Uber Tales (7)

Uber Pains

The unfortunate business of the spilt fish understandably left me slightly unnerved when it comes to the smells emanating from my person and car. An Uber driver does not want to be cited for appearance or personal hygiene, yet there it is. A permanent stain on my otherwise impeccable record, if you don’t mention ‘Professionalism’ (1 Report), ‘Navigation’ (1 Report), ‘Attitude’ (1 Report) ‘Altercation’ (1 Report). Can you even imagine my good, lamblike and diplomatic self to have a fucking altercation with one of my paying guests?

Like all human endeavours, even the most pleasant ones like casual sex with an old lover or Uber driving, have their downsides. There are some aspects that I find unpleasant. The major one I have is sore feet from brake and clutch use, but even that becomes minor in comparison to the sore point of the less than 5-Star rating (72 cunts). That hurts deeply and I can often be heard lamenting the cunts out there out loud. “You can’t, you cunt!” I wail in the solitude of my car that gets valet treatment at least once a week. Yet, the cleanliness issue was raised and I blame the fish.

The problem was that when I became aware of the fish issue, the proverbial horse had bolted, if you’d forgive the slightly mangled image of a fish on a horse. Something fishy was going on. I took my first call when it was still dark and the smell of fish only became apparent when my guest was already on board and the car heated up. I hoped that my long overcoat would keep most of the smell in and out of the nostrils of my guest who was sitting on the back seat. It didn’t, but it reminded me of farting on Parisian buses in winter and having the smell seep up pleasantly around my neck, blotting out the farts of others who no doubt did the same.

Beggars at every robot. Somehow that bugs me. The little curtsy, the little wave of the hand indicating a need to eat. Did they all go to the same finishing school? I mostly roll up my window to indicate my disinterest in their desires, but sometimes I take pity and engage: “There is one of you at every robot. During a normal day I stop at every robot. Do the math.” I lie of course. I hardly stop at any robot, but some do. I time them to catch them green.


The shoes that finally worked. (Pic Jacqui Fryer)

Speed bumps are on a par with beggars when we’re talking about things that mar my near perfect daily existence. It would appear that the Joburg city council stood first in the queue when Satan handed out speed bumps. Not only are they numerous, they come in variations that can make you hit the roof of your car if you don’t take care. Most of them are invisible too with their faded reflective paintwork in the cross-shadows of Joburg’s bare wintry trees.

Standardisation was not on the agenda when Joburg decided to distribute its vast booty of speed bumps. Some are big and nasty, some are small and nasty and some are just nasty. However, you also get some that are menacing looking that are quite user-friendly, but you won’t know until you have traversed them. “Holy fuck, fuckety, fuck, shit, cunt!” You don’t need even the faintest touch of Tourette’s to cry out in astonishment as you hit one of the nasty and invisible buggers at speed. ‘Inappropriate Remarks’ (1 Report) must’ve come from there. Maybe I should leave out the ‘holy’ next time. The religious types are very tetchy these days.

Neck and neck with the speed bumps are potholes and missing manhole covers to make one want to invoke Jesus, Allah and all manner of deities in the most inappropriate manner. It is as if Satan himself put them there to make an atheist monk invoke the names of said deities in vain, as do their adherents.

But back to my burning feet. I try most of the shoes at my disposal, including my worn and tatty slippers, but the issue remains an issue. The other day I drop someone off at the Mall of Africa and decide that enough is fucking enough. “I’m going to buy new shoes. System maintenance demands it,” I tell Myself, who bleats something about fruitless expenditure and cash flow management. I pick a pair of godawful gaudy lime green Slazenger sneakers from Game’s godawful gaudy range. The balls of my feet are aflame, it feels and I hasten back to the car to try on my new acquisition. I also need to have a crap, but my feet come first. I’m reminded, belatedly, of my friend Vince’s adage that at our age one shouldn’t trust a fart. I fart. I sigh. If there’s something I really hate, it’s driving ‘dead’ kilometres. Thinking of the unfortunate incident with the fish, I drive the 26 dead kilometres home for a shower.

I’ll tell you about the ‘Mistimed Trip’ (1 Report) and the death of my motherfuckin’ bitch, bitch, pussy Aux cable later.



July 27th


Uber Tales (6)

The Love of My Life

“Trust me,’ my friend Jan says, ‘you can’t work seven days a week. You must have a day on which you decide that you’re not going to work and stick by it.” “Look,’ I say, ‘I have to pay you back the money I owe you and the bank and Eric and Daan. I’m in a deep hole and besides, it’s not work. At least, it doesn’t feel like work. I love it. I’m rolling three things that I love into one. I’m on a permanent roadtrip, I get to talk shit about my favourite subject to random strangers and they pay me for the privilege. Show me the downside. It’s a win-win-win situation.”

“What’s your favourite subject that you subject your riders to?” Jan asks, inadvertently using the Polyptoton figure of speech. That’s when you use the same word in different ways. I’m also fond of that. When my guests have luggage I instruct them thus: “Leave the luggage alone, I alone shall lug the luggage.” They like that without even noticing the Polyptoton, I think. “Myself,” I say.

Uber calls them ‘Riders’, but for a man of the word, that appellation sits uncomfortably with me. Who is riding whom? The mind shudders at the mere thought. I call them guests and treat them as such. They like that, I guess.

“I also stand the chance of meeting the love of my life again. If 99% of statistics is made up on the spot, I’ll say that 98% of my guests are nubile professional females. It’s as if I’m also in a free speed-dating venue in my car. Most of them are too young for me, but one may dream.”

“It was that young Indian girl Megan who got me thinking about love again. Damn her. Now whenever a female name appears on my call, I not only practise it aloud while driving to pick her up, I also try to visualise her in my mind. Some of these names are real tongue twisters, but I mostly get them right which pleases my guests. I like pleasing my guests.”


“Take for instance that newspaper article about me which I now have laminated. I foist it on them with the following instruction: ‘It’s compulsory for you to have a glimpse at my fame. You don’t have to read the Afrikaans. Just look at the pictures and say ‘oh wow that’s cool’. Then you can hand the article back to me and I’ll leave you in peace, but not before telling you that I also have free Wi-Fi in the car. “Oh wow!” they say and add: “That’s really cool!”

The beauty of the Wi-Fi is that very few people avail themselves of it, but everybody is impressed that it’s available. Win-win-win.

Now the girls, the girls, yes, the girls. I see them, they see me not. They’re blossoming, I’m smiling and fading at the same time. I love them all the same. How can one not love beauty?

This morning I took time out with two of my guests, Elna and Denise, to go see the Matisse exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery at 1 Simmonds Street. It was inspirational and you should do the same. Not take time out with Elna and Denise, but go see the exhibition. In Europe you would have had to queue in the cold or burning sun to see something similar, not to mention pay a huge price and jostling with Japanese. In downtown Joburg you just walk in for free. For once I can thank a bank. Thanks Standard Bank.

Oh, yes, the love of my life. The love of my life is doing what I am doing and I can do it seven days a week.




July 18th


Uber Tales (5)

Come Into My Car

I wake up. It is dark still. I’m keen to begin the day. Where will I begin? Where shall I end up? Who knows what the day will bring?

We stop the overcrowded grey Combi 1600 at Uncle Charlie’s as we always do. We’re on our way to Reitz in the Free State to Ouma and Oupa Pottie’s farm Meriba, meaning ‘sweet water’. At Uncle Charlie’s we each get a hotdog. It’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten. My dream as a nine-year old is to one day be so rich I’d be able to eat all the Uncle Charlie’s hotdogs in the world.

I set out for Jorrie’s Shell garage on Portland Road, Hursthill. I do so every morning to fill up, but seldom reach it. The call comes from Makgotso as I leave my driveway. She’s on Second Avenue, Randburg. It’s vague. She’s close by, but is she on 2nd Melville or 2nd Westdene. Jessica also seems a bit perplexed and then decides in Melville’s favour. A decision she immediately changes as I turn that way. I curse her and make a U-turn. Jessica is allergic to U-turns and keeps her counsel to herself for a while. She repents and gives me direction anew. We’re good that way. I tell my guests she’s my wife. I need her. I’d be lost without her. They think that is funny. They mostly think I’m funny. I like to make them laugh.

Chuck in Car

Thanks to Oscar Guiterrez for the great pic.

It’s most likely that Makgotso would be heading to the Park Station Gautrain. I sigh. I hate that place and the aggressive metered taxi criminals who hold court there. It seems they’ve won that turf for the nonce. They will lose it eventually, but for now I’m wary to go there. I’ve informed Uber that I’d still do drop-offs there, but no pickups. It becomes nerve-racking when you and your pickup are equally shit scared. This means the pickup moves about to be inconspicuous and you have to phone several times to establish her whereabouts while hostile taxi drivers bang on your car. I’m too old for that shit.

Makgotso is an actress. She plays a bit part in the local soap, Isidingo (The Need). She’s going to her studio. I’m relieved that it’s not Gautrain. It’s a chunky trip to boot. I like to start my day with a chunky trip. She takes the water I offer her, remarking that it will go well with the Strepsil she has already helped herself to. She likes my service, she says. The best ever, she says. She whoops with delight when I tell her I have Wi-Fi too. She’s playing videos, probably takes from her previous shoot by the sound of it. I offer her my Bluetooth speaker. She declines, but tells me she’s impressed I even have that.

My father is in hospital with pneumonia. A serious thing for a man of his age. I think of him while eating my hotdog from BP’s Wild Bean Café. I always think of him and the grey VW Combi at Uncle Charlie’s on the way to the Free State when I eat those hotdogs. I can now eat as many of them as I want. I phone my father and thank him for all he and my mother did for me. I choke up. I should have done this a long time ago and much more often. I tell him to cut me some slack and not die just yet. I can’t afford to go to any funerals in Cape Town. “Just give me couple of months,” I tell him. He laughs croakily.

We are arriving at Makgotso’s drop-off point. I ask her for directions for the last couple of hundred metres because Jessica can be a bit dodgy concerning the exact spot. I make small-talk while cruising to the entrance she wants. “So what role do you play?” “I play Kum.” I hear ‘cum’. “Oh good, then I can tell my other guests that I’ve had Kum in my car.” She bursts out laughing. I like that. We greet and I remind her that a comment is my friend. My father is on the mend. All is well in Chuck’s almost Panglossian world.




July 8th


Uber Tales (4)

Uber Camouflage

It is interesting I think I hear him say. I have lost interest in that way while fumbling for something. I fumble often to get away. Now I hear him say: “It is interesting.” “What again?”

I’m now convinced I’m no longer a quark. I can no longer be measured in more than one place at a time. WYSIWYG. I am where I am where and when you see me. Clear like being happily drunk with friends.

“What was interesting? I thought, I heard when you said?” “That you are no longer a quark.” “There’s a portrait of me in the adjoining room, so I might be there too, but no, I’m sitting here talking to you.” He gets up and goes to have a look.

“It’s really you!” “No,” I say.

We converse further.

“A mensch, or at least a wannabe one, I would say. That’s what I want to be. I’m harsh on stupid and stupid is the defining quality defining humanity. Just ask Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Jacob Zuma, Bob Mugabe and their ilk, and they will all tell you: “We trade on stupid and we win all the fucking time. Just check your local news outlet. We win.” “What were we talking about again?”

The young guy from Guernsey is not easily flummoxed. They’ve never been part of anything, let alone the EU or even UK. They were into the ‘pay as you go’ for protection before the PAYE system was invented. Fucking clever buggers and not readily flummoxed. I should know. Flummoxing has been my wear against the tear of life.

The beautiful Indian girl Megan rattles my cage about love. She wants me to give it another shot. She’s 22 and she caught me out. She knows I want it. I have nowhere to hide. “I’m too selfish,” I try to camouflage my want. She is having none of it. I drop her off and am so rattled that I forget to end the trip. Maybe I didn’t want that trip to end. She befriends me on Facebook and I apologise for my failure. She forgives me.

The beautiful black girl Reabetswe reads the article about me in Beeld. “Don’t tell me you read Afrikaans?” “I was very good at Afrikaans at school,” she smiles white at me. Her spectacles wink a blink. When it’s time to drop her off, she asks if she may finish reading the article. I fall in love. We chat some more after her reading. Then she exclaims: “Oh shit! There are people locked into my flat and I have clean forgotten about them.” She flashes a last smile smile over her shoulder as she disappears from sight.


I’m on a permanent roadtrip. This time without beers or bars, but I’m still loving it. I pick up strangers and they pay for the privilege of driving with a famous Uber driver. They know I’m famous because I force them to look at the newspaper article about me.


I offer them water, Grandpa headache powder, Strepsil throat lozenges, toffees and Wi-Fi. They’re impressed by all of that, but free to decline the offers. The newspaper is compulsory, be they white, black, Chinese, Nigerian, Japanese, Muslim, Christian, atheist or whatever. If they can’t read Afrikaans, I tell them to just look at the pictures. They’re invariably impressed. Oh humanity. I smile and shake my head.

My Tourette’s shoulder jerks up. When my Tourette’s elbow jerks the steering wheel and my passenger notices, I say ‘pothole’ and look straight ahead. I’ve made peace with my Tourette’s thanks to the Sativa strain of marijuana. I previously disliked smoking dope because it accentuated my self-doubt instead of alleviating it. The Sativa has changed all of that and my life. Instead of bringing out all of my insecurities, it allows me to face them and out them. I’m liberated.

That’s what I finally tell the lovely Megan. I may finally be capable of loving because I’m no longer in total undercover warfare with myself. I’m no longer absent when present.

The only place I still need camouflage is the Park Gautrain station where my white hat and skin did not fool the metered taxi buffoons. They jabbed my face with angry fingers, shouting abuse. I have removed the telltale second disk from my windscreen, but they still spotted me. Then I remembered the luminous Vodacom work jacket. I wear that to Park station and it works a charm. Uber camouflage, if you want. I also removed the little car freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.

The metered taxi guys are angry because they cannot join Uber due to them having criminal records, reliable sources tell. They’re in a corner they cannot escape. The poor rats.



June 27th


Uber Tales (3)

Be an Uber Mensch

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT (Did I say that in caps and in bold? It must be Uber important. I can be an asshole too.)

Now, something for the riders. Yes, you or whomsoever you are ubering around. You love the service and the freedom and convenience it offers you. Uber refers to you as riders, but I prefer to call you my passenger or guest. You can’t think of how life was when Uber wasn’t around. Uber empowers you. It also gives you the power to rate your driver. This power should not be abused. A 4-star rating is not a good rating. It’s a poor rating. It’s a crap rating. It’s fucked-up rating that is nowhere. If a guy gets too many 4-star ratings Uber will disconnect him. He will lose his job. Think about that, assholes.

Now clearly, if a driver is an asshole or drives poorly or dangerously, he does not deserve to be an Uber driver and you can vote him off the platform. However, a driver missing a turnoff here or there and taking a left instead of a right because he is thinking what he’s going to write doesn’t warrant a four. Especially if he apologises for his mistake and points out errare humanum est. In Latin, so you know he is a highly literate man. We all know Seneca did not write ‘to forgive is divine’ but rather, “sed in errare perseverare diabolicum’ which translates into ‘to persist in your error is evil’. I, and so should you, I rectify mine. You, 4-star raters, think about that, assholes.

I forgive your mistakes as you do mine. Auld Lang Syne.


Now, onto some more practical matters: Jessica, my GPS and wife, goes haywire around three places; shopping malls, security complexes and Gautrain stations. At a Gautrain station, be at the drop-off. Nowhere else. That’s where I’ll look for you. Do not walk out of the building to make it easier for me. I’m there where it says: “DROP-OFF” in big white letters on blue. Just be there too and our meeting shall be a thing of beauty, joy and celebration, rather than one of phone calls and frustration. At shopping malls where Jess goes crazy, be visible at the main entrance. Putting in Pep Stores in the middle of a mall is just fucking stupid.

For your own safety, when you’re going to Nelson Mandela Square or anywhere around Sandton City, cut your driver some slack. Sit up front or have somebody sit up front. This confuses da angrie merted taxi guys no end. They are retreating, hungry soldiers. Their war is lost on all fronts. They have everything else to lose still. They’re vicious.

You be cool, safe, secure and amused or not. Be an Uber Mensch.




June 20th


Uber Tales (2)

That Guy

You can see him smoking a smoke at the Engen Sky Stop at OR Tambo. You are sure to see him smoking a cigarette there. The waiting time is more than two hours. He smokes a smoke hoping that after two hours of waiting he’s not going to get a trip to Pretoria. You can see him finally getting into contact with Ramiro and Dirk. They are Uber newbies and didn’t know that you should order you Uber from the departures terminal and not the arrivals. Metered taxis, you know. Ramiro and Dirk want to go to Pretoria. He sighs inwardly at the prospect of all those dead kilometres he will have to drive back home, but he says; “Great.”

You can spy him lurking just around the corner from the Rosebank Gautrain station, writing on his lap. “It’s rather cramped, but not as bad as my toes cramping on the clutch at red traffic lights,” he thinks. He changes his driving style. At red traffic lights he tells himself: “Foot off clutch, handbrake on. Remember to put it back in gear when light changes.” He has to too, otherwise he’ll forget. When alone in the car, he says it out loud. It works. No more breaking clutch knee, no more cramping toes. One or two inadvertent rollbacks on steep inclines with the engine revving in the red and the car behind hooting furiously. Shit happens. “I’m sorry about that”, he says. “It’s for my knee and my clutch, you see.”

You’ll often find him freewheeling down the slightest decline. Saving petrol is his thing. In this regard he is fond of telling people that once you’ve attained 60km/h, you can freewheel the entire length of Emmarentia Drive, from Carlow to Donegal at that speed despite it seemingly being flat. Being slightly childlike, he marvels at this every time he does it. That also means he doesn’t need to worry about inconveniencing his fellow road users by cruising too slow where they can’t pass. He pulls over or speed up on such occasions. He’s considerate in that way.

Being slightly childlike, he marvels at many things. This morning he could be observed using his passenger’s name ‘Ruanne’, pronounced Roo-Anne at every opportunity, because he likes the sound of it. He tells her so. She’s the chatty kind, a rare find in the Uber business. He likes that. Both ways. When people chat, he is not averse to RSP. That’s Relentless Self-Promotion, in case you’re wondering. When they don’t chat, he doesn’t have to chat either, avoiding the risk of saying something ‘inappropriate’. He has been flagged for that already.

Uber Chuck

He can often be heard swearing at Jessica, his GPS. She’s mostly very reliable as all women are, but around shopping centres she has a tendency to lose her bearings and go haywire. Like all women? This sends him off in circles until the passenger has to phone. He hates that.

Then there are the ratings. The ratings and the fucking stupid cunts who do not know that anything below a five star rating is a poor rating that can affect a driver’s earning potential. He has gathered 21 of said stupid cunts. It brings out the Tourette’s in him. Whenever he sees there was yet another, he uses language that cannot be repeated on a family-friendly blog like this. After all, he treats everybody the same. “Would you like a bottle of water, a Grandpa or a Strepsil? Is the music pleasing to your ear and the temperature to your extremities?”

Finally, there’s the perennial problem of having a leak. It’s cold you know. He can often be observed furtively pissing on very expensive plants in places like Hurlingham or on garbage in parks like that of the Waverley sports club. A passerby walking his dog shouts: “Hey! You can’t piss there!” He shouts back: “Wanna bet? Not only babies are incontinent.” Now he also has to have a crap sometimes. For that he drives home if at all possible, if not he stinks up the nearest staff toilet at a filling station. He advises that you keep serviettes handy. These places never have bog roll.

Yeah, that’s him. That’s Chuck the Uber guy.



June 16th


Uber Tales (1)

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

I watch as the Second Law of Thermodynamics does its job on my superheated coffee. I urgently need to pee, but there is someone in the only toilet at the Engen corner Oxford and Bolton. Why is garage coffee so hot? Even on a chilly morning the Second Law is having its work cut out to make the coffee drinkable. I sigh. The person in the toilet is clearly engaged in more than a pee. I sigh deeply. There’s gonna be fallout of the toxic kind.

The person comes out. He’s a crumpled old Indian guy. I think ‘curry’ and hesitate. A black lady isn’t so squeamish. She beats me to the to the toilet. I’m relieved if not of my pee. She can deal with the worst of the fallout unless she is going to add to it. Chakalaka? She comes out and it’s my turn to take relief. It’s clean.

I stand next to my car with my window open. The Second Law has done its job and I can drink my coffee and have a smoke. One doesn’t want to miss a call. My device is lying on my front seat. One doesn’t want to be seen as an Uber driver. Not in Rosebank or Sandton. The metered taxi guys are a bit tetchy about Uber, especially in Sandton.

“Hey madala, are you Uber?” “No, I’m just smoking a cigarette.” “Do you want to leave?” “No, I’m just smoking a cigarette.” I now notice there’s a whole cluster of black men giving me black stares. “You value your life?” “No, I’m just smoking a cigarette.” I smile at the irony. “You want to die?” “Oh, you mean leave like live? I see now. I’ll leave.” Leave our territory,” they shout as I drive off. I get the feeling they didn’t quite know how to go about intimidating an old white guy, but still feel like I’ll need some camouflage.

Uber Chuck

At the OR Tambo International’s Engen garage some of my Uber colleagues give me some advice. Remove the operator’s licence from you windscreen. That double disk is a dead giveaway. Also in Sandton, make sure your device is not visible. Easy enough. I put on my white panama hat for extra cover. It works.

I stop at a red traffic light and notice a group of about 50 of the metered guys having an angry meeting just five meters away. I have a black passenger on my back seat. Surely they will put one and one together? They do. I’m clearly a chauffeur to the rich and famous. After an eternity, the light turns green. I sigh with relief and drive off.

The day gets busy. It’s trip after trip. Busy is good, but I don’t get out of Sandton. I’m also taking strain. Traffic is heavy and it’s clutch, brake, clutch, brake, clutch, brake. My clutch knee feels as if it’s going to break. The ball of my left foot is on fire. The Second Law of Thermodynamics manifesting in a different way? Although I’m hot, literally and figuratively, the heat does go out.

Then there are the ratings. The 10 assholes who didn’t give me five stars make me hot under the collar, but that’s a tale for another day.





June 12th


Prejudice in the Uber Queue

I join the queue at the Uber offices. The man in front of me is a tall, young, white Muslim. He’s the first white Muslim I’ve ever seen. His clear blue eyes are looking broody. Is he planning to blow us all up? No, don’t be silly. How would blowing up a bunch of poor wannabe Uber drivers be of help to his cause, whatever that may be? Besides is wife and their very happy little daughter are there too. It is merely a question of media stereotyping that is now manifesting as paranoid prejudice. I go out and have a coffee all the same. “The queue will be shorter when we come back,” I tell Myself.

When I come back the queue is not shorter, but the Muslim guy has progressed up the stairs and there are now many bodies between him and I. Maybe he’s an aggrieved meter taxi owner out to make a point the Muslim way? The media stereotype is deeply ingrained and I curse myself for being a sheep to it. There is a sudden reshuffling of the queue and while I advance considerably, I find myself next to the Muslim guy again. I sigh. “More coffee?” Myself asks. “Don’t be an ass,” I scold him.


At the top of the stairs where the first interview takes place, it becomes clear that the Muslim guy only wants to take the first steps to becoming an Uber partner. I pity him. There are many flaming hoops ahead of him. Sufficient, at times, to make one want to blow up some government offices out of sheer frustration. I really pity him. One paranoia kicks off another. This is what happens when you get into that space: Donald Trump and more horrors.

My order of business is to get my name cleared of the criminal charges the cops mistakenly attributed to me. I have a certificate to prove it, but the first interviewer insists I go back to the agency where I was first fingerprinted and do it again. I insist he let me in to ‘speak to somebody’.

There are four consultants. Three black guys and one pretty white young lady. “I hope we get the white chick,” I tell Myself. “She’ll best understand my white plight.” I’m broke and another week will mean I have to borrow money for petrol. This is how I roll.I don’t know why I think this except out of the ingrained racial prejudice of my upbringing. My efforts to combat the stupidity thereof clearly still have a long way to go. I sigh.

Now, it’s my turn and I don’t get the white chick. I’ve always been helped by black consultants at Uber and always came away satisfied. I’m irked by my own racist thoughts. “It’s a good thing we got a black guy,” I tell myself. “He’ll sort us out and teach us a lesson about racism that we clearly still have to learn. The black guy looks at my clearance certificate, raises an eyebrow, purses his lips in a worrisome way and refers me to the white chick. He can’t understand why I burst out laughing.

The white chick understands my white plight. I’m rich, but I’m not. I’m broke, but I continue. She clears my name and bumps me up the training session waiting list so that, two days short of 14 months, I will finally become an Uber driver.




May 21st


Paris Essays (40)

The Bucket List (The last Paris Essay)

I stand in the middle of an empty sitting room in the middle of an empty house. My parents and the rest of my family have just moved out that day. There is a naked mattress on the floor for my comfort. I’m 17 years old. I’m loving it. That moment with the dirty green carpet, my mother’s favourite colour, in a deserted home. The adventure is about to begin with no parental guidance. I lie. I also have a sleeping bag, a box of rotgut red and a pack of smokes for comfort. I cannot stay here, for the house has been sold. I must go, but for now, my freedom is complete.

“If only I was 20 years younger, I would’ve done this, that or the other thing,” the old people say. Of course, for a 17-year-old anybody over 30 is old, but that is the refrain I hear from the ‘old people’ in grey Waverley, Pretoria, South Africa in 1980. I sit and drink and think. “There is a big problem in that,” I say to Myself. We drink well together, Myself and I, with Me also coming out sometimes. Me is more of an ‘old person’. “So what is the big problem?” he now asks.

I give the matter some thought over a glass of rotgut and a smoke. “They think they’re never going to die and then they put off everything they want to do in favour of everything they think they have to do. One day they wake up and say: “If only I was 20 years younger … and they repeat it without shame.”

It is a momentous thought. People living with no deadline in a grey world with no other avenues to follow. “We must not do the same,” I tell Myself. He agrees. “What shall we do then?” he asks almost casually. “We shall have a deadline to do the things we want to do and never say if only I was 20 years younger.” “Great idea. What do we want to do?”

“We must make a list!” “Let’s do it!” The rotgut red speaks on the dirty green carpet recently vacated by a messy family of nine:

“We want to write a book!” “We want to live in Paris!” “We want to be rich and famous!” “We want to sleep with 100 women!” “We want to speak French!” “We want to become a diplomat!” “And a journalist!” “Yeah, that too.” “We want to travel Europe and the world!” And so it goes on. “And dead!” “Oh yes! The deadline!” I shout out. Me leaves the conversation: “You can want in your one hand and shit in the other and see what fills up first,” he says. “Cranky old fucking bastard”, I say to Myself.

While sitting on that dirty green carpet, in grey Pretoria, I’m 17 and broke. I have never even kissed a girl, but I have a Jesus complex. To go to Paris is something I can only dream about. To sleep with a girl is just as remote a possibility. I’ve never written anything apart from grey school essays. I have no self-confidence. I drink and drink rotgut red and dream on.

“What is our deadline?” Myself asks. “Thirty three of course.” “Jesus,” he says. “We then better get going.” “Don’t blaspheme,” I say according to my father’s teachings. “I’m not,” he says.


At 33 I’m still alive and living in Camps Bay in Cape Town and I hate it. I have lived in Paris and I speak French. I only wanted to speak French to sleep with 100 women and I succeeded. I’m trying to write a book, but find myself singularly unequipped for the task. I write in Afrikaans, my mother tongue, which comes to me in tortuous ways. My two failed attempts at writing a book were more than that. My writing was awful and so was I. I had stories to tell, but no way to tell them and I was an awful human being while trying. I was even worse while failing. I couldn’t love the woman who was keeping me. It ripped us apart and kept us together. We knew our failures.

That was then. This is now.

Now, I reflect: Have I done the things I put on my ‘Bucket List’ before bucket lists were known? Am I rich? In comparison to most of humanity, yes. Am I famous? In Melville, yes. All the car guards know me as somebody who says,’ fuck off’ instead of ‘hello’. So do the salesmen of wire artifacts. I’ve done some nasty short-rib punching on most of them. I did most of the things I wanted to do.

Is this the beginnings of book? It’s touch and go like most of my life has been. Am I dead? Alas no, clearly not. If this has touched you, maybe it’s time to go again.



May 12th


Paris Essays (39)


My leave has not been approved. I don’t have leave left, but I do have a plane ticket to Paris from where we’ll go to Barcelona for another six-week sailing trip around the Balearic Islands. Oh Majorca, oh Minorca, oh Palma, but I’m stuck in Pretoria with no leave left. I must leave. I tender my resignation in Foreign Affairs’ Off the Record bar and I leave. The mere thought of being stuck in Pretoria with no leave left is too much to bear.

It is a financial mistake of course, but my life is already way off course and staying in Pretoria will kill me. I have no option. I must see Soso. I must get away. I do. The die is cast. I have enough contacts in Paris to find a job, I assure myself. I am in contact with the French waste treatment giant Generale des Eaux. They want to come to South Africa and are interested in offering me a liaison job between their Parisian HQ and whatever operations they start in the country. I’ll be fine. I’m always fine, assure myself.

On a fine day in April 1993 Januz Walusz and Clive Derby Lewis shoot Chris Hani and my dreams to death. “South Africa just dropped off the agenda of our five-year plan,” my contact at the French company tells me over the phone. “Nobody removed it from the agenda. I was just never even mentioned. It just fell off,” Guillaume tells me. I sigh. I’m not fine, but for now I’m adamant that I’ll first enjoy my holiday and cross whatever bridges need crossing afterwards.


I turn 30 on the boat and swing from the main mast in my purple linen suit with a R500 Romeo y Julieta cigar in my mouth, courtesy of the Captain. I lose my grip and plunge into the water. “That was a 500 franc cigar,” the Captain looks at me with a frown, but then smiles. We’re good now, him and I.

We moor alongside The Tarzan in Ciutadella de Menorca. The Tarzan is a converted fishing trawler belonging to a rich French cork merchant, a friend of the Captain. He wants to expand his business into South Africa. I get a job in Stellenbosch. It’s fine. I’ll sell cork over the harvesting and bottling period and spend most of my time in Paris, living off my commissions. I don’t sell cork. I’m no salesman.

As the months pass in Stellenbosch it becomes ever clearer that I will not get back to Paris. Soso and I realise this. She’s a practical girl. She’s a French girl. She sleeps with one of her singing lesson students. She’s also a woman. She falls pregnant. She tells me over the phone. I’m devastated. I can hardly breathe, but what can I do. I must. “Tell me who the guy is?” “Do you really want to know?” “Yes.” “It’s Michel.” “I’m glad it’s him and not that Olivier guy who kept leaving messages on your answering machine.” It ends. We remain friends.



May 8th

Newer Entries »
May 2017
« Apr