One thing that people in South Africa like to do is talk about outings they got taken on when they were in primary school. In America these are called field trips, which makes it sound like the children are tiny anthropologists. Something something educational system hell bent on creating a new generation of workers to be fed into the maw of the capitalist machine something something. In South Africa, they are called outings, or at least they were when I was in primary school, and people absolutely love to talk about them. If you are ever stuck in a lift with a South African person over the age of about 27, and you don’t know what to say to them, ask them about what school trips they went on when they were small. They will love it. It is an Icebreaker. The main reason for this, I think, is that South Africa didn’t get TV until ridiculously late in the game, and that there was really not too much on for a long time even after we did get it, except for heavily subsidised Afrikaans puppet shows. Here’s another icebreaker, on me: “Did you have to watch too many puppet shows on TV when you were younger?”
We might not all remember our school outings with such vivid detail if there had been more normal things on TV (one very popular show was sponsored by the Dairy Board and was basically about milk, and people now will tell you that it was Actually Amazing, but it was horrible). There weren’t, so. Outings! The same ones, over and over again! In the bit of Durban where I grew up, there were three main ones: Treasure Beach, the Sharks Board, and the Snake Park.
Treasure Beach: not noticeably different from any other beach with rock pools, although we were encouraged to believe otherwise. We learned a lot about barnacles, and red bait, and didn’t see any particularly interesting fish. Once someone found a massive octopus in one of the pools, and everyone got very excited, and then a nearby fisherman mistook our excitement for terror, and hauled the octopus out of the pool and whacked it against the rocks until it died. A boy called Luke cried so much he had to go home early.
Sharks Board, officially The Kwa-Zulu Natal Sharks Board Maritime Centre of Excellence: I never really understood what the Sharks Board was about when I was younger, only that going there meant that at some point we would all be obliged to huddle around a steel table as someone cut up a dead shark and made us all look at its enormous liver. We would look at little dead sharks in jars, and skeletons of big ones, and get extremely heavy lectures on how bad it was to litter. I looked up what the point of the Sharks Board was, and the website says it is “mandated to be a global leader in bather protection against shark while minimising environmental impact, thus promoting tourism.” Nothing about how making children look at disproportionately large shark livers would serve those goals, but I am not complaining.
Snake Park: snake park. Easily the worst out of the three. The Snake Park was a nasty reptile zoo, right on the beach. It was always very dark and hot in there, and after trooping round to look at all kinds of lizards, you’d have to go to the Snake Park Amphitheatre to watch a show. One thing about reptiles is that they aren’t really amenable to being trained, so the show was just watching different sizes of snakes slithering around on the floor, and then being asked if we wanted to touch them at the end. Only the weird children wanted to touch the snakes at the end, so that was one good thing about constantly having to go to the Snake Park, I guess – flagging the strange ones early on.
Schoolchildren in Joburg seemed to go to the Cradle of Humankind a lot. Durban tends not to be taken seriously as a city, and stuff like this makes it easy to see why: in Joburg you learn where people come from. In Durban, you learn what a shark’s liver looks like up close. It’s worth noting, however, that kids in Joburg also went to their own snake park, and in fact that there are snake parks dotted all over this land, as opposed to just the one in Durban as I had always assumed. They also went to the bunny park, and the lion park, and a factory where plastic things are made. More factories in general, which makes sense, as Johannesburg is a city of industry, whereas my friend Rob once asked me if people surfed to work in Durban, or whether they strapped a dolphin to each foot and travelled that way.
Rob grew up in Cape Town, and in Cape Town they went to go and look at a statue of a dog called Just Nuisance. I surveyed a wide variety of friends and acquaintances for this piece, and while I can confirm that a few of them had never even heard of Just Nuisance and thought I was talking about the dog statue in Hout Bay (when investigated, this turns out to be a sculpture of a leopard), most of them knew immediately what I was referring to. In Cape Town there is only one dog statue that matters, and that is the statue commemorating the long happy life of Just Nuisance, the only dog to ever be in the Royal Navy. You can read about him here if you need.
Before I came to Cape Town, I myself had never heard of Just Nuisance, because why would I have? Why actually should anyone care about this, in South Africa? Even in a place like Switzerland you shouldn’t care so much about Just Nuisance, but this is South Africa, friends, and there are more important things afoot. Not saying that going to the Snake Park teaches children anything good, but the statue of Just Nuisance seems like more of a slap in the face, somehow. It seems to neatly summarise many of the complaints and criticisms that the rest of the country has about Cape Town: its continuing fondness for colonial monuments, its willed obliviousness, its unearned air of superiority.
The existence of Just Nuisance only came to my attention because two of my good and old friends would not stop complaining about it, talking about how at their school they got taken to see fuuuuuuuuuuuuuucking Just Nuisance every year, it felt like, whereas they got taken to Robben Island a total of 0 times. I asked one of those friends what he felt about it, today, and he said: “I don’t actually remember going to see Just Nuisance very well. Like the actual content of the numerous fucking school outings. AT LEAST THREE. Just: here I am again at this dog statue. My old nemesis.”
Not everyone hates Just Nuisance, it must be said. I asked my best friend about it and she said, “It’s like the ideal school outing. The whole set-up has a lot going for it, both logistically and content-wise.” I asked her what she liked about it and she said. “Dog. Clever dog. Ideal dog. Dog that enjoyed the occasional drink. Think he had a hat on. Brave.” I asked her if she thought her little daughter, who is now two years old, would be taken to see Just Nuisance when the time came, and she said, “Without a doubt.”
Rosa Lyster, the only dog in the Royal Navy wowee