Sunday, November 8, 2009

Farewell to friends we leave behind

B and I have bounced around SA -University, various jobs, and then picking a place close to the kids school (Treverton). And the one thing I can say is although you may bind to a place, and love the mountains or the trees or the ocean... there remains the fact that we are social animals, even solitary blokes like me. I've lived in cities with populations of several million - had friends and enjoyed some of what the city offered. But we've usually been at our happiest in smaller places, where individuals matter. Yes, if you have a secret hamster fetish and it's an intolerant and narrowly conservative community, or you have three bits on the side or don't pay your bills... A small community can be hell. But if you're a dull bloke without any major deadly secrets and you didn't really care if quizzy old auntie Clara and the switchboard operator (ah days gone by) were listening to you chatting to your wife, a small community - if it's the right one - can be a very supportive place to live, and manage to offer a social life that the big city just can't. Of course... if you're bright or interested in a specialised field (physics or writing or making model airplanes) a city is more likely to get you face-time with similar people. But the internet makes a lot of difference there.

So the issue then becomes 'the right community'. And that is actually harder and more difficult and varied than you may realise from a city-dweller's perspective (and that's where I came from). There is a lot to it which is less than obvious, and it's hard to predict without being in it. My brother and I ended up in two small towns which are 30 km apart in Southern Zululand. My brother is more gregarious and easier to get on with than I am. Our town was maybe 40% larger. His was ruled a social heirarchy and a few queen bees who were not too keen on newcomers. Status and money were hugely imortant, and status was determined by TPB (the powers that be). As the town engineer, you'd have thought he'd be quite well thought of in a heirarchy... but no. Not as an incomer. My bruv had a rough time there, and was glad to leave. St Lucia (town) where he went next was a lot more pleasant. In theory B and I started pretty far down the social pecking order in Eshowe, with her working (she's a radiographer) and me horror to your rural SA male, at home, looking after kids and writing. It's amazing how people who can't actually write two coherent paragraphs, and don't read because it is too hard can still say they wish they were writers, work when they felt like it, or - as many people have, ask when you're going to get a job. I've written a M.Sc Thesis. Some of the books I have written took less work... I do on average at least 14 hours work a day, and up to 16 at times. Yes, I start at 4AM in summer, and I work 300 days a year. I've got 11 books out and another 3 in press right now, and a slew of shorts and work for younger readers. Mostly these days I just shrug, and say: "Why don't have a go at writing then?" Hmm. Tangent. Anyway, if 'showe had been like Melmoth was when Carl was there (Small town social dynamics change), we'd have had a misery of a time. But it wasn't. We came there from a place called Hoedspruit which I'd rate on personal experience the place in SA you'd least want to live - rabidly racist, anti-English-speakers, 3 degrees hotter than hell (I'd run a fish farm there) and Eshowe was friendly and ended up as the second most friendly and sociable place I've ever lived in. When we left Hoedspruit we said goodbye to one person. When we left Eshowe (because of kids schooling) we had a farewell party for a 170 adults - and got trouble for leaving a few people out. We still see and talk to people from there. And my brother - the sociable one - had managed a handful of friends with whom he rapidly lost contact from the next town - not a problem he's ever had since. Here, oddly enough we have a nascent queen bee situation with some people thinking themselves FAH too important and wealthy to associate with the common herd (and is this ever small pond syndrome). Fortunately we have the Mad Lieutenant-Colonel (British Army, retired) the Rabbit warders, the wine cellar people, the local paper editor, 'nThombifuthi etc., who are the salt of the earth. We have a lot of aquaintances and a few solid friends. So it is somewhere betwixt. We turn out to fight fires, serve on local committees, we fetch and carry (particularly those important people's labour - this is Africa -WE get on well with them and and are liked and respected. Their employers would not lower themselves to that level. Oh well. Their choice. Their stupidity IMO). Anyway, I'll be sad to leave the place, and some of people. But I wonder just what sort of social set-up we're going into. Will it be like hate newcomers Hoedspruit, or Queen-bee Melmoth or moderately friendly Mooi, Eshowe or Maclear (the nicest little town I've ever been to - which has basically died since)?

I'm rather glad we're renting a place for a year at first. And if no one talks to us I can talk to the fish. They don't answer either, but at least it is perfectly acceptable to catch them and eat them.

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