|When the e-mail from brandhouse launching the Responsible Drinking Media Awards slipped into my inbox, I thought it would be up there with Secrets of Woodwork by Julius Malema as a fairly sparse affair, as most journalists I know are heroic drinkers. The good ones, anyway. The Elizabeth Hotel in downtown Jozi was kept alive for decades by generations of sports reporters from the Star popping in for a gin sandwich while the hacks from Business Day and the Sunday Times continue the proud tradition at Katzy’s in Rosebank, to this day.
Asking journos to use their dubious skills and rickety platforms to “support, promote and contribute to the Responsible Drinking agenda and ultimately, change consumer behavior” is a bit like asking a hungry fox to guard the chicken coop.
For wasn’t that infamous substance abuser Hunter S. Thompson the best US journalist of his generation on Rolling Stone magazine before he kissed the shotgun? Ditto for UK hack Jeffrey Bernard, who was such a notorious soak, they even made a play about him set in a London pub, called Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. It took as starting point the admission “I was once asked to write my autobiography. I put an ad in the Spectator asking if anyone could remember what I was doing between 1960 and 1974.”
Herman Charles Bosman, sub-editor on the Sunday Express, was South Africa’s most famous liquid journo and he died after a housewarming party, age 46, sixty years ago in October. Back then Jozi was a “roaring wide-open mining camp” with the glorious tradition of having more bars and brothels than churches, a state of affairs not much changed today, although the complexion of patrons may have darkened somewhat. HC lived mostly in one room (plus washbasin) seedy hotels and their ladies bars and snugs feature prominently in his writing.
The fragment Louis Wassenaar, published in Bosman’s Johannesburg, is typical. HC meets a friend – a specialist in women’s legs – and the pair adjourn to the lounge bar of the old Carlton Hotel – now defunct, as is its successor, the new Carlton Hotel.
The bar is “an oval island afloat in a vast sea of thirst.” After a succession of brandies, HC was “distinctly conscious of the fact that all was not well in that pub... And those men leaning on the counter of the oval bar seemed no longer to be floating on the waves of their thirst. They seemed to be drowning somewhat rapidly. It was as though the edge of the bar counter was the shining beach of an island that these storm-tossed, ship-wrecked mariners had reached – and that they had been washed up on a shore a few hours too late.”
Not all had drowned – a soldier and a short, broad-shouldered man with a scarred face relieve HC’s drinking companion of his socks, which “except of a hole in the one heel, seemed a fairly good pair.” It all sounds like a verse from Bob Dylan’s epic Black Diamond Bay and is an ironic comeuppance for a man who spent his mornings staring at women’s legs plus a salutary tale on the subject of Irresponsible Drinking during the day.
With so much edgy writing around celebrating alcohol abuse, does the competition make any sense? Probably not for the floaty fashionable fringe, yet in the shunting yard of social behavior, brandhouse are on the right track. For asking the biggest bar flies to write about the downside of alcohol abuse, is the only credible way to go. Which explains why Keith Richard’s autobiography flew off the self-help shelves at Exclusive Books this Christmas past faster than the WOSA braai book.
So I’m suspending any attempts at deploying my “individual approach and messaging influences to proactively gain traction with [any] readers to shape perceptions and behaviour around drunk driving, as well as other alcohol-related issues such as under-age drinking, foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), binge drinking and illicit alcohol” until I read the entry from Farmer’s Weekly sub-editor Kleinboer, author of that low-life classic Midnight Missionary (Zebra Press, 2006).
Missionary starts off with Maria, who worked at the Simba Chips factory in Isando with a brother who flicked cigarette ash into his beer as he thought it made him drunker, quicker. As Dylan (again) sang in Changing of the Guard “her ebony face is beyond communication.” For me perhaps, but not Mnr. Kleinboer.