Take the standard court report of the time. The reporter gets charge, sentence, and names - the accused’s name, the magistrate’s, prosecutor’s, counsel’s. He might catch a few audible snippets of evidence, from his ungainly post behind the advocates’ backs.
He pounds out his dutiful tale, goes home for supper, and says “Sweetheart, you won’t believe what happened in court today”. His wife is agog as he pours out human dramas that go unmentioned in his written account.
My refrain was: Get as close as you can to telling your readers what you tell your near-and-dear.
So fine; last week I bump into Herman, a former court reporter.
Herman brought up a recent Stoep Talk on Black First Land First and its young deputy leader, Zanele, dismissing dissent as “the White Settler Racist Rubbish Narrative”.
Since he’d liked that, I told him an extra titbit. When I asked Zanele if BLF collaborates with Julius Malema and the EFF, she scowled and said “No! Those people are sell-outs who only want unproductive land. We are real revolutionaries who demand all the land”.
Herman chuckled at the out-radicalising of Julius. He also said, shivering in staged terror: “I hope I’m not one of the Blacks First who they want to banish to a smallholding in the bush in the name of returning the land”.
Moments after we parted, Herman loudly called my name, through the mall crowd, bit of a shock. We reconnected. He said: “Hey, your readers don’t know that story. I found out from talking to you”.
There’s something great about someone remembering something you taught them 40 years ago. I replied that having too little space for what you want to say is different from wasting your space on stuff you don’t want. But still, this was a touché moment. To honour it I told Herman another squeezed-out thing:
Why does Black First Land First abbreviate to BLF, not the logical BFLF? I assumed that was plain slapgat. When I asked, I expected Zanele to wince. No, she said simply “BFLF didn’t sound right”. She mimicked, “fliff fliff”. I’d never contemplated deliberately diluting an acronym. Now I ask: Why not?
Having winkled out two cases of me flouting my own injunction, Herman challenged me to find a third, clinching my guilt, as it were. Lo, one came right up:
Last week’s voyage of discovery of Rea Vaya didn’t tell you that the bus stations contain a no-no noticeboard; prohibited activities in pictogram. A crossed-out burger means No Eating, a crossed-out skateboard means No Skating etc.
Four of the twelve signs, I didn’t get. One was a hand. Meaning what, No Handling? One was someone doing something mysterious to a torso. No legs? No Amputating?
That morning’s mission, getting acquainted with my city’s public transport, was a high all the way. But the highest high, that will stay longest, is the sun streaming in through the station’s skylights while a dozen obliging minds, attendants and passengers alike, puzzle out the signs that a visitor-type person has asked about.
Thanks, Herman, for the heads-up. What’s right for speaking-and-hearing friends is right for writing-and-reading friends, too, however hard you sukkel to wrench it in.
* Beckett's Stoep Talk column is published in The Star.