Rumpy-pumpy on the brain
Being a columnist can be a lonely business. You generally only hear from readers when you have really ticked them off.
Readers never phone up to tell you: "Do you know that Pastor Frikkie described you as a pillar of moral rectitude in his sermon on Sunday and quoted at length from what he described as 'parables of such great sagacity that they must have been divinely inspired?'"
No, if you want to be noticed as a columnist you have to indulge in frenzied tubthumping, preferably of the political kind, calling all sorts of bigwigs terrible names. When I occasionally tap into that rich vein of righteous discontent, I get plenty of e-mails of the "Right on. You go, Boy" variety. But I am a mild-mannered kind of columnist, the sort of person Henry Higgins might have had in mind when he sang about the milk of human kindness "by the quart in every vein".
On occasion I've been tempted to throw in something slightly salacious (just to do my bit to help flog a few newspapers). I once tried this tack, writing about a porn shop in Margate. I was just trying to be funny, but I got into terrible trouble.
I have absolutely no idea how many people can actually be asked to read this column, but I do happen to know for a fact that in faraway Port Alfred, I have at least five readers. I know this because I've met them all. Three of them live at Damant Lodge and are perfectly delightful ladies of a certain age.
On Wednesdays, after my mother has read her copy, it gets passed along and, apparently, these old dears read every word that "Joan's son in Joburg" writes.
Sometimes I get SMS comments from my mother, but when I wrote about Adult World she took to the blower, castigating me for being jolly rude, going on about how, in polite Plumstead society, we never talked about that sort of thing.
She had a point: back in the day we didn't know that somewhere things like grown-up shops existed. I had to promise my mom it wouldn't happen again so, you won't read anything about sex here ever again. Except for this one very last time.
This week it was reported that the Fifty Shades trilogy still accounts for three of Exclusive Books' top four bestsellers. I thought we had got over those naughty novels long ago but this latest story only served to confirm that, really, we're pretty much only interested in sex - and rugby (ex-Springbok coach Peter de Villiers' book rounds out the top four).
I write the occasional book myself and, next week, my designer will give me a proof of my next one. I'm giddy with anticipation to see the beast in full glorious colour and professional typography. The book's got rugby in it - but only two paragraphs. And there is not the slightest suggestion of nookie anywhere.
Three of my last four books have Mzilikazi in them. The great bloodthirsty king of the Ndebele (at school the teachers called them the "Matabele") just keeps wandering, unannounced and uninvited, into the things I write.
An amazing character. And I find Voortrekkers and unknown pre-colonial Tswana civilisations of immense size and complexity utterly fascinating, but it seems you don't. No, the vast majority of you, the media-consuming public, want titillating, preferably graphic, expositions of something called "mummy porn". Clearly I don't know my audience. Tonight is my wife's book club and I have half a mind to wire her up beforehand so I can monitor remotely what my market are talking about and what they really want. But I somehow doubt that Wife is going to go undercover on my behalf so I can spy on her pals. (I don't believe they actually talk about books anyway.)
My designer is going to be mightily annoyed with me when I announce: "Sorry, Kevin, have to rewrite the tome to plonk in as much rumpy-pumpy as possible." (Maybe there is some way I can bring Oscar Pistorius into it. I shall have to apply my mind to that one.)
Small Business 101 lesson: know who your market is, find out what they want, and give it to them. Even if you have to smuggle a bit of donkey into it or dress your mutton up as lamb. Sorry, Mom, it won't happen again. Promise.