I received two birthday gifts this year. One was a fantastically constructed venison pie, which my wife had somehow gotten hold of through some mysterious housewifely process, either by swinging her magic wand, ordering it on Gumtree, or actually making it herself. Whatever the method entailed, it was surely a grand-looking pie, enormously big, and it was all for me. I looked at it longingly as it disappeared into the warm-up section of the stove an hour before dinner.
My second birthday present arrived 10 minutes later, in the form of a fax from my GP. It stated my cholesterol count, and suggested I change my diet with immediate effect. Presumably, my GP did not realise that it was my birthday, and the timing of his fax was purely accidental (unless my GP has sadistic tendencies hitherto unknown to me).
Over dinner that night — dinner consisting of a considerably smaller slice of venison pie that I had originally envisaged — I issued an official statement. It was to become famous in the press shortly afterwards, not because I had uttered it (at the time my wife was the only one who heard me, and she paid me hardly any attention), but because exactly the same statement would be made, a couple of days later, by none other than Oprah Winfrey.
The statement ran thus: “I will never diet again as long as I live.”
Sadly, yet utterly predictably, the effects of my statement and Oprah’s statement, though voiced with exactly the same strength of sincerity, urgency and passion, met with two utterly different responses.
The public’s response to Oprah’s statement was the same as the public’s response to almost any statement by Oprah. There were a lot of “oooh’s” and “aaaah’s”, and everyone remarked on how clever she was to say such a thing, even though it wasn’t her idea at all, it was an idea she copied from a book written by a woman called Geneen Roth, Women, Food and God.
My wife’s response to my statement of similar intent was simply: “You WILL diet, because I say so.” And that was that.
Needless to say, I am considering giving my wife a copy of the book Women, Food and God for Christmas.
Then again, I might not. During the last few weeks, after eating mostly fat-free food and heaps of vegetables, aided by lots of Beyerskloof Pinotage wine (which, according to the manufacturers, contains a substance that actually enlarges blood vessels), my cholestrol count has miraculously dropped from 7,5 to 6,4, and I’ve lost an astonishing two-and-a-half kilogrammes according to the scale in our local Virgin Active.
So, perhaps, my wife was right after all. It would not be the first time my wife would prove wiser than Oprah (not to mention God).
Which brings me to an issue that has been intriguing me lately. Ever since, in fact, I read a book called The Shack by Wm. Paul Young. The Shack, for those of you who haven’t heard, became famous in 2007 for its depiction of God as a homely black woman (and it went on to become an international bestseller, selling at least seven million copies worldwide).
With all due respect to that book — it was a very uplifting read — what is this thing with Americans and black women? It was the second American novel I had read in which God was depicted as a homely, black, Oprah-like figure — if memory serves me correctly, Stephen King used an exact similar character, only with a different name, in The Stand!
I know that I am treading on dangerous ground here — nowadays it is extremely un-PC to voice any form of criticism against women, blacks or God (in that order) — but let me clear the air right away by admitting to a certain residual collective prejudice I discovered in myself the other day. It is not a prejudice I am proud of, and it is not a prejudice I realised I had, nor is it a prejudice I want to encourage in anybody else. I am getting it off my chest for the sake of honesty. I want to humble myself on this account, for if anyone feels angered by the story I am about to tell — Jennifer Thorpe springs to mind — it would be an anger I fully deserve.
About a week ago, I flew to Gauteng in a SAA Boeing, when, somewhere over the Northern Free State, we ran into the worst turbulence I’d ever experienced. It was the stuff of nightmares. With no clouds or lightning in sight, right in the middle of a clear blue sky, the plane started shaking like a leaf, falling into invisible holes, crashing against invisible walls, and generally behaving like that little fishing vessel in the movie The Perfect Storm. In the end, the pilot got us down safely, but it was one of the worst times of my life. I was whimpering audibly like a baby right through the whole episode, which was of course very un-cool thing to do in public for an ex-rock legend.
When I boarded another SAA Boeing back to Cape Town, two days later, I was slightly taken aback when the captain announced the name of the pilot who was about to fly us home. It was a black name. I was gripped by a totally irrational sense of apprehension.
After stating the pilot’s name, the captain said: “…She will be flying us to
SHE! On top of being BLACK, it was a WOMAN! A BLACK WOMAN!
I am terribly ashamed to admit feeling the cold hand of fear enveloping my heart at this stage. Of course, on any other day, this would have been something I’d hardly notice. But I’d just been exposed to a terrible flying experience, during which I’d feared for my life, only two days before. Under the circumstances, was it too much to ask the Universe for an experienced pilot, preferably one with a good, solid, Afrikaans-sounding name? Someone like “Chris du Plessis”? (I realise that I’m making things worse and worse by writing all this stuff down, but, to be completely honest, I actually found myself uttering a silent prayer to the Universe, asking: “Please, tell me it’s all been a mistake, tell me the pilot is actually some reliable, conventional bloke, preferably Afrikaans, with a name like Chris du Plessis!”)
The next moment, the cabin announcement was concluded with the following words: “This is your captain speaking, and my name is Chris du Plessis.”
Waves of astonishment and relief flooded me, followed almost immediately by equally strong waves of politically correct embarrassment. Had I really thought those thoughts? I, who had spent years fighting apartheid? I, who only recently published a Thought Leader blog post in which I blasted my fellow Afrikaans musicians Steve Hofmeyr and Dozi for saying out loud the exact same kind of thoughts I had entertained privately?
Needless to say, we got home safely, the black women pilot did everything right, and, after arriving back on the ground, I repented of my scandalous attitude, and begged God to forgive me and cleanse me of all subconscious traces of racism and sexism.
That was when someone handed me The Shack, a novel in which, as I’d noted before, God is portrayed as a black woman.
What a strange coincidence that was! What on earth was the universe trying to say to me? This was an even weirder chunk of sheer synchronicity than the captain of the plane having the name “Chris du Plessis”, or me receiving that cholesterol report 10 minutes after putting that venison pie in the oven on my birthday!
Now, I would have loved to conclude this blog entry with some definitive statement to the effect that the book The Shack explained everything to me, and that I am now cured of all traces of racism and sexism, and that I will enter the new year with a twinkle in my eye and a skip in my step, certain of my faith, positive about the future of the country, and without ever deviating from my diet by as much as one furtive stolen teaspoon of peanut butter from the jar when my wife isn’t looking. That would be the proper celebrity thing to do. (For, as you may have noticed, nowadays it has become very fashionable for celebrities to write books in which they own up to the most unimaginable excesses and personal failures, before claiming, in the last chapter, some special consolation prize from God, above and beyond, and preferably running concurrently, with the royalties from the book sales.)
Unfortunately, I can’t claim such perfect closure. Though, in general terms, I found The Shack a joyous experience, there were parts of me that violently disagreed with the philosophy expressed by the author. The story, well written and full of human empathy, seldom had more intellectual content than an episode of Teletubbies. I am at an utter loss as to how to reconcile my heartfelt acceptance of so much of that book with my mental rejection of almost all of it. Just as I am unable to reconcile my mental stand against racism and sexism with my gut level racist-cum-sexist reaction that day when I heard the name of that pilot.
Alas, I don’t know if my diet will work. I don’t know if South Africa will ever be saved by anyone. I don’t know whether I really deserve the epithet of “anti-apartheid activist” that some people, especially myself, have branded me with. I don’t know whether God is a bearded white man, a homely black woman, or a gigantic squirrel that feeds on the shattered bits of tasty planets. I’m not sure of anything any more …
On this uncertain note, I would like to wish you all a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Drive safely. Don’t litter. Renew your TV licences. And think of me on the 25th of December, when you stuff your faces with prawns and crayfish and steaks and perlemoen and pofaddertjies and pap en wors and lemon meringue tart and … and …
Oh, just F off!