Introducing Cape Town

This article originally appeared on Taking Time to Travel

Cape Town has long been a destination of choice for tourists, backpackers and honeymooners alike, and it won’t take you long to see why. Set on the southwestern tip of Africa, and with the iconic Table Mountain standing tall over the city, Cape Town is as recognisable as it is fascinating.

The city has plenty going for it, and a host of top publications can vouch for its appeal. In 2016 Cape Town was selected by The Daily Telegraph’s readers as the best city in the world for the fourth year running, and has also recently topped the New York Times’s list of the best cities to visit.

Cape Town’s attraction shows no sign of waning, either. Recent figures published by the Cape Times, a local broadsheet newspaper, show an upsurge in tourism in the last year. Cape Town International Airport saw 10 million passengers pass through its gates for the first time, and many popular tourist spots, including the Robben Island museum and Cape Point, recorded notable year-on-year increases in visitors.

The Victoria and Albert waterfront is the perfect spot for shopping, eating and boat-watching

Just as it was back in early colonial days, Cape Town is still a gateway to Africa for many Westerners. While colonisation remains a sensitive issue, generations of Western influx – people, products and cultural practices have been flooding in for centuries – have lent Cape Town a cosmopolitan vibe that is matched by few cities in Africa. Travellers, many from Europe, North America and Oceania, are enticed by the similarities to home that Cape Town offers, while still experiencing a city that is, in other aspects, unmistakably African.

Culturally speaking, Cape Town is a huge draw. In 2014, The Mother City, as it is known in South Africa, was named World Design Capital by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. The city boasts a collection of well curated museums, as well as some unique and charismatic local hangouts. The Labia Theatre on Orange Street has stood since the late 40’s and still runs daily showings of Art-House and alternative films, as well as some of the usual Hollywood stock. Truth Coffee Roasting, on Buitenkant Street, offer visitors a totally different kind of café; you can marvel at the quirky Steampunk-themed interior design while you sample their extensive range of coffees, beers and food. At night, Bree Street and Long Street come alive, especially once a month for “First Thursdays”. On the first Thursday of every month, Cape Town’s myriad galleries and cultural spots stay open well into the evening, and some roads are closed off to traffic allowing people to wander on foot. For many attendees, this is usually followed by a jol in the many bars and restaurants that also line these streets. It is thus quite common for First Thursday to take up half of Friday as well.

That said, if you are the kind of person that uses crime statistics to determine your next holiday destination, you’d probably stay far away from Cape Town. The Mother City has garnered an unfortunate reputation for murder and other forms of violent crime. As of 2016, World Atlas ranked Cape Town as the 9th most dangerous city worldwide, with 65.53 homicides per 100,000 people. (The figures only account for cities with populations above 300,000). Cape Town is the only African city in the top 10; the rest are in Latin America. Furthermore, Cape Town is one of only four cities outside the Americas to make the top 50. The other three are in South Africa, too: Durban (41), Nelson Mandela Bay (42) and — with a rate of 30.31 homicides per 100,000 people, lower than half that of Cape Town — Johannesburg, at number 47.

At face value, these statistics paint a grim picture. It must be noted, however, that they do not account for the inconsistency in homicide rates from district to district. Any worthwhile survey of Cape Town would certainly not overlook the townships and suburbs in its outer reaches (the notorious Khayelitsha township is located here). With higher levels of poverty and low police presence, zones like these can be hotspots for violent crime, though they do not necessarily speak for the city as a whole. To outsiders, Cape Town may evoke images of picturesque beaches and stunning mountain vistas, and Cape Town is certainly not the only glamorous city with a less glamorous underbelly. But the townships, the poverty, the racial tension – these are just as real as anything else you’ll find in Cape Town.

Still, for the most part the city is a welcoming place, and most travellers come and go without incident. South Africa battles with social issues, sky-high unemployment and the still palpable aftermath of apartheid. But the allure of the Mother City endures in spite of unfavourable figures, and it stands out as one of Africa’s – and the world’s – truly magnificent cities. For any traveller to South Africa it is a must-see, and is unlikely to disappoint.

At Truth Coffee Roasting, on Buitenkant Street, you can sip excellent coffee while marvelling at the unique steampunk interior design

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The Case of the Village Murder: A Mystery

My girlfriend and I wrote this short mystery to pass the time while taking a train ride, inspired by the book “Two Minute Mysteries” by Donald J. Sobol, which we were mildly obsessed with at the time. Can you crack it?

Clouseau pink panther cartoon bucket

 

The Case of the Village Murder

by Emily Somerville and Lorenzo Gaertner

Yorkshire, England

It was most unusual for inspector Ainsworth to be called to the sleepy village of Meadow’s End for anything more serious than juvenile misdemeanours and other small-time goings on. He and his assistant, Wendell, arrived at the house of one Arthur Howard, village postman and esteemed member of the community.

The distraught Mr. Howard had called the police immediately after coming home to find his beloved wife, Dorothy, dead at her dressing table, her dress stained with blood.

“I called out ‘hello’ when I entered the house,” he told the inspectors, “and when nobody answered I came upstairs, expecting her to still be getting ready for Church. Instead, I found her like this.”

“Where had you been?” asked the inspector.

“I was out early doing my rounds. I do not share her Catholic faith and so she always goes to Church alone. Somebody must have known that I was out and used the opportunity to break in and murder her!”

Inspector Ainsworth closed his notebook.

“Should we begin questioning the people in the village?” asked Wendell.

“I’d say we need look no further than this very house,” replied the inspector. “Arthur Howard, you’re under arrest!”

Why did he arrest Mr. Howard?

Diversity Laws Are a Step Forward, not a Solution

Bafta GoldDerby

Image: GoldDerby

 

December 2016
Amid growing demands for the film industry to diversify, BAFTA has responded by tweaking its applicability rules to reward only those filmmakers who have incorporated minority talent in their works. In doing so, it has taken the initiative many expected of the Academy.

This is good, to an extent. Films have (hopefully) shown us that race and sex are in no way markers of artistic ability, and there is certainly no reason why all the best jobs should go to white males. Groundbreaking works like Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker are evidence that the issue lies with the number of people who aren’t given a chance, not the efforts of those who are.

The problem is not limited to on-screen or directorial talent, either. The irony here, though, is that while rule changes like this one are intended to ensure that roles are earned based on merit, not race, forcing filmmakers — at least those aspiring to BAFTA awards — to count at least two ethnic minority members among their team could achieve the reverse outcome.

The BAFTA ruling brings another question into consideration: are they implying that filmmakers’ efforts are geared towards the attainment of BAFTA awards rather than perfection of the art itself? Surely any genuine artist holds the quality of his or her work as the chief aim and accolades as mere bonuses. The new rule changes could put BAFTA at risk of boycotting; some artists, believe it or not, aren’t in it for the awards.

Those that do decide to stick by BAFTA’s rules risk compromising on the quality of their product. Ultimately, filmmakers have to work with the resources available to them. If, for argument’s sake, an all-white male team is best suited to the job, the filmmakers should not be punished by having to replace certain workers to satisfy arbitrary diversity rules.

Of course they should be mature and reasonable enough to select workers only according to criteria by which they may contribute to the best product possible. But rule changes like this have two negative effects: firstly, to assume, audaciously, that the problem of deeply-entrenched, institutionalised racism can be solved by simple acts of legislation; and secondly, to dump the problem on the doorstep of filmmakers.

Image result for Moonlight film

“Moonlight”, released October 2016, was the first film with an all-black cast to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. The event is better remembered for “La La Land” being mistakenly announced as the winner. The crew, having taken the stage and begun their speeches, had to awkwardly and unceremoniously hand over the trophy to the “Moonlight” team. leading to conspiracy theories that the balls-up was done intentionally to steal “Moonlight”’s thunder (image: The Arrowhead)

To give BAFTA its due, updating the membership requirements so that applicants no longer need to obtain recommendations from existing BAFTA members is a good move. A BAFTA statement noted correctly that the rule change “widens the pool of potential members and ensures that it’s only talent, and not also who you know, that enables BAFTA membership.”

Additionally, BAFTA may be among the first to contribute to a new type of awards culture, that which not only rewards the artistically good but the socially progressive as well. As Emma Stefansky wrote for Vanity Fair, “Awards don’t necessarily dictate if a movie is good, but a film that receives a prestigious award like a BAFTA or an Oscar has been recognized for its contributions to the medium.” The BAFTA award itself could be elevated in stature from a simply artistic to a humanitarian achievement.

Still, I worry that these acts of legislation will not be built on, or worse yet that they will give the impression that the battle against racism can be simplified to acts of legislation, diverting attention from the real struggle of tackling it through education. Rules can only do so much: they hold the trouble off while we hatch a real plan, but they don’t address the root of the issue. The fact remains that you cannot legislate racism out of existence. You can suppress it and control it, stifle the environments in which it thrives and attack when it rears its ugly head. But as the U.S. election showed, the darker aspects of society that the progressives sought to abolish have a remarkable ability to lie dormant and resurface. You can hack a weed at its head, but unless you dig it out of the soil you can bet that it will grow back.

I hope, therefore, that these rule changes are a prelude to meaningful, long-term change. Giving people no choice but to do the right thing does not make those people good. Nor does making them work with minorities make them any less racist. We must work towards a society in which people do the right thing when other options are available to them. It won’t happen overnight, and this makes it a tough sell; in a culture obsessed with instant results, rule changes are a more attractive option than promoting long-term shifts in consciousness.

Social change cannot be achieved through institutional power alone, nor is the onus solely on the film industry to fight racism. Any movement geared towards the improvement of society requires the collective effort of millions. Legislating against racism, as much as it will make openly racist acts more difficult, cannot eradicate racism any more than criminalising murder stops murders taking place. The recent gains made by populists and right-wingers show that racism is still a powerful force. But if we continue the fight for an equal society for all, hopefully sooner or later we won’t need these laws.

Silence of the Sand: Adventures in the Namib Desert

After the heat, the first thing that hit me was the silence. I couldn’t miss it. There was nothing to absorb sound. No trees, no buildings. Just orange sand stretching endlessly in every direction. I became painfully aware of the sounds around me: the heavy boots trampling unspoiled earth, the clang of car doors, the clack-clack-clack of cutlery on disposable plates, the chatter — all of it imposed on the tranquillity in whose midst I found myself. I felt out of place, an uninvited visitor to one of the last peaceful spots left on Earth.

Sossusvlei, Namibia. 03/01/2017

The Jeep swung round a wide corner, jerking us violently as our guide navigated the craters and bumps in the road. Then the smaller dunes receded and I saw the towering, imperfect pyramid known as Big Daddy, which I had come here to climb with three Norwegian backpackers I’d met in Windhoek a few days earlier. I leaned over the front seat and asked our guide, who had climbed Big Daddy several times, how long he thought it would take us.

“One hour is considered very fast,” he said.
“How long does it take you?”
“Just under one hour.”

It was cloudless, and glaringly bright. The sun pounded the sand so that the very earth seemed to throb, radiating the heat back out and up towards you. Groups of rocks lay scattered at random on the sand. There was no shade, since there were no trees. The salt and clay pan (from which Sossusvlei gets its name) wound between the dunes, its surface dry, cracked and yet oddly springy to walk on. The sky and the sand were like two sides at war, each immersed in its own colour, a singular mass that moves and breathes as one. It was a view surely not of this world: the visible landscape reduced to two colours, each bringing out the depth and richness of the other.

As we got closer, I saw the trail of hikers in whose path we would be following. They seemed to move so slowly, inching up the giant dune with the unconscious determination of marching ants; from afar it looks like you could do the whole thing in a short sprint! We stood at the base as our guide (who would not be joining us for the climb) briefed us: stick to the trail, fill up water bottles now, rendezvous by the Deadvlei (or “dead marsh”, a clay pan within Sossusvlei on which trees hundreds of years old, and long dead, still stand). As he talked, though, my eyes were drawn to the swirling mass of sand rising up to the clouds in front of me. Little did I know then that climbing Big Daddy would be one of the toughest physical challenges of my life.

I started quickly, pushing my way up with a fitness I thought might have deserted me as I entered the middle of my twenties, that age when for so many the nimbleness of youth is lost to lethargy and laziness. One way to make hiking in sand easier is to walk in the footprints left behind by others, since the sand has been compressed into a hard surface. My legs began to burn, from both heat and strain, and I kept my head down so as not to dampen my spirits when I saw how much of the dune there was left to climb. Never mind getting to the top, I thought. Just keep asking yourself if you can manage one more step. If you can manage one more, sooner or later you’ll make it.

The more I climbed, the further I moved away from the Jeep, the scattered voices and sleepy laughter, the hum of car engines and the smell of portable gas burners. It all receded bit by bit until the only sounds I could hear were those I created, the rhythmic monotony of my footsteps and heavy breathing. The heat only got more fierce, pummelling my body with the full intensity of the African dry season. Sand began to fill my shoes as I missed the occasional footprint, and at random the ground would slide away underneath me, taking one of my legs with it. My panting turned to grunting as I would be forced to heave my leg forward again. I looked up, shielding my eyes from the sun, and saw that I was barely half way to the top. This was going to be harder than I thought.

Light breezes gathered wisps of sand that lashed my face and forearms, turning my skin a deep orange-brown. The mountains in the distance seemed to wobble in the blur of the rising heat. My face dripped and my forehead throbbed. I had brought as much water as I could carry and had to stop myself from drinking it all at once. The only trees I could see were far below on the Deadvlei, but they’re several centuries old, and dead. I imagined there was a lake there, and that the trees were alive, and that I could leave the climbing to the others and roll down the dune and plunge into the cool water and bathe in the shade of the trees. But there was no such relief here: only sand, rock, heat, death.

And quiet. A deep, profound stillness. Out here no noise is so subtle as to go unnoticed. At times I would catch the murmurs of other hikers chatting several hundred metres away. I wondered if I would experience quiet like this again. On a quiet afternoon at home I still hear the gurgling of pipes or the whooshing of passing cars or the low hum of electric currents — but never is it silent like it is in the desert.

I didn’t notice that at some point during my meditations the footprints had ended and I was setting a trail of my own. Something wasn’t right. I shook myself back into the present and looked around, but there was no-one. The way ahead curved widely to the left. Perhaps if I just followed the bend I’d find a way to rejoin my intended route. I rounded the corner and stopped dead as it became clear why I was alone.

Somehow I had managed to take the mother of all wrong turns and now stood at the bottom of a wall of sand so steep it seemed to lead directly to the sun. Apparently I had diverted unwittingly onto a path that approached the summit from another side, except that nobody took this path because it involved scaling an almost vertical wall of sand that was at least thirty metres high. No wonder it was so damn silent.

There was some good news. I figured out that if I could just make it up the sandy wall, I would have actually taken a shortcut — in distance terms, at least — that would bring me back to the proper path for the final push to the top. I threw myself into the unspoiled sand, which was refreshingly cool for having been in the shade all morning, and clambered upwards on all fours, my shoes getting ever heavier with sand. My quads were on fire and I was kicking myself for having made the climb much harder than it needed to be, but that didn’t matter. I was going to make it, dammit! Sunlight streamed over the ridge as I surged upwards, trying to ignore the pain in my legs. Out of breath and sweating profusely, I dragged myself to the top and sank to my knees in exhausted triumph.

I was once more among other hikers, who looked puzzled at my sudden emergence from an uncharted trail. Rejoining theirs, I stopped to let the burning in my legs subside before the final stretch. ‘One more step? One more step!’ I said as I charged up Big Daddy’s neck. And then, at last, I saw the ground level out beneath my feet and raised my head to see that I had arrived at the top of the world. The silence greeted me again and I closed my eyes and let it take me. But then it was gone, as quickly and easily as it had come to me, scared away by zippers and wrappers and cameras and phones and the unending drone of voices. A precious thing, indeed.

Through the mist of tears she looked at me for the last time, and in her gaze I read the story of unbearable heartbreak. Laughter turned to melancholy right there and then with no words spoken. Her eyes overflowing, droplets fell down her cheeks like the setting sun over a dream, drawing a line between our worlds, plunging us into darkness. A face like porcelain, cracked, delicate.
It never gets easier.

Lac du Salagou, France

 

Lac du Salagou.jpg

As you exit the last village before Lac du Salagou, the first thing you notice is the rock. The change is immediate: all the multicoloured abundance of southern French vegetation gives way to a new landscape of monochrome red. In contrast to the vineyards very little grows here. Greenery is sporadic, pockets of life extracting what little sustenance they can from the inhospitable ground. Some plants appear to have given up, losing their colour and vitality to undernourishment. They protrude from the ground like the crooked hands of a witch, their stems as brittle as uncooked spaghetti.
The rock is known as la ruffe (or ruffian), and is as characteristic of Lac du Salagou as sand is of the Sahara. For this reason it is a welcoming sight. Formed of sediment clay and iron oxide, its name is derived from the Occitan word rufa, which filtered the word from Latin (rufus, meaning red) through to present day French. (Even rock of no visible use to anybody earns a place in the geological nomenclature.) When picked up it crumbles easily. Left alone, it seems neither to flourish nor suffer. It just sits. Rock older than any human ever lived to be, dominating a landscape where earth triumphs – barely – by default in the near-absence of the other elements.
The lake looks dead, too. Dead and cool, stagnant, placid. First you see it from above, as to drive there means coming over the hills which surround the lake on all sides. From here people are formless shapes, scuttling towards the lake with all the delirious intensity of desert wanderers to an oasis. Down at the shore the rock burns your feet, and those brave enough to go barefoot are soon compelled into a sprint. The water soothes their searing soles on impact. On all sides are steep hills, still and gentle like the heaving breasts of sleeping goddesses. Pushed up against a cloudless sky they protect you from the world. A sanctuary where you are free to bathe in the cool water, away from the trials of civilized life.
Though there are many people it is quiet. The lake is vast, and with no enclosed spaces to trap voices they simply escape, drifting over the water and around the rocks until they are reduced to murmurs on the breeze. There is movement all around. Healthy foliage grows wild on the hillsides. Tiny fish glide between your ankles. Birds fly high above, blotched partially out of sight by brilliant sunshine. The water is flowing, making ripples and waves. It is clear, drinkable, comforting against the skin. The lake is not dead at all. It is just as alive as any other place on Earth.

– Lorenzo Gaertner

Being famous does not make you talented.
Being talented does not make you famous.

You do not need approval from anyone.
You are nobody’s competitor.

Celebrity culture is a joke.
Fame is a trap.

Those who know how to handle the limelight
survive the limelight.

Those who don’t,
burn.

Take your time.
Do your thing.

Emerge when you are ready.

– Lorenzo Gaertner, November 2015

The Tooth Fairy’s Dark Secret

“Whoa!” shouted Donny when he realised what he had found. He and his best friends had finished school for the day and were roaming the neighbourhood in search of something interesting. Being young boys, they were easily amused, and they found interesting things all over. This time, they happened to find it under a tree.

Mac leaned forward to get a closer look. “Wait,” he began, “are those…”

“Ugh!” Yelled Dylan, seeing the open shoebox filled to the brim with human teeth.

“Are those teeth?” asked Fergal, the slowest-witted member of the group.

“Hey, Donny!” said Mac, “Dare you to stick your hand in there!”

“Eww, no way!” said Donny.

“How about you then, Fergal?”

“Don’t do it, Fergal,” said Dylan. He usually stuck up for Fergal in situations like this.

“Shut up, Dylan!” Yelled Mac.

“Well why don’t you do it, Mac?” asked Donny. “Since you obviously think it’s such a great idea.”

“No! I dared you guys first, so why would I do it?”

“No,” said Dylan, “You just wanted someone else to look stupid and do it.”

“All right!” Mac had had enough. “Fine! I’ll do it!” He plunged his hand into the box, deep enough that you could only see his wrist from outside, and let the teeth run between his fingers. “There, see? It’s totall–” but before he could finish he struck something else inside the box, something much larger than a tooth, and sharp, that scratched his hand. He got such a fright that his entire arm jolted backwards, as if of its own accord, and his body followed it, so that in half a second he was lying in a contorted mess on the floor, eyes wide with shock. In the process of falling over he had let out an embarrassingly effeminate squeal that he hoped the other boys hadn’t heard. They had.

“S-something’s in there!” yelled Mac, but the others were too busy doing their best impressions of his girlish scream that they barely heard him.

“What’s the matter, Mac?” teased Dylan, “didn’t think teeth would feel so…toothy?”

Fergal fell into fits of laughter at this joke. Donny enjoyed it too, and laughed, but a little less than Fergal did.

“No, no, you guys, there’s something else in there! Buried in the teeth! It scratched my hand like this,” and he made a quick cutting motion with his hand along the palm of the other.

“What? Come on, are you serious?” said Dylan. “Probably just an especially pointy tooth or something.”

“Yeah, maybe from a vampire!” added Fergal, eager to join in the fun which, for once, was not being made at his expense. Donny and Dylan laughed. For Fergal’s standards that was a funny remark.

“Seriously, you guys, stick your hands in there and see for yourselves!” But when the other boys registered the shock on Mac’s face and decided that he was not joking around, none of them felt like reaching into the box.

Fergal, who would often stay quiet in a situation like this so as not to say something silly, was feeling unusually buoyant after his joke had made Donny and Dylan laugh, and thought that this would be a good time to demonstrate his bravery to the others. “Let me have a look,” he said, confidently.

“Fergal, you don’t have to,” said Donny.

“Yeah Fergal, just leave it,” said Dylan.

“Let me see!” Fergal insisted.

Donny and Dylan exchanged a nervous glance and moved out of Fergal’s way. He rolled up his sleeve and took a deep breath, then sunk his hand into the box of teeth. Mac looked away, grimacing. Fergal seemed to move his hand back and forth forever, and the sound it made reminded the boys of rummaging through their boxes of Lego. Donny and Dylan watched Fergal intently, until at last his eyes grew wide and his hand stopped dead.

“What is it?” asked Donny and Dylan in unison. Mac looked at Fergal but said nothing, and Fergal shot back a piercing, narrow-eyed glance that took Mac by surprise. It was not a look of fear, or shock, or even surprise, but looked as if Fergal had stumbled upon some great secret, something powerful. Mac even thought he saw him crack the faintest smile, and in that brief moment Fergal looked as though he were on the verge of communicating all the secrets of the world.

“Fergal?” asked Dylan, putting a hand on Fergal’s shoulder, a gesture that seemed almost condescending in light of Fergal’s new found power. Doing so gave Fergal a fright, and his head jolted so that his eyes lined up with Dylan’s. Dylan, too, thought he saw something off in Fergal’s gaze.

“What’s in there, Fergal?” asked Donny, hoping that Fergal might meet his gaze as he did the others. But Fergal instead looked back down at the box, his hand still submerged in a sea of teeth.

“Oh, nothing much…” said Fergal, and as he did he began to raise his hand slowly out of the box, “I think…” and at this last word the teeth slid down his fingers to reveal, half concealed by a clenched fist, a long, black handle, followed by an even longer silver blade, caked in blood that was not entirely dry. The boys sat speechless, mouths wide open. They had seen plenty of knives in their parents’ kitchens before, but they had never had blood on them. Why had nobody cleaned this one? And what was it doing out here, in a shoebox full of teeth?

The boys went pale, even Fergal, who had lost his look of confidence as soon as he had seen what it was that had made him feel so strong just a moment ago.

“I don’t…think we should be touching that,” said Donny, after a long, breathless silence.

“Right!” said Mac. “Let’s just leave it in the box where we found it and go.”

“Come on, Fergal,” said Dylan, as he, Mac and Donny got up, dusted themselves off and began to walk home. But Fergal was staring fixedly at the knife in his hand. It had never occurred to him to find a knife outside of a kitchen. “Fergal?” called Dylan.

Fergal shook his head slightly, as if his eyes had got stuck in their position and he was trying to jolt them loose. “Mm…yeah, sorry…right behind you!” he called back. He slid the knife back into the box and watched the teeth swallow it up, then he replaced the lid and wiped his hands on the front of his t-shirt. At the base of the tree where they had found the box there was a large indent in the mud. He placed the box carefully in it and covered it with fallen leaves, twigs, and grass that he pulled out of the earth around him. Then he roughed over the cover with his hand so it looked haphazard enough to be mistaken for regular ground. The smile returned to his lips, a little wider this time.

“Fergal! Let’s go!” called Dylan, already several paces down the street.

Fergal threw his hand up high and gave a thumbs up to Dylan, who turned to resume his walk. Fergal turned back to the pile of earth that concealed his great discovery, still smiling. He paused for a moment, and then with a flash in his eyes he lurched his upper body forwards towards the pile and began scratching frantically at it, sweeping away the leaves and twigs and grass until he held, once again, the box of teeth in his hands. Peering over his shoulder to make sure nobody was watching him, he gingerly removed the lid, slid his hand back into the teeth and pulled out the knife. He reached quickly around his waist and tucked it into the back of his pants. He took a sharp intake of breath as he felt the cold blade against his bare skin, and hoped that the blood wouldn’t stain his underpants. Then he put the box of teeth back and covered it once more.

“Right behind you, buddy,” he muttered, and ran to catch up with the others. On the walk home, while the other boys talked about what they had seen, Fergal said nothing. He just smiled that powerful smile.

Dead Flies

The sky hangs a curtain of murky, grey cloud over a summer that never got going, let alone came to any kind of conclusion. The only vegetation in the garden at Hoc 9 is some ivy intertwined with the fence on the left side of the front door, as if pushed back as far as possible to create room for the concrete slab patio which reflects the sky in both colour and mood. A large, glass-surface table sits heavily anchored in the concrete, unfazed by the wind and grateful to the rain for cleaning its surface. Two overflowing ashtrays – one of which is a watering can by nature – bear evidence of amicable conversation between friends and moments of solitude after a trying shift, during which I can savour the tickle of cigarette smoke against my throat and blow out puffs, dancing, fluttering, into an endless, black-tar sky.

The barbecue sits in a corner, condemned to the rain for the most part except for one solitary occasion when a few days of dry heat had allowed for the igniting of coals in its rusted, sodden bowel. It had been good to use it at least once, if not for the way in which it gives the food a unique and irresistible taste then for the way the spirits of all around it rise up with the smoke at the first few whiffs of burning charcoal, that powerful scent that embodies the summer season in a way nothing else could.

These are just details. I’m looking at a glass on the table that is half full of sweet rum and cola, a brew rendered foul by several days’ exposure to oxygen and autumn weather. The drink is repulsive to humans now, and only under circumstances of madness and triple-dog-dares would it ever be likely to flow like sick, sticky honey down someone’s throat. In the absence of such things it is left to grow fouler still. But that doesn’t stop the flies.

It sits like a pot of gold glistening in the daylight, and flies cannot resist its sweet, beautiful scent. But this is a deadly nectar. One sip and the flies are hooked. They just want a little more, to get a little closer. It wraps around their legs, making them too heavy. It coats their wings so they can no longer fly. They become trapped in a pool of sweet nectar and die a slow death.

I peer into the glass. It resembles a battleground littered with corpses, with a few survivors struggling against the current and gasping for air. I reach into the glass and pull out two flies. They are unable to fly, and in their efforts to crawl they just move back towards the glass. They seem indignant at being deprived of their drug. Each day more flies fall victim to the honey pot, undeterred by the failures of bigger, stronger flies who came before them. In dead flies I see that greed was their downfall. Their inability to curb their appetite for material indulgence turned the sweetest reward into the deadliest poison.