Wonderful news. It now emerges that I needn’t have plugged Maths in matric after all.
All I had to do to improve on the 16 per cent I scraped together after spending two hours playing noughts-and-crosses on my Maths paper was to get my Dad to rig up a battery-powered electrical current and fit a couple of electrodes to my bonce.
Then, when the adjudicator, in a voice not dissimilar to the bloke who does the punts for movies and says “Coming to a cinema near you… The Revenge Of The Malevolent Mathematical Under-Achievers..”, sounding like a mongrelly cross-breed of Tom Waits and Benito Mussolini, pronounced “Pupils, you may now pick up your pens and commence”, I would have simply switched on and come over all Einstein in an instant. Instead of staring at him blankly and musing over whether Miss van Straaten, my dead-sexy Afrikaans teacher, was wearing a mini that day.
Nooit, man! What do you mean e doesn't equal ac/dc squared?!
No formula or equation would have been beyond me. Trigonometry would have proved a piece of piss. I would have nailed Pythagoras’s poncy theorem quicker than you can say “Hatman’s a genius” – even if you hired one of those chicks who reveal the specials on Vim over the PA system in supermarkets to make the announcement.
But, no, they’ve typically left me to wallow in decades of guilt before announcing that running a slight current of electricity from one side of your brain to the other is a cure for something termed “dyscalculia” which, like my Attention Deficit Disorder, neanderthalitis, hypertrichosis (excessive growth of hairs in ears) and dofclobberitis (the inability to look anywhere remotely near fashionable), has only been dropped on me in an advanced stage of my life.
Nice. A classic piece of scientific discovery. The boffins emerge from sterile-white labs and wave around a piece of paper which makes absolute sense of something disastrous that happened to you about 54 years ago. Helpful.
But I mustn’t be so self-indulgent. If fitting a pantechnicon battery into a South African child’s “Ek hart Wayne Rooney” rucksack and releasing a few thousand volts through the cerebral deserts where grey matter is as rare as a Bafana victory helps to send our Matric pass rate soaring, I’m all for it.
So, fire up your synapses the best you can and zoom over to the BBC\’s health news site to be further stimulated. And, please, don’t buy into all that politically correct “don’t try this at home” codswallop. You want to pass Maths, right? Right.
Well, just get the old man to rehabilitate an old battery and attach to the parietal lobe around the back of your head somewhere. I suggest you have a word with your Biology teacher about this first. You don’t want to stick the electrodes on the wrong lobe and sardenly fand yu karnt spel.
Football has been my life. Through my ADD-addled school years, my advent into journalism through the Durban Daily News sports department, my London life (1984-1997, RIP) and the ensuing topsy-turvy years, of marriage, divorce and loss, soccer has been the one constant. That and my addiction to Five Roses tea.
For as long as I can remember, I have slept, eaten and breathed soccer. I should have married it. I was quite handy at it, too, benefiting from being the only kid with a good enough left peg to raise an eyebrow on our phlegmatic Sports Master, old Jim Wright. So I got stuck out on the left wing, pumped crosses over to the 4ft 5″ centre-forward in our Pietermaritzburg Pirates under-14A team and slipped effortlessly into the role of deadball specialist.
I got the job of taking free-kicks, corners and penalties because, from the time I was two bricks and a tickey high, I practised with a tennis ball against the garden wall for every daylight hour God sent me that I didn’t have to be bored witless by some teacher with cornflakes in his beard droning on about Pythagoras’s Theorem, porto, portamus, portat and the dates and locations of Anglo-Boer War contretemps.
Then there was post-school practice sessions with Pelham Primary under-10 A, “pick-from-whoever-turned-up” games at the sports field at the end of Kinnoull Road using bricks and somebody’s little sister as the goalposts and highly competitive one-on-one games with neighbour Georges du Tertre in my backyard.
When the other boys in the neighbourhood were doing homework or otherwise inexplicably detained, I would go solo, holding mock FA Cup competitions, comprising 164 English clubs and held over several afternoons until I contrived to advance two teams, providing my own commentary as I played against myself, through to the final, usually Liverpool vs Manchester United. Liverpool FC, the club with which I have been obsessed since I was seven, always won.
Liverpool's Kevin Keegan, pretending to be me, rises fairly majestically to head the ball, watched by Terry McDermott Pic: Daily Mail
And my script required that Kevin Keegan would somehow levitate majestically above Martin Buchan to nod a Steve Heighway cross past a flailing Alex Stepney. Pretending, of course, that I was KK (well, I was), I would celebrate my winner for the Mighty Reds by hurtling through my mum’s rockery of cactuses (ow!) and other succulents, arms raised aloft, and slide across the lawn on my knees while making enough noise to mimic the roar of 30,000 crazed Scousers.
But let’s fast-forward, shall we, to yesterday afternoon. Ah, yesterday afternoon. A gloriously warm winter’s day in my newly-adopted village of Stanford, quaintly concealed in the Overberg mountains of the Western Cape. I walked a friend’s daughters Ruby (9) and Sarah (8), around to their friends to collect takkies (tennis shoes) and then, with Indica, Tayana and Dylan in tow, did my Pied Piper impression while marching them up the hill to the rugby field.
But there was no rugby to be watched. This, as is the case every Sunday, was “Soccer Day”. And once organiser Jan Troost had appointed two captains, teams were selected in the time-honoured method, the skippers taking turns to pick the best players available. I, roughly 86 years older than everybody else – and ostensibly there to watch, shout encouragement and provide some tactical tips, was shocked to be the first to be called out.
Ah, but my captain had a cunning plan. Stick the big, balding ballie (old guy) in goal and he’d fill up most of it, denying the opposition the opportunity to score. This worked a treat. Until I had a rush of blood to the head, regressed to 1977 and thinking I was Kevin Keegan and, abandoning my goal area, bulleted down the right in search of glory. It all came rushing back, my beer boep (paunch) jellying as I danced past the demonic tackles of 10-year-olds, ignored the cries of “Pass!” from my pre-pubescent team-mates, executed a Jonah Lomu run-over of a hapless defender in pink bowtied pigtails and unleashed a bazooka-like shot high into the top corner. “Goal!” “Laduuuuuma!”. Both teams stared at me in equal measures of disbelief and disgust and shrieked “You’re supposed to be the goalie!”
Ruby Walne (9) is about to boot the ball upfield while boys prostrate themselves before her in yesterday's game at Stanford's rugby field. This wouldn't have happened in my day!
I wisely chose not to re-enact my “sliding-knees-on-Wembley-turf” celebrations of my golden years, covered my face with my hands and loped ashamedly back to my goals. I had to resign myself to getting my bulbous bulk in the way of almost every shot nine-year-old Tayana Dorland, the opposition’s hotshot striker and a girl to boot, bulleted my way. To the point where the young prodigy strode up to me, slapped me on the boep and muttered: “I’m getting sick of you always getting in the way of my goals!”
It was so much fun. These kids, the beautiful and free-spirited children of Stanford, are infected with World Cup fever. And I, just an overgrown kid among them, am no different. Yes, I am literally spilling out of my skin for this, South Africa’s, World Cup. Yes, there will be challenges and there will be difficulties. But I believe that I speak for most South Africans when I say that I regard the 2010 World Cup as a humungous opportunity to show the world what we are truly made of. We are humbled by this gift. I have no doubt that we will give our planet the friendliest, happiest, most human-spirited World Cup.
Back in the day when I was playing at being Kevin Keegan and Nelson Mandela was incarcerated on Robben island and our South Africa was horribly skewed in hatred and pain, I never believed that the younger generation of British footballers I so adored would play on the same soil as our national team.
But it is here. It is real. And it is ours. Let us dedicate it to our children who tonight will dream of rising effortlessly above John Terry to nod the ball past David James for Bafana Bafana’s winner in the World Cup final. I did say “dream”!
Five days. We have five days before The Heartman and I (and new Heart & Sole recruit and documentary film-maker Simon) roll out of Durban in the general direction of Cape Town.
Monday can’t come quickly enough. We’re done with the talking. We want to do the unicycling. And back-up driving. And blogging. And tweeting. And facebooking. And filming. And photographing. And everything else that we’ll find we will do. We just want to do.
The Heartman and I are grouchy. We’re restless. We’re expectant. And we are totally amped to do this Heart & Sole baby. It’s weird. We’re in this kind of compression chamber. A bubble. We’re irritating each other. The media have now got on to us. We’re being phoned for interviews. And we tell them more or less the same thing. The thing is we don’t know. We know that sometime in February – our choice would be Valentine’s Day – we want to roll into Cape Town.
We just don’t have a clue as to what will happen between Monday and then. No, we don’t know where we will sleep, although there will be some foam rubber in the back of the small bakkie that is to be our back-up vehicle. We have a feeling that the generosity of people we have yet to meet will mean that we will find beds, hot showers and some good food along the way. Don’t know where, don’t know when. We don’t know how often.
I expect to be seeing some of this...
We know that we are going to have a jol. Our minds are made up about that. Anyway, we are wired like that. We are both ADD. We get distracted. It will be hot. Very hot. So dams and rivers will distract us. We both love the ocean. I am writing this with the most constant sound of my life crashing in my ears… the waves. So our route will hug the coastline between Durban and Cape Town. This is why, instead of turning inland from Port Shepstone on KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast and going via Kokstad, we will head for Port St Johns and the phenomenalness of the sparsely populated Wild Coast.
It will be beautiful. We will be beautiful. It will be dangerous. We don’t know the exact nature of the risks we will have to take. We don’t know what might confront us. But we have worked through the fear. Because the only fear we can have is our fear of something we do not yet know. There is no point to it. We have both been through military training, in my case a long time ago. This will help. We are both a bit crazy. This will help even more. And we both believe, in somewhat different ways, in the higher energy source which surrounds us. This will help us the most. We will meditate. We will love. We will sing. We will argue. We will be scared. We will appreciate. We will understand. We will grow. We will change. And, flip, we will unicycle and drive and laugh and cry and live.
... and quite a bit of this...
We instinctively know that to schedule stops and goals and deadlines is to be disappointed. We will go as far as our bodies and minds and moods take us each day. And as far as the weather and the heat and the wind and the terrain allow us. If we cover 50km in a day, great. If we go 10km in a day, equally great. One kilometre is a gain. There will be rest days. There will be nightmare days. But every day will be a fun day.
We look forward to meeting the various characters that only South Africa is capable of producing, especially in the no-horse towns in the middle of nowhere. Extraordinary people. People in rural areas with very little but the shirts on their backs and the wealth of living a life extraordinarily lived. Stories. Anecdotes. We will photograph them. And we will laugh with them. And Geoff will probably try to teach them to stay on a unicycle for longer than two seconds, something I can’t do. Funninesses.
... and, yaaawwwn, a hell of a lot of this. Pix: Hatman
We want to publish a book of the experience with which we are about to be blessed. The Heartman is a freelance photographer. I am a writer. I think that it will be a wondrous story of the Great South African Experience. Lives and tales of lives less experienced. South Africans forgotten about. Real South African stories. Real people. Realities. Folklore. Myths. The truth. And of many people becoming aware of the people who cannot walk to the river to wash their clothes without fear of losing a limb. Landmines are unnecessary. A curse that is only real for the people left behind after wars with land that cannot be used to grow food. That cannot be walked upon. Because the people who planted their evil ordnance went to fight other battles and left the locals to live in terror. A terror that stops them from moving, from planting, from living. From bettering their lives.
This must be stopped. And, in order for that to happen, we won’t be stopped.