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When there’s something on your chest

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GREY MUTTER: I hope South African voters are able to think clearly when food parcels are unloaded in communities – by any and all parties and candidates – and that the citizens and residents of SA won’t allow people to float into positions of responsibility on the back of such shallow gestures, writes Lance Fredericks.

Picture: PDPics from Pixabay

TAKE no prisoners, show no mercy, banish compassion! These were the anthems and attitudes that used to flow through the veins of the young people competing in sports, as well any type of competition when I was but a fresh-faced youngster.

Though you’d see this sentiment rising when the kiddos played rugby, hockey and football, it was also present when we played hide and seek, and even chess, draughts or kennetjie … you name it, we took no prisoners!

Passions ran high, tempers flared and noses were bloodied!

But as edgy as the competition was all over the ‘recreational’ circuit, nowhere were the conflicts more keen than on the ‘kêrrim’ circuit! Technically, the game’s name is actually ‘carrom’, but not to us – kêrrim it was and kêrrim it will remain!

Now, the original carrom is a tabletop game that originated in India, in which players attempt to knock little plastic or wooden discs to holes cut into the corners of the playing board.

Think of pool or snooker but on a wooden surface and instead of nice, shiny, rolling balls, picture plastic discs that resemble checkers pieces. Oh, and though pool and snooker tables need impressive and perfectly level structures on which to play, kêrrim boards could be plonked onto an old oil drum or trash can.

It was truly an easy-going sort of game.

However, kêrrim itself was not as decent as snooker or pool, because kêrrim wasn’t merely about winning, it was about beating your opponent down, so it included some sledging. Yep, this is where ‘take no prisoners, show no mercy, banish compassion’ was most apparent.

Kêrrim players were also extremely skilful! I think that flowed from the fact that they were so meticulous about their equipment. It wasn’t strange to see players strolling down the street carrying their cues in customised bags or cases; some leather, some velvet, but all unique.

Oh, and don’t think that if you took them on in a game that you would be allowed to use their cue – no such thing! Even if the other cue was as crooked as Willow Cherlindrea’s wand, that’s the cue you’d be obliged to use.

If you had watched the 1988 movie ‘Willow’, you’d understand.

But besides the cues, the boards were often in pristine condition. Although the playing surface was just common hardboard, that surface on some boards was smooth and polished and practically friction-free!

If you ask around, those in the know will even tell you how sprinkling mielie meal on the board made the discs float as if they were enchanted.

Yes, of course I mean dry, uncooked mielie meal!

Just for the record, though I wasn’t a world-beater, I was pretty good at kêrrim. I loved geometry and I was pretty sharp at technical drawing at school, so figuring out angles was a breeze for me.

However, there was one challenge that was beyond me; that’s when a piece landed on my side of the board, close to the rubber at the very edge. What this meant is that you could not aim directly at the piece, but you would have to bounce the striker – we called it the ‘goenie’ – off the other edges of the board to dislodge your piece to bring it back into play.

This is where I would often lose games … especially when I was playing with one of those ‘Willow Cherlindrea wand’ cues!

When it happened by accident it was bad enough but it was absolutely demoralising when the really, really good players knew that to beat me, all they needed to do was move one of my pieces up close to my side of the board. They did it on purpose and just like that, I was sunk.

They even had a term for it. It’s called putting the piece on your opponent’s ‘bors’.

Maybe this is why when I hear of someone who has ‘something on their chest’, I know exactly how they feel – deflated, dejected, depressed and low, low down.

I know how powerless one feels when there’s very little you can do about a situation, especially when the person who put the problem on your chest is opposite the table grinning at you.

Anyway, shaped by that trauma as I have been by kêrrim, I can only hope that a type of ‘kêrrim’ history doesn’t repeat itself.

George Orwell is credited with the quote: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

This should apply to long- and short-term history, especially during this time that lamp poles are being decked with posters displaying pretty sincere faces and heart-stirring slogans.

All I am saying is that I hope South African voters are able to think clearly when food parcels are unloaded in communities – by any and all parties and candidates – and that the citizens and residents in SA won’t allow people to float into positions of responsibility on the back of such shallow gestures, as if they were enchanted … on – if you don’t mind – a bed of dry mielie meal.

And even though these folk may look the part with their unique, customised bags and costly kit it’s important to remember that, while South Africa is still a democracy, in a democracy, the government is accountable to its citizens, and individual rights should be protected to strengthen society as a whole.

In the end, we don’t want to be left holding the crooked cue, unable to remedy a problem that was caused by the slick operator who, after putting you at a disadvantage, is grinning at you from across their shiny desk.

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