What is it with all these South Africans?
(Confessions of an opened mind) by Danny Brooke
It's late, I'm thirsty and not a little wobbly on my feet. See, here I am leaning on 1.6 metres of MDF and stainless steel wedged between a hairy-arsed Australian and an emerald-cladded Irishman (strains of I-reland, I-reland!, ringing in my ears) - England having just lost to the Irish in the Six Nations (but that's enough of that!).
Anyway, I've been playing this game, one where I wave some money in the vague hope of exchanging it for some liquid refreshment. Thing is, the bar staff just ain't playing fair, the brunette seems to be playing the 'don't make eye contact with anyone' formation and the guy is obviously employing the 'chat up anything that moves' tactic.
Eventually, (after several reincarnations, in one of which I took the form of a gnat) I score... the guy gives up on his attempt to bed as many drunk girls as possible and makes his way over to me - 'Whadda ya want brudda?' he asks. 'Brandy and Coke' I manage to reply through parched lips.
As he goes off to pour the drink I begin to consider what is happening to this city. I mean here I am sandwiched between an Antipodean and an Irishman with my drink being poured by a South African. Long gone, it seems, are the days when my request for a beverage would have been met with the terse but strangely melodic reply of 'Alwight, no probs geezer!'... The Australian drawl or the Afrikaans twang is now as common as Cockney Rhyming slang ever was. Yes, more and more of our international brothers are making for this 'seat of majesty, this throne of kings, this sceptred isle!'. No doubt this is testament to the multi-cultural cosmopolitanism of London. But in the words of Dylan, the times are definitely a-changin.
With some fear of being predictable, my first real awareness of this place called 'South Africa' came when, as a young boy (sometime in the late 80's), my mum came home from a concert wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words 'FREE NELSON MANDELA'. - 'Who's that?' I ask, and my mum sets off on a potted history of apartheid and Mr. M. SA was a place, far away, where people were treated differently because of the colour of their skin. This was to my burgeoning political sensibilities an outrage and SA was a place I had no desire to be or see.
Thankfully things changed and I grew to realize that many situations are not as straightforward as they may first appear, people, like politics are complicated and capable of many differing and divergent attitudes and points of view.
Where is all this leading I hear you ask! Well, I come to realize, as I stand at the bar drinking the, now delivered, Brandy and Coke that in some strange way the changing fortunes of SA's political system have in many ways enriched my life. See, I have been fortunate enough to know, laugh and drink with many people from those distant shores and many of them have become incredibly important in my life. I ponder the gorgeous but ever unreachable Rianna and Patricia, the funny and mind-blowing Henk, Pieter and Isaac and the ever manic Rik. And realize that in some small way the changed world view of SA has allowed us to meet and these friendships to blossom. The passions and dreams of this generation of South Africans, it seems, are the same as mine and others like me and perhaps under a different political system we would never have met. At this point a hand grabs my shoulder and a voice booms in my ear - 'Where's mine?' and I turn to see the South African to whom I am closest. My friend (and brother!) Nick.. I make some sarcastic comment and turn to the bar to start the game all over again.
I confess, to my mind the presence of South African visitors in this city enriches all of our experiences. There is just one draw back, all the guys I have met end up going home! So, to you all stop it, or else I might have to come and darken your door!!! And that is something, which should fill you all with fear, believe me!