dropout amoebae

As the 1960s ended and the 1970s began, everything broke apart. Like autumn leaves, the past dropped off and blew away, and with it the continuities and memories it holds. I left school, entering the world with no skills except the manual ones I had taught myself and an exceptional proficiency in skiving. The world into which the python of education disgorged me was also in flux: Anton had gone his way, never to be seen again. Lesley had moved out of the house into her cottage, become a satsangi and filled her life with the significations of that faith. Jack soon sold Sea Girt, the Clifton bungalow, and followed Uys and Jan to Onrust, where he bought a fifteen-acre farm called El Dorado, and began a new life there.

Having spent one summer full of girls, drugs, psychedelic music and hippie crash-pads, I went to the University of Cape Town, ostensibly to study marine biology but in fact to absorb myself in the youth culture which, with its anti-establishment bias and emphasis on pleasure and escapism, was the perfect receptacle for my proclivities. Unable to study, I was unsuited to science, but biology was the single subject I had enjoyed at school. It was taught by the only teacher who had in any way inspired me – Mr de Kok, whom we called Doodles – who stands out in my memory because he made the life sciences seem interesting and deep, and treated his boys like adults, encouraging us to use equipment and conduct experiments in the laboratory that was the biology classroom. Above all, it was the cellular life which fascinated me – small amoebae, prepared slides of fantastical animalcules, invisible symmetries and patterns, all bursting into radiant clarity under the microscope’s lens. Blood corpuscles pulsed through capillaries, realm after realm of light-filled life unfolded in a drop of pond-water, each complete, alive and mysterious.

But university physics and chemistry defeated me, or lost my interest, and I dropped out and drifted. The next year, 1971, I entered an apprenticeship as a jeweller, and in the practice of the skills of that trade, I finally came home.


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