By Darrel Bristow-Bovey.
I was talking to my friend Andre about Covid recently. Andre is one of life’s positive thinkers: he tries to find the upside in everything and I was looking forward to hearing what he could come up with for Covid.
Was it that lockdown had given him more time to spend at home with his family? Was it that time at home enabled him to read more good books or learn some new and useful skill? No. “You have to admit,” he said, “It was all worth it just to keep the Aussies and the Kiwis in their own country for two years.”
Andre has a healthy suspicion of Australians and New Zealanders, because he lived for a while in Phuket, in Thailand, where he was working, and his neighbourhood was crawling with Antipodeans. His six-year-old son Nicholas went to school with a lot of expat kids – mainly Kiwis and a couple of Aussies – and Andre feared this might have a deleterious effect on his character.
It reminded me of the time, a few years back, he persuaded me to come and visit, to help him try de-Kiwify Nicholas.
One morning on the beach we watched some Kiwi kids building a feeble sandcastle. Their dads looked over and gave them the wishy-washy New Zealander thumbs up, even though these were very obviously meagre efforts resulting in a woefully substandard structure.
“See what I mean?” said Andre.
“Come,” I said to Nicholas, “let’s show them how South Africans build a sandcastle!”
How do South Africans build a sandcastle? With bravado, pointless competitiveness and excessive displays of force, that’s how. At first Nicholas just watched as Andre and I scrabbled and heaved at the sand to form a mighty moat, creating a growing mountain in the middle.
Then he began to get it. He scavenged pieces of wood and rope and we grunted and sweated and constructed impregnable walls and a drawbridge and piled the sand higher and higher. The Kiwi kids looked over at our castle in awe. They cast accusing looks at their parents, no doubt regretting their degraded genetic heritage, then one by one came to ask if they could help.
“Of course,” we said graciously, for it behooves the lords of the castle to be generous to their vanquished foes. The Kiwi dads sulked under their umbrella. For hours we laboured away, constructing an increasingly baroque pleasure palace that soared and loomed and crenellated, a magnificent folly, a grand and occasionally collapsing vertical sea-sand Nkandla. Andre’s back was in spasm. I had sand in my eyes. We had ruined our health but it was worth it. We were exhausted but proud.
“See!” I said grandly to Nicholas. “That’s how a South African makes a sandcastle!”
Then I noticed a couple of Swedish guys watching us. They shook their heads and tutted.
“Who could live in such a building?” they said. “It would fall down.”
They had a quick conference and sketched out plans with a twig in the sand. In three minutes they had a broad square base, smooth and planed. It looked like solid concrete. I glanced back at our castle, which was starting to crack. It was built for a good time, not a long time. Small sandslides were happening on the north face.
“Quick! We need to build it higher,” I hissed at Andre.
We sweated and grunted and sobbed as we tried to bolster our palace. The kids all lost interest and wandered off to swim.
“Traitors!” I wheezed after them.
No matter how we strained, in half an hour the Swedish castle loomed high above ours, rising like a ziggurat in level architectural platforms, solid enough to bear a man’s weight.
They tied a shirt to a spade to make a flag and planted it on top, where it fluttered proud and true. And then a wave rolled up the sand and washed over our sandcastle and it melted before our eyes.
“We built above the waterline,” said the Swedish guys solemnly, ‘so ours is more permanent.” They shook hands with each other and walked off to go listen to Abba or something.
Andre and I slumped there, shattered. Then the New Zealand guys wandered over. Silently they handed us each a beer.
“Sorry, fellas,’ one of them said. ‘Nothing worse than being beaten by a bunch of Scandos.”
“Southern Hemisphere must stick together,” the other agreed.
“You know,’ said Andre later, for the first time, and the last time, “maybe Kiwis aren’t so bad.
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