Friday, December 19, 2008


Being shot out of a circus cannon into a vat of starving elephant leeches; going over Niagara falls in a biscuit barrel; or packing fish in a remote Alaskan aircraft hanger - there are few places I’d less like to be than sitting in an exam, waiting to turn over my question paper. I still get nightmares about exams that wake me with a gasp, covered in cold sweat, my bowels turned to Nesquik.

Exams were the come-down hangover after a year of giddy abandon. In the desperate last two weeks, we’d try gulp in all the knowledge that should have been seeping into our brains throughout the year- the mental equivalent of sucking the Encyclopaedia Britannica through a garden hose.

A year’s Art theory notes weighed in at about 4 stone. Trying to learn it all would be like trying to eat the phonebook, scrunched page by scrunched page, mouthful by mouthful. So, we learned spots: rote essays based on a specific questions- about as dicey as Russian roulette.

Lucky Charms
Fluffy toys were popular. There was a certain type of track-suited Pringle girl who’d bring the entire cast of Watership Down to exams, and line them on the desk like a mute row of Duracell bunny cheerleaders. We preferred rubbing The Fat Guy with the Beard’s beer belly before we left the African Street digs. This brought mixed results.

Into the Breech
An exam was like running a marathon in longhand. Four essays in three hours, that would leave your brain like a squeezed out toothpaste tube, and your writing hand cramped into a claw.
I remember sitting in Alec Mullins Hall, like a massive typing pool of inmates, an assembly line of higher learning.

Exams are pretty much like any other life trauma:

Denial: (Turning question sheet over and over) “Fucking hell! Surely there’s one question I studied up on?”

Anger: “Bastards! Who the fuck reads an entire Nadine Gordimer?”

Bargaining: “Okay, maybe I should just answer one essay question. I’ll crack it, and they’ll overlook the three blank ones.”

Regret: “Maybe not reading the Nadine Gordimer wasn’t such a hot idea”.

Acceptance: “Fuck it, I know there’s an hour left, but I’m handing in this piece of shit and getting out of here. I need a cigarette, and one or twenty Black Labels.”.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Vic

A lumpy pavement walk down from the Union, (the bumps more or less jarring according to how much Taverna Rouge had been gagged down at the Union) the Vic skulked like an inevitable full stop on the end of every evening.

It’s Raining Sweat
With hindsight; the Vic was a dank armpit of a place, the Quasimodo of dive bars. I recall a packed summer night early in second year, where the sweat condensated on the ceiling in dripping patches and rained down on us. But, it was the only place we had. When life gives you lemons, drink enough alcohol to fell a concrete elephant (or something like that). So much for drinking the girls pretty, we drank the Vic cool.

War Wounds
A common step in dating someone was showing each other your drinking injury scars sustained in wild, reeling Vic nights. Common accidents included: stage-diving off the table you were dancing on (hello Nadja?); somersaulting down the stairs at boaters (Neil, I know you’re reading this); and very occasionally, breaking your ankle on the step at the entrance (yes, you Emily). Friends rushed to administer first aid, usually a whiskey, and slurring reassurances.

By 11 o’clock the mens’ toilets looked like a beer slaughter house. Wall-to-wall vomit, splattered toilets , and malcontented queues for the loos, with always some lurching enterprising spirit leaning against the wall and pissing in the sink. All in all a sight to make even the most slovenly maggot gag.

Trying to pick someone up amid the Vic dance floor riot was like trying to steal a wheel from a moving car. Chatting up someone amid the RMR house music carpeting bombing of was futile as reciting poetry in a wind tunnel. Better to lay down your smooth Nick Gray moves in the relative calm of Boaters, then ask said paramour to dance.

Would You Like to Come Back to Mine for Coffee?
In other words “Let’s go home and do naughty things to each other”. The coffee was mainly just a ceremonial observance to form. The lunge and resultant snog was usually consummated before the kettle had boiled, and the Gordian knot of the bra strap pawed at before the “Chicks Dig It” mix tape was finished.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Hill Dweller
Even if you were lucky enough to get the coffee green light, the long walk from the Vic back to Kimberley Hall on the hill was a bigger passion-killer than Andrew Lloyd Webber. Most girls would say “Oh, you’re on the Hill? Uh, goodnight”, leaving me to walk home in a lather of aggrieved sexual agitation, railing to the sky at my res allocation. The trick was to break the walk into passionate pit stops: some electric eel tongue action against a New Street wall; a leafy tumble in the Drama department bushes; some hot and botheredness near Kotch creek; then throw her over your shoulder and do a running fireman lift to the steps of the Cullen Bowles quad. If you got her that far, you’d better pretty much propose marriage on the spot.

Shake Your Money Maker
By the time I got to the Vic, the music was, to my drunk ears, somewhat vague and removed, like a couple next door fighting with power tools. I do remember some anthems though. AC/DC’s Thunderstruck was guaranteed to get the sweat flying, The B52s’ Love Shack would have Stevie and I running whooping on to the floor and doing the spastic weather girl. Groove is in the Heart by Dee-lite would every time convince me (erroneously) I could dance like a black woman.

The Vic. If you weren’t there you’ll never know.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


“McJob: A low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low benefit, no-future job in the service sector.”
- Douglas Coupland, Generation X (1993)

As the last days of varsity approached, and the real world juggernauted into view, I was terrified. I felt the trepidation of a young virgin bride, cowering behind the sheets, dreading being roughly rogered for the first time.

Shotguns and Milk Stout
My first post-Rhodes job was as a cowhand in the remote hills of Zululand. I was given a shotgun, a 4x4, and told to ferry cows from farm to farm. The mountainous roads were notional at best, and after a particularly heavy Natal rainstorm, just getting to work through the mud was a sliding, churning, get-out-and-dig affair. It was a glorious job, but the danger, my lack of Zulu, and aversion to milk stout ended it all too soon.

Smirnoff Tongue
Job two was as a photographer’s assistant in a studio in downtown Cape Town. The hours were long, work exhausting and I worked for free. Such is the norm when you’re breaking into a photography career. A low point was spending hours setting up a Smirnoff vodka shoot, and getting the lighting on the bottle just so, that we daren’t move it a hair. The vodka looked misty in the studio light, so we had to get it out, without upsetting our meticulous display. Short story: I had to drill a hole in the bottle top, suck out the vodka with a straw, mouthful by mouthful, and spit it into a bucket. Not the nicest thing when you’re already labouring under a Guiness hang over. I threw up four times, my tongue went white, and I couldn’t taste anything for days. We did get the shot though.

Would You Like Fries with That, Motherfucker?
To pay for beer, Styvies and rent, I got job three at a pizzeria in Cape Town, after the day’s work at the studio. Being forced to be obsequious to pita bread munching proles knocked the stuffing out of any “but I’ve got a degree” arrogance. The only job satisfaction was using a stashed magnet to blank the credit cards of unsuspecting customers who didn’t leave a tip on their bill. 

These Days
I slowly discovered that finding a job I liked was a process of trying things I’d quickly realise I didn’t want to do, and slowly gravitating to what I did. I generally like my work now, it lets me be creative, and the good projects do get me out of bed early sometimes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Student Bands

The Five Stages of Drunkenness:
One: Your face gets a bit numb. A feeling of general feeling of bonhomie begins.
Two: You’re the funniest, handsomest person in the room, and you can dance like a black woman.
Three: You lose your memory. This is Nature’s way of preserving self-respect.
Four: Name-throwing. The limbs move, the mouth talks, but Mr. Brain has long since left the building. Activities range from exuberant bush-diving, to dronk vedriet crying jags.
Five: You pass out, comatose. Your brain flat-lines, and you enter the realms of death.

Never, ever listen to a student band at any level below four.

Yo-yo-Knickered Groupies
While there were one or two dedicated musos, bands were formed mainly to pose and get chicks. There’s a type of impressionable female BA student, who finds a guitar and a copy of Catcher in the Rye in a dingy Res room a sign of sensitivity. They were generally more pliant in the presence of said objects.

Acoustic Wall of Mud
Proclaiming your musical influences was a far weightier issue than actual skill at any given instrument. At the mixing desk, drowned vocals, blunted guitars and muffled drums were mangled into a throbbing  aural porridge, an acoustic wall of mud. Impossible to dance to, and unbearable at any drunken stage below level four.

Bands I Remember
New Dawn, a rasping, wailing band that went through countless incarnations over nine years, in that time going through roughly 58 band members. They played muddy Chris Rea covers, and incoherent UB40 songs. It’d be easier to dance to a didgeridoo accompanied by the sound of knives and forks being flushed down the toilet. 

Loomer were precociously good. But they had just one song, the only lyrics being “Over and over, roll me in clover” or some such, repeated by the winsome, angel-voiced lead singer.

Fireside Jams
A Sunday night open-mike session at the Union, where anybody with anything from a guitar to a tambourine could climb onstage and have a bash. The fireside jams were a great opportunity to watch your friends play, and drink them melodic. In front of the band, earnest groupies would leap about like yanked string puppets, dancing to the undanceable.

There are many things I miss about varsity, but the vast majority of student bands are not among them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vomiting Stories: The Maltese Wager

Your saliva’s working overtime; the heaves are rolling from the pit of your stomach, and you’re gulping like a goldfish on hot tarmac. That last drink was just one too many. It and dinner are about to stage a comeback. All this, and nary a maltese poodle to be found, for love nor money.

Liam and I had a running bet: first person to vomit on a maltese poodle wins a case of Black Label. The vom had to be hands-free: you couldn’t hold it or anything, just had to take it by surprise and PHROOOOOOOAUUUGH! There had to be at least one eye-witness, and the prize was doubled if the moment was captured on film.

There were a couple of close calls, including me chasing a yapping maltese through several Pietermaritzburg hedges during intervarsity. I pursued it for about four blocks before collapsing wheezing to all fours and chundering in a rhododendron bush.

The prize remains unclaimed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Before Email

Letters were analog to email’s digital. Something real, something you could hold in your hand, knowing the writer had held it too, days or weeks ago, somewhere far away.

They seem quaint as vinyl records and polaroids now, but letters were the everyday currency we used to stay in touch. They to’d and fro’d like paper carrier pigeons from far off places, with exotic stamps and strange post codes. 

Handwriting is unique as the whorls of a finger print. Reading someone’s for the first time is like slotting a new piece into the jigsaw puzzle.

I’m sure your letter-writing mind works at a deeper, more continuous wavelength than the staccato blips of email brain. Organic flow versus the clacks of an abacus. Alone with longhand and without the spell check, letters take more effort and application.

Writing things down always felt more profound than typing it out on a word processor. Reading the words “I love you” in ink on paper rung in my chest like a hundred church bells. I’ve got some letters I’ve read over and over, like answered prayers.

Envelopes could hold glossy, tactile photographs, that you could raise to your face and squint at, a hand-labelled mix tape, or just sketches in the margin.

Let’s face it, no one ever sighed clasped an email to their chest. Email’s like reading a fucking TV screen. Letters are a document, not morse code of ones and zeros.

I miss letters. These days you just get bills and junk mail. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Oppie Cookbook

I arrived in 67A African Street with a car boot sale of implements, and a dog-eared 1932 hardback copy of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

Ollie always fried breakfast dressed only in his in his y-fronts. A singularly unedifying sight. We’d wake to the sound of him yelping as flying drops of hot fat spat from the pan onto his naked skin.

Power Drill Pancakes
Slimer tried to whisk waffle mix with a fork sellotaped to a power drill. He let fly, there was screaming whirring, like the sound of a bucket of cutlery being thrown into a jet engine, and Slimer and the kitchen were claymored with goop.

Exploding Pressure Cookers
We had a squat, furious pressure cooker that turned anything- meat, pasta, or veg- into the consistency of runny paper mache in seconds. It would hiss and shake worryingly, occasionally exploding and projectile-vomiting ratatouille onto the ceiling.

Food Parcel Riots
Worried parents sent food drops, that were quickly hidden, lest the digs fight over them like famished Somalis attacking a food truck.

Francis always got great parcels from her Sandton folks. Chocolate, crunchies, tinned ham and what not. I phoned my hippie Howick mother and demanded same. A few days, a joyless brown paper parcel arrived, containing some trays, a bag of alfalfa seed, and “Make Your Own Bean Sprouts at Home” instructions. Francis still teases me about that.

Snap, Crackle, Pop: Food and Marijuana
After some reckless trial and error on the guinea pigs (Francis and me), Slimer perfected Rice Crispie dope biscuits that would render you a giggling mess, then leave you slumped dumb in the corner of the Union, peering through slitted eyes like a freshly-shelled tortoise and nodding somnolently.

During a boisterously stoned Pictionary game on George Street, Aimee made us peanut butter on toast, which went down a dope-dry mouth like sawdust in the Sahara. Conversation was silenced for an hour by the sound of mealy-mouthed, desperate chewing.

Jim and Anne made date-rape-drug-strength marijuana snackwiches in Kenton, with patchy results. Jim surfed the couch, hung ten for a few seconds then wiped out. Anne, Sera, and The Fat Guy with the Beard wandered off to the beach, and were last seen zig-zagging towards Diaz Cross.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Lesbian Factory

No One Gets Out Of Here Straight
Prince Alfred Res was a lesbian assembly line, straight girls went in, and newly minted-lesbians were trotted out, like phalanxes of militant marching lego men. Scorning makeup, they dressed in Doc Marten 12-ups, leggings, and sweatshirts shapeless as mielie sacks that left a boggling amount to the imagination. They roamed in packs, listened to Nine Inch Nails,and wore their hearts on strident placards.

Riot Grrrls
Lesbian Society extra-mural activities included picketing the Vic whenever the first year men had a stripper in, and rioting outside the Mr and Miss Fresher competition. They were loud, proud, and in your face. Being gay in the early ’90s was much more of an issue than it is today. 

I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It
To me, lesbians were a closed book, a secret club more opaque than the freemasons. They claimed the sexual high ground, saying that the gusset-typing finger sutra of lesbian sex made our scorned straight bump-and-grind look like trying to pick a lock with a 12-pound hammer. They seemed to know impossibly complex Sapphic card tricks, while I still found the bra strap a Gordian knot. My early ham-fisted attempts at female arousal felt like trying to play twister colour-blind.

Handbags at Dawn
Worlds collided when boorish elements of the Rhodes First XV, messed with three lipstick lezzas and Dolph the uber-dyke outside the Graham. The Rhodes forward pack was happily thrashed to a pulp, and were last seen retreating em masse to the safety of Botha Res.

Have Your Cake and Shag it Too
A common habit of the winsome pajama-clad denizens of St Mary’s Hall, bisexuality was apparently the best of both worlds: you could have your cake and fuck it. To my provincial mindset, it seemed a bizarre feat of sexual fence-sitting, like kicking with either foot. I had a bi girlfriend for a time, and often felt that a sort of Jekyll and Hyde game was being played in the laboratory of her disorientated longings.

I made some good lesbian friends at Rhodes. They played mean pool, drank black label quarts, and had cool music taste. Their friendship was open and honest: unfettered by the minefield that sometimes occasioned straight girl friendships. I liked them. They rule.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


For those of you Facebook, you can view a bunch of photos from '90 - '94 here.

'Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.'
- Kurt Vonnegut

Burgled and Ransacked

A quiet Thursday night at the Vic. A policeman was going round, asking “Does anyone here live in 67A African street?” After coming up zero on a quick mental inventory of any contraband lying around at home, John nervously stepped forward and said “Uh, yes, I do”. “I’ve afraid I’ve got some bad news”, said the cop. “Your house has been broken into and ransacked. Please come with us”.

John pushed open the ajar kitchen door, and peered in. “Can you see if anything’s missing?”Asked the cop as he followed him in. “Uh… no, not that I can see”, John replied. “But look at this place! Its been ransacked!” Said the cop, in with rising outrage.

“Um… no, not really” replied John, “We live like this”.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Poetry Wall

In the foyer of the English department was a large noticeboard where students could pin up their poems and musings, in a collage of careless scribblings on paper and more earnest typed pages that took themselves far more seriously. Roughly 99.8% were rubbish. Most sensitive poetic souls (wisely) published their work unsigned, as most poems were covered over in scathing comments, palimpsests of abuse.

Pennies in the Dross
The nice ones would catch your gaze like a bright penny in the grass. They’d pull you in for a moment, into their world of trenchant lines, or transporting paragraphs. Dave Fair's stand out in memory. I recognised his handwriting on some great little anonymous poems that’d pull you right in. I can’t recall any to repeat here, but I do remember an ending I liked:

“… and always
the wall pushes me
back into the sea,
where i was mad.”

Well, I thought it was pretty deep at the time.

Found Genius?
I found some of my first year poems the other day, in an old box of letters, photos, and keepsakes. Excited, I scanned the pages for transporting evocations of distant afternoons, campus perves freeze-framed in polaroids of ink, or just the roiling throes of the melodrama of my 19 years, seen from the mast I’d lashed myself to.

Dog Vomit Omelette
No such luck. Page after page was indecipherable, ham-fistedly scribbled dross. In my earnest attempts at a pastiche of Smiths’ lyrics, Bob Dylan, and T.S. Eliot, I’d created a dog vomit omelette of trite shite. I showed my ‘work’ to Dave Fair once (and only once). He hmmmed through a few of them, and with an eventual, defeated sigh, he said, “That line there" (somewhere in 16 pages of foolscap) "has got…something. Needs work though".

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tuesday Night Tequila Special

“Tequila, the buzzard god who copulates in midair with the ascending souls of dying virgins” –Tom Robbins.

From Ego to Id in Ten Shots
Tuesday night, at Boaters, above the Vic. One Rand a tequila. Not great tequila, more akin to aviation fuel than agave. 21 bucks got us a full tray, seven each for Noah, Jim, and me. A good start to an evening unfettered by the constricts of social mores, and later, non-verbal self-expression.

No Hand Rail
Unlike beer, tequila doesn’t hold your hand in the descent into drunkenness. It’s more an uncovered man-hole plummet down the rabbit hole.

After we lost count of the shots downed, memory loss kicked in; nature’s way of preserving self-respect. The evening was later stitched together by eye-witness accounts.

Mattress Kid
Noah stripped down to his underpants, strapped a mattress to his back and for a few glorious hours became ‘Mattress Kid!” superhero to the tired, sleepy, or those just needing a lie-down. He leapt off the Africa St roof and ended his evening asleep in the bougainvillea. 

Jim’s Iwo Jima
Jim was last seen bush-diving off the one-storey parking lot, an empty tequila bottle in each fist, screaming like a hand grenade-toting US marine charging a Japanese machine gun nest.

Get Your Wingwang Out
I was more demure. I merely stripped off all my clothes in the middle of a digs party and ran back home, with Gisele my girlfriend desperately chasing me down the street with a pair of shorts. I crashed through the neighbouring lentilheads’ digs front door, and chased Claire (a dormouse, kumbaya guitar type of a girl) round the lounge, waving my wingwang at her, shouting “Mufasa!” as she cowered behind the chaise longue. The enjoyable boisterousness was bluntly ended when Gisele dive-tackled me.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The San

Policed by doughy matrons, sexless as nuns, who seemed to have been in nursing since the Crimean War, the Rhodes San (Sanatorium) had a whiff of the asylum about it; that, and a lingering smell of iodine.

Iodine, a Wonder Drug Since 1897
You’d sit down, ramble about your symptoms, they’d listen absently, then vice your mouth open with their strong pudgy fingers and paint your throat with foul-tasting iodine. No discussion. You could have a stomach bug, flu, or a broken arm, whatever- open wide and out with the iodine.

Bubonic Plague
Any hapless student who wandered in with a mild cough was subjected to enough projected hypochondria to overcrowd Settlers Hospital. Routine res food poisoning would be upgraded to bubonic plague or consumption in one short, adamant, misdiagnosis.

Thermometers at Dawn
Being bedridden in San was not a pleasant internment. At six a.m. every morning, thermometers would be thrust into the inmates’ still yawning mouths. Temperatures would be taken, and throats re-painted with iodine. After three days of this, I was a broken man. The only thing that kept me sane was my girlfriend Nadja, who’d talk to me through the window bars, and slip me illicit cigarettes.

Cough Medicine and Black Label
In second year some bright spark discovered that if you downed a bottle of San cough mixture and chased it with Black Label you got a giddying, rushing buzz. In that month, the San dispensed 500 bottles of cough mixture, before they became suspicious and changed it to a less gratifying brand.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Post-Wank Guilt

Do not be flustered by your English tut perve sitting across from you in the Keats tutorial. She has no way of knowing you spent the previous night furiously interfering with yourself with her in mind.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Inter-Res Rugby

Softball Rejects
Every Sunday, the most able-bodied survivors of Saturday night would be press-ganged into the Res Rugby XV. A shuffling, alcoholic, bookish lot; Cullen Bowles men were not gladiators of the sports field. On Sunday morning after a night of Stuyvies and Black Label, our team looked pale and asthmatic as those spotty kids you’d pick last for a school softball team.
Somali Food Riot
As soon as the ball was kicked off, any thought of formation was abandoned in a free-for-all scramble for the ball, like a scrimmage of shrieking Somalis fighting over a bag of maize meal. Someone would emerge from the ruck, and sprint off like Seabiscuit. The cheering from the stands soon faltered to an appalled hush as after a few yards the runner overheated, dropped the ball, and vomited the excesses of Saturday night. Watching all this as a passive observer was funnier than a moped collision.

War in the Congo, Apparently
Half-time oranges were shunned, and cigarettes and beer brought out to the team. Come the second half, our team spread out over the field, and any contact with the ball was avoided like a third-world country civil war: you knew it was bad and all, but you didn’t really want to get involved. The bemused opposition ran through largely unmolested, for try after try after try.

Full Time
The team (those who could walk) shuffled back to res, to the consolation of late afternoon tea, and perhaps a rousing Sunday night ‘western’* on the common room TV.

* Pornographic film

Friday, October 31, 2008

Masturbation is Not a Victimless Crime

Sometime in 2nd year The Fat Guy with the Beard nicked a blank Rhodes University letterhead from Admin. He scanned the logo into his computer and soon we had a realistic, official Rhodes letter we could write whatever we liked on.

Unbecoming Behaviour
Our first letter was to the much loathed Justin Kretschmar:

10. November 1991
Rhodes University

To Justin Kretschmar (Student number 691K2365),

Our laundry staff have complained repeatedly about which appear to be on closer examination, semen stains on your bed sheets.

As you may or may not know, masturbation is a finable offence, and hardly behaviour we consider becoming of a Rhodes University student. Consider this your final warning, and please desist immediately.

If you have any queries, please contact Gwen Shaw, laundry department head, at block B, Jan Smuts Hall.

Yours sincerely

Derek Henderson
Vice Chancello

Kretschmar bought it hook, line and sinker. “How do they KNOW?” he screamed at his best mate Keith. 

How we laughed.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Experiments in Electricity

If you heated up our African St oven to 180, then grabbed the metal door handle, it would bite you with an electric shock that buzzed your fillings loose, and zapped your whole body into break-dancing jelly. Playing with this was way better than studying for the November exams. We soon discovered that if you held hands, the shock could pass through several people. 

I came home once from a prac exam to find our digs and our hippie neighbours, the lentilheads, all standing in a circle in the kitchen, hands tightly held in a human chain. Slimer, the first in the circuit, grabbed the stove handle, and everyone yelped and did the funky chicken, in a sort a sort of twitching, sparking Van der Graaf conga. This entertained us for weeks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What Were Your Best Songs of '90 to '94?

Here are some of mine, from the cool to the cringe-worthy. Let me know yours.

Depending on your response, the final compilation will be put up for download here.


AC/DC – Thunderstruck

Aerosmith - Janie’s got a Gun

Alannah Miles – Black Velvet

Dee-Lite – Groove is in the Heart

Del Amitri - Nothing ever happens

Depeche Mode – Policy of Truth

Depeche Mode – Waiting for the Night

The House of Love - Beatles and The Stones

The Human League - Soundtrack to a Generation

Lightning Seeds – Pure

Lloyd Cole – No Blue Skies

Love and Rockets - Kundalini Express

Metallica – Enter Sandman

Sinead O' Connor - Nothing Compares to You

The Stone Roses - I Wanna Be Adored

Tears For Fears - Advice For the Young at Heart

Technotronic – Move This

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Free Fallin'

The Wonder Stuff - The Size of a Cow



AC/DC – Money Talks

Angelo Badalamenti - Twin Peaks Theme

Blur - She's So High

Chris Isaak – Wicked Game

Electronic - Get the Message

EMF – Unbelievable

The House Of Love – Christine

James – Sit Down

Jane's Addiction - Been Caught Stealing

The La's - There She Goes

Love and Rockets - No Big Deal

Martika - Love...Thy Will Be Done

MC Hammer - You Can't Touch This

Pixies – Where is My Mind?

Pixies - Monkey Gone to Heaven

R.E.M. - Losing My Religion

Seal – Crazy

Sting – All This Time

Suede - Metal Mickey

U2 - The Fly

U2 – One

Vanilla Ice – Ice, Ice Baby

World Party – Put the Message in the Box



The Beautiful South - You Play Glockenspiel, I'll Play Drums

Björk - Human Behaviour

Blind Melon – No Rain

The Cure - Friday I'm in Love

Faith No More – Epic

Faith No More – Midlife Crisis

Guns n Roses – November Rain

L7 - Pretend We're Dead

Lloyd Cole - She's A Girl And I'm A Man

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

Pixies - The Happening

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Under The Bridge

R.E.M. - The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite

Right Said Fred - I'm Too Sexy

Shakespear's Sister – Stay

Soup Dragons – I’m Free

Spin Doctors - Little Miss Can't Be Wrong

Stereo MC's – Connected

Tori Amos – Crucify

Ugly Kid Joe - Everything About You

Violent Femmes - American Music


Arrested Development – Mr Wendel

Buffalo Tom – Tailights Fade

Duran Duran - Ordinary World

Morrissey - The National Front Disco

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Where The Wild Roses Grow

Nine Inch Nails - Closer

Nirvana - Dumb

Pearl Jame - Jeremy

Pulp - Do You Remember The First Time?

R.E.M. – Nightswimming

Radiohead - Creep

Soul Asylum - Runaway Train

The Stone Roses - Fools Gold

Sugar - A Good Idea

Suzanne Vega - Blood Makes Noise

Toad The Wet Sprocket – Walk on the Ocean

U2 - Numb

U2 - Stay (Faraway So Close)

Violent Femmes - I Held Her In My Arms

World Party - Is It Like Today?


Beck – Loser

Blur – Girls and Boys

The Breeders – Divine Hammer

Bruce Springsteen - Streets of philadelphia

Buffalo Tom – Soda Jerk

Counting Crows – Mr. Jones

The Cranberries – Linger

Crash Test Dummies - mmm mmm mmm mmm

Crash Test Dummies - Swimming in Your Ocean

Crowded House - Distant Sun

Cypress Hill - Insane In The Brain

Deep Forest - Sweet Lullaby

Enigma - Return To Innocence

Guns 'n Roses – Estranged

INXS – Beautiful Girl

James – Laid

Jamiroquai – Too Young to Die

Lloyde Cole -So You'd Like To Save The World

Oasis – Cigarettes and Alcohol

Oasis - Supersonic

Pearl Jam - Rearviewmirror

R.E.M. - What's The Frequency Kenneth?

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Soul To Squeeze

Revolting Cocks - Do You Think I'm Sexy?

Sheryl Crow – Leaving Las Vegas

Smashing Pumpkins – Today

Stone Temple Pilots – Plush

Tears for Fears - Break It Down Again

Urban Cookie Collective – Feels Like Heaven


Monday, October 27, 2008

Uncle Ron and e.e. cummings

Ron Hall, or Uncle Ron, was my favourite English professor. Short, avuncular, and smiling, he had the twinkly sort of face that made you just want to pinch his cheeks. I went to his tuts two years’ running, and those whimsical, lyrical sessions in his safe, cosy study were one of the few tutorials I actually looked forward to.

Every Wednesday, at the after lunch English lecture, he’d read poems that students had recommended. The first one I recall was e.e. cumming’s “somewhere i have never travelled”, early on in first year. A fiftysomething husband, married for what then seemed an impossible number of years, he read what he called “this lovely little love poem” with such tenderness and timbre that at that green age, on that afternoon, I had a stirring of the idea of love that could span mellowed decades, not callow months.

somewhere i have never travelled
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

- e.e. cummings (1926)


A non-alcoholic version of The Union, Kaif was a between lectures (or avoid lectures altogether) way station. Somewhere you and your friends could nurse hangovers, sip a chocolate Sterie Stumpie, and surreptitiously watch your campus perves come and go.

Kaif was Rhodes Music Radio’s finest hour. Their daytime DJ’s filled the room with well-loved end of the ‘80s stuff like Tears for Fears, The Cure, The Human League; new ‘90s bands like the Stone Roses, Charlatans, R.E.M.; and loads of other familiar songs we had on the brain and on mix tapes back home in res. Four I remember being played to death in 1991 were Enigma “Sadness”; Seal’s “Crazy”; “All This Time” by Sting; and Martika’s one hit wonder “Love… Thy Will Be Done”. Hearing any of them today takes me right back to the pine wood booths, green topped tables, and the Great Field in the background.

I Never Lose At Ludo
A notice board on the wall carried various handwritten ads, and became the battleground of a libellous poster war between Dave Fair and Nick Gray. Dave’s opening salvo was a handmade A3 poster with the headline “I NEVER Lose at Ludo”. It carried on: “Yes! I, Nick Gray, will teach you the secrets of the Ludo Masters. Never lose at Ludo again! Contact Nick, at Piet Retief, Room 304 for REAL results.” Nick fired back with “The Smiths’ memorabilia and CDs on sale. Everything must go. Room 207, Piet Retief Res, day or night.” Dave won in the end.

Photocopy and Pass!
The photocopy machine in Kaif was the hardest working in the world. Every June and November lax students would queue up with towering piles of borrowed notes, hoping to photocopy all the lectures they’d missed, and cram their way through exams. Miraculously enough, this approach usually worked, leading to more missed lectures and more time lounging in Kaif.

Fuck McDonalds
A Kaif bacon burger and Crème Soda would stop a hangover at 20 paces, and a pack of Stuyvie Reds cost just R1.40. Good value.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

His Majesty's and The Odeon

His Majesty's
The only cinema in South Africa that you could smoke in. It must have been a hectic fire risk. It did eventually burn down, but I suspect the owner Sonny Sixfingers torched the place as an insurance scam.

As Grahamstown was the end of the line of the movie circuit, the reels had been spliced and repaired over and over by the time we saw them, so often movies we’d seen the whole of elsewhere on holiday would have huge gaps left out of them.

Best Movie watched at HM: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. With Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio at their all-time best, it's a movie anchored in that time and place.  So funny, sad, and redeeming. I still cry like a schoolgirl at the end, everytime I watch it.

The Odeon
Very run down, very ’40s. I always imagined people there during The War standing to sing God Save the King before the feature started. The chairs were fantastically uncomfortable, stuffed with what felt like high heels and horse hair. Luckily you could bring pillows and duvets, and bunk down for the Tuesday night R5 double feature.

Best Movie watched there: Seeing Clockwork Orange for the first time, stoned. The celluloid kept overheating and catching fire, melting the picture to a mushrooming ball of blinding white. They’d put out the fire, tape up the reel and carry on, until it overheated again. It definitely added a certain something or other to the whole mind-blowing experience.

The cinemas were both mouldy, manky, with lots of surfaces sticky to the touch, but they showed an eclectic mixed bag of the movies we wanted to see - milestones that shaped our burgeoning view of the world - and technicoloured our memories.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Res Balls

Rhodes balls were an exciting opportunity to dress up, see all the other bright young things, and get shit-faced in formal clothes. 

Free Stuff
Complimentary Winston cigarettes on every table ( the Surgeon General’s Warning was years away), free Overmeer box wine, which was somewhere up the food chain from ZimSoc wine, which would have you stripping paint if you licked a wall. Overmeer was drunk by crusty art students at Grey Dam, which is all you need to know about it, really.

Overmeer Nemisis
Lee, for some misguided reason in the skewed hamster wheel of her female mind, was passingly keen on me on me in first year. She invited me to the Drostdy Hall Ball. I liked her, but not in that way, but dutifully I arrived at her Res on the night to escort her. Lee came down, looking winsome in a satin blue dress. We arrived and sat down in the Great Hall, which was done up in some ham-fisted Andrew Lloyd-one-thought-of-him-and-instant-erectile-dysfunction-Webber theme. We chit chatted enjoyably for some time. As I’d blown my week’s allowance on cigarettes and Kaif burgers, I got stuck into the free box wine. Some time passed, then… I remember nothing. 

Darkness and Polaroids 
All went black. I must have left the ball early, as I have one or two blurry mental polaroids of evidence from the rest of the evening. Exhibit A: A shifting forest of peoples’ legs. Exhibit B: Looking down and seeing my feet lurching down the centre line of a tarred road. Exhibit C: Stairs and a few sickening thuds. Exhibit D: more blackness.

Take This Cup from Me Lord
I woke up in my clothes, opened my eyelids with a screech like peeling flypaper, and prayed to the God that delivered the Isrealites from Egypt, and comforted Daniel in the lions’ den, to take this anvil of a hangover from me.

Anne Frank
”Lee’s going to fucking kill me!” was my first gibbering, terrified thought. So, like a man, I hid in my res room. My neighbour, Sausage, slid slices of res hall bread under my door from time to time. This furtive Anne Frank existence went on for some days. Until Lee came and found me.

“Get Out of Jail Free” Card
“Tim, about the ball…” She said. “Yes….?” I squeaked in terror, from under my duvet. “I hope you had a good time” she sighed. She went on, “I’m, so so sorry, but I had to leave at by nine. I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye, but I was really drunk. Kate took me home.” “Uh….huh…?” I said, peeking out from my duvet, like a prairie dog peering out from a man-hole. “Yeah. You looked okay when I left though.” She admitted. “You and Richard were playing coinage with the box wine, as I recall.” She blushed, and turned to leave. I sat up perplexed, scratched my head, and stared at the door as she closed it behind her. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bible Study

Taped to the Africa Street fridge:

Leviticus 10:9. What an abomination of the sight is a drunkard. And lo, they shall waketh with wounds they know not from whence they came.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Girls' Res’s

Common Rooms
Intended as lounges for chaste discourse and the 30 centimetre rule, girls’ Res common rooms were generally austere as a Methodist church. They lacked the empty beer bottles, overflowing ashtrays, and continuous “westerns” (pornos) on TV that made guys’ common rooms so endearing and so reassuringly like our res rooms.

From Sweetie to Bull Dyke
Just being on door duty could make the most pleasant girl seem intimidating as an anorak clad, women’s’ rugby team bull-dyke, jealousy guarding access to the threshold. Buzzed on the squawking intercom, your paramour would run down the stairs and at the landing, breathless and winsomely flushed. She’d nod at the imposing lesbian, who’d frowningly scribble something in an A4 book. Your host would take you by the hand into the world of pyjamas, droning hair dryers, and muffled, tinny music behind closed door after closed door.

Fluffy Ziggurat
Anneline’s Pringle room was a perfume-scented menagerie of fluffy toys, piled on the bed like a Cardie’s shop avalanche. A “Hard Man is Good to Find” beefcake poster hung on the wall (I have not the words).  I tip-toed in and tripped over a hairdryer diffuser the size of a loudhailer. Foolishly I flopped back into the ziggurat of stuffed toys and nearly drowned. Eventually, all the toys were relocated, and the bed was cleared and romp-ready; except for “Mr Snuggles” – a fave childhood teddy bear of renown, apparently – who sat on the nightstand and gazed at us with dead, cold eyes while we snogged. At some point of the grope I swatted him onto the floor. I never returned to that room. Anneline and I relocated our late night trysts to Mountain Drive and Settler’s monument. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Restless Spirits

For some of us from that time, there’s a dust in our hearts that’s never settled. Our spirits are restless, always scanning the horizon, chasing a remembered depth of friendship, love, or fulfilment that’s always just over the hill, round the next corner, or a plane ride away. It’s hard to articulate this malaise, but its there, real as hunger pangs.

Maybe there’s just too much mental energy still racketing around our minds. It could be we read too many books, spread our love and friendship with reckless abandon, or drank from the well too deep. Leaving that bubble coterie marked me with a profound sense of my aloneness in the world. Even through the mellowing of adulthood, the hunger persists. 

Sometimes the small work triumphs, shallower new friendships, and sane, pragmatic relationships of now hold up like a faded photocopy compared to those bright, shining times, idealised in recollection. Rhodes was heaven and hell, but sometimes I brood, and wonder if I was at my best in those years, with those people, in that place.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Random Polaroids

The African street roof. Lisa, an angel in tousled blonde ringlets, toking on a finger-thick joint, bobbing lazily to Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Membrane.

The drive home from Shelly’s Cove, on a winding, cracked tar road. Hand out the window sill, sculling the cool breeze. Sand grit sprinkled in our hair, saltwater on warm skin. Burning orange sundown on rolling hills stubbled with prickly pears.

Trudging to St Peters for morning lectures, walking behind barefoot hippie girls with kikois wrapped round their winsome swaying hips. The dew-wet grass strewn with cherry blossom petals sticking in pink confetti to the soles of their feet.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Vomiting Stories: A Tiger on His Face

One night, after a particularly gruelling session of coinage at the Union, Merve the Perla leopard-crawled back to his Cullen Bowles Res room, and passed out on his bed in his clothes. At some dark hour of the night - as he slept - he “parked a tiger” (vomited) on his face. With hindsight, the vom dried hard, gluing his eyelids shut. He awoke next morning with a grunt that became a scream as he realised with horror that he couldn't see, and thought he’d drunk himself blind.

His neighbour, Crapolini, heard the blundering thuds and sobbing, and yanked open the door. I don’t like to imagine what Merve’s face looked like, but with a wet towel and some elbow grease, Brother Crapolini restored the gift of site to Merve. Verily an orientation week miracle.

Digs Pig

As new digsmates in 67a African Street we couldn’t afford a dog, so one day on the way back from Port Alfred we bought a piglet for 20 bucks. We thought we’d got a bargain, but from the get go Morticia was an abysmal failure as a house pet. In the wee hours we’d be woken by her squealing like someone was trying to rape her in the garden (Ollie?), when all she wanted, it turned out, was more butternut and potato peels. she could not hold her lager (apparent after she vommed on a Pringle debutante’s high heels); she head-butted anything that moved, including Hay-sus passed out on our kitchen floor; and cost us a fortune in sun cream every time we took her to Kenton, where she burrowed deep holes all along the beach at Shelley's Cove. Eventually we lost patience trying to teach her to lie flat on the baking tray holding an apple in her mouth, and sent her back to the farm.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Still, breathless summer nights with just the moon to see by. We’d hide in the shadow of the Rhodes pool wall, shushing in drunk whispers. Get a leg up, skin your knuckles and scale up the rough, lumpy stone slab stone wall, to the broad top. Catch your breath, then haul the others up, one by one. Once on top, we had to do a single-file tightrope along the wall to where we could jump off safely into the soft grass. Once over, we’d shed our clothes, and tip toe barefoot to the pool, each gingerly choosing their moment to jump in.

Stars and Sky Below
On nights like that, the pool lay mirror-still and black, reflecting the stars like a rectangular hole in the universe. On the diving board, gazing down into the watery stars, it felt for a moment you could dive and plunge into the night sky. Once you leaped, that held-breath moment in mid-air felt like a split-second vacuum between two worlds.

Water Babies
Splash! The water’d envelope you in a whoosh of carbonated bubbles, tickly and friendly on naked skin. In that moment, I’d never want to come up, just tumble weightlessly and play in the silent water, like a child in The Water Babies.

Break the surface with a wipe of your eyes, and swim over the others. We’d talk in a reverential hush across the still water, our bodies floating light as whispers.

Back to the World
At some unspoken moment, the spell would break. We’d climb out and haul our wet bodies into dry clothes. Wet hair and tingling skin in the night breeze, we’d walk home grinning down the leafy streets, a breathless exhilaration singing in our quickened veins.

"Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
It's not like years ago,
The fear of getting caught,
Of recklessness and water
These things, they go away,
Replaced by everyday"
- R.E.M, Nightswimming (1992)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Full Moon Halo

Some nights, usually in autumn or early winter, the Grahamstown moon would come out with a shining silver halo. Something to do with ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, apparently. If the moon was a ping pong ball, the halo would circle it wide as the outline of a soccer ball. The sky inside the halo was always slightly darker - like an iris - giving the phenomenon the look of a huge eye looking down on the town.

Those were crazy mad moons, bathing everything in a breathless, alchemical energy. On nights like that, you felt quicksilver running in your veins, and could almost hear the music of the spheres. 

On thos nights, all bets were off. The whole town went a little unhinged: boyfriends and girlfriends fought, dope-heads lay on roofs and smoked themselves into the bejesus belt, drinkers main-lined tequila and ran amok among the hedgerows.

I haven't seen the halo anyplace since. Have you?

Rodders and the Cupboard

Chem Major, Monday, 9am. A particularly wet behind the ears first-year Rodders was sitting in the middle of a packed auditorium, waiting for his first accounts 1 lecture.  A few minutes into the proceedings, Rodders realised he was mistakenly in an accounts 3 lecture, and needed to leave. With many awkward apologies he clambered past chair after chair, like someone sheepish and late when the movie’s already started.

Ignoring the hundreds of eyes on him, he strode down the main stairs toward the 2 main doors at the exit, scuttling right past the professor. He chose the left door, opened it and slammed it behind him. Outside the lecture had halted to a stunned silence. In the dark interior, Rodders realised he’d walked into the built-in broom cupboard, not the adjacent exit door. He stood blushing in the gloom, torn between whether to just hide there ‘til the end of the lecture, or brave the ridicule and come out. The stunned silence outside had risen to a murmur. After about 10 minutes’ agonized deliberation, he opened the door, and ran, head down from the lecture hall, to roaring laughter and a standing ovation.

Kindred Spirits

At high school, I’d always felt like a lonely round peg in a provincial square hole. Most of us came to Rhodes to be somewhere we hadn’t. Far away from the apron strings, curfews and embarrassingly square home towns. In the first weeks of Rhodes, I discovered a gratifying amount of round pegs, generous kindred spirits open to all and everything. 

Idea Soup
We gathered in packs, searching for who we were, and who we dreamed of becoming. Sitting on the floor in each other’s Res rooms, we’d talk ‘til late about the new ideas and feelings bursting through the floodgates of provincial high school frames of reference. It felt like wading through a thick soup of new ideas and sensations. We swapped music tapes, lent new books, and together watched mind-blowing films never screened in our small towns. Our teenage shells were cracked open liked fresh-boiled eggs, and what seemed like a kaleidoscopic Encyclopaedia Britannica poured in.

Emotional Hand Luggage
As well an expanding shared world of ideas, later into the night and many cigarettes later, more vulnerable feeling were laid on the table, in a candid sharing of regrets, hopes and fears. Things like our parents, how the distance from home had thrown their shortcomings and their effect on us into sharp relief. We’d vow not to repeat their mistakes. Most excitingly, we talked about girls, these beguiling, confounding creatures that a lot of from all boys’ schools were just discovering. These were not drunken confessions, but sober, earnest moments of trust. We’d wake in the morning feeling a bit bare, but knowing what we’d shared was in a safe place. 

After the tight-lipped constipation of school, it was a revelation to finally find people with the same dry sense of humour, and who knew Monty Python! I met so many people who saw hilariously saw things from such an odd, hilarious point of view, you’d wonder what they were on. Our easy bond was a daily, irrepressible sense of humour, shared jokes that’d have you throwing your head back with laughter and giggling ‘til your stomach ached. 

We Learned More from Each Other Than From Our Lecturers
After the mummification of high school, my life began for real in the first weeks of Rhodes. Revelations, insights, and friendships for life were shaped in those early few months. As Prof. Brookes, my art lecturer said, “Students learn the most from each other, not from us”.

"Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young."
- Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, October 6, 2008

Young Love

I remember us, lying like spoons, side by side on my single Res bed, her warm breath on my cheek as she slept beside me. We’d wake in the morning with yawns, caresses and some of what Prince sings about. I liked my body next to hers, it felt trembling and new. The feel of her smooth warm skin and the trace of her bones, like a map of all the places I’d never been. Kissing her was like coming home.

Just Nadja’s presence in a room would make my blood run thick and hot like warm honey. Going out with her on my arm, knowing that at the end of the night I’d be the one she was walking home with, made me feel like I’d a million in the bank.

Flowers, Letters, Mix Tapes
I schemed up lots of ways to make love stay, like the time I conscripted all the Lentilheads - our hippie neighbours – into gathering sackfuls of yellow daisies so I could carpet Tank Girl’s bed with them before she woke up that morning. I guess I was trying too hard. She closed the account a fortnight after that.

Elsa made me a bunch of paper cranes for my birthday, and on holidays apart would send me heart-leaping letters that left me in a condition of swoon.

I perved Nadja slavishly from afar, and made countless mix tapes in my head to her before we’d ever been introduced. Those songs can still recall the smell of her perfume, and the feel of her hair against my cheek.

I Love You (But You're Boring)
Being in love at varsity could be smothering at times. So caught up in love with each other, you could just skip lectures, shut out the world and stay in bed for days, like John and Yoko. The town was so small, you were always out together. This familiarity inevitably bred contempt, and some spectacular screaming matches.

I Don’t Know Why I Love You
I took part in some bloody evil fights. One involved throwing a shelf of wine bottles at a bedroom wall, another had me chased round a kitchen table by a carving-knife-wielding bunny-boiler , and another left me foetal and whining for help as Stevie kicked me round the curb on New street. She wore Docs.

This one sticks in my mind. At a Pony Club party, Nadja and I had an argument. In between verbal doses, while she looked the other way, I dashed to my car and sped off back to Grahamstown. Not fast enough, headlights in the rear-view zoomed up; she’d had grabbed another car and given chase. A fraught, high-speed cat and mouse chase ensued through the campus. Try as I might, I couldn’t lose her, so I pulled into the car park, and sprinted into the darkened recesses of Res, with her close on my heels. I dived into Gary’s room and hid under the desk. Down the hall I heard Nadja looking for me, tearing open and slamming res room doors, closer and closer, like incoming shell-fire. Gary’s door flew open, “You Fucking Son of a Bitch!” she screamed, and went for my eyes.

Nothing Compares To You
Break-ups at that vivid, young age were bloody awful. I would dig up all the saddest songs I knew, cry myself blind, and wallow in my own melodrama for days, occasionally surfacing from my room to drink heroic amounts of whiskey then descend into slurring, impotent rage at womankind. I’d whine about quitting varsity and becoming a bell-tower sniper. I did eventually I manage to get my degree though, so I guess I made it through.

Stay (Faraway So Close)
I guess once a relationship starts, on some level it never ends. It just carries on. Maybe you got married, maybe you broke up earlier than you did, maybe you shagged her sister. Whatever. Somewhere someplace else, those feelings never stop, they keep just going on an on, like a million flickering TV shows bouncing off the satellites, beaming into space.

Wherever they are, I hope they’re singing now.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Art Lecturer, George

“Shit!” “Fuck!”
Rhodes School of Fine Art. First year, third term, first day. Slouching behind my easel, I heard a blunt-edged ‘60s London accented voice say “...and if anyone minds the word ‘shit!’ or ‘fuck!’ clear off now!’ I peered over. The voice belonged to a hook-nosed little man with charcoal-stained brick layer’s hands and a manic, aluminium sheen to his eyes. George, our first-year art lecturer had arrived. Grabbing a piece of charcoal pencil from Carol, he slashed, in Zorro-like strokes, the word “SHIT” on the nearest drawing. “This is all fucking crap!” he rasped and glared round the room at the easels we were cowering behind. “I know you’re all constipated from Matric art class - but for God’s fucking sake!”. We stared on dumbly, mouths agape, trying not to be noticed or singled out, by this raving, spitting force of nature that’d burst in amongst us like a Catherine wheel in a church service.

We drew harder, strained our concentration toward a crisper focus, generally tried more to rise to his exhortations, and George and us established an uneasy peace. We were always on-edge, for despite days of relative calm, he could always flare up like flaming magnesium at any second. 

Underneath it All
George had a heart of gold. I learned more from him in a year than all my other lecturers that were to come. “Sorry I’m late” said a rather overwrought Lee to him one Monday morning “It’s just that I tried acid for the first time this weekend, and it was a lot stronger than I expected”. “Shame, dear” answered George, as he led her to a chair “Don’t move. Let me make you a cup of tea.” He was like that with all of us, at one time or another. 

Summer Torpor
Roll on to October. Grahamstown in summer. The roads baked, the tar sticky underfoot. Drowsy swooning hot. The sashe windows of the art studio were wide open, but not a stir of a breeze. Stewed in a torpid funk, first-year art class dragged their pencils listlessly across canvases, slow as lichen. Most just wanly ground their pencils in the canvass; a desultory salad of doodles all the fruit of hours of soporific effort. The afternoon grinded on long and slow as the last day of school. “Okay. Stop.” sighed George.”I’m knackered, and you lot are just pathetic in this heat. Bring a costume and towel to class tomorrow morning”. Heads abruptly popped up over easels like a gaggle of prairie dogs.

Kidnapped Skinny-dipping
We all arrived early the next morning - wittering with curiosity - to see a Rhodes minibus parked outside the stone gates of the art school. George was humming, fussing and loading hampers into the boot. We all piled in to the van (we were a small class) and drove off for parts unknown. Dirt road, braking for tortoises. Parts turned out to be a stretch on the Kudu river, in a nearby game reserve. We piled out, and George and a some able-handed types fished cases or beer and hampers out of the van. George had kidnapped us all away for a stolen day. We were cutting class, with teacher. A wonderful, burnished day followed. Anthony sat like a kikoi-draped  satyr on a nearby rock and played lazy guitar. Crazed on wine, beer and sunshine, the class skinny dipped in the river, till a curious hippo scared us all out, sprinting back to the shore, our bare bottoms winking in the sun. At sunset we drive home from the one-day holiday reluctantly, the memory of sun and river water on our skin, home to the humdrum of res food dinners and essays to be procrastinated about.

Rhodes First Year Art Class. Banks of the Kudu River (1990)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mix Tapes

Tape Decks and Friendships
A calling card of cool, mix tapes fluttered round Res’s like carrier pigeons. My long friendship Alistair began with my tracking him down in Retief Res as “the guy had a recording of Love and Rocket’s Kundalini Express"; which seemed the epitome of grinding goth cool those early weeks of first year.

I met my life-long friend Gary when I heard The House of Love’s Christine playing from his room. I walked in, introduced myself, and we lay on the floor, arms outstretched, listening to the song as it shimmered round the room.

Larissa had a box of tapes all labelled either “God Be in My Head”, or “Suicide Mix (numbered 1 through to about 37, as I recall)”. She came across as a stout, intimidating lesbian, but we became firm pool-playing mates when I discovered she had the first Kristin Hersh and Cranberries albums on tape.

Tapes and Girls
Making a girlfriend a tape was a customary phase in a relationship, usually somewhere between the 3rd or 4th date. You could lie in bed, and wonder if far off down in campus in Phelps or Jameson Res, she was listening to the same songs and thinking of you. Bands like The House of Love, R.E.M., U2, The Pixies, Lloyd Cole, The Stone Roses, and the Manic Street Preachers formed our emotional semaphore.

Tank Girl and Green Underpants
The night the slavishly lusted after Tank Girl and I finally got together one night, the amorous mood was derailed for a moment by her seeing my green day-glo underpants, that I’d unadvisedly fished out of the communal digs laundry pile that evening. I managed to stifle her giggling and things continued along giddy nicely. Weeks later I made her a “Kryptonite Underpants” mix, and gave it to her wrapped in the same (now laundered) lurid green underpants of that first night. She cried laughing.

CD Mixes Are Not the Same
Long before before cell phones, email, and recordable discs, mix tapes provided a shorthand of cool, an artefact that could be passed from hand to hand, like shared imagined music videos of each other in our heads.

I miss them.

Hay-Sus the Chimney Shitter

Bankie Reverie
Early morning, African Street. The Lentilheads, our next-door newbie digs of 2nd years had just passed a major Grahamstown digs milestone: scoring their first stash of marijuana in their new home. Flushed with pride, they put the bankie* on the coffee table, and gazed at it with dew-eyed, adoring sighs. Their reverie was spied through the window by Jesus (Hay-sus) De Costa - one-time male stripper and swarthy self-styled 5 foot 6 sex-machine troglodyte - trudging back to our house from his usual Monday all night drinking and bush-diving binge.

Flushed Away
He snuck round to the Lentilheads’ back door and banged on it loud and sudden as a volley of gunshots. In his best Afrikaans narcotics cop voice he shouted thickly “Studente! Maak oop! Dis die Polisie! Ons weet jy het dwelms daarbinne!” (Students! Open this door! It’s the Police! We know you’ve got drugs in there!). The lentilheads scattered like dormice, hiding in various bedrooms, except for one quick-witted vegetarian who grabbed the stash and in a blur of bellbottoms and tie-dye fled to the bathroom. Hay-sus barged into the house, heard the bathroom door lock click, and threw himself at it, barking more Afrikaans obscenities. The only answer from within was a frightened squeal, and the sound of the dope being flushed down the toilet.

Anger and Loss
Hay-Sus collapsed on the floor laughing. The odd sound drew the dormice out of their hiding places. Seeing it was just him, hearing the gurgling sound of the toilet, and realising their loss, they broke into a fluttering vegan rage. Words like “bastard” and ‘rotter” were used. Hay-sus was bundled out of the house and forgotten amid much handwringing and grief at the now tragically empty spot on the coffee table.

Threats from Above
A voice from above broke the silence. They bundled out of the kitchen door to see Hay-sus on their roof, squatting on top of their chimney. “Oi! Lentilheads!” he bellowed, “I’m gonna SHIT down your chimney unless you apologize for being so horrible to me!” The female majority vegetarians flew into a jabbering panic, like a flock of chickens on a trampoline.

Entreaties, and Life Lessons Learned
Eventually, Tristan the fifth lentilhead, who’d slept through the entire ruckus, stumbled out in his kikoi, brushing aside the tousled blonde locks that would later he earn him the nickname “Miss Hawaii Airlines Girl 1994”. Blearily squinting up at Hay-sus, he said plainly, “Bru, don’t shit down my chimney. That’s like, lank blind bru…”. Haysus was thus talked down of the roof, and made a cup of rooibos. The Lentilheads were a lot more circumspect in such matters after that morning.

* A lot.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pick-up Lines: The Glass of Water Gambit

The Grahamstown Spur, near the end of the evening. You’ve broke, looking pretty damn ropey after drinking your week’s allowance, and are down to one cigarette and a glass of water. The girl you’ve been fancying all evening is at a table somewhere across the restaurant, oblivious to your existence.

Call the waiter over, point out your paramour and ask him “Could you send that young lady a glass of water with my compliments?”. The waiter duly goes over to her table, places the glass of water in front of her, and says “with the compliments of the young gentleman”. Her eyes widen, she stares at the drink, looks up and searches the room. Her gaze rests on you for a moment and your eyes meet. Raise your own glass of water to her and throw a smouldering look across the room. 

This has worked. Twice.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Campus Perves

We all had them. Mine never really conformed to a type, unless ‘winsome’ is a category.
My physical reaction to their proximity was real as an asthma attack. Perve du jour would walk into a room, my heart would leap into my throat, beating loud as a drum in a biscuit tin, and previously coherent sentences would congeal in my mouth like lumpy plasticine. Tearing my gaze away I’d quickly fumble back what I was doing: talking to my friends in Kaif; drinking a beer in The Union; or hamfistedly fielding a question from my English tutor- but all the time my whole body knew where they were, like an agitated Pointer dog. In severe cases I was simply overcome and would have to leave the room, party, or lecture hall. I’d sigh back against a wall, breathe deep and count to ten.
They brightened my days though. The radiance of a beautiful girl was something that lit up all us mortals as we orbited round them. Like the sun, you could never brazenly gawp at a campus perve too long, but you could bask in the warmth of their comeliness. The mere thought of one would have me bumbling off in a dumbly smiling dwaal, recording endless mix tapes to them in my head. 

In four years I ended up dating two campus perves. I felt like a lottery winner, and I distinctly remember thunderous applause from my friends that night I first kissed Nadja in the Vic. The relationships were giddy, flying close to the sun experiences that lasted all too short. I learned you had to punch your own weight class.

They live on in songs from those mental mix tapes. I wonder where they are now?