I visited Irkutsk “Vienna of Siberia”. In Russia you never have to look far for a pogrom story. At the back of the Irkutsk Synagogue is a plaque of names and dates – in Cyrillic and Hebrew. At the bottom and written in English:
“Nothing is Forgotten. No One is Forgotten”
I was born in 1975 so my memories of apartheid – the real separate amenities petty apartheid stuff – are pretty hazy. One of my clearest memories is the separate bus system. Sky Blue for the whites. Moss Green busses for everyone else. I don’t think that even the most delirious Nationalist could have seriously conceived of having separate busses for all the race-groups like they did with beaches and swimming pools. The busses were operated by the municipality. The white busses were a beautiful sky blue. I remember waiting for the bus at my bus stop which was at the top of a blind rise. You’d hear the sound of a bus accelerating up the hill and leap to your feet. I can still recall the “awshit” feeling when the bus crested the hill only to be a green one. I don’t remember when the green busses went. But I do recall the introduction of the Mynah bus. Small busses which tootled around town and the Berea. They opened up the city for me. For 50c you could get the beach or into town. Those odysseys of discovery formed my world view and my inveterate habit of travelling alone.
It was the weekend before April Fool’s Day 2002. I was having a quiet drink with friends at the much missed “Home”. A group of guys on a stag night – er – staggered in and of course – this being Durban – I knew one of them. The guys had been going since the early afternoon. My friend and I had an amusing but (frankly) incoherent conversation at the bar. The next week it was April Fool’s day and suddenly it came to me. I emailed him. I don’t have the email any more but it went something like this:
Hey, I know I’m breaking all the rules here by emailing you but I just can’t stop thinking about you and what happened on Saturday night. I didn’t realise that we shared the same feelings. It may have just been the corner of the parking lot but it felt like the centre of the universe to me.
I truly expected him to see through it. At exactly 11:56 I got an email back which read:
Hey, it was a fun night. Things can get a bit out of hand when you’ve been drinking. The main thing is not to ruin the friendship.
I can’t directly recall but there may have been a smiley fact involved. Hook, line and SINKER! Obviously, as 12 noon was upon us I had to ‘fess up. The sheer relief was palpable. I later found out that he had spent the ENTIRE morning stressing about it and had even called upon a few colleagues for advice. The reply had been the result of three minds applying themselves to some careful drafting to ensure that (a) I did not realise that he had absolutely no memory of the evening and (b) I wouldn’t do something stupid like, er, tell his GIRLFRIEND! Ha. Greatest April Fools’ EVER.
After the dance
Now it’s a memory
Brilliant flashes of light, dancing laughter
She sat and watched her flowers die
Apparently I went to Zaviers with Julie, Laurent and Tyrone
It was someone called Nic’s birthday
I declared that Nicholas Jackson was love (have no idea who this person is)
Saw Ewen at the beach and “still sort of like him”
there is a purple smiley face in the corner of the page which, if memory serves, meant that I kissed someone on that day. So despite my feelings cooling for Ewen we must have <ahem> had a little sesh.
Coming from South Africa and having grown up in the 80s and 90s meant that my exposure to – oh how shall I put this – the seamier side of life had been limited. There was exactly one skin mag – Scope – which used to print stars on the boobs and the fannies. By the time I got to London I had seen maybe 3 porn magazines in my entire life and NEVER seen a porn movie. The raciest thing I had ever seen was that scene in the Thorn Birds when Brian Brown eased Rachel Ward’s swimming costume off in the swimming pool – a scene which, I may add, formed the bedrock of my teenage sexual fantasies. I also mention that I was 23. Obviously, I had heard of this place called Soho. Naturally, I associated it with all forms of sexual depravity. Understandably, most young south Africans made a beeline for it – if only to gawp. I had a job in lower St James and Soho was a brisk walk across Piccadilly Circus for lunch. Going there on an almost daily basis rendered me immune to the shops filled with strange high-heeled boots and an assorted array of multi-coloured phalluses. Soho was in fact exceedingly charming with its fruit and vegetable sellers, fabric markets and record shops. One day we were walking to our favourite vegan-raw-food lunch place when I saw a sign in a window. Handwritten – it said “USED SEX TOYS”. I stood. I stared. I thought to myself – that is something I will never understand.
I didn’t think it would be that hard. My privileged upbringing, the best education money could buy and the added bonus that I had got really good marks in my LLB meant that I couldn’t do anything but take London town by storm. A few days, I thought, a few days and my fine legal mind and obvious abilities will be recognised and I’d be on my way. Oh the folly of youth. I began a round of interviews to register with employment agencies. Ho Hum – the interviewers glossed over the fact that I went to one of the very best schools in South Africa and was a finalist in the 1992 young historians competition. “Oh” they said “you’ve done a computer course”. Yes folks, 12 years of private school education and five years of University meant nothing in the face of the eight day Coopers & Lybrand course I did just prior to leaving Durban to make my fortune (Dick Whittington Style) in London. “How fast can you type?” was the very next question followed by “do you know how to operate a switchboard?”. I’ll save myself the humiliation of detailing how badly I did on both of those tests. The upshot was that the answer to the first question was “not very fast
at all” and the second “monkeys trying to type Shakespeare would have done a better
job than you”. Luckily the woman who dealt with me at Career Legal was very kind and managed to find me a job. My first real world job was as “Under-receptionist”. I opened the door, took the coats, made the coffee and ordered the sandwiches. It was all I was qualified to do.