GFS and Beyond

This, as far as I’m aware, is the only photo in existence of me in my GFS uniform (well almost). I’m with my little brother, standing on the entrance steps of my uncle’s farmhouse. As the crow flies, Uncle Mike farmed only a stone’s throw away from the school and it was a simple thing for him to get to us via the back entrance to his farm along a dirt road that ran parallel to the railway line, past the Flamingo drive-in so we would often spend our Sundays there [at the farm – not the drive-in. The only time I ever went to that drive-in was one night in form one when I bunked out with some mates and we crawled under the fence and watched Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury]

I was at Guinea Fowl from January 1973 till December 1976. My dad, unhappy with my performance there, took me out at the end of my fourth year and I was sent to co-ed Vainona High where he could keep an eye on me (smart move Dad). As it turned out GFS was closed the following year.

I passed my O’Levels easily but when it came time for M’Levels I was in full-on rebel mode. I hated living at home (that’s a story for another day – perhaps) and all I wanted to do was leave and join the army so I paid no attention to schoolwork and, predictably, I only passed one of the three subjects I took. The only good things to come out of going to Vainona was that’s where I met Lynda and I played 1st team rugby for two years. In March 1979 I was headed for Llewellyn barracks and the beginning of my National Service. I passed out of LTU as a Lance Jack and served the rest of my time with 8th Battalion Rhodesia Regiment (out of J.O.C. Rusape). I was made up to full corporal in January of 1980 then served one last stint with Signals (and WO Eilertsen) before demobilising for the last time in April of that same year.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. My dad had started kapenta fishing out of Chalala, about 15 minutes away from Bumi Hills and he asked me to join him so I worked there for a year but wasn’t settled. It always felt like something was missing so I thought I’d give South Africa a try. My mum had left Zimbabwe earlier in 1980 and had settled on the East Rand. I used her place as a base and looked around for something that was likely to suit my temperament but nothing gelled and after a few months I returned to Zim, where most of my friends still lived, and worked for a time in Fort Victoria as a Trainee Supermarket Manager. I hated that and after about a year to fourteen months I returned to Harare to work for the Old Mutual, selling Life Assurance.

Michael was killed in September of 1984 – stabbed to death by some wanker over a road rage incident somewhere on the streets of Hillbrow and his death was, by far, the worst thing I’d ever had to face in my life. We had always been very close and I didn’t know how to deal with his loss. Irrationally I blamed myself for not being there to protect him as I’d always done in the past although, in truth, Mike didn’t need my protection at all. He’d grown up into a big strong guy and was playing rugby for Jeppe U21’s at the time of the incident. I played a couple of matches with his team as a guest a few months before he died – he played 2nd Centre and I was, as usual, on the left wing. In this picture you can see Mike with the number 12 on his back and that’s me, second from the back, looking towards the camera. In this particular game our opposition’s tight-head prop a big dutchman (no disrespect intended to rock-spiders) started getting shirty with Mike on the other side of the field. A fracas began and I started sprinting that way to assist but, as it turned out, my help wasn’t needed; my baby brother punched the guy once with sufficient force to lift the guy right off his feet and knock him clean out.

I often ask myself “what if” questions with regards Mike. His death was  a tragic waste and I wish he was alive today. He was such a good guy and I have no doubt that, if he’d lived, he’d have led an extraordinary life.

In December of that year Lynda and I married and it wasn’t too long before I found myself in a place of responsibility with, first of all a son – Adam, followed almost exactly two years later with a daughter – Leanne. I was breaking records at Old Mutual with the sales but I was losing interest and wanted to do something else. Dad’s kapenta business had taken off and he asked me to come and work for him again so I did but this time I was based in Harare, living on a small-holding off the Old Mazoe road – and my remit was to set up and manage a chain of retail outlets in various townships around the country, which meant I had to travel a fair amount. After Mike died I inherited his motorcycle which was being kept for me in storage by Mum in Kempton Park. I went to fetch it in 1988 and it was extremely useful (much cheaper too) for the daily commute between the farm and the office in Borrowdale. Then, in December of 1989 I was T-boned off my bike and my life was never the same after that.

I came really close to shuffling off this mortal coil. The injuries I sustained were so severe that it was obvious my left foot was beyond repair (it had been crushed between the bumper of the car – a Peugeot 404 and the block on the motorcycle – a Suzuki GN400) but, more worryingly, I’d sustained a compound fracture in my left femur and it was touch and go whether it was going to be necessary to amputate above the fracture. Thankfully I was young and fit enough to avoid that option but it was a close call and I wasted away completely while I lay strapped (literally) to the hospital bed recovering sufficiently to be sent home. I was in and out of it for a while, barely registering what was going on around me. I can remember waking up one day and slowly registering that I was in a hospital and my left leg was cased in plaster but there was no foot there. I thought I was dreaming so I went back to sleep only to wake up some time later and slowly recognise my strange surroundings. As I lay there I remembered the dream so I lifted my head and had a look. I can remember thinking, “hmmm, I wasn’t a dream – they’ve bloody well gone and cut my foot off”. What I didn’t know was that the period between waking up the first time and thinking I was having a dream and waking up the second time and realising it was in fact real, was about two weeks. I had been conscious in that fortnight but my mind hadn’t accepted the fact. Every morning I would collar the appie quack and say to him, “now listen to me Peter, don’t bullshit me! Has my foot really been cut off?” The brain’s a funny thing isn’t it.

Lying there in the hospital bed I was feeling pretty useless and, I’m not ashamed of saying, a little sorry for myself. The economy in Zimbabwe had begun to decline and we were smack back in the middle of that time when you couldn’t buy a new motor vehicle unless you were super wealthy (to bribe one of those bastard salesmen – no disrespect to the blood suckers). Someone mentioned to me that, because I was disabled I qualified for a scheme where I could buy a brand new motor vehicle, at cost, directly from Willowvale motors but there was a catch – it had to be an automatic vehicle and my choice would be limited to either a Mazda 323 or a Nissan Sunny. I had plenty of time to mull over the idea and it occurred to me that if the offer of a new car was to give genuine assistance then surely I could persuade them to let me buy a new Mazda pickup, one of the models manufactured in the Willowvale factory. I knew they wouldn’t manufacture an automatic model but …. what if I had had controls fitted? When I got out of hospital I put the ball in motion and you can imagine my delight when I was told over the phone, by the minister of Commerce, that if I could find someone who could fit hand controls and if Willowvale motors had a vehicle he would go ahead and grant permission for me to make the purchase. After that it was easy. I had taken out a disability rider on an insurance policy which paid out half of the total because I was, by definition, only half disabled so I put the entire amount (the princely sum of $6,000) down as a deposit and financed the rest, for five years, through Scotfin and after that I never looked back except to say that the accident where I lost my leg was the best thing that could have happened to me. My cousin was a panel beater so he painted some pretty go fast stripes on my little bakkie and I started a business; me and one guy. I found work, did the quoting, materials purchasing and accounts and he painted. Fourteen years on my little two-man band had become a construction company that employed a little over 250 people of all trades and, I must say, I was living a jolly good life.

By 2004 Zimbabwe was in a state of hyper-inflation (which is fine – it’s easy to make money in that sort of environment) but I was becoming more and more dismayed by the security situation. Mass emigration had begun again (it went in fits and starts throughout the years after Independence) and whilst we were performing well my guys had been politicised and were deliberately dragging their heels so jobs would take far longer than they should have and costs were going through the roof. That sort of thing is extremely demoralising and we were getting more and more unsettled. One day we drove the kids back to school and the minister of Education, an out-and-out racist by the name of Chimombe (I think – my memory is vague) had instructed that all Independent Schools (we weren’t allowed to call them Private schools) were closed pending an investigation into the way those schools vetted their scholar intakes. Upon arriving at the school gates we were confronted by an FN-wielding policeman who barred entry. When I attempted to drive past him he cocked his rifle and pointed it at me, threatening to shoot if I didn’t turn around. I did turn around and as I did so I turned to Lynda and said, “that’s it. We’re leaving – they don’t deserve to have people like us living here any more”.

That incident happened at the beginning of the 2nd term, so round about May, 2004 and in November Adam and I jumped on a plane and arrived in England. I didn’t have a job to go to but Adam  (aged 19) had been offered employment, a form of apprenticeship, with a family-owned furniture restoration company in Scotland so my first task was to deliver him there before looking for something I could do to put bread on the table. Lynda had stayed behind with Leanne (who had O’Levels to write) and she had to wind everything down before the two of them came over in January 2005. I found temporary work and was paid rather well to do menial jobs which I put my back into and showed willing then in February 2005 I was offered a job as a senior estimator with company that traded in natural stone. I worked there for ten years then my mum, who’d been living in a cottage on my property in Zim and had returned to Wales – her country of birth – when I’d left Zim, got sick and, since there was really no other choice, I gave up my career and went to go and look after her.

Initially I thought it wouldn’t be long till Mum was back on her feet, a week or two at most I thought, but I was wrong! She really had been ill and there was no way I could have left her so I stayed and as the days passed I started to think about future career prospects. I didn’t like sitting around doing nothing but there was no work available in Holyhead where Mum lived and I really didn’t fancy the thought of starting from fresh with a new firm and having to go through the process of assimilating information and ingratiating myself with a new set of strangers, but I accepted the inevitability that, at some point in the future, I would have to do that. For the time being though, since I have always wanted to be a writer, I started writing.

In June last year my little sister came to Holyhead to look after Mum and I was redundant so I applied for and was offered a job in Essex and I moved back here. There’s a lot I could say about my experience working at that company but if I do I would probably get sued so I won’t. Suffice to say it was unpleasant enough for me to decide NEVER AGAIN and here I am.

3 Comments

  1. David, that really is far beyond what I hoped for. My only concern is with such an accomplished start, other folks may be reluctant to follow your lead! I am so sorry to read about the loss of you brother and could feel your pain when you wrote about his tragic death and also about your accident.Best wishes, Ben

  2. A really interesting sketch of your life’s journey so far Dave and with more meat, will be a really good biography to read. Sorry to hear about the loss of your brother, I am sure we will hear more about him in your book. Thank you for sharing. Andy

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