October 4, 2010 § 1 Comment
Over the weekend, whilst surrounded by the most preeminently gorgeous, effortlessly glamorous crowd of partying misfits, I became obsessed.
I’d hate to be accused of social engineering; I generally take a grim view of charities; and I haven’t been involved in politics since, as a teenager, I went door to door trying to convince people not to vote for the National Party. That was years ago, during the Dark Ages, but when I look at the world today, I get the impression that it’s time to roll the sleeves up again.
So, here’s an idea. I’m going to call it a campaign, and I’d like it to spread like a virus.
It will require effort and commitment, and it will take up some of your time. You’ll need to step out of your comfort zone, set aside a small part of your entertainment fund, and make plans that require scheduling and sticking to a plan of action. If you get involved, though, I have a deep suspicion that we can all contribute significantly to changing the way South African society functions.
There’s been a lot of media attention, recently, given to the white elephant status of the soccer stadia. Then I look at the local PSL games being played in those venues, and have to gasp when I count the number of open seats.
I have a feeling that a lot of soccer fans have neither the money to buy a ticket for games at these venues, nor the means to get to them. For many people, the idea of going to one of those stadia may not even register as a real-life possibility. It’s also evident that there aren’t a heck of a lot of white people watching soccer.
The idea is this: Make the decision to become interested in football, or at the very least choose one game happening at your local stadium. Schedule time to attend the game. Find out a bit about the teams involved; you can use the online PSL fixture list.
Now comes the more challenging part. I want you to invite someone to watch the game with you. No, you’re not inviting your mate, your neighbour, or someone you’re trying to do business with. You’re going to invite someone new, someone you might never dreamed of spending two hours with. Speak to your local petrol attendant, the guy who works in your garden, the freelance parking attendant who you’ve always thought is a nuisance. The cashier at your local supermarket; the person who packs your shopping bags; the security guard who roams the mall.
We’re calling the campaign Adopt a Fan.
Find out if your chosen candidate is at all interested in watching soccer. Even if they’re not, they might be curious about attending a game. Make it a conversation, not an interview. Introduce yourself and make meaningful small talk. Ask if they’d like to watch a game at the stadium—millions of South Africans have never had that opportunity. Ask if they’d like to accompany you; check if they’re free and able to go to the match you’ve chosen. Of course they’ll be a little confused and surprised. But get chatting a bit, and let this person know that you’re offering to not only buy them a ticket, but that you’d like to take them to the football. You’d like to watch the game with them. If you’re not much of a soccer enthusiast yourself, you’re likely to benefit from their insight into the game, their knowledge of the local teams, and the way in which South African soccer fans support their teams.
If you get on board, you’re going to buy this person a ticket (they’re much, much cheaper than the FIFA tickets), and then spend the game with them. This isn’t a call to hand out tickets—this is a campaign to activate meaningful social interaction.
Be sure to take some time understanding whether or not your adopted fan has the means to get to the game. Discuss the public transport situation with them and find out how you can help. Try to encourage the most eco-friendly transport solution. Buses and trains before taxis and cars. If you usually drive into the city, see if you’re able to make a switch to public transport.
Make definite arrangements in terms of meeting times; make it a two-way discussion and be aware that many South Africans have significant restrictions on their ability to travel at night. Many people might be suspicious or baffled by what you’re suggesting; that’s understandable, so take the time to carefully outline your plan. It’s best to set up this social outing a week or two in advance and then maintain contact with your adopted fan during the time leading up to the match. See how things go, and be sure you stick to your plan.
Don’t adopt children as fans, unless they are going to be accompanied by their own parents. This is a good idea if you have children of your own; take your children along too. If you can afford to adopt a whole family, do. Very young children will not enjoy the noise and confusing energy inside the stadium, so don’t inflict the event on them.
At the match: Keep the experience alcohol-free. Try to avoid junk food, and be honest and open about why you prefer drinking fruit juice or water instead of Coke, and perhaps you’d like to talk about the problem of plastic-packaged water, too. Be yourself, but be thoughtful and conscious of your actions. You may swear like a sailor amongst your friends when you’re watching rugby, but your adopted fan might be deeply religious and conservative, perhaps even offended by strong language. Show a genuine interest in what the person sitting next to you has to say. Listen carefully and if the conversation moves towards politics, keep an open mind; don’t judge.
If the plan fails, your adopted fan drops out, or some small crisis interferes and screws with the arrangements, don’t see this as the end of the world or the end of your chance to make this happen. Persevere, follow up, and see if there are other ways in which you can connect with the people in your world.
Above all, speak to your friends, family, colleagues and online fans and acquaintances about this. Blog about it, Facebook it, Tweet it, and spread the word. This campaign will be paper- and print-free, so no marketing that requires the depletion of any natural resource, please. Like a virus, let the word spread from one person to the next.
And please post your comments, suggestions, ideas and experiences here at Soberholic.
October 1, 2010 § 2 Comments
So there I am once again, caught up and sweating (I move when I dance so, yes, I sweat) amongst a plodding, waffling mass of distracted legal-aged teens all urgently forcing drinks down their horny little throats. Desperately they’re trying to stay upright, battling to overcome a terrible intolerance to whatever narcotic they’ve scoffed. They drug as a means to an end—an awkward, insatiable desire to disappear. It’s not too crowded and there’s ample space hereabouts, but the uneasy, restless pilfering of territory is like being surrounded by a relentlessly shifting mob of the itchy undead. They’re plagued by a cursed disease that just won’t let up, moving without getting anywhere, clinging onto the last and final wisps of reality before they disappear into the soft-focus, black gloom where nothing matters and no-one cares. I can’t tell if it’s undiagnosed, untreatable ADD, or simply a generational twitch, but these little fuck-wads are incapable of sticking to a rationally defined spot anywhere on the dance-floor. Instead they swerve and sway and fall like lumbering lumps of skinny, soft-brained paranoia, quivering and jolting between fellow dancers, their sudden, unmotivated movements relating neither to the music nor the mood of the rest of the club. Venal, schizophrenic and borderline-comatose, these brazen, carefree pups fill the room with their unmanageable, unconscionable surplus hormonal rage, firing loosely on all cannons without a single target in sight.
The room throbs and pulsates with the mimicked outward symbols of a good time being had by all—flustered smiles, jiggling bodies, hugs and embraces, and of course the rhythmic swaying, like solo sex with clothes on—but that’s all surface styling, a cover-up cloaking the absence of mind, the lack of awareness, and the consciousness deficit that’s grabbed hold of a generation of clubbers, caught up in a love affair with their own overblown sense of entitlement.
A bunch of privileged, self-important pricks. Random, undiagnosable, and certainly untreatable, they wage war—an avalanche of foul-mouthed attacks—on anything and anyone around them, their uncouth and unmannered freedoms won by forgotten generations of serfdom we’ve been only too lucky to be born out of. A century ago we’d all be working in the fields, herding sheep, or spending an entire decade as artillery fodder on the military front. Now there’s a generation that acts with all the rigor of a bovine herd, conjuring up barely enough wit to slur commands at the barman or strike up instantaneously forgotten friendships with equally absent revellers snivelling on the dancefloor.
A brattish pseudo-teen throws a disgusting fit in the bouncer’s face when he warns her that smoking is banned and she should take her habit outside—but she’s too sick with self-importance to realize how lucky she is to have the endless supply of daddy’s cash to gain entry to this decadent and privileged space; she throws down her burning cancer stick and frothily zaps him with her middle finger. She’s got it all: endless drinks till 4am, a string of well-oiled DJs, and sound and lighting that would bring tears to the eyes of millions who live—not too far away—without electricity or running water. With her thick, putrid mascara dripping beneath her heavy, pouting, racoon eyes, she’s a picture of virtuoso avarice, steeped in the misery of a lost generation’s heinous affair with bad drugs and alcohol so sickly sweet even the smell of it induces diabetic panic. It won’t be long before she’s forgotten about the no-smoking chastisement and is once again fumbling for a lighter and screwing with our oxygen supply. I can’t help panic at the thought that one day she’ll have kids of her own, out there terrifying mild-mannered bouncers.
To be continued…
September 29, 2010 § Leave a comment
I have finally witnessed something akin to transubstantiation. And it wasn’t in a church, or even in a mildly holy place (although there was a whopping big pipe organ). It was at the Cape Town City Hall—the old, beautiful, chillingly underutilised public building opposite the Grand Parade, in what so many Capetonians like to call “that” part of town. I’ve waited a year to find out what the Pan African Space Station—understatedly referred to as “an annual festival of sound and soul…held in unusual and often disparate venues”—is all about, and now that its third incarnation is upon us, I really wish there was loads more of it. Despite some mainstream marketing and plenty of cyber-presence (they’re continually broadcasting material on their website, http://www.panafricanspacestation.org.za), this festival has managed to maintain the air of a clandestine gathering and the underground allure of a ceremony involving human sacrifice. If you’re still in the dark, there’s music and art and poetry and all sorts of cyberspace mumbo jumbo that has every sort of Mother City intellectual and UCT arts major in a quivering froth. They even had a table selling beer.
What they don’t know is how to sell shit. Calling the event clandestine, in fact, is like suggesting that burglars regularly invite the cops along on break-ins. The entrance to the opening event—which, as I’ll get to in a moment, was one of the most satisfying theatre experiences I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing—was marked not so much by a sign or clearly visible poster as it was by a group of waifish students, some of whom broadcast their recent interaction with marijuana with bloodshot eyes and a vague slur. They were all busy jotting something down on sheets attached to clipboards, while one toothy character waited for flummoxed passerby to ask if this was, indeed, the entrance. And then, of course, this being a pan-African event (and therefore, apparently, burdened by African time), the event didn’t so much start at the advertised 7pm, but kicked off with a good hour-and-a-half of chain-smoking, robust conversation, and nail-biting hanging around in the City Hall’s institutional corridors. There were some fairly seismic yawns by the time we were finally allowed into the venue—although this by no means heralded the start of the performance. Some joked that this was some kind of experimental happening—a forced opportunity to socialize—while one bearded American quipped that it was an interesting crowd (to whom I think he was planning to sell his stash of hydroponically-grown weed, and finally pay for his flight back to California). Call me anti-social, but there had better be a stupendously great show waiting for me at the end of a 90-minute stand-around.
Fears abated. The show—billed as an “Afro-futurist punk opera” and performed by a seemingly never-before heard of dance collective called Studio Kabako, from Kisangani in the DRC—was scintillating. It beggared any expectations I might have had, and made me regret very deeply that this was a once-off in the Mother City. To put it mildly, the show made time stand still (well, there was quite a bit of it to catch up) and my heart beat faster.
Actually, you instinctively know a show’s going to be interesting when a man in an all-gold sequined suit and another man in a outfit made of currency notes take their places behind the mikes and immediately give the audience a filthy look. They looked, in fact, like they meant business, and boy did they know their business. The three dancers wore some kind of recycled packaging material transformed into bouncy multi-layered dresses that looked like a cross between a psychedelic fungus, a woman’s unmentionables, and a squashed caterpillar. The guitarist, too, radiated in a glittering red tailcoat and polished black leathery pants (although these may have been vinyl, plastic, or some other shiny material that would make an Eskimo sweat) that recalled the tongue-in-cheek climax of the glam rock era. I couldn’t see what the drummer was wearing, but the man beat the hell out of his instrument, so I hope he wasn’t too warm. It was visual wizardry—eclectic, brazen, brave, and devilishly fun.
Now, as we all know, each summer millions of travellers gather in Cape Town from all over the world, but most of them are lily-white and spend a lot of time lying on Clifton’s equally pale beach sand, trying to turn tan so that they can get shagged after drinking themselves into a stupor at Caprice. Alternatively, you find them strutting about in a thong on the dancefloor at Karma or Hemisphere or some such sanitized hotspot where the chairs are apparently named after different types of French champagne (which, as we all know, can only be French). Kabako, I probably don’t need to tell you, has nothing to do with that kind of obvious anti-culture. Instead, Kabako’s performance—entitled “More more more… future” (it helps if you say it with a few gasps and grunts, like the final push towards a much-anticipated orgasm)—turned out to be a Wagnerian collaboration between some of the most remarkable performers (not to mention one wild-ass fashion designer named Lamine Badian Kouyate) you’ve ever laid eyes on. And, as my little mention of the DRC should have told you earlier, they’re all honest-to-god Africans, from the very belly of the deepest, darkest parts of our continent. Which means they’re also very French (although, as with champagne, you can’t call them French because they’re Congolese, so you have to refer to them as French-speaking, just like locally-produced sparkling wine, which is so much cheaper than champagne).
Unlike European (including French) tourists, these guys weren’t here to sunbathe or sip cocktails or dally at the Waterfront, but came to show us what real hardworking talent can achieve. The programme notes mumbled something about sweating blood for a better future, but it was pretty easy to see how this was all about a continent struggling to improve its lot. It was a wholeheartedly African performance synergistically infused with elements from diverse cultures, not least of which was their decidedly French philosophical take on the Wild West shambles of the African socio-political landscape. Quite unexpectedly, it did seem, at times, as if these guys were in fact sweating blood—they weren’t the sort to be put on a leash or take a breather.
In fact, their work knew few limits or limitations, and the result was a ballsy, border-busting mix of styles, genres, languages, and identities. There were even moments when the fiercely-protected masculinity of the sweaty, muscular dancers threatened to implode in a moment of pulsating, thrusting, near-frotting man on man groin movements… Oh, what ungodly, heathen fun…eight brilliantly black men giving it horns on a stage in Africa’s most Eurocentric city. What they did on that stage was transcendent and surreal—like some ethereal orgy or celestial triumph of pure, atom-busting expression. It was urgent, bestial, intelligent, and—despite the overt intellectuality (and Frenchness) of the poetry and lyrics—it was, above all else, magnificently visceral, meaty, down-to-earth.
Music that blended punk—yes, hardcore, rabid, gut-stirring, screaming, Sid Vicious punk—with traditional Ndombolo rhythms (for which I have zero point of reference) poured forth like an emotional tornado, setting an aural backdrop for some seriously spunky dancing. Choreographed by a genius named Faustin Linyekula, the director of Studio Kabako, it was graceful in the manner of a carefully-planned testosterone-fuelled military assault, weaving together elements of modern, ballet and traditional African dance to create a unique, provocative hybrid. In moments it was slow and retrained and quite feminine, but then frequently exploded into something bordering on barely-controlled violence offset by images of brutal savagery. During one prolonged (but too-short) sequence, the beefiest of the three pocket-rocket dancers—clad in nothing but skin-tight shiny gold tights, took on gorilla-like gestures and bodybuilder poses in what I can only describe as a fantastical parody of the African dictator-psyche.
But really, he could have been commenting on a snowstorm in Antarctica and what he was doing would have been beautiful. It was mesmerising and bewildering—that a human being (and one of the most startlingly virtuoso gymnast-cum-dancers I’ve ever seen) could even achieve such dexterous and skillful movements, let alone imbue them with so much emotional value. He looked, at times, like a piece of vintage cinema played in slow-motion—he actually transformed the space around him into a mechanized frame. It was as if he’d crept inside that unimaginable space that distinguishes man from machine, producing movements that reflected on seemingly-robotic, heartless actions by rich, powerful (political) men.
Whatever he was doing, he destroyed many of the ideas I had about what the human body is capable of. Even in parts where the three dancers simply bounced and heaved and conjured up scenes from a tribal shamanic trance, they were incredible. Poetic athletes who, in breathless, ancient rhythms, transformed the sacred theatrical space into a realm of magic and danger and infinite possibility.
Playing it safe wasn’t a possibility, though, and their message—whatever it was—was urgent and soulful. Over and over, intoxicating, compelling punk riffs built and built and built to that point of near-sexual no-return, sending the entire stage into a tumescent whirligig of ecstatic, unhinged performance. You don’t easily tear your eyes away from the stage when that sort of insane, inexplicable magic is happening, so when one of the dancers jokingly began to insinuate that, after two-hours of marathon athleticism, the performance was finally about to begin, I couldn’t help hope he was being serious. I lusted for more, more, more…
Come to think of it, Kabako’s performance really was an act of transubstantiation. Perhaps not quite changing water into wine, but certainly transforming blood and sweat into tears. And surely that’s a miracle.
September 28, 2010 § 2 Comments
I’ve finally touched down back in the Mother City after a steamy six-week sojourn in KwaZulu-Natal. There, next to the warm(ish), shark- and sardine-infested Indian Ocean, I admired Moses’s basket (Moses Mabhida Stadium, that is, which is probably the most gigantic basket-shaped thing in the world); cruised up and down the remarkably revamped Golden Mile promenade (North Beach on a Sunday is so incredibly representative of South African kitsch that it’s hard to tear your eyes away from it); and spotted all kinds of wildlife in assorted game reserves from Zululand to Karkloof (a hidden paradise on the far outskirts of that forgotten, forgettable provincial capital, Pietermaritzburg). Durban is a wonderful city in that it’s both gigantic and intimate, with lots of friendly Zulus, super-bronzed salt-stained surfers, and the world’s most abominable drivers. Actually, they don’t so much drive their cars, as homicidally veer from lane to lane as if under the misbegotten delusion that they’re protected by the same mythological angel of mercy who supplies the city’s parking attendants with licenses to sell Durban Poison, which–judging by the laidback attitude of just about every one of the 4 million Durbanites you might encounter–is not simply the drug of choice, but quite possibly piped into the water supply. No, really, all the rumours about Durbanites being relaxed, carefree, and somehow genetically predisposed to not giving a fuck, is totally true. I was born there and grew up between sugar cane fields and an endless sandy beach dotted with rock pools, and it’s safe to say that the country’s east coast holiday capital is super-chilled. If you can survive the suicidal traffic gymnastics you’ll discover a city with an amazing soul and the country’s most welcoming attitude. Even monkeys are welcome, and they really do still perform small-scale suburban garden invasions (raiding kitchens, too, given half a chance), although there are far fewer bananas trees these days than I remember from my childhood.
Beyond nostalgic recollections of languid years spent roasting on Umhlanga’s beaches, I’ll admit that it’s good to be back in Cape Town, if only to be surrounded by the profound natural beauty that was here long before civilized Europeans arrived and started planting gardens and vineyards so they could charge passersby to dine here and get drunk. Since the Dutch started their vegetable patch, the tsunami of taverns, dining halls, and full-blown restaurants has continued unabated, along with a more recent tidal wave of starched linen boarding houses. Set foot in Cape Town and you’d swear all we did here was eat, stir cappuccinos, quaff tequilas, and knock back designer cocktails (liquid or narcotic), before heading for the 300-count cotton sheets of some luxury hotel or guesthouse. Really, I know people are living here, but it so often feels like little more than a tourist wonderland, built and functioning for the happy masses that storm the gates at the start of summer and then battle to find the energy or will to move on. The city is immensely intoxicating—I know I’m addicted—and one of the big pulls is the sense of freedom to let your hair down and go with the flow. So blow me down with your nicotine breath if just about the first news I hear when I hit Assembly on Saturday night is that there’s a hectic new moratorium on bar operating hours and these will soon be in effect.
What a limp-wristed toffee-sucking load of bollocks. Cape Town is Africa’s ultimate playground and I fail to see how the social landscape is going to change for the better because of new, more uptight liquor licensing laws. The last time there was such a stringent crackdown on how we spend our after-dark hours, the entire clubbing landscape got severely fucked—everyone suddenly became snooty, and bouncers turned into chops in suits. But that shift in the social dynamic coincided with a violent meltdown in the way the drug syndicates were operating, not to mention a total overload of Summer of Love-style hedonism. The music also went haywire as house became commercial and dance-floors became scary platforms for self-worship and an epidemic of “look, I can dance without really moving” enthusiasts.
So what the fuck are authorities thinking now? Don’t they see that a lack of alcohol to the brain will simply force the club-hopping mental tortoises into more intimate and frenzied relationships with their dealers?
It sounds like a crackdown, an attempt to break the spirit of social animals and late-night revellers, but the methodology is stark-raving lunacy. It’s an attempt to partially cut off the supply of a deeply problematic substance, but to allow its use and abuse only within certain time slots because certain times of the day are deemed “more suitable” by a group of waspish killjoys (who won’t suffer any change to their routine since they’re safely tucked away in bed before most clubs even open their doors). It’s not a solution, people. Because it’s not drunkenness that’s going to be miraculously subverted by closing the bars earlier, only the timing of said inebriation will change. Anyone who wants to drink themselves into a disgusting mess will adjust their schedule to accommodate an earlier cut-off time. That’s a no-brainer. Drinking will simply commence a few hours earlier than usual, with a range of illegal highs on standby to ensure there’s still some reason to carry on living once bar staff have gone all lippy and unforthcoming.
Booze legislation is so deeply flawed and hypocritical that it makes opium addiction sound like a Sunday school picnic. Of course, you probably wouldn’t find any booze at that picnic, because Sunday is like this ridiculously protected day on which only selected liquor stores can trade—and you can’t even get a bottle of wine from the Pick ‘n’ Pay after 5pm on a Saturday. Truly, it is the most illogical by-product of hocus-pocus lawmaking, designed, it would seem to reward those shoppers who plan their entire weekend of drinking well in advance. And, of course, punish you for not thinking ahead. By the same logic, as with so many of our laws, they seem designed to punish everyone for the stupidity of a few.
Frankly, since I don’t touch alcohol anymore, I couldn’t give a toss about the drinking laws—other than that I wish there was an IQ test rather than a blanket age of consent system when it comes to its consumption. Surely stupid people shouldn’t be given more opportunities to become less coherent. Assholes, too. I wish there was a no drinking rule for assholes, because they very seldom become better human beings by drinking—unless they pass out, when they’re at their level best. Then again, I do know that even in our very perplexing version of witless democracy, everyone has the right to be as annoying as the next twat. I am, however, flummoxed by the stupidity and inconsistencies in the legislation. For example: Why don’t the powers that be take efforts to implement a meaningful plan that will really put an end to wide-scale drunk driving—at any time of the day or night—rather than putting up another smokescreen of infantile, nanny state policies that cuts the fun for everyone because of a few nasty trouble-makers.
Although I really shouldn’t care either way, it still befuddles the brain to imagine that any lawmaker can think that earlier bar closing times are going to make a jot of difference. The little minions will always find a means to an end and if their end is getting leglessly wasted, then legless they shall become. My mate Kirk will finish the bottle of tequila—and nobody needs to give him a time limit or incentive to do so before 2am. Perhaps I’m too cynical (that, too, is a no-brainer), but it strikes me that at weekends everyone on Long Street is drunk long before midnight, and most binge-drinking students have spent all their cash even earlier than that. So it’s really only those ultra-devoted types who have made a commitment to one particular component of the economy (booze consumption) who are being marginalized by the new laws; the rest of us have a host of naughty alternatives. But we’re suddenly going to have to put up with lots of bewildered barflies looking for alternative social outlets when they suddenly discover that the party is over and they might as well sink their hard-earned cash into some kind of investment policy. Or they’ll drink at home, and probably quite a bit more, because it’s cheaper and a lot more anti-social. Because the law prohibits you from buying a drink at a bar one moment, despite the fact that it was a perfectly legitimate act of economic exchange only a minute ago. In a democracy, where free enterprise is supposedly encouraged, when will we give people responsibility for their own behaviour and their own choices? If you’re prepared to tell people that because alcohol is a ruinous, dangerous substance you’re going to limit their right to deal in it, tell them that they simply may not serve alcohol to drunk people. Full stop. We’ve all seen it done in the movies–barmen refusing to serve a blind-drunk man on the verge of losing wife or job–so why not in Cape Town? If you want to curb the degree to which people destroy their brains, their livers and their marriages, then make an effort to discourage drunkenness. Or raise the legal age limit. Or make them complete an IQ test before giving them their drinking license.
Then again, during the recent public services debacle, I was told repeatedly that there’s a big problem with teachers turning up drunk at work, so perhaps early bar closures will help improve the public school system. Or perhaps the teachers can put on a strike opposing the city’s new drinking laws. Then the media will have something fun to worry about again, and our middle class conversations will all feel so relevant. If the city’s lawmakers really want to make a difference, why not make a genuine effort to help the kids living on the streets, begging at traffic lights, sniffing petrol. Those children don’t just need a curfew, they need a place to call home. I hear 15 on Orange has plenty of empty rooms and a kitchen filled with unserved food. Or are we living in a city where the tourists are more important than the people who live here—’cause if there’s one place you’ll always find a drink after midnight, it’s in your hotel room mini-bar.
August 17, 2010 § 1 Comment
I’m not traditionally big on sports voyeurism. My motto has long been that if you’re watching rather than participating, you’re simply sitting on your backside, getting fat. When I travel abroad, however, I make efforts to check out sports that aren’t typically available back home. Baseball in San Francisco was an anthropological study in hotdog and beer consumption, whilst wrestling in Mexico City was about spandex, raging fans, and brilliantly unhinged comic bravado. Aussie Rules Football in Melbourne was fast, furious, and beautifully dexterous. I’m not convinced too many people understand the rules, however. Then, of course, the World Cup came to Africa, and I became a football fanatic. Not the crazy, screaming, vuvuzela-blowing kind, but the sort who virtually drools at the deftness and balletic beauty of properly engineered soccer action.
But this is about an altogether different kind of athleticism. One which occasionally sees ringside spectators sprayed with blood (it’s rare, but it happens), and never sees contenders lying on the ground faking injury. It’s also where the only thing to interrupt play on the night in question was a seriously dislocated ankle and a lengthy wait for an ambulance. It’s also where sports voyeurs can get insanely close to the action, or forgo the voyeurism entirely and sign up for three life-affirming rounds in the ring. Yup, I’m talking about real-deal boxing. White Collar Boxing, to call it by its proper name—played by the rules and ruled by the gods of guts and courage.
The Armoury Boxing Club in Woodstock opened just a few months back and has rapidly caught the attention and imagination of all kinds of Capetonians— scenesters and socialites rubbing shoulders with boxing aficionados, and pre-teen kids cheering wildly alongside women averting their delicate gaze from the pounding blows and uppercuts being delivered in the ring. No Fight Club-style underground bunker room—this is a venue where vintage upholstery meets exposed brick, where sophistication and sweat are allies. Armoury is a fitness gym, first and foremost, but with boxing as its training fulcrum, it also offers opportunities for boxers to engage in real physical bouts in front of a paying crowd. And what a crowd it was on that final Friday in July.
The event was standing room only, but a surprising mix of Capetonians turned up, having travelled from all sides of the invisible divides that seem to ensure that Cape Town remains a city of tribes. Hell, there was even a Jo’burg-based world title-holder in attendance, and the organizers had two bars and a DJ to give the event that typically Cape Town party vibe. Gorgeous “ring girls” in gold lamé dresses held aloft Moet-branded cards at the start of each round; chisel-jawed referees in white collared shirts and latex gloves took charge of the action, and the trainers manning the corners were the real deal, wiping away blood and sweat, fanning their fighters with towels while feeding them advice. A tuxedoed MC kept the evening running at a smooth pace, and the DJ made sure that each fighter had his own theme tune.
For men and women sheltered by the safety net of contemporary urban living, the opportunity to face off against another human being with nothing but your gloved fists, is surely a portal to an altered consciousness. For the participating men (gentlemen, really, from the business, media, academic and entrepreneurial sectors), it’s a chance to let go completely, to express impulses that are usually repressed. I’m told that the urge to fight—to act on some kind of mano a la mano violent tendency—is as natural as sex and laughter.
Whatever its driving impulse, it’s heartstopping, compulsive entertainment. I don’t think you can watch a boxing match without experiencing some level of transcendence. The air all around you is alive, so taut, in fact, that you feel each and every blow. It’s about giving and receiving fistfuls of power, and the repeated thrusting, ducking, reaching and all-round butterfly-like dancing is exhausting. And at the end of these fights—three rounds of three very long minutes—no winners or losers are declared. They say the fighters know who’s come out tops; it’s White Collar Boxing, and it’s a gentleman’s game. They know full well that they’ve stretched themselves in ways few urban executives ever get a chance to these days. It’s Tyler Durden without the slightest hint of insanity.
Well, maybe just a little.
I didn’t hang around for the after party at neighbouring La Bottega, but judging from the swiftness with which the crowds rushed over there after the Fight of the Night had been announced, I can only imagine it was a rip-roaring blast.
Armoury’s Fight Nights are set to happen every three months, and Steve Burke, the club’s buff-as-hell co-owner (who fought on Friday and had everyone whispering “He can’t be 49; he doesn’t look a day over 32”) tells me there’ll be a few ladies’ fights when the next event rolls around on November 26th. I’ll be making every effort to be ringside; you too can follow developments at http://www.armouryboxing.com.
Incidentally, for anyone who’s relatively unfamiliar with Cape Town, it’s worth knowing that Armoury occupies a prime spot in the Buchanan Square development in Woodstock, the up-and-coming part-industrial part-Victorian neighbourhood to the east of the city centre—a great place to discover an alternative to the over-hyped view of Cape Town that you’ll find in the brochures and guidebooks. Woodstock has emerged as ground zero for discerning art collectors looking for newcomer talent in some of the city’s top art galleries (Michael Stevenson and Whatiftheworld being the two most worth visiting). And, of course, even the biggest snobs will tell you that it’s here that the city’s loveliest, liveliest crowd gathers at the converted Old Biscuit Mill, either to pig out at the Saturday morning food market, or search for original designer clothes, and crafts that’ll one day be sought after collectibles. You also get the most fantastic cup of java here, but this remains a bit of a secret: It’s called Espressolab, and it’s where the zestful attitude and strong, aromatic coffee flavours are right on the money; it’s well hidden, though, so make a point of asking for it when you arrive at the Biscuit Mill complex—it provides the perfect pick-me-up after trawling through the many wonderful stores that are now located in this once forgotten corner of the city.
July 15, 2010 § 2 Comments
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking you’re about to be subjected to the Catholic rantings of a self-congratulatory lune who’ll pretend to be your friend but end up making a desperate attempt to convert you.
Please: Don’t panic. I don’t care if you drink. I’m reformed, not a reformer, and I’m no goodie two-shoes.
As much as I’m enjoying the sober life (and this is a non-fiction confession – I really have given up the drink, forever), I don’t for one instant believe it’s the right choice for everyone, and I enjoyed my boozing days (they were long, intense, and many) enough to understand the pleasures of the bottle.
If anything, being sober is a lonely experience.
This is particularly true if you’ve spent your entire adult life (and most of your teen years) pursuing a never-ending succession of thrills offered by bars and clubs and parties. Bars were once a reliable, comforting retreat from the world. Suddenly, they’re fairly boring spaces where your drinking friends all appear to be having a lot more fun than you are. As nights (or afternoons) wear on, they also, mysteriously, become less interesting, less coherent (okay, not so mysteriously), and a whole lot less important than that book, or DVD, or etching you’ve been meaning to get finished. Only problem is…you’re now stuck in a public house, and there are few truly meaningful activities to help pass the time.
So, gradually, I’ve stopped hanging out in bars. Habits developed over the course of my entire life have begun to to lose their grip over me. In the beginning I would come up with (work-related) excuses , but now I’ve grown up and use the hard-tack line, “I don’t really go to bars anymore. Have a great time.”
I’ll admit that it can be a bit like sucker-punching your social life. But then I remind myself of all those drunken conversations where no-one can remember the point of what they’re saying and someone inevitably keeps repeating themselves.
And then there’s drinking and driving, satanic hangovers, and slightly regrettable sexual encounters. They were always on my list of thing I can do without. Although, sadly, even non-regrettable sexual encounters are down (which makes me worry that I may be more interesting – or, God forbid, desirable – when wasted).
So. Am I tempted to let myself off the hook and dive back into the social mainstream?
There are “friends” who persistently encourage me to have a drink. “Just one,” they mutter, knowing full well I’ve never, ever had “just one.”
Friendship, as an extension of alcohol-related vice, is a great temptation. Because I always loved drinking – and getting drunk – with my friends. I loved going to the bar for the next round, or insisting on “just one” round of tequilas. I always knew, though, that the second tequila went down better. For my thirtieth birthday, dear friends from my hardest clubbing days bought me a silver cactus-shaped ornament engraved with the sobriquet “King of Tequila.” I guess I should have been worried.
There are also some friends I don’t see anymore. Ever. Which is a little scary, because the more I think about it, the more I realize that the only thing we had in common was the ability to get drunk together. Now they see me as a turncoat, committing the worst kind of betrayal, abandoning a way of life that was meant to go on forever. And I see them as a long-winded and stultifying impediment to getting home to a good book or getting on with a writing deadline. Are these the same friendships depicted in Castle Lager commercials?
I’ll confess that I miss sharing the delicious slide into self-inflicted madness that typically came with excessive drinking. Generally, I was one of those drinkers who didn’t seem to pose a threat to himself or anyone else. That’s because I kept the scariest moments all to myself. Only my dearest friends knew about the spells of depression that came at the wayward end of a long, hard day of drinking. Few ever saw me lose the plot thanks to an irrational, inexplicable wave of anger, rage, and self-loathing.
Only a few knew to start worrying when I climbed into my car and raced away from the scene of alcohol-induced anxiety with dark, twisted thoughts in my head. I kept the negative aspects of my drinking hidden from public view, and when everyone else is more wasted than you are, there’s no-one to remember your transgressions, anyway.
Throughout my drinking days, I tried various “cures”. I would spend a month or three detoxing. Or restrict my drinking to weekends. I gave up spirits during some purification stints, and limit myself to wine (so much more civilized) at other times. My longest alcohol-free stint happened during my final year of high school: I managed six months before the pressure of final exam preparations got to me. Bizarrely, as a teenager I managed to give up red meat for five years, but alcohol was almost always a part of my diet.
So, 18 months down the line, and even I am pretty impressed with my will-power.
I have almost zero desire to drink. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to keep an eye on myself. A few months ago I did two wine-tastings as part of a book project on the Cape Winelands. The first tasting went quite smoothly, but during the second episode, I underwent a moment of serious panic. I tasted an especially lovely wooded Chardonnay, and felt a strong desire to grab the entire bottle and down its contents. I’ve calmed down since then.
If I tell people I don’t drink these days, they’re usually taken aback. Some people just assume that if you give up alcohol, you must be an alcoholic. Sometimes it’s best to let them believe that. It can be hard work explaining that I’ve stopped doing something I once loved, something that is perfectly acceptable in normal society, for the simple reason that I’d had enough.
Some people want to know how I’ve managed to quit. If they knew me before, they’ll be quite surprised. Hardly a soul – not even my closest companions – ever imagined I had a drinking problem. Only I knew I had a “problem,” because the problem affected me, and me alone. It wasn’t that I drank too much (I was never that extreme and never got obnoxious or out-of-control), or that I drank all the time or first thing in the morning (at times, I did), or that I felt incapable of stopping (I have plenty self-control). The problem was that I liked drinking too much. I looked forward to drinking, and looked even more forward to my next drink. Taking a breather from drinking (for a few months, or during the week) was simply a form of delayed gratification.
I’ll never forget the sensation brought on by alcohol. That slow-quick slippage into an altered frame of mind. I could actually feel myself transitioning, becoming lighter, less saddled by reality, less coherent, oblivious to the constraints of time, more at ease with the world and all the people in it – everyone loves being tipsy, and I knew it as a superb, fuzzy sensation, a happy place where I always felt welcome. I guess I would have loved to stay tipsy forever, but only a fool imagines this a possibility. I always lusted after another drink, and that warm, fuzzy, tipsy feeling would soon be usurped by inebriation. And then, in my case, there was no turning back.