Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Laurentina was cold and the prawns juicy

I've just discovered that you can, for just under a dollar, listen to the BBC recording of A Man Called Rejoice at a site called The Home of Midor. It's also available in print, as Rejoice Burning, through Aurora Metro.

And Ponta do Ouro was... a far flung corner of a forgotten, Latin Empire. The beaches were endless and deserted, the Laurentina was cold and the prawns juicy. And you can get there in a double cab bakkie. We only got stuck once.

Mseni Lodge... a wood cabin high in the dune forest. Monkeys and Mongooses peering in the window. There's a boardwalk through the forest to the beach, and if you turn south you won't see a soul till Richard's Bay.

Thank you Daan and Elma. It was stunning.

Friday, August 17, 2007

20 000 Runes, then the Sea

I enscribed 20 000 runes on the electric stone this week, and the Scribe Tribe is going to pack up on Sunday and go away for a well earned rest in Ponta do Ouro and Mseni Lodge.

Back, God willing, on Tuesday 28th.

Set Upon by the Pawn Broker

I can’t say that Marx and Engels are an easy read. But their work has its charm.

No sooner is the exploitation of the labourer so far at an end that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie: the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker…

It’s that “set upon by the pawn broker” that I like. It’s atmospheric. You can see Marx looking up impatiently as Engels arrives.

“You’re two hours late, Frederich. Where were you?”

“I had a terrible trip. A pea soup fog. My postillion was struck by
lighting. And then to top it all, I was set upon by my pawnbroker.”

“It’s the fault of the bourgeoisie, Frederich.”

“Of course it is.”

And so, like good typists, they get to work on the tome. An international best seller which changed the world, and can be delivered to your desktop here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


The Market Theatre, despite being colonized by Moyo, is still the sexiest venue in a glamorous and dangerous city. There, on Friday night, I saw the opening performance of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with Sean Taylor and Fiona Ramsay as the loving George and Martha. Taylor and Ramsay are as good as it gets, maestros at play, roaring and rollicking through the climaxes, commanding hushed awe in a savage arena, drawing blood.

Nearly early thirty years ago, when I was in the Rhodes Unversity drama department, Taylor and Ramsay came up to one of the first Grahamstown festivals with a production of Steven Berkoff’s East, directed by their old friend Richard Grant.


Voices, cruel and cockney: “Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun…”

And a cone of light rising, revealing the characters from the floor up, shoes, shins, thighs, hunched bodies. The grotesque, masked faces. In a pool of light on a bare stage, they created a world more believable than any movie. It had gravity. It sucked you in.

And it turned me on to theatre. It taught me that theatre, when it works, is the highest art form, taking us back to a time when ritual lived. I once directed Sean as Lear, and watching him become the king was like… I don’t know. Summiting Everest.

So if you live in Joburg, or are passing through, nip down to Newtown and the Market Theatre. Have a scotch at the bar, and get to know George and Martha. Breathe the history. Live. If you go soon, you might even catch a glimpse of the old grey wolf, Mannie Manim, who started it all.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sexy Old Karl

I’ve just signed up at DailyLit, a site found via Peter Cox's Blog, that sends you daily instalments of a book of your choice. I went into the classics sections and chose The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. I just couldn’t fail to be hooked by the opening:

“A spectre is haunting Europe--the spectre of Communism. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.”

If there are any good sex bits, you’ll be the first to know.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Mother's Farts

Gerrie Hugo is an interesting man who has written a book. Gerrie writes well, and appears to have mixed feelings about South Africa. It's love, innit, Gerrie. There's no escape. And having glanced at your blog, I want to read your book. It was your description of your parents that got me, and telling the time by your mother's farts.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Thoughtful Pale Native

His name was, "the slushiest Julian had ever heard, a saliva-making name like a cough drop that forced you to suck your cheeks and rinse your tongue with sudsy syllables."

A lip-smacking sentence from the first page of Sir Vidia’s Shadow by Paul Theroux. It's about Theroux’s relationship with V.S. Naipaul. They met when Theroux was a young lecturer in Kampala. Naipaul was on a junket, a visiting lecturer who did not lecture. His contribution to Makerere University was to judge a writing competition and award only a third prize because none of the work was good enough for 1st or 2nd. Naipaul became a friend and mentor to Theroux, and in return, Theroux picked up the tab.

"The bill was brought, I paid it, I left the tip. Vidia had not seen it. He did not see bills even when they were brought on the most expensive china and folded like origami and presented to him. It was one of his survival skills…"

"With no money for dinner, I took the early train to Dorset so that I could eat at home. It puzzled me that I had spent so much on lunch… it had cost me the equivalent of one month’s rent.... I was at work on my seventh novel, and still doing journalism, and it did not seem as though I could make a living. All this in spite of burning the midnight oil and getting wonderful reviews."

Naipaul also needed cash. Theroux tried to help his friend by setting up a sale of his papers to an American library. The librarian laughed at the suggested price. He had never heard of the Trinidadian writer.

"He had won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, the Hawthornden Prize, the W.H. Smith Award, and… the Booker Prize. He was been spoken of as the greatest living writer in the English language and… he pined for better sales and more money."

Sir Vidia’s shadow is a great read. It is, sentence by sentence, beautifully written. And it makes you think. At least, it makes this pale native think. Not least when Naipaul remarks that Africa is:

"“...an obscene continent, fit only for second rate people. Second rate whites with second rate ambition, who are prepared, as in South Africa, to indulge in the obscenity of disciplining Africans.” You either stayed away or you remained, with a whip in your hand. Uganda proved that they only survivors in Africa were second raters and savages, masters and slaves."
Disciplining Africans? Masters and slaves?

Naipaul won the Nobel in 2001, but I’ve never really got him. I tried Mr Biswas and gave up. I did enjoy A Bend in the River. And I enjoyed his brother Shiva’s book about Africa. Theroux, on the other hand, has written a couple of books that I love. Mosquito Coast. The Happy Isles of Oceania. And most of all, Sir Vidia’s Shadow. I think it is because, behind the surface subject, is the real one: the writing life; Theroux’s marriage breaking up; his world falling apart. One of the last things he says to Naipaul, before the friendship ends, is “I’ve lost my way.”

But he survived. He bought a collapsible canoe, left London and wife, and went paddling among the cannibals. And wrote about it. When Paul Theroux gets into trouble, he writes his way out. Maybe that’s what writing is. A way of being. A technique of survival.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Bring Back The UDF.

I read “The Russian Analogy” in Commentary South Africa and pondered a little more.

Because I’ve been pondering for some time on the National Intelligence Service, fake e-mails, Selebi’s friends, and the obscure dance of the ANC leadership battle. And it occurs to me that what we need in this country is some transparent democracy. Good, old fashioned, street-committee, United Democratic Front democracy. As opposed to the stealthy, Stalinist, power wielding techniques that the ANC learnt in exile.

It was the UDF, to a large extent, that freed South Africa, and what we need now is UDF type leaders who report directly to their communities, not to The Party, and get punished if they steal.

The tragedy, the shadow, of Mandela is that he led us, unwittingly, to believe that his organization was as transparent as he was. It is not healthy to have too many people in power who grew up in exile.