Saturday, January 31, 2009


Zimbos drank harder, bush-dived further, vomited with aplomb- and that was just the women. The men had nicknames like Dombo, Skurra, and Rodders. They smoked Madison Red cigarettes that tasted like wood smoke, drank, puked, and generally did things that would make your mother cry. 

ZimSoc Parties
Everyone I knew, South African and otherwise, was a member of ZimSoc. You could charge the membership to your student account, and that got you into their Great Hall parties half an hour early to get baboon-whipped on the free wine. The wine tasted like San antiseptic, but at that age we’d drink a bottle of Mrs Mcready’s Bruise Liniment™ if it had an alcohol content percent on the label. The wine did get you in the mood quicker than you were prepared for though. If you remember a ZimSoc party, you weren’t there.

ZimSoc’s resident DJs Gunther and Pete Loverdos of Cargo always played better music than RMR. ZimSoc parties was shotgun-beercan down-downs, stage-diving, and mayhem; AC/DCs’ Back in Black album to RMR’s Hunter’s Gold, Shoop Shoop dance, poncey Roxette razzles.

Intellectual Zimbos
At my Rhodes tenure’s end, I met a new kind of Zimbabwean, who didn’t conform to the vellie-wearing, boxer shorts stereotype. They still drank like Irish dockworkers, but also smoked enough dope to lay low an entire ashram of lentilheads, and adamantly referred to themselves as “Zimbabweans”, scorning the boorish “Rhodies” (Rhodesians). They had a gentle, soft-spoken refinement under their bohemian abandon. You’d find a Shakespeare anthology bookmarked with a bankie* on their bedside tables.

Red Hot Zimbo Love
The first night I met Giselé, all blonde 6’1” of her, she drank me under the table with a combination of sledge-hammering Zim cocktails, including the “Clan Special”, a beer mug of red wine chased with a glass of brandy. I have not the words. As I lost consciousness, she picked me up and fireman-lifted me the three blocks back to digs. I was in love.

So in love, in fact, that at the end of that year I took the long train from Alicedale to Harare, to her country. 18 hours later I stepped off the train at Harare, with its lush tree-lined streets, exotic shades and colours, and fell in love with the place at first sight. Giselé may have helped. She was waiting on the station platform. I hugged her, we kissed, and I was home.

“All seems beautiful to me,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among you,”
- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1856)

*bankie. A South African unit of marijuana. Enough to make you and everyone reading this blog to miss today, tomorrow and come up somewhere three days from now, wondering what… the fuck?

Saturday, January 24, 2009


A ramshackle double story house on New street, Bottoms was two doors up from Horse’s vetkoek paleis opposite the Vic. It was 1994’s kept secret, a speakeasy, and an unlicensed shebeen for illicit after-hours drinking. Entrance was gained with a not-so-secret knock. You could get a shot of Mothers Shots there for 50c, several of which got you in the mood real quick.

Tear-Gas and Bullets
We kept a tear-gas grenade taped under the bar, just in case the crowd got too rambunctious. It was used only once, and turned out to have indelible green dye in it, which left for a crowd of red-eyed, sneezing, green patrons, who stayed dyed that tinge for days.

Another night, a careless Squonk had stashed his revolver behind the bar. A gurningly drunk Hay-sus de Costa snatched hold of it, swung it around amid the crowded bar, then fired a shot into the ceiling, narrowing missing Brain P asleep upstairs. Much shrieking ensued, and the party was moved into the garden.

Music ‘94
1994 was a sublime year for music: Counting Crows, Blur, The Breeders, Oasis, The Crash Test Dummies, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, The Cranberries, and so much more; but James’ Laid was the Bottom’s official anthem. Listening to it now takes me right back, to people sloshing drinks as they danced on the creaking wooden floors.

Beth’s 21st fancy dress party was a show stopper, with people dressed as Hannibal Lecter, to Martina Navratilova. You can see some photos of it here.

Kurt Cobain’s recent death inspired a Dead Celebrities party. The home-made free drink at the entrance was christened the “Kurt Cobain”: black sambuca, vodka, aniseed grains, gulped down out of a 12-guage shotgun shell. The Party was a roaring, dancing, vomiting success; so I’m told- I lost conscious embarrassingly early in the proceedings.

Most weekends we’d just chuck an amp and some tape decks on the lounge-sized dance floor, a few steps up from the bar. It was at one at those late year parties, that I first played Blur’s new song, Girls & Boys, which sent the whole place onto the crowded dance floor, pogo-ing up and down like pre-schoolers on a sugar rush. That, and Counting Crow’s Mr. Jones remained beloved party songs for that year.

Slumber Parties
Late late nights, where a handful of the denizens were too drunk to walk home, we’d cover the dance floor with mattresses and duvets from the attic, and the drunk casualties would pile on and sleep snugly in front of the fireplace til the morning after night before. Coffee and cigarettes were doled out, and the walking wounded would shuffle off up New Street.

An Anachronism
Bottoms could only have existed at that time and place. I’m surprised we didn’t burn it down during one of those crazy nights. We certainly did some lasting structural damage, to the house, and our minds.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Any hot Saturday, first year, 1990. Liam, Merve the Perla, The Fat Guy with the Beard, Slimer and I would pile towels, six packs and sunscreen into the U-Boat (Slimer the German’s 1964 Volvo) and head off down the cracked tar road through the pineapple fields to Kenton. Ray Ban wayfarers, the wind in our hair, and the irrepressibly bouncy, cheesy sound of the B52s in the tape deck. We were young, without a care, and a day at beach lay before us. Days like this, you got nostalgic for even as they were happening.

Shelley’s Cove
Park in the lot near the lagoon, grunt up the steep dune, through the milkwoods. Just as we neared collapse, breathless and knackered, we’d reach the top of the dune, hear the crash of the surf, and see one of the prettiest beaches in the world laid out below us, bracketed by a crescent cove of sun-bleached stone slopes. 

Merve the Perla: Fuckwit Extraordinaire
Our first time at the beach, Merve the Perla - a Bsc. Major - had the bright idea of keeping the beers cold by burying them deep in the cool sand. A well was dug, the six-packs interred, and a stick marked the spot. Needless to say, after much gambolling in the waves, we returned to find the stick had vanished. Much frantic digging ensued; hole after hole; till the beach looked like a family of oversize rabbits had moved in. The beers are still there, somewhere. 

U-Boat Speedo
While rest of us wore baggies, Slimer insisted on a grey Afrika Korps-issue speedo, that when mixed and matched with his pale skin and verdant body hair made for visually upsetting results. Coupled with the fact the he’d often stuff a rolled up rugby sock into the speedo, the ensemble gave him the air of a ‘70s porn star. He’d emerge from the waves with loaded lunchbox and the womenfolk would puzzle at this mysterious hirsute stranger bringing adventure, romance, and a hint of danger to their shores.

How the Bearded One Got his Name
On the way home, we’d cool off by jumping off the Kariega bridge, about a 13 metre drop into the icy high tide. We were all lined up at the bridge edge, waiting to jump, when a booze cruise boat hoved into view. “Jump!” they shouted. “You! The red-haired girl! Jump!”. So Tammy stepped off and plunged into the water. “You! The skinny one! Jump!” and I dutifully leapt. This carried on, til only one, let’s call him “Derek”, remained. “Uh… you! The… FAT GUY WITH THE BEARD! Jump, you bastard!” And thus, a nickname was born.

The Drive Home
They were good, golden days. We’d drive home lazily, sand grit sprinkled in our hair, saltwater on warm skin, squinting at the orange sundown on rolling hills stubbled with prickly pears. Hand out the window sill, sculling the cool breeze, smiling at a day well spent. I wish I’d spent more days there.

Friday, January 16, 2009


March Madness
RAG was always doomed from the start. The weeks building up to it were days of chaos, a collective madness. The whole overexcited student body drank itself into a drooling lather; Union toilets were kicked in by some enterprising soul; the stoners smoked themselves into the bejesus belt; and the irascible lesbians mounted pitched street battles outside the Mr and Ms Fresher competition.
Walking Wounded
Come RAG morning, the students would struggle awake, shuffle off from whatever bush or rock they’d slept under on the night before, and join the broken parade, like a meandering column of British walking wounded fleeing the battle of Majuba. The RAG march was a deplorable sight, more a rolling shipwreck than a parade. I’ve seen TV footage of caravans of fleeing Congo refugees that step livelier and look more spruce.

Rhodes RAG Parade 1992. Somewhere on High Street.

Sausage Roll
The good folk of Grahamstown weren’t spared either. My friend Sausage awoke in a New Street gutter, clad only in his y-fronts, wrapped in a Zimbabwe flag, tight as a spring roll. Pinned tight, unable to get up, he slithered onto the road and began to roll towards campus. An old biddy in a Morris Minor appeared at the bottom of the street, tottering up the road, slow as a snail carrying heavy shopping. Sausage rolled into her side of the road. She tried to drive round him, but he rolled in front of her path, hollering obscenities that’s make a coloured snoek fisherman blush. After some back and forth rolling, the granny made her escape, doubtless off home to write an outraged letter to Grocotts Mail.

RAG was banned after that year.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Generation X

Generation X came of age between 1991 and 1999. We’re the inbetweeners: book-ended by the baby boomers and the millennials. We're the last generation to hoard albums on vinyl, make mix tapes, read newspapers . . . the last generation to express any sort of resistance to corporate servitude. Xers are self-conscious, detached, sceptical, and questioning. Be it culture or chemistry, we’ve got a lot rattling around in our heads, sometimes maybe too much.

Most of us pepper our daily life with obscure references (obscure films, dead TV stars, high-brow literature, niche indie music, etc.) as a subliminal means of showcasing our education, connecting with kindred spirits, and disassociating from the world of mass culture. This shorthand is baffling to strangers, and too much like hard work for the Millennials.

“Her hair was totally 1950s Indiana Woolworth perfume clerk. But the dress was early ‘60s Aeroflot stewardess- you know- that really sad blue the Russians used before they all started wanting to buy Sonys and having Guy Laroche design their Politburo caps. And such make-up! Perfect ’70s Mary Quant, with these little PVC floral appliqué earrings that looked like antiskid bathtub stickers from a gay Hollywood tub circa 1956. She really caught the sadness- she was the hippest person there. Totally.”
- Douglas Coupland, Generation X (1993)

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

Nadja repped for Rentokil, I worked as a photography assistant and waited tables at night, Hay-sus worked in a dive bar. Amid these God awful jobs, we dreamed of the of that first rung of the corporate ladder: the veal-fattening pen- those small, cramped office workstations built of grey wall partitions- named after the small pre-slaughter cubicles used by the cattle industry.

Mid-Twenties Breakdown
This mind-numbing drudgery brought on my mid-twenties breakdown. I sunk into a period of mental collapse, probably caused by my inability to function outside of school or structured environments, coupled with a realization of my essential aloneness in the world. I just wanted to curl up in the garage with a bag of dog biscuits. Instead, I turned to drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol.

Live Fast, Die Young, Win Fabulous Prizes
“Is it worth the aggravation
To find yourself a job when there's nothing worth working for?
It's a crazy situation
But all I need are cigarettes and alcohol!“
- Oasis, Cigarettes & Alcohol (1994)

For five years after grad we partied hard, drank a fuckload of booze, and did enough drugs to fell a concrete elephant. Getting off your face several school nights in a row was fine; our dead-end jobs were so un-taxing, so dull that we could come home at five am, sleep til six, then shuffle to work and sit there numb and embalmed til home time. What cash we did earn were just fun vouchers for more good times.

It’s Better to Burn Out Than to Fade Away
In January 11, 1992, Nirvana's Nevermind album reached number one. Two years later Kurt Cobain shot himself. He wrote the Neil Young lyrics “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away” in his suicide note. Hearing the news, the world felt shittier, like we’d all lost something that day. A big piece of our innocence fell away, like a crumbling ice shelf plunging into the sea.

The Rise of the Millennials
“I'm losing my edge. The kids are coming up from behind.”
- LCD Soundsystem, Losing my Edge (2005)

Britney killed our generation. Everything changed with her arrival in 1999: The Xers' groovy, indie music-and-second-hand-store-style heyday was out; consumer hell was in.

The millennials, spawned during the last days of disco, speak with none of the doubt and scepticism that have marked - and - hampered Generation X. They just LOVE stuff. They love celebrities. They love technology. They love name brands. They love everything. They're happy to do whatever advertising tells them to do. So what if they can't manage to read anything longer than an instant message? If anything, it's an advantage. Because literacy leads to self-reflection and critical thinking, and self-reflection and critical thinking open the door to doubt and scepticism and stuff like that just gets in the way when you're trying to get ahead.

In a Cold World, You Need Your Friends to Keep You Warm
The clung-to myth that there will always be a financial and emotional safety net to buffer life's hurts, usually in the form of our parents- doesn’t apply for most of us anymore. Friends are the new family now. The most precious thing we can give each other is love, kindness and understanding- mirrors for each other to show us how and where we're at.

“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 (1997)

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Awake with a purple gasp on your Res bed, in last night’s clothes. Your heart’s beating like a fucked clock, and your nerves are shrieking like a xylophone being scraped with a fork. Try to focus, but thoughts misfire, plonk and plink like knives and forks being flushed down the toilet. 

Stumble to basin, slop water down mouth, trying to wash out the taste of ZimSoc wine. Lurchingly glimpse your face in the mirror. Not good. Your head has apparently been dried out and shrunken while sleeping. Lectures are out of the question. Just curl up foetal and ride out the trauma.

No no nooo. Someone or something is hammering your mind on an anvil with a bowling ball. Your mouth tastes filthy and dry as the floor of a parrot cage.

What. The. Fuck! Why do I do this to myself? Is that a vomit stain on my shoes? Why do these muscles hurt? Did I make out with anyone? Why is there a traffic cone in my bed?

Please make this stop. I’ll go to tomorrow’s dawnie. I’ll finish that Keats essay. I’ll give money to smallchangers.

Loser syndrome. A black mood arrives like a Smiths box set. I hate this room, my degree, this town, my life. I HATE everything. Except Mazoe and Grandpa headache pills. Aaah…

The painkillers are kicking in. You’re surfacing. Screw the bargaining, you’re not going to drink until… Wednesday.