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Not better with butter


I personally know friends who ignored prophetic omens and ended up in a cast

Picture: Tom McCorkle

It was not easy for us as children growing up in a realm of magic, where wizards, witch doctors and prophets were around every corner.

Run too fast and a prophet of doom would warn that you would fall and break something – usually an important part of your body. I personally know friends who ignored prophetic omens and ended up in a cast.

To this day I am unsure whether their prophecies were sound, or if they were simply in cahoots with the wizards, who would cast spells to trip disobedient children so that they fell and broke something.

One time I too ignored a prophet, because running was part of the game, and I was enjoying the game; and lo and behold a wizard, probably hidden in the bushes somewhere, cast a spell and I fell and smashed my head on the ground.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a witchdoctor appeared – up to that point in my life I hadn’t realised that my aunt was a witch doctor, but that didn’t stop her from applying her magical remedy to my head.


I felt no relief, but she assured me that all was well; and back in 1974, there were three types of people you didn’t contradict: adults, the authorities and witch doctors. So with a ringing in my ears and the taste of iron in my mouth, I assured her that I was OK and with a slippery head, I gingerly and carefully walked off to play some more.

A few months later the flames of my suspicions about witch doctors’ remedies were fanned back to life when a friend fell at school. We had eaten our sarmies, which naturally meant that the stocks of butter were depleted.

What to do?

“He has to spit out,” someone yelled almost in a panic. “Otherwise he will grow two heads!”

The boy quickly spat, and not a moment too soon, because I swear that I actually saw another head starting to grow.

However, say what you want about prophets, wizards, witch doctors, the authorities, adults and even our teachers, back then they kept things running smoothly.

Sure we disliked those who enforced the rules for being such killjoys, but at least they were consistent; so though we scoffed at them, we – in a weird sense – trusted them to keep things on track while we were having as much fun as we could in our restricted society.

Today I have very fond memories of those days, but these days worry me. People these days scoff at the prophets, wizards, witch doctors; also the authorities, the wisdom of adults and especially our teachers. It has become so bad that we who know better, who should be steering and guiding society are falling increasingly silent.

For example, I heard a story recently that a driver was holding up traffic, making an illegal U-turn right in front of a “no U-turn” sign.

The person telling the story said that a police vehicle was one of the cars being held up, but these law enforcement officers didn’t lift a finger.

What lesson would the driver of that car have learned if the cops had reacted and read him (or her) the riot act? But what lesson did they actually learn? That the boundaries of our laws are flexible?

Our city has a problem with litter, but litterbugs are left to carry on – even in litter hot spots; take the Oppenheimer Gardens for example; oh, but don’t forget Queen’s Park too.

What would litterbugs learn if they were brought to book?

What would people learn about drinking in public if their alcohol was confiscated and they were slapped with a fine?

But what are they learning if we turn a blind eye, being too scared to offend anyone? That it’s OK to carry on and push the boundaries?

It’s unfortunate that perhaps arbitrary rules and penalties will have to be enforced for a while before an immature society learns to do what should be second nature – to follow the rules and obey the law.

But if we just keep applying butter to this problem, we may find that a real solution will simply slip out of our hands.