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Crickets from hell — encounters with Parktown prawns

Why is that that Parktown prawns (a misnomer I’ll come back to) elicit so intense a degree of revulsion? True, they are appalling ugly. In addition, their tendency to jump when startled — frequently straight at you — is, to say the least, disconcerting, and the smell of their excreta is indeed revolting. And when their backs are against the wall, they hiss. Still, they’re just crickets at the end of the day. Why is it that even grown men are reduced to the status of quivering four-year-olds by their unsolicited appearance?

So widespread is the disgust generated by PPs that the actor Andrew Buckland made it the subject of a brilliant one-man play about (amongst other things) xenophobia, called The Ugly Noo-Noo. Along with a number of past Madam & Eve cartoons, the piece repeats that popular bit of local folklore that PPs are almost impossible to kill. In my experience, killing them is not all that hard, but the resultant stink makes it highly inadvisable.

I noted above that Parktown prawn is a misnomer. In fact, the original name was Parkmore prawn, after a suburb in Sandton. Because Parktown is so much better known than Parkmore, that name came to be substituted, but that was definitely not the original name. I can confirm this both through a Sunday Times press cutting from 1980 that I came across and because I myself once lived in Parkmore and can assure you that the place was swarming with the buggers. It was ill-advised to walk at night without shoes, even inside the house.

An anecdote: I am getting up for school one morning. I push my right foot into my shoe. What’s this lump by my toes? I take the shoe off, shove my hand down to the end and an instant later am lurching back appalled, trying ineffectually to brush away a giant PP that is now clinging to the front of my jersey. (I am not exaggerating when I say that even the time when I disturbed a rinkhals with a metal detector did not generate the same degree of visceral horror I felt at that moment).

A couple of years ago, I saw a Star billboard with the legend, “Where have all the Parktown prawns gone?” or something to that effect. Well, so far as I can see, they’re still with us. In rainy weather, they emerge quite frequently around my Fairmount home. Even then, though, they are not nearly as numerous as they were in Parkmore.

If there are any current Parkmore residents reading this, I’d be interested to learn whether the suburb is still Prawn City. Also a point of interest — are these creatures unique to South Africa? I read somewhere that they mutated in the Eastern Cape and somehow found their way up to Jo’burg. Maybe there is someone out there who can go beyond the urban myth and tell us.

Author

  • David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African history, Judaism and the Middle East for local and international newspapers and journals. David has an MA in history from Rhodes University. Prior to joining the SAJBD, he was curator -- history at MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg. He is editor of the journal Jewish Affairs, appears regularly on local radio discussing Jewish and Middle East subjects and is a contributor to various Jewish publications.