I am writing a treatise about my dead cereal dispenser. I know that this may sound like a boring and irrelevant topic, but according to my sources in the ANC, all journalists, columnists and bloggers will, in the near future, be forced to write about boring and irrelevant topics. It is what the proposed media tribunal will require of them.
I have managed to cut down my dissertation down to about 2 000 words. Be thankful for small mercies! Before removing the comparative references to John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, it was considerably longer!
So, here goes.
Ode to my cereal dispenser Part (i)
Where did it all go so terribly wrong?
The reason why I bought a cereal dispenser in the first place is still shrouded in mystery to this day. I think that I can pinpoint a few psychological weak-spots that led to this deed, though.
I often eat breakfast in hotels and guesthouses that sport state-of-the-art cereal dispensers. This exposure to other people’s cereal dispensers has no doubt led to a certain degree of cereal dispenser envy. At one stage, I came to the point where I simply had to have one of those bulky, shiny things for myself!
I rationalised my cereal dispenser envy by telling myself that something had to be done about cereals leaking from packets every time I poured myself a bowl of ProNutro. The fact that (i) most cereal dispensers leak more than the packets themselves and that (ii) cereal dispensers take up so much place on one’s kitchen counter that there’s no room left for coffee flasks, sugar tins, tomato sauce, et cetera, never occurred to me (or was hidden from me by false advertising). (Note to the media tribunal: as you can see in this last statement in brackets, I am increasingly sceptical of market fundamentalism!)
To cut a long story short, I had a lengthy, yet stormy relationship with my cereal dispenser. All in all, it lasted about six months. The relationship started with me unwrapping the beautiful, shiny machine from its cardboard box and it ended with me throwing the whole contraption unceremoniously into the rubbish dumpster. I did not even bother to wrap it in a black municipal plastic bag. I was revolted, exhausted, repelled, distraught and horrified by months of cereals leaking onto the floor, pieces of cereal stuck in little holes, plastic taps that refused to turn (one eventually broke off), and the general refusal of this machine to interact with me in a meaningful way.
Call me clumsy, call me unpractical, call me a stupid, white, middle-aged male with a yearning for lost authority, but when a stupid plastic contraption like a cereal dispenser, bought at a shop called Game, refuses to co-operate with me, I get hot under the collar of my XXXtra-large T-shirt.
I could not get that damn machine to execute the simplest of tasks! What was supposed to be the easiest meal of the day — breakfast — eventually became a tortuous series of complicated and futile manoeuvres. When I wanted cereals, nothing came out. When I didn’t want cereals, the stuff started pouring onto the floor every time I walked past or just breathed in its direction. I could never figure out what caused the leakage. (Note to the media tribunal: I’m sure you know the feeling.)
After a while, I developed quite a strong empathy with the BP bosses who were trying to block the oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico. Alas, those guys succeeded in the end. I never did.
I did find out the reasons for my cereal dispenser’s pathetic lack of service delivery, but only after consulting several books of ancient knowledge …
Ode to my cereal dispenser Part (ii)
A perspective from Confucius
As a second last resort (before finally chucking the thing into the dumpster), I decided to approach the I Ching for help. The I Ching, as most people know by now, is a revered method of fortune-telling which originated in prehistoric China and which was later perfected and rewritten by Confucius himself. One is supposed to engage the I Ching only on serious personal issues. To me, the malfunctioning of my cereal dispenser was a serious personal issue. If someone could help me, it was Confucius.
Predictably, my wife tried to dissuade me. “Cereal dispensers did not exist in the time of Confucius,” she said. “Confucius won’t be able to address the problem. The ancient Chinese did not have the vocabulary to describe modern appliances.”
“That’s what you think!” I retorted. “Remember that time our Kombi had a flat battery, and the I Ching said we must push our giant chariot into yonder meadow?”
“Okay, go ahead,” she sighed.
To be safe, I first consulted one of the modern translations, in which antiquated imagery had been replaced by up-to-date interpretations.
The answer I got was simple. The tossing of the coins revealed hexagrams 23 and 48. In modern language, this signified “Falling Apart” and “The Source”.
“This makes sense!” I shouted triumphantly. “My cereal dispenser is a source of cereals, and it is falling apart!”
To make doubly sure, I checked the same hexagrams in the old 1950 Richard Wilhelm translation. Now, the Wilhelm translation, with the foreword by Carl Jung, is the King James of I Ching translations. All serious space cadets have had copies of Wilhelm’s translations on their shelves since time immemorial. Having a Wilhelm on your shelf is a status symbol. It is a hefty, huge black book. Its pages are covered with wicked diagrams and sinister-sounding passages referring to old kings, flying geese, marrying virgins, battling armies and corrupt kingdoms. There was no way my cereal dispenser, which I had bought at Game, was going to escape the wrath of Confucius, as presented by Richard Wilhelm.
The Wilhelm translation described what was meant as “the source”: it was actually a “well”: “The well is the image of tranquil dispensing of bounty to all who approach it.”
It also supplied specifics as to the purpose of this particular kitchen utensil. “This hexagram refers to nourishment, like Hsu, Waiting (5) The Corners of the Mouth (27), and Ting, The Cauldron (50).”
How was the “well” supposed to work, and how long was it supposed to last? “The well from which water is drawn conveys the further idea of an inexhaustible dispensing of nourishment.” (It was meant to last practically forever; at least, that’s what it said on the box, if I remember correctly.)
As for the socio-economic implications of such a “well”? “Thus the well is the symbol of that social structure which, evolved by mankind in meeting its most primitive needs, is independent of all political forms.”
“…It is a question not of man’s doing but of time conditions, which, according to the laws of heaven, show an alteration of increase and decrease, fullness and emptiness.” (Still spot-on! Cereal dispensers are cyclic machines; the stuff inside gets used up, then you put stuff back, and it gets used up again.)
But what about this PARTICULAR ‘well’? What about my cereal dispenser, which I bought at Game? “The situation bodes disaster, yet there is nothing to do.” (It cannot be fixed.)
“The sinking tendency of the hexagram is very strong. Both nuclear trigrams as well as the lower primary trigram are K’un, whose movement is downward.” (Stuff fall out of it all the time.)
“The light principle is represented as invincible because in its sinking it creates new life, as does a grain of wheat when it sinks into the earth.” (Sometimes Confucius can be disarmingly literal; notice the direct reference to “wheat”!)
“Splitting apart means ruin.” (This is probably a reference to the time when one of the taps broke off.)
“The splitting begins below.” (Yes, the tap was at the bottom.)
“The line is weak and at the very bottom, hence the idea of mud in the well.” (After the tap broke off, bits of stale cereal collected at the bottom and rotted there because it was impossible to remove.)
“The mountain rests on the earth. When it is steep and narrow, lacking a broad base, it must topple over.” (The entire structure of the machine was lopsided, impractical and off balance; it actually did topple over at least once.)
“It is not favourable for the superior man to undertake anything.” (There is nothing any one can do about it.)
“No-one comes to an old well.” (Second-hand cereal dispensers have no retail value.)
“In the end no-one troubles about him any more.” (It is a useless artefact.)
“Time passes it by.” (Forget the whole thing.)
And forgetting the whole thing, no doubt, is what I will do. But before I close the chapter on my failed cereal dispenser completely, it will be worth our while to reflect on the deeper meaning of this whole incident.
Why did the I Ching go to such great lengths to expound the matter? Why did it not simply dismiss it as a triviality and given me hexagram 4 (which exhorts the reader not to ask foolish questions)?
Moreover, why did my ordeal with my cereal dispenser evoke so much interest from perfect strangers? For a while, it was almost a trending topic on Twitter! For at least a week, I was bombarded by questions, and smothered with sympathy from all over the globe. People wanted to know whether a “cereal killer” had been responsible for the death of my cereal dispenser (witty, witty!). Someone suggested recycling. Someone else suggested that the cereal dispenser had “gone to cereal dispenser heaven” (wherever that is). Everyone agreed that it had been a very traumatic experience, not only for me, but probably also for the cereal dispenser itself.
Indeed, the saga with my cereal dispenser goes right to the heart of yin and yang, light and darkness, male and female. I only realised this after reading Sarah Britten’s brilliant Thought Leader blog post “The Springboks, Weet-Bix, Airwolf and Nurse Busty” (see tags), which led me to the following analysis.
Ode to my cereal dispenser Part (iii)
Archetypes, Freud, totalitarianism etc
Since my early youth, cereals have, in one way or another, played a seminal role in my education (or lack of it). I taught myself to read from the information on the backs of cereal packets at the age of three. Like Sarah, I collected all the Weet-Bix cards, and traded them at school. Cereals were literally my refuge; I used to barricade myself behind cereal packets every morning while I was eating so that I did not have to see the rest of my family.
In time, the world of cereals became my entire cultural and social reference. The first time I fell in love, it was not with a real person, but with the picture of the blonde girl on the Weet-Bix packet. (In fact, had a relationship with her which lasted all the way up to my teens, when reality kicked in, and I discovered the star-covered nipples of Scope magazine.)
Here is an interesting thought: the fact that all cereal packets are square or rectangular, and the fact that my cereal dispenser was also square, means that, since my childhood, my entire cultural landscape had been shaped by objects and gadgets that vaguely resembled the Voortrekker Monument! How’s that for dragging in Freud by the hair?!
Of course, square objects are usually seen as masculine, whereas round objects are feminine (whether they are star-covered or not). Is this further evidence of the dichotomy we had all been subjected to as whites in Africa? Why were only the nipples of white women covered with stars? Was there any significance in the fact that the girl on the Weet-Bix packet had typical Aryan features?
Worse still: when, in my later years, I switched my fascination with square cereal packets for a fascination with an equally square cereal dispenser, was I trying to reach back towards the fixed ideological certainties of my youth? Was I, in fact, trying to replace my early belief in Calvinism with a belief in modern technology and neo-liberalism? Was my cereal dispenser a symbol of the last attempt at political dominance of the entire generation of sexually suppressed white males born after nineteen fifty? Did I see, in the death of my cereal dispenser, the end of the Western dream of superiority-by-means-of-commodities? Was this the end of the appliance-orientated optimism popularised by the golden age of science fiction (which, incidentally, coincided with the golden age of nationalism) and the snotty neo-imperialism of latter-day-fascists such as PJ O’Rourke?
In short: was the girl on the Weet-Bix packets a cross-dresser?
I don’t know. Nobody knows. My cereal dispenser remains dead, discarded, probably on the municipal rubbish dump by now (unless, due to the recent strikes and subsequent lack of service delivery, it’s still in the dumpster on the pavement in front of my house (I haven’t looked yet; for the last week, I’ve been so busy trying to clean up the mess on my kitchen floor that I never once went out the front door). (Note to the media tribunal: I don’t really mind if nobody collected it by now. I don’t mind living in a street dotted by un-emptied dumpsters forever and ever! I am patient! I am docile! I am a member of the collective, un-empowered, cereal dispenser-less masses! Viva!!!)
(PS: I will be taking a break from Thought Leader for extremely personal reasons until September.)