Giant French Puppets and Miscellaneous

The images are from The Giant Match: a collaboration between the festival and the French Institute of South Africa. It took place in a township, but a different one from the elephant show earlier in the week- a rough place of angry men on crutches, goats in skips, old people driven mad by something and tiny hands creeping at your pockets.

It was an excellent show- skilful and riotous in the right combination. The puppets led different parts of the audience on three separate routes. Ours was reality TV style piece where the family being introduced had a ghost living with them. Then all three routes combined again for a giant football match and a wedding (I might have lost bits of the plot around the wedding section). Excellent thing.

The following are just little things that interested me or happened over the last ten days.


On the way to Port Elizabeth the other day a radio advert played a number of times. It’s backed by the sort of apocalyptic music Ridley Scott uses whenever Russell Crowe gets on a horse. “The water in our Municipality is running out. Our reserves are nearly finished. We are facing crisis. If we all use water sensible and monitor our usage then we will have enough for the World Cup and our visitors. Call our free toll number to report abuse of our water supply.”

A Vetkoek is basically a doughnut with chicken curry in it. Sweet God what an excellent idea! A bunny chow is where they take a loaf of bread, scoop out the middle and fill it with curry. I daren’t even look at it. But in time I will grow braver.


Grahamstown has had one fatal shooting in 12 months. It was an Englishman who came home unexpectedly during his lunch break and surprised the burglars.
On average two laptops get stolen every day in Grahamstown. The surprising part of that statistic is that there are that many laptops in this town.
We’re staying with two policemen whilst we are here in Grahamstown.


Grahamstown suffered a power cut at night whilst we were on our way home from the match. The lights were out for an hour or so. Personally I think it’s because all the power in the world was being used to keep the massive flood lights working at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Outside the World Cup and the festival it’s a relatively common occurrence but the Government seem to have put the power companies’ and unions’ feet to the fire so they don’t embarrass anyone whilst the world is here watching.

This is Grahamstown at night. It is not very big.


On the streets there are car guards. They stand there all day in old high visibility vests. They don’t work for anyone- they aren’t a security company. They are just people who have a hi-vis vest.
Each car guard has a patch (10 car spaces maybe, more car spaces on the less busy roads). When you get out of your car they rush over to you, standing in front of you so that you have registered they are there. On your way back to the car you give them between 2-7 rand (15-65 pence). You do not as this utterly incompetent traveller did on his first night give them a 50 rand note because you haven’t got anything smaller. This is not seen as an act of generosity but more as an act of insanity (the same was said in India about tipping more than 100 rupees (£1) for anything beyond restaurant service no matter what the service): you don’t get thanked you just get classified as stupid.
Half the time when you get out of your car the car guard will say “I look after your car for you Boss”. I prefer it when they don’t- firstly because the word Boss fills me with a strong left liberal elite urge to scrub myself with a post colonial nail brush- but mostly because the sentence just makes it massively obvious that what you are paying for is in fact the service of them NOT to break in to your car, rather than any true sense of guarding. It’s like an Alan Bleasdale sketch gone systematic.
I saw a South African not pay the car guard yesterday. I am not worried about the car being damaged (damage waiver!) but I will happily pay a great deal more than 65 pence to avoid the humiliation of having a 50 something woman in a high visibility vest chase your car down the street, hollering and banging on the window. I’d rather give them a fiver and be thought an idiot.


Afrikaans for ‘skunk’ is ‘stinky mouse dog’. A Meercat is thus called because it’s ‘more cat than dog’ It’s a very literal language like that it would seem. A Giraffe is called ‘Camel Horse’. I don’t think you should be able to do that to language, or logic. Really you shouldn’t be allowed.

As I sit writing this outside the drama department Richard Antrobus (he of the stilt performance) has popped by to chat about working again in the UK. He’s having a shit morning. Alongside his show he runs a project to train young, disadvantaged kids in stilt and so on. He’s turned his best 4 performers in to a little company to do corporate work and such. They take care of his marketing here at the Festival- stilting around with flyers in costumes. One of his lads got stabbed last night, set upon by a gang of four. He’s in hospital on a drip, but will be okay. It’s the fourth time this has happened recently. Not so long ago the brother of the lad who got stabbed last night was killed for his mobile phone. Richard looks beat. “He was going home in his costume,” he says. “So that’s something to sort out today. It would be good to come over and work again with you. Get out of South Africa for a bit.” I remember I had a picture of Richard’s lads I hadn’t used. Here it is.


When we parked up outsid
e the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium on a little piece of grass by the main entrance I remember distinctly opening the front door. The next thing I remember is lying flat out, face up, staring into the sun with Lucy above me “Are you okay Al?”. There was blood in my mouth. I swear in that moment I thought I had been car jacked- some fucker had shot me in the back.
Piecing it together what became obvious was that in actual fact- some distance away from what I stupidly initially assumed- in trying to get the wheel chair out of the boot my hand had slipped, I had punched myself in the mouth, hit my head on the boot on the way back and knocked myself spark out. I spent the rest of the day with a thick lip, a pounding headache and the overriding sense- one that must be becoming clear even to you patient reader- that even in the most dangerous of places I remain the greatest threat to myself.



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