Updated: Dec 8, 2022
in order for you to understand how I, at 46 years of age, decided to forego my career in IT, sell my house near Cambridge, England and purchase a camper van with the intentions of initially visiting 30 countries in the UK & Europe, you need some back info.
So here it is. My backstory. But because I take no pleasure in seeing people suffer, I will break it into chapters for easy consumption. And who knows, they may even form the basis of a book down the road.
Chapter 1: The Early/pre-teen years
I suppose the beginning is a good place to start right?
My earliest memory and the thing with my personal earliest memories is that I often find myself questioning if it's a genuine memory or just something conceived in my brain.
Anyway, after much brain powering, the earliest memory I can conceive is of me throwing my dummy/pacifier out of a several story high apartment building.
I also seem to have some recollection of the flat itself, but oddly just the entrance hall, living room and kitchen. I have no idea where the bedrooms or bathroom were. Hence, I'm not 100% confident of these 'earliest memories'.
I know that I lived in these flats for several years with my mother. I remember playing in a park across the road from the flats. with other kids from the building.
I can remember vividly the first house in which I lived with my mother in Bellair, Kwazulu Natal. Our neighbour's kid was one of my besties for my time in that house. He and I were usually doing crazy shit that just wouldn't go down in today's world of health and safety.
For example, we were both into 'ninja' gear back then. I recall spending many many hours in a store near my grandparents flat in Durban that specialised in Asian weaponry, like throwing knives and 'ninja stars'. We would test our ninja skills with these weapons using each other as the non-target, ie, the objective was to get as close to but NOT hit the other person.
Think of a knife thrower in a circus if you will. Now imagine an 11-12-year-old standing against a tree trunk while the other child of similar age tries to miss them as they throw throwing knives and stars at the tree.
Suffice to say I have the scars to prove I was far better than he!
Also in this house, I recall doing some rather serious damage to my foot whilst running around the garden with mates. There was an earth cable coming from the roof with the end of the cable attached to a steel spike in the ground. The spike protruded from the ground about 10cm or so. On this occasion, as I was running I managed to get the top of my right foot caught on the said spike. I ripped my foot open to the bone pretty much the entire length of the top of my foot.
The house was situated on top of a hill, on a crossroads. 2 of the adjourning roads were pretty steep. Think Wales/San Fransico steep. Which provided a great opportunity to do further injury on skateboards and bicycles.
But what I recall most fondly of my pre-teen years, was the time spent with my Ouma and Oupa (grandmother and grandfather).
My grandfather served in world war 2 as a pilot. His aircraft was shot down and he severely damaged both legs. As a result, he had to wear special supportive boots which if I recall correctly were to support his ankles and I think there was also a slight difference in leg length.
Because of this, he was retired. My grandmother did not work which was typical for their generation in South Africa. This meant that they had a lot of time on their hands, and as their children had flown the nest, I got to spend a lot of time with them.
I recall many road trips with them and it is during these road trips that my two lifelong passions began. Photography and travel. On the road trips when we found a great landscape shot or landmark, we would stop and my grandparents would take pictures including pictures of each of them with me. The problem was they weren't getting any images of themselves, so that's where I came in!
Most of these road trips, or at least the ones I have memories of took place in my pre-school years. In South Africa at the time, you started school aged 6. So most of my road trip memories with my grandparents are from around age 4-6.
Again some memories are more vivid than others. One of the stand out memories is attending an ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn, Western Cape, South Africa. It's pretty much the ostrich capital of the world. I remember there being a small exhibition centre there and one of the displays was what they found inside ostriches stomachs. There were spark plugs, dummies/pacifiers, soft drink cans and even a 2-litre plastic bottle! I also recall watching the ostrich races, where the 'jockey' rides an ostrich barebacked holding onto and steering the ostrich by its wings.
Strangely, despite getting as far as Western Cape, I have zero recollection of ever visiting Cape Town itself. I seem to have memories of several places in the Cape but none of Cape Town.
My grandparents and I would also very often visit my grandmother's sister and her family in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It was always great fun as I had/have some awesome 3rd cousins there which I have unfortunately not seen for over 30 years, which is a true regret of mine.
Another place I spent a fair bit of time was in Germiston, Gauteng. This is where my uncle lived with his family and my two cousins. Sadly, J, who was like the brother I never had in my life, died a few years back which was quite a blow. But actually was the catalyst for me reevaluating my own life. But more on that later.
It is with J that I learned that farts are flammable. This discovery came in the form of a demonstration one evening whilst in bed. J and I had to share a double bed in what was essentially a loft room.
Picture the scene. Complete darkness. Quiet house. You feel the sheets rise up and a voice that says, "Check this out". In the pitch blackness, I hear the sound of a lighter followed soon by powerful gut displacement activity resulting in the entire sheet glowing for a second. Looking back now that could have ended very differently. I've not actually yet tried this myself for fear of blowing the house down.
More on J in future chapters.
My grandparents were essentially the people that I developed and based my values and morals on. They were very 'old school'. The man was the head of the house, with the stay at home wife who took care of everything. And as a small child, all I saw was a couple who truly adored each other. What I saw were two people who enjoyed being with each other. Who had been married a good few decades. They taught me manners, please and thank you. It was common in my youth to call anyone old enough to be your parents, uncle or aunty, regardless of if they were total strangers, or your actual uncle or aunty. They taught me about respect. That your partner is your king or queen and you treat them as such, I couldn't ask for a better couple to have spent my informative years with.
It was during these road trips around South Africa that my wanderlust truly took hold. I loved meeting the people at the various hotels and guest houses we stayed overnight in. This travelling about South Africa, along with watching David Attenborough on the telly around the same time, had a young version of me determined to be a travelling photographer as an adult. In fact, the dream was to be one of Sir David Attenborough's photographers, travelling with him and his team around the world photographing the places I saw on the telly. The passion for photography would stay with me to the present day.
When I was 10 I acquired a sibling. My first. A sister. I think I took being the big brother to the next level with her. But that is what a big brother is for, to look out for his younger sibling, try to guide her where possible. The age gap did present a problem at times but more on that later. For this chapter, her arrival in the household was something that took a little getting used to at first but she soon became someone I would bond with in her younger years. Changing nappies when you're 10 years old is an interesting experience, but something that put me in a good position when my first child arrived in the world.
By the time I was twelve and nearing my time to becoming a teen, and my sister was 2-3, despite the age difference, we hung out quite a bit.
Next Chapter: The Teen Years (to be published)
See you for the next chapter soon.