Monday, 28 October 2013

Dog Ball – The Basics

For many months, in dog terms that can be translated as “for time immemorial”, there has been a fixed early evening pattern. The Master of the House (a nominal and honorary title) returns from a long day doing whatever the hell he does. He arrives in that big vehicle whose only real use is to transport dogs for walks. He ambles into the house through the kitchen door closely followed – herded if truth be known - by the dogs who dive through the kitchen corridor and lounge and head for the glazed stoep door. If the stoep door is open Seth completes a couple of circumnavigations of the house; stoep – garden – drive – kitchen yard – kitchen – corridor – lounge – stoep, howling like a banshee.
Dog Transporter - with fee paying passengers.
If the stoep door is closed then Seth will sit upright, taught and quivering with anticipation of the door being opened. Hamlet being of a more practical mind will fling himself at the door pulling at the handle. (Unfortunately the door sticks and requires a hefty human kick at the base for it to open. It is only a matter of time before Hamlet solves this by hitting the door in the upright position and simultaneously belting the bottom with both rear paws – and when that happens I’m leaving home because I am of no further practical use.)

Tyke will weave like a badly articulated bratwurst between the other two, fighting to get out first. She is neither big enough to get anywhere near the door handle, nor is she slim enough to sit upright, and she certainly can’t quiver with anything like the grace of the two Collies. She is however solid enough to un-jam the bottom of the door. If only she and Hamlet could work together . . . . and then I really would leave home.

Once the door is opened the two larger dogs take up their positions on the edge of the stoep, Hamlet statuesque, all muscles tensed. Seth equally still, head down but muzzle up, haunches elevated, sprung for action. And Tyke is still hanging on to the swinging cabin hook at the bottom of the door.
"Fetcher" waiting to fetch.
As an aside we once had a fellow consultant staying with us who on opening the stoep door asked what he should do with the “dog attached to the door”. Fair question really. The same consultant did later manage to encourage the dog to slide ignominiously off the slippery edge of the stoep while in pursuit of a torch beam; but this is another story which may also have something to do with snail racing.

So the stage is set – all players seem to be in position, all we await is the first ball to be thrown; and through this tableau strolls Yorick, equally ready for ball. He will shimmy up to both Collies, nuzzle against their quivering legs, walk round them a couple of times, try to push his head against their heads and on receiving no response will give an offhand “purrrp” and sit down between them, waiting for play to commence.
Waiting to start an evening match; expectant
"bringer", distracted "herder", and supremely
bored crowd.

And here I need to explain in detail the rules of Dog Ball.

Ball games in this household are strictly controlled affairs. They have evolved over time, and the rules have stood the tests of time (some would even go so far as to say the testes of time, and if you think about it there is an alliterative and poetic connection – but perhaps this should not be pursued).

  • The “ball” is thrown by a responsible adult (the “chukka)” from the “stoep”.
  • Hamlet and Tyke (the “fetchers” or “bringers”) chase the ball.
  • Seth circles both at great speed making no attempt whatsoever to pick up the ball. He is the “herder”.
  • One of the two ball “fetchers” (or “bringers”) picks up the ball at the “pick-up point” and returns towards the responsible adult – the “chukka”.

And that completes a round, or more accurately a “Ball”, quite a sensible description of the process really – a lot like cricket.

Simple, you may think - but no, it gets more sophisticated.
  • If the ball is picked up by Hamlet he will invariably drop it between the “pick-up point” and the “stoep”. This is known as the “half-way-line”.
  • At this point Tyke will take possession of the ball and in so doing becomes the “bringer” and will, with much asthmatic wheezing, lollop up the steps (the “steps”) of the “stoep” and place the ball at the feet of the “chukka”.
 (This may all be a little too much to assimilate in one reading so you may wish to re-read the preceding rules before you continue.)

The alternative is that
  • Hamlet will not drop the ball at the half-way-line but will bring it all the way to the foot of the steps and in so doing of course changes from “fetcher” to “bringer” as he passes the “half-way-line”.
Moment of uncertainty at the "half-way-line" as to who is
the "fetcher" and who is the "bringer"
This variant only really occurs when Tyke has retired indoors to have a minor asthma attack, and it does involve the “chukka” having to descend the steps of the “stoep” to retrieve the “ball” thus slowing the game down considerably.

It should be stressed that throughout the entire proceedings Seth has continued to herd whoever or whatever is moving at any one time. This “herding” strategy only stops when the ball is either out of play (ie lodged out of mouth-reach in the hedge, the rubber tree, any other bush, or on the roof) or is in the hands of the “chukka”.
Portrait of a "herder" - doing nothing interesting.
After a round (we call this a “lode”) of 10 throws (or there abouts – opinion is divided on the subject) the “chukka” retires to the fridge for another beer and after a short interval and a couple of gulps the game recommences.

Odd but true - no one has ever been known to have kept the score of one of these games, probably because no one has quite worked how to do it.

As can be seen this has developed over time, is bound by certain strategic conventions and has as a consequence cabalistic undertones – it has a lot in common with the human game of balls called “rug-by” but is far far more sophisticated, especially when the cat gets involved (of which more later).

Groundsman aka the "chukka" preparing the field of play
for another Lode of Balls.
Whichever way you look at it – it's a “lode” of “balls”.

Saturday, 19 October 2013


Okay – you’ve made it! Your pretty face and to-die-for figure has been airbrushed onto a number of high profile glossy magazine covers that have hit the worlds newsstands with that heady sickly scent of glossy printers ink. In addition you’ve made appearances at various red carpet events in the company of your elders and betters who know well how to deal with fawning reporters and how to pose like unapologetic whores in front of advertising slogans for fabulously expensive handbags.

Your career stretches out ahead of you along a golden yellow brick highway signposted from one Oscar or Grammy nomination to the next. However, as your eternally wise and diligent PR management team point out to you there is more to this than just being good – oh alright then, broadly mediocre – at what you do, You’ve got to have a theme.

“No darling not pink and grey (very last millennium anyway), nor a freshly slaughtered meat bodice (been done – once), and spitting is so cracher and is rather frowned upon by the leader writers!” No this is a theme that reduces your absurdly bloated ego to something within spitting distance (ouch) of the hoi polloi without actually becoming one. You’ve got to get a conscience, but don’t worry about the initial emotional (not to mention monetary) expense, the returns will be enormous. You might like to have a look at what your aforesaid elders and betters are up to in this regard.

There seem to be two issues that need to be tackled – the one is thematic (dear god – themes again!) and the other geographic, and in the selection of both of these there is the issue of overcrowding.

Themes is a difficult one. Pot bellied children is not actually a theme per se, there have got to be reasons for the condition and these reasons may be just a tad messy, or smelly.

Orphans is a bit passé.  Unless you really want to commit to raising a polyglot soccer team from the country of Africa and don’t mind running the risk of pissing off Presidents or whatever they are titled in these odd tribal states by being over familiar then you should avoid this.

Water is a good subject but firewood not. Seeds for Africa is a minefield and full of dodgy international corporations with very good lawyers on the one side and violent Bunny huggers on the other. Yes Bunny huggers . . . as in rabbits  . . . live rabbits . . . no real rabbits, no . . . not NOT Bunnies á la Hugh Hefner.  The difference? Ok . . .  lets leave that one . . .

Geography! The world is your oyster! And yes there are real places outside the US of A that really do exist! How awesome is that!

Casting aside for the moment multiple exclamation marks there is a wonderful map guide to the division of the country of Africa between various celebrities.

Like the Berlin Conference of 1884/85 this is a partitioning of Africa. Notably North Africa remains arid celebrity territory, West and Central Africa is fairly well developed, East and Southern Sub-Saharan is very well developed and in the Horn of Africa you can’t move for “helpers”!

Here are some helpful observations for potential celebrity colonists:-

·         Malawi  - too thin and all the spare orphans have already been snaffled.
·         Ruanda & Burundi – is this one place or two? I wish they’d make their minds up – and anyway they speak French don’t they?
·         Cameroon – too dangerous and full of wild eyed Muslim extremists.
·         Mali – great music but also too dangerous and full of wild eyed Muslim extremists.
·         Equatorial Guinea – where?
·         Guinea Bissau – definitely up for grabs!
·         Zambia – where?
·         Congo Brazzaville – hang on a moment how many dammed Congo’s are there? What happened to Zaire? Or are we talking about Zambia?

I tell you it’s a minefield out there – well certainly in Mozambique and Angola it is.

Help however is at hand. There is clearly too much at stake here, so let me break the code of silence, the Omerta that has been breached elsewhere by the likes of Snowdon, Manning and Assange – cling to your seats and fasten your  belts because this is dynamite!

Somewhere deep in the basement of the United Nations complex in New York there is a little known agency that does not figure on any UN official web site, nor is it visible on any official budget sheet. The annual UN accounts issued to all member states do not show this shadowy agency. This is because it is an agency that is entirely funded by private enterprise.

Once a year men and women power dressed in charcoal suits and even darker glasses converge on an underground parking lot in black chauffer driven SUV’s. They step into an elevator and sink to level -9 to the sound of hissing expelled air and stride together along dimly lit concrete corridors making polite but strained conversation, wary of each other like gladiators before emerging into the binding sunlight of the Coliseum ready to undertake the ultimate battle in front of an audience of thousands of baying Romans.

But here the protagonists are in the territory of the United Nations Committee To Uncover (&) Outsource Untapped Sympathy, known as UNCTUOUS for short, and its implementation arm Unilateral Nurture Fellowship For Integrated Talispersons which has the unsurprising acronym of UNFFIT. Like the noble gladiatorial battle of ancient Rome the stakes are high. Indeed in modern capitalist parlance they can be measured in millions of dollars.

Yes – its true! If you think about it a huge and valuable resource such as Celebrity Energy could not have been left to simple market forces. No, the economic theory of Free Trade does not operate in this rarefied and charged political atmosphere. There is a central and responsible agency for celebrity placement. Although much maligned the UN does have its uses.

Returning to the dark corridors of UNCTUOUS, I’Grin Reilly, the Irish Deputy Director in charge of placements is handing an envelope to Justin Bieber’s PRO – a thin and worried man who has the hunted look of a rabbit (but not a bunny) caught in the glare of bicycle lamp. With fingers wracked with early onset stress related Parkinsons he tears open the envelope and sees with relief the initial citation that talks of “embracing VIP’s.” Suppressing the desire to hug the Deputy Director he walks the grim corridor back to the elevator with an uncharacteristic spring in his step.

The Deputy Director permits a twisted tight smile to flit across his otherwise clay like face and wonders as he has so often about the extraordinary confluence of his name and the strange career that he had engaged upon. He places a fat and final tick against “Ambassador for VIP’s (Ventilated Improved Pit latrines)” on his list. Nodding at the next citation on the list which reads “Ambassador for AI (Artificial Insemination) of Cattle in Rural Areas in Sub-Saharan Africa” he reaches for his I-Phone and dials the number of Miley Cyrus’ PRO . . .

As the elevator rises from level -9 with a malevolent hiss Biebers' PRO reads with increasing despair as he understands what VIP means in this context. “They want the little turd to hug toilets” he mumbles and thinks something uncharitable about the iniquity of poetic justice.
I'Grin Reilly, our man at UNCTUOUS
With acknowledgement to the late Austin Hleza

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Celebrity Aid

I still remember with dreadful clarity one of the awful Sky News team of drippy eyed but heroic reporters being filmed across and over the heads of an apparently starving or homeless refugee family (perhaps they were both to add greater poignancy). I cannot for the life of me remember whether this was Dafur or some other then current and sexy African news hot-spot.

For some extraordinary reason the sheer level of intrusion shown by the news team seem to have passed them by. If indeed the family group in the foreground, over which the cameras grazed and then discarded in favour of browsing the far more beguiling figure of the reporter in the middle ground set against the blasted heath of some nameless drought stricken African savannah were truly disadvantaged and vulnerable, then this use of cinematic ornamentation was insensitive in the extreme.  But worse (even worse!) if the shot was a set-up (heaven forefend that a populist news service would do such a thing) then the cynicism exhibited in arranging such a fabrication beggars belief.

This in a way encapsulates my view, of their view, of the others.

By them I mean the default beneficiaries and by the others I mean the objects of attention. And for me I will readily accept criticism about generalising and conflating those who merely watch, look and report with those who purport to do; but my thesis is that actually there is sometimes little to distinguish the two.

To start with the easy bit first – which is paradoxically the most complex – The Others.

Poverty, destitution, hunger, high infant mortality, HIV AIDS exist for a reason; but that reason is not about you – the viewer – the reader – the donor – the “helper”. It is all about some one else’s circumstance. Do not kid yourself that you have any individual influence over that other person’s circumstance. It is all very much bigger and more distant than you can ever imagine. Lets face it – if you are really honest with yourself you have little real influence over your own sorry life – let alone someone else’s even sorrier life several thousand kilometres away or, I venture to suggest, even five kilometres away.

Start with that premise and then you can usefully begin developing a world view.

All the above traumas and a multitude of other ills exist because there are many and varied root causes –  sociological dysfunction & trauma, societal fractures,  environmental dissonance such as resource degradation, lack of potable water or available arable land; greed, power struggles, warfare, and so on.

That’s all simple and trite enough, however it just isn’t that simple. The condition of the others is complex, and it is that irksome and annoying fact that gives the lie to the activities of them, the default beneficiaries. But who are they?

The them that I am thinking about are those – like the drippy eyed reporter – who use the plight of others as scenery or a backdrop for their own benefit or the benefit of the organisations that they represent or work for. Aside from crass insincere reporters there are legions of celebrities who have been given free tickets on the Aid Train that is routed to Further Fame and Fortune.

It is not just those like the late Princess Diana who valiantly hugged AIDS sufferers and gingerly tripped through minefields, or her gauche son Prince Harry who has kicked many a soccer ball around mountainous rural areas in Lesotho where his charity is situated. Let’s face it these people are involved with charitable works because it is part of what they do and what they are. It is their career and their destiny. But what of the others who do it to enhance their careers? I just wonder how many of those merely see there apparent commitment to the alleviation of poverty and destitution as wall paper to decorate the rooms of their own careers and egos.

There seem to be two types of celebrity charity face; the pretty and expressive ones (with accompanying drippy eyes) and the proto-experts (with fearsome angry frowns), and to be honest I am not sure which are the most objectionable, although on balance I lean towards the latter. The celebrities who play the game are at least not purporting to be experts, but the moment they do become ersatz academics by stepping beyond their scripts then god helps us and the intended recipients. The extraordinary pseudo-intellectual posturing of Bono and Geldorf has been well documented and is worthy of further discussion, but not here and not now.

It is clear that the aid and celebrity businesses have mutual interests. The Oxfam America web page amply demonstrates this with a lengthy list of potted celebrity biographies involved with the organisation.What is notable is that the only substantive things that the celebrities do is go to wherever their particular assigned “interest” is and meet the sufferers and survivors, but more important be photographed and videoed indulging in these bizarre “meet and greet” stagings.

It can be of no surprise that the majority of the charity celebrity ambassadors are in show business. In fact one web page which triumphantly lists its Celebrity Ambassadors names 25 individuals;  identifying 14 who are actors, 2 who are sportsmen, 6 singers, a model, a TV personality, and a minor member of royalty. Not one of them (as far as I can ascertain) has any peculiar knowledge or particular skill in relation to the charitable enterprise to which they are somehow attached.

Few if any of these “ambassadors” are putting on concerts or making appearances at vast fees that go into the coffers of their respective organisations – in other words unashamed money raising. They are instead making appearances in deserts and war torn urban environments cuddling smiling pot-bellied under fives, or walking heroically through semi-drought stricken environments hair flowing like some sort of mad Shakespearean prince hand in hand with brave and noble under ten year-olds. And having done that they are regurgitating the ghastly facts and figures that have been provided by the agencies script writers in adverts and on various stages at national and international conferences and forums.

In short the agencies involved are relying upon the celebrity ambassadors to impart knowledge, the awful truths. They are merely mouth pieces, official knowledge brokers. They are not qualified to be interrogated about the information that they are passing on. They have no particular knowledge beyond the scripts from which they are reading, or from what they may have observed on their selected sanitised in situ visits.

Is the theory that because the facts are being imparted by celebrities they will be seen to be somehow more truthful; bear a badge of reality? Does the acronym VIP in this context mean Verisimilitude Is Pretend? Or is it that we are simply more likely to listen to celebrities?
Stephen Jay Gould in his book Rock of Ages deplores the conflating of celebrity with stature - and what rational mind can deny that sentiment. The fact that George Clooney or Angelina Jolie are telling me that the plight of children under 5 is now dire in Southern Sudan does not make that information any more believable than if it were being imparted by a local community leader or a Sudanese health extension worker. Frankly I am more likely to react to the latter than scripted pleas from the former talking heads.

So here’s the rub – the general populace of the well healed, well fed and largely “Western” (or perhaps more accurately “Northern”) world are being lectured and cajoled by professional entertainers whose actual raison d’être it to portray fictional characters who are living and functioning in fictional situations, expressing fictional emotions and exhibiting fictional morals that have been scripted, directed and filmed by others. But now, because, and only because they are familiar faces and are thus somehow heroic, they are regarded as being ideally suited to present real truths. You are now expected to believe and open your wallets to the blandishments of an actor whose skill it is to fabricate fact and emotion. Doesn’t anyone see the paradox in an Actor claiming our attention with his/her own words on something we all know they are not well versed in? Should they really be taken seriously?

Are they using their trade to promote aid to the disadvantaged or are we being led to believe that they really are wonderful human beings who care deeply? Whichever the answer it doesn’t really stack up on the moral and ethical front.

But the bottom line is that we are just as complicit in the Aid/Celebrity Alliance. It’s almost as if we need to sugar the pill of altruism with star-studded sprinkles – to make it more edible, more fun perhaps? If this is the case then we should be examining closely our own world view and our sense of altruism.

Here’s a thought though - Angelina is awfully pretty – and so is George Clooney. Bob Geldorf has a pixy quality about him, Bono is just a tad scary – and so is Madonna; but they all seem to fit some or other necessary bill. I wonder what Justin Bieber could be good for?
A Clay Celebrity reading from an Aid Agency script.
With acknowledgment to the late Austin Hleza