It is, in the words of Alan Paton, “Beautiful beyond the singing of it” yet historically mismanaged. How's that for understatement?
IN A NUTSHELL … In his own words …
The bare bones my story are that I was born in South Africa and have the scars to prove it. It is, in the words of Alan Paton, “Beautiful beyond the singing of it” yet historically mismanaged. How’s that for understatement?
I was schooled at an institution where they insisted that students wear long trousers, ties and jackets whilst cycling to school in temperatures of 27 degrees Celsius. They believed that flogging the boys was in their best interest and was character building but some exceptionally creative teachers with a brain and a conscience showed me how one can still operate effectively within a system that tries to create automatons. On reflection I was too stupid to fully appreciate what they had to offer. And, at the time, surfing was more important. Durban’s backline is incredible.
After being drafted into the military through the system of compulsory conscription I learnt the extent to which governments can be “liberal with the truth.” I feel a rant coming on. Let me stop. Whilst “serving” in the now non-existent country of Venda I experienced the joy of having a newly qualified doctor (qualified 3 weeks earlier and sent up north to “practise” on the “natives”) perform 9 failed attempts at a lumber puncture. He eventually stopped when I got my hands on the needle.
Rolling into a town in a car with a boot holding a box of tennis balls and 2 racquets, my pocket containing 12 rand (3 dollars) and 4 telephone numbers I started my own tennis school from scratch. Within a week I had 80 pupils and a waiting list. This venture eventually bought me a few years of university education.
Slightly less stupid than I was at school, I fell under the spell of some incredible lecturers and was slowly weaned off a career in law to concentrate on studying literature. In a moment of weakness, I let my ego intervene when I was asked to stand for election for my university’s Students Representative Council. Whilst serving as vice president of the SRC I learnt that whilst the cause may be noble, the same did not necessarily hold for its proponents.
During this year I studied full time, worked as vice president (often 5 hours a day), ran marathons, partied at every possible opportunity and wrote for 2 campus newspapers whilst freelancing for others, in between teaching English and tennis to pay the rent.
After graduating I sold everything I had and bought an aeroplane ticket, leaving me enough money to last 2 weeks in Europe. I landed with no job and nowhere to stay. The closest I came to experiencing a metaphysical death was whilst working as an archivist in a dusty cell of a room with no windows or human contact. I have also worked for multi nationals where I put on a suit, got an office and a desk and learnt lessons in corporate life from a fiery Irish intellect.
I lived for 6 months on a remote island off the west coast of Scotland where foul weather, or “a lovely day for going to the beach” as they call it in the Hebrides, often left me cut off from the mainland. I returned to SA more than 2 years later, having traveled extensively.
Back at university I somehow managed to acquire a masters degree in literature. My thesis had the pretentious title of, “Toward a new consciousness, modes of perception and critical discourse in the critical writings of Njabulo Ndebele.” Whilst the subject was fascinating, and I hope I did it justice, on reflection I should have been flogged for the title.
I have formed unusual and interesting friendships including one with a nurse who took me on surprise “friendship dates” to places such as lesbian biker’s bars in the roughest part of town. That was more character building than being flogged at school. I have always tried to surround myself with people funnier and more intelligent than I. “That is not difficult to do” you may say.
I lived for 2 years in Portugal where I mainly taught Business English to companies. This was followed by a year in Kautokeino, Norway, where temperatures plummet to minus 40 degrees Celsius.
"I am fluent in 2 languages whilst frequently butchering Spanish, Portuguese, Zulu and Norwegian … the languages, not the people."
On returning to SA, I started my own business, a sports shop, from scratch. This involved listening to Nike representatives explaining their “philosophy” … without a single reference to Plato, Wittgenstein or Descartes. This venture, whilst successful, included having a running street battle through a horrible little town called Estcourt, dodging bullets, being courted by a Muslim vigilante group and being the target of a contract by hired assassins. Oh, and along the way, I sold some running shoes and footballs.
Various teaching jobs have provided me with precious material and practice for stand up comedy. I was Head of Department at international schools in Africa and South America. At the former I learned that reality is far more interesting, bizarre and painful than fiction. At the latter I developed an enduring love affair with Uruguay despite my decision to head north after 3 years. My parting words were, “ It is not you …. It is me.”
I have lived in 8 different countries and traveled to over 40. Travel doesn’t “broaden the mind.” Using your brain, being open to new experiences and being free of prejudice does. I am fluent in 2 languages whilst frequently butchering Spanish, Portuguese, Zulu and Norwegian … the languages, not the people.
At various stages I have thrown myself into sports. My only true gift is for ultra marathon running. Following a serious injury, I once ran a 90 km race without having trained for 2 months simply because the doctor told me that I couldn’t. I played tennis at a fairly high level, sometimes struggling against lesser opponents through boredom whilst occasionally beating stronger opponents by outwitting them. I have also competed in soccer, rugby, swimming and cricket. Yeah, big deal.
I am currently living in l Norway where I enjoy the peace, solitude and views of the fjord. I do however sometimes wonder whether this is what a full frontal lobotomy feels like. Sanity … or is it the opposite … is restored by hitting the road to perform stand up comedy.
So, what have I learnt from all this?
The most generous are usually those who have little to give.
In the words of my friend, the writer, Walton Golightly, “Everyone has a story to tell.”
I don’t take myself too seriously.
There are far more important things to do … like write the next joke.