An armed robber phoned me yesterday. He certainly didn't sound like an armed robber. He sounded more like an old school friend.
But he insisted he was, and explained that, through this column, he wished to reassure potential victims that he meant them no harm.
"You may have read about these armed hold-ups in Constantia and Rondebosch where the robbers were excessively polite and spoke impeccable English," he said.
I said I certainly had. I still thought an old school mate was pulling my leg, and added: "You know, we've been lucky so far. but if we were to be held up at gunpoint, I'd far sooner deal with someone who is nicely dressed and doesn't mangle the English language like some of those SABC news reporters."
"I'm most gratified to hear that," said the voice. "In fact I should put you next on my list."
This was when I started having doubts. "Come on, Peter, I know it's you," I said.
"I'm not Peter," said the voice. "I'd rather not tell you who I am, but I do have a double-barrelled surname, if it makes any difference."
"That's what I like, a gentleman crook, though not all my double-barrelled friends are gentlemen, even if one or two are crooks," I said.
"I've phoned you because I believe people in the upper-bracket areas prefer to be treated courteously while they are being robbed," said the voice. "My assistants and I certainly feel much happier doing business this way. We are hoping to establish a good relationship before we leave with the, er... goods."
"How can you have a good relationship with people whose homes you are emptying of valuables?"
"It's just wêreld se goed, as my wife says. Besides, in these places, everything's insured. Personally, I like to chat with the owners while my men are busy."
"Chat about what?"
"Well, about any good books they have read lately and what movies they recommend. Most of the people I meet this way have good taste."
"The whole thing is bizarre," I said.
"Then there's the current educational situation," said the voice.
"I can't understand how the matric results were so good after a year of chaos with teacher drunkenness and absenteeism. The education department doesn't even know how many desks it has. Maybe you can explain it to me. I've been forced to send my kids to private schools."
"Perhaps chaos is the way to go," I said, momentarily forgetting I was talking to an armed robber.
"The cricket is another topic I like to discuss. Why do our team members act like headless chickens when there are only two overs left to bat, and then struggle to bowl out the other country's tail-enders?"
It was a question I had been asking myself.
"If I and the owners can have a drink together, all to the good," he said. "I'll let them keep all their booze, unless they have some 12-year-old Chivas Regal on hand."
"And you promise not shoot anyone?"
"Not unless I absolutely have to. But so far everyone has acted in a civilised, responsible manner. Not like in Woodstock and Observatory, where I don't really feel safe. It's about time the police did something about the high crime rate in those areas."