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, 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.