The road to Mallaig

The road to Mallaig



I don’t know about this format… l liked the one where you could just log on and check out what people wrote. It took me ten minutes to figure out just how to post something. (I have called myself a technopeasant on this very blog in the past – nothing has changed). Somewhere in this marsh there is a page that uses words like SUBDOMAIN. What the fuck is a SUBDOMAIN…. and who the fuck cares? I know a lot of shit, and I know more shit every day. I have to be SO CAREFUL not to get to know shit that I don’t need, or do not have to remember, because then I am going to start forgetting REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF. Why did They fix something when it weren’t broke?


Shooting a new sitcom for SABC at studios in Midrand. We developed it with standup comics Darren Maule, Bryan van Niekerk, Krijay Govender and Denzel Edgar. Producer is Desmond Dube. It’s a really funny show (honestly, we go out there), and we record it in front of a live studio audience. If anybody wants to come, please do. E-mail:

This is the schpiel: Write, make a booking, we will put you on the guest list and mail you a map. Come at 19h00, have a snack (we provide) have a drink (cash bar). At 19h30 we traipse into the studio. Des gives a brief intro of the cast and the show, and then we record it. It takes about an hour. Standup comics provide entertainment during scene changes. (You can also call Sibusiswe @ 011 314 0488.)


James sat down at the desk and said to Tim that if he got back to the office at midnight, then they could do the first tape together as he only had to be in Boksburg for the start of his gig at 2am. Just give me a ring when you leave the set, he said, I’ll be at home.

Tim said cool, then he could do the next tape by himself in the morning, once James had showed him how.

I asked James if he was a really shit DJ that they only have him play between 2 and 3 in the morning. He said, no, that’s an important slot clubs are not radio stations. People only start arriving at midnight, the main set is at one, and (I did not really understand this) prime time is from 4-5. So, whatever that means, I just felt really old all of a sudden. I remembered that I once had a friend who liked to dance and we went to clubs here in Randburg somewhere and danced… once upon a time. And I guess we did really only go out at about midnight. It feels long ago, and crazy.

Am I old? I asked Cat, who is a real dance-all-night bunny and also, I discover, a DJ. Fortunately, she is about my age, so we are on the same platforms, so to speak. If I am not playing (she has an interest in the Citrus Lounge) then I am on the dance floor, or I am worrying about the bar. Yeah, I think, that’s more like it. The difference between us, she indicates with big eyes the direction that James disappeared in, is that I don’t chemically enhance my experience.

I understand that. I remember as a teenager dancing all night without any drugs, and hardly anything to drink. Thinking back on the vast landscape of my past, I imagine the Italian clubs we went to when I was an exchange student: the entry fee normally also bought you one drink, and that is what we had, while we danced and smoked until the next morning. But hey, that was Italy. I don’t tell Cat about this fleeting thought. I just say, yes, we did not even drink much, and managed to jol all night.

Yes, she goes, I have about 2 or 3 tequilas, and that keeps me going. It’s also that I go out on my own, and driving home alone at night, you have to keep your wits about you, she says. I think about that. I like to stay home alone on my own. Go to movies on my own. Go to coffeeshops to read the paper on a Sunday morning on my own. Go out? If at all, not on my own. Really I prefer my couch.

But you are not old, Cat carries on, (oh what a cool chick) and then says predictably, it’s about how old you feel. I said I feel about 28, and she looked at me, completely convinced. In this instant, I love her. We talk briefly about the dangers of feeling much younger than you are, and the possibility of falling into the mutton-dressed-as-lamb-trap. I tell you, I feel so young, that phrase simply does not resonate with me. And I have been dressing as mutton since I was about 14.

Cat, on the other hand, dressed in 18-hole docs and dominatrix pants. They took so long to get on, she says, she wore them at length without taking them off. She laughs, when I eventually disrobed they virtually stood upright on their own. I imagine that. That’s funny, I say. It is funny. The scene is this… a really messy boys room, clothes on the floor, a scruffy fellow passed out half undressed in the bed, sleeping on his back with his mouth open. And, at the foot of the bed, the black leather pants and boots standing upright. I think that is very funny. If you don’t, forgive me, I am currently working on a comedy that is not quite yet funny, so I am really looking for the humour in the world around me at the moment.

So I must be old, I carried on, if I partied once upon a time, and now the very thought of being up all night in some club somewhere fills me with abject horror. It’s not age, she countered. I can completely understand it. It’s just not your thing.

And there you have it. Cat says that it is just not my thing. She knows lots of chicks much younger than me (for a moment she is less cool in my eyes) that are the same. It is not for everybody to go out and party all night. With or without chemical help.

So that, really, was it. I think the phone rang, Cat took her coffee and went back to her desk, and I turned to my computer. The day started.

Just another day

The sun has dropped behind the mountain. The wind has come up. There are still voices in the office, in this business nobody goes home before 7pm, and even though even that time has come and gone, everybody is still here. Busy. Involved. Some giving orders, some taking them, some just trying to get a whole bunch of things done before the next power cut.

In one review of the RKO’s “Strandjutwolf” show, Dan Roberts is quoted as saying that advertising is the work of the devil. I am not sure if this suggestion has sharpened my discrimination accordingly, but every aspect of this job is taking on dark, shadowy hues of fresh and drying blood. Money, ego. There is nothing else here. No common humanity, no kindness, tolerance, humility, no understanding, and, I am sorry to say, not a single original idea. Only that “silly thing they call a thought.” Money, ego. Ad agencies who feel that the very people who make their lives possible, the REASON for their existence, are worth nothing but their unqualified contempt, are to be patronised to their faces and despised behind their backs. “Because we don’t suck dick” was one exec’s justification for dismissing a client’s concern around the implied relationship between alcohol, violence and sex in the commercial the agency wants to make.

Money, ego, and not a single original thought in sight. A Boy Genius Director rehashing the work done by the more intelligent, more experienced versions of himself before him.

I want to vomit. I have to get out of here. I every time the universe smacks me in the face she is trying to tell me something but I just DON’T-WANT-TO-LISTEN.

It’s like the suggestion of some way back famous screen siren on how to destroy the prince-on-a-white-horse fantasy in women. You tie them to a chair, you shine a light in their eyes, play “one day your prince will come” on the record player. Then, slapping them in the face, you repeat… nobody’s coming… nobody’s coming…. nobody’s coming…

Nobody’s coming. I guess it’s time to saddle that horse and go somewhere.

Go Margot, go Margot…

So I went to the Brian Adams concert in Kirstenbosch last night. It was cold. There were about 5000 people, somebody said, and they had been there for a while, considering the long queues at the toilets even before the start of the show.

We were sitting in the VIP area. I know some VIPs, just like everybody does, and my VIPs get VIP tickets to rock and roll concerts, which is GREAT considering that these areas always have easily accessible VIP toilets Close By. Certainly one of the reasons I hate going to rock concerts is the distance one has to trudge through aggressive, suspicious, sweaty bodies for a pee and the large part of the concert you miss as a result of standing in a stinking queue in my personal experience, this is usually the part featuring the only song I really like. Or one may choose to avoid this and die of thirst. I can’t do it, I swear. As I get older, I HAVE to keep hydrated. But there we were, very civilised, drinking Moet and Prosecco out of pretty plastic champagne glasses when Brian came on to Thundering Applause.

Brian is a popular guy. He gives good show and his fans love him. They love him so much they know the lyrics to the songs; once, the intro of a song played and the audience started singing without him, he laughed, and they laughed, like he caught them out, and then he started the song for real. Even from the VIP section about 100 metres away, I could feel how cosy it was there, at the front. Since nobody smokes anymore the slow, magic sea of little cigarette lighter flames during ballads have disappeared. People wave their arms instead. It’s not the same. I think they should sell lighters at the entrance for this purpose specifically.

I suspect another reason why Brian is such a popular live performer here is because people believe him when he says he is happy to be back in South Africa. Otherwise he would not have been here five times, right? The fact that this might possibly be one of the few countries in the world where he still has a Huge Following, and where the promoter might make some money out of a Brian Adams Concert is beside the point. He says loves being here, he flirts with his audience and he sings with them. And usually one very lucky girl gets to sing with him, On Stage. The hopefuls are dotted in the front, waiting for the moment to start begging, me, please, me, please please- they have practiced the songs, knowing that he gets irritated when you don’t know the words, and nobody wants to be picked and stand up there like a dork.

From the back we heard him speak to one aspiring participant-. No, darlin’, put those away. They are not going to get you on stage. They might get you backstage, but-

In the end, the lucky one was Margot. Margo from Wellington. She was young, studying psychology, and was no taller than Brian. I am from Wellington, she had to repeat a couple of times, as he clearly has never heard of the place, but she was insistent, and proud. She had a feverish look in her big eyes, every pore was dipping with adrenalin and she admitted freely that she did not sing very well. He was taken aback by this for a moment, and asked her if she knew the words she said she did. And then she remembered to ask what song they were going to sing. The crowd loved Margot in that moment, perhaps even more than Brian. But she knew the lyrics, and she belted them out with vigour en energy, and Brian seemed as if he was also having a good time. They looked at each other, and Margot glowed, singing the songs of love and perfect understanding. I wondered if this was going be one of the biggest moments in her life, and I envied her.

I thought of a family holiday long ago, the last one we all had together, and a night in a bar, and being the oldest, trying to be a good, but cool example to my little brother who was busy failing his first year at Rhodes University. After miserably failing to extract a definition of Any Kind of passion that he might possibly have for Anything, we moved on to talking about music, and Brian Adams, inexplicably – as happens in memory fragmented by trauma.

I remember trying to explain to him and some arbitrary holiday friends he made for the night that with the good guitar riffs and the flawless rhyme, Brian really does us all a disservice. His songs are so unashamedly sentimental and they suggest that the necessary interaction between men and women could be an effortlessly elevated experience, not only filled with beautiful, constant intimacy, but fuelled by the mutual, affectionate understanding of equals who would die rather than see the other unhappy, by their own hand or otherwise. Most regular guys, like Brian, jumping around in his t-shirt and jeans, (we can so relate to him as a Regular Guy) are considerate in a relationship, the songs croon, and there are no requirements other than giving and receiving Love- there are no stakes, no power struggles, no personal fears that cause one to lash out, to do damage with cruel, undermining remarks or long periods of silence. It paints a picture too full of false expectation, I tried to explain to 17 year olds between whiskeys. And we are seduced by it because it is all accompanied by such a simple, cool tune. Anybody can sing it, and believe it. It binds us with the lowest of emotional common denominators, nostalgia and sentiment. Not that I used the term denominator that night, I already had a feeling that they did were wondering what the hell I was ON about, and wishing there were cool chicks their own age at the table instead. I even remembering letting it go after a couple of minutes, thinking, these are Guys, what am I thinking? They are going to grow up to be- guys.

My theory turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as years later I had short tumultuous scene with just such a guy. You are not talking to me, I would scream at him, you are fucking quoting from a really bad fucking pop song. I love you I love you I love you- this is the chorus line from a fucking bubblegum song, its not a fucking emotional commitment Just Because You Keep on Saying It. It did not last, of course. Once the indiscriminate use of the expletive started dominating all attempts at communication, the thing was doomed and the end in sight. Another casualty in the war between life and fantasies spawned on a rock and roll stage.

But there I was at the Brian Adams Concert, and I looked at Margot glowing, grinding her hips as close to his as possible without bumping the guitar, belting it out, word perfect if slightly off key, and I knew that she knew the lyrics of every single Brian Adams song, and that Brian is big in Wellington. Go Margot, go.

And I tapped my feet and sang along to Summer of ’69- standing on your mama’s porch, you swore that you would wait forever- and-. everything I do, I do it for you- and- let’s make sugar darling, sweet surrender… Oh what the hell. He sings a good tune, and I think he really knows how to play the guitar. I was sorry when he failed to appear for an encore, but apparently (we are In The Know, in the VIP area) he lost his voice. He did put on a sweatshirt for the 2nd part of the show, and as I already said, it was cold. We waited with disappointed fans till the work lights came on and teams of guys in matching hard-hats started dismantling everything. We finished the Prosecco and went home. It was a great night out.

About shit

The other day I read – ‘As the poo of the antelope falls to the ground, it becomes the grass of tomorrow. It is the great circle of poo.’ (Words of the friend of someone called Amy.)

And I must say, it struck quite a cord. Some real trauma I have been trying to make sense of for a while suddenly became understandable. I was startled by how valuable a life lesson (akin even to that great moment when my irate English teacher told me that ‘life owes you nothing’) is hidden in this unassuming little ecological theorem. On a good day, I like to believe it means that good things also grow in shit. I need to believe it, often. This shit is good shit. The trick is, however, constantly to watch the fine line between fertiliser and cholera of the soul.

The rules of etiquette aside, these days excrement is very much an accepted metaphor for many things. And is often quite funny. The gravitas of shit as an expletive varies, of course. We have all seen the cartoon of the broken bridge and half a train halfway down a ravine, with the only exclamation from a survivor being ‘oh shit’. Personally I take great joy in the other commonly used variation, ‘crap’. I love the sound of the word. I love its absoluteness. ‘Crap’ means ‘irrevocably not even worth discussing’ and as close to fact as dammit. I also only ever use it from a position of strength.

‘Shit’, on the other hand, I use in a context of real alarm, of misery and of despair. On a TV series I was working on last year, I had a very young art director who ‘did not believe in continuity’, and a wardrobe master that did not really believe in a anything at all, except that he personally should be a really snappy dresser. I could not fire them even though I begged the producer, she believed that these stupid, dull, lazy fools were creative geniuses, and the fact that they could not actually do 80% of the job should be tolerated. For the months we were forced to work together I could never look at them without imagining great chutes guiding piles of shit into my office. It poured steadily in, like cement, covering the floor, filling the filing cabinets, piling up on the desk. The smell, in my imagination, started sticking to my clothes. I went home with it at night, I slept with it, I took it back to the office in the morning. The CRAP of two non-functioning departments flowed into my office like a river in the rainy season. It was a monsoon of shit. I am supposed to be running this shoot, I often thought. I am the boss. I am the boss of a huge shit heap.

I kept on trying to imagine that all that shit was going to make me stronger, but instead, over months, watching them learning nothing, getting no better, and rejecting any attempts on my part to teach them something… anything, but it never did. Instead I am still recovering, from the exhaustion and the self-doubt that wafts into the office along with the shit. Perhaps I am just not very good at what I do, I thought, perhaps this is too much for me?  Perhaps their incompetence was somehow my fault? I still wake up tired. I still get calls about stuff that was not done, often MY stuff. It’s excruciating, but I am forgiving myself. It’s OK to fail, I think now, in the face of such an onslaught of excrement. Nothing good will ever come of it, because it is not humanly possible to do three people’s work when your own stuff already takes up 14 hours in a day. This is when shit is not fertiliser.

This is when shit is bad. Bad shit. This is when one should not ‘take this crap anymore’.

Perhaps there was something there, after all. Hell knows, I will never put up with that kind of shit again.

On a lighter note… rage.

So, there is Thando. I have taken up Yoga, eschewed cappuccino, chocolate and chardonnay for extended periods of time (up to four days) and now meditate for at least ten minutes a day virtually seven days a month. But even so I am acutely aware that Radical Transformation, True Knowledge of All Things and Fundamental Happiness based solely on the understanding that the universe is as it should be and that I am perfect, will delude me as long as I don’t love him, and accept that he is part of me, as he is of the part of the universe- which apparently is as it should be. What a fuckup. Oh- rage.

Unlike Celeste, Thando is not my immediate subordinate and therefore much harder to bully. He is under the impression that he is my immediate superior, which makes things difficult. He is not, and every fight stems from this. I always win, but I am getting tired, and increasingly bewildered by the insanity of it all. Albert Einstein said madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I have decided not to take any more calls from Thando, as I always end up angry and frustrated. Or perhaps the trick lies in the EXPECTATION- I can take the call, but not EXPECT anything to be resolved in a manner that is theoretically possible for adults. Jan LA van de Snepscheut said that in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is. (Whoever he was). *** So toss that.

Like Celeste, Thando is an idiot; he is so stupid that even the most craftily aimed cruelty simply slides off the brick wall behind his eyes. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, then Thando’s windows are simply painted squares on a hardboard flat, part of a theatre set, decorated to intimate a house of sorts, but requiring the imagination of a sympathetic audience in the dark to make it so. The real tragedy is that, again, unlike Celeste, Thando is not without a brain- he is simply too lazy to use his.

Ella the acupuncturist says I am hot, which is not good, because that is when you burn out. I certainly burn when I think of Thando, rage fires up the synapses and angry thoughts flow like high-speed lava. I had hoped that my holiday in June and all the Deepak Chopra I have been reading would cool things down a bit, but the slightest provocation inflames me. Hey, I tell myself, he is a moron-. calm down, how can you let him do this? But I toss and turn and sweat at night, and burn.

I try to balance and breathe, I practice long, polite soliloquies in the bath, which turn into tense conversations and conclude as venomous monologues where I tell Thando what an arse I think he is. I wonder sometimes if my neighbour can hear me, and then I go back to the balancing. You have to concentrate, or you will fall over. It offers some reprieve from the heat wave in my head.

Perhaps the trick lies in upping my meditation. Having found ten minutes in the morning to blow dry my hair, I am going to find ten minutes every night to sit and not think. As much as I like the good old bunch on the Hard Copy set, they can be trying, and by the end of our 13 hour day I quite like to liquefy into a complete vegetative state on the couch with a sitcom for ½ an hour or so. I will give up 10 minutes of TV (hell knows there’s nothing on to watch anyway) and deal with the rage. And come to love Thando, and the nasty idiot twin inside my skin.

*** Google says Jan de dinges etc was a Dutch-American computer scientist and educator at the California Institute of Technology. He died in 1994. Written about him, ‘On the theoretical side this work would find its continuation in the design of such things as a generator for error handling parsers and a beautiful algorithm for the minimization of finite automata’. Whatever the fuck that means, it sure sounds beautiful. The IT community was ‘bewildered and saddened’ by his death. I am enchanted by the idea of finite automata.

***(2) Somehow, with the WWW at the hot tips of one’s fingers, that line simply does not work anymore. Anybody can know anything. It’s both a tragedy and a wonder.