Monday, January 21, 2013

Lake Lyndhurst

"Should we sit outside or inside?" Friend A asks.

"It's getting cold and wet," I say. "There's no view because of the mist and I forgot to bring a jacket."

"Let's sit outside. I like outside."

I scowl. "When we get to the cottage, I hope the axe murderer takes you first."

It's December, and I'm on a road trip with two old friends (one of them, Friend B, is Australian, but otherwise a pretty cool guy). We've stopped for an eisbein at the famous Bierfassl in Nottingham Road, a pub bar thing on the way to Friend A's holiday cottage thing somewhere in the Kwa-Zulu Natal escarpments. The establishment is well known for serving particularly tasty animal corpses and home-brewed beer.

Those little cups are adorable.

I've already been warned that our travel plan will involve staying in a gas-powered residence, which sounds awesome at first because it brings to mind a quaint sort of steampunk house overgrown with brass pipes and monocles. But it actually just means that there's no way to charge a laptop, while getting the fridge to work requires a degree in engineering and the combined effort of six carefully co-ordinated technicians. Of course, that's the price you pay if you want to escape from civilisation once in a while.

I'm getting quite addicted.

"How much longer until we reach our own little Cabin in the Woods?" I ask.

"It's not in the woods, it's by a lake. And I know you're setting this up for another axe murderer joke. Please stop talking about axe murderers." This from a man who insists on cracking bomb quips at an airport (I've been through American customs, okay? I've seen things).

A little while later, we leave the pub and hit the road. I'm quite merrily drunk while my friends are lame and sober. The next hour is spent on a bumpy dirt track filled with rocks and cow shit and I briefly wonder what I'm doing with my life.

Shit machines.

We arrive at the cottage, though it turns out to be more of a full-blown house. In fact, it's at least ten times larger than my Cape Town apartment, which leaves me feeling oddly weirded out. What do I do with all of this spare floorspace? I don't have enough dirty laundry to cover it up properly. This will have to be a team effort.

I didn't bring enough spare corsets for this.

We begin unpacking the food (including -- but not limited to -- some leftover eisbein, a pre-made lasagne and about two kilograms of chocolate chip yoghurt). There's a bunch of matches lying around to set fire to various devices around the house. We start with the fridge.

"Fuck the fridge," I suggest, after half an hour of futile striking and knob-twiddling. Following on from that, we proceed to fuck the geyser and stove too. We manage to get the lights working, so that's a small success. I'm officially a man now.

A charming local by the name of Sipho stops on by. He lives just down the path and generally keeps things maintained around here. Much to our relief, he's quite adept at fridge magic and helps us get the house running properly. With a smile and a nod, he leaves soon after. We have a heated debate among ourselves regarding whether or not we should have tipped him. I don't want to go back home knowing that someone on a remote KZN farmland is judging me.

Oh, also found this earlier.

Early evening approaches, and Friend A suggests that we play a game. "How about 30 Seconds?"

I slam this concept on the grounds that we only have three players and 30 Seconds is a laughable excuse for gaming.

"What about Cluedo?"

We set up a game and Friend A brings out the whiskey. Friend B spends most of the time looking politely confused. At some point, I crack a joke about axe murderers and make Friend A laugh so hard that he throws up all over Professor Plum.

At some point, my buddies go outside to look at the stars. I grudgingly follow, annoyed at having to appreciate the universe in its full glory. It's good out here, though. Fact: if you live in a city (or even a small town, for that matter) you miss out on about 90% of what the real night sky is about. Townsfolk who stay in all night and play videogames instead of stargazing kinda have a point because the stars themselves were heavily nerfed in the Urban Society patch and can't really be leveraged for much else than occasionally pointing out Orion's Belt to someone of the desirable sex.*

Another joke about axe murderers. I successfully ruin the moment.

We round up the evening by watching some show that Friend B brought on his iPad. Neither Friend A nor I feel particularly riveted, but Friend B is Australian so we take pity on him. Then it's time for bed.

When I wake up, Friend B is already done with his daily fitness routine. I feel grossly inadequate until I reason that I could totally have done that if I wanted to but, y'know, just didn't feel like it today. I'm not a slave to such base impulses. Better than that.

We hang out for a while, munching on leftover eisbein and chocolate chip yoghurt (not at the same time, though I later regret not trying this). We ask ourselves the inevitable question: when is Friend A going to wake up?

We knock on Friend A's bedroom door and discover that he's barricaded himself inside using a mattress and some spare furniture. We also find out that he's armed with the daisy rifle.

"Axe murderer?" I call.

"There were lights and stuff last night," he explains.


We cancel our interrogation and ask him to dismantle the fortifications.

An hour later, we're hiking through the grasslands. Lake Lyndhurst is part of a great big cattle farm, which is in turn part of a local farm cluster (itself, presumably, one member of a farming supercluster). In a nutshell, the area is huge and one can occasionally find endangered wildlife to ogle and act all concerned about.

We've got a litre of water and two Black Label quarts between us. The beer is mine. "I still don't think that's a good idea," Friend A tells me, in his pretentious I've-never-died-of-dehydration voice.

"Listen dude, I live next to a mountain, okay?" I take a deep breath, as though for a moment I actually plan on explaining myself, then take another sip of beer. "Goddamn, I've worked up quite a thirst."

We make our way along the dirt track, through green grasslands and rolling hills. It's all jolly pretty.

We walk for about an hour before finding a stream. "The water is very fresh up here," Friend A says. "Like, real spring water. Not that bottled crap. Maybe we can empty our water bottle and fill up with this instead?"

"Nah, dude, what if it actually tastes like dying kittens? Here." I hand him an empty quart. Moral of the story: always bring beer to a hike. No exceptions.

"Thanks," he says. He fills the bottle, then sips. "Oh wow, this is amazing! You wanna try?"

"Keep that fucking poison away from me." I take a swig from my remaining Black Label.

A little later, we're back at the house. Only half an hour before, it was a beautifully warm, cloudless day. Now, it's pissing crickets and a weird Silent Hill-esque mist has rolled in. The lake is a shrouded smear of grey and nobody can see more than a few metres into the fog. "Axe murderer!" I bellow. I feel unusually tired and have a horrific headache. Need more Black Label, maybe.

"Hey, did you wear any sun lotion?" Friend B asks. Bits of me are bright red.

"You know," I say, gazing into the can't-see-shit downpour, "having sunburn in this weather just feels fucking embarrassing."

A rough portrayal of the transformation.

We debate for a time about whether or not we want to spend another night in the cottage: we have enough supplies for it, but the weather has turned awful, Friend A is paranoid about wandering lights and legends of murder around Lyndhurst, I'm starting to get withdrawal shakes and Friend B is, well, still Australian.

That said, the experience is irreplaceable: perhaps the only time in my life that I'll be going up to Lyndhurst, while our Australian friend is visiting South Africa for the first time in four years. And ninety-nine percent of our lives are spent in situations that are absolutely nothing like this. So why not?

"Maybe we should stretch this out a little longer."

Then we realise how awesome it would be to watch the latest South Park episodes. We go home.

The end.

*If you know your constellations, you come across as intelligent and thoughtful and probably improve your chances of getting laid. Bonus points if you're wielding a guitar.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The green stuff

Sometime in the first half of last year, I resolved to maintain a pseudo-strict, pseudo-vegetarian lifestyle in my apartment. The good news: it technically worked. The bad news: it eventually devolved into eating almost nothing but bread, popcorn and muesli for a couple of months (low-GI varieties: I wouldn't want a horrifically imbalanced diet to be bad for me, after all).

To be fair, this wasn't solely for lack of trying, though I probably could've gotten my arse together for a few more cooked meals. Towards the end of last year, I was faced with the dilemma of accounting for some rather sudden and severe personal expenses, forcing the rest of my paycheck to choose between maintaining an active social lifestyle and taking care of basic dietary needs.

Craft beer is just, you know, really good.

Over the December break, I spent some time in Durban with friends and family. There, I was introduced to the beautiful world of salad creation by a friend who's trying out one of those fancy low-carb diets. And now I think I'm in love.

With salads, not the friend. Gross.

I never really grew up doing the salad thing. It was cooking or bust. I didn't see the point of eating anything that didn't get roasted, fried, nuked or otherwise uncomfortably heated at some point in its life before entering my face. As it turns out, however, salads are that beautiful medium between the world of cooking and the world (or deformed planetoid) of smearing paste on a sandwich and shoving it down the old esophagus.

So I've resolved to go a little more towards the green again -- nothing to do with New Years, la la la can't hear you, et cetera. Right now the idea is summarised as "make one of your meals today a fucking salad". Thus far it feels easier, more varied and profoundly more rewarding than putting something on the stove and waiting for it to catch fire in just the right way.

For interested parties, here is my recipe for the perfect salad based on my immediate and irrefutable impressions of this comestible medium:

1) Put a bunch of green stuff in a bowl. Lettuce is usually good. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it should be illegal to call something a salad without at least a little bit of green leafy stuff showing. People who try that should be ashamed of themselves. Other leafy greens like spinach, herbs and rocket are cool. I mention rocket specifically because it's just such a badass name for a plant.

2) With your base established, consider the supporting actors. Tomatoes are always a solid addition. I suggest cutting them up into tiny little pieces, though, because fuck tomatoes. Seriously, fuck them.

Damn right.

3) Onions should exist in everything, while cucumber is your loyal friend and would probably take a bullet for you. Other perennial visitors (adjust to your tastes) may include green pepper, sprouts, avocado, chopped up Victorian era hookers and perhaps some bean stuff.

4)Your salad, intended to be taken as a meal in and of itself, should be wrapped up with something relatively chunky and substantial to help your brain understand that you're actually eating food and not just accidentally chewing on a hive of Chappies wrappers. Croutons and apples are handy, but there's absolutely no shame in going for the meat if you're inclined. I often use vegan replacements, or allow myself some tuna because enough people have agreed that fish don't have feelings like the rest of us -- they just spend all their time farting in the sea and getting eaten by sharks. They don't care.

Tuna are basically the honey badgers of the ocean.

5) For the final, triumphant addition, get yourself a bucket (yes, a motherfucking bucket) of feta. Add a generous amount.

6) No, more than that.

7) Okay, just a little more than that. Seriously, you'll love it. Feta is a damn awesome food product, the finest invention the cheese gods have ever bestowed upon us and is usually made from the breastmilk of the virgin Mary herself. Keep adding more.

8) Go. More. You want this. You need this. Feta is the single glorious reason that any salad even exists. Preparing a salad without feta is like going to an orgy and realising that everyone's genitals have spontaneously vanished.

9) Really, man. Just go nuts with that feta! You'd kick your great-grandmother in the face -- on reality television if necessary -- if it meant you could have more.

10) Feta is your existence. Your meaning. It wriggles its way into your head and consumes you, leaving you a shallow husk of a person whose sole desire in life is to find and eat more. It latches onto the deepest, darkest part of you -- that place which no other human being has ever touched or understood, a carbon copy of the tiny psyche that inhabited you at the moment of your birth -- and fixates you so thoroughly that when the day comes for the light to finally die behind your eyes, you'll think of feta first and your loved ones second.


12) Right, that's enough.

13) Add appropriate salad dressing and enjoy.

You're welcome.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

On being the first to arrive

I approach the entrance with the graceful swagger of a man who is extremely self-aware of his graceful Friday night swagger, the straightening of the back and the loping gate that says he's totally not overcompensating for some crazy social anxiety (though the glass of wine before I left my apartment certainly helps).

The nightclub bouncer is waiting for me. Personally. I'm pretty sure of it.

"Hello, Mister Bouncer," I say. Mister Bouncer? What the fuck, brain? "How much is it to get in?"

"It's open now," comes the reply. Helpful response to the wrong question.

"Oh, right, no, I was asking-"

The bouncer waves me in. Since failing to obey the every word and gesture of nightclub muscle means almost certain death, I step through and pay at the table inside. Stamp on the wrist.

Wait, was that supposed to be the left wrist or the right one? She's looking at me funny, did I stroke one of her fingers by accident or something? Oh dear god, she thinks I'm a freak. I've creeped out the door lady.

I shuffle up a flight of stairs and skitter over to the bar. Then it hits me. They've just started accepting customers. I'm the first dude in the nightclub. Out of all the drunk, sweaty bodies gracing this establishment over the course of the evening, mine will be the first.

Panic stations.

What do we know about making a standard nightclub entrance? Keep your eyes on the bar, grab yourself a Hunters and for the love of god, don't be seen without a drink in your hand. Nightclubs are awkward enough when fully-equipped, but there's a definite sense of nakedness without something occupying the hands and mouth -- beverage, conversation or another human body, in order from most to least awkward.

Right, bar. This should be easy. I'll have the tender's full attention and don't need to worry about messing up my drink order by shouting over everyone else. Two wins right there. Getting in first at the nightclub is fun!

R20 down on the bar, and one I'm-not-awkward smile. "Hi! I'd like to start with a Black Label please." I'm drinking beer tonight. Because I'm a man. A sexy, shoeless god of clubbing. Such a wild party animal, I'm first in line at all the fucking clubs. Look at me -- outta control.

Bartender asks, "You the set DJ?"

Horror. Meltdown. Oh Jesus, what kind of fucking question is that? I wasn't warned about this. In all my bar interactions ever ever, I was never ever ever given any warning about this situation cropping up. What do I say?

The other bartender pipes up, "Yo, we're open now. Serving customers."

"Right," Bartender 1 turns back to me. I'm still making fishfaces at the complexity of his question. "So that's a Black Label, right?"

"Uh, yeah." Goddamn, he's so much more handsome than me. I need to work out more. I've been eating a lot of salads recently, so that counts for something, right?

Drink acquired and tip awarded (two rand off sixteen, I hope he doesn't think I'm a cheapskate). Next problem is figuring out where to go.

The club is still empty. I'm the only one there. I refuse, on principle, to go to the dancefloor by myself. It will only further convince the bronze Adonis behind the bar that I'm quite socially challenged. He'll tell every single person he serves about that weird guy in the black T-shirt. "Yeah. Him. Dances when there's no one around."

I also don't want to go upstairs. I mean, I think I just saw one or two people go up there, but were they employees or just the next customers of the night? Is this like an antechamber to the true potential and glory of the club, and I'm just hopelessly missing out (under the judgemental watch of Adonis)? Or does that staircase lead to some sort of staff room instead. If I find myself accidentally trespassing, will I be arrested?

No, best not to go upstairs.

I see some doors to an outside balcony area, but is that an actual inhabitable bar space? What if I try to open the door and it's locked and then everybody sees the twerp who thought people could go onto the balcony? Death from embarrassment.

Clearest course of action: stay at the bar. Stay at the bar and hope against all odds that the very next people walking through will be the friends you're waiting for.

I avoid eye contact with the barman. I don't want him to think I hitting on him. I mean, not to say that I think he's gay, but what if he thinks that I'm gay? People tend to think I'm gay. What if I have to explain to him that I'm not, and then break someone's heart somewhere along the line? The emotional burden is too much.

Am I standing too stiffly against the bar? More people are coming in, and I'm one of the first things they'll see. They'll judge my posture. What's the right one? Legs together, stand straight? No, no, of course not, I'm not in a fucking office. Legs spread? ... sounds dodgy. How about: stick out butt, hand on hip, half leaning on bar. Does that make me look sophisticated / gay / just weird?

More people arrive. I've finished my Black Label. The bar area is filling up. I wonder if I should order another one. But if you have two drinks before talking to anyone, haven't you officially Failed The Evening?

I decide to stay on the safe side and keep the empty beer bottle with me instead. So now I have a hand prop that I hope nobody inspects too closely. The only thing more embarrassing than no bottle is an empty bottle. I mean, you can bluff for a while and say that you've just finished it an are totally going to put the container down now, but that can only hold out for a little while, at best.

I've observed people successfully moving through the balcony doorway, and take it as a sign that the going is safe -- unless there's a VIP party out on the balcony, meaning I'll stumble in uninvited. And get arrested.

Outside. Beautiful warm evening air. Cape Town's Long Street is really quite lovely when you're standing on the balcony of a local night spot. You can look all along the street and see nothing but a bustle of cars, party-goers and decorative lights. You can also wave across the street, towards balconies of revellers enjoying the night at some other hotspot. All in all, it's the holy grail of good vibes. There aren't many other places I've been to where the entire street of a CBD lights up and celebrates the evening so vividly (though I suppose I'm just taking my perspective from the Durban point of view -- the CBD there is scary as hell).

I'd like to do this more in the coming year -- going out and enjoying the vitality that surrounds these sort of evenings. I just, er, need to sweat the small stuff a little less.

Pic found on this pretty cool blog

Speaking of which: I've maximised my time on the balcony. People are probably going to think that I'm on drugs if I just keep staring out at the city like this. I need to find a new distraction before things get awkward.

And right there it is, my last hope and saviour: a moderately secluded couch on the far end of the balcony. Electronic sanctuary within my grasp, I whip out my cell, flop onto the couch and spend the next 30 minutes pretending it's as fascinating as an iPhone.

Friends arrive. Fifty-percent relief.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My horror story

Because chatting about the New Year and all of its associated topical hilarity right now would be about as cliche as the average Instagram lunch photo, I've decided to fly in the face of convention and declare this a Halloween Blog Post.

Several of my friends deem me an excellent writer of erotic stories (thanks to a particularly steamy piece of Harry Potter fan fiction involving the entirety of Hogwarts and Lord Voldemort's army, set during the climatic battle scene of the final book*), so I've decided to spread my wings beyond the confines of absolutely tasteless sex writing and into the blood-stained skies of absolutely tasteless horror writing.

I occasionally read what's known as "creepypasta" on the wherever parts of the Internet. Some of it works really well. Most of it doesn't -- but then again, composing a good creepypasta requires enormous amounts of writing skill, storytelling ability and subtlety. Short on any of those? Boom, sorry, you've lost the emotional impact.

Here's a creepypasta I just wrote. Enjoy.

Your brain is about to get kicked square in the nuts. For real.

Dear diary,

I shall start from the beginning. I was in bed earlier this evening. My room was dark so I was scared -- I thought that Slenderman would come out at any moment.

But instead of Slenderman ... it was a motherfucking alien.

It did not know that I was there ... but then a moment later, it did. As those big black eyes met mine, I felt a sudden incomprehensible sense of being dismantled, my brain falling apart like a kitten with fast-onset leprosy.

"NOOOOOO!" I said, and started to run. But it was too late. The alien had locked the door. I jumped out of the window instead.

I ran to the local park where I found the alien again. But he/she was dead because a zombie had eaten him/her. The eyes this time were filled only with horror. "There is no god," the creature said.

I shall never forget that night.

* * * * *

This diary was later found by recovery workers. It was next to a pile of blood. The blood was screaming.

Enjoy feeling creeped out. Toodles and Happy New Year.

* Spoiler alert