One of the things that I’ve discovered about living in Johannesburg is that it’s not always that easy to unearth what’s going on.
Take the charity world, for example. Despite the huge need in this country, there don’t seem to be any volunteer bureaus, of either the online or walk-in variety, that can match up people willing to give of their time and energy with NGOs happy to receive it.
It could simply be that there’s not as much need for such things because, unlike the largely secular UK, lots of local people still go to church and presumably get involved in any potential good works that way.
But it’s a great shame for the rest of us. You can always do a Google search, but that just throws up lists of charities with very little information attached, including whether or not they actually want to be pestered by possible volunteers.
Or you can join one of the local www.Meetup.com groups, but they tend to offer one-off options rather than anything that requires a regular commitment.
So unless you have a specific burning ambition in a particular direction, it’s all a bit tricky really. And even if you do, it doesn’t always work out.
For instance, I emailed a women’s shelter in Sandton directly, a couple of times actually, when I first arrived here in order to offer my services. But they didn’t even do me the courtesy of responding.
And I’m not the only one to hit a brick wall. The issue of where to go is raised continually on online ex-pat forums, which are stocked full of people like me, all professing willingness to do a bit voluntary work, not only for genuinely altruistic reasons, but also as a way of meeting new people.
So if I did have that elusive work visa, I’d definitely think about setting up some kind of local, or ideally national, match-making service as there does appear to be an unfulfilled need.
Another even more surprising area in which information doesn’t seem to be as forthcoming as it might be is in the entertainment field.
While Time Out was my going-out oracle when living in London and http://www.capetownmagazine.com my bible in Stellenbosch, I haven’t managed to hit upon anything as broad-based and entertaining in Jozi, sadly – despite signing up to a goodly number of email newsletters and Twitter feeds.
Possibly the best find so far though would be the Johannesburg version of www.whatson.co.za. Although it covers a pretty wide range of activities and its articles are generally well-written, the main downside is its lack of comprehensiveness.
Www.Joburg.co.za’s subscription-based newsletter is another fairly good option, but unfortunately it doesn’t cover higher culture such as theatre, opera, or even cinema for that matter. It also tends to be a tad family-oriented, which is fine if that’s your bent, but not so good if it’s not.
Another email newsletter that I actually really like as I think it publishes some great articles is http://www.JHBLive.com. But it’s very much oriented to the youth market in general, and house music fans in particular, neither of which are my thing. So I couldn’t, in all honesty, describe it as my leisure bible either.
Nonetheless, if you consult all three together, you can generally come up with something to do. And last weekend, we excelled ourselves and found two.
The first one, dubbed ‘Joe Parker’s Comedy Bar’, took place on the Friday night at the Globe Theatre in Gold Reef City’s Casino complex, near Soweto.
Although now reduced to a rather plastic-y-looking replica, the original downtown version of the theatre was well known in the early 1900s as a venue for Mahatma Gandhi and his speeches against racial prejudice during the 21 years he lived in South Africa.
And our night at the Globe was certainly one to remember. I hadn’t realised that there were any extant survivors of the 1970s UK working men’s club scene until I saw MC, Tony de King, do his thing.
Although he’d never get away with it these days in the UK, this son of Rochdale regurgitated every clichéd racist, sexist and homophobic gag that you’re ever likely to have heard over the last 50 years, while grabbing his crotch continually in a manner most unbecoming to a man his age.
But, bizarrely, the mixed ethnicity audience seemed to love it and proceeded to laugh like drains all the way through as my Beloved and I just looked at each other in bewilderment.
As for the rest of the line-up, you could say that the quality was somewhat varied. By far the best though was a guy called Chris Forrest, who has apparently been on the South African comedy circuit since the late 1990s.
And it showed. Unlike the other three acts, he was witty and confident enough to ad lib and interact with the audience – and, much to our gratification, wasn’t so localised in his humour that, as a foreigner, you couldn’t get the references.
Our second adventure of the weekend, meanwhile, took us to the Fringe at Braamfontein’s Joburg Theatre complex, formerly known as The Civic and somewhat reminiscent of South Bank’s theatre area in London.
Here we went to see a show entitled Dreams, performed by illusionist and magician, Ilan Smith, a man with possibly one of the nicest, smiliest faces that you’re ever likely to see.
Although I could have done without the cheesy dialogue about sandmen, red umbrellas and magic dust, which, to be fair, was probably aimed more at the kids in the audience than the likes of us, he actually had some great tricks up his sleeve.
The most ingenious involved asking different individuals for input in order to graffiti details of a concert reminder for local music success story, the Parlotones, onto a moveable wall in a variety of colours.
And, dah-dah, when Smith opened a pre-sealed envelope at the end of it all, what should it contain but a large poster with the exactly same info written in exactly the same colours as the original. All very clever.
I still don’t know how he did it, but fair play to the man. He enjoyed it, we enjoyed it, and a harmless night’s fun was had by all.