Monday, 3 December 2012

The Bottom Feeder's Guide to Finding Love in Jo'burg

A Palace of Broken Dreams
In purgatory, all pubs will be like this. Stained floors, nicotine-yellowed ceilings and surfaces sticky to the touch. The interior is a klepto beachcomber's lair of found signs and flickering neon beer lights. Frayed, over-worked bartenders slop out draft beer and J├Ągermeister in shitty plastic tot glasses. The music blares from a neon jukebox, the sort of plodding rock anthems you're likely to hear at a Randburg wedding.

Then I Saw Her Face, Now I'm a Believer... Tra la la
I sat down with some friends, and got down to the task of getting baboon-whipped as quickly as possible; it had been a bad week. More of our friends rolled in, and the table grew. Across from me, I saw her. Blonde hair tied up, with strands falling across her blue eyes, pale skin, and dressed in a suede jacket and cotton shirt. Even more encouraging, she had a small pile of empty tequila glasses around her, and was just then dispatching the last one, slamming the glass on the table with a grimace and a sigh. Turns out she was a friend of a friend, so I leaned over the table, and introduced myself. She smiled, shook my hand, and resumed talking to her friend, who then became the most envied, loathed person in my universe. I retreated behind a double Jameson, and fumed quietly.

The night drew on, people left, one passed out under the table, and I threw myself into conversation with the paragon. We clicked, and in moments were having the focused, tunnel-vision kind of tete a tete where your parents could be being murdered at the adjacent table, and you wouldn't bat an eyelid.

The crowd thinned out, the lights seemed dimmer, and the conversation paused for a moment. I lunged. The lunge is the fix bayonets, over-the-top gung ho approach to getting a snog. It's not for the faint of heart, and has a worryingly high slap-to-kiss rate. Bam! She kissed me back. This carried on for some time, both of us oblivious to the fact that we were snogging in the Jolly Roger; about as classy as kissing in a rubbish skip.

"So, would you like to come back to mine for some coffee?" I asked; "coffee" being the adult semaphore for "let's go back to mine and shag". She said "yes..." I almost whooped for joy, grabbed my jacket and bundled her outside, racing through the pub no-man's land fast as a man running under shell-fire. We linked hands, and strode round the corner to my car. My car. Some (censored)-head in a Landrover had left his handbrake off, and that his (censored) car had rolled downhill into mine, shearing the side clean off, cracking the radiator, and dislocating a front wheel. The paramour made her excuses and left. I was left with the taste of her lipstick, and a circling pack of tow trucks.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Locomotive Speed: A Hell-Bound Hubris?

Hosted by men of Science, Thadeus Pyle and Jebediah Kneebone, Victorian Myth Busters blends the age of the enlightenment, sound biblical principals and the glamour of the photo picture into a rollicking slice of edu-tainment. With a steady supply of wretched whores, drunkards, debtors and urchins to use their cutting-edge scientific contraptions on, Thadeus and Jebedia get to work debunking or confirming the popular myths of the Victorian age.

My wife Millicent and I are planning to travel to the Metropolis from Brighton. Instead of using the usual cow sleigh, we have- with some misgivings- decided to travel by the newly-launched locomotive. I have some qualms about high speed beyond the natural rhythms of the cow cart, or footwalking. Is it true that passengers suffocate at speeds in excess of 30 miles per hour? Is our hell-bent quest for speed a folly, an obsession to send us tumbling like Icarus?

Yours sincerely

Wilderberforce Throckmorton

The Cobbles, Brighton

My dear Mr. Throckmorton,
My gravest apologies for my delayed reply to your letter. Thadeus is in the local infirmary and I am dictating this from my bed, recovering from various powder burns and a case of the grippe after being hauled from the Thames.

This new-fashioned locomotive, or “Stephenson’s Rocket” as we refer to it in London, may be a blessing for our age, or an ungodly, speed-engorged steam and steel harpy rushing our fair populace into the most searing of Satan’s vilest pits.

Finding no biblical reference to the limits of human speed, we turned to the empiricism of Science. The fastest pace yet known to man, being that of a speeding cannon ball, is by our calculations approximately 80 miles an hour. So, with gunpowder as our muse, and the varied modes of cutting edge travel as our vehicles, we schemed to break the manned velocity of 30 miles an hour.

Attempt #1
With bravado modestly veiled by grumbling, trembling and a bible clasped white-knuckled to his belly, Thadeus lowered himself into the visiting messr PT Barnam’s circus cannon. As the usual Italian rocketeer looked a mere slip of a man, and what with Thadeus weighing in at 16 stone, I judicially increased the powder charge to compensate. Before I could even press the button on my stopwatch, Thadeus had bulleted over the safety net, his fall broken only by the Tombola stall. Tragically, the bible was in flinders, and Thadeus- bandaged head to foot- remains in a state of permanent concussion, and unfortunately incapable of any foreseeable input into your query.

Attempt #2
With our tamed urchin using my stopwatch as a timer, I strove to ramp a Penny Farthing with two aft-facing punt guns strapped to it over the raised booms of Tower Bridge. The recoil hit like a bullock to the buttocks, and I shot off, the cycle beyond my control. My glasses fell off, and to add even more insult sartorial depravity, I was cast into the Thames with an almighty splash. Sadly no measurement of my velocity remains, as the urchin has made off with the stopwatch.

After these two failed attempts, I must confirm that any speed beyond a slowly trotting horse buggy to be grievously perilous. The modern speeds of the locomotive are no place for any passenger attempting to survive the journey without suffocating, or vomiting forth their innards in a steaming spume of offal. Myth Confirmed.

I remain, your humble servant

Jebediah Kneebone Esq.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Can You Flog Satan Out of a Wayward Child?

Hosted by men of Science, Thadeus Pyle and Jebediah Kneebone, Victorian Myth Busters blends the age of the enlightenment, sound biblical principals and the glamour of the photo picture into a rollicking slice of edu-tainment. With a steady supply of wretched whores, drunkards, debtors and urchins to use their cutting-edge scientific contraptions on, Thadeus and Jebedia get to work debunking or confirming the popular myths of the Victorian age.

Dear Messrs Pyle and Kneebone, 
The gravity of my situation forces me to write with candour and brevity. My fair child, Cedric, has become possessed by the Devil. 

Earlier this week at dinner, Cedric speared a potato before the commencement of Grace. Naturally I flogged the child. This only served to egg on the Demon inhabiting his body. The child has danced and I have flogged; the child has been found cavorting with the lower orders and I have flogged, it has whistled a profane tune and I have flogged. For the love of my child and for the sake of his immortal soul I will be steadfast in the administration of the beatings, but Sirs, I must know if this is a futile ritual? Pray tell, can you confirm that you can flog Satan out of a wayward child?

Jonah and Ida Pfeiffer


Dear Sir,
Your most worthy missive arrived with a touch of divine providence. Indeed, I took receipt of your message while Jebediah was at the courthouse giving evidence in the case of a rascally little jackanape who had recently pilfered a loaf of bread from our pantry. I burst through the courthouse doors moments before the judge was about to send the child to the gallows and bid the court that he become my ward.

My good man, I profoundly doubt if there has ever been an urchin on this ‘Fair Isle’ more possessed by Satan’s wickedness. Filth and soot have rendered him the blackest of Satan’s imps and he has a mouth and manners to match. In fact it was an act of extreme probity that prevented us from flogging him senseless on sight.

But we are men of science and so, with a restraining hand, we devised a system of punishments whose severity increased in increments. I will spare the most gruesome of details, suffice to say that the first week followed a tempestuous pattern – A flogging in the morning; remorse by noon; hijinx and devilry by nightfall. We were on the point of surrender, when we introduced a bullwhip dipped in brine. When this instrument is met with the bare skin of a wayward child the results are extremely positive. Calling out to the glory of the Lord, the child expelled Satan from his soul by vomiting demonic plasma clear across the room. But the Lord of Darkness has infinite cunning. For, expelled though he was from the little wretch, he slithered his nefarious way into Jebediah’s body. This was revealed to me in the morn, when I arose to find the child returned to his errant ways. At my wits end, I set upon the child and thrashed him until he was unconscious. And then a most curious thing happened. Jebediah spumed. From his throat flowed the Devil’s toxins. And herein lies your answer. With a briny bullwhip, flog your child until he expels Satan, then flog him again until your wife expels Satan. That is the ticket. As I write, the child is rocking gently in a chair in our drawing room, not uttering a peep, with the bible upon his lap. Myth confirmed.

We remain, your humble servants

Thadeus Pyle & Jebediah Kneebone Esq.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Victorian Myth Busters

Hosted by men of Science, Thadeus Pyle and Jebediah Kneebone, Victorian Myth Busters blends the age of the enlightenment, sound biblical principals and the glamour of the photo picture into a rollicking slice of edu-tainment. With a steady supply of wretched whores, drunkards, debtors and urchins to use their cutting-edge scientific contraptions on, Thadeus and Jebedia get to work debunking or confirming the popular myths of the Victorian age.

Does Onanism Cause Blindness?
Dear Messrs. Pyle & Kneebone,
I returned home early from my shift at the mill yesterday and came upon my son Aloysius in delicto solo fragrante. So fevered were his manipulations, he seemed bent on beating his member as though it owed him a King’s ransom.

After several hours of beating the devil from his mortal soul, he has confessed to a string of Onanistic wickedness.

Will this cause blindness? As I am 42 years of age, I was looking to Aloysius to leave school at 12, and enrol at the mill to support me in my frail dotage. A blind child will leave me no option but to cast him into the Thames.

Your obedient servant

Festus Sweedlepipe


Dear sir,
A blind child is an abomination and an affront to God, man and nature and as such we spared not a second investigating this chilling myth. Mr Sweedlepipe, let us walk you through our methodology.

Firstly we scoured the good neighbourhood of Mayfair; wrenching urchins of a similar age to your boy from their chimney sweep duties and returned them to our private auditorium. Once gathered, we projected various daguerreotypes of a pornographic nature onto a wall and bade them to commence the sin of Ona. Soon they were hunched like monkeys stripping husks off a coconut.

At the height of their fevered self-abuse and at a pace of no more than 12 feet we held aloft and in plain view, standard eye chart tests and asked them to identify every letter. My good Sir, the results were mortifying. Children who would normally spot a penny through a sewer grate were uniformly unable to even identify the boldest consonant we showed them.

It is our considered and scientific belief that this myth is confirmed, and we humbly suggest that you purchase Dr Abernathy’s Anti-Masturbation Harness™. It protects against the sickness of self-abuse; its internal penile-lacerating feature curbs arousal while attempted removal causes possible mutilation. For the sake of your son’s temporal health and to spare him eternal hell-fire we urge you to order yours today.

We remain, your humble servants

Thadeus Pyle & Jebediah Kneebone Esq.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Fasten Your Money Belts: Air Travel in Africa

Say what you want about South Africa, experts do agree that OR Tambo Airport's baggage thieves are among the world's finest. I sighed in a queue while airport company packers rummaged through my luggage, enthusiastically pilfering what they could, and surely glad of the extra time afforded by a two-hour departure delay of my flight from Johannesburg to Arusha, Tanzania.

Burning Rubber Bonfires
Six hours later, coming into Julius Nyerere International Airport I saw below the low-tech, nightmare dystopic landscape of Dar es Salaam.  A sea of tin roofs, and smoke from the primary local power source, which- according to the notes for this article I made, written on an airsick bag- was piles of burning tyres.

I eventually arrived in Tanzania after forking out roughly Burkina Faso's agricultural budget for my plane ticket. This rankled, as the same expense could have got me all the way to London with change for a pint. Instead here I languished, delayed and hungry, but too emaciated of wallet to afford a lick of a postage stamp.

Lemmings and Death Threats
The hysterical stampede of Tanzania border control resembles closest a sheep dip organised by a seminar of lemmings. After a four-hour delay for my connecting flight, I was given a hand-written boarding pass, with the sole word “Arusha" scrawled on it, in the crazed, white-knuckle script more commonly seen in earnest death threats or illegible doctor's prescriptions.

My Swahili is patchy, and extends no further than “Nice cow. What mileage?” and “Local price! Not Bono price!", so I have no idea what the immigration officials were shouting while I waited for my visa. They could have been hailing me with welcome pleasantries, or, more worryingly, possibly auctioning my organs off piecemeal among themselves for some sort of raffle. I may have been being sized up illicit organ donor black-market substitute for a cake sale to raise money as a farewell office gift for the smiling official currently biometrically scanning me, and possibly gauging the market price of my innards. I guess I’ll never know.

Braille Scrabble and Kidnapped Luggage
Due to the strange blindfold Scrabble game of logistics north of the Limpopo, the 737 for my connecting flight to was requisitioned to Zanzibar, I was press-ganged onto a single propeller Volkswagen Kombi to Arusha, and my molested, bewildered luggage was sent to Nairobi.

Despite the delays, luggage theft, and unintelligible visa shibboleths that are all part of the service, flying around Africa is not cheap. And judging by the headlines, it can also be nasty, brutish, and short. The airline that carried me to Tanzania boisterously crash-landed in Kadoma a week later. Mercifully there was no loss of life, but my return flight ticket on the self same airline lurked in my suitcase for the rest of the holiday like an unsigned death certificate.

I Blame Bono
Now that the world's white middle class has climbed Kilimanjaro, they're more open to being harangued about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat. I’m all for humanitarian aid, disaster relief, AIDS education, or affordable drugs, but aid in Africa has often caused schisms of hyperinflation in many economies. Aid-addled Harare is now, in the words of a local friend, “the most expensive city in Africa outside of a war zone." Amanzi restaurant in downtown Highlands offers same-day scallops flown from Scotland to pith-helmeted NGO expats famished after a day of rambling about their brand-new 4x4's.

I finally landed in Arusha five hours late, with just the clothes on my back. The night air wafted the scent of jasmine and cut grass, and the sky was filled with a spilt sugar bowl of stars. My old friend from faraway ran into my arms and hugged me. This moment of soul joy was worth surely the price of Burkina Faso's farming spend, no thanks to Bono.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Derek's Ark

Out here in biege suburbia, autumn lawn sprinklers hiss, swimming pool pumps chug, and high notes of chlorine waft in the still afternoon. Here it's always Sunday afternoon, and tomorrow's always Monday. Here the rigours of adulthood crush the fluttering pennants of dreams, and the people wake up every morning wondering who they are, numb and mummified in the rigor mortis of snooze button time.

Along the silent picket fences, garden sheds, and endless queues of telephone poles... Comes the tap tap tap of a hammer, an unanswered Morse code written in nails and wood. Out in this landlocked postcode, in a small backyard a thousand miles from the sea, Derek is building a yacht, a swooping wish made flesh, of wood, rope, and paint. It's just a flat keel right now, a wooden spine, a fish skeleton with skeletal curved bow timbers praying up to the sky. At dusk, in the twilight, the half-built boat carcass looks like a Viking burial, its wooden rune shapes silhouette against the agent orange city sunset. Derek's hammer knock knock knocks till late at night, and the hammer on wood drum noise cacophony rises up with the howls of the hemmed in neighbourhood dogs, as they pace their balding bedsit lawns.

Derek's been spending nights, mornings before breakfast, and any moment he can. The cluttered yard smells of pitch and wood glue. He scrounged every last piece of wood he could: balsa popsicle sticks, a scarred kitchen table, the white pine posts of a picket fence, an old oak wardrobe, dusty grey floorboards, and a towering telephone pole for a mast, all bound with cords made from roller-skate bootlaces, string from brown paper parcels, and bright silk ribbons. The burgeoning, flapping sailcloth is spun from the threads of white honeymoon bed sheets, frayed monogrammed handkerchiefs, a pearl scarf from a Paris holiday, a pale cotton bergamot-scented tea cloth, and a tablecloth from a spinster’s trousseau.
The boat spars are cured hard with a thousand hours' sweat. Bowline, half-hitch, reef... each knot tied careful as a prayer. This idea, this dream has to be seaworthy down to the marble ice floes of the Arctic.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

To My Art Professor

Dear Prof Brooks,
In about '92, a friend stopped me in the street and said, smiling; "I heard your art professor being interviewed on Varsity radio. He sounds like a really cool, nice man. At the end, the DJ asked what was his favourite song, and they played "Don't Give Up" by Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. Wow." I felt a vicarious coolness by being in your faculty, having you as my professor, and grinned back.

Your extra credit Visual Communications lectures were so popular, and all my friends who took the course raved about it endlessly. They found you a fresh, funny, gust of wind from left-field, compared to the dry world of BCom, or the pedants in Social Sciences. You were often quoted amid conversations about Tom Robbin's 'Even Cowgirls Get the Blues' and 'Still Life with Woodpecker'. You were, and remain our personal outlaw.

After a strict, dry high-fibre three year diet of Ms Verwey’s art theory, your final year lectures were an electric cool aid fruit salad of fresh, exciting new ideas, insights, and your own personal observations on the unfolding world of art. You taught me that art is about the process, not the product. I carry that in my head every time I take a photograph, open a sketchpad, or sit down to write an article.

In one of your last lectures in final year you said; "you students have taught each other far more than we ever could. Us professors are just facilitators, props to the real learning you've shared".

You were loved and admired by us all, and made us proud to be part of that art school in a small town between nowhere and where and what we'd been before you peeled open our young minds like ripe oranges.

Your humour, kindness, and the insights you gave me are with me always.

Thank you for so much,

Tim Jones (class of ‘94)