This is what a birthday offers. The opportunity for reflection. So early morning yesterdayI stared long and hard in the mirror, and what I saw – I could not get beyond this – was an ageing blonde who desperately needs a dye job. I pulled my hair flat against my scalp, cringed at the ‘line’ that clearly defines one section of growth from the other. Starting at the roots and for five centimetres beyond, the hair is neither dark nor grey, more like ground peppercorn-colour. The section immediately beneath, to the tips, is the blonde of a much younger woman, the blonde of a blonde, a real blonde, which is also a lie as I have never been blonde. I was born bald. And when my hair grew it was mousy brown.
‘Ok, put on a happy face, smile, fake it till you make it.’ Fuck, I’ve been saying that for too many years. But hell, one has to be positive. Especially on a birthday. ‘Stretch that smile, it’s good face yoga,’ I talked myself up in the mirror, ‘keeps the underlying muscles fit to hold up the sagging skin.’
I graciously accepted my gifts including a fancy face mask, and early-morning tea, and checked my phone for birthday messages and sure enough, there were 48 Whatsapps already, proof that people cared! I may have bad hair, but I am loved! Revered! Missed! It turned out those 48 messages were our neighbourhood Whatsapp group getting its knickers in knot about the protesting surfers at Muizenberg beach, some saying toss those privileged arses in jail, others saying we’re a Stalinist state heading towards anarchy… The stream of invective (generally I lurve my neighbours…) to which I added, took my mind off my hair at least (recurring theme).
Here’s the rub. I thought Lockdown was 21 days. I prepared for 21 days. I was one of those people who did NOT buy 1000 rolls of toilet paper. I ridiculed those people. I posted and belly-laughed at toilet paper memes. I bought just what I needed. I bought the minimum tins of baked-beans. I did not rush out and purchase a chest freezer fit to store the contents of a restaurant, nor buy chicken wings in bulk from Makro. I bought 21 ciders. Vino for a few weeks. I was a good, decent, self-righteous citizen.
Maybe, the thought did cross my mind, lockdown might last longer, but our Prez would surely give us a respite to stock up on prohibited items like booze or whatever else it was we needed. Hair dye. If I’d known I wouldn’t get to salon for months I would have prepared. And what about panties. I’ve stretched the elastic on all my panties, sitting around on my lazy-flat arse but I am now not permitted to buy new ones as they’re not essential.
Lockdown – I was too naïve to realise – was simply the beginning of a more involved, longer process. I enjoyed a false sense of confidence that lockdown would ‘end’, that it would be like Eskom suddenly switching on the lights, for good. (Did I forget that ‘candles’ is still on my regular ‘to buy’ list?) I anticipated ‘the end’ believing I could reboot if we went into over-drive.
But… when my President back-tracked on his statement – you may buy cigarettes – I had to wonder at the inconsistency of his days-later mind-change. Trust was more than a teeny bit eroded. It’s not about the cigarettes. Indeed, those blackened lungs stuffed under my face in biology in Standard five scared the shit out of me. CR reneging on his promise, on TV nogal, was akin to being Bad Daddy changing his mind after setting boundaries with 57 million teenagers – he was asking for a shit storm.
People are suffering horrendously. People have lost their jobs. People are fainting in line from hunger as they wait hours for their social grants. If all I complain about is not getting my fixes – my booze, my hair job – then really, I guess I should shut the fuck up. But why should any of us accept punitive regulations, driven perhaps by personal agenda, which simply add fuel to the fire?
Its been interesting to see the shift on facebook – from February Fun, to May Mournfulness.
Therapist and I have talked about it. People are going through the stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, all that Kubler-Ross stuff.
The denial was dancing in the streets about Rony, taking the piss out of the virus while the Chinese were dying and had declared a hard lockdown. Then we headed for lockdown ourselves, turning to Lockdown Laughs for relief. We accepted the seriousness of the situation, we accepted the rules. We baked bread (well, not me…) and grew our own veggies. It was all rather a challenge and even fun (for some). And now… do we see anger? We see protests… surfers thrown in the back of police vans… we see heavy-handed cops arresting and hand-cuffing old women selling atchar and hauling these gracious gogos off to the cop shop. More people seem to want to head to therapy. Is this depression? And we are still bargaining… our figures look good… if we follow the rules, can we avoid terrible loss of life?
In many ways the lockdown has resulted in unforeseen (or perhaps forseen?) bonuses. The Western Cape gangs are quiet (or appear to be – unless they’ve shifted their business to booze, smokes and food parcels…), murder rate is down, as is assault and rape; also… because of strict lockdown, and now curfew, no one can burn tyres in the streets or protest or challenge government. Was this intended? The only people free to roam are the homeless who are currently being repatriated to where ever they came from … the streets… (in all fairness, Cape Town city is attempting to deal with this…)
Fuck it, I digress hugely, but as this is reflective, and it’s my party, I can say what I want to. What I’m saying is, I agree with the lockdown. I support the efforts to save life. I will keep staying home. I will forfeit my hair money, since I can’t spend it any way, not even on a blow dry, to donate to a feeding scheme. I will wear the mask that makes me feel sick. I will wash my hands. I will pay my rates and taxes. I will forfeit the booze (will I?). I’ve given up alcohol before (am I in denial?). Jokes aside, the world would be a better place without booze- induced violence.
But part of growing up is making choices for oneself. Sometimes we make bad choices. If your name is Joanne Hichens you make bad choices quite often. But we learn. That’s the idea. We learn to be adults in a world which has always been one huge challenge and temptation, thanks to Adam and Eve and the serpent and God herself, or whichever fairy-tale you choose believe.
As for the beaches, Cape Town is not Rio, or Santorini in the height of summer where South African tourists pay the equivalent of a month’s salary to rent the space of a beach bed in order to dip their toes in the dirty Med (although even the Med may be recovering at this time….). Here in the Cape, in winter, it’s too nearly too frickin’ cold to be on the beach. Only the real men and their huskies get out there. Oh yes, and the surfers (but technically they’re in the water, so does that count?) and even then the sets have to be pretty spectacular to draw them out in any numbers. It’s probably the safest place to be, sitting in your board, in your impenetrable rubber wetsuit, enjoying the sunrise… There’re not even any great white sharks out there any more (more’s the pity). Surely this is one regulation (non-access to the beach) that can be lifted?
Ok, back to my birthday. Thank you to so many friends who called, who sent messages of love and support. I am humbled and grateful. I had a good birthday. I scored some wine from a neighbour. My daughters had delivered to me a designer chocolate cake a half a mile high decorated with gold leaf. The girls and me and Al and Rob had a Zoom dinner. Takeaways! Thank you, all.
So I said to Al, at the end of the day: ‘I’m gonna become fitter, stronger, healthier! From tomorrow I’ll walk from 6:00, in the dark, to 9:00, then I’m going to walk more, to the shops, and lug my bags up the hill. I’ll deliver my food parcels, I’ll support who I can, and I’ll get real about supporting myself. I will wash my face everyday and put on moisturiser. I will celebrate my womanhood. I will indeed go silver! And what’s more, I don’t need a crutch of any sort. Certainly not vino, nor pineapples! I can do this! We can all do this!’
‘Where’re you going?’
He came back, handed me a three-quarters full bottle of vodka as well as fifteen Camel Classic cigarettes in an opened soft-pack. ‘A little extra for your birthday. The smokes might come in handy as barter.’
‘Thanks, my boy.’ I didn’t ask too many questions. In fact, I asked none. Why look a gift horse in the mouth.