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The Bunny Whisperer: Read an excerpt from Anna Peters’ Year of Cooking Dangerously by Kathryn White

The Bunny Whisperer: Read an excerpt from Anna Peters’ Year of Cooking Dangerously by Kathryn White

 
Anna Peters' Year of Cooking DangerouslyUmuzi has shared an excerpt from Anna Peters’ Year of Cooking Dangerously, the new novel by Kathryn White.

In the excerpt, Anna is given a special assignment: covering the centenary of the annual South African Rabbit Jump Championships for the illustrious publication Petz in da Hood!

She manages to score an exclusive interview with the champion bunny’s owner, but the day takes a horrifying turn when she gets to their farm …

Read the excerpt:

* * * * *

But God is busy. As is Saxi, my boss. She has informed me that I will be taking her place at a function this Saturday. I will be the Petz in da Hood! representative at the annual South African Rabbit Jump Championships. I ask Simone if she will come with me and she says yes, provided I go with her to choose lingerie for her honeymoon. There is nothing – nothing – more depressing than shopping for lingerie for your best friend’s honeymoon when your boyfriend is probably shacking up with an air hostess in Czech or Slovakia or somewhere.

The show takes place in the Far East of Johannesburg, about one minute from the airport and three from a racetrack. A marquee has been set up on a hill and we have to park in a ditch under a thorn tree. As VIPs Simone and I have dressed accordingly: high heels, red lipstick and wide-brimmed hats that would have made Professor Henry Higgins proud.

‘Anna, this better bloody make you the most famous pet writer in the country,’ Simone tells me as we hike through clumps of thorn trees towards the tent. (Note, two problems already: hike and tent.) When we reach the tent we notice a sign that says VIP parking. Ah, next time.

There is also a red carpet, complete with the flags of participating countries. We receive giant rosettes with VIP scrawled inside. We are ushered into the arena and walked to our special VIP seats.

As Sim and I walk past the Judges’ Table an old man of, oh, I’m guesstimating, ninety-five, lets out a wolf whistle.

Simone waves back at him. But it seems the whistle is for a large lady with orange hair clutching an orange rabbit that I briefly mistake for a corgi. ‘Good luck, Mrs Bigelow,’ the old man calls to her. By way of acknowledgement, Mrs Bigelow fist-pumps with her free hand.

Our VIP seats are in a special VIP box, suspended above the heaving arena of bunnies and handlers. Jared, our photographer, arrives. He also receives a rosette, but photographers are cool (even pet photographers) so he doesn’t wear his. At exactly noon a bugle is blown. A man enters the arena, carefully picking his way through the jumping course that has been laid out for the bunny rabbits.

‘Welcome to the one hundredth anniversary of the Annual South African Rabbit Jump Championships!’

Wow. I mean, that’s almost the same age as Joburg itself (yes, it’s true, there was no city or even a road here before 1886).

‘And a pleasure and privilege to have the prestigious Petz in da hooooood! who are here with us today.’

Wow-diddy-wow! Simone and I get up and wave.

‘Now, without further ado, please put your hands together for the ten finalists.’ Bunnies begin to bounce out from behind a curtain, followed, at the end of a string, by owners who’ve fixed their expressions into what I like to call Game Face. ‘One of whom will win R100 000!’

Wow-diggedy-wow-wow! This is serious stuff. With a double blow of the bugle, the commentator bows and walks backwards, then takes his seat at the Judges’ Table.

Some of the bunnies are very big. Some of them are very small. All of them twitch their noses as they jump, ears flapping to the sound of their owners’ encouraging grunts. They are all endearingly cute, but what will I write about? Newspaper ad sales are down and Saxi has instructed me to come up with something ‘compelling’.

There is only one bunny left to jump.

The curtain is still closed but the crowd – largely Swedish it seems – has begun to chant.

‘Yump Buster yump! Yump Buster yump!’

The commentator holds up his hand for silence.

‘Last up in the finals are world champions, Mrs Rudolfina Bigelow and Buster.’

With another blow of the bugle, Mrs Bigelow emerges, holding the corgi-rabbit. She stands at the start of the jumping line and leans down to lift up Buster’s orange ear. I assume she gives him a pep talk because from our Very Important vantage point I actually see Buster turn to make eye contact with her and nod.

Simone almost starts to laugh so I pinch her. She shouts in pain.

‘Shhh!’ I tell her. ‘I think this is it. This is my story. The Bunny Whisperer.’

From the first leap into the air, it is apparent that Buster is leagues above the other rabbits. A step above the rest. In a class of his own. A jump ahead.

The commentator can hardly keep up: ‘Skipping a loogy over the first jump. A little bit of lag on the back leg – ably made up for by a scamper towards number two.’ (Insert bugle sound effects.) ‘Buster, what a rabbit! Adds in half a stride to scurry forward, that point-two-five seconds could make all the difference between obscurity and fame. Now, leaping over the combination three and four in a double pop. Nice. And the crowd joins Bigelow in egging him on toward the end.’

We join the crowd, jumping to our feet as Buster and Mrs Bigelow hare around the course.

‘Cutting the corner over there … And Buster, heading towards the home run: increasing his hop from two centimetres to four, really pushing it from his back quarters. Here comes the final bounce: intent eyes as he aims for the middle. Oh! And counting down the hops: three, two, one!’

Simone and I throw up our hands with the rest of the crowd and start shouting ‘Yump Buster yump! Yump Buster yump!’

‘And, it’s a new record for the fastest time in the fifty-centimetre championships! And it seems, yes, yes, yes! That makes it a win for Buster and Bigelow as the Champion of Champions at the centenary of the annual South African Rabbit Jump Championships!’

Bigelow’s face is dripping with perspiration and she throws her head back to air punch and make a very unladylike roar of happiness. Buster, I kid you not, turns to look up at her. Then slowly stands on his back legs and places his bunny feet into the air. Simone and I join the crowd in mad applause, throwing up our hands in the air like Bunny Buster.

Jared the photographer joins me as we move through the ecstatic crowds. Our team is exhausted but – no wussiness for this Pulitzer-prize-pet-journalist-in-the-making (that’s me) – I shove my iPhone into the space around Mrs Bigelow and Buster. This time I even remember to press record, unlike the time the monkey said hello and my Dictaphone wasn’t on.

‘Mrs Bigelow,’ I yell.

She takes my phone from my hand and puts it to her ear.

‘Yes?’

‘How do you feel about the win?’ I shout through the din.

She takes the phone and looks at it, trying to locate the voice. ‘Very good!’ she yells as she walks off, holding my phone to her ear.

I motion for Jared, leaping over bunnies and owners as we pursue her through the arena. When we eventually catch up to explain, Mrs Bigelow finds this so hilarious that she starts to choke. On her laughter. Jared bashes her on the back.

He has saved her life! She decides she will give us an exclusive interview. At the Bigelows’ rabbit farm. Still keyed up from the excitement of the event, Jared, Simone and I agree to travel with the Bunny Team and get the real inside scoop.

‘Inside the Bunny Team’ is inside an eighteen-wheeler with neat rows of rabbits in hutches, chewing on celebratory carrots.

‘Buster?’ I ask one of the handlers. He nods. ‘Buster.’ Then points down the row: ‘Buster One, Two, Three, Four, Five …’

They are all orange furred. We’re not quite sure which one is Buster so I pat the closest and we take our seats alongside the rabbit handlers. With a toot-toot, the truck lugs into gear and we rumble over ground before hitting the smooth asphalt of tar.

After half an hour Simone and I exchange nervous glances. Another fifteen minutes and the road changes again, to gravel. The truck stops and there is a hissing sound as it comes to standstill. The handlers stand and start to organise the cages and boxes.

The back doors of the truck are flung open; Mr and Mrs Bigelow appear and start shouting at everyone. Sim and I totter down the steps. My heels sink into thick loamy soil. Toto, we’re not in the East anymore. I don’t even think we are in Johannesburg: hills stretch towards a sunset, a lake to the left and a long, flat house to the right.

Mr Bigelow claps me on the back and motions for us to follow. We walk through a low fence – this is worth a mention, because in South Africa, well, there aren’t any – into a garden with hundreds of gnomes, many of whom seem to be freshly painted. In the centre is the farmhouse. On the porch a cuckoo clock announces that it is 6 p.m. Weimaraners stretch and bark.

We are taken through a long passage, to the kitchen. Mr Bigelow turns to smile at us. In his arms he cuddles an orange bunny.

‘Buster?’ I ask.

‘Buster!’ he points to the rabbit in his arms. ‘Come, come, sit.’ The Bigelows’ daughter appears from the pantry, clutching three jugs of ale, which she hands us. ‘We make our own,’ she smiles. She too has the familial orange hair.

Jared is now lying prostrate on the floor, clicking his camera up the daughter’s skirt. I give Jared a little kick to remind him to get photos that we can use in a community paper and on a family website.

‘Right!’ Mrs Bigelow claps her hands. ‘First, we drink, then we cook. Second, we talk.’

Oh fuck.

‘Cheers!’

The beer is sweet and malty, like a bitter, frothy honey. It stings the back of my throat.

‘Ah,’ we all sigh. Except I actually burp, by mistake.

Everyone is kind enough to pretend that didn’t happen.

‘Come now.’ Mr Bigelow escorts Simone and me outside.

The red porch gleams in the dying sun, the broekie lace tinged pink. Twirling quietly in the twilight air, hanging from the broekie lace, are skinned rabbit carcasses. Mr Bigelow takes his hand off the rabbit that he is stroking and points to a carcass.

‘Buster,’ he says. The rabbit twirls back and faces me. It has all the hair on its head – orange – and its eyes are wide open. I stare in horror.

* * * * *

 
Related stories:

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Don’t miss the launch of Letters of Stone by Steven Robins at the Stellenbosch Sasol Art Museum

Letters of StoneThe Stellenbosch University Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology invites you to the launch of Letters of Stone by Steven Robins and the exhibition of “The Chair” by Greer Valley.

The event will be held at the Stellenbosch Sasol Art Museum on Tuesday, 16 February, at 4 PM.

In her review for the Sunday Times, Michele Magwood said: “Letters of Stone is the story of the weight of memory, of the burden of guilt and regret; of the obliteration of hope, of identity, of human beings.”

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

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Join Mike Nicol in conversation with William Dicey for the launch of Mongrel: Essays at The Book Lounge

Invite to the launch of Mongrel

 
Mongrel: EssaysUmuzi and The Book Lounge would like to invite you to the launch of Mongrel: Essays by William Dicey.

From a carcass competition in the Karoo to a shambolic murder trial in Cape Town, Dicey’s essays freewheel across an open terrain of interests. He is curious and inventive, weaving strands of essay, journalism, fiction and self-reportage into something uniquely his own.

Dicey will be chatting to bestselling author Mike Nicol (Power Play) on Wednesday, 9 March at 5:30 for 6 PM. Snacks and wine will be served.

See you there!

Dicey is what I look for in a writer: he has something to say and he puts it across with skill, intelligence and wit. – Ivan Vladislavić

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 9 March 2016
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: The Book Lounge
    71 Roeland Street
    Cape Town City Centre | Map
  • Interviewer: Mike Nicol
  • Refreshments will be served
  • RSVP: booklounge@gmail.com, 021 462 2425

 

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A macabre discovery in a freezer in Welkom – Read an excerpt from Grave Murder

Grave MurderIn April 2011, the sleepy goldmining town of Welkom was deeply shocked when the dismembered, decapitated body of Michael van Eck was discovered buried in a shallow grave on the outskirts of the local cemetery. Was this a muti murder, the work of a deranged madman or part of a satanic ritual?

For the investigators and psychologists involved, the mystery only deepened when a seemingly unlikely arrest was made: a soft-spoken girl next door and her intelligent, well-mannered fiancé.

This gruesome true story is told in Grave Murder: The Story Behind the Brutal Welkom Killing by Jana van der Merwe, a gripping work of non-fiction published by Zebra Press last year.

In a third excerpt shared by the publishers, read about the eerie moment in which Van Eck’s body parts are discovered in the “soft-spoken girl-next-door”‘s fridge and the couple’s reaction to their arrest:
 

* * * * * *

 

At the flat’s entrance, Chané unlocked another steel gate, which led into their semi-detached garden flat, situated to the right of a larger house. On the windows were white burglar bars.

Once inside the flat, Nel carefully observed her surroundings. It looked like the messy living space of a rebellious teenager. At first glance, there did not seem anything disconcerting about the living room’s contents. There were a beige couch and a single bed, whose baby-blue mattress was covered only with a tucked-in winter blanket. Ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts and two red cigarette lighters were on the armrest of the couch, while several items of clothing, including a pair of stonewashed blue jeans, and a yellow laundry basket filled to the brim were on the bed.

Against the wall was a small table with a desktop computer and a cabinet housing an old box TV set. On the floor was a small, unplugged heater, a pair of black-and-white lace-up long-top sneakers, a book by Stephen King, a black backpack decorated with white skulls with items of clothing pouring out of it, as well as a hardcover notebook, cherry LipIce and a pen.

Nel took a moment to examine the paintings that took up much of the wall space. The images resembled Chané quite strikingly: a series of large, alien-like self-portraits, the faces all in shades of bright, screaming yellow, tinted with luminous green and black shadows, the teeth rotten and X-raylike, the eyes dark wells of sadness.

In the small kitchen, Nel stood by as Chané voluntarily walked to the white, medium-sized fridge. On the table top next to it were some half-full bottles of liquor: Red Square and some peach schnapps. Stuck to a magnet on the fridge was a sheet of paper that read:

Angels with needles poke through our eyes and let the ugly light of the
world in and we were no longer blind.

Below it was another piece of paper, also handwritten in ink, of quantum physics calculations and formulas.

Chané casually opened the door to the smaller freezer compartment at the top of the fridge. A pack of Country Crop mixed vegetables was on the top shelf. On the middle shelf were three polystyrene containers with minced meat covered in cling wrap.

Nel and Steyn watched as Chané carefully reached inside and removed a flattened white plastic grocery bag, squeezed in between a small packet of frozen garden peas and a packet of sweetcorn, from the bottom shelf.

With great care, she put the plastic bag on the kitchen counter and removed the contents, revealing what looked like a flat pizza base. Nel did not even wince as she looked at what was, in fact, a macabre mask of Michael van Eck’s face.

Where the eyes once were, there were now only holes, absurdly framed by the young man’s dense, dark-brown eyebrows. His nose was still perfectly intact, and his cheeks still bore a slight, rough stubble. The mouth was sewn shut. A cut ran from the right corner of his mouth and another from the left, not more than three to four centimetres respectively. These cuts had also been stitched closed. ‘His face,’ Chané said, as if she were talking about a bag of tomatoes or an arbitrary grocery item. This was her trophy, Nel thought. She was showing off her work of art.

‘His eyes and ears,’ she continued, while removing small plastic medicine canisters from the fridge. Two white floating jellies in salt water were all that remained of his eyes. In another canister were Michael’s ears, cut off with surgical precision and preserved for who knows what.

‘You are sick,’ was all Nel could get out.

Steyn felt as if she was being pushed out of the room. She sensed a dark force she did not understand. Void of emotion, Nel took out the metal handcuffs. ‘You are under arrest for the murder of Michael van Eck.’

She read Chané her rights. They arrested Maartens, too. The couple stood waiting as Steyn called Chané’s father.

Van Zyl and Krügel then entered the flat. Van Zyl felt as if he was being smothered, as if the devil itself had wrapped its tail around his neck. He saw the mask. Chané’s eyes followed him from every corner of the flat.

Nel felt oddly calm as she asked Chané where Michael’s possessions were. Chané pointed to a jar on top of the fridge, next to a nasal spray. In it were some hundred-rand notes and some silver and copper coins. It was the money Michael had had in his wallet; the money he had drawn from his first pay cheque to pay his parents back for the car they had helped him buy; the money Henriëtte had said he must keep and use for petrol and pocket money; the money he was supposedly going to use to take a girl to the movies on the night of his death.

‘We used some of it already,’ the girl shrugged.

Stuck to the jar, handwritten in black Koki pen, engulfed in handdrawn red flames, was a label that read: ‘The spawn of our prostitution.’

Maartens mentioned that they planned to use some of this money to buy some spades for ‘the next time’. ‘It’s not easy to dig a hole with a soup spoon, you know,’ he said matter-of-factly.

For a while no one said a word.

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Learn 10 tips for better presentations at the launch of How to Make Your Point Without PowerPoint

Invite to the launch of Douglas Kruger's new book

 
How to Make Your Point Without PowerPointPenguin Random House invites you to join them for the launch of How to Make Your Point Without PowerPoint by Douglas Kruger.

The art of presenting needs a serious shake-up. Presenters are constantly on the lookout for fresh ideas to get their message across, but mistakenly believe PowerPoint is the right medium to do so. Kruger’s latest book teaches readers 50 ways to present more effectively and leave lasting impressions.

The launch takes place on Monday, 15 February at 8 for 8:30 AM at The Wanderers Club in Joburg. Coffee and light snacks will be served.

See you there!

Event Details

 

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Don’t miss the launch of Jen Thorpe’s debut novel The Peculiars at The Book Lounge

Invitation to the launch of The Peculiars

 
The PeculiarsPenguin Random House South Africa invites you to the launch of The Peculiars by Jen Thorpe.

Set in a Cape Town as peculiar as its characters, The Peculiars is Thorpe’s heart-warming and humorous debut.

A book that’s easy to read and love.

- Paige Nick

The launch will take place on Wednesday, 24 February at The Book Lounge in Cape Town, and Thorpe will be in conversation with Jennifer Crocker.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 24 February 2016
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: The Book Lounge
    71 Roeland St
    Cape Town | Map
  • Interviewer: Jennifer Crocker
  • Refreshments: Refreshments will be served
  • RSVP: The Book Lounge, booklounge@gmail.com, 021 462 2425

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Great stories are found in unexpected human contact, not online – Rahla Xenopoulos

Rahla Xenopoulos

 
How is the online world depriving us of great storytelling? Do you think we can’t find good stories online? Why is truth so important in good storytelling? Should brands apply the same principles to their storytelling?

TribeAt the 2015 Digital Edge Live conference, African adverising mouthpiece Adlip sat down with writer Rahla Xenopoulos to ask these important questions.

“I think, as human beings, we are losing one another. We’re losing the connection that we need to have with one another to find great stories,” Xenopoulos says.

“I think you find the great stories in the eye contact you get with the man who sells homeless talk on the side of the road; you find the great stories in the coincidental account you have with the woman who packs your groceries at Pick n Pay.

“It’s unexpected meetings, where you have communication, where you find unexpected great stories.”

However, she is not dismissive of all time spent online. The author goes on to say that she believes there are aspects of great stories online, vignettes even, but warns that real inspiration can only really be found “with one another”.

Xenopoulos’s latest book, Tribe, was published by Umuzi last year. In this video, she explains how the book highlights the negative side of our ever-expanding digital addiction and how it offers a possible solution to the problem.

“We need to disconnect in order to be human, and in order to connect. The book I brought out now is very much about a group of people who are trying to connect in a disconnected world and they know that they have to plug out to in order to plug in with one another.”

Watch the video:

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Chad le Clos gearing up for Rio Olympics

Unbelievable!Chad le Clos gave a strong indication on Sunday as to what event he may compete in at the Rio Olympics in August – outside of his two specialist butterfly races.

The double medallist from London 2012 is keeping his racing schedule under wraps‚ but he achieved an Olympic qualifying time in the 200m freestyle in the second leg of the SA grand prix swimming series in Durban on Sunday afternoon.

He won the race in 1 min 47.54 sec‚ almost half a second inside the criterion he will need to repeat in the same Kings Park pool in April at the six-day SA championships‚ which will serve as the Olympic trials.

Le Clos‚ who won the 200m fly gold and 100m fly silver at the last Games‚ competed in the 200m freestyle at the 2015 world championships‚ finishing sixth and more than a second off the podium.

But there is a possibility that he might also try the 100m freestyle or the 200m individual medley‚ where he made the Olympic final four years ago.

Coach Graham Hill has said Le Clos will enter more than the two butterfly races at the Rio Games‚ but he doesn’t want to say which – or even how many. Right now‚ the 200m freestyle looks like a good bet.

Le Clos and his Seagulls club training partner Myles Brown were the only swimmers to achieve qualifying times at the three-day gala‚ which is still early in the season. Le Clos also did it in the 200m fly on Saturday and Brown in the 400m freestyle on the opening day.

Not even Cameron van der Burgh‚ the reigning 100m breaststroke Olympic champion‚ managed it in his main event on Sunday‚ clocking 1:01.48. But that’s no train smash for the veteran swimmer who only begins to start lifting his game around April.

Pundits are predicting a small SA swimming team at the Games‚ with possibly fewer than 10 members qualifying in individual events. There is also a strong possibility that there might be no women in the team‚ which would be a first since 2004. Swimmers at the Durban gala this weekend did nothing to dispel these fears‚ but it’s still early days.

Source: TMG Digital

At the 2012 Olympics Le Clos, then 20, astounded the world by achieving the “unbelievable”: he beat Michael Phelps, his childhood hero and the world’s number one swimmer, in the 200 metres butterfly final.

You can re-live that incredible moment in his autobiography:

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The White Review features an excerpt from The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga

The ReactiveThe Reactive

 
The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga has received a lot of well-deserved attention since it was published by Umuzi in October 2014.

United States publisher Two Dollar Radio acquired the rights to publish The Reactive in North America – including film rights – while Verlag das Wunderhorn will publish the novel in Germany.

The latest spotlight on this gripping and truly South African debut novel comes from quarterly European arts journal The White Review.

The exclusive excerpt forms part of their February edition and gives readers another taste of this unforgettable story of hope and redemption.

Read the excerpt:

My back cramps on the toilet bowl. I stretch it. Then I take two more painkillers and look down at the space between my legs. In the dim light, my phone blinks blue before going off again, indicating the arrival of a new message.

I hear my colleague Dean stumble into the next stall. His knees drop on the floor and he starts to heave, the room filling up with the smell of vomit. Without fail, Dean brings a hangover to work with him every Sunday. Saturday nights, he plays drums for the house band at The Purple Turtle, a popular punk bar on Long Street. The owner, a Rastafarian named Levi, keeps half the earnings the bands bring him at the door. He compensates for this by keeping a bar tab open for the performers when they finish a set. I stand on the toilet seat and give Dean the rest of my painkillers. Then I sit back down and press a button to take my phone off standby.

Also read:

 
In a city that has lost its shimmer, Lindanathi and his two friends Ruan and Cecelia sell illegal pharmaceuticals while chasing their next high.

Lindanathi, deeply troubled by his hand in his brother’s death, has turned his back on his family, until a message from home reminds him of a promise he made years before.

When a puzzling masked man enters their lives, Lindanathi is faced with a decision: continue his life in Cape Town, or return to his family and to all he has left behind.

Rendered in lyrical, bright prose and set in a not-so-new South Africa, The Reactive is a poignant, life-affirming story about secrets, memory, chemical abuse and family, and the redemption that comes from facing what haunts us most.

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Join Zakes Mda and Morakabe Raks Seakhoa for the launch of Little Suns at African Flavour Books

Invitation to the launch of Little Suns

 
Little SunsAfrican Flavour Books and Umuzi invite you to the launch of Little Suns, the latest novel from the legendary Zakes Mda.

The event will take place on Friday, 12 February, at African Flavour Books in Vanderbijlpark. It’s an amazing bookshop, and well worth a visit if you haven’t made it there yet.

Mda will be in conversation with Morakabe Raks Seakhoa.

See you there!

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