Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Part 3 - 1.28 - Cape Town 1990 - 1991

Hard as it is too accept, I lived my whole life in these two years and everything since there has been repeat information. Obviously except the now. It is only in hindsight that we see the patterns evolve.

My basement flat. Is under a house on the hill in Greenpoint. The kitchen and shower are recessed into the darkness of the old Victorian basement. The lounge bedroom are pivy to the only mean sunlight. I spend a lot of time on the lawn. There is a single bed. I am to start film school in a few weeks. The people who live in the house upstairs have a daughter, call her Kim, we talk often and one week night I buy cheap wine and we sit on a blanket in the fading light overlooking the bay, talking, holding hands and then kissing into the darkness. Spend many mornings after that at the front door above my window, seeing if she is home. Next time I see her is when she brings her boyfriend home, I feel a bit like a house pet. There was a singular joy of rushing headlong into a new life that evening on the lawn, now I realize it is the old life, in so many ways. Having spent my bus fare on wine and processed food, I now have to hitch to film school.

Which is a disappointment from the get go. Housed in a moldy building and with a library of dog eared books and bad vhs copies of movies already seen, the owner, head lecture of the school, John Hill, proves the maxim, those that cannot do, teach. His partner in the school Nadja, proves the opposite, but she teaches scriptwriting and I have many stories, so I don’t believe I need her.

I want to learn the technical aspects, so I can make my stories live, but I don’t see the obvious, in order to tell stories, you need to know all stories, all the ins and outs, the construction of, for the story is the form. I find myself sinking in anyway. I hitch to the film school on Sundays to use the vhs and Tv to watch films, John the owner is always suffering from last night, wearily lets me in and I watch.

One Sunday I get out in the road, it’s February, the roads are quiet. I cannot get a ride, I walk over the hill from Greenpoint, down to town, to walk through the parade to hitch on the lower freeway. As I reach the top of Strand street I hear a strange mass of noise, buzzing, mingling, people are walking into town from all over, mostly not white people, I reach the parade, even the streets in front of the city hall are choked with people. Thousands, maybe seeming hundreds of thousands, dressed in yellow, green and black, mostly black people, carrying banners, chanting, celebrating, swirling around, eddies of people jubilant, breaking into dance, all facing the city hall, not facing it, hugging each other, generally happy in the moment. I have never seen so many black people in one place. I am shocked there are even that many black people in the whole country. Not just black, but brown, sprinkled with white. I find some white people, ask to find out, what is going on.

Mandela is being released. Today. Mandela? The murderer? Because that’s all that I’ve been told about this name that crops up in graffiti and sometimes the news. Mandela the freedom fighter. Mandela the hero. Now there will be peace. Not on this day, I abandon the idea of watching a film that day, here is a film, in front of me, I allow myself to be drawn into the mass, hours pass, hours of a political education, I am being pulled into conversations, told the history I never knew, given statistics, somehow too young to feel the force of the moment, still nervous of the police helicopters the men in riot gear hovering on the edge of the mass, being told that there is nothing that they can do now, we are too many, the future is ours, all of ours not just theirs.

I am down front, near the steps, the balcony, it’s late afternoon and the news filters through that Mandela is out and making his way here. The crowd bristles, some young guys, my age really, smash through and start looting a bottle store, it’s everything and all the police need, they start firing rubber bullets into the crowd, which in that small part of the crowd, panics, ullates, pushes back, I am caught up, see guys running with whiskey, falling, screaming in pain, I climb somehow into a rubbish bin, the twack of a rubber bullet hitting it’s side and then suddenly, as quick as it began, the crowd surges back and the police stop firing, retreat, by the time I get out of the bin, it is like it never happened and I am shaken by the whole day, leaning nervously against under the balcony when the speeches begin, I feel trapped, trapped, the whole mass of the people pushing on me, eager to be in front pushing, the security police coming down, to help, pull me out, shaken, I go home, not aware of the importance of the moment, miss Mandela and his speech.

Friday, March 26, 2010

1.27 - Goodbye To All That

The memory is blurry, but somehow I convinced Phillipa to come to my matric dance. I even designed her outfit, out of a red and gold carpet with a chiffon skirt. I myself wore a black silk shirt with dragons on the back and the green sequined flares. There exists a photograph of me and Phillipa standing in the kitchen in Westville, I am proud, young, puffing out my chest, Phillipa looks like she just wants to get it over with. Maybe that is my interpretation. The evening is a rush. Of course by then everyone knows I am in love with Phillipa, but actually I’m crushing on another girl, who happens to be Andrews date, I don’t remember her name, even though he was expelled and not at the school, we managed to get him on the list. I buy a whole lot of daffodils on the way there. We have tequila, I think, or old brown sherry but a lot of it anyway, shout to interrupt the speeches, when the “dancing” starts, I come in from the table we have been placed at in the marquee, far from the action, to try dilute us, in to the main area, climb on a table throw flowers about. We are constantly sneaking through the gaps in the red striped tent to drink more, more, eventually thrown out of and/or leave, stopping to ring the school bell, normally only rung in reverence, loudly, continuously, until the prefects come out and we are running in the mad possibilities of it all into our futures, multiple, split, to join and split, we bundle into the car and race off to drop off Andrews date first, Roxanne maybe, Rosanne? Anyway. We get to her place and there is smoke rising from the, it seems, gearbox, “Gearbox is burning!” I shout, we all tumble out of the car and into a ditch, fully expecting it to explode, Phillipa saying “I left my rose in the car”, me, heroically going to fetch it, gingerly getting into the car, picking the rose off the back and running back to the ditch, Roxanne’s father coming to of the house, looking at us, saying, “It smells like you kids have been driving with the handbrake on”, sheepishly saying goodbye. Goodbye to all that.

The second last real memory of Kevin, chronologically incorrect, is when the Celtic Rumours played at the university, supporting Mango Groove, who at that point in my eyes where an inoffensive pop act. I had just managed to dodge army call up, with a two-year study deferment, Kevin would have to go. My sisters boyfriend, later husband, who I spent most of my life hating and jealous of his suburban ethic, Kevin referred to him as Fat Pig, for his own reasons, was in the crowd. The lead singer of Mango Groove, makes a political statement, she supports the ECC, the End Conscription Campaign, Mark, future brother in law is standing in a bunch of guys, all on study deferments, who start protesting, throwing beer cans. It is a moment of supreme irony for me, avoid beer in cans still to this day, the searing image of men throwing beer cans at a woman, trying to get them out of something that they say they believe in but are avoiding anyway.

1989 ends on December 31st, as it should, with me, my father and Brandon Botha driving to Cape Town, to begin a life in film. We drive up, through the mountains, then me crossing the Free State for the first time (later discovering it unfree), then dipping into the great desert of the Karoo, ending up staying at a cheap hotel, edgeofthedesert half empty swimming pool, my father drunk in the room at sunset, me and Brandon, still high on a week of parties and marijuana cooking, sitting at the pool until midnight and bar closing, drinking cheap gin umbrella cocktails the desert warmth and the future promise washing over us, swimming lazily and long, my father on the edge of consciousness as we sneak into the room, a beast mumbling, keep quiet, keep quiet.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

3.12 The Sudden Pull To Freedom

Two things happened that sent me toward film. Spielberg’s ET and sneaking into see The Night Porter. ET left me with unwarranted tears, feeing the powers of film’s manipulative force. The Night Porter left me bored and slightly raped, dreams that night of lipstick and leather.

This book, needless to say, is not a credit list of influences or a nod of heads to all that walked through my life. I am trying to explain who I am now, by who I have been, trying to work out my need to explain it. All art is a celebration of loss. Loss of Love, Loss of Innocence. A dictum of everything we have lost and everything we have gained in the losing.

I have told this story before and will tell it again. My father could not understand my love for photography, my need for film, my inability to not write. He was convinced I would take over the family business, his building company. Not that it existed, he was living from job to job, holding onto the house with my mothers salary. After two years in Cape Town, I hitch back home to surprise them, am surprised by the fact that they don’t live in that house anymore, have to get the new residents to give me the new address at one a.m. Loss comes slowly and is then definitive.

I applied to the Cape Town Film and Television School as a last ditch effort. Photography schools, techs, would not take me, I was told that I would have to start at second year and you can’t do that. I was for the first, not boasting (am, really), not the last time, overqualified. The day the fax came through, I heard the phone ring, picked up, pressed start and slowly saw the acceptance form coming through. I called my mother, who’s response was, as I recall, simply to say “We have to break this to your father gently”

Of course he tried to talk me out of it, the mantra, “when are you going to get a real job” was beginning to form. I remember putting the fax, already browning, on top of his, already yellowed, architectural plans for a long since lost project and him trying to convince me. The next morning my mother told me that my father would be leaving for Cape Town to find me a flat. All that was left to me of my adolescence was a matric dance and some goodbyes.

Friday, February 19, 2010

3.11 - Car Crashes, Sequined Pants and Suicide.

The first of many car crashes occurs days after the matric dance, weeks before I am due to leave town to go study in Cape Town. We are driving the car home to my parents place. Andrew is driving, I am still under the age and anyway haven’t learnt yet. I think we are on acid, something, and I decided to see if we can make the car fly by flapping the doors. I’m not sure how it happens, but Hallucinogenics, the car door is ripped off its hinges, but still hanging on, by something we pass, or passes us. When we get home, we manage to “convince” my mother that the door was open and we caught it on a pole parking. Next night we borrow Dad’s bakkie, smash the windscreen with a mistakenly popped champagne cork.

The first of many run-ins with the police. We are in the back of some truck, having hitched a ride. It’s 1988 and we are not so aware, so we don’t realize that getting a ride with two black men might be a problem for white boys. The cops pull us over, one of us starts to freak out, he has a matchbox of marijuana on him, the truck is enclosed there is no way to throw it out. The yellow cop van is idling right behind us. No escape. For some, goodness knows what, reason the police give us a cursory search, find the match book, spill out it’s contents and drive off. The guys giving us the lift, drive off, turn the corner, order us out. It’s too dangerous. For them, we are not a concern.


There was a club we would go to, played the early parts of dance music, was in an apartment building in Point Road, started sneaking in at 16, place called 330, it grew as we got older, taking over other floors, swapping staircases, getting into commercial house, but in my earliest experience, we had to pretend to be eighteen and gay to get in. Dancing in the pounding strobe and hanging out in the women’s cloak rooms, watching the older patrons line up to get to the toilet. Whole evenings spent, sitting on the floor, with only an occasional dash to the dance-floor to throw ourselves about under the hard strobe to New Order.

A fire drill one night, I am wearing my green sequined flares. We are all standing on the pavement. Suddenly the profusion of police means it’s not a fire drill, it’s a raid. Drug dogs everywhere. Somebody says, “I thought there was a fire”, Nicky O says, “It’s Roger’s pants that need to be on fire”.

I will remember this moment later when I am vomiting after spilling amyl nitrate on myself in Nicky’s squat in Brixton (London, Not JHB) three years later, everyone mooning about Smashing Pumpkins, me vomiting up my only meal for days, dry take away chips. Wanting to just go home with Eve, who is not consoling me, just wanting to go home, me not having a home but a bedsit, Eve, meaning her mothers house, me seeing the whole affair falling apart. Feeling self righteous in my vomit, not realizing, how wrong I had been.


Essentially there were five of us in that art class who were pushing forward, whether we were any good is a question for a later debate. Besides us gang of four, there was Bryce Gordon. Bryce was a pasty faced, greasy haired, pimply, biting sense of humour guy who painted De Chicero derivatives with technical aplomb. No matter how we tried, we couldn’t get him to join in, come out with us, anything.

In matric Bryce Gordon won the Art Prize, something we had all secretly desired but had claimed we wouldn’t receive on Dadaist grounds. He had won it the year before as well and on the evening of it’s announcement and presentation we all showed up at the school, lint free uniforms, all hoping it would be us. The award is announced and the principal stupefied by the fact that Gordon is simply not there. He did not show up. It wasn’t on any other grounds, as it simply meant nothing to him. It held us in awe. But Bryce didn’t care for other reasons.

After Matric exams, the news reaches us. Bryce and his whole family have committed group suicide. They got into the family car together, with the dogs and gassed themselves, all of them. It seems they had applied to immigrate to America and had simply been waiting for Bryce’s matric results which, although the top of the class, had obviously failed to raise whatever profile the family had in the eyes of emigration. A whole family gets into a car with the dogs. Mother, Father, Brother, Sister and agree to end their own lives. It cannot have been an instant decision, rather something that took place over a long amount of time and disappointment and frustration. I think now back to the existential gesture of refusing to, but actual being one of resignation, knowing it’s no longer important to, receive the art prize. The many times we tried to get Bryce to go out with us, teased him for not, the disdain he showed, all exterior signs of large responsibility and in the end signs of defeat. They simply could not live here anymore.