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