So I’m wondering why we congregate. In our own little groups. Reluctant to mix, cross over, experiment.
Last night I was out with girls, dancing shoes on. We ate a delicious tapas dinner in a trendy little Spanish spot in Wardour Street. Just opposite the new Stringfellows. In the heart of London’s West End.
People were pouring past the huge window, turning in and out of every street, every dark alley way. Into clubs and bars and theatres and restaurants and shops and hidden nooks and crannies. Models, tourists, Goths, Americans. People of every colour, creed, country. A seething mass in a tiny centre of the world.
And as we watched, we five talked about men, the food, travel, South Africa, JZ, London, our scattered friends, The Torture Garden. We laughed and rolled our eyes at the waiter, who we couldn’t understand. We passed the food around. Ordered more of that delicious salt and pepper squid. Eyed the cocktail menu. Drank Spanish beer. And discussed where we might go dancing.
In the end, wandering through the crowded streets, through china town, under the pulsing neon of Piccadilly Circus, we reached a consensus.
We’d go to the Walkabout.
That bastion of antipodean debauchery. That cess pit of snakebites and curly fries. That wet floored, heaving, weaving, shouting, groping place of vegemite advertising, all black haka wannabes and sweat drenched Springbok rugby shirts.
And we danced. To Clegg’s ‘Impi’. Men at Work’s ‘Man Down Under’. Crowed House’s ‘Weather with You’. Toto’s ‘Africa’. And, true to form, men from the southern ends of the world slurred up to us, confessing drunken desire. Reeking of smoke and beer and the promise of fumbled kisses and more in the back seat of a cab home.
And I stood there. The pounding noise and light washing over me. And in a quite moment, thought: why am I here? Why do we do this? Find familiar groups to melt into. When a whole universe of possibility waits just outside the door.
Think about the times you were uncomfortable. When you had to step out and try. That time you found the guts to have that drink in Khayelitsha. When you went to that braai in the northern suburbs. When that Arab family gave you a lift home from the hospital in Israel. When you drank Guinness with a Northern Irish man, who confessed a past in the IRA. When you went to that local club in Prague. When you had to leave your agenda at the door. Listen, adapt. Stretch so far beyond yourself, you changed without noticing.
I used to do this with ease. At uni. Throw parties in cliquey Cape Town and fling my somewhat splintered self together. Invite the guys from the Obz Tatoo place. The girls from Camps Bay. That weirdo I’d met in town. My old school friends. The hippies from Noordhoek. And I’d leave ’em to it.
And marvel at how quickly similarities were found. Watch the chicks ask the tattooist to check their secret artwork. Sit talking Kant with a boy in chinos from Constantia and that oke from town. Love the surprise on peoples’ faces when they realised they’d been wrong.
But somewhere along the line, I’ve curled into myself. Become a little safer.
And while I love the beats and rhythms and sameness of my mirrored familiar self, I hope I haven’t completely lost the knack. To stretch and mix and experiment. The ability to move beyond what I know and into all that something new can be.