Anton, an only child, was a muscular man of six foot two who was handsome in the way that Clark Gable or Omar Sharif were handsome. He was capable and intelligent and embodied in every way what at the time were thought to be the manly virtues: he held the high school javelin-throwing record from 1948 up to the time that the Transvaal was dissolved into its current configuration of provinces; he had attained the summit of Boy Scouting and could demonstrate every one of those curious skills which boy scouts seek to attain; he dressed well when not in farmer’s khakis, could dance ballroom and sing opera which, it seems, he had done briefly in Johannesburg before we ever met him; he could sail, drive any vehicle, and do complex cabinet-making; he was a natural linguist and could, it seemed, absorb any language simply by soaking himself in its atmosphere, so that by the last time I heard of him, he was fluent in all the major languages spoken on the European continent, from Portuguese to Russian, as well as English (which he spoke flawlessly and without trace of accent), SiSwati, Zulu and Afrikaans – his mother tongue; he was fearless, especially when angry; he could shoot accurately; he read classics, collected classical music and knew the lives of the musicians; he could build a house.
I admired these things in him, but I did not like him because his formidable presence stood between me and Lesley. There were also things in him I disliked or feared, in particular his unpredictable propensity for anger and violence. With hindsight, I might say that he was bipolar, alternating cyclically between rages and depressions, with periods of competent calm in between. It may be that nowadays he would be medicated, perhaps with Pfizer’s Geodon (ziprasidone), which ‘works well for symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and withdrawal’ though I cannot imagine that he would have accepted the trade-off that the drug offers. In return for reduced symptoms, it offers the risk of tiredness or sleepiness, nausea, constipation, dizziness, restlessness, diarrhoea, rash, cough/runny nose, abnormal muscle movements such as tremor, shuffling and uncontrolled involuntary movements. Although there was much that was unattractive about Anton’s tendency to soar into rages and slump into depressions, the thought of this man reduced to a shambling, well-behaved patient is, to me, far more repulsive.
Anton was a meaty man, as the large slabs of muscle which covered his body testified. He liked to eat animals, especially their muscles but also most other parts of their bodies (with the exception of skin, connective tissue, lungs, genitalia, bones and eyes), and I can recall meals of kidney, brawn, liver, brains, tripe, oxtail and other offal over which I gagged, but which I ate, not wanting to seem weak. These memories are configured around a pervasive sensation of suppressed nausea. My mother told me that towards the very end of their relationship, at a time when she had just come under the influence of Charan Singh and was experimenting with vegetarianism, he made her a meal consisting entirely of obscure body-parts of animals, each prepared in the cordon bleu manner which he had recently mastered.
He kept animals for slaughter. Once I assisted, against my will, but not wanting to be taken for a coward, in the slaughter of a large white boar. The pig, probably suspecting the intentions of the workers who drove it to the place where its throat would be cut and blood drained, fought. He weighed three or four times more than Anton, and it was not without effort and some danger that he could be positioned below the steel hook where his hind legs were tied and he was hoisted upside down with a block and tackle for his throat to be cut. It seems to me that he squealed and roared, writhed and thrashed even as his blood gushed into a basin below his snout. How that living and unwilling pig became ‘meat’ is still clearly with me, especially the smell of burning hair mixed with blood and smoke as the bristles were burnt away from his carcass.
If Pfizer, the firm that manufactures the pharmakon called Geodon (ziprasidone) might have offered the dubious benefits of science to Anton’s state of mind, it might also have extended succour to him as a farmer, for it is not only in the business of medicating people who experience the world too intensely, but has a multi-billion dollar operation in biochemical admixtures, called medicated feed additives, for cattle, pigs and other unhealthily confined meat animals. But Anton was farming forty or more years ago, and these no doubt efficient products did not exist. What did exist were poisons, DDT and Dieldrin to name but two, and Anton made lavish use of these whenever the time came to spray the orange orchards for this or that pest. But he was not a good farmer, and no amount of agrichemical inputs or Land Bank loans could turn him into one.
As a child I sometimes thought that he was a madman. That he was good-looking madman filled with the manly virtues and graces made it more difficult for me: he was undoubtedly attractive, even beautiful, while being scary, unpredictable and way way way beyond any possible control that I, the slight second child of his lover and wife, might have exercised.