Ra-Ra Skirts and Glenn Hoddle's Mullet

By Pharoah, Ashley | New Statesman (1996), March 10, 2008 | Go to article overview

Ra-Ra Skirts and Glenn Hoddle's Mullet


Pharoah, Ashley, New Statesman (1996)


Off to South Africa for a week's holiday, escaping the chill of Somerset for some beating heat. A four-hour journey from Cape Town, across vast agricultural plains and through isolated, weather-beaten Afrikaans communities, up into the bleak, beautiful wilderness of the Cederberg Mountains. A guide takes us on foot through the bush until we get to a small cave where the walls are crowded with Bushman paintings of animals and people in trances, the ochre images now divorced from their long-forgotten meanings.

These paintings never cease to move me, a profound belief system that flourished in the game-infested plains and valleys of Southern Africa thousands of years before Christ or Muhammad. I remember my first time. In Harare a few years after Zimbabwe's independence, I gave a lift to a friend who lived in one of that city's teeming townships. A boy came up to me, tugged at my sleeve and said, "Bushman painting. Ten dollars." I gave him the money (given that Zimbabwe's present inflation is due to hit 1.5 million per cent by the end of the year, that's probably worth about a quarter of a grain of sand in today's money) and he picked a path through the rotting cars and goat turds to a tiny rock. On its underside, protected from the harsh sun, was a single Khoisan painting of a hunter. As simple and beautiful as anything I had ever seen.

The bush is silent

Back in the Cederberg Mountains and our guide is telling us something of the Khoisan's history and beliefs. The bush is silent in the noon heat as my friends listen to his words, listen to how the Khoisan were hunted like vermin by both the European settlers and the African tribes that migrated south, how they were wiped out in a few generations.

I look down at my three-year-old daughter, Miranda, see her brow puzzled, trying to understand. Is some tiny ember smoking in her imagination, to be fanned into life in future years? She looks up at me: "This is soooo boring. Can we go and watch LazyTown?"

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Audi Quattro's guest spot

Fly home and straight down to Brighton for a story conference on what we hope will be a second series of Ashes to Ashes. …

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