Well my friends it is official. I became middle-aged and dour. This past weekend I had the bad luck to watch an old Afrikaans (sort off) movie from my youth called "You Must Be Joking." It is a very apt name for a really bad movie and for those who don't remember it, it is slapstick. You have an "actor" playing tricks on unsuspecting members of the public. Their reactions are caught on film and are at times, funny. The rest, well it depends entirely on your IQ how funny you find it. For some it will be hilarious.
I remember when the movie came out first, back in 1986. I was running and dodging angry drill sergeants at the Police College - something you can read about in the Mean Streets Series. It was exceedingly dark days for South Africa. The year before a state of emergency was declared in many areas. There were terrorist bombs exploding in hamburger joints and metal detectors at every mall to prevent this and giving rise to the multi-billion dollar security industry we have today. In the next four years until sanity returned (sort off) we were fighting and shooting and arresting with great gusto. In many ways it was an innocent time for me. I still believed that our ooms (Afrikaans, older white men) will never deliberately lie to us. And that the whole world is wrong - we are just misunderstood in our racial policies. That our own weird interpretation on the Bible (as in history the American South tried with slavery) was totally correct, after all, we heard that explained Sunday after Sunday in church. We knew that the freedom fighters were terrorists and diehard communists because we saw it in their weapons, training and propaganda videos we confiscated. They were not forced into rebellion with stupid laws which no honourable man could live with. We have not actually lost the propaganda war back in 1948 already and believed our own good news stories to be true. We learned to fear almost (perhaps too strong a word) to get dressed in our ceremonial tunics for that meant another police funeral with full military honours. In one year, 1988 I think, I attended five and that was only in our unit. As a policeman, in those years and I suppose today, you get used to death and violence but it is an entirely different matter when your own is lying there. I remember cursing the generals (wrongly, they were also being abused by the Nationalist politicians) for a lack of bullet proof vests. We had none and some died without reason because of that. Issuing us with horrible family saloon cars and expecting us to chase down criminals in fast BMWs (we did, somehow). And then there was the constant hatred from the press who simply could never bring themselves to believe we were decent, God fearing men serving our country. Nah we were plain stupid, ignorant and racists according to them who would be hard pushed to produce even a BA degree in nothing. Yeah we disliked them just as much and took revenge where we could. And we hated, there is no other word, any male with long hair. Such things breed vermin said our old platoon sergeant and we believed that.
So the movie was a welcome break from reality and I wonder now, 29 years later, why I looked at it and shook my head. What has changed so much that I cannot find 90% of it even remotely funny? Why even look at it? I had the remote and could have moved on to something else easily but did not. I stared and stared and stared.
A couple of things struck me. First were the cars and the main reason I kept watching. It took me back to the days before ABS, ESC and God knows what other aids to make a very mediocre driver better than average. Man, if you had a rev counter those days you thought you were driving in luxury. Only the rich and I mean really rich had aircon and we wisely dismissed them as wankers - such things would give you a cold in summer. Power steering was for sissies with thin arms and fuel injection only for performance cars with a five speed gearbox (the rest had four gears). We had mostly carburettor fed engines and went looking for real mechanics who understood such mechanical things. Those guys listened to the engine, flashed at it with a funny torch and made numerous adjustments until the car exhaust burned white on the open road. I miss that, the smell of an oily garage when men were men and women were women. They often invited you to hold this spanner and pass that on that whatever (a technical term always in Pommy which I never got right first time round). Not like today where you book the car and are banned from watching the part replacer's work. Now you are shunt into a designer lounge area and most unwelcome to see if they actually do their jobs or not.
Then I noticed the aisles in the shops, the supermarkets. Immediately I saw they were wider, much wider than now and the branding changed through the years. I remember when my late wife was here she shook her head and said we are years behind a place like America when comes to branding. I researched this - it was the days before I admitted she was "Mrs Always Right." Yes, we have many more types (branding) of say Rooibos Tea in her tribal areas than in South Africa where it originates from. Why is that? I have no idea but to get back to the movie, the prices also struck me as ridiculously cheap and then I remembered I took R904 (88 dollars in today's money) home as a sergeant in the police...less than a cleaner at the beer breweries. However, I had a 3 year old Toyota Corolla (no aircon I assure you) and lived well enough. There was no such thing as overtime and God would not have helped you if you approached any commissioned officer with such liberal crap. Yeah, men were men in those days and a klap (Afrikaans, slap) against the head would have been the least of your problems. You simply did not dare to break the iron discipline.
In this movie the Mickey is taken out of the traffic police and it is the only part which I found funny. They have no changed much, same attitude if not worse. Then the "actor" tried his luck at what looked like a big railway station by making a damn nuisance of himself at the telephone booths. I remember those telephone booths, this was long before mobiles and you needed small change to make a call. They smelled too. After the third attempt to be funny a burly Railway Police Sergeant arrived and arrested him on the spot. Now what is excellent about this is that he tries to explain he had permission from some fellow (he says the name to impress the sergeant) but the sergeant would have none of it. The "actor" got dragged away by the ear for a fatherly chat. Man, I miss such cops so much these days. I assure you, you never took liberties with a police sergeant and the public feared them above all and with good reason. They were hard men and could not be bribed. You never wanted to see an angry police sergeant because you would live (be grateful if you survive) to regret whatever you did wrong.
I saw in this movie smokers everywhere. Yes they were not giving a (you know what) on who they poisoned and the Marlboro Man was still the king with the Camel Man right behind him. And then there were the women in the movie who I am afraid to say, is not nearly attractive today as they were then. The hair styles were plainly horrible though tight jeans seemed to stay ageless. How is this possible I wonder? Simply, I grew older. A woman in her twenties and thirties just don't do it for a man who is approaching 48 this year. Oh yes last thing, some parts play off in the middle of the city centres what some people call "downtown." It struck me it was clean, there were car parking meters and it was safe enough for a few takhaar (hippies, Afrikaans) cameramen to film. How has the times changed? Amazing ain't it? Enjoy your week then.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.