The wisdom of Depeche Mode

My hubby is a clever clogs who knows stuff about numbers and spreadsheets, but his actual area of expertise (apart from knowing every Seinfeld line ever spoken) is song lyrics. I don’t know if he listens extra carefully to songs or is just good at surmising what the singer is likely saying. Either way, it’s a special talent.

This morning, in a spot of procrastination, and to save some money on hiring a painter, I decided to repaint our outdoor furniture myself. Cue overalls and loud music. I was in the mood for Eighties so for the first time in decades listened to the cult classic 101. 


It was a proper, paint-splashed step back in time.

And step aside Bono, Martin Gore is a genius lyricist. His words are timeless and resonate as much today (perhaps more?) as when they were written. Hubby wasn’t around to recite the full lyrics to me, but google was:

Everything counts in large amounts
The grabbing hands
Grab all they can
All for themselves after all
It’s a competitive world
Everything counts in large amounts
(*I’m not sure what was meant in the line about Korea, but a good lyricist needs to be a bit cryptic).

Take my hand
Come back to the land 
Where everything’s ours
For a few hours…
Has nothing on this
You’re breathing in fumes
I taste when we kiss….
Let me see you make decisions
Without your television

People are people
People are people so why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully…
Now you’re punching and you’re kicking
And you’re shouting at me
I’m relying on your common decency
So far it hasn’t surfaced
But I’m sure it exists
It just takes a while to travel
From your head to your fist
I can’t understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand

Profound, right? Written for our times?

Profoundity aside, few things cheer me up as much as botched song lyrics. I can dine out on it for years.

Two of my faves (from friends of friends):

Shivers in my foolish pride 
(Je ne sais pas pourquoi)

I like the mogen pogen
(I like to move it move it)

I couldn’t think of any more real life examples so I googled ‘misquoted song lyrics’ and actually ROTFWL. These are too good:

There’s a bathroom on the right
(There’s a bad moon on the rise)

Don’t go, Jason Waterfalls
(Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls)

Hold me closer, Tony Danza
(Hold me closer, tiny dancer)

And I’m sorry—my best:

I blow bubbles when you are not here
(My world crumbles when you are not near)

If these don’t cheer you up immensely you may be dead inside. It’s a cruel crazy world so sometimes you gotta grasp onto the little things. Like cuddles with your kids. A dip in the ocean. A steaming cuppa. Botched song lyrics. And this jar of gooseberry jam. Made by me, with gooseberries grown in our garden, and picked by my son.

Pure joy!

Look for the helpers

Nothing in life is without it’s opposite. Wax and wane, ebb and flow, peaks and troughs. No joy without pain, expansion without contraction, light without dark. In South Africa, even in relatively settled times, those last two poles can feel very close together.

When we first moved back six years ago I struggled with the disparities. At the time, I wrote this:

The short stretch of road on my daily school run is like a microcosm of life here, where wealth and desperate poverty coexist. Moments after you pass an exclusive gated community cosseting the privileged minority, you’re left contemplating life behind the high walls of one of the country’s most notorious prisons.

Possibly as a coping mechanism, I’ve become an ostrich, my head buried deep in the sand. And like most people in our privileged pocket of suburbia, we’ll have our noses to the grindstone, building our life, when we hear of a tragedy that makes us despair.

After the senseless killings of Meghan Cremer and Uyinene Mrwetyana, who was raped and murdered in a post office, fear and outrage have reached a crescendo.

My news feed is awash not only with despair over the escalating violence against women, but there also seems to be a spike in the stay or go debate. It feels like people are leaving the country en masse. Political instability is one thing, but crime is usually the straw that breaks the camels back for those sitting on the fence.

We haven’t for a second regretted moving back home. Our hearts are here. But something that strikes me as South Africans grapple with what to do is how we attack each other’s decisions.

Anyone who writes about their love for this country (the lifestyle, the natural beauty, the strength and resilience of its people) gets lambasted by those who don’t. South Africans abroad, or those wanting to leave, are not great ambassadors for our country. Leaving can be heart-breaking, so it helps to have reasons to justify your decision, and there are reasons aplenty.

Usually, those writing about whether to stay or go are the ones with the freedom to actually leave, which just serves to alienate those who desperately want to go, but can’t. And so rather than have each other’s backs, we resort to mudslinging and the debate becomes quite divisive.

It is a fraught issue, but it’s one that plays out in a tiny percentage of South African households—the same households that can (partly at least) immunise themselves against crime and corruption and poor service delivery. Those most affected by the country’s travails have precious few choices.

I don’t know what it’s like to have my life ripped apart by a violent crime. But like most South Africans, I know someone, a lifelong friend, who does. Not long ago, on a sublimely beautiful spring morning, we spent time together drinking tea on her patio.

We spoke about renovations and gardens, we oohed and aahed over her new yellow pot, and we laughed about some of the things our children had done. But we also spoke about how she was coping after her attack and why bad things happen to good people. We wondered why some people are born into abject poverty and some experience the worst of humanity, while others are surrounded by love and good fortune.

How do we make peace with the darkness in the world and not let it swallow us? Do we block it out? Do we wrestle it?

‘Gratitude,’ my friend said to me. 

Her life took a very dark turn, and she says the person she was before died on the day she was nearly murdered. But on this sunny morning, over a soul restoring pot of tea, this woman with an indomitable spirit reminded herself, and me, that there is always somebody worse off, so we need to be thankful for all we have.

‘It’s what all the great teachers say,’ she told me.

‘We can’t dwell on the despair. It just adds to the darkness. We need to be grateful so we can find the joy in life. It’s our joy that adds to the light.’