At last! Mirabile dictu (that’s y’r actual Latin for “wond’rous to relate”) our President retrieved his testicles from the handbag of their putative keeper, the ponderously monotonous minister of just-about-everything-but-fun Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and has allowed us to booze and smoke once more! Well, it was allowed at the time of going to press…who knows what could happen in between me writing this and whenever you read this.
Oh, happy days!!
To be honest, five months without a legal cigarette to puff doesn’t worry me much, because I gave up smoking donkey’s years ago. But I feel for those smokers who have been forced to resort to buying the overpriced contents of used teabags from dodgy pavement dealers to assuage their cravings.
But booze? Now that’s another matter entirely. For me, a nightly tumbler or two of Scotch and soda is not the indulgence of an unrepentant alcoholic. It’s a spiritual and digestive necessity.
And, if I’m honest, I am suspicious of teetotal zealots. You can’t trust them. Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini were teetotalers, and look where that got Europe. And so are NDZ and The Cat in the Hat Cele. Killjoys, both.
So I was deeply grateful when Cyril grew a pair and told his abolitionists to take a hike and started to normalise South African life, if only to put an end to our state-sponsored criminality. Because, although I have a Boy Scout-like tendency to “be prepared” when it comes to ensuring a stocked booze cupboard, even my stock was starting to become a bit depleted.
I had, for example, resorted to making pineapple beer. In fact I decanted and bottled my second batch the very night that Cyril unbanned booze sales. Oh, well, it was only two pineapples and some sugar that will now go down the drain…
But my interventions to ensuring a good night’s sleep were nothing compared to some of the measures others took.
One lady of my acquaintance, a person who in other aspects of life is a model of probity, lives close to a shebeen. Realising that her gin stock was perilously low, she resorted to buying bootlegged hooch from the shebeen owner. At a greatly inflated price, needless to say.
For me, it does help to have adult children who are well-connected with prominent merchants in Johannesburg who kept up a pretty decent supply through the crisis.
But, of course, restaurants and pubs had a particularly difficult time, and had to become particularly creative.
One waiter at a local Greek eatery, for example, once he had finished taking the food order, asked “would you like to order anything off-menu?” Code for what would you like to drink? Wine duly arrived in large tumblers, along with two empty Coke bottles.
A restaurant I went to on a recent Sunday brought us teapots of red, and white, along with disposable takeaway coffee cups. Yet another served drink to diners in tin mugs. Very retro.
In all of this I was reminded of the tale of a mariner friend who found himself in a shoreside bar in a Scandinavian port one afternoon. At the time the country concerned was going through a period of legally-enforced temperance and one could only order drink if one had food with it. So, when my friend ordered a beer, the drink was duly dispensed, and from a shelf behind him the barkeeper reached up and retrieved a side-plate that had an old cheese sandwich on it. Dry, almost mouldy, and curled up at the edges. This he placed alongside the drink, as the necessary, legally-required “food”.
As if any of these ruses would fool a copper… As if the cops themselves weren’t on the take throughout…
The local spaza shop, for example, sustained a regular trade in cigarettes, simply upping the price of each packet by a sufficient margin to pay off the fuzz, who visited regularly as buyers themselves.
And if the government’s killjoys thought their bans closed the bars and pubs, they were dreaming.
Asking around, it seems there are many more pubs and watering holes on the plots than the obvious ones advertising themselves with bright lights and Castle Lager signs. You just need to know where they are. I phoned an associate one afternoon in the lockdown and from the background noise it was clear that he was in his local. “Are you in the boozer?” I asked. “Sure,” he replied, “we’ve stayed open for most of the lockdown,” he added. “We just kept the door closed.”