Saturday, March 3, 2018


LYING ON ARMY beds in an army tent in the showgrounds in Bloemfontein, they hear the cow: mnooooo. And fall from their beds, laughing
            Nooit, he didn't. He didn't.
            He did. He did, ek se. Fijn did it.
            Fuck. He must have stood on a bucket.
            Sappeur Fijn is short and stocky with sly slant eyes and a sailors' swagger. Sappeur Fijn likes to leave the big generator loose in the back of the Bedford. When Fijn breaks hard at a robot, the generator rumbles forward under the force of its inertia, and the inertia of the taxpayers who paid for it, and commits suicide against the cab. When we unpack for the shows, Sappeur Fijn throws things as far and hard as possible of the back of the Bedford in the hope that they'll break and the Minori will have to say, ag nee fokkit man Fijn, wattie fok doen jy.
            Sappeur Fijn gets letters which he claims are from a girl and smirks and sniggers over them before fucking the tangled gritty pile of pipes which leans up against the water-purification system. In so far as I fear Sappeur Fijn I believe I should bend over whenever I see him in a baboon's gesture of sexual submission. Sappeur Fijn is a member of the Engineers, the Genieschool of the Suid-Afrikaanse Weermag. Sappeur Fijn is a soldier who works night and day to protect us from the dark ruthless AK-47 bearing terrorists who are fighting night and day to become voting South Africans like Sappeur Fijn. At the Bloemfontein showgrounds Sappeur Fijn greases his hair back and drinks and drinks and offers girls ice-creams in a smarmy deviant unsettling manner which makes the girls suspicious and scared so that they giggle and refuse the ice-creams. Then Sappeur Fijn disappears.
            The lieutenant is tall and ginger and worried. He wears a neat ginger moustache and gold-rimmed spectacles. It worries the lieutenant when Pike and Donaldson give black power salutes when they drive past black people in the Bedford. The lieutenant is tremendously fit and worried and proud of his two stars which are a commission from the State President who had to resign because he lied to the taxpayers who paid for the lieutenant's training. The lieutenant once smoked a joint at a party at the university where he became an architect and he enjoys talking to Pike and Donaldson who are graduate engineers with strange ideas and no rank. It worries the lieutenant when Pike and Donaldson say they would shoot better if they painted the State President's face over the faces of the dark cut out monsters they use as targets on the shooting range.
            In Bloemfontein the lieutenant is worried because the corporal drank a third of a gallon bottle of Tassenburg which Pike and Donaldson claim they found at a hotdog stand and took the section into town in the Bedford and drove over a Porche and damaged the Bedford's bumper. The lieutenant is worried and ginger and scared about what the major will say when he arrives to inspect the exhibition and finds that the Bedford is damaged and that the lieutenant has lost Sappeur Fijn. The lieutenant wants to phone his mother, but he doesn't. He goes round to see the MPs.
            More Sersant, says the lieutenant. Hey jy iets van Sappeur Fijn gehoor.
            O, says the MP sergeant. Daai ou wattie koei genaai het.
            It's already six years ago that these things happened. In those days they weren't sending soldiers into the townships. In those days the border was pretty much on the border of the country. Now the border goes all over the place, sometimes straight through the middle of families. Which is, I suppose, what civil war is all about.
            Sappeur Fijn was charged and found innocent in a civilian court. I don't know what the charge was. I saw him in camp afterwards and he told me that his defence when like this:
            I was too drunk to get it up, so I couldn't have fucked the cow.
            I heard later that Fijn was killed in a motor accident in Welkom. I've no idea what happened to the lieutenant, but the cow gave birth to a roaring monster, half man, half beast, who shrieks and jabbers over my shoulder when I watch the news on TV.


Sappeur Fijn and the Cow was first published in Forces Favourites, TAURUS, 1987.
It was republished in  The Penguin Book of Contemporary South African Short Stories, Penguin Books, 1993

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Excavations - Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

 Uruk at Play

ON THE EVE of the equinox, the Partner gave Hob a pair of loose trousers and a shirt of fine white cloth and a pair of soft NanoHide loafers and told him to have fun and be careful and remember that his chip knew the way home and when Hob had left he addressed himself to the properties of the stone.
            Hob went out onto the street as the day was fading from the dome in a lurid mockery of the sunset outside. The lights came on among the trees and cybertabs appeared about the square and flashed their messages of endorsement for NektaPop and Grownston Flooring and Ghandi Cottons. The squares were crowded with youths and girls and older persons also and some were dressed extravagantly in the costumes of times and peoples past and many were masked. Hob sat on a bench on the pavement and he watched the people throng about and in half an hour he counted four who were dressed in imitation of himself as he had appeared on the tab. The people spoke and laughed and drank at the tables outside the eating places and it was not long before Hob was noticed for the very normality of his garb.
            Dude, you look so like that bushman guy.
            The youth who spoke was accompanied by two girls. He had a dark and chiselled face and he wore the costume of a pirate on the Spanish Main in days of old. He sported a thin and expressive moustache upon his upper lip and it served to emphasize the wryness of his smile.
            Like who?
            That bushman guy on the tab. That like, wasted those outsiders. Harvesters. What's your name? Have some of this.
            What is it?
            Hash. It's like, organic.
            Hob stared at the thin silver cylinder which was offered. A tendril of steam drifted from it. It carried a sweet peppery fragrance to the perceptive nostril.
            We'll call him San, said the girl with dark hair. She had a round face and the nails at the end of her plump fingers were painted red.
            Professor Dzugashvili will be totes impressed.
            She turned to her companion.
            He's super cute. Don't you think?
            The blonde girl nodded and smiled at Hob. A lithe figure with a wide mouth and eyes like a cat.
            Where's your girlfriend, she said. You must have a girlfriend somewhere.
            Her shirt hung open a little and Hob glimpsed her breast and he saw that her nipple was pierced with a silver stud.
            Don't stare San, said the dark girl. You'll get warts.
            Sorry, said Hob. He lifted the silver cylinder to his lips as he had seen the youth do and he inhaled.
            Do you know, said the blonde girl, that it actually means thief? San? It's actually a Khoi word for thief or vagabond.
            They study anthropology, said the pirate. With Professor Dzugashvili. It's incredibly boring.
            Which are you San, said the blonde girl. Thief, or vagabond?
            Vagabond, said Hob.
            Are you really, said the dark girl.
            She looked at her friend.
            I bet he's an accountant. You are, aren't you, San. A pretty accountant. You work in logistics. In the fresh produce segment.
            Someone, said the pirate, has to bring in the asparagus. Or what are we to eat with our Pinot Gris?
            What do you do really, San, said the blonde girl. Do you sit around all day, doing data capture in a virtual office?
            I work for COOL, said Hob. Why is the ground so far away?
            That would be the hash, said the pirate. Okay, he said. Drink. Who's got units ?
            There came a silence. A little hiatus in the throng and the dark girl sighed.
            I have, said Hob.
            The pirate assumed a careful yet hopeful demeanour.
            How many?
            I think… fifteen thousand, said Hob. I'm very thirsty.
            The pirate stared at him.
            Fifteen thousand?
            I think so. Something like that.
            Dude, said the pirate. You're like, the mother lode.
            We like you, San, said the dark girl. We like you a lot.
            The youth led them to a square and they found a table and sat and a waiter came to them and put menus down.
            Who's paying, he said.
            He is, said the dark haired girl. And she pointed at Hob. He works for COOL.
            We like him, said the blond girl. She smiled at the waiter. I want a double vodka. Stols. Do you have Stols?
            Yes, said the waiter.
            With cranberry NektaPop
            Two of those, said the dark girl.
            And we'll have beer, said the pirate. Ur Ale.
            He smiled at the dark girl.
            Because Sumerians did it first.
            The waiter took a tablet from his pocket and held it out to Hob.
            Chip, he said.
            Hob put his thump on the flashing square and the tablet beeped and the waiter looked at it and nodded and went away to get the drinks and the silver cylinder passed once more about the circle.
            You have to admit, said the pirate, that this is some good shit.
            My name's Cass, said the blonde girl. It's short for Cassandra.
            She leant forward and she smiled and she touched Hob upon his cheek with the backs of her fingers.
            You're hot, she said. What's your real name?
            Who needs names, said the pirate. On a night like this.
            He looked at Hob.
            You going to the conception?
            The big…
            Shindig, said the youth.
            You have to come with us, San, said Cassandra. It's going to be epic. Come cut a caper.
            I've never been outside, said the dark girl.

            Neither have I, said blonde Cassandra. It's my first time.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Ryk Hattingh - Rest in Peace, Live in Ecstasy.

Something was happening in Yeoville in Johannesburg in the eighties. A tribe was emerging. I thought of them as good whites that wanted to stay. They rode a new spirit, and James Phillips, rather than Nadine Gordimer or Andre Brink, was its voice. Like any good tribe, it had to have its entertainers and artists and I was happy to be one of them. As was Ryk Hattingh.

I met Ryk when an Aeroplanes member, Robert Muirhead, noted that I wrote some poetry and told me about a gig at Wits University where poets would be reading. Robert was part of the organizing committee and invited me to participate.

I’m not sure who was on the bill. Performance is a selfish state of mind and most of the time I was meant to be listening I was going through my own show in my own head. But the voice of Don Mattera managed to shatter my self-obsession. He read from a book he was working on, telling tales of growing up in Doornfontein, one of those areas of central Johannesburg that stayed racially mixed longer than most. Mattera told of the Italian and Xhosa strands of his family, and how the cultures mixed, just like the juices mixed when his grandfather pressed the grapes with his feet in the back yard, or the grain mixed when his grandmother pounded the maize. And he told of how the bulldozers came and his family’s life was demolished, and they had to start again from scratch in Soweto.

Then it was my turn.

Beetle beats its own rhythm,

Coming home, for the night.

Talks of supper, mother’s cooking,

Says that things will be alright.

Has a fish upon the bumper,

And a little shark behind.

In a time of plague and stoning,

Bringing father from the grind.

In the street stands mother waiting,

Holding baby by the gate.

Sun sinks red on Brixton Tower,

TV News will seal our fate.

On the screen the politician;

Loud his voice in his defence,

But our moral theoretician

Relies on simple common sense.

Writes a letter to the army:

Refuse to go, religious grounds.

Does the dishes, makes the coffee,

Tries to still the baying hound.

It wasn’t much, but it had its pulse and I beat it out slow and steady. There was a silence when I finished, and then Mattera’s voice, rich and growly as a township sax, belting out his appreciation. It was a great gig, and afterwards a tall, dark, beak nosed, bearded, Christ-like figure strode towards me and said:

“I live in Yeoville. Where do you live?”


“I live in Natal St. Where do you live?”

“Natal St.”

“Andrew Ryk Hitchcock Hattingh,” he said, offering his hand. “You must come for tea. And dagga.” And he gave me his address.

Ryk lived in a flat that looked south over the park next to Sylvia’s Pass where it winds down Observatory Ridge and into the valley towards Doornfontein where Don Mattera’s house was bulldozed by apartheid machines. I walked up the next day and knocked on the door and Ryk opened it. He made tea, and then a joint and we started talking. He was working on a book. It was about a fire, and the reptile brain that lives in the core of our consciousness. The fire took place in the Knysna forest. Then a baby was born dead in the silent trees and a marriage broke up and Ryk came to Johannesburg and commenced to write.

We took to meeting daily, telling our stories and reading each other what we were working on. We didn’t criticize each other’s work. We had similar instincts about rhythm and the spoken word and when either of us read we knew that we were on the same path. They were a pure and fine and cultured gift, those mornings of talk and reading aloud.

Ryk and I started performing together at little left wing gigs organized by outfits like the End Conscription Campaign (ECC). We’d read snippets, alternating to form a conversation, in English and Afrikaans. The conversations were about history and growing up in South Africa. They were about politics and sex. We were both fascinated by sex, and soon enough a name suggested itself: ‘n Gesprek Tussen Twee Cuntos in a Land of Despair. A “gesprek”, is “a discussion”, and “cuntos”, well, there’s a South African street word, “ou” pronounced “oh”, meaning dude, chap, person.

I learnt great lessons from Ryk. Afrikaans had been abysmally taught at school. In the broader world it was the language of hectoring politicians, a tool of oppression. In the army I had got a glimpse of its power as a medium of insult. There was an Elizabethan earthiness to it that undermined the politicians’ attempts to sanitize and control. And now, working and playing with Ryk, I found that Afrikaans could be beautiful and subversive.

The ECC organized a gig at the Oxford Hotel, since demolished, in Rosebank. It gathered together shows and performers that were appearing in town. Radical shows like Mathew Krause’s Famous Dead Man, about Verwoed and the man who assassinated him. Famous Dead Man featured an enormous turd in the colours of the apartheid flag. (This rang a chord. In Kroonstad I had stood at attention on the parade ground, listening to speeches about God and Patriotism, and imagined shitting on that flag.) They were shows that happened largely below press level because they were giving the finger to the border war and conscription and the whole mess, and were essentially illegal. When we arrived for the Oxford gig, we found that the hotel had been decorated with graffiti. Hammers and sickles, painted by fascists, adorned it like flowers. The place was being watched, and I was glad that I had chosen to wear shoes that offered good traction on tar.

On the bright side, the right wing had done some effective publicity for us and the venue was packed. The audience hung on every word, and the Weekly Mail gave the show serious attention. It felt like something was happening. The ECC had gathered around its issue a larger grouping, writers, actors, dancers and musicians, a loose affiliation of the angry. We might not have represented the broad mass of the people that took part in the Defiance Campaign, but we were most certainly defiant. The EEC, however, chickened out. The next gig took place deep in the safety of Wits University, and with little publicity. I arrived early to find a couple international news crews considering whether to set up their cameras. Within half an hour they judged the event irrelevant and departed.

Ryk and I had some adventures with our little show. Our last gig was a trip to the Grahamstown National Festival of the Arts. I drove down with my friend the painter, Carl Becker, in a 3-litre Cortina pick-up that belonged to Carl's uncle. On the back was the Aeroplane's sound system. Also travelling were actors Nicky Rebelo and David Butler. They were part of a team adding value to the Aeroplanes’ act. Between sets the actors would get on stage, the dancers would stop dancing, fill up their glasses and sit on the floor. And Nicky, myself and others would perform sketches like Nicky’s piece about the insane Reconnaissance Commandos called Buks and Rooker:

BUKS. Remember Pyp.

ROOKER. Pyp Terreblanche! Used to drink a bottle of Tequila and smack his head against a tree!

BUKS. Dead.

ROOKER. (Beat.) Is it?

BUKS. Stood on a land mine in Ondongwa.

Everyone that Buks and Rooker talked about was dead:

BUKS. Remember Shorty.

ROOKER. That bastard. He stole my other piece of chicken.

BUKS. Dead.

ROOKER. (Beat.) Is it?

BUKS. They took him out with an AK in Katlehong.

Buks and Rooker were maniacs from the war zone who went around slaughtering black people. They referred to women in genitally specific terms:

BUKS. So what are you doing here?

ROOKER. (Beat.) Checking out the poes.

Carl and I used the mountain route past Clocolan and Wepener on our night drive to Grahamstown. Each of those Free State towns was divided in two: one little town for whites, and one little township for blacks. The townships were surrounded by lights, like soccer stadiums. The lights had been installed so that the police or the army could go in there at night and see what they were doing.

A refined state of emergency had just been declared and there were many roadblocks. They were big roadblocks with lots of vehicles and army and police personnel. When they stopped us in the darkness they’d shine their torches in our faces and wave us on when they saw we were white.

There was trouble as soon as we hit Grahamstown because the ECC, banned under the new emergency, had distributed leaflets at the Goodwood Hotel where we were playing. By distributing leaflets at the Aeroplanes gig the ECC were letting their supporters know that they were still around. The manager felt that supporting banned organizations and inviting the attentions of the Grahamstown Security Branch might be bad for his standing in the local business community. He gave us a lot of flack and the gig started on an edgy, wired, note.

It wasn't the best we ever did and after two or three sets we'd go up to Cathcart Arms and drink. We drank consistently and hard for eight days. By ten in the morning Carl and I would be in the Cathcart having a beer to take the edge of the hangover. At around five or six we'd acknowledge that the beer wasn't working and order three tequilas each.

We tended not to see many shows but some Aeroplanes and camp followers did come and see Ryk and I perform 'n Gesprek Tussen Twee Cuntos in a Land of Despair. They were among the few. The show was too strange and raw for any general audience of that time. But if we played, sometimes, to audiences of five, or even three, it did nothing to lessen the intensity of the experience. Each time, an accumulation of drink and emotion and worry about the country lead us into a cathartic relationship with our audience.

We'd meet before readings in the 1840 Settler's Monument foyer. A generous part timer ran the bar. He sold his tequila for regular prices in glasses twice the normal size. It was irresistible. The spirit would ease its warmth into our hearts and we'd feel those accumulations of anger and love that were our relationship with our tribe and country squirt into our blood streams from the motherland gland. That's what it felt like anyway.

There was a snippet that Ryk used in the show, and it has stayed with me ever since. Ek wil leef, he would proclaim, met twee foote of the aarde and my kop teen die hemel vas, ek wil leef met 'n ereksie, eksie-perfeksie, altyd amper daar, nooit nie sommer net kom nie.

It is impossible to get the buoyancy of those lines into English. Afrikaans is just better for saying what Ryk meant. But now that he is gone, I will use them to try and say goodbye.

May your dead heart live, Andrew Ryk HitchcockHattingh, with two feet on the ground and your head tight against heaven. May you live with an erection, ecstatic perfection, always almost there. Never just coming.



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Excavations and Thomas Campbell's Big Theory of Everything - #MTB

In Chapter 33 of The Excavations, the Partner, as he and Jack Delfan wait for Hob to return from the Schrödinger Plains, wonders if organic life represents the attempt of the universe to understand itself.

I've got no idea how I came by that thought, but it's interesting to hear maverick physicist, Thomas Campbell, expound on a related idea. The universe CANNOT be physical, Campbell explains. The twin slit, and like experiments, PROVE this. Science proves, but cannot accept, that the physical world is an illusion. We live in interaction, the theory goes, with a larger consciousness. And that larger consciousness is bent, as the Partner intuits, on understanding and self-improvement …

The video is long, but worth staying with. And, for some reason, it made me smile throughout.

#Clifi #SciFi #MBT