I was born in Cape Town, bang in the middle of the century. I spent 8 years of my childhood in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before returning to south Africa with my family. My older brother taught me some useful stuff, like how to swear, masturbate, spit long distances, defecate from a treetop and play soccer. On the other hand, I learned little of worth at school and found it a boring waste of time. It was at high school that I developed a strong antipathy towards authority and bourgeois values.
On leaving school I went to work as a clerk for an Insurance Company, and it was then that I contracted chronic existentialist nausea. I have suffered from the disease ever since, and am still unable to contemplate routine acts of mindless futility without experiencing the same excruciatingly debilitating symptoms that reduced me to a catatonic wreck 40 years ago.
It was at this time that I began to read. And read. First John Steinbeck, and then Hemingway. I, too, wanted to be a writer. But I wasn’t qualified to comment on life, let alone pass judgement on the human condition. I needed knowledge and experience.
At the University of Cape Town I enrolled as a BA undergraduate. At the end of two years I had failed everything and was thrown out. The academic world was not meant for me.
For nearly a decade I drifted from job to demeaning job, and undertook numerous hitchhiking trips in between. I frequented all the bars and heard thousands of ‘true’ bullshit stories. I was learning.
To confront my fear of death and dread of old age and sickness, I began to work in hospitals as an orderly. For three years – on and off – the sights, sounds and smells in the wards assailed me. They gradually coalesced to form a kind of antidote, and I became inured. I could finally accept the inevitability of ‘the way of all flesh'. And after wiping a thousand arses I had also learned a little humility.
Then, out of the blue, I was offered a year-long contract as medic/storeman at the weather station on Gough Island. I was 30 years of age.
My stay on Gough, as part of a 7-man team, taught me something about solitude and isolation. And also that I was incurably alone, regardless of wherever I found myself.
A year's salary awaited me on my return to South Africa. At a remote spot on the Cape coast I set about building a simple cottage, intending to lead a reclusive life without responsibility. Then, on a visit to Cape Town, I met a woman who seemed to possess the qualities of a suitable mate. But before she would join me she insisted on the conventional rites of marriage.
What could I do? First marriage, then procreation. And not just one child, but two. I was up to my eyebrows in personal involvement. To provide for us I was obliged to take on building work (I had picked up some know-how with the cottage), and for the next 17 years I took on the identity of a building contractor. Oh, what a far cry from being an artist, a writer of literary fiction!
Then, at the age of 49, the epiphany. It suddenly occurred to me that I had accrued enough experience to say that I now had a worldview, and was ready to express it.
I gave up building, my wife went out to work, and for the past eleven years I've been inching my way towards the position I'm in today. I'm not deluded enough to say that I have arrived.