Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Alistair The Awesome-ist

I obsess on silly things when I write. Like the finger marks on my walls and whether the trees that were planted for the Soccer World Cup are getting enough water. Things like that.

And so it is in that cold week in July when I am writing Confessions of a Virgin Loser for Mr Steve Vosloo from the Shuttleworth Foundation and his cellphone mad young adults that I become obsessed with the dog next door.
Nameless Dog is the unhappiest puppy in the world. He is ugly. He doesn’t have a name. And he lives in a cold concrete courtyard at the back of an empty house with The Caretaker who never walks him or says what a good dog you are.
Nameless Dog howls a lot. And on one cold day in that week of July he escapes and makes his way into my garden. And he and Zwiggy, the pavement special from the SPCA that belongs to Teen2 become best friends. And Zwiggy and Nameless Dog play. 

                                 And play.

                                And play

But The Caretaker comes around and beats Nameless Dog and takes him back to his cold concrete courtyard. And Nameless Dog howls. And I obsess on Nameless Dog’s howling.
The Caretaker doesn’t feed and water Nameless Dog too often. So I throw bones over the courtyard wall. And Nameless Dog sleeps outside on the concrete so I throw a blanket over as well. But still Nameless Dog howls. And Zwiggy howls too.
One Sunday morning I track down Nameless Dog’s owner who lives in another house in a posh suburb and I offer to adopt Nameless Dog. The Owner says no, I am fond of the dog. So I say: what’s his name? And The Owner pauses too long and says the dog's name is Sunday. And I don’t believe him.
I obsess about phoning the SPCA and I obsess about kidnapping Nameless Dog and every ten minutes instead of writing Confessions of Virgin Loser I look over the courtyard wall at Nameless Dog and I tell him that I’m so sorry. For everything.
Then I make a hole in the fence and let Nameless Dog crawl through to have play dates with Zwiggy. And they play.

                                And play.

                                And play

And before The Caretaker gets homes I push Nameless Dog back through the fence and block the hole.
But Nameless Dog digs and digs his way under the fence. So I block this hole. Then Nameless Dog digs some more. And I obsess about blocking the holes faster than Nameless Dog can unblock them.

                                It obsesses me.

                                It obsesses me more.

                                 And more.

And sometimes Nameless Dog gets the better of me and spends days in our garden. And has sleepovers too. And The Caretaker doesn’t notice. Or doesn’t care.
Then one day Teen2’s Nameless Friend comes to visit. He meets Nameless Dog. He says what a handsome dog you are. He also says you are the awesome-ist dog I have ever met. He then says I’ll call you Alistair. Alistair The Awesome-ist. He finally says I wish I could have a dog like you.
And then one Saturday, months after Confessions of a Virgin Loser has been written and read by thousands of cellphone addicts, Alistair The Awesome-ist goes missing.
And a week later, when he cares to notice, The Caretaker asks if I’ve seen the dog. And I say no. Through zipped lips.

Alistair The Awesome-ist - where did you go, hey? ;)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Walking the block

Writing a cellphone story isn’t much different to writing any other kind of story. The chapters are just shorter by a couple of thousand words. And getting writer's block every now and then happens just like it always does.

So it is in that cold week in July when I am writing Confessions of a Virgin Loser for Mr Steve Vosloo of the Shuttleworth Foundation. I hit my first block. It happens in Chapter Ten, half way through this story of 20 chapters.
My dilemma is that I don’t want Frank to smoke weed and get high. I want to get him out of the situation and I don’t know how.
When I hit a block, I go walking. There’s always something on my walks that makes me see things differently. Like these people and their dogs.

How inspirational is that? Colour coding your dogs with your outfits.
And this chap. I call him the Tramp Man, although it’s not his name. I see him on my walks all the time. He stands outside people’s houses and won’t leave until they cook him a big egg and bacon fry-up.
The Tramp Man

The Tramp Man has been given guest appearances in two of my books, the most recent one, Melly, Mrs Ho and Me. And he also appears in The Club.

Then there’s this guy here. He walks in my neighbourhood every day. He also looks like a tramp, but he’s not, he’s actually an MD for a huge media company. I wish his wife would buy him a new T-shirt.
Holey T-shirt walker

Sometimes I find stuff on my walks. Like this chair over here. It was a bit rusty but I brought it home and painted it. If I found a cushion too I would be able to sit on it.

Groovy chair sans cushion

And then there are always the dogs. The nice thing about Zwiggy - Teen2’s new dog that sometimes walks with me - is that she doesn’t bark at the other dogs. But that doesn’t stop them from barking at me. I meet a lot of dogs on my walks. They make a helluva racket.

Annoying yappy dog
I also come across disgusting garbage in the streets.
And I meet a lot of private security guards with names like Professor and Doctor and Christian. They come from places like Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Between the garbage that is never collected, and the security guards who are privately employed by people who don’t want their stuff stolen all the time, I think about how my tax dollar is being spent. On things like helicopters and submarines and German cars. I think about how much I’m being ripped off.
And when I return from my walk, inspired and unblocked, I decide I’ll let Frank get ripped off too.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In pursuit of wacky backy at the Jah House

Smoking dope is not my strength. It either makes me fall asleep or get weird. After my first year at University I don't do it much anymore, and as the years pass, I lose The Knowledge.
So getting Frank in Chapter Nine of Confessions of a Virgin Loser to go out and score some weed is a challenge. It's the old journalist in me - I like to be accurate or as close to the truth as dammit.
Back in my University days there were a couple of streets in Woodstock where the words: “a five rand bankie, my china” scored a bank bag packed with weed. But where to in Jozi – and how to?
When in doubt, I ask my two always-up-to-something-Teens. Between them resides the Wisdom of Solomon and the wickedness of Death By Chocolate.
Thus I find myself one cold week in July with Teen2 and her two pals Nameless1 and Nameless2 on the way to the Jah House. It's a couple of streets down the road from their school - the one I have mortgaged their father and our house to pay for.
The Jah House is one of those old character houses in the eastern suburbs of Jozi with the high pressed ceilings and wooden floors. Its roof is painted an acid trip -  or perhaps the colours of the Rastafarian movement.
We reach the Jah House and I’m sweating. Should I stop? Should I park?  A green palisade fence surrounds the Jah House and people pass. Some enter. A normal day in a Jozi street. I circle the block.
No sweat, Mummy, Nameless1 says. All I have to do is walk through the front gate. It’s really safe – see there’s a cop close by, I won’t get mugged. And then they laugh at the Old Fart - that's me.

Through the front door I’ll find a couple of dreadlocked Rastas. Speak to the older looking one, Nameless2 says. It’s ten bucks for a ready to go rolled joint. Just ask for a dozen Swazi. Or how ever many I want.
I don’t ask how come they're so well informed - or if they have an account. Sometimes you just don’t want to know.

In pursuit of Babylon at The Jah House

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Amazing Brick

This is my cellphone. I call it The Brick. It was born long before Noah even got a twinkle in his eye about building that ark of his.  

The Brick in its fulsome awesomeness

I use The Brick for making calls, sending and receiving messages and it also wakes me up in the morning. What more can a person want from a cellphone?

Then Mr Steve Vosloo of the Shuttleworth Foundation came along and asked me to write an m-book which young adults could read off their cellphones. It seems that young adults like doing all sorts of stuff on their cellphones, apart from texting and calling.

Mr Steve Vosloo also asked writers Fiona Snyckers and Charlie Human to write a story for the young adults, so they could have three m-books to read.

Confessions of a Virgin Loser is the twenty chapter story I wrote for Mr Steve Vosloo. He put it on the cellphone in the month of September along with Charlie and Fiona’s stories.

Last week Mr Steve Vosloo sent me an email containing the presentation he made at a conference in Barcelona about how much the cellphone junkies liked the stories. Barcelona is a nice city. I wish I could have been there to hear Mr Steve Vosloo talk, and not just get the presentation via email.

If I had been at the conference in Barcelona listening to Mr Steve Vosloo telling the conference delegates about his project to encourage reading among young cellphone addicts, I would have heard that Confessions of a Virgin Loser got 18 000 reads. This means that a lot of young adults read the story.

They seemed to like it too because there were about 15 000 comments about Confessions of a Virgin Loser in that month of September. One of the comments said: "This story is da B.O.M.B." Which  is a good thing, I am told.

I think that’s great. But I wish these readers would take their noses out of their cellphones and get out and buy real books – especially the ones I have displayed down the side of this blog.
Then maybe I could go on holiday, to Barcelona. And Madrid. Or buy a real cellphone and send The Brick on holiday.
Mr Steve Vosloo’s presentation can be downloaded here:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The unbearable vomiting of teens

I always have a bit of vomiting in my books, thanks to Teen1. She has impressive vomiting tendencies. So because of her, Confessions of a Virgin Loser also got a good chundering.

There was the time four years ago when Teen1 hit the Hawaiian pizza too hard. The next morning I had her on her hands and knees scraping bits of pineapple and mushroom off the bedroom carpet with an egg lifter. (You have to give your daughters something to talk to their shrinks about)

This vomiting incident made it onto page one of The Summer of Toffie and Grummer. The first line, in fact. I am grateful to Teen1 for the inspiration.

Then there was the time, a few years later when Teen1 mistook the Alco-pops for fruit juice (yeah right!) at a friend’s coming of age party. She upchucked on the back seat of her friend’s mom’s brand new car, claiming a toxic prawn allergy.

The car was so brand new it had only left the shop the day before. On this occasion it was left to Teen1’s dad to apply the egg lifter to the back seat of the car. Teen1 paid for the professional cleaning service.

This incident made it into Pops and The Nearly Dead when poor Regina Versagel marinated the back seat of her mom’s brand new car with a cocktail of Gluhwein and punch after the Christmas Carol evening. I included this in the final edit. It was irresistible.

Frank’s vomiting incident in Chapter Seven is the combo of the toxic prawn incident (as it is called in the family lore) and the 2010 incident. This incident (also legendary) occurred when Teen1 once again mistook wine for water and christened the outside of one of her few remaining friend’s father’s car – the night before the start of the Soccer World Cup.

There was a lot of family fun that day at Soccer City. Thanks Teen1 for a memorable day.

After every alcohol/toxic prawn vomiting incident I have freaked out and proved to be even more useless than I usually am.

Telling my daughter - “you’re grounded for under-age drinking” is as stupid as saying - “you can booze binge and vomit your guts out over everyone's cars when you come of age."

But I say this, every time, and Teen1 gets grounded. And I still don't have any answers.

Hey Booze Boys, don't be selling hard liquor to my girls. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A bit of Goodwill

When I am writing, apart from building a stoep and dealing with domestic meltdowns, I like to garden. Or rather, I like to watch my gardener garden.

This is Goodwill my gardener. And he is also Claire and Patti and Diana’s gardener. We share him.


I get to garden with Goodwill on Mondays and Fridays, which is far too little Goodwill for me. Because without Goodwill, I can’t garden. And I can’t write.
I sit down to write the second half of Confessions of a Virgin Loser for Mr Steve Vosloo of the Shuttleworth Foundation and my fingers freeze on the keyboard.
I look out of my office window and this is what I see. I see an archway leading to a swimming pool. And I want to walk through that archway and flop belly first into that pool.

The arch outside my office leading to the swimming pool

No I mustn’t, because it is one of the coldest weeks in July and I will get hypothermia.
But things aren’t making sense any more. Especially that archway outside my office leading me to the swimming pool and third degree frostbite.
I tell Goodwill that we are going to be doing some garden redesign today. He says what? I tell him we’re moving the archway from outside my office so that I can eliminate the obstruction to the free flow of ideas.
I also tell Goodwill to please stop crying and don’t even think about running all the way back to Zimbabwe. He too can contribute towards promoting literacy among the cellphone addicted young adults at the tip of the southern hemisphere by helping me write an m-book.
Goodwill says fine he’ll get the spade. I tell him not to forget the string because he is hopeless at getting the lines straight.
Goodwill digs and digs. The chapters of Confessions of a Virgin Loser flow from my fingers onto the keyboard like the Amazon River in flood. Goodwill plants and plants.

This is what the garden looks like now. The lines are very straight. Thanks to Goodwilll's spade and my string. 

An archway leading to a table and chairs, not a swimming pool. Much better.

Yip, I also noticed that the roses didn’t survive the transplant. They should look like this.
Roses in full bloom

But of course they don’t. Because roses don't like to be messed about with.

Today I am supposed to be writing the sequel to Melly, Mrs Ho and Me – which is a book for people who like using their cellphones for making calls (and not reading books).
I look at the dead roses and I tell Goodwill that these roses are very dead, aren’t they?  We should replace them with a nice creeping Jasmine.
Goodwill says no, give the roses some more time. And some water, perhaps, I say? In the meantime the Jasmine can live in the pot outside my office.

Note the sticks in the pot to deter Zwiggy the dog
I look at the view outside my office. There is no longer an arch. This is what I see instead of the arch of roses leading me to the swimming pool.

A tree that won't grow and a weber that can't
I tell Goodwill I think we need to do some garden redesign; I need to write. Let's get the spade and string.

Goodwill says he thinks I need to get a towel and sunscreen. I need to take a running jump into that swimming pool.