Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Best years of my life

So many years ago I went St Andrews, Bloemfontein, like my father, in the hope that it would sort out my asthma and 'ruck-my-reg'. I was suffering from a bad dose of puberty, being brighter than I was mature, being tiny, detesting school. I went from being tiny to being merely small, but as Saints was very much old style boarding school of Stalky and Co. and puberty makes most boys (and probably girls too) that extra special pain in the nether end it did little else. Well, it did do my lungs some good. It certainly did nothing much for my education (other than teach me a whole of extra-curricular things, which I probably didn't really need to know, but got out of the way before I was 18 whereas a lot of my peers still seemed to working on discovering them at 30). Not that I blame the teachers particularly. I must have been on the list of the 10 kids you would least like to teach. A bit too smart-mouthed, with a habit of reading and remembering the awkward bits, and zero, or less, interest in class-work. Forever reading in class. Somehow, on minimal sleep(I don't think I had more than 5 hours a night for about three years - much of which was spent prowling around in the dark, pinching fruit, climbing buildings... or reading) and no schoolwork somehow passing exams, getting up whatever antisocial devilry with the other misfits (I was never one of the cool kids at school. Sneered at them for being dumb and envied them for their success with the girls:-)), or alone as often as not. How I stayed out of reform school let alone not getting expelled for being nothing but trouble amazes me. With teen hormones and boredom, and fact that I hated ball-sports (and typical SA school of the time, only ball-sport excellence could make you a cool-kid if you weren't tall (and preferably good at ball-sports)) and that I had decided the only way to overcome being tiny was to be hyper-aggressive and downright nasty, it was a horrible set of years. It would probably have been worse, elsewhere. But it was in the middle of a city in the middle of the Free State which is dryish thorn-scrub and rocks on the only non-built up areas, and tussocky veldt in between... and houses. This was just death for a kid that loved the bush, real, thick coastal bush, and only felt the equal to any other kid in the sea, diving, where with a pair of fins and a lot of water time on the reefs, I was fairly competent, and a lot longer-necked than most other people. I really was trying to drown myself or kill myself back then... Must have given my guardian angel conniptions about twice a day. It's no wonder I worried (and still do) so much about my own kids. The 24 hour train trips back to school where a sort journey into despair, which only retreating into books and a kind of alter ego kept me from running away. My mother said much later (I must have been about 45) that she felt terrible guilt about the fact that I wouldn't write or communicate from school. They thought that this would keep me alive--my health was not good--and had to be done. She thought I hated her for it. I was stunned. Not true at all. I was coping by being someone else, but _I_ hated me, at that stage. It never even occurred to me to resent being sent. Kids just accept things parents agonize about sometimes. I was an inconsiderate, revolting brat, mind, body, all out of synch, and school merely stopped them having to have that at home.) Trips home of course were inevitably blurred by alcohol and desperate attempts to make out with the Eunice girls going home too. The only other time I went on a train was as conscript. To this day I find them disturbing, which is very sad, because Barbs loves train travel.

So what brought up this lot? Well, one of the few guys I got on reasonably with at school introduced me into a facebook thingy where all the Old Andreans are indulging in an orgy of nostalgia (and a few of the girls from our two favourite schools for talent). Vast seas of reminiscences are being poured out. And one thing people keep saying is 'the best years of my life'.

Holy macaroni! Not for me. I do suspect it did me more good than staying in Durban would have, but for me, even the army was better. And I hated that with a passion (I do not take orders from idiots well, and at that time SA army was remarkably like the army in Rats Bats and Vats. There were of course some people that earned my respect, and those I had no problem with orders from, but that wasn't how it worked.). But I did learn a lot and my body finally started be only about half a mile out of synch. I was rock-climbing seriously and that got my mind right, or at least my self-esteem. Then I got out, met Barbs, and things just improved from there. Uni (where, um, I was leader of the pack of sorts, which was an odd experience. I'd started on suddenly finding I was the guy you could rely on(and finding I liked being that, rather than the opposite)in the army, because I was a little brighter than the average bear (medics were tested, and I was interested and challenged, worked for the first time in my life), and fairly tough and boarding-school conditioned to all the garbage, and actually did fine when faced with real problems not make-work rubbish). I learned to give orders too, which was a bit of a shock to a kid who resisted them all his life. Uni... I really wanted to be there, and wanted to succeed, so teaching finally got to me :-) But even the worst since then-low patches-were better than school at its best! And I'm still hoping the best years of my life will be here on the island.
Working on it.


  1. I too had a stalky & co school life. I enjoyed it - mostly, certainly more than you seem to have - and I also have some friends (and FB acquaintances) from that era.

    But I think it's pretty sad if your schooldays are "the best days of your life" and despite occasional reminiscing I doubt any of my fellows would think they were either

  2. My college years were pretty wonderful. High school -- not very memorable, literally. I live in my home town, and have become fairly expert at carrying on conversations with classmates whom I remember not at all from back then.

    Regarding bees -- I think even less investment is needed than Francis suggests. I harvested last year from one hive without an extractor with no problem, and foresaw doing the same from two hives this year. Unfortunately the weather went directly from winter to two months drought in temps averaging 101°F (38°C). Poor bees made no excess to harvest.

    My "extractor" is 2 food-grade buckets, one with a lid, and a piece of sheer nylon curtain. Also an empty wine bottle.

    Drill a bunch of 1 cm holes in bottom of one bucket. Lay curtain over other, letting it sag in about three inches, held by half dozen clothespins around edge of the bucket. Nest in the holey bucket. The thickness of the clothespins will keep it from going down in too far.

    If you have plastic foundation, scrape the comb off into top bucket with a spatula. If you have let the bees build their own comb without foundation, cut it into pieces carefully for comb honey and freeze, and only "extract" the trimmings, or if you want to harvest the wax instead of eating it, dump in the whole combs. Smush the combs around with the wine bottle or other pestle.

    Most of the wax will remain in the upper bucket. The rest will get caught in the curtain. Allow the whole set-up to rest and drain for a while (do this on a dry day when atmospheric humidity won't get picked up by the honey). Then take it apart and put the lid on your bucket with maybe a year's supply of honey. Or pour it up into jars.

    The natural-beekeeping folks recommend NOT using standard hives with frames and foundation, which is recycled wax and has some level of the chemicals the commercial folks treat with. See http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm, especially the 'foundationless beekeeping' and 'top bar hive beekeeping' sections.

    You can build your own top bar hive for way, way less than buying a hive and frames and foundation. And if your friend will help you catch a swarm to start with, you're on your way.

    These two outfits seem to have some good info, though of course they would also like to sell you their hives!http://www.beethinking.com http://goldstarhoneybees.com/ I found the how-to videos at gold star useful.


  3. Dave - it doesn't amount to much, but my heart absolutely goes out to you. I never had the hardcore boarding school experience, but there's so much else here I recognise. (Including the unwillingness to take orders from idiots... happily, conscription in Australia had long since ended when I came of age.)

    I couldn't agree with you more on the nauseating artificial nostalgia surrounding school; particularly high school. I actually went to a really nice little school - but I still have an aversion to even the concept of going back and 'getting in touch'. Something to do with being younger, and smarter, and smaller...

    Being ahead of the curve in school is a special kind of hell. And for certain, it ensures that school years are NOT the best years of your life.

  4. The Stalky and co aspects - the making of hideouts under the floor, the bunking out, the various forms of devilry that we/I got up to were in a way the better parts, Francis. I just was maladjusted to the school education system, bored stiff, hated the geographical place, and was having major growing up and self-esteem problems. Basically I was trying really hard to gain peer respect, which was why I did so many things that were off the wall. It was only just before I went to the army, a few months out of school, after keeping my head on a certain deathfall-if-you-panicked trad route - extremely hard, right at the edge of my ability, but safe enough if you kept your head that I had one of those epiphany moments, that I really couldn't give a toss what my peers thought of me. I'd just faced my worst enemy, myself, and held him down and made him say 'uncle'.

  5. Abigail - it's going to have to be pretty minimalist. Half the advance I thought I was getting 5 months ago, finally showed. Half. Now we have to get the other half. And then the turn in money... (also due) so there just isn't any spare cash for this. Well, we'll just have to see what I can do. I might have to write a bee story and put it on kindle or something.

  6. Dirk, reading between the lines a lot of these were the 'cool kids' back then, top of the pecking order. Real life suddenly made them small fish and really, their advantages over the not-so-cool kids vanished, and life was pretty ordinary. So the small pond was 'the best years'.

    I was only a little ahead of the curve (which made me ahead of some teachers, and being a noxious brat, not at all unhappy to let them know this. They loved me, I am sure.). Lord, I feel sorry for the kids who are a LONG way ahead. Education - especially at school - is shaped around the lowest common denominator. Now that has to be a 'clever' concept, especially as it's then used to select candidates for tertiary education. I must have seen it hundreds of times head-boy-with-top-marks-who-also-captained-cricket etc... goes to uni and... does OK or fails. Geek who hated school and never got a prize for anything goes to the top of the University system.

    Oh well.

  7. The main thing I learned in school was that a closed mouth gathers no foot - also no fist, toilet water etc.

    Also the 11th commandment "thou shallt not get caught"

    But we did some awesome pranks and I get the feeling that kids these days don't. Which is sad.

  8. Hi Dave.

    Rather long winded note, but haven’t ‘spoken’ to you for some time.

    School days, hmmm. I have memories, of course, but none of them particularly striking. Never kept up with old school ‘mates’ after school, didn’t attend any of the Old Boy functions and so on. English boarding school in the 50s and 60s, remains of wartime rationing (no sugar in the tea), grey and sometimes a bit bleak – in Derbyshire which is mostly cold and wet. But one thing remains with me and that was the breadth of extra curricular activities, the classic movies club, the skiffle group, the chapel choir (I joined for a rather unorthodox reason, the choir sat up in the loft just under the organs pipes and the tenors were on the back row so we could smoke in chapel and the smoke just shot up the organ pipes), the theatre, hockey and much more. Not to mention the occasional trips to Hathersage Edge to go rock climbing – I am not blessed with your tenacity or compact body shape (I have a long body and short legs rather like a Dachshund) so I never made it beyond following on a rope and generally falling off.

    I did make contact with an old school pal a couple of years ago and found we had many common likes and dislikes of our school days. He was running his own chemical company in Russia. Soon after we established contact he died of a heart attack, I hope it wasn’t something I said.

    Best days of my life ? Right now - an amazing partner (wife, workmate etc.), our own little business which stumbles along comfortably, writing the occasional rather contrived short story and a handful of good friends.

    With the effort you and Barbs are putting into your new life I have no doubt the island will be all you want of it. I read all your posts and am constantly in awe of the multitude of tasks you both undertake and effort you have made to integrate. We wish you both everything of the best.

    Take care.

  9. Hi Dave,

    It was interesting reading your comment about Saints. I also found that facebook site and saw all the girls comments and it brought back some nasty memories that I had pushed to the back of my mind. I must say I do have very good memories of my SMS friends and still stay in contact with them, but I wasn't a member of the popular group either. It is true that college/university brings new chances and friends. I certainly found that with my two girls as well.

    It is amazing what you are doing with your life right now. I am glad that you have found what you really love. Very interesting to read your blogs.

  10. Hi Lottie - when were you at SMS? I was a horrible brat back then :-). I've still got some friends from back then which is why I am on the Saints list (which is amazing really. I don't like myself much, thinking back), but Uni was certainly a lot more fun.

    It's fascinating to see what people have done with themselves since then, though. And how they have changed. Charlie (Teddy) Edwards from smaller than me, to a really tall guy...