the Rum Diary entry
04.08.03

Thanks to my misguided faith in the general wish of most people to make my life as trouble-free as possible, I have managed, mystifyingly (obviously) enough, to reach once again an advanced state of penury. For the last week my total expenditure out of my own pocket has totalled precisely E113.50 and my borrowed expenditure a somewhat heftier E450. How long this can continue is in doubt; it is always possible, for example, that a wealthy relative will suddenly resurface and promptly pop their clogs, leaving me several million and a house in the Azores, or indeed that somebody who actually believes in the mythical, "half upfront" policy that even my current employer seems to insist (in word, if not action) is the norm in Africa will proffer not only work but a sizeable wedge of cash. As things stand however, I am up to my ears in employment and yet mysteriously devoid of bread. No, I rephrase that; I have bread (four slices and counting) and I even have money (E5.45, up from E5 since I cleaned out the sofa) but somehow it's not the same when one's reserves of both are so glaringly finite.

Now I'm down to two slices; there's nothing quite like toast for calming the nerves. Toast has featured heavily in my diet recently, since my microwave stopped spinning (negating the speed of its heating mecahnism because I have to keep moving things around in it) and I began to run out of gas. Running out of gas, I have discovered, is very much like getting tired on a bicycle. You set out on a journey to the land of cooked pasta full of confidence and vitality but the flame of progress wanes steadily like a radio controlled car's batteries until you have to admit that, yes, you should probably have boiled the water in the microwave first (or, indeed, that you should have taken the train, depending). So: toast. And a snack and a half it is. Its first bonus is ease of preparation, which allows one to do something else rather than wait for it, patiently stirring "occasionally" and adding things which take it off the boil, and cursing. The second is that it gives that normally soft and mundane product, bread, an added sharpness of flavour which jazzes up almost any sandwich ingredient you care to mention. Instantly, upon purchase of a toaster, one's culinary repertoire is doubled! Additionally, one can warm one's hands (and the butter) over the toaster while it does its thing - no idle consideration in this most fickle of Swazi seasons during which roasting hot days give way to icy evenings.

It's supposed to be dry, being Winter, but last night we were treated to a light drizzle which led to the first really bad pile-up on the Malagwane. I saw it over the barrier while returning to town and when I dropped in at the Times their photographer took a somewhat ghoulish enthusiasm in dashing for the staff car, Canon in hand. Sizwe has offered me a column in the Times of Swaziland SUNDAY (to be precise; wouldn't want you thinking I was writing for a certain Fleet Street daily but merely from a Southern African location) and I am now a proud subject of the immense responsibility of cranking out the most entertaining 500 words ever read on a weekly basis. I joke, but as this is the first time I have ever been close to a regular spot in a national paper I suppose I should treat it with more gravitas. Sadly, I don't and my first article looks set to include the phrase, "loose-trousered". See if you can guess what it's about.

I'm so very poor that I walked to Pine Valley bottle store today, partly justifying it as a ploy to get away from the dogs, whose night-time seranading of the canine residents of all the houses within a mile radius has now been extended to daylight hours, and partly to get a bit of exercise. Halfway there I was passed by a 4x4 whose driver flashed and waved at me (with the lights and his hand, not his trenchcoat and genitals, respectively). I responded half in kind, having no lights, and then felt guilty that I couldn't remember where the hell I'd seen him, or his passengers, before. Two minutes later my confusion ended when they came back and stopped to offer me a lift: I didn't know them; they were just friendly. On the way to the bottle store I couldn't help but notice that the back seat of a Toyota Hilux double cab affords, through the nearside wing mirror, a direct and exclusive view of the front seat passenger's breasts, which was quite a discovery.

Which is such a stereotypical "young bloke" observation, it brings me to another point. I'm currently reading (as some may have guessed) the collected letters of Hunter S. Thompson, and it entertains me no end to read his (infinitely more balanced and mature) account of a distressingly similar state of mind, as a youth, to mine. Distressing? In his own words, You hit a sore spot when you launched ino this, "you aren't the only one" kick.. I've individualised myself to the point that people don't quite know what to make of me any more.. in short, I've turned into a conceited, arrogant bastard! And so it is; the unbearable flaw in being proud of who you are is, of course, that others are always at least a little similar to you. I'd love to say it doesn't bother me but it does. I mean, if half the people in the world think the same way as you in some way, how can you surprise them in your writing? You can't. Lucky for me, then, that Thompson is now a sexagenarian (if still alive) and therefore unable further to explore the plight of the twentysomething. Irritatingly, though, the middle-aged Iain Banks also seems to be hitting the nail on the head, judging from what I've recently been reading, which suggests one of two things. Either (a) being a young man is so universally a samey experience that either (i) it isn't worth exploring any more or (ii) if it's been done so much already, a few more books might slip through the net (unless it's just arrogance on the part of the writers, that, being young men, they think they're special when they aren't) or (b) I'm just projecting my psychological issues onto anything I read, in which case I suppose I should put it to the test and see if Charlotte Bronte or, Jesus, talk about an acid test, Germaine Greer, also seem to be "capturing the essence" of my state of mind too.

The second of these possibilities is almost as awful as the first - proof reading is going to be a nightmare if the writing itself is irrelevant as I read. "Gosh," I may be heard to say, reading back some muse-forsaken piece of drunken scribble, "this is so poignant! Maybe I'll put on some Mark Knopfler and read it again.." And there you have it; years of projecting something - anything - onto "easy listening" music has dulled my ability to perceive the true message. So that has been resolved, even if the issue of whether it's worth continuing to write has also been, but less satisfactorily - mind you, I didn't leave myself a lot of room to find any other conclusion, which can only mean I'm a pessimist, and a rambling, incoherent one at that, so I'll shut up now and leave you to ponder on your (relatively) rich and simple lives.

God, 115 pages of Thompson and I've regressed about a decade. Most worryingly, the above was written while stone-cold (cold being the operative word as I'm a full twenty feet from the fireplace) sober. Well, except for the toast.

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