Peter Bills: Shhh... It's men at work

Sharks supporters celebrate during the Super 14 match between the Cats and Sharks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Photo / Getty Images
Sharks supporters celebrate during the Super 14 match between the Cats and Sharks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Photo / Getty Images

A typical summer's evening at Camps Bay, international playground just outside the South African city of Cape Town.

As the heavy Atlantic rollers crash onto the beach, whipped up by strong winds rushing off the mountain range which provides a dramatic backdrop to this stretch of the South African coastline, the natives indulge in their myriad activities.

Africans on the road offer, cajole and direct you to a convenient parking slot on the front. Inside one of the many restaurants to be found along this internationally famous boulevard, a curious scenario is being enacted. It is played out every night, its traditions go far back into the mists of time; who knows how many decades or even hundreds of years?

For these, to be sure, are an interesting species to observe, these South Africans.

Human body positioning is key to this strange ritual so familiar among the locals. It is essential that the female of the species sits with her back to the wall at the restaurant table.

Not, you understand, any old wall; oh, no. What is of vital importance is that she takes her seat facing away from the only wall in the restaurant, onto which is attached a television screen.

This allows the male of the species to settle comfortably into his favourite position. And, strange as it may seem, he can be faced by a bevy of beauties, a whole line of gorgeous looking females all dressed up in their finery and smiling broadly, just across the table from him. Yet he ignores every one of them. Most often, for the whole evening ...

What, you may well ask, is the reason for this curious behaviour on the part of the male species? Is there another male in any species of the animal world that completely overlooks a female in such a way? Probably not, is the answer.

The reason is that this particular male is overlooking the female to focus his attention rigidly on a rival attraction; a square, plastic screen on the wall. Well, to be more accurate, it is not so much the actual screen that is the devotion of his attentions but what that screen is actually showing. In this case, a Super 15 rugby match.

Through a lengthy stay in such a restaurant last week, I studied the South African species, male and female, with increasing fascination. The male was engrossed, not by the looks of his female companion or companions, nor the food nor the conversation. Rather, by a live rugby match coming from somewhere within the Republic.

And they inculcate such behaviour among the young, in this particular branch of the animal kingdom. For on one end of the table, there sat an elderly male, ample stomach comfortably settled over a trouser belt that had long since disappeared from sight. Beside his hand on the table stood sentinel a glass of beer. Beside him sat a young male, perhaps no more than 11 years old. Their gaze, almost loving in its intensity, settled alas not on one of the adoring ladies at the table but this rugby match which seemed to have transported them to another planet. Nothing else seemed to matter; not the company, not even the food which arrived, was briefly perused and then picked at with an almost irritated, disinterested abstraction.

Nothing, it quickly became clear, was allowed to come between the male and his rugby.

Meanwhile, one of the ladies had produced, as the female of the species tends to do, a baby. This, in the female world, is the equivalent in terms of fascinated attraction as the rugby match for the South African male. Women young and old beamed brightly at this tiny creature. It was held, cuddled, kissed, indulged and subjected to equally intense scrutiny as the males with their rugby.

And ne'er the twain ever met. The men spent the evening with eyes clamped solely on the television; the ladies devoted almost their whole attention to the baby.

But who, you may ask, would bring these very different activities to a halt? Which of the species would decide it was time to return to the cave after this strange, nocturnal activity?

Well that, dear reader, is the obvious bit. Once the final whistle sounded in the rugby match, the men stood up, stretched, picked up their personal belongings and headed for the door. The women picked up the baby, another pushed the pram and they dutifully followed.

Another simple, pleasant evening in the life of the sports-mad South African male? Or an evening out with Fred Flinstone and his family?

Your choice, dear reader; your choice ...

- NZ Herald

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