Still on leave, occasionally feeling a little better but generally not. Alec, a small 60-something Scot and next-door neighbour, takes me to the farm where he’s a cheesemaker. I’m edgy beyond belief; every nerve is jittering, has a separate life, is buzzing with uncoordinated electrical spasms. I feel I’m going to explode from the inside.
All I can do is to curl up on the back seat of his car while Alec goes in and makes cheese.
When he returns to the car, Alec says something very strange, ‘You’re nearly there, nearly there! Just use the dark a little bit!’
I have no idea what he’s talking about. I know he’s a mason; perhaps it’s something to do with that.
A couple of days later I’m a little better but still vulnerable and wobbly. I go with Alec to the local scrap yard where he’s looking for a part for his car. While I wait for him, an impressive car pulls up and two slick dudes wearing double breasted suits and bulky Windsor knots leap out. They approach me and one shows me a catalogue of jewellery. The other pulls out a green velvety pouch and opens it. I see a dozen or so gold chains. The picture in the catalogue gives a price for the pouch and contents of £150.
“This beautiful jewellery is yours for a hundred.”
‘I haven’t got that sort of money.’
‘How much have you got, then?’
‘Give us that then.’
I hand it over, they give me the pouch, leap back in their car and hurtle away like the Dukes of Hazard on amphetamines. I realise I’ve been had. I’ve spent five quid on fool’s gold… The chains are obviously worthless. What on earth am I going to do with the blasted things?
I know! I’ll give ‘em to Mom. I do, and she is overwhelmed… at least she is until inside a week the chains all turn green.
I have to return to Mercia Ward soon. I want to speak to someone about my experiences and about life before I go back. I’m still unsure what to believe, not just about life and death and God but about me. What do I do next, where am I going in life, am I going anywhere in life, is it right and sensible to set up a social enterprise to raise money for wells in Africa, which I’ve been contemplating since leaving Zimbabwe? There are even times when I consider being a Catholic priest.
I head to Cuppin Street where my old Primary School, St Francis had been. All of the family went to the neighbouring St Francis church every Sunday without fail until we moved to the Lache when I was 10. I know the school is now a Franciscan Friary. I knock and am very pleased when an elderly priest I’ve known for years, Father Edmund, opens the door.
The theory of relativity
He ushers me into a small office with a high ceiling and bare sandstone block walls. It is lit only by daylight from narrow windows well over head height. I sit and relate the things that have happened to me and Father Edmund nods. I even talk about the theory of relativity, utterly incorrectly. I explain it to him something like this: the theory of relativity is about everything being relative. A cat is big relative to a mouse, which is big relative to an ant.
Father Edmund let’s me go on in this vein for a while. Although probably not educated to a high level in the sciences he must know that I’m spouting utter cobblers.
‘I see,’ he says when I’ve finished.
I become aware of a strong feeling of sanctity, purity, holiness, call it what you will coming from high up behind me. I turn in my chair to see where it’s coming from. I see a religious icon up on the window sill. It’s a foot-high statuette of Mary holding Jesus in her arms. I sense God’s love coming from it, an echo of the same love that I’d encountered at the top of the green tower.
Return to Mercia
After 7 days I I return to Mercia Ward. I’ve still got clouds for brains most of the time. Virtually nothing happens. Somehow the days pass, the weeks pass, occasional spells of leave come and go and finally after four or five months they discharge me, apparently not dangerous to myself but still not quite 100% right in my head, confused as to what’s happened to me and with seriously dented personal confidence.
But thank God for the freedom of being out of that place!
Winding things back about a year to lunchtimes in Braamfontein, the commercial centre of Johannesburg, South Africa. Parsons and I were employed by KSP, a Civil Engineering consultancy. Neither he nor I were planning to stay in the country forever, nor did either of us plan on being in civil engineering much longer. We both wanted out, Parsons to make lots of money, me to do the same in order to provide clean water to everyone in Africa.
I’d spent my last 12 months in South Africa racking my brains in a ‘What is the most can I do to save them?’ sort of way after seeing people in Zimbabwe close to death if the rains failed.
This must have been wildly unhealthy. Perhaps this is why I cracked up – particularly as I had zero support from anyone else. Whatever I was going to do, I was going to do it on my own.
Years later, probably rightly, this led to me being accused of arrogance.
Anyway Parsons and I would spend most lunchtimes in a little park on a bench with the sign ‘slegs blankes’ (whites only) on it, discussing our options. We concluded that there were two main ways to get into business: accountancy and computer programming.
Parsons got his accountancy qualification and is now a very wealthy management consultant, and after being discharged from the Deva I enrolled on a COBOL programming course in Salford. My plan was to get a job as a programmer and to engineer a move ASAP into marketing, which I saw as the main driver for the success of any business.
Amazingly, this happened.
That’s all for today, folks. Do drop in again, Marc.