’t really know what this means, in the big picture, or if this is significant in terms of our relationships with beings that 1) don’t talk back 2) say what we want them to and 3) are completely at our mercy in terms of the provision of food, shelter and health services.

I don’t get the whole thing, actually, but Ruth said that as long as I accept that there are things I will never understand, that is OK. It does not make me a bad a person. I have let Ruth’s kittens jump on me and eat my ears. Bridge can also confirm that in spite of the fact that Snowy sprayed his horrible male cat juice all over my couch when I moved in with her, he only died many years later of natural causes, and that I had a splendid (and affectionate) relationship with Wallis for most of her life.

I read no papers today, but did go and see Sunshine Cleaning this evening. It is wonderful, and there is also a cat in it, one that causes a woman to burn down a house. Nuff said.

Things we cannot fix, it seems

So. Race divides us. But in a society where money can fix almost anything except death and a very unfortunate personality, it should be possible to remedy the primeval inclination to be suspicious, even dismissive, of people who are different from you. That is why yet another faction of life coaches makes a fortune out of teaching the people with unfortunate personalities how not to be rude to people of other races at work, or, generally, in public. Although one can get slapped with a hate-speech charge, the equivalent of community service in such a case could mean having to attend the type of workshop-seminar-course (WSC) as described above.

You sit in a circle and talk about your feelings… I think… I saw on TV once. It was in The Lab. Which could also mean that the director had no imagination and simply took his cue from the hundreds of Hollywood movies he has seen about alcoholics. Probably you get the point.

I suspect these don’t work. There are reasons why some people are racist, which are not only ingrained, but irrational, and which somehow serves that person’s unfortunate personality. Most probably they never really liked themselves, just like all the nice people they ever met. So in order not to be lonely, all they really have to offer a group of more than one, is a common hatred of other races. They would delude themselves either that they are somehow superior to these races, or that these races are somehow the very and direct cause of their misery, purely by virtue of having a skin colour different from their own. As I said, irrational.

But because their hatred somehow, in a very mysterious and frankly cheerless manner, serves them, and binds them to others, I believe it cannot be fixed. So. All they could really learn from said WSC is to, for fuck’s sake, shut it.

In theory, if the race tolerance classes could work, then sex tolerance classes should too, and be far more useful, I think. I am not talking about learning to accept your boyfriend’s proclivity for pornography or sex in public places. No, I am talking about Julius Malema.

I guess what is most extra-ordinary about his refusal to apologise, is that Julius is under the impression that HE is the one who decides what constitutes hate speech. There are hundreds of  white people who refer to black people as kaffirs, munts or brown-eyes, for example, and the majority of them will tell you that their use of such terms does mean that they are racist. These are just WORDS, they will insist, that they grew up with, and that is that. In the same way, men (black and white) will refer to women as chicks, birds, or bitches, and again, in their eyes, these are just words, these men don’t INTEND for these words to be offensive, and therefore they are not. The idea that we all have a right, by LAW, to dignity, and hence an obligation to respect said right of other people is really a concept beyond the reach of people who defend the use of racist and sexist terminology.

More than race, I think, sex divides us. And more than sex, stupidity does. Einstein (who supposedly also failed his final year in school so Julius is in good company), once said that “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

You cannot condemn a man for being an idiot. And since Julius is accusing Sonke Gender Justice Network’s Mbuyiselo Botha of being a white man who doesn’t like black leaders, it must be undisputed that Julius is as thick as two very short planks nailed together (nifty woodwork reference).

More alarming that this, however, is the failure of the ANC leadership, and particularly the almost 50% of women in that mix, to stand up and tell Julius to do the right thing. And for them to take him aside, and explain the terms “universal human rights”, “gender equality” and most of all, “respect”. They might insist that in the Julius Malema School of Politics, a course on universal platitudes must be compulsory (or they will tell the Chinese to take his funding away). For example, “it is better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all traces of doubt” would be excellent advice to anybody who ventures there, I am convinced.

Generally I find it all despicable; a grand display of a visionless, insensitive leadership. It is a failure to serve our democracy and to uphold the ideal of equality for all, regardless of race or sex.

…Ok… or creed, but I have my doubts about that one. It’s not something you are born with, and is easily changed or discarded. How can that possibly hold court with the other two?

But that is a story for another time. Now, having written something that has NOTHING to do with “the values of the brand”, back to the writing that makes you want to kill yourself, or drink a lot.

On writing # 8: Writing that makes you want to kill yourself. Or drink a lot.

“To coin a cliché” is also a cliché.

Just a thought. I am writing the copy for the Corporate Identity Guidelines of a large minerals-and-mining company, and if I have to conjure up yet another way of saying, “speaks to the values of the brand” I am going out for a bottle of whisky. Fortunately the end is in sight. Most of the weekend has been spent in the service of Satan. I guess he pays. At forty one, I have no qualms in selling my soul for money, as selling it for various versions of love or meaning, so far, has proved a very bad long-term investment, every time.

The results of this transaction are also much cheerier than the alternative. (Unless of course one is making drama for the SABC, when one frequently finds oneself screaming at imaginary people, first thing in the morning, in the bath. But back to me, in the present.)

Considering that I am relentless in my current pursuit of happiness (I am taking happiness vitamins. They say Vitamin D3 is a cure for SAD) I have taken a little break to write something that I have not already written in other words. This was it.

And now I have to get back there. I feel much better now.

Will the real Dimitri please stand up?

Dimitri the Stud absolute best

Dimitri the Stud 5

Dimitri with mullet

Oh what sport. I got a message from somebody called Yannis (not Dimitri’s cousin, or even from the old country[1], I am sure) claiming that…

“These voicemails are FAKE. They are viral marketing for Dimitri The Lover’s upcoming Hollywood film.  If you go to http://www.somewebsiteformysoginistsintoronto.com [2] you can visit his anti-metrosexual site, the Toronto Real Men.  If you go to http://www.dimitrithedinosaur.com[3] you can visit his personal web site.  He is a seduction guru with a sense of humour”

Yannis was objecting (I hope… he might have been stirring up interest instead) to my previous post and the MP3 of the (alleged) messages Dimitri left on some harassed woman’s phone. Well, seeing that I am about to embark on the investigative journalism chapter of my masters, I flew to these sites to check out his story. There was, unfortunately, nothing there to convince me that the voicemails may not be authentic.

I did think it strange that Dimitri claimed that the bizarre (ok… sexist, misogynist, and embarrassingly pornographic) animations on his site have been censored by YouTube, even as Yannis advertised the production of a Hollywood film, but I guess there is no accounting for the discrepancy between brilliance and bad taste of either. Either YouTube or Hollywood, I mean, not the Greek brothers. So far I have seen no brilliance in the guys whatsoever. I’ll believe the movie when I see it, I guess, is my last word on that one.

Ironically, it did occur to me that they may not be the real deal BEFORE Yannis intervened. In fact, my reply to Mandolin was…

“How fucking amazing. I thing (sic, I was in a hurry) HE’s the guy that writes all the Woody Allen movies.”

But Yannis has made it clear that Dimitri is real, living in Toronto, and unashamed. And incognito, as he only appears on the website in his attractive cartoon persona. But I am certain that I know his type, and have taken the liberty to post some more possible pictures.

(And that really IS all for Friday.)

[1] In the voicemails, Dimitri claims to be Greek.

[2] I had to change the website addresses because the truth is (I think), that I finally fell for The Spam (AKA, according to Yannis, ‘viral marketing’), and refuse to perpetuate it. I also refused to add a full stop at the end of the sentence. If these guys can’t write, that is their problem.

[3] As above.