Saturday, March 05, 2011

Last of the Rhodesians: Chronicles of a Colonial Anarchist

Gooks and Gob in Gokwe and Gwelo
1976 - 1978
About a month ago I received a devastating result for an exam for the latest module with the Open University (OU). It was the third disaster in a row. Now, I hadn’t exactly been shirking, quite the opposite but I had to come to a conclusion – I didn’t have a bloody clue what was going on. The course had sounded perfect but as it progressed I neither understood what was going on nor did I like it. So I did the sensible thing and threw in the towel. I made a mistake, but it is not the end of the world, it simply means the completion of my degree will take a tad longer.

At the same time I received an interesting request from my step-mom in Zimbabwe.
She has been writing academic analysis of several books set during the time of the Rhodesian Bush War / The Liberation Struggle. Thoroughly enjoying herself, she applied, and has been accepted to do a PhD with Rhodes University. Although she is a former history teacher (she was for years Head of History at the exclusive St Georges College in Harare), the doctorate will be in English Literature. This is because the theme is truth and myths in written accounts set during the war days. These include fiction, memoirs and non-fiction such as Peter Godwin and Ian Handcock’s brilliant Rhodesians Never Die. One of these, Fay Chung’s Re-Living The Second Chimurenga is on my blog here. Whilst she has sent me more, including the said Rhodesians Never Die (she would love to ask Peter Godwin a couple of questions), I am no longer allowed to post them. You will simply have to wait till the thesis is finished. I will ensure it goes online – it will be very interesting.

She sent me an Email asking if I had any part of my written memoirs that covered my time with the British South Africa Police (BSAP). I had, but they were written quite some time ago and before I started studying with the OU. I got them out and was absolutely appalled. Bad is not the word to describe the mad scribbling on over 150 pages. Where do I start to clean it up?

So I made another decision. I had no more excuses. I have a diploma on the wall which tells me I have achieved a level of skill in Literature and Creative Writing, so much so that I have DipLCW (Open) after my name. My overall score with the OU so far is a respectable 2.1 upper class, so skills wise I believe I can finally start again.

The last four weeks, more or less, has seen me now take the original rubbish and rewrite the lot. So far I am at Chapter 34 with perhaps another twenty to go. But I am only covering a two year part of my life – that part in the BSAP. It starts at Morris Depot (Police school) then on to my stations in Gokwe and later Gwelo.

I have no qualms regarding the formidable task ahead of me. Writing a book is not easy, especially if you actually want someone to buy it that is not a friend or relative feeling sorry for you. Even worse, I get twenty printed and give them away as presents.

First, the thing must be written. Then it must be proof read and edited. I will worry about that in about six weeks time. But, why should my memoir be anything different to the ones being fired out at quite some pace from other authors reliving their times in what was then called Rhodesia? I have loads of them on my bookshelf. Many are good, some are poor, some are downright fantastical and others boring to distraction.

What I found fascinating that plenty seem to follow a common theme of country boy/girl with pet elephants and crocodiles in the swimming pool and some close affinity with the Black populace. I had none of these. I was brought up in the city of Salisbury. My family was extremely dysfunctional, I despised my father and I owned a shitty bicycle. Now take that eighteen year old, just returned from the U.K. looking like David Cassidy, hack his hair off and throw him to the wolves (well, lions really).


So what’s the big deal? (Yawn), it has been done before. Aah, that is true but when you write with a mixture of Charles Bukowski, the Beat Generation writer of the novel Post Office, Tom Sharpe of Riotous Assembly and Wilt fame and George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman ; what do you get? You get a memoir that would be considered a testimony by the liberal left as me being nothing more than a delusional member of the Klu Klux Klan, and people on the political polar opposite with extreme right wing theology would consider this a script from the Key Stone Cops and no longer wonder why Rhodesia finally fell. Throughout the story I wander around in some kind of happy haze of naivety whilst war rages around me, and just thinking about one thing…me. Let us be clear here. I could have missed out on the war by simply staying in the U.K. after I finished my O’levels at Mount Pleasant High School in 1975. I returned to Rhodesia not because of the Oh so painful lauded terminology ‘The Rhodesian way of life’, but because I was homesick, always fancied being a policeman and missed my mates. (And the weather.) In the short six months I was away the acceleration of the war had created a world outside of the bubble that had been my life as an urban kid in an upper-middle class suburb of Salisbury; into a freakish unreality. In this chaos, I went about doing my job I was paid for – a policeman.

Most of all it is a story and an extremely funny one at that. There are amazing highs and terrible lows. The satire and arrogance that permeates many of my blog postings of the past – it is all in there. However, there are many sub-lineal themes that permeate throughout. I have had to use, to paraphrase, ‘every trick in the book’; to create what is in my honest opinion, a modern classic. (How is that for arrogance?) It is highly experimental. I have started to contact former members of the BSAP that were with me during the time. Already I am incorporating some of their Emails that recall that time into the story and it works. I also refer quite obscurely to things like Facebook and Ebay, even though of course they didn’t exist at the time but…it seems to work.

At present many names of these people are being used. Some may desire that I use a pseudonym instead; I will respect them for that, but hope they will only decide after reading the first draft. Some names have been changed, either because I no longer know them or, what happens quite often, they were complete wankers and thoroughly deserved to be slagged off. That is my prerogative. There is no political correctness in this book because to create it I had to go back, way back, yet once again into that little cupboard in my brain that normally remains shut. I remember getting an Email from a former colleague who asked why I kept living in the past. I don’t, but you do when you write something as profound as what I am doing.

Many of my friends find my recall phenomenal. It is. But it is also a curse. This project WILL be finished because I will not, nor cannot keep returning in such vivid detail to that time. I must wrap it up once and for all. The language is relatively simple, it should appeal to teenagers as well, for don’t forget, those raw recruits in the armed forces were teenagers. And were we not as teenagers also arrogant and thought we knew everything? Whilst I write day after day, I start to see things about myself, the biggest one seems that I never really grew up – the Peter Pan of the BSAP!

Last of the Rhodesians is not a political statement or ideological view. It is a title of a book and a fact. Rhodesia ended 31 years ago, and we that resided there in the time it was called that name are now getting old and dropping like flies even as I type – so in another couple of decades there will hardly be any left.

I will eventually set up a dedicated website for the book and will put up teaser chapters. It will also serve to post many of the pictures I will not be able to incorporate into the book for costs reasons. I have loads of other marketing plans but hey…first I must finish the thing.

So stay tuned for more news as I progress.

PS – I need a top editor (very cheap one)


Anonymous said...

De book could be interesting!
sell it on Kindle.

PS If you wright about booking me for drink driving, will be annoyed!


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