Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Three (Separate) Things: Abe, Pensions and China

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, September 13, 2007 | Category: | 0 comments

As always, lots to talk about. The hot topics today have to do with firstly, the resignation of Japanese Leader, Shinzo Abe, and my opinions on the appeals to the constitutional court about inequality in social security. I’ll also comment on a couple other random things I’ve read.

The first issue, with respect to Japan is who is going to lead the country now that Abe has resigned? There are a couple of possible candidates in the Liberal Democratic Party (Abe’s Party), the Secretary-General Taro Aso (Not General Taro Aso as some papers reported) and Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga. Aso was the first to be told of Abe’s intentions to resign and is fairly close to Abe in the policies that he would implement, being hawkish and aligned to Abe on a number of other issues. Nukaga has other factors affecting his candidacy, such as scandals (twice stepping down from positions because of said scandals), but he is a political veteran in Japan. All very interesting. That being said, one of the most interesting outcomes from this will be the dispute over whether Japan will aid US ships looking to refuel in Afghanistan. This is one of the most contentious issues at the moment and could have the largest impact on Japan’s relationship with the US and its constitutional pacifist stance. Very interesting – watch this space. The other interesting impact is on the Japanese markets – they took a bit of a hit yesterday after the announcement with the Yen devaluing against the Dollar and the Euro. Fun times ahead. Even more fun for the Japanese Democratic Party I assure you...

With respect to the equality of pensions w.r.t. social security I think there are numerous problematic issues. In terms of a moral/equality issue, it is ‘right’ for the SA government to adjust the laws and to ensure that the money is disbursed to all people over 60 (rather than the cynical approach of increasing the pensionable age to 65 across the board). The only problem is that, empirically, it has been shown that there aren’t any statistically significant poverty or welfare consequences in households where there is a male pension eligible individual, or a male individual receiving a pension (sometimes actual pension receipt is under-reported in surveys because the households worry about what the surveyors will do with the information). However, when females receive the social grant (the pension is a social grant even if you mightn’t think it is), there are benefits that are directly transferred to the welfare of grandchildren and most significantly to granddaughters. There is no empirical evidence to support such an effect for male receivers of the pension. In terms of this evidence I don’t think it is worthwhile to increase the access of the grants to older men – there just isn’t evidence to show that it will do what Chaskalson and co. say it will. I also don’t think that the argument about it discriminating against gay men is particularly important, but I would like to see evidence on the matter. The problem ultimately depends on what government is attempting to do with the policy – if it is meant as an individual welfare improver or happiness helper then by all means provide it to these men. If, alternatively, it is meant as a ‘social security net’ for entire households (which is what I suspect it is intended for), then maybe this should be stated outright and maybe the system should be altered as a consequence. It’s a difficult one.

Otherwise, I was intrigued to read Thom Friedman’s article about a recent visit to Dalian, China and a commentary on focuses on energy, the Olympic games and other factors to improve domestic welfare, rather than the obsession with foreign policy that the US has as the world’s watchdog. At the Dalian University of Technology there are currently 100 PhD candidates all working on energy research, the Chinese government is opening its national energy innovation research center at the university. Friedman was attending an international conference where the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, was speaking about the successes that China has had and the challenges it faces in terms of energy, sustainability and so forth. All really interesting. China is one of THE places to be. I really hope to do research there at some point. Friedman retold the following story about a US Officer in Baghdad:

His unit was on a patrol in a Sunni neighborhood when it got hit by an I.E.D. Fortunately, the bomb exploded too soon and no one was hurt. His men jumped out and followed the detonation wire, which led 1,500 feet into the neighborhood. A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter was in the area and alerted the U.S. soldiers that a man was fleeing the scene on a bicycle. The soldiers asked the Black Hawk for help, and it swooped down and used its rotor blades to blow the insurgent off his bicycle, with a giant “whoosh,” and the U.S. soldiers captured him. That image of a $6 million high-tech U.S. helicopter with a highly trained pilot blowing an insurgent off his bicycle captures the absurdity of our situation in Iraq. The great Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi said it best: “Great powers should never get involved in the politics of small tribes.”

I love that image – the US as a Helicopter using its rotors to blow Iraq off its bicycle. Very entertaining.

Other cool article: Energy and South Africa – are we on a road to poverty with our growth plan? I don’t know, have to think about this more. Will comment another time.

Last thing – is Fred Thompson a valid candidate for the US presidency? I liked this comment by Gail Collins: “If it turns out that mixing a race for the most powerful job on the planet with two preschoolers is too much for any one 65-year-old man to do, millions of women will say, welcome to the club, Fred. We know how you feel.”



Comment on Energy:

Comment on Equality of Pension Laws

Shinzo Abe and Ensuing Leadership Battle

Iraq Idea vs. China Idea – Thom Friedman

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Being Prepared

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, September 12, 2007 | Category: | 0 comments

OK so last night I was asleep in bed (because obviously one is often not asleep in one’s bed, but elsewhere). I awoke to the sounds of my dogs and the dogs next door going berserk (or bezek if you hear in South Africa). This blog is about my funny response.

To give you some background, we recently had a new alarm system installed. It has detectors on the walls, in the garden outside and we hear a chime every time someone walks in the garden outside, the obvious understanding being that we can hear if anyone leaps over the wall and prepare ourselves for anything that they might choose to do to us in our sleep. That and have an alarm that goes off if anything man-sized happens to be in our garden at night. Which is useful.

So there I was lying in bed, having awoken to the sound of dogs going completely off their rocker. I heard a car idling outside. I thought to myself, ‘I really hope that my car hasn’t been broken into, Oh well… if it is I can deal.’ The dogs upped their intensity for a moment.

At that point, I grabbed my tazer-torch and my garage opener that doubles as a mobile panic button (the big red button = I am panicking, help me). So there I was in blinking sudden wakefulness. Tazer in one hand, panic button in the other, pyjama pants leg riding up my thigh looking like the epitome of danger.

In walks my brother having just parked my mum’s car in the garage. He is trying to placate the dogs. It’s 2am and he’s come back from doing an open-mic thing at Zula on Long Street. It’s all indicative to me of the problem that crime constitutes in South Africa, a growing paranoia and a (professed and believed) necessity to ‘be prepared’. So that I was. But it isn’t the most psychologically pleasant feeling I must tell you.

I try to go back to sleep. But James leaves the lights on. I get up and swear at him in a brotherly fashion. Then beat myself up as I fall asleep for being grumpy at 2am. But that’s how I roll (or something equally vague and hip-hop).

Otherwise, I read a really entertaining article yesterday (suggested by Richard) on the different capacities of ‘liberal’ versus ‘conservative’ brains. Here’s the link:

The article made me laugh, but it also made me worry a bit. That being said, it appealed to the determinist in me. It also made me wonder what kinds of education or socialization make the brain more plastic or not and whether these factors are driven more by genetics than they are otherwise. Could be interesting.

Another interesting article, suggested by Mike Watson (a friend in the UK) refers to how Wi-fi and other wireless communication devices (mobile phones, etc) have had barely any testing on them with respect to their health outcomes. The German Environment Ministry has suggested that individuals should do their best to avoid using Wi-fi because of the potential damages to health, outcomes that have yet to be investigated properly by government domestically in SA or many others internationally. Other suggestions: use wire connections rather than wireless, using your landline phone rather than your mobile. Hmm… all very interesting.

Anyway, I am meant to be working. Only two days left. I am picking up my transcript translated into Italian today. R900 later of course! Crazy times. But that’s the price you pay for going to study at a foreign university…

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Where’s My Trickle?

Posted by Simon Halliday | Tuesday, September 11, 2007 | Category: | 0 comments

So I was reading Paul Krugman’s Op-Ed today. He was talking about how the tax cuts in the US are meant to have affected your every day middle-class American. You can see the article at the following URL, or email me and I’ll put it up (though the NY Times may be a hater if I do that) I stole his title 'Where's my trickle?' it was too catchy not to use it!

Anyway, I thought about how apt this is for South Africa. One of the reasons that people have been rioting on the N2 is because they are basically wondering “Where is my trickle?” Probably in stronger language that that, and quite probably not as astutely stated, but that’s basically what they want to know. They want to know where their houses, high quality services and access to better quality education all are. They want to know “Why are we still so poor?” Now, I’d be the first to say that policy takes a while to have an effect on actual outcomes, but there are numerous examples world-wide of projects that have worked for the poor and done so within a relatively short period of time.

A much-quoted and referred to example is Mexico’s PROGRESA project (now Opportunidades), that targeted poor families and was run as a randomized evaluation pilot project for the now larger scale Opportunidades. What made this program so important was that it offered a conditional cash grant rather than just a random ‘here-you-go’ grant (As an aside: PROGRESA targeted women in the household, you don’t need to be a genius to realize why). As a consequence, children’s school attendance, test scores, health outcomes, nutrition and other outcomes improved. Once more, this requires massive bureaucratic buy-in and competent individuals on the ground monitoring and evaluating what people are doing. Note too that there is evidence that simply monitoring schools by government has a positive effect – not only monitoring student attendance, but monitoring teacher inputs (basically just checking whether they arrive to teach!).

What astounds me is that we haven’t had something similar to this put in place in South Africa. Why don’t we hear of more pilot projects by government to implement poverty-alleviating policies? Why don’t we go to individual families directly and give them their ‘trickle’, rather than telling them that they’ll eventually be affected by policies that benefit those who are already rich and who don’t really need that great an incentive to get richer? Why aren’t there more incentive-compatible policies put in place to ensure that families act in such a way that they will be less likely to remain in poverty, rather than reinforcing behaviours and conduct that isn’t going to help the current generations or those that follow? I don’t get it.

Personally, I’m not too worried about where my trickle is – in fact I’ve probably received one or two immoral trickles as a direct consequence of apartheid. I don’t need policies to help me directly. But the poor in our country desperately do. They need something and they need it now. They need government to affect their lives directly in such a way that government is doings its best to help them, and also to help them help themselves. Anyway, enough. Read the Krugman. Read Duflo’s article on monitoring (I can provide the reference if you want it). Google papers on PROGRESA there are loads. Arrivedeci, Si.

Monday, September 10, 2007

DA good times

Posted by Simon Halliday | Monday, September 10, 2007 | Category: | 1 comments

Well, things have been happening in SA of late. Mostly odd and politically dangerous in my mind, but that could just be me overreacting to that which I observe. Last week a DA parliamentarian asked for information about Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, wanting to know whether the government had known if she had a criminal record. He was thrown out of parliament.

More recently, on Sunday September 9, the Mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille, was arrested for taking part in a march. The march was legal. The march was against police apathy and inactivity in Mitchell's Plain. The Mitchell's Plain police made the time though to arrest Zille, a drug-protesting Muslim priest (Imam) and several others. Go POLICE!

The ANC meeting in December looms. There are two well-stated camps. The one supports President Mbeki standing for a third time and the ANC amending the constitution. The other camp stands for Jacob Zuma being the ANC President (and therefore SA's next president). Neither of these are good outcomes. In fact they are particularly poor. Mbeki has several individuals who he thinks should get the presidency, of which Joel Netshitenzhe is one. However, Netshitenzhe is about as charismatic (and therefore as likely) to get the presidency as a soft-rotting carrot at the back of a fridge. He's a supremely bright character involved in the drafting of all central policy in the country, but none of the grass roots (the ANC's /Zuma's favourite people) know who the hell he is. Oh well...

And I am leaving in two and a half weeks. 16 days to be exact. Weird. I am going to have to become accustomed to an entirely different political structure in Italy and acquaint myself far better with EU politics than I am currently. British politics I have down pat - Cameron is a conservative twit with a carrot up his bum. Brown is the successor to a Blair who went wonky, but we're hoping he'll pull through and stop brown-nosing Bush. Apologies for the nether region imagery.

In other news it has finally and conclusively been shown that colourants and additives in food cause hyperactivity. GO the British FSA! Carefully controlled and tightly researched it shows that additives can affect ALL children and not just those 'prone to ADHD'. Hmm... Well done you lot, telling us what mum told me when I insisted on eating my box of smarties and then bounced around the room like a gummie bear on speed. Once and for all showing that Mum (and Mrs. Larsen) knows best.

Returning to me leaving (see what I did there) I have crazy amounts to do before departure. Non-trivially including the pending hand-in of my Creative Writing dissertation. Should be interesting. I am reaching the point with some of the poems where I feel (if I could validly anthropomorphise them) like strangling them, chopping their little heads off and treading them into a merry mulch. However, others are like cool, serene waters that placate me, caressing my warm head with gentle fingers and lulling me into a false sense of poetic security. Oh well...

Ok, must be off. I should be working.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Long time coming

Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, August 24, 2007 | Category: | 0 comments

These have been a long time coming. As you will see, they are poems on which I have been working. I have also been working on various others, but don’t want to put them up just yet.
Much love to everyone!

The corner of the road version 4
for SH

The corner of the road
was where his house stood
when he was fourteen years old
and his father was the
do-it-yourself man
on the corner
of the road
at the top of
the hill

he learnt to drive on that hill
he bought a licence from
his neighbour, the traffic
officer, the year before
he got his first car

it was a Peugeot 403
painted and re-painted
it wouldn’t start unless parked
at the top of a hill
to run down

the car seats rolled down all the way
so he could lie in his seat and
hold Tracy’s hand as they
shared papsak in the back-road
fields of Stellenbosch
where he studied

and when he was done with it
the car sat at the top of the
road in the corner
where the house was
before his father moved
to Uitenhage and greyed

and the tattoos on his father’s skin
their ripple in muscles on arms and back
had slowed, their colours begun to fade
before when his father stood straighter
when he wasn’t angry or daft
and unable to mourn his dead wife
who everyone had loved more than
the man who drank,
was tattooed, stank.

Now, his father dead,
staring at the block of flats
where his home once stood
at the corner of the road
he points and says

“I lived there once”
he turns and looks down
to the river mouth
that’s moved back and forth
the length of the beach
to where it was when he was fourteen

where the lagoon gathers
a reflection of the moon
and the sparkles in the sea
could be fish or stars

looking up he picks out the stars
he loves in the night sky
“Charlie’s Pot is the real name
of Orion’s Belt” his
father told him once

“and the stars above it
are the steam, the smells of
all Charlie’s memories as
he cooks in his pot.”

Sea Point Sea Front June 2007 version 3

There’s a beach on the
Sea Point sea front
that cuts out of the ocean
an isosceles triangle
a bight of rock and sand.

Eroded walls
pocked pumice
protect the steps
to the rocks below
to the gritted sand.

As a child I’d
descend the stairs
feel the rough bits
of shattered shell
or discarded glass

Rubbed opaque
by sand grains
beneath my feet
as I tumbled my way
to the tidal pool.

I’d stand in soft shallows
in the glitter of ground perlemoen
scared of the seaweed-stained deeps
where my father plunged.

He’d arise from the seaweed beds
as a monster from the dark under spaces
his black hair shaggy and wet,
to leap out, chase me screaming
as I scrambled over the boulders
to the steps, and up beyond the walls.

Love Haiku
detumescence: just
reward for this witness, who
refused your caress

this late night harvest
of kisses from your wet lips
- tastes of dried apples

your lying languor
hair your outspread wings, you perch
possessive falcon

your breasts, scalloped shells
empty into my hands, I
bury them in sand

before departure
lips scamper across my brow
firm eyes-closed adieux

sharp-winged kestrel flight
the heat holds us up, we plunge
to earth-body’s grip

dapples – leaves on snow
your fingers’ cadence across
the skin of my back

rain prattles with roof:
late night lovers’ pillowtalk
rhythmic crescendos

Flying on the foreshore version 2 2007.06.14

My first flights took off
from the incomplete flyovers
by Buitenkant Street.

In his clapped-out BM my dad
would drive us toward
the broken roads
then before the turn
tell my sister and me
to close our eyes

he’d drive faster and faster
tell us we were flying
over Cape Town.

We tried to giggle and
scream at the same time
it was so joyous to fly!

He’d brake to tell us we’d landed
and we could open our eyes.
It was a crash landing back
onto the road, back to traffic.
We’d bounce up and down
on the sprung seats, their tic-tac
leather clinging to our skin.

* * *

Now, new buildings have grown
from the gravel and
concrete in my memories -

steel chasses
shells of towers
still to be built
metal monsters made in
the place I learnt to fly

hotels with fountains
lit from the inside shine
through my lidded eyes
to blind me when I try
to spread my arms
lift off the ground
in dreams where I drive off
the end of the road
to fly over Cape Town.

On the apron version 2 August 1, 2007

There’s a carcass of a cow
caught in the bed of wires
of a sliced up fence nestled
on the apron of grass
beside the highway.

Oh, but it’s not dead. No, it is.
The cow’s calf is crying
as if from dying lungs, but it’s
scabby-recent born, braying
knocking its nose into its

mother that lies cut-up
on the bed of blades
protective razor-wire.
They worry about all kinds
of dangers here: someone

sleeping on their land, foreigners
from beyond the border crazed by hunger
descending on this lot of land
held by reservists gripping rifles
in hog-like, hairy hands.

They look like meerkats on the backs
of their bakkies hopping up and down
at the slightest sight of uitlander kaffirs
asking for passes as though apartheid’s
reinstated on this stretch of land by Beitbridge.

But right now, I’m looking at the cow
her calf nudging her gently, knowing
there’s no more milk in her nipples
except for the red oozing from her chest
where the calf licks, licks then lies down.

South Coast Driving version 2 2007.07.05

It’s night-driving.
The kind where
the road doesn’t exist
beyond a few white hyphens
in the middle of the road.

Where patched grass marks
the receding hairline
of a dark landscape
that’s beyond reach.

Out of sight fires rouge the
lips and cheeks of the low hills
visible in the flames’ distant light.

The moon, caught in the clouds
isn’t so much a circle
as a red sickle of light caught
coming out of a cut
in the night sky, congealed
a scab on a knee.

Shucked version 2 July 2007

You stood in the centre of the room
wearing a tight-fitting green dress.
It was cold and the tiled floor
did nothing to help your shivers

As I undressed you, I saw a mielie
I was peeling, tearing off
tight-woven green fibres to
reveal dimpled paleness beneath

Your dress fell to the floor
in the final shucking
the shrug of your shoulders
released the last clinging strands.

I bit into the flesh of you
as into pale corn
as if your goosebumps were
the dimpled pods of its body.

Afterward, I wrapped you
up once more, a restoration
to unshucked beauty
enclosed in bed sheets.

Bomb Scare version 1 August 2007

Being ten, I was aware
something was awfully wrong
when people began to run
past me after the siren

my brother, just three, scrunched
his little fist in my grip
tighter than before as though
feeling the sound in his limbs.

A woman stopped beside us
to say “You must get outside.
It’s a bomb scare.” I thought
of cartoon bombs with red-

white smiling faces scared of my
hand-in-hand brother and me.
“Get. Out. Side!” It wasn’t
the bombs that were scared.

I picked up my brother, who wouldn’t
couldn’t run, he was heavier
and lighter than ever before
his fists still clenched.

A man shaped like a crowbar
tall, thin, head tilted down
at ninety degrees to speak to us
wheezed “You ok little boy?”

The steps up were high, my
foot kept catching on the lip
and my brother on my hip made
me look like a three-legged dog.

From behind me, my mum ran
up to us in panting concern
her hair in sudden windy disarray -
a vase of fallen flowers

dispersed across the floor.
I felt I’d have to lift her
pick-up-stick carefully
as she, down on her haunches,

looked at us with flit-flit
fearful eyes and “let’s go”
in her hands pulling us up
hefting James, holding me close.

Later, a dog tied to a lamppost that I
scratched behind the ears. We sat
on a park bench. Talked about scared
bombs. Mum hugged us till we got cold.

I remember your fingers version 1 August 2007
for nana

I remember your fingers
as they rummaged
through a jewellery box
to divulge rings, necklaces
and brooches, each pregnant
with stories of finding
and why-I-wore-them.
I recall red and blue biscuit
tins that you opened early
each morning, your fingers
dexterously twisting, prising
open rusty cornered lids
at the lip where you

could slip in your fingers
to get your biscuits for
Tesco tea, and talk to me
in the morning dark about
the thin, grey-stubbled man
who brought you biscuits.

I remember your fingers
most of all clutching to
white bed sheets, your index
finger clamped in white plastic
to monitor your heartbeat
the draining thrum of machines
that kept you momentarily alive

in the moments when you’d sit up
and rub your index finger like
someone rolling dough to ease
arthritic pain and how even then
your fingers were strong and running
through my thick hair as I stood
at the side of the bed and remembered

your fingers with rings of amber
or holding the face of Mary-mother
or you licking off crumbs when no one
but me was watching them. Unlike now.
When all we can watch is your hands.
They clench the white sheets and look
like broken quail’s eggs in their
spotted brown and white, the wrinkles
looking as tiny breaks in the you that held us.

And when, in that final moment
I knew I’d never see you open
anything again, it wasn’t your eyes
out of which your soul left
but out of your fingers as they
loosed their grip on the sheets
and now hold only memories
you’d collected there for me.

Some Tanka
dry grass clasps the hills
my eyes linger on your back
cut rivers of light
from blond hair tied up in knots
melted to glass in the heat

leaves burnt in autumn
flecks of ash freckle your face
black ash landscapes form
in your irises’ blue seas
they float, leave in streams of tears

petals of bursting
bougainvillea settle
on the plaits of light
caressing your back, neck
each a momentary sunrise

footprints in drenched sand
the rain led your every step
with its tiny feet
as the storm recedes it leaves
a map of my loves on the beach

Monday, April 30, 2007

Another attempted letter (just under two weeks ago)

Posted by Simon Halliday | Monday, April 30, 2007 | Category: | 8 comments

I’m sitting at my laptop, late at night with a rugby-injured shoulder which is preventing me from falling asleep. I should be writing an essay I have due for Prof Haresnape, but late night letter writing is far more entertaining (for me and for you I assure you – unless of course you want a diatribe on the aesthetics of structure and form.,or their lack, in contemporary South African poetry). I have been bombarded by the following in the last week or so: Don Imus vs. The Scarlet Nights (‘Nappy-headed ho’s’), The David Benatar – Martin Hall Transformation Debate, Cho’s Virginia Tech Massacre, Smith vs. Pietersen (read South Africa vs. England), Wolfowitz and Shaha, fallout/defence of Gordon Brown’s tax plans, and then of course there’s the fairly consistent Obama vs. Clinton, but I must say, I’m kind of bored by that one right now.

So what the hell does any of this bombardment have to do with a letter for Speakeasy? Good question. Ten points. All of the stories above are driven by personalities, not by any appreciation of literature or writing. That is what drives their relevance. One of my frustrations, as yet another in the horde attempting to complete a Creative Writing degree, is the almost inevitably problem that exists between ‘having a following’ (read: having a market) and being a rookie trying to come around the outside. For someone in poetry this is doubly problematic as so few people these days seem to take any interest in this form of writing except for academics and those who flock to Off the Wall on Monday evenings in Observatory.

Last year, while doing a seminar on South African fiction it was put down to us to read a ‘sampling’ of contemporary South African fiction. We read everything from J.M. Coetzee to Rayda Jacobs to Mary Watson to Koos Kombuis. We took to this smorgasbord like little piglets to the trough guarded reverently by the Professors who attended us. However, I stopped going. It was an extra for me and I had become dreadfully bored. As a ‘young’ South African there is nothing more frustrating than coming across yet another book telling some tale about the dynamics of race relations in apartheid or post-apartheid South Africa. We’ve read Richard Rive, Njabulo Ndebele, Athol Fugard (ok, not strictly fiction), Sol Plaatje, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer – we’re told (not in so many words) “This is the canon! You must read and appreciate those in the canon.”

Problem: if they are in the canon does that mean we have to like them? The problem is often one of endorsement – because we read Rayda Jacobs in a creative writing seminar, does that make it ‘good’? Does this validate the writing, the ploy, the dynamics of the story? Should we aspire to this? Do we want a place in the canon?

What amazes me is that the concept of a canon of South African literature was ridiculed prior to the end of, and immediately after, apartheid. However, now that sufficient time has elapsed those who criticized the ‘canon’ and the very concept of a canon wish to appear in a ‘new’ canon. This canon being one that is ‘representative’ and which doesn’t ‘give credence to white hegemonic distributions of power in writing’, rather it is non-normative, reactionary. But it’s still trying to establish a canon, which is therefore normative, hegemonic and therefore problematic. If the counter-hegemony becomes the hegemony then they have simply become that which they detested. Blah!

Why? Why? Why? Why? Must literature follow in the footsteps of South Africa’s politics? Must those who previously ascribed to communist dogma and who are now staunch neo-libertarians have their counterparts in the worlds of fiction, poetry and theatre? No! I object. Screw the concept of a canon. Screw its recreation and the channeling of a canon to people who are beginning to find their own creative expression. Do not let the canon dull your voice!

So what do those first few lines I wrote have to do with any of what I wrote subsequently? Well, to me it’s all about the people. We get caught up in the people involved, we become emotionally enmeshed in their lives and consequently read what they write rather than because of an actual appreciation for the writing. This is an awful way to think about literature and to get people to read books (marketing people will tell you otherwise, but I dissent). So, no ‘canon’, Thank you very much. No reading people simply because they were or are political. Read because the writing is good and, for non-fiction, if the arguments they create are decent, logical and well-thought out. Thanks.

Disgrace and South Africa

Posted by Simon Halliday | | Category: | 0 comments

Below is something I was planning to submit to 'Speakeasy' but then I got carried away and it got slightly longer than I intended. I wrote it a while back now, but all well and good.

For a few mornings as I have driven up to my office at the University of Cape Town, I see the little sign for the filming of Disgrace on the highway before the Rosebank turnoff. “Ahah!” I think, “How are they going to portray David Lurie well? Will Mr. Malkovich play the self-pitying and communicatively-hobbled Communications Professor with a decent accent? With an attitude or choler that approximates his South African, upper-middle-class, white apathy and self-pity? I don’t know. Should be interesting to see though.

Notwithstanding the filming of the movie, or my ruminations as I pass that sign each morning, seeing the sign begs the question: Can they pull it off? Not only in the sense that the film and its crew need to approximate the horror and disgraceful nature of the Coetzee book, but will the film have a similar reception to that of the book? Will feminists be up in arms about the role of the female as raped and burdened? Will we be able to pursue the role of language and communication as avidly in the film as viewers as we could in the book as readers? In fact it is this problem of language in the book that inspired me to discuss the problem of language in this forum: briefly, anecdotally and somewhat personally.

I am pursuing my MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at UCT while working as a researcher in Economics here at UCT. One of the problems with which I have had to deal recently is that of the suffusion of my life into that of my writing. Specifically the problem of violent encounters in my life and that of my family and friends and my attempts to translate that into a communication that is neither trite nor self-pitying but endeavours to grapple with the issue at hand: how do we as South Africans communicate and deal with the violence and the egregious violations with which we are faced every day? Yes, as an approximation of Disgrace I am working at a tertiary institution, earning decent money and part of the white upper-middle class. But no, I am not middle-aged, nor a Professor of Romantics (cum communications) nor am I engaging in undercover affairs.

However, I have been held up at gunpoint for a mugging and a hijacking respectively. My parents’ home has been robbed (not the CT one). My brother has been mugged twice at knifepoint. My neighbours and close friends have experienced any of: hijacking, rape, murder and mugging. I am not saying this as an appeal for pity, nor am I saying this as yet another re-statement on ‘the state of crime’, this utterance is to do with the changes in language and expression when individuals are confronted with violence in everyday circumstances.

When I went to my post-crime counselling for the hijacking (as my psychology studying friends advised me to do) at the Rondebosch Police Station the counsellor was appreciative of my responses. I had written in my journal about the experience, I had begun writing poetry about it. I had attempted to begin the wording of its violence and violation in order to ‘deal with it’. All well and good. On the other hand, my girlfriend had cried a lot, had (and has) bad dreams, struggled to sleep and hadn’t wanted to write or talk about it all that much, even though everyone we encountered wanted to hear the story again and again. Which leads to my first anecdotally observed point: violation leads to the demand for retelling of the violation.

Concomitant to this I have a general belief that I will do my best not to perpetuate racist ideologies. If ever anyone asked me about the incident I did my best never to bring up the race of the individuals involved because I believe that people conflate race as an observable characteristic shared by a group with an individual’s chosen activities. They aren’t the same thing and never will be. Statistical discrimination aside, I generally prefer to steer away from perpetuating racist dogma. Hence, the race of the persons that committed the crime remains unstated. Thus violation led, for me, to the exclusion and omission of information, the shading of stories. (Note: this excepts of course the problem where the ‘not mentioning’ or the absence of something highlights that something, oh well I’ll just have to deal with that).

Recently, having moved back home before going overseas for my Ph.D., my step-father, whose affection for David Bullard’s columns has consequence, decided that we would have to upgrade the security system at home and that our own preparedness for potential burglars was paramount. We now have several systems in place: the ‘garage system’ and the ‘if they jump over the wall’ system. In the first, each of us with our handheld garage openers doubling as personal alarms should set off said personal alarm and scream if attacked. Anyone else in the house should run to the entrance between the garage and house and start yelling and opening-slamming the door as we patiently, although manically attend ADT. In the second scenario, we ensure that most of our doors are locked at all times so that we can funnel any burglars-attempting-entry to one possible entry point. We reviewed potential weaponry: the stools on which we sat, the kettle (preferably containing hot water), our bodies. We concluded that if anyone entered our homes with a firearm they would most likely leave us for dead (the no-witness rule) hence we should do whatever possible to remain alive. Having played a fair amount of rugby, I should be prepared to dive-tackle any unwary would-be burglars. Throwing random kitchenware was also thought to be a valid response. Panic button pressing: of paramount importance. My step-dad was pleased to have this resolved. We are also planning to get laser beams for early warning, a bigger dog, additional panic buttons, and large bolts on bedroom doors. Just in case. So yes, violation can lead to a language of preparedness, strategy and equally a language of absurdity (all very Dubya of us).

Lastly, there is the language of inevitability. Previously, I believed, in the way that youth believes itself invincible, that I would remain unaffected (notwithstanding my father’s multiple burglaries). I would walk blissfully through my South African life with my car being broken into on occasion when I wasn’t there (that phenomenon reached double digits some time ago). However, this was not to be. An encounter with violence, with the experience of violation is inevitable as a South African. Again this is not said so that people pity us as South Africans, or so that we doom ourselves to a cesspit of self-indulgent self-pity in a vicious cycle, but rather a statement of inevitability, of the way that every individual living in the country will be affected by or affect a crime. Think of the ‘tends to’ sign in math. As t→T, pc → 1, or in English. As time spent in South Africa tends to the length of one’s full time, the probability of you being personally affected by crime tends to 1 (or 100%).

The thing is that I am not at all prepared to do what Lucy, David Lurie’s daughter in Disgrace says, "Perhaps that is what I must learn to accept, to start at ground level. With nothing…” I am not prepared to accept nothing. I am not prepared to believe that I have to retell my story on demand. I will do so at my pleasure. If I choose to I will lie and omit and if not I will tell people what I think. I will strategize if I want to and laugh at the absurdity of it all: the absurdity of laser beams, of poverty, of the extremes of violation in literature, film and life in general and our responses to it. Lastly, I will meditate on the language of inevitability of the fact that if you’re in South Africa eventually you’ll be faced with criminal activity and violation and you’ll have to deal with it. How you accept it though is something else entirely, I don’t propose starting at ground level with nothing, I propose instead a grappling with the language, with the form of expression that you choose so that your writing, your communications, no matter how blunt, oblique, truthful, mendacious or whatever finds you in a capacity able and willing to fight for and to accept more.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Vryheid, Newcastle, Ladysmith, etc

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, March 15, 2007 | Category: | 0 comments

So I haven’t written about my recent experiences in Northern KwaZulu Natal. It’s all be fairly mundane in terms of work. Mostly I have been pent up in offices with various people trying to find specific files in folders several volumes long. All I need are 3 files within these larger files – the PIRs, Designation Memos and List of Beneficiaries. Don’t worry about what that means, or why they’re relevant to me.

In Vryheid I had the wonderful experience of arriving and basically spending three hours trying to get one random admin person to understand what I needed and why and yes I had communicated with his superiors and yes this is a copy of the emails and could he just help me! Communication was strange, I had to ask him to repeat things office because his accent was thick. We had one conversation in which he wanted to ask me how much money I made ‘in theh pryvaat sectah’. I explained carefully (again) that I wasn’t in the private sector. But he didn’t seem to get it and asked how much money I was being paid in my ‘pryvaat sectah johb’. I didn’t tell him how much, just simply said that it was decent. He wants to go into the private sector and build a business rather than be in government. He likes the idea of his spawn (my word, not his) taking over a company he has built from scratch. ‘You cahn’t hev femilly coming into johbs when you ah in govennment.’ Well, at least he’s not a sponsor for corruption. That day and the next were very long. And I haven’t even mentioned that they were having their offices re-carpeted and consequently I spent most of those two days high (relatively speaking) on glue fumes.

Other highlights in Vryheid:

Being the only white person in the KFC – I found out later that most white people went to ‘the other KFC’. I found that very funny and had to do my best not to laugh.

Running the main road in Vryheid, dead pigeon, beer bottles, so much littering the grass you’d think you were in Greenpoint after a concert in the stadium. Very odd.

The odd people in the bar. A trio of bikers. A trio of Americans, one of whom was a woman with ‘blonde’ hair, and who swore in every sentence. Her commentary on fishing and the nuances of the taste of fish (“No, that one’s really shitty”, or “Shit I wouldn’t eat that”, or “That one’s fucking good eatin”). Several regulars. A middle-aged/post-menopausal (you have to have post-something) couple who were getting drunk together, both of them were rosy-nosed and you could see this was ritualized, mutual reinforcing alcoholism. They were very friendly.

The lady at the reception of my B&B (really a hotel), the Shonalanga Lodge, who was definitely a poppie-waiting-for-a-man-to-take-her-away. For some reason her hair was grown down to beneath her bottom – almost like she was hoping to be an Afrikaan Rapunzel about to catch some city man with her hair and her odd (khaki stripes, navy with stripes, etc) suits.

I had to get up at 5:30 the next morning to be at meetings in New Castle starting at 7:45. That was fun. The drive was uneventful, although occasionally misty.

Poignant moment: children walking to school in groups, looking about 6/7 and older, to ensure that they get to school on time. Skipping through the mist.

New Castle was way more efficient than Vryheid. Thankfully. However, almost all of the staff had to be at meetings at 10am which meant that my ‘interviews’ had to be done at hyperspeed. Again got some information. Very useful. Marveled at the Zulu/Xhosa/Nguni generally tradition of referring to people with a ‘u’ prefix– you know uMandela, uSimon and so on. Marveled also at the number of employees who have passed away (not of old age, I didn’t ask further questions). Which brought to light the massive problem that this is in South Africa, with the death of people their knowledge of projects, institutions, and so many other things vanishes. Sucks. This is purely the Econ-Simon talking, not the emotional one who is like ‘My Word! Their families…’ but we won’t get into that.

Left New Castle and made my way to Ladysmith. Ahh yes, Ladysmith of the Battlegrounds. The Battlegrounds seem to be what Northern KZN is famous for, I drove past several routes to Blood River and many signs for ‘Battleground B&B’ or ‘Battleground Camping’. Hmm… So very pleasant, let’s celebrate war! Yay! Mutual Killing of Brits, Boers and Zulus, Yay! WTF? Don’t get it.

I was surprised by the number of strange toad-women I encountered in Ladysmith, receptionists, administrators, cooks and the like. I call them toad-women because of their, well, surprising similarity in form and shape to toads. They all seem to have this odd propensity to be quite capably vast (i.e. they expand their waists with incredible capability), not only that but they spread out in such a way that it makes it look as though they would leap at you and squash you in their capacious bosoms at the drop of a suitably alluring cupcake (or some such), but also because they have this strange wobbling, squatting walk. Toad-women. However, this image can be suddenly shattered when you hear one of them talk, if it is a high-pitched, accented, squeal of a voice then the juxtaposition of the frog image on this vocal oddity can be quite scary. Terrifying in fact.

Moving away from terror, but extending the animal imagery, the restaurant manager at the hotel provided me with another interesting animal to consider. He looked rather like an overgrown and overplump pug dog. It was almost as if his father had repeatedly dropped him on his face as a child, or alternatively if he had repeatedly met with fights at school. Either of these would suffice to result in the squashed flat visage with which I was so frighteningly provided. Moreover, the moustache on his top lip and curling slightly around his mouth helped to cement the image, making him look even squishier and pug-like. Odd. Moreover it solidified the sensation of terror that seemed so pervasive in Ladysmith.

So I slept in Ladysmith in ‘The Royal Hotel’. I think that the ‘Royal’ was meant to be some insistence by the progenitors of the establishment to insist that Ladysmith and its neighbour Harrismith were linked to British royalty, or at least its nobility. The owners also showed their willingness to extend this by using decorations in the mode of the ‘British Pub’ (monolithic concept that it is). So there were numerous dimly lit areas, wood was pervasive and poorly patterned carpeting and curtains were the requisite ‘final touch’. Ahhh feels like… um… poor taste. The bed was bad. However, there is a redeeming feature. Personally, I judge establishments, hotels/b&bs specifically, by their showers. If they have piddling showers that have no pressure and drip as incessantly as an incontinent octogenarian, then they are relegated to the ‘unsalvageable’ category. However, if they have potent, virile, pressured, striking, get the dirt off of rugby-player showers, then they are redeemed (if they were in the dog box prior to that), or they are further lauded (if they are already to my satisfaction). So yes, this hotel was partly redeemed because of its wonderful shower.

Oh yes, at dinner, being bitten by fleas leaping onto my unsuspecting legs from their abodes in the carpet did not stir up my loyalty. Silly them for allowing a hotbed of fleas to develop in their kitschly chosen ‘Brit-pub’ carpet.

Sleep = arb. Heard squeaky bed next door late at night. Heard boere-bakkies (they are a special breed that make more noise than any other bakkies in existence) churning oil and chuckling out smoke at about 5am, probably the valiant steeds of boeres looking to be on farms early in the morning. Woke me way earlier than I would have liked.

As a result of seeing some women at breakfast a question begged itself of me. Why do highlights seem so incredibly out of place in a black woman’s hair? The vision: her hair relaxed, then dyed-highlighted, the shaped with mousse. The problem: it looks rather like a bush buck’s tail with the remnants of excrement staining bottom half, and the top half golden or white. But all of this had somehow made its way to the head rather than the arse hole on this specimen of womanhood. Ho hum.

I had my fresh fruit and my yoghurt with muesli. A note: it requires incredible self-discipline not to have the eggs/bacon/sausage thing that hotels offer for breakfast. Even when you know it isn’t going to be as good as you yourself would cook, simply because it is there, often in the company of stodgy muffins or scones and tomatoes that have lost their red, you feel the urge to consume them. I have resisted it! I didn’t have it on this trip. I did on my previous one to Port Shepstone and it was a bad decision, but I managed to resist the urge this time.

One of my last experiences on the trip was the Virgin Active gym in Durban. I managed to get myself in free of charge and have a work-out, something I had been craving for the past few days. Jogs, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, etc have nothing on a good cycle followed by an upper body work out and a decent shower and KAUAI! Wow it felt great to do good exercise and eat good food. I felt restored. My parents would be proud.

Right now I am in Durban International Airport. I tried to master my map and find a route to the airport. It took longer than expected and at least a few U-turns. They were quite thrilling – U-turns in the face of oncoming traffic at high speed. Lots of fun!

I decided to treat myself to a waffle and ice-cream at the coffee shop here as I had arrived far too early to go past the gates. However this treat has been more like an attack of ignorance about what waffles are meant to be like. It is not hot. I had to send it back because it didn’t have ice-cream. I then had to ask for syrup/honey/something to do the waffle-thing. Oh well. Moral of the story? Waffle is bad. I shouldn’t have gone on as long as I have.

Love you all and can’t wait to be home.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Posted by Simon Halliday | Sunday, March 11, 2007 | Category: | 1 comments

Well, I’ve just arrived in Durban again. This time I got to drive into Durban proper, rather than simply take the N2 directly out of the Airport to Port Shepstone. Tomorrow I drive to Vryheid.

The flight here wasn’t too eventful, except for being over-populous as a result of the Cape Argus Cycle Tour. No aisle seat for me, I was squished between a madala type in a green suit, tie and hat and a Zulu woman with stick-out-backwards hair. All very cool. I was reading Bret Easton Ellis’ Rules of Attraction interspersed with an analysis by Brodskey of Robert Frost in a collection called Homage to Robert Frost. Apart from a bit of turbulence the flight was delightfully uneventful. The turbulence sent me on a stream of consciousness hypothetical story about the plane, something along the lines of:

the plane lands safely the plane hits the ground the brakes screech the rudder rattles the passengers feel the force of it but they arrive safely the wheels hit the ground and the craft begins to aquaplane the brakes engage eventually the arrive safely the wheels hit the ground the craft aquaplanes it hurtles towards the terminal the driver controls it but sacrifices some of the people on the plane by crashing into a petrol-truck standing by which results in an explosion he is cremated on the spot the pilot engages the plane’s landing gear one wheel doesn’t come out properly they don’t know and still try to land the craft aquaplanes and spins spins spins somehow gains speed smashes into the terminals causing massive destruction death calamity the plane lands safely the plane feels the water dripping from it

Anyway, arriving in Durban and upon egress from the plane I was assaulted by the typical, tropical mode of Durban: heat and humidity. You walk for fifty metres from your aircraft and you begin to sweat. Not pleasant, especially for a silly person of pom descent such as myself who suffers in this type of condition. Oh well…

I got my rental car – Toyota Corolla. Again. White. Drives decently. Importantly: AIRCON! I had to ask directions to the City Lodge (where I am typing this) of the lady of Indian descent who was at the Budget Car Rentals. She duly provided me with a map and described my route. I managed not to follow her directions but still arrive at the City Lodge. Go me.

At the Lodge I had a funny series of misadventures within the first few minutes of arrival. Luckily, the receptionists (or service managers, or whatever they’re called these days) were holding my booking form in their hands (yes, both of them were simultaneously holding it – I think they were in the process of an exchange of sorts). Signed forms, gave numbers. Blah. Get some change to get a much-needed chocolate – can’t have any during the week, last chance so to speak. At the vending machine I see the courageous Bar One that wishes to assuage my craving (anthropomorphized by the power of said craving, and actually having agency and preferences, such as fulfilling its Simon-given purpose) and I slam in my five rand coin. The Bar One does not jump down to the bottom as it should. I begin to question its commitment to my craving. I think, ok, fine, price differentiation and all that, I’ll pay ten rand for my bar one. I put in another five rand coin. The Bar One moves forward slightly but once more decides that the vending machine slot for us humans to harvest the wares is not its optimal locus. I get the service managers to help me - both of them again leaping to my aid with alacrity and joie de vivre oozing from their every pore, well not actually, but I was thinking of making this into a musical and the stage directions I’d provide for my troupe. They give me two Bar Ones after hearing of my travails.

I waltz up to my room – Room 219 in the ‘Non-Smoking Wing’. It looks as though their ‘Smoking Wing’ is larger than their ‘Non-Smoking Wing’. This concerns me. Unlucky for me I have the room at the absolute end of the passage. Quite please that, for the first time ever, I have my very own (I’ve shared one before) door-swipey-card-thingy I suavely place it into the slot. Hmm… the yellow light blinks twice. Internal Monologue: that’s not meant to happen. Solution 1: Read the instructions on the back and follow said instructions. Perform Solution 1. Blinky yellow lights. Solution 1 doesn’t elicit required result. Solution 2: Perform ‘Solution 1’ slowly. Blinky Yellow Lights. Solutions 3 – 5: Perform ‘Solution 1’, but with the nuance of repeatedly jamming the card into the hole. BLINKY Yellow Lights. Result: Solutions 3-5 fail miserably. Solution 6: Realize I am being filmed and go to ask for help. Hmm… I am not being filmed, but I still go to ask for help. The service manager (only one this time) encodes a new card and accompanies me to my room commenting appositely on how far it is from reception (Image: Simon lugging bags to Room 219, the room farthest from the reception. Again).

Once in my room I was sweating (refer to last image). I looked for the Air Conditioner of Joy. It turns out not to be the Air Conditioner of Joy, but rather the Air Conditioner of Making-a-Massive-Racket. Which leaves me with a conundrum – do I wish to fall asleep and wake up because I feel hot and sweaty? or, alternatively, do I wish to simply lie in bed, but not sleep because of the noise? Hmm… difficult one… Catch Twenty-Two comes to mind, but in a far more mundane, and only personally annoying sense.

Ok, time for me to end this arbitrary post. Life she is hectic. Wow.

Friday, March 09, 2007


Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, March 09, 2007 | Category: | 3 comments

Traveling is interesting. In any of its aspects it is. I am not particularly accustomed to getting up before 5am to get to the airport before my flight leaves, but I did that this morning in order to go to a regional land reform office to do work on the Quality of Life project on which Malcolm Keswell and I are working for the DLA. Rocking!

I arrived in Durban and it was 24 degrees at 9am. Thankfully the car that was booked for me is air-conditioned. I then drove directly to Port Shepstone. I’ve never been to ‘Sheppie’ before. I took the Northern offramp to Port Shepstone and drove down a regional road with trees overhanging the road on either side. It is so incredibly lush here, massive tracts of land covered in pale green sugar cane, dark green skinned avocadoes being sold on the road by hefty mamas, the bright greens of the banana trees. Some of the trees that overhung the road were a more sullen, deep green. KZN can give you several definitions, several ideas of what constitutes ‘green’.

I felt as though I had really come to another country, rather than just had a 2 hour plane flight to another area in South Africa. It really appeals to me that SA hosts such a multiplicity of regions with their own micro-climates.

Anyway, back to Sheppie. What I found also to be particularly interesting and somewhat strange (not having seen it before) driving down the main road here was that the beach on the left hand side as you approach the town breasts a sea that is a damp and sandy brown. It was low-ish tide and there is a river mouth in the bay which is why it is so brown, but I hadn’t seen the river yet and it looked as though the see was a churning mass of brown, rather than the customary steel and dark blue one attributes to the sea.

Sitting in the office, the electricity keeps on switching off and then on again – it messes with productivity like you wouldn’t believe. Luckily I am on a laptop and things work ok for me, but these people whose computers keep on switching off and then on again, it creates havoc for them.

* * *

Other than that, I was staying in a pokey two star place called ‘Venture Inn’ (ha ha…ha). I walked into my room and immediately started to have Simon Halliday allergic reactions to dust mite overpopulation – puffy eyes, closing chest, itchy & scratchy, etc. So, I found someone who told me where to find a pharmacy and I duly bought antihistamines. They were called Laura, I teased the lady at the dispensary asking her why she was trying to sell me the pill (Diane - Laura…?).

Got back and went for a run. That was good – reminded me how ‘nature’ (that monolithic thing that we categorise as nature at least) seems to be very different in South Coast KwaZulu Natal than it does in Cape Town. In Cape Town our nature is tamed, even at its wildest in suburban spaces, say Klaassenbosch, we still have things labeled and signposted. In Sheppie on the one side of the road you have squat, brown & red facebricked house (it goes from one colour of brick to the other, with an icing of plastered and painted wall - it seems as though that is an attempt at diverse ‘style’) and on the other you are presented with these leaves, grasses, browns, greens and wildness. It reminds me of the origins of the word savage – that which comes from the forest, is of the woods, that which is wild (hence also satyr if I recall accurately).

* * *

Something else that was oddly surprising about my pokey abode was the food. Included in the stay there are dinner and breakfast. The dinner menu was comprehensive and meaty. I had the best spare ribs I have had in a long time at this hotel (two stars, random shitty rooms with dolphin print duvets and run-all-night toilet plumbing (unless you are cunning and know the basics of how to lift the lid and organise the inner workings)). They were honey basted and MASSIVE! I couldn’t finish them. All good though.

While eating on the covered verandah of the hotel I sat at my table (in those dodgy plastic chairs that are prone to breaking if you swing on them) with its lino-base cover and watched, felt, heard, sensed the rain as it came down. I don’t think rain is ever something one just can feel the touch of, it is almost an entire bodily experience, which is why I like rain, in fact part of me would love to do the prancing-in-the-rain-naked thing. Although that requires very few people to be around and freedom to prance, but I digress. It was storming as I ate. Another couple were there for a birthday dinner (what a treat!?) others were trying to get the name of the waitress correct (“Moyi, tog so, like ‘Prrretty in Afrrrikaans? Moyo?”). It was quite futile – rather like watching a pea attempting to climb a plate in a dishwasher (peas have agency, I promise).

After drugging myself with anti-histamines and getting ever-closer to the end of Midnight’s Children (Saleem had left the Sundarbans, joined his uncle’s family, left his uncle’s family, and met Pictureji), I feel promptly asleep. Pre-5am mornings are not good things, in fact there rather like Helsinki – Who goes there?

Morning: I had the semi-hang-over of a part-doped, part-hay-fevered individual. Choleric almost. Well not quite, but fun to say. Yes, choler – in that kind of terrifying, Roman, Propertian manner (Wow, it’s sometimes so much fun to over-write things).

Breakfast was heinous.

The rest of the morning at the regional DLA was productive. I managed to change my flight, drive to Durban international and fly home. The trip was energizing, exciting and draining at the same time. I have gotten a better sense of what is required of me for this project, what is going to be required on the ground later on, and various other things. It’s all quite hectic really.

Anyway, I fly out to Durban again on Sunday. I drive to Vryheid on Monday, then Ladysmith on Wednesday and hopefully back on Thursday night (holding thumbs), nevertheless if I need to be there longer, then so be it. This project requires WAY more work than lecturing ever did, but it is far more exciting as a result.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Split This

Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, March 02, 2007 | Category: | 2 comments

I have a niggling hate that has become more and more obvious as time has passed. It is a hatred of split infinitives. For those of you who don’t know, an infinitive is a “to ___” word, i.e. the verb in an ‘infinite’ form, such that it can be applied readily to anyone or anything. There is no object and no subject.

In languages other than English, the infinitive is normally a single word, hence it cannot be split. For example the words ‘avere’ in Italian, or ‘avoir’ in French translate into the infinitive ‘to have’ in English. Thus, in these Latin-derivates, you cannot split up the infinitive with a heinously placed adverb. For example you can’t translate ‘to boldly go’ into Italian or French, it will translate as either ‘boldly to go’ or ‘to go boldly’.

These days people using English, specifically Amer-english, tend to split their infinitives willy-nilly (as an example, ‘to willy-nilly split their infinitives’). It is pervasive. I read academic papers and they say ‘to rigorously show’, or ‘to adequately prove’. THIS IS HEINOUS! It is incorrect. I know people go on philosophical rants about “whose right is it to honestly choose (ha ha, get it?) what the right English is? Hey?”

I say, “Screw ‘em!” The correct English is that which obeys most readily the accepted linguistic rules. I can excuse 2nd/3rd language English speakers when this occurs. When I am not concentrating occasionally I fall into this colloquial speech trap (so devised by Americans to get us to speak as they do. Well… not consciously, but it is a driver). However, if I am reading a statement (by SASCO for example), or a journalistic piece of writing, or something else which is making every attempt to be ‘accurate’ then this bugs me. Just thought you should know. I dislike split infinitives. Irrational, but true.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

I forgot this one...

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, March 01, 2007 | Category: | 0 comments


The Cape bears the scars

of cling-wrap beaches

tight against its shores

curled grotesquely into coves,

that interrupt the language of rock

the speech of sea anemones.

Stalks of brown kelp

all broken yolk slimy

and stamped on by the

pale feet of Cape Town’s

pick-'n-pay packet children

colour the sand off-white.

Discarded heads of rope

and the pecked-empty skulls

of once screeching gulls

make a mausoleum of the coastline

bucket and spade headstones

and sand-inscribed epitaphs.

A blue and white plastic bag

floats about in the wind that

drives down the crinkle-cut coast.

It could be waiting to become

a boy on the beach. Methodically,

he’d tie the laces of his shoes

scrape off sand and salt.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Io Scrivo

Posted by Simon Halliday | Tuesday, February 27, 2007 | Category: | 1 comments


Driving the N1 is a baptism by fumes:

Total immersion in the smoky viscera

of internal combustion, their invasion

of your nostrils turns your snot black

and gritty as last week’s left-over ash.

It was midday on a Friday in December,

and the traffic was thick as turning yoghurt

left out on a summer’s afternoon.

My fingers gripped the steering wheel so tightly

the bruised leather of its contours

stuck to the skin, adhered to my

knuckle wrinkles like old, viscid malt.

* * *

Rub your thumb against your index finger

when your palms are slightly sweaty.

You should get the kind of squeaky,


“No, I don’t want soup”


that inhabited my car

(small, white, no aircon,

the tyres going bald)

Yes, you’ve got it

– that kind of hot.

* * *

I was driving the N1

out of Cape Town.

It was holiday time.

dogs of war (revision)

the dogs

(of this war)

are weakened

they’re without food

they’ve devolved to water ripple ribs

to necks so thin they look

like they’ve grown fins

I see them skulk

Langa's streets,

the other orphans of this

filial affair

sanguine and loyal

they’re left behind

without caregivers

sans family

amidst the real orphans,

the opal eyed glue-sniffers

the cup-your-hands-to-catch-

water-from-a-tap beggar boys

bent on catching something,

even if it is aids and

“they’re far too young for any of this”

and “I agree” and “it happens”

and it just doesn’t make

sense that we can’t do anything

about the fact that dogs are the

survivors of families dead by aids.

There are dogs dead

and dogs dying in the street.

That’s just the dogs.

People are doing the same thing.

And white people I know seem to cry more

about dead dogs (flies buzzing)

than lots and lots of dead,

poor, unemployed, black, people.

‘same difference’

some of them say.

the salt of lost oceans

in a kiss

I taste the salt

of lost


on your lips

one Day crafts another

Sunrise starts

its claim of Dawn

a steady consonance

the coalescence

of rays of the sun

their ocean reflections

their shimmers in rivers

their clasp on glass

form sunlight’s shackles

on Daytime

yet the lock’s decay is steady

the Aurora of night

slip the chains,

and Day is released to Darkness

Nighttime stakes its claim

unreflective, unshimmering,

but clasping and bright

as a changing Moon

that relights the night

then relinquishes its hold

as Sunrise starts

its claim of Dawn

a steady consonance

the coalescence

of rays of the sun.

just so

as we lie in the half-night

your teeth and tongue

make playful chiaroscuro

of its darkness and light

your lips cross-hatch

your mouth, your teeth are the

paper-thin white that sits

beneath every charcoal sketch

none of them have had your face

tight against this black and white

blanket, your back up and down

with night-breath, and the slight

curve of your shoulders as you clutch

the pillow to your breasts: pale,

caught by moonbeams that cleave

the curtains and tie you with the such

enormous strength of the night-time,

silk slivers of ropey darkness,

that bind to a sketch of you in bed

in the half-light, the sublime

just so you are caught in the artistry of dreams

The height of care

was the sagging skin

of my grandmother’s elbow

dipped carefully

into hot bath water

She would dip and stir

dip and stir

as she patiently awaited

the perfect temperature

she would gently sing

‘til the folded-in skin

of her elbow said:

this is right, bathe him now.

She would lift my

brother by the hefts of

baby-skin beneath the armpit

and slowly settle him down

into the water: his vetkoek feet

then his lumpy legs and

plump tummy ‘til he sat in

the bathwater solid on his bum

she soaped him with method

to end she would pour the elbow tested

water over his head,

he’d chortle. She’d laugh.

The importance of ice-cream lids

Over the back-seat

front-seat separation

a father hands his son

the lid of an ice cream tub.

The boy, held back by the

black seatbelt, strains to claim

the lid from his dad’s hands.

Finally, he nabs it,

grasps the booty and takes a moment

before slowly licking the

circumference of the lid

The circle of chocolate

diminishes in the face of

his concentrated ministrations.

And afterwards, left with a half-moon of

melted chocolate ice-cream,

face and fingers all dirty brown

and a once-white T-shirt

He smiles. His father in front,

who should be angry at the mess,

instead laughs, and laughs, and laughs.

And I

And I’m sitting inside this

Big house in Bishopscourt

And I’m hungry and my food

Hasn’t arrived

And the doorbell rings

And I think at friggin last

And I go out to the gate

And there’s this delivery guy

And I was going to tip him

Just under 10%

And his wife and his little baby

Are inside the cold car

And it’s raining, and it’s wet

And I have my food

And his wife and his child

Are in the idling car

And I give him over 20%

And I leave feeling slightly…

And I have so much

And he’s a delivery guy

And it’s a Friday night and his wife

And little boy are in the car

And my meal gets cold

And I eat it like that

And it still tastes ok.