The Parktown Prawn Chronicles

Deep in the heart of Johannesburg, where the Jacarandas rain purple and old Oaks groan under the weight of eons; where taxi-drivers blast hooters and potholes perforate the streets; where the sun shines and the people smile, there lives a creature…

…a creature immune to the sweetest of scents, the most violent of sounds and the deepest of tyre-killing craters.

A creature of mythic proportion.

The stuff of legends.

If you’re South African, you’ll have a prawn story. Guaranteed. Whether you kicked one down the passage one night and it came back to eat you (true story) or one launched out of nowhere in the car on the way to school and your two giant teenage brothers were practically on your lap quivering like little babies (all true). The thing with prawns is…

They. Don’t. F***ing. Die.

And if you don’t believe us, we have the stories to PROVE IT!

South African insectStory #1

Prawn Sighting: Germiston, Joburg

Victim: Anja

Status: Alive but emotionally scarred

I was swimming in our pool one day, enjoying the sun and minding my own business. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something lurking at the bottom of the water. Not wanting the Creepy Crawley to suck it up and choke, I decided to take a closer look—casually diving into the depths of the cool, clear water, I returned to the surface far less casually. A Parktown Prawn. Disgusting. In the deep end. How was I going to get it out of the pool and away from the Creepy? I found a bucket. There is no way I was going to touch the prawn. No way. I took a deep breath and went back under, attempting to use the bucket to scoop up the critter. It took me a couple of tries—I had to keep coming up for air and all the while make sure IT hadn’t moved because you can’t trust those things…I was worried it was alive at the bottom of the pool. Eventually I got the prawn, quickly dumping it out at the side of the pool. My dogs came to have a look but I chased them away (dirty prawn) and carried on swimming. I swam a while longer, forgetting the carcass…until I was done; as I got out of the pool I looked around for the specimen. It was gone.

Storyteller: Anja Maschwitz
Author: Andrea Zanin

 

South African insectStory #2

Prawn Sighting: Kensington, Joburg

Victims: Andrea’s family

Status: Alive, barely

Always check your shoes for Parktown Prawns. Always. My dad sat for an entire church service wondering why, that particular morning, his foot felt so uncomfortable in his shoe. Lo and behold, when he finally removed his takkie three hours later, he fished out a struggling prawn. Dead you might think? Ooooooh no! Foot sweat, lack of oxygen and being crushed by the weight of something a million times your size—this is nothing to a prawn. My dad picked up the disgusting creature, spiky legs and all, and chased my mom down the stairs of our house dangling it in her direction—her screams were bloodcurdling. A worthy reaction. Taking cue from my dad, I kept a dead prawn in a jar in my bedroom cupboard which proved a most useful device for keeping my younger brothers away from my stuff. I also used it as a tool of blackmail i.e. play Barbies with me or I’ll put the prawn on you. It always worked.

Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin

 

Walked into my Grandmother’s flat in the retirement village in the middle of a JHB summer—hot as ever, all the windows closed. The only answer was, “The prawns, the prawns will get in”. – Karen Ingrid Feenstra

And then another time I was outside and saw one on the wall. I called my mother and she got the doom out and as I stood there with a lighter to show her where it was, she sprayed the doom and nearly set the house on fire! – Gail Simpkins

Parktown prawns—the real reason so many people are leaving. –  Peter Fox

 

South African insectStory #3

Prawn Sighting: Zimbabwe, Hwange

Victims: Flying Ants 

Status: D.E.A.D

The thunder reverberated across the sky and the rain fell in torrents; a blast of water from the heavens in response to the heat of the summer sun. We revelled in the power of the storm from the safety of the entertainment area in our holiday accommodation. The storm ended and as if on cue a gust of flying ants emerged in celebration of the rains. But not just ants. A parktown prawn, too. Also on cue. Food. Lots. It knew. Someone gave the prawn a flying ant. Maybe if it got the eating thing over and done with, it would go away. No. It ended up eating 37 flying ants—37!
 
Prawns are so gross; they give me the heebie jeebies. Always have, always will.
 
Author & Storyteller: Lauren Davies

Editor: Andrea Zanin

 

South African insectStory #4

Prawn Sighting: The garden, Joburg

Victim: Little girl

Status: Scarred for life

One day my little daughter was playing with her playmobil characters in the garden—pretending they were fairies and mini-folk in the wood; feasting and dancing and magic all round. Until...IT appeared amongst the roots of a rose plant, blasting an irreparable hole into the fabric of childhood with an irreverent hiss (as prawns do). My little girl ran inside shaking and shivering (literally) from head to toe. It was the first time she’d seen one in her life; Durban (where we had come from) doesn’t have parktown prawns. To this day my daughter has a phobia around all things locust-looking, to the point that she almost flew out of a safari van in Kenya when some locusts jumped off the road into the open-topped vehicle. When the guide said, “There’s lions there, be careful”; she replied, “I’d rather take my chances with them.”
 
Author & Storyteller: Tracy Ann Lynn
Editor: Andrea Zanin

 

 

South African insectStory #5

Prawn Sighting: Orchards, Joburg

Victims: 9-year-old English girl and her family

Status: Back in England 

It was my English family’s first night in South Africa. My dad had rented a furnished house in Orchards and my mom was pregnant so I was helping to unpack, make beds, get everything organised for my brothers. I opened a cupboard to find blankets, shook out a blanket only to find an angry red cricket-thing with flailing spiked legs flying through the air. A parktown prawn. We had no idea what type of fresh hell we had arrived to because there is nothing quite so terrifying in England. My 9-year-old self was petrified although my dad was a superhero; even after having the shock of his life, he managed to secure the scene and imprison the offender so he could ask his work colleagues what type of creepy crawly it was.

Author & Storyteller: Jett Campbell
Editor: Andrea

 

I have actually seen someone jump from one end of the sitting room to the other—on seeing a parktown prawn…never thought they had it in them. – Karen Ingrid Feenstra

My mom woke up with one crawling on her face. Sherrian Peirson Kars

I was having a nap on my bed with one open eye when a parktown prawn ambled across the outside window ledge, crept through the slightly open window and fell into my unzipped handbag. So grim. I got back-up family then poured him our. Many shrieks all round! – Elaine MacDonald

 

South African insectStory #6

Prawn Sighting: Edenglen, Joburg

Victims: Marcus, Anja & Marcus’s dad

Moral: Never lean over a prawn, ever

We saw the Parktown Prawn on the floor—lying dead. Like they do. Nope, we were not going to move it, not even with a broom. Marcus’s dad comes in, with his kort broek and lekker machismo, and goes, “Ag man, just pick it up and throw it outside.” No. So he leans down to do what we won’t…the prawn moves. Marcus’s dad says, “Ag I’m just gonna kick it.” And so he hoofs the dead-not-dead prawn out the door. 

Storyteller: Anja Maschwitz
Author: Andrea Zanin

 

South African insectStory #7

Prawn Sighting: The garden

Victim: A container

Status: Soiled by prawn but alive to tell the tale

My dad got really drunk one night and decided to collect all the parktown prawns he could find and throw them into the garden of neighbours (down the road) that he couldn’t stand. He managed to collect a stack of prawns but…although he thought he was being quiet and coordinated (as one does when one is blind dronk), he fell over several times and knocked the container open in the road. My mom was not impressed. 
 
Author & Storyteller: Gail Simpkins
Editor: Andrea Zanin

 

We had a pomegranate tree in the garden in SA, Kempton park. Bloody things used to live under it. Then the cats would play with them and bring them in the house! – Louise Bratherton

They are not a Durban thing at all…. was absolutely horrified when I live in Joburg for a few months and was introduced to one when it bloody well hissed at me! -Bronwyn Eakins

Lived in Joburg a short while. Felt something in the middle of the night, lifted the duvet cover and it was ON MY FOOT! Suffice to say my screams woke the entire neighbourhood. Moved shortly after. Disgusting, vile little creatures. – Rebekah Du Plessis

 

South African insectStory #8

Prawn Sighting: Child’s arm

Victim: Adi, when she was little

Status: Haunted

I was happily minding my own business one day when out of nowhere a parktown prawn landed on my arm, I screamed blue murder! My father came running down the passage in his underwear, thinking that someone was trying to break into my room. When he saw what was on my arm, he burst out laughing, picked it up and dangled it over his mouth to pretend he was going to eat it! Nightmare.
 

Author & Storyteller: Adi Taylor-Fielder
Editor: Andrea Zanin

 

South African insectStory #9

Prawn Sighting: Joburg

Victim: The prawn (who knew!)

Status: Just desserts

My Grandpa, who lived in Port Elizabeth his whole life, visited us in Joburg for a holiday. It was a particularly bad year for parktown prawns—they were rife. Grandpa was so intrigued by the prawn that he caught a few and stuck them in a Tupperware in the freezer, took them back to PE in a cooler bag and then cast them in silver and put them on a little wooden pedestal. Try explain to your friends why you have a silver parktown prawn on your shelf…
 
Author & Storyteller: Sam Trotman
Editor: Andrea Zanin
 
 
 

South African insectStory #10

Prawn Sighting: Joburg

Victim: The children and Karen (but more the children)

Moral: Don’t tease your kids.

The parktown prawns used to drown in my pool and I’d fish them out all the time. Once, I put one on my 12-year-old son’s bare chest while he was reading a book. That that was the first and only day one of my children told me they hate me. It wasn’t just my son who was the victim of my motherly pranks; I put a drowned prawn on my daughter’s knee while she was bathing one day and she burst into tears. It took at least 20 minutes for me to cajole some forgiveness out of her. That said, she’s all for instigating when it’s my son we’re pranking. And then…there was the time that I was lying in my bed, reading a good book and felt a tickling at the back of my neck. I had recently had my hair shaved short and when I reached back to scratch I felt a hard shell that moved. I flew out of the bed with my skin crawling—eeuuww! There was nothing on the pillow. I refused to get back under the covers and was on my hands and knees on the floor to see where the thing had gone, and then I saw it under bedside table on the far side. A huge parktown prawn. I grabbed it with a cloth and chucked it out the door (a live prawn was different to the drowned ones I put on my children). I slept really badly that night. Why?  It was on my freaking pillow.
 
Author & Storyteller: Karen Glautier
Editor: Andrea Zanin
Madame & Eve Comic - Parktown Prawn
 

South African insectStory #11

Prawn Sighting: Randpark Ridge, Joburg

Victim: Mom

Moral: Sleep with one eye open

Mom was cleaning the windows one day and dropped her cloth on the ground. She didn’t notice that it had fallen on a parktown prawn. She stooped to pick up the rag, closing her fingers around it and the prawn,  and the sucker cut all her fingers open. It wasn’t too long after this that my little 5-year-old sister disappeared into the garden after a rain storm. We found her pouring dishwashing liquid down the prawn holes in the grass and when they came out, she was using her wellies to pummel them into the ground to kill them. I can’t tell you how many times I have found them in my shoes, bed, school bags, you name it—probably because they were too scared to go into their holes. 

Author & Storyteller: Vicky Mitchell
Editor: Andrea Zanin

 

South African insectStory #12

Prawn Sighting: Northern suburbs, Joburg

Victim: Princess and princess-in-training

Status: Dethroned

My husband was on a business trip (obviously) and my daughter discovered a PTP (family nickname for the monsters) in her bedroom. So it was Wonder Woman mom to the rescue. There’s my daughter on the bed and me stalking the indestructible spawn from hell with a wastepaper basket.
I decided that mom had to ‘do a dad’ and save the day—I approached the genetically modified cockroach to trap it under the bin; got my trajectory right – muscles rippling, hazmat suit on – and tipped the bin onto Sigourney Weaver’s worst nightmare. The MFcker jumped (obviously)! It headed straight for me; I’m pretty sure to disembowel me. So I did what any self-respecting Joburg Northern Suburbs princess would do and screamed blue murder. Which (obviously) got princess-in-training on the bed screaming too. Next thing…

…our Staffie runs into the room barking like a rabid hound and bites me on the tush! Thought she needed to protect Princess Junior—from me? Ha. 

Author & Storyteller: Sandi Stermer
Editor: Andrea Zanin

 

South African insectStory #13

Prawn Sighting: Toilet, Joburg

Victim: Roxanne and her butt

Moral: They really do not die

I was 14, the parktown prawn was probably 400 (they don’t die). I had run myself a bath, trying to escape my brothers and the chaos of the skater boys at the house. I went to the loo before immersing myself in the peace of a closed door and kept feeling a weird tickling sensation on my butt cheek. I didn’t think much of it and carried on with my business. When I stood up I saw him, with his black beady eyes and soulless body staring back at me. The tickling I had felt was his grimy claws poking at my behind. This was the same parktown prawn we had murdered the day before, wrapped in toilet paper and flushed down the toilet.

He wanted revenge and he was going to get it.

I screamed and in one swift movement flushed. Down he swirled and I thought the ordeal was over.

I went on to have a long bath, long enough to wash the trauma off myself. Climbing out the warm water, I quickly wrapped my towel around myself and hurried across the hall to my room. As always I lay on my bed in my towel after my bath—but my eyes caught something…there he was, terminator style. He was back. And he was clinging to my towel, right at the top where I had tucked it in. I held my breath; I just knew this was how I was going to die. Gathering every ounce of strength I whacked him away, flinging him to the ground. The stare-off had begun.

“Oh, dear Satan spawn spitting black ink at me while I cower, now naked, on my bed; I am too young to die. Please leave me be.”

He scurried under my dresser, Quickly, I dressed myself standing straight up on my bed (eyes glued to the floor) and leapt out of my room screaming as I ran—a warning that I was not to be messed with. I never saw him again, but sometimes when I’m on the loo, I can still feel him poking at me, waiting for the right time to have his revenge.

Author & Storyteller: Roxanne de Koker
Editor: Andrea Zanin

Madame-and-Eve Parktown Prawn

We used to get them in Pretoria. They petrify me; jumping around and clicking. – Jenni Gavin

Always check your shoes if you lived in JHB. – Candice Lee Goloi

I remember my mom being in the shower and she started screaming. A parktown prawn had jumped onto her shoulder…I shudder thinking of them.– Claire Muldoon

Oh my word…how could one ever forget those horrid things that never f#*#*ng die. – Cheryl Plant

My husband and his two younger brothers used to catch parktown prawns and put them in an ice cream tub in the freezer because inevitably one of the other brothers would open the freezer and go, “Ah, ice cream”…and then put the tub back in the freezer for the next brother’s ultimate disappointment. – Adél Wright

Prawns are why I emigrated. I want to die just thinking about them. They were everywhere in a house that we lived in when I was younger. I didn’t want to go to sleep for fear of being attacked by them at night. I still have nightmares. Yes, I blame the crime for leaving SA…but I wonder if these mini-beasts don’t trump even that? – Zelda Meyburgh

 

South African insectStory #14

Prawn Sighting: Joburg

Victim: Brittany and her butt

Moral: NEVER EVER make a Christmas bed in Joburg

We had a gathering at home one day; it was myself, my sister and our cousins. I was the youngest so unfortunately I had to make a Christmas bed on the floor and the three others got the double bed. Eventually we fell asleep. Later, I woke up screaming in terror because something had crawled up my sleeping shorts and was bouncing around in there. I jumped up and stripped down…kicking, screaming, jumping on the bed, bear-butt in my cousin’s face, whilst yelling, “There’s something in my pants”. We all leant over the edge of the bed and from my rumpled-up shorts on the floor, out jumped this massive green-brown ugly looking parktown prawn. My legs just turned to jelly. It was in my pants. I have never lived that story down at home.

Author & Storyteller: Brittany Barnard
Editor: Andrea Zanin

 

South African insectStory #15

Prawn Sighting: Kempton Park, Joburg

Victim: The prawns (on this rare, rare occasion)

Moral: Every Joburger needs a Boerboel

The only thing I know that could kill a parktown prawn (as in, actually kill it) was our gigantic Boerboel, Brutus. One screech from us (there was a particular ‘prawn-pitch’ that our shrieks hit) and he would come running to the rescue…but before death-to-prawn, was a game of ‘cat and mouse’. Brutus would toss the prawn in the air with such glee, chase it around and roll over it revenge of the Boerboel style. If the prawn hadn’t already had an ink-splattered coronary at this point, Brutus would quite happily mete out an execution.

Author & Storyteller: Bronwyn Koch
Editor: Andrea Zanin

 

When Linds and were dating, she called me at 3am in the morning (from her home) saying ‘Help me, help me; its gonna eat me!’ . I didn’t know what she was on about but got dressed and got to her little flat in 15 minutes, to find a parktown prawn in the bathroom and Linds standing on the bed. She refused to move until I had extricated the prawn. – Peter Fox