Mamils, Wombats and other cyclists

There are as many types of Middle-Aged Men in Lycra (Mamils) as there are of mammals – and any two Mamils are about as similar to each other as a dwarf mongoose is to a reticulated giraffe. (Which, in case you’ve never seen a dwarf mongoose, is not so much.) Here are some of the different Mamil subspecies out there:

WOMBATS (Wild Old Men in Baggies and Trendy Socks)
These hard, gruff men of mountain biking are fit and fearless. They climb like mountain goats and descend like champions, and eschew spandex for much more macho baggies. They have three Cape Epics under their belt (how do we know? Because they’ve told us), and their wives have moved into the guest room to make space for the stationary bike. The females of the species are known as Mombats.


A Wombat is fit and fearless and climbs like a mountain goat.

WORMs (Wiry Octogenarian Racing Machines)
A Worm is the roadie equivalent of a Wombat – they’re the racing snakes of the masters category. Lean, tough and sinewy, these silver foxes just keep getting stronger and stronger.

SQUIRILs (SQUishy Idlers Rejoicing In Lycra)
For Squirils, it’s not about the bike – it’s about the fantasy of the bike. They’re nuts about all things bike. Except riding. Squirils are in it for the coffee, croissants and Lycra, which creates the illusion that they’re athletes. They avoid hills, and wonder every 10km about “When are we stopping for coffee?” They often miss rides (“My alarm didn’t go off” is their go-to excuse).

CoBras (COrporate BRAs)
These MDs, Chairmen, CE-Ous, and other Masters of the Universe executives are usually A-plus personality types. Typically, a CoBra is a racing snake – they just can’t help being competitive. For CoBras, cycling is not only about business; it performs a vital social function. They never pay for a post-ride coffee. 

RABBITs (Rogue Annoying Bossy Bad-asses In Tights)
Unlike Squirils, Rabbits can’t get enough kays or hills. Stagger off your bike at the end of a ride, and the Rabbit looks like a bunny caught in the headlights: “What? We’ve only done 140km!” He’s the guy who heads to the front and cranks up the pace. He’ll tell you how he could/would/should have been a pro, “if only…” Rabbits enjoy passing on their infinite wisdom – your saddle’s too high, your cadence too low, your crank too cranky – but above all, the Rabbit’s the guy rocking tights… because when it comes to compression, he’s a true believer, baby.

SHITS (Sulky Hipsters in Ironic T-Shirts)
Despite the fact that a fixie (fixed-gear bike) is a hipster accessory, these bearded, bespectacled counter-culture latte-drinkers are not a sub-species of Mamil. In fact, Shits, with their tight slacks and sandals, only ride their pastel-peach fixies from trendy coffee shop to trendy coffee shop, tarnishing the image of cycling. Most are too young to be Mamils anyway. Bastards.

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Amabookabooka – a novel podcast about books and the people who write them

Listen to two recent episodes of Amabookabooka shorts, which were recorded at the recent Open Book Festival. The latest is an interview with Judge Chris Nicholson (Remember him? He’s the judge who found there had been political plotting in Jacob Zuma’s corruption case, which led to Thabo Mbeki’s Total Recall.) As a judge he dished out sentences to the guilty and as an author he’s been guilty of writing long sentences – he’s published five books, the most recent being “No Sacred Cows”, which is a collection of courtroom short stories. From punishment to crime, in a previous Amabookabooka episode we interviewed crime writer Michele Rowe, who has published “What Hidden Lies” and “Hour of Darkness”.

Click here to go to the Amabookabooka podcast on iTunes.

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Boks on Bikes

I wrote a feature for the October issue of BicyclingSA magazine about why so many rugby players are becoming hardcore mountain bikers. I had great fun with this sidebar, a DIKtionary on rugby terms that may confuse cyclists.

Bicycle rugby mashup

Bicycle rugby mashup

Fullback/Fool Back
Rugby: the last line of defence between your opponents and the try line
Cycling: the guy behind you shouting “track, track!” – and after you let him through, he creates a bottleneck at the first bit of technical singletrack

In Touch
Rugby: when the ball is kicked out of the field of play.
Cycling: when you’re in the bunch, and the guy in front of you brakes suddenly

On The Full
Rugby: when the ball is kicked into touch without first bouncing inside the field of play, it’s been kicked out ‘on the full’.
Cycling: when you decide not to ride your hardtail and go out on your dual-sus MTB instead, you are ‘on the full’.

Rugby: the worst thing ever, because you’re behind on points
Cycling: the best thing ever, because it’s time to carve up some flowing singletrack.

Rugby: Eben Etzebeth
Cycling: Santa Cruz’s fast and fun 29er

Lock Out
Rugby: when Eben Etzebeth gets sent to the sin bin
Cycling: when you disable your bike’s suspension to make it rigid

Rugby: A game played with only 29 players, because of a lock out
Cycling: an MTB wheelsize that sparked a war

Rugby: Kobus Wiese
Cycling: A brand of reliable, rugged and affordable bikes

Rugby: what giants sing, with hand on heart, before a Test.
Cycling: a Giant (that makes your heart sing).

Shock decision
Rugby: Any time a ref’s call doesn’t go your way (or anything Bryce Lawrence says)
Cycling: When you realise it’s time to send your suspension fork in for a service

Rugby: two points, from a kick through the posts after a try
Cycling: when you puncture-proof your bike by going from tube to tubeless.

Uphill Battle
Rugby: when there’s a lock out, and Bryce Lawrence is reffing, and you’re 15 points behind, and there’s two minutes left in the game
Cycling: Suikerbossie

Charge Down
Rugby: when an opposition player blocks a kick
Cycling: when your Local Bike Shop gives you a discount because you’re a regular.

Cross country
Rugby: What happens when your team loses to Australia in a World Cup quarterfinal (we still hate you, Bryce) or to Japan.

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Lance Armstrong was right. It’s not about the bike. It’s about the book.

We are about to launch our brand new podcast series called Amabookabooka– it’s a series about books and the people who write them. Because sponsors have not yet got with this dynamic platform we have decided to do some crowdfunding and have started a Thundafund campaign (which you can check by clicking here).

We’ve got the content (7 episodes recorded already) which we have financed ourselves – and we want to produce 20 more) so that we can have a full 6-month season. We’ve got the hosts (eNCA & iTunes), now we need the funding!

Watch the video, listen to the “prepodcast’, and make sure you have a look at the great Rewards!

But it’s not only about funding. We’re appealing to you to spread the word – visit our page on Facebook, and like us, and follow us on Twitter (@AmaBookaBooka). You can also  subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (it’s free – search for amabookabooka).

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Is being a telemarketer the hardest job in the world?

 Image: N.D. Mazin, Sunday Times

Image: N.D. Mazin, Sunday Times

They have the world’s worst job but serve a very important social function – they are pressure valves, helping people release their pent-up aggression. The army of telemarketers, the spam mail of the cellular world, invade your day with “exclusive offers” – and allow you to take your bad day out on them. It’s not surprising cold callers get an icy reception. What is surprising, though, is cold calling works. It’s a thriving industry that employs 150 000 people in South Africa.
According to Warren Moss, CEO of direct marketing advertising agency Demographica and chairperson of the Direct Marking Association of SA, cold callers have a 2% success rate. In other words, with every 100 calls they make they get two yeses, which translates into a tidy profit.
“The average motor insurance premium is R500,” explains Moss. “The average cost of a call centre agent (seat, telephone, salary) is R25 000 a month. An agent makes five calls an hour, which is 800 calls a month. A 2% response rate is 16 sales a month, which is R96 000 in annual premiums.”
Each month, the agent brings in another 16 annual premiums – a significant return on a R25 000 investment. A 2% success rate also means a 98% failure rate, which is a lot of rejection. And not just polite rejection – it’s RWEP: Rejection With Extreme Prejudice.
“Agents have no insight into the context of your situation when they phone you. They could call when you’re in a bad mood, or have heard bad news. People lashout at them,” says Moss.
A successful cold caller, he says, needs high levels of resilience (a rhino-thick skin helps) and EQ to deal with all types of people. I’ve said yes to a telemarketer only once. For the last 15 years (give or take a year or two) I’ve received about two calls a week. That’s 1560 calls – and only one yes, which was for a cellphone delivered to my door. I said yes so I could avoid the eye-rolling hipster assistants at the Vodacom store. (I had to go to the store anyway to have my contacts transferred from my old cellphone and had to pay R150 because I hadn’t bought the phone from the store.)
I’ve fobbed off the other 1559 telemarketers. I say I’m busy and will be free after 5pm. I promise to call back then and ask for their home number. They don’t want to give me their private number. “Because you don’t like being disturbed?” I suggest.After listening to Moss I decide when cold callers call I’ll give them a warm reception. I’ll make their day with my heartfelt sincerity. I’ll be their friendly callee in the sea of callee hostility. Garth, from Ultimate Prosper Solutions, is my first cold caller. He offers a portfolio loaded with shares.
I listen to his schpiel and ask questions about the product and when it comes to “pee or get off the potty” time, I politely decline his kind invitation to send someone to my house to sign up. I ask how he copes when people are rude to him. “They tell us to take their names off the database. But when people get aggressive I put the phone down. I’m just doing my job.” We start to chat but after a while Garth gets uneasy. “My boss can hear me and he’s looking at me funny. I got to go,” he says.
An “Ultimate Prosper Solutions” Google search leads to consumer watchdog website Hello Peter where there are a number of complaints about the company headlined “BEWARE” and a liberal amount of exclamation marks!
My next cold caller is Verona, who is flogging a Vodacom router with gigs of data “no fees, no delivery costs, R129 a month”. She says it’s frustrating when people say they aren’t interested before she’s had an opportunity to tell them what she’s selling. “We’re trained to expect rejection, but you can’t help feeling bad. I can hear if someone is going to say yes. I pick up buying signals – verbal nods like uhms and aahs. It’s a good sign when people ask a lot of questions.” She says she’s used as a verbal punching bag every day. “At least once a day I get a stinker of a call – something really abusive.”
The most common fob-off is people pretending they can’t hear her. “They say ‘Hello? hello? Is anyone there?’ then drop the call. I make enough money to get by but I’m young and have goals. I want to become a teacher.”
A few days later Phibi from Black Rand Communication calls with “a benefit card for you, Mr Jonathan”.
Phibi is unstoppable. She rattles off all the benefits this benefit card will benefit me.
“Mr Jonathan, you’ll use it for shopping and get up to 30% in discounts. Mr Jonathan, do you own a car? Mr Jonathan, you’ll be assisted with towing and electric gadgets, and, Mr Jonathan, your children can phone for help with homework. Do you understand me, Mr Jonathan? For a once-off fee of R299 and then just R89 a month …”
“No thanks,” I say.
“Why don’t you want your kids to benefit, Mr Jonathan?” Phibi tut-tuts and ends the call.
Constance from Sovereign Life Administration calls with an exclusive offer for me, death insurance. “If you die due to natural and accidental causes you can get benefits – no waiting period, no medicals, no blood tests,” she says. Constance is a pro. It’s like I’ve won a prize – and all I have to do to get half a million smackers is die. She asks me questions but we reach an impasse when she wants my ID number. “It’s for your quote,” she implores.
I need to look someone in the eye before I give them my ID number. Besides, I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to die. Constance can tell straight away if someone isn’t interested – even before they start swearing. “It gets me down but you just have to smile and move on.” The most common excuse is people who say they can’t talk because they’re at a funeral. A perfect time to market death benefits, I suggest. “No. They’re lying.”
Nhlanhla, from Commit Technologies, tells me I’ve been selected to apply for a loan from R1 000 to R150 000. “Once approved the money will be deposited into your account within 24 hours.” When I ask her some questions she gets cross.
“Listen, I cannot waste my company’s time talking to you. You’re changing the nature of the call, Sir.” She slams the phone down.
Ten days later Noluthando, also from Commit Technologies, phones with the same shtick but doesn’t mind talking. She enjoys cold calling because she’s a people person, she tells me. She says the worst excuses are people telling her they’re pensioners but she can hear they’re not. “We’re taught not to take rejection personally. They taught us to ‘smile before you dial’, which works because people can hear your smile.”
They don’t always smile back. “No, they swear us. I try to calm them down, but that’s life isn’t it? I’m polite even when they swear. I always thank them and tell them to have a blessed day.”
It’s 10.30am and she’s already made a sale. She makes 50 calls a day and gets about one yes a day.
“That’s a lot of nos,” I say. “What keeps you motivated?” “If you ask a girl out and she says no, will you give up?” “Well, if 49 girls all say no, I would probably give up.”
“I suppose,” she laughs. “But I try to keep positive. Anyway, I have to go,” she says.
“Thank you,” I say, “And have a blessed day.”
“Goodbye,” says Noluthando and smiles – I can hear it in her voice.

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All hell breaks loose as @ChesterMissing and @Steve_Hofmeyr square up to rap-off

Dear Diary
RE: Light-bulb moment
We’re at a news conference when the Ed says that all the other newspapers will cover the Chester Missing versus Steve “The Hoff” Hofmeyr interdict case and, he asks, how can we make our coverage different? “Think, think, think,” I think. Nothing. “Well,” says the Ed pointing at me. I go into thought overdrive.  Synapses fizz and bubble until my brain burps up an idea “Uh, um, let’s get the two of them to do a rap off?” I suggest.  “Hmmm,” hmms the Ed.

Dear Diary
RE: Rap-off
The Hoff and Missing face-off and square up and suddenly hell breaks loose on the newsroom floor.

Chester:  You think you’re a popular singer, but the whole country has shown you the finger. You took me to the hof, but YOU were the one told to bugger off.

The Hoff: Your commie friends lied. Every tannie and poppie is on my side. You tell the world that I’m Goliath and you’re little Dave, that I’m a fascist and you’re a poor slave. You claim you’re The Little Puppet That Could, but to me, little buddy, you’re nothing more than braai wood.

Chester: Steve, yo, you’re a schmo. You’re  uglier than Jabba the Hutt, you took me to court but saw your own gat!

The Hoff: Chester, sorry to offend, but you’ve got no class, there’s a white guy’s hand right up your ….

Chester: Sorry for you, you’re the Boer Juju. Sorry to offend but you’ve gone off the deep end.

The Hoff: Poor Mr Missing, can’t you take some dissing? You’re choking on bile, you’re coughing up phlegm, but you can’t stop me from singing Die Stem.

Chester: When it comes to your racist kak, you can call me Chuckie. Turn the key in the ignition and fork off in your bakkie. But wait, Williams Hunt took back your wheels – so take that to the public court of appeals.

Diary, if this hack thing doesn’t pay off I may go into business organising rap slams between famous foes: Juju vs The Prez; Barry Roux vs Gerry Nel; and Tim Noakes vs Bread Pitt.

Dear Diary
RE: A brave new word
Each year a word gets added to the Oxford Dictionary. This year’s word was “vape”, which is smoking an electronic cigarette. I wonder what Safricanisms we should add to our own dictionary.
: The art of sticking to your story despite it having more holes than Swiss cheese or Oscar’s bathroom door.
: Is when you bump into someone and you can’t quite place them. “Are you the receptionist at the dentist or the person who does the weather on TV? I know your face but Baleka.” Literal meaning: I don’t recognise you.  
 Usually said when honourable red-garbed members of parliament get rowdy in the House. See “EFFing”, which is expressed immediately before the word “hell”.
Noakesing: Saying no to carbs; uttered with a hefty dose of self-righteous piety.
Used in conversation:
“Would you like a croissant?”
“Croissant? Seriously? No way, man, I’m Noakesing.” (Synonym: What would Tim say?)
Eskomed: Lose power unexpectedly. Used in a sentence: “I was the body corporate president but fell asleep during a discussion about whether Mrs Whitfield should leave her rubbish in a green or black bag and when I awoke I discovered there was a motion of no confidence and I’d been Eskomed.”
MyLady:  When a person kills someone but is convinced that he is actually the victim. It’s a serious illness known as the “MyLady malady” and many South Africans appear to be infected.

Guess who is Missing from this photograph?

Guess who is Missing from this photograph?

Dear Diary
RE: Present tense
The Ed asked me to find out what the big wigs, fat cats and main cheeses want for Christmas. The EFF wants the Talking Heads’ song “Burning down the House”.
“What do your members want for Christmas,” I asked Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder. “Well,” he said, “we really just want a white Christmas.”
And what does the Prez want? His spokesman Mac Maharaj said: “Naturally, the Prez doesn’t want anything for himself. But he has asked for an additional safety feature to beef up his security – an en suite fire-Jacuzzi.”
What do South Africans want for Christmas? We want Zuma to pull off his mask and reveal Leon Schuster, shouting: “Gotcha! Gotcha!”

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Extraordinary Lives: Poetry in Commotion

Freshly Ground’s fabulous Zolani Mahola nominates poet, journalist, academic, author and Truth Seeker Antjie Krog in the fourth episode of Extraordinary Lives. Zolani discusses the impact Antjie has had on her own life and Professor Kopano Ratele, who wrote There was this Goat with Antjie,  discuss Antjie’s life and legacy. The series is being hosted on the M&G website and you can listen to the 15-minute podcast here. Extraordinary Lives is sponsored by Sillito Environmental Consulting and you can visit their spanking new website here.


About Antjie Krog
Antjie was born in 1952 in Kroonstad in the Free State. She published her first volume of poetry, Dogter van Jefta (Daughter of Jephta), at the age of 17. One of the poems reads: “Give me a land where black and white hand in hand/ Can bring peace and love to my beautiful land”; a line that gave hope to political prisoners on Robben Island. In 1993 she edited a progressive Afrikaans publication before working as a radio journalist, covering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings.
She has written a number of books, including the award-winning Country of My Skull – a moving personal account of her experience of the TRC. Much of her poetry deals with love, apartheid, the role of women, and the politics of gender. Her work has been translated into English, Dutch and several other languages.

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