Dreams and visions up in smoke as we won­der for whom the bell tolls

Pretoria News Weekend - - OPINION - Jou­bert Mal­herbe

THE Byrds were singing “Oh what will you give me/say the sad bells of Rhym­ney/Is there hope for the fu­ture/say the brown bells of Merthyr…” on the car CD the other day.

It was swel­ter­ing, and just be­fore that, I had been lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio. They were dis­cussing Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s non-an­swers in Par­lia­ment last week.

In the main, they were lam­poon­ing his ex­er­cise in ob­fus­ca­tion and making some hu­mor­ous com­ments about No 1’s bum­bling per­for­mance. One pun­dit re­marked al­though Zuma might be guilty of many things, at least he hadn’t “stolen” our sense of hu­mour.

Bells of Rhym­ney is a great song, by the way. It was writ­ten by veteran US folk singer Pete Seeger and is about a min­ing dis­as­ter in Wales in the 1920s, as well as the fail­ure of the Gen­eral Strike.

Seeger was a lead­ing light on the folk scene and an im­por­tant in­spi­ra­tion in the US civil rights move­ment. Along with peo­ple like Woody Guthrie, he in­spired lu­mi­nar­ies like Bob Dy­lan and Joan Baez to carry the ban­ner.

The Byrds’ ver­sion gives the song a par­tic­u­lar lift with Roger McGuinn’s plain­tive vo­cals and sig­na­ture jingly-jan­gly Rick­en­backer gui­tar.

Any­way, the “is there hope for the fu­ture” re­frain sounded again as I drew to a halt at the lo­cal cor­ner café in funky Dor­ingk­loof to get a news­pa­per to catch the lat­est on the state cap­ture front.

The lyrics were rather apt, I thought to my­self… hope for the fu­ture, in­deed.

As I pulled up, I spot­ted a blood-red sports car in the park­ing lot. I went in and Frankie was busy talk­ing to the owner about golf. They guy was wear­ing a T-shirt with the slo­gan “Grumpy Dutch­man” em­bla­zoned on it.

I in­sin­u­ated my­self into the con­ver­sa­tion – as you do in sub­ur­ban cafés, es­pe­cially when mat­ters of state and sport are un­der dis­cus­sion – and the geezer was amenable enough.

I asked him if his fire­bird parked out­side was a Fer­rari, but he said “no, it’s a Mus­tang”.

We left at the same time and I asked him to give me a bit of a roar. This he did as he dis­ap­peared down Sonja Street in a puff of smoke.

I sounded al­most Har­ley-Davidson-ish and I im­me­di­ately thought of that R&B song Mus­tang Sally, made fa­mous by Wilson Pick­ett and the Young Ras­cals. With its “ride Sally… ride” cho­rus, it has be­come a reg­u­lar on the pub cir­cuit.

Talk­ing of state cap­ture, Jacques Pauw’s book, The Pres­i­dent’s Keep­ers, re­ally has stirred up a hor­net’s nest. Riv­et­ing read­ing in­deed, with my wife fin­ish­ing it in two ses­sions, and now I’m busy plough­ing through it.

Read­ing it, I keep on think­ing of the words Peter Ham­mill sings on The Old School Tie: “Politi­cians fight it out on the con­ning tower/But all agree not to rock the boat…It’s a cushy job in pol­i­tics… and it’s built on your vote …” Deep sigh; con­ning tower, in­deed!

If true – and, given the pic­to­rial ev­i­dence, I’ve no rea­son to be­lieve it’s not true – I’m re­ally sur­prised that the ve­he­mently anti-to­bacco NDZ ap­par­ently has no com­punc­tion to court favours from that dodgy cig­a­rette boss Maz­zotti; talk about dreams go­ing up in smoke.

● Pretoria theatre lovers are in for a treat this week­end when lo­cal drama­tist Stephanie van Niek­erk stages her lat­est pro­duc­tion, Nag Op ’n Kaal Plein (Night On A De­serted Square) tonight at 6pm and to­mor­row at 3pm at the Brook­lyn Theatre, Green­lyn Vil­lage.

An old school­mate of mine, Van Niek­erk runs the Method Act­ing Com­pany in the city. The play is based on a poem writ­ten by her fa­ther, renowned Afrikaans au­thor Dolf van Niek­erk, about the mem­o­ries of his youth which he spent in the Free State farm­ing town of Eden­burg.

The play brings alive a va­ri­ety of char­ac­ters in the town, and the square be­comes a mi­cro­cosm of the uni­verse. I can’t wait to see it… and there won’t be a nu­clear re­ac­tor in sight, or on the agenda.

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