Tag Archives: lance armstrong

Nike…They Did It…

Credit: Mirror.co.uk

Credit: Mirror.co.uk

There once was born a drab and boring little animal in the woods. The other animals paid little attention to it as it hunted and gathered to survive. It was, according to the other creatures, not much to look at. However, it grew up; and because it received little help in his usual daily tasks, he became bigger and stronger. He developed strong muscles and an even stronger mind. No matter what the others thought or said, he’d show them!

Slowly, as the seasons passed, he became faster and proved his hunting skills by always out-sprinting even the best of the other hunters. Now the other animals no longer thought of him as drab or boring  – they adored him.  The girl-animals trooped on behind him, hoping to draw his attention. The man-animals grudgingly admitted he was something special.

Now, during those years, the king of the animals wanted to expand his kingdom. He called in the elders  and asked them how he should go about it.

“Get an ambassador, King,” the owl said, “to tell other animals about your greatness. Get somebody they’ll respect, and they’ll believe him. Get somebody they admire.”

Then the king of the animals, the one with the golden fur and the deep roar, called this animal in to tell him the secret to his success.

“I worked hard, King, and trained hard. I didn’t want to live with the idea that I might be drab or boring. That sounded too much like a loser to me. And as I trained, I became stronger; and now I’m the best.”

“Look,” the king said, “I want you to do something for me. If you go around, telling everybody what a wonderful king I am, they’ll immediately believe you. My kingdom will grow. In return, I will see to it that you have to hunt no more. You’ll have the best food and the best living-place of all. It is something small to ask, is it not? As a sign that you are my ambassador, I’ll  also give you a badge to wear, so they know where you are coming from. How about it?”

“Will that make me a winner, King?”

The king laughed. “Of course! Losers don’t live a life of luxury. You’ll see: you’ll be the envy of all.”

And so it came to pass that this animal became known far and wide. He could now choose the prettiest girl-animals to be at his side. He ate and drank to his heart’s content. In his mind, there was no doubt: he was the best – and he wore the king’s badge with pride. More and more animals took notice of the king that spoiled this magnificent hunter and the kingdom grew.

But one day, the hunter-animal realised something: his fame was so wide-spread, his luxury so admired, that he started believing he was bigger and better than all the other animals in the world. He groomed himself and strutted around. The world was at his feet and he could do as he pleased.

The king saw this happening and was greatly saddened. The other animals complained about the ambassador’s behaviour.  No, the king decided, something had to be done. He spoke to the animal kindly, but it didn’t help.

Then the king roared his displeasure.

“You have violated my trust! Sure, you helped me expand my kingdom; but the way you live now makes the other animals laugh at me. From now on, you will receive no more food. Your luxury will be taken away from you.” The king then smote the hind legs of the animal, causing them to shorten. He took away the beautiful voice and gave him a silly laughing yelp – so nobody would understand him any more. And he took away his shining coat, to replace it with a dirty, ugly hide. “From now on, you will hunt no more. You will have to wait for other hunters to finish their meals before you can eat the scraps. And I will change your name. Whenever your name is heard, faces will turn away in disgust.”

And that is how hyena came into being.

And he is still the scavenger who is avoided by the other animals.

And the king will forever deny his part in the downfall of the once-magnificent hunter.

***

“Gertruida, where do you get these outrageous stories from? Or do you have a book filled with fables?”

“No, Vetfaan, no book. It’s in the newspapers every day. Big companies cough up ridiculous amounts of money for sportsmen and women to wear their shoes or carry a bag with their name on. It’s called branding, and it’s all above board. A few years ago Nike spent $460-million per year on sponsorships and advertisement.  Can you imagine how many shoes they have to sell to recoup that amount? It’s obscene! And the public accepts it and buys the expensive stuff, because they want to be associated with the brand.

“So young men like Tiger and Lance and Oscar suddenly find themselves with more money they have ever imagined. The result is as tragic as it is predictable. Of course their lifestyles will change. Of course the adoration of millions of fans will have an effect. And of course the old saying is true: logic whispers, money shouts.

“The point I’m making, Vetfaan, is that sponsoring companies contribute to the downfall of men and women who accept these ridiculous amounts of money.  What good is it to withdraw the sponsorship after an athlete has made a mess of his life? Does this make the company innocent? By withdrawing the sponsorship, are they denying their social responsibility?”

Boggel gets on his crate to join the conversation.

“So, Gertruida, do you suggest such a company must face the music, too?”

“Exactly. There should be penalties imposed on a company that contributes to the downfall of the sporting greats.  If a sponsor deliberately contributed to an exorbitant lifestyle and a ridiculous expense account – can they turn away and say they’’e got nothing to do with it? Paying millions and millions into somebody’s account surely implies co-responsibility?”

***

Way out in the desert a hyena waits patiently for the lions to stop feeding on a carcass. It is hot, and the smell of putrid flesh wafts amongst the clouds of flies.

It waits.

It has no other option…

The Man Who Found the Horizon

Credit: Christianity.com

Credit: Christianity.com

“Of course,” Gertruida says as she orders a fresh beer, “There is another story to tell. There are always many sides to each story, and it depends how you want to interpret it. But, in a nutshell, it is the story of the Curse of the Horizon…”

Once upon a time, in a land far from here, a small village existed at the edge of a big desert.They had enough of everything, but certainly not too much. And every day the men in the village said unto themselves: verily, there is more out there. If somebody can be so brave as to go to the horizon, he will bring much fortune and honour to our village.

The men would look at each other in the hope that somebody would be strong enough to do this impossible deed, and then they’d laugh and convince themselves only fools will attempt such an incrediblee task. But lo! One day a youth stood up and said he’d do it. The horizon isn’t very far, he said, so it can’t be that difficult.

So he set out towards the horizon. He walked and walked for many days. Then he happened upon a stream, and next to the water, some sweet berries grew. This, the young man thought, was his reward for being brave. No, he said unto himself, I shall not share this with the village – I shall go on.

So he walked even farther, always in the quest to find the horizon. And always the horizon shimmered quietly in the heat, calling him on. One day, when he was about to give up hope, he arrived at a city, next to a river. Now this young man had never seen so much water, or so many people, ever before. He wandered through the wide streets and stared in wonder at the wares the traders were selling. 

One man stepped from the crowd and asked the young man where he came from, and where his journey was leading to?

“Oh, I’m about to find the horizon,” he said, “and have come far to do so.”

The people of the city admired the young man for his courage and applauded him on. They gave him food and water, new shoes and clothes, and asked him to tell them what he found on his way back.

Much heartened, the young man stepped forth, renewed in his hope to find the horizon.

Then one day, quite unexpectedly, he stood at the edge of the horizon. Behind him the endless path  back to his village was almost unrecognisable. He glanced back trying to decide whether his return should be this way, or that? But, with the horizon at his feet, he simply couldn’t look back any more. He had to find out exactly what lay ahead. So he got down on his knees to peer over the edge. What he saw there, ended his life.

He cried out in anguish, but it didn’t help. He already received the Curse of the Horizon. He had no choice – forever after, he was doomed to return to the damning horizon over and over again.

“Oh, come on, Gertruida! These stupid stories all have terrible endings.” Kleinpiet shakes his head in dismay. “What did he see?”

“He saw his face in the mirror of time. He saw selfishness. He saw the ego that drove him. He also saw the jealousy that would await him when he returned to his village. He saw the gossip and the untruths that would surround him. He saw himself crumble under the pressure to return to the horizon time and again, so people will admire his courage. And he saw how it would end, because it was written in his name.”

“What then, please tell us Gertruida, was his name?”

“His name is OJ, and Hansie, and Lance, and Michael, and Marilyn, and Diana and James Dean. He has many other names, he lives in many villages and cities, and no matter how many times his story is told, it always ends when the horizon holds up the mirror. And in the mirror he can only see himself.”

“But gee, Gertruida…are you telling us ambition is wrong? That we should never attempt to improve, to be better, to progress?”

“No Kleinpiet. Not that. I’m telling you we all have a horizon, and it’s out there calling you. Some will insist on finding it. But some, the ones with wisdom, will settle for the berries. To be content requires a lot of bravery. To know there is still more out there, and yet be happy with less, requires a rare maturity. It is simple, really: when you reach your horizon, the road ends. There, you have to face who you really are and what you had to do to get there; and that may turn out to be something most of us would prefer not to do.

“It’s the old story of grasp and reach. Go for humility you can grasp comfortably, and not the heady fame you can touch when standing on tip-toe. Stay away from the horizon. Stick to the berries.”

Richard Wagner – Tannhäuser – Pilgrim’s Chorus

THE OLDER PILGRIMS

Through penance and repentance I have propitiated
the Lord, Whom my heart serves,
Who crowns my repentance with blessing,
the Lord to Whom my song goes up!
The salvation of pardon is granted the penitent,
in days to come he will walk in the peace of the blessed!

The Tragedy of Fame

Credit: Reuters

Credit: Reuters

The group at the bar listens to the news on the radio in shocked silence. They have been admirers of the athlete for a long time, and now find it hard to believe he has done something as horrible as this.

“Wasn’t he involved in a drunken boating accident some time ago? Lots of questions, and then suddenly the whole issue disappeared and nobody reported on it any more?”  Sevaas looks over at Gertruida for help.

“There have been rumours…”. Gertruida holds up a cautionary finger, “..but I don’t think we should go there.”

“There’s the story of the jackal,” Kleinpiet suggests. “Come on, Gertruida, you tell it so well?”

On the day of his birth, the jackal’s mother swore she’d make things right for him. Baby Jackal, you see, was born without a tail. Everybody knows a jackal should have a tail. A tail-less jackal will not get anywhere in life.

So Mama Jackal went to all her family members and begged a few tail hairs from each. She spent hours and hours braiding these hairs into the most beautiful, most stunning jackal tail ever seen. When Baby was old enough, she taught him to put on the tail himself. At night Baby would comb and preen his tail before hitting all the hotspots where the girly Jackals hung out.

Baby became the darling of the jackals. Nobody had a tail quite as magnificent, quite as startlingly beautiful as his. Girl jackals swooned. Boy jackals lowered their eyes when he walked past. Baby only had to swish his tail to attract the attention of all the animals in the forest.

But one day Bragging Baby (as he became known) met the girl-jackal that saw right through him. She said he was all tail and no heart. She told him life is not just a matter of parading around with a beautiful tail; and that being kind was more important than being pretty.

Of course, Baby Jackal didn’t like this, and snarled at her. She complained to the jackal elders, who  agreed Baby did wrong. For his punishment, he had to hand in his tail for a year. Now Baby had to walk around without his tail, he soon discovered life wasn’t so easy. The parties dried up. The girly jackals no longer swooned. The boy jackals sniggered when he walked by. And so Baby, the tail-less jackal, found out his tail had been his life, and his life had been his tail. 

“But that’s an incredibly sad story, Gertruida.” Precilla snifs loudly. “The poor jackal! To think he had to find out he needed his false tail to be somebody. What happened to him?”

“The story of the jackal ends there, Precilla. But there’s another moral: we can’t end up blaming Baby for everything. He only became popular because the other jackals were so impressed by his tail. Sure, it went to his head, but part of the blame rested on the other animals who made such a fuss about him. Without their adoration, he would have learnt to cope with life the hard way – like we all do. All societies need to have heroes. All too often, they have feet of clay. Or no feet at all.”

“Like Lance Armstrong? Or Hansie Cronje?”

“Exactly. But there’s one more factor to consider. As much as we like building up idols and elevating them to be gods – we also have a tendency to be cruel when they make mistakes. The newspapers and the magazines will now dig away furiously to find more fingers to point at the man. It is as if we actually enjoy seeing people fall from grace. As if we can’t wait for them to strike the hard concrete block we call justice, with a sickening thud. It makes us accomplices; primitive, sad cannibals waiting for the feast.”

“Well, all I can say is I feel sorry. Sorry for that poor girl’s family. Sorry for a man who has accomplished so much, and now has to realise that medals are only little pieces of metal in different colours.” Vetfaan sighs heavily. “And I feel sorry for Mama Jackal. She only tried to help, after all.”

“Yes, Vetfaan. But mostly I feel sorry for us because we keep on putting people on the pedestals to make them more than they actually are. We elevate them to fame and then stamp them to trash. And that, my friend, points a very dirty finger at us..”

Lance Armstrong – Unjust Fairness?

“So Lance finally admitted.” Vetfaan sits back to survey the group at the counter. “That must have been very hard.”

Gertruida isn’t impressed at all. “The world thinks that’s big. Huge. But they are concentrating on sportsmen.     That’s wrong.”

“Such are the wages of sin…” Servaas says with his holier-than-thou face. “He connived and crooked his way to the top. He tried to fool everybody. No, I’m not sorry for him. They should take away every medal he ever won – even as a child.”

“That’s harsh, Servaas.” Gertruida sits back to study the old man. He’s dressed in his black suit again, a sure sign that he is disgusted about something. Now the cause of his indignation is clear, she finds his argument one-sided and short-sighted. “Sure he did wrong. Every sports administrator and anybody-who’s-somebody in sport are up in arms, standing there with innocent faces and declaring what a terrible thing he did. I can understand that; and it’s right that people should demand drug-free competition. But…”

“Oh  please, there are no buts, Gertruida!  Wrong is wrong!” Even the bushy eyebrows tremble in righteous anger.

“That’s my point, Servaas.” Her tone is gentle, like when you explain something simple to a child. “If everybody gets on their high horses about this one, they should do it across the board with everybody who uses devious ways to attain a certain position in life. Now let’s see…”

What about politicians who use drugs? Huh, Servaas? Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barak Obama, New York Mayor – Michael Bloomberg? If they admitted to using drugs, must we strip them of their fame? Erase them from political history?

And what about the entertainers everybody loves so much? Michael Jackson and Elvis paid for their drug abuse with their lives, and still their records sell. Should we not stand back and tell ourselves that was wrong and stop listening to them?

Let’s consider testosterone, Servaas. Robbie Williams admitted to using it. So did Jane Fonda on her book. Why didn’t anybody – anybody – say anything to that?

And what about other means of fooling the masses? Broken campaign promises and corruption are much worse than somebody pedalling across the Alps faster than anybody else. Turning a blind eye to rhino poaching surely deserves a public outcry and the demand for whoever is responsible to be publicly shamed? I’m not talking about the guy who pulls the trigger – I’m talking about the officials who allow and encourage it.

Talking about fooling the masses – what about churches? Men of the frock with their little fetishes. Paedophile priests. Why don’t we see the same reaction across the globe when church leaders overstep the mark?

And finally, what about Robert Mugabe? Zuma? You think they lead spotless lives? They expelled Julius Malema, who said there were 700 charges of fraud and crime against Zuma. Do you think people care about that? It’s not just an African problem either – Italy, France, the World Bank…the list is endless.

“So, Servaas, I think you must be fair. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, my friend. Either we condemn drugs and crime in all cases, or we must crawl into a burrow somewhere and try to convince ourselves the world is a just and a fair place.”

By this time Servaas has cupped his head in his hands. It is just too much. His whisper is almost inaudible.

Poor Lance…”

 

Vetfaan’s Dance with Fonda…

“We’re a bunch of unfit misfits.” Vetfaan runs a worried hand over his paunch. “I’ll have to start doing some exercise, otherwise I’ll have to ask Sammie to order a whole new wardrobe for me.” Finishing his beer, he signals for another.

“Exercise can do more harm than good, Vetfaan. You start wearing down those joints, and it’s off to Cape Town for a hip replacement. And there’s the danger of overburdening your heart, too. And…remember what happened to Piet Potlood?” Kleinpiet shakes his head; one has to be very careful with these things.

Vetfaan nods. Poor Piet had the dream of completing the Comrade’s Marathon, and started running from Grootdrink to Rolbos at least once a week. He’d flop down on a chair in Boggel’s Place and always ordered water on arrival – something that cause much more consternation than his running did.  Gertruida said it was the stress that made his hair first go completely white, before falling out. That’s when he began using a cosmetic pencil to draw in a small, black moustache on his upper lip. Vetfaan shudders at the thought.

“But look at you, too, Kleinpiet. Your belt is almost too short these days as well. No man, I think we must do something. Maybe start walking or doing those slow Japanese exercises where you hardly move. Surely you can’t  do harm with that?”

“Boys, I’ve still got a Jane Fonda tape from way back.” Seeing their puzzled looks, she explains. “She’s a very sexy lady dressed in a leotard, and she tells you what to do. It’s not hard, but if you do it every day, I can guarantee results. I used that tape when I picked up weight a few years ago – and look at me now: I’m still in shape.” Precilla has been worried about Kleinpiet’s weight for some time now, and pounces on the opportunity.

“Do we have to wear those as well? Leotards, I mean?  I refuse. I’m a man, not a circus clown.”

“No, Kleinpiet, you can exercise in anything you want, any time you want. It doesn’t even have to interfere with your visits to Boggel’s place. I’m sure the two of you can manage that, somehow?”

***

Landslides, avalanches and an obsession with weight have a few things in common. They start small, and they can become all-consuming. What started as a hesitant, uncertain few steps this way and that on the music, while Miss Fonda shouted out instructions, became a race to see who lost the most. They meet weekly in Boggel’s Place, where Oudok placed his scale. Much like two boxers, the two men would shed as much clothing as is socially acceptable, step up to the scale and wait for Precilla to announce the reading.

It was a neck-on neck affair for weeks. The sessions with the tape became longer and longer. Some weeks Kleinpiet won with a gram or two, at others Vetfaan was the victor. Boggel started taking bets and made quite a bit of money this way.

After yet another weigh-n where Kleinpiet lost 25 grams more than he did, Vetfaan decided it was enough – he announced that the next week would be the final week of this ‘sissy-dancing’ and that whoever lost more in the coming week, would be the overall winner. Kleinpiet agreed thankfully.

***

“Platnees, bring your guitar. You must play for me.”

Platnees  has worked on Vetfaan’s farm for many years. He knows all about the farmer’s moods, most of his strange ideas and about the peach brandy he keeps locked up in the old chest in the dining room. Despite this, he is astounded.

“Eish! The last time I heard such a story, was when Saul asked for Master David to play for him. Oudoom had a sermon on that a few years ago. That story didn’t end well.”

“No, man! I just need music to dance to. You can’t expect me to do all those fancy steps in silence, can you?”

It takes a long time to explain what it’s all about, but eventually Platnees gets it. “So I play, you dance, and you win Mister Kleinpiet?” Scratching the stubble on his chin, he eyes Vetfaan critically. “It’s a bit like crooking, isn’t it? And you’ll have to pay me.”

“Name you price, you scoundrel.”  Platnees knows it’s just a mock show of anger. Vetfaan’s eyes have lit up in triumph – victory is assured.

“Two bottles of peach brandy. One is for playing – I don’t play so well if I haven’t had a sip. The other one is payment. And I promise I won’t tell anybody.”

Platnees goes off to find his petrol-tin guitar after taking a few healthy swigs. On his return, he notices that Vetfaan has cleared the stoep, and that he has stripped down to the blue underpants. He’ll have to remember to wash the red one before church on Sunday. Being careful not to say anything and averting his eyes, he takes a seat on the top step to the stoep.

“Okay! Play!”

People make a lot of noise about poor Lance Armstrong and all those athletes that spend thousands of Dollars to use performance-enhancing drugs. It’s because such contestant s use complicated and convoluted programs that involve drugs that are bad for you. They should have asked Platnees’ opinion about speed and endurance; he’d tell them the answer is peach brandy. And even if you’re a bit sozzled, they can’t ban you for life, can they? As long as you stay in your lane, you’re fine.

So, while Platnees started off with a slow waltz and a few old Voortrekker songs, he gradually changed to his rendition of the popular tunes of David Kramer. However, the peach brandy enhanced his performance to such an extent, that Vetfaan had great difficulty moving his feet to the rapid beat.

Halfway through the bottle, Platnees is in his own world. He sees himself on stage next to Mister Kramer, with a whole rugby field full of people cheering madly. Dawid steps up to the microphone to introduce South Africa’s newest sensation, the man from the Kalahari who can play the guitar like no other. The crowd goes mad as young girls throw various bits of clothing at the stage. ‘Ah, the rewards of fame’ Kramer smiles at Platnees, ‘you know you made it if they start doing that.’

Platnees, now at full speed and completely oblivious of his surroundings, is halfway through the next song when Vetfaan’s scream stops him. In a desperate attempt to keep up with the tempo, Vetfaan has pirouetted off the stoep. That didn’t do the damage. The prickly pear did.

***

It’s a well-known medical fact that you can’t put clothes on a man full of thorns. You have to remove the thorns first. To do that, it’s preferable to have a sober assistant who can focus on one thorn at a time. It also helps if your assistant doesn’t think the whole incident is hilariously funny.

Also, it isn’t customary to wash your prickly pear every now and then. People seem to think these cactus plants have a self-cleaning ability, which is obviously not true. Two days after Oudok removed the thorns (after the wild chase to get him to the doctor, while Platnees did his rendition of an ambulance siren with remarkable gusto), Oudok sent Vetfaan to Upington to get some antibiotics and a hefty dose of cortisone.

“It’s the cortisone,” Vetfaan mumbles at the weigh-in. “I was way ahead until I had those shots.”

“No,” Precilla smiles sweetly. “It’s the new underpants. Those are far too big – now that the swelling has gone down.”

***