GREY MUTTER: Recently I had the opportunity to observe someone reading a copy of this newspaper. What I observed made me realise that what my colleagues and I are trying to achieve is actually appreciated by some folk, writes Lance Fredericks.
THIS past week saw me in a doctor’s waiting room again for one of my regular check-ups … after all, it was the last week of “Movember”, if you get my, er, ‘point’.
Now, working for a newspaper makes one more acutely aware of its presence in a room, and lo and behold, there were three copies of last week’s paper on the waiting room table. Yes, I was tempted to ask the other patients why they were not reading something worthwhile instead of death-scrolling on their handheld devices, but I restrained myself.
After I had been waiting for about five minutes someone walked in and sat down in the chair opposite me. She did not look at her smartphone that was in her hand, but instead eagerly grabbed one of the newspapers.
I will have to admit that I felt an ember of pride glowing warmly in my chest.
The woman read the bold message on the front page: ‘SOL AIMS FOR WATER DEADLINE’, and proceeded to turn the page. Now having worked on the paper for hours on the Wednesday and Thursday before that edition I had a pretty fair idea of what was on each page.
Interested to see what a random reader found interesting in our publication, I kept an eye on her as she paged through and studied the pages one by one. On page two, she looked at the headline, and must have read the first two paragraphs of how Kimberley residents were blindsided by the water shutdown, but then turned her head and looked at page three … but only for a few seconds; to me it looked like she read the headlines.
More time was spent on pages four and five. I watched her glance up and down, left and right and back and forth for quite a while. I had forgotten which stories were on those pages, but when she lowered the paper to turn the page, I saw that there were two full-page adverts on those pages.
“Hmmm, so she’s a bargain hunter,” I thought to myself.
The next page followed a similar trend. She read the headline, but studied the bottom of the page – adverts are usually at the bottom of the page – so my bargain hunter classification seemed to be spot on.
And that’s how it went as the pages turned; she would spend a few moments on a story, but make a deep, focused study of the adverts.
Just then my heart started thumping. It actually got so bad that I could feel it pounding in my eardrums. I wasn’t used to this; being relatively fit, I have a resting heartbeat of around 61 beats per minute. It gave me some comfort to know that my first coronary would happen in my doctor’s waiting room. But just then, and very fortunately, I managed to diagnose myself and in so doing saved myself a huge co-payment on my medical bills.
I realised that the reason I was having palpitations was because the woman opposite me was getting closer to page 15 – the page where my column was proudly perched atop crazy Black Friday specials from a local bottle store.
Would my test subject read my well-written, brilliant, insightful piece on the water crisis in our city, or would she be more interested in the price of the Tequila?
Lo and behold, by the time she got to the page where my column was, my palms were sweating. She spent a few moments looking at the picture gallery of the Sol Plaatje University celebrations, and then turned her head to where Grey Mutter was.
My coronary symptoms returned as I watched her read the headline. I asked myself, “Was my headline catchy enough? Will she be captured by it and will she want to read on?”
The moments seemed to last forever …
She started to read as I did my calculations, “OK, that’s the first sentence, good … she’s still reading. Good! By now she must be through the first paragraph, and she’s still engaged. Awesome!”
I was waiting for my new fan to get to my clever quip about the symptoms of ‘Kimberlitis’, I wanted to see if it would amuse and entertain her – my new best friend. I wondered if the receptionists would allow me to use their pen to sign the autograph. I was tempted to speak up and ask, “Are you enjoying what I wrote?”
She turned the page and checked out the classifieds, after not even going halfway down the first column of my column.
I wondered what my doctor would prescribe for my broken heart.
Oh, for the record … It turns out that she was not as much a bargain hunter as she was a sports fan, because as I sat there watching her through the blur of my tears, I noticed that she read each and every sports story from first headline to final full stop.
How dare Danie do that to me? I checked my app on my phone and, in a fit of jealousy, deleted our paper’s sports reporter from my Christmas list. That will teach him to mess with me.
People may think I am a mild-mannered columnist, but I know how to get aggressive. In fact I studied two forms of martial arts over the years. OK, granted, I wasn’t very good at it; my highest achievement was getting a black eye in Karate. And besides, I am no spring chicken anymore, in fact I am trying a trick that one of my childhood friends suggested; I am wearing memory foam insoles these days, so I can remember why I walked into a room.
However, despite the fact that getting older makes you a little slower, the young bucks should beware. The ‘ou balies’ are pretty keen witted. Another friend of mine bought a fake Koi fish the other day. I asked him why he’d waste his money like that. He just smiled and told me, “That’s my DeKoi”.
Pasop! Die oupas is wakker!
Now for those who think that they wasted their time reading this, just think about it, if you’re a reader, then for about four or five minutes you forgot about the water crisis and all those other nagging, gnawing frustrations. If you are an advertiser, from my test sample of one, you can be assured that your investment paid off, and if you think nobody’s aware of what you do as you go about your day, you may be wrong. There could be a columnist with a mild case of writer’s block watching you.
I guess what I am saying is that it’s December already. All in all, life is too brief for us to be constantly focused on negative things … sometimes we need to make time for the silly things. Hopefully we can enjoy a more hopeful, more positive last month of 2023 … starting now!