Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Three Brothers

After promising for several weeks to locate their “middle” brother, a long search yesterday evening ended with success. I explained how his brothers came to be at the rescue house (wide eyes, shock and relief at finally knowing their whereabouts), and said I would return the following morning if he also wanted to leave the street. Return we did this morning, and E was sleeping where he promised he would be, despite the frightfully cold night.

An emotional reunification a little later (after all the paperwork was completed) and three brothers were able to have lunch together for the first time in months.

Welcome, E!

Monday, June 27, 2011


Bold, wide brushstrokes mark a confident approach to oil-on-canvas (or, more accurately, paint-on-scrap-MDF). Both in style and subject-matter he shows none of the clichéd hallmarks of your average 12 year old. No cars, no emotive depictions of the family home. No people.

His initial work comprised of violent landscapes punctuated by strong, vertical, tree-like structures.

These soon developed into scenes with clearly polarized ‘sides’. One tree, an apple tree (he says) is a good place and is diagonally mirrored by a much larger tree, inverted and sprouting huge red branches.

It’s the blood of those suffering,” he says after a long pause. “My uncle. I saw him die in a bar. He did bad things.

Virtual reality: afterthought

“People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually, it’s the way things happen to you in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like you’re watching television - you don’t feel anything.”

~ Andy Warhol

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Virtual reality

I witnessed a robbery this morning. One man sprinting from factory premises, followed by another. Shouting, pointing. I glance to the end of the long perimeter wall and see two yoofs jumping down. Queue hot pursuit.

It was a scene I’d viewed probably a thousand times in the movies, but as the events unfolded in the space of about four seconds, a gut feeling of shock and, yes, mild horror overcame me.

Why would I feel this way? Am I not supposed to be so dulled by scenes of everyday violence on TV, in videogames and the like, as to be immune to such a primitive response when reality bites? Is my suspension of disbelief so...superficial?

Friday, June 24, 2011


I want to leave [the street], but not today”, JV confides over a milky hot chocolate in the diner opposite the bus terminal. His hollowed-out cheeks and tight leathery skin give his eyes a bloated look. The manifestations of crack.

Our short conversation is cut short by a woman - covered in filth - who barges towards him and demands that he hand over the money in his pockets. He instinctively recoils, but then hands over a few folded notes and some loose change before leaving with her.

I know where he is”, says another twelve year old confidently, while rolling what appeared to be a perfect joint and then proceeding to smoke it in front of me. He is with me, in the centre. I can take you to him.

Such dialogues - after two years of working with street kids week in, week out - still make me uncomfortable. Dialogues encountered while searching for W and R’s brother. The one born in between them.

Trying to put the jagged pieces of their family’s self-destruction together, earlier this week we went with W to his old school in the South-West of the city and witnessed a rare scene indeed. As we went to leave, the headmistress hugged him tightly and tears began to well in her eyes.

He was loved here. A good student, they say.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Without you I’m nothing

good grub, bad name: Pretty Good Jesus VI

Looking up from a slice of chicken pie in the local diner, I catch a couple of minutes of soap. The soaps start en masse around 6pm and run until 10pm, to make way for the footballers. How anyone can undertake professional football at such an hour (or undertake any professional activity, for that matter) is beyond me. But wait they must, for the torrid plot lines to play out. Girls before boys.

The younger actresses are impossibly beautiful, while the older “stars” cling to roles they would much rather not have; their plasticized faces devoid of all expression - lower lips merely quivering Thunderbirds-style as they utter their lines. Pure unintentional comedy, but one which seems to be appreciated by much of the nation (or, at least, much of the bar, judging from the patrons’ fixated expressions).

A man enters. The attentive barman shouts an order to the kitchen without the man even having to utter the usual. And I ponder on what it means to be known. On moving to Gotham in 2004, a friend wisely noted that being a resident opens one up to privileges that a mere visitor could never experience (no pressure to visit tourist black-spots, having a “usual” place to have coffee, etc), but there is something more than mere attendance. It is a sense of belonging which we often use, in turn, to define ourselves and our rôle.

I guess that there is no other place that gives us this sense of belonging than our place within a family. That club where membership is obligatory, but whose members (at least for the boys in my care) are not always regular attendants.
As always after a paddling, I returned to my room vowing never to talk to my father again. To hell with him, to hell with my mother, who’d done nothing to stop him, to hell with Amy for not taking a few licks herself, and to hell with the others, who were, by now, certainly whispering about it.

I didn’t have the analogy of the stovetop back then, but what I’d done was turn off the burner marked “family.” Then I’d locked my door and sat there simmering, knowing even then that without them I was nothing. Not a son or a brother but just a boy—and how could that ever be enough? As a full-grown man, it seems no different. Cut off your family, and how would you know who you are? Cut them off in order to gain success, and how could that success be measured? What would it possibly mean?

David Sedaris,
Laugh, Kookaburra
BONUS footage:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


A turn of phase

Mornings of late have been marked by the peculiar sensation of awakening in exactly the same position in which I went to sleep, due to total exhaustion tiredness.

last night in Phase 1 for R (well done!)

Meetings bore me

always have

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

One day, when I grow old

Source: Noam Chomsky, interviewed in Final Edition

Monday, June 6, 2011

We have (lots of) lice

Off with their hair!

BONUS: Vintage South Park footage

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A place to lay

we now have chickens!
(colour coordination unintentional

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Family rights and wrongs

When an adult brother directs the way (away from home, to the street), is it wrong? When there is a violent matriarch at the head of a household, I find little blame for a sibling who perceives no other option but escape for his brothers and sisters.

An evening like any other. A mammoth game of 40-40 in the grounds of the rescue house, followed by a card game around the fireplace. In the midst of this, one of the boys on the sofa falls silent, arches his shoulders, grips his head in his hands and stares at the floor. No tears, no movement, no response.

Inconsolable for ten long minutes, I draw the evening to a close with an order to bed. A younger brother goes to side-hug his sibling in a rare and unreciprocated show of affection between two boys whose relationship, until this moment, has been one of constant provocation (a recent violent attack by another boy at the house was passively observed, when even a neutral bystander would have intervened).

When the others had left the room, I gently prise open his arms and lift him to his feet, whereupon he hugs me awkwardly. Carrying him to his room, he asks quietly if his brother can sleep in the same bed and then asks me to pray for him. Surely a memory of home, whatever that means. The family abode - we discover this week - is an abandoned structure accessed by a hole in a wall, where one bed is shared.

I listened this week to a radio programme about a newly-discovered group of people who have an extraordinary capacity to remember nearly everything that’s ever happened to them, however trivial. They’ve called it ‘superior autobiographical memory.’ As I listened, I couldn’t help thinking how frightful this might be. Something akin to the curse of eternal youth.

The novelist Sholem Asch once wrote that ‘[n]ot the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition for our existence.’ I respectfully concur.

The reasons why children leave home are as varied as they are complex. But more often than not it is due - at the very least - to neglect. A neglect of love.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Yesterday’s news today

“Every night before I go to sleep
Find a ticket, win a lottery,
Scoop the pearls up from the sea
Cash them in and buy you all the things you need.

Every night before I rest my head
See those dollar bills go swirling ’round my bed.
I know they’re stolen, but I don’t feel bad.
I take that money, buy you things you never had.

Oh, baby, it would mean so much to me,
Oh, baby, to buy you all the things you need for free.
I’ll buy you a jet plane, baby,
Get you on a higher plane to a jet stream
And take you through the stratosphere
And check out the planets there and then take you down
Deep where it’s hot, hot in Arabia, babia, then cool, cold fields of snow
And we’ll roll, dream, roll, dream, roll, roll, dream, dream.
When we dream it, when we dream it, when we dream it,
We’ll dream it, dream it for free, free money,
Free money, free money, free money, free money, free money, free money.

Every night before I go to sleep
Find a ticket, win a lottery.
Every night before I rest my head
See those dollar bills go swirling ’round my bed.

Oh, baby, it would mean so much to me,
Baby, I know our troubles will be gone.
Oh, I know our troubles will be gone, goin’ gone
If we dream, dream, dream for free.
And when we dream it, when we dream it, when we dream it,
Let’s dream it, we’ll dream it for free, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money, free.”

Patti Smith, Free Money

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The B in BRIC

Way to go, Brazil!

“Three of them - Brazil, India and China - are rather like the most popular girls at the school prom: a little too full of themselves. India and Brazil can be haughty. China has taken to bullying and even swindling its suitors. As for Russia, it should never have been admitted to the foursome in the first place. The government is corrupt and capricious.”

Source: The Economist, The World in 2011