THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

7   Loss

Until the onset of puberty he possessed a beautiful voice. Sometimes he sang duets with Mrs Rabinowitz whilst she provided the piano accompaniment. Braithwaite presided over the Ingachini Glee Club, which met every second Thursday of the month. At these meetings Henry sang the alto parts in a clear, thin falsetto. Braithwaite and Friedemann were both tenor, Witherspoon bass, and Naaktgeboren, when visiting, a strong baritone. When his voice cracked and broke into several useless pieces he was obliged to withdraw into the shadows and merely hum, much to his disappointment. They tried to console him by assuring him that this setback was only temporary. After all, unless a castrato, all boys go through a period when their vocal cords and associated ligaments and muscles suddenly undergo a growth spurt, and then within a year or two they regain control of their voices at an octave or so lower.

Before his voice had broken he was aware that in the pleasure of singing there was something special that made him feel light and invigorated. When he was singing Schubert's "Gesang der Geister uber den Wassem", harmonising with his three uncles, enunciating Goethe's simple words, comparing man's soul to water, rising, falling and rising again, he experienced something of the euphoria which is associated with the escape from reality. Only later, when he had been deprived of this pleasure and realised that he would probably never experience it again, did he begin to analyse this state of lightness and invigoration. He asked himself whether this sensation was the converse of something else. And if it was, then the antithesis had to be heaviness and boredom. And heaviness and boredom prevailed over lightness and invigoration, by far. My God, he thought, does this imply that the general condition of existence is characterised by heaviness and boredom? If indeed this be so, then I weep with pity for myself. Singing uplifted me. Now I am bereft. Woe is me!

By sixteen his voice had settled down. But what a voice it had become! It had descended to a dark depth from whence it arose with sly intent; fruity and seductive, and yet at the same time menacing, with a rough edge, a rasp and a phlegmy gruffness. It could be gentle and humorous and, when used in formal conversation, pleasantly beguiling. Received Pronunciation was taught to him by Braithwaite (Oxford), and Witherspoon (BBC). The additional influences of the Nguni, Afrikaans, Yiddish and German versions of spoken English had combined to produce in him a posh, la-di-dah accent with mild Southern African flavour. Erudition had equipped him with an extensive vocabulary that he employed in a grandiloquent manner befitting a dilettante. He could read aloud with expression, power and sonority, and it had been suggested, to his amusement, that he enter the church or politics.

"Jesus Christ Almighty! The Church? I'm not an ignorant peasant, you know. I've heard of Copernicus. I even know something about Newton, Darwin and Einstein. I micturate upon the Church. Politics? Do you take me for a lying scoundrel? Fuck thee hence!"

Despite his scorn, his voice would indeed have suited him ideally in the pursuit of such vocations. As an itinerant preacher he could have thundered at the sinners with excellent effect, filling their souls with fear and awe. As a rabble-rouser he would have had no difficulty in awakening the hatred and prejudice slumbering in the heart of the average citizen. He laughed heartily when Braithwaite suggested he train to be a Shakespearean actor. For this too his voice and his clowning ability would have served him well. But no, it was not to be. A dilettante does not commit himself to any one course, nor does he subject himself to the constraints of dedication or single-mindedness or discipline or pertinacity.

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