Sarah Buitendach Editor: Wanted and FM lifestyle
Waste pickers pull trolleys loaded with recyclable materials amid the in Kliptown, Johannesburg,amid a national lockdown. Picture: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Waste pickers pull trolleys loaded with recyclable materials amid the in Kliptown, Johannesburg,amid a national lockdown. Picture: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

My lockdown lair is part of a particularly virulent neighbourhood WhatsApp group.

Reading the endless feed of comments its members generate (it goes on night and day, day and night) is like being subsumed into a particularly nasty, not-so-smart circle of hell.

When not sharing blatantly obvious fake news and having unnaturally long conversations about cats in roofs (the animals are reclaiming the planets, don’t you know) the app brings some charming pockets of bigotry.

In April 2020 this has manifested in the form of spectres hovering beyond their Terylene curtains, watching. And waiting – for the neighbours to leave their properties; for someone in the hood to breathe; for a “Charlie” or “Bravo” male to walk down the road. And then they light it up. The WhatsApp group becomes an inferno of accusations, speculations, haughty recitation of lockdown regulations, fear and animosity. And the animosity is directed, frequently, at the waste pickers and homeless people who, let’s face it, are in a much bleaker spot right now than the window phantoms.

I’m not here to lord it over a chat group, but I do think that at a moment like this kindness goes a long way. We’re all scared right now, but rabid hate won’t help. Compassion, empathy and gentleness could, though. It’s hard enough to keep positive during Covid-19, but these kinds of WhatsApp groups are almost enough to plunge me into a pit of darkness. If it were not for hilarious memes, smart articles and escapist books and series, I’m not sure I’d be managing. Something has to offset the rabid bite of reality right now.

The stand-out example of these is a piece in the New York Times entitled “I’m working remotely. Can I keep hiding my secret baby? ”And you thought you had problems. Anyhow, this outlandish question – levelled at Caity Weaver, a would-be agony aunt and writer, is one thing. But it’s her answer that is majestic. How to solve this cracker of a concealment conundrum? Read here for the big fix.

Perhaps unintentionally funny is this article on Bear Grylls, the survivalist and man-about-dangerous-natural-environment. He’s also cooped up at home, with his wife, Shara, and sons; and here he doles out tips for coping.

“Whether it’s an army jungle tour or a relationship, you have to go through the fire to get to the good stuff,” he says. “It’s tough for Shara, because she’s surrounded by boys. I say to the kids: ‘Your mother is like the wild. If you respect her she will treat you right. If you don’t, she’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.’ ”

I find it hard to take a man seriously who once gave himself an enema on a raft, in front of cameras, to make sure he didn’t dehydrate. That his eleven-year-old boys are called Marmaduke and Huckleberry does nothing for the cause – but he sure is earnest and well-meaning, so maybe that’ll lift the Covid gloom for a spell.

Then, there’s little more enthralling and revealing than this crystal-sharp review by literary god Hilary Mantel on a book written about her pop equivalent, Madonna. It was penned in 1992, and is a piece that the London Review of Books has re-released as part of its daily Diverted Traffic mailers. As the team behind the iconic literary magazine puts it, this is “a newsletter and online collection from the LRB, featuring one piece from our archive per day, chosen for its compulsive, immersive and escapist qualities, and also for its total lack of references to plague, pandemics or quarantine.”

Read about Madge, and then sign up for the smarts to be delivered straight to your inbox. You’ll appreciate the break from the plague.

*Buitendach is the FM’s Life editor and editor of Wanted magazine

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