J.S.A. BACH LIFE WITH HAROLD STRACHAN
I STAND discreetly back from the ATM so folks won’t think I’m peeping at anybody’s PIN number, when I get a sense of somebody peeping at me over my left shoulder. I swing round; it is Cynthia in her gym gear. Aha Cynthia! I exclaim. Yes I thought it was you, says she, from the singing. Oh was I? say I, well it was pretty quiet singing, wasn’t it? Oh yes, says she, I was trying to catch the melody. She smiles, prettily. You are the only person I know who sings in public, she says. I give this some curious thought. She may be right. Never mind the birds in the street, even the Zulus have stopped singing. They used to have a nerve connecting feet to vocal chords, a triggering mechanism: start walking, start singing, reflexively. If you had a guitar, the reflex was even quicker. But the small repetitive tune and the quiet personal little song on a fine walk of a fine quiet day have gone. Sub-woofer low-resonance gadoomp electronical taxi muzak has made history of all that. Forever. Sub-woofer has become chewing gum for the ears. Staff at the Steve Biko campus tell me they have students who can’t write an exam without it, they can’t think without headphones thumping at the brain.
Fine spring morning, I observe, that’s why I’m singing. Cynthia has to go and look out the window to see such a fine spring thing though she’s just come in. Do your ATM business and join me on a walk to the bot gardens, with maybe a small song busting out en route, say I. Oh nonono! she exclaims in a moral sort of way, I have to go to the gym. Any birdsong at the gym? say I. Oh no, we have heavy bass rhythm on headphones to help with the exercising, says she. Sub-woofer? say I. Well I suppose you could call it that, she says with some reserve, this sounding rather low-class. Then a bit defensively: Well what music do you like then? Sheep may safely graze, say I. Harharhar! she guffaws, you can’t have a song called that! I do have a song called that, say I, and I’m about to sing it when I get outside. Who made it up? says she, straightening her mouth with some effort. A bloke called Johann Sebastian Almighty Bach, say I. Go on! says Cynthia, that’s church music, man! I also sing synagogue music and the Devil’s music, say I, and Arab jazz; would you like some? I hate jazz, says Cynthia. You and Hitler both, say I, he called it Jewish Bolshevist Negro Schragmusik. You’re bloody mad, says Cynthia. Yes, say I, but I’m happy and I’m off to the Buddha’s great outdoor gym where the birds sing.
Well I realise on arrival at the bot gardens I’m a bit late for the avian schragmusik, the avises are all away hunting goggas and things at this time of day. But it scarce matters, for as I pass the dainty little charity outdoor café there, a wave of curry-vapour wafts out, not the sort you can actually eat, know what I mean, it’s what the Brits made before the Indi- an invasion of their island home: stew with 2 tblspnfls of gunpowder plus 2 of something called currypowder, and you consume this with chutney and raisins and grated coconut and sliced bananas for fux-
ache. This vapour-wave triggers a neural signal from nostril to foot telling my body to rotate through 180˚ and depart smartish, and I find myself impelled towards the Indian Market as the humming- bird is impelled from Canada to Mexico when its gene switches tell it a certain species of flowering creeper is making the right sort of ambrosia down there.
I know, I just know, something tells me Ma Gov is seething up a new cauldron of mutton nosh at Mrs Govender’s Heavenly Home of Curries. Baking her special half-loaf bunnychow-shape bread, not your usual supermarket fluffy stuff which instantly soaks up all and any gravy and goes all damp and squashy like an old bath towel. Farewell hadedas hammering their beaks into the lawn, farewell odoriferous orchid house, farewell bot gardens, I’m off to Victoria Street and my Heavenly Home!
Aah Ma Gov! I cry, I sniffed your mutton curry from afar and I want a bunny chow please. Wholewheat or yeastfree? says she. Yes, yes, yeastfree! say I, and some nice sambals on top, of your own expert recommendation. I tell you, dear readers, such a five-star bunny you should order at the Royal Hotel. Mounchant du Lapin delivered by a waiter with white gloves.
I fidget around expectantly and continue my small song as she ladles the delights into the open half-loaf and deftly wraps it in a sheet of newsprint. There you are, she says. And what you singing, you? Oh, say I, a small song from long ago called Sheep May Safely Graze. Hmmmm? says she and shakes her head against the general din of the Indian Market. What? Sheep May Safely Graze, say I, she rolls her eyes and opens her mouth thoughtfully before speaking. Very safe organic kind lamb, that lamb, says Ma Gov. No GM grass on that farm. No chemicals. Sheeps safely graze that side.