The former head boy of my former high school, Camps Bay High, has decided to organise a 40th anniversary reunion for the matric class of ’71. Rob and I shan’t be there – it is taking place the day we pack up house – but we have all been asked to send through some photos and a short bio, so here is mine – written up like a good deputy head boy, which I was. I thought I might share it:
‘I visit Cape Town several times a year, and whenever I have time there is a route I follow, round the mountain from the City centre, past the old mill and the university, Kirstenbosch and Constantia Nek, down into Hout Bay and up again, past Llandudno tucked away below the road, and twisting my way back down toward the sea until, finally, I round a corner and there beyond the Oudekraal boulders is the Sphinx-like outline of Lions Head, and the shortened perspectives of Bakoven and Camps Bay, awash in a necklace of waves and foam.
The further I go from home the closer it seems, the more it is part of me, and I part of it. This is not some white South African version of ‘American Graffiti’ or – what was that movie, kids coming of age, endless summer nights, love and disappointment in the sand dunes? – in fact, I hardly ever think of school days, and when I do it is generally with a sense of how alien and remote it all is, how different I was – how different we all were, I suppose.
I don’t have to think of it – of school, I mean. The fact is, much of it has probably been so deeply absorbed, instilled, that it is part of me even when – especially when – I am not thinking of it. The lessons (understood only afterwards) about how not to be, as a human being; the conceptual and analytic discipline of analysing a sentence; the utter failure at maths and Latin; the difference that a teacher can make; the friends who – long gone from my life – marked and changed me when I was young and my shell was still forming.
I ended up, much to my surprise, teaching also – after a degree in English at UCT and English Honours at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg (there was a girl involved, why else would I go there?) I was all set, so I thought, for literature at Oxbridge, or something like that, but by then it was 1976, and suddenly literature as a career seemed bizarrely unhelpful – you see how naïve and simple-minded I was – and the South African army distinctly alarming and indefensible (if you’ll pardon the pun). So I found my way to the Transkei, became a teacher, evaded the military and if I did not exactly teach, hopefully did not do too much damage to quite a few young South Africans, blacker than I was but not much younger. I taught English at St Johns College in Umtata, became a very young deputy principal there, and at 27 or so was principal of Ngangelizwe Senior Secondary School in the Umtata township (the day I was appointed to the post was the day Diana married Prince Charmless).
I married, had three beautiful children, moved after eight years to Johannesburg where I helped set up Khanya College; moved back to Cape Town; worked on the National Education Policy Investigation; was given a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship to the Pennsylvania State University in the US; was – improbably – a visiting professor for six weeks at New York University – and came back home to a newly liberated South Africa, to take up a research post at the Education Policy Unit at UWC and work on the Higher Education Commission and the National Committee on Further Education. Heady days! In 1997 I joined the National Business Initiative in Johannesburg as education director, setting up a five year initiative to try to build the capacity of the new further education and training colleges sector, and helping to conceptualise and launch the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition, within the Mbeki Presidency.
And then, last year, after a long and bitter divorce, I (very happily – perhaps, late in life, I have learned something) remarried; I left the NBI and set out my stall as an independent consultant – and a couple of weeks ago, after more than a year of writing, I finally completed, all 58,000 words, the first draft of a novel.
In December, my Canadian wife, Rob(erta) Pazdro and I will be moving to Toronto, and over the next few years we will be exploring the possibilities of a two-country life. My eldest daughter, Kathy, has a Masters in neuropsychology, is newly married, productively employed and very happy; my son Jonathan has been living and working in London for five years and has just started a Masters in development management at Manchester University; and my youngest, Eve, after completing an M.Sc (where she got the maths and science from, I don’t know) is going hiking in Nepal with her boyfriend next month. I, meanwhile, am learning to change my priorities: much as the chattering monkey on my shoulder will likely continue sounding the alarm about employment and income, the task of becoming a writer seems – so long postponed – finally more interesting.’