The Life of Henry Fuckit
28 Bedford Street
When Henry was packing up his possessions before vacating his room at the YMCA he came across a grimy envelope serving as a bookmark. It jutted from the Gideons Bible that he had found in the drawer of the bedside table when he first moved in. In the past few months he had often browsed, especially through the Old Testament, and made cryptic notes on both sides of the envelope. On the back were Harry Bergson's name and phone number circled in pencil, forming an island in the sea of scribbles. He remembered his strange dream and thought, I must really give this man a call one day. He replaced the bookmark in Jonah, at the point where the reluctant emissary tells God, for the second time, he doesn't want to be involved in His petty squabble with the recalcitrant breekers down at Ninevah. Thoughtfully he weighed the book in his hand and then packed it away. He needed a Bible and the idea of stealing one appealed to him.
It would be inaccurate to say he moved into the Bedford Street house in Observatory because Ivor arranged for him to lodge not within the ramshackle double-storey residence itself but in a disused pigeon loft above the outbuilding at the back of the property.
"Now that the summer heat is safely behind us I am sure you'll be very comfortable up here." Solicitous of his manservant's welfare he helped Henry to sweep out the cobwebs, dust, droppings and feathers before hoisting a mattress through the trapdoor. "I envy you your snug privacy here. You might have difficulty enticing female guests up this ladder but feel free to wank as much as you like. Did you know it was the Egyptians who first domesticated the pigeon four and a half thousand years ago? Discovered the homing instinct and put it to use. Fascinating. Release a pigeon in the middle of nowhere and up it flies to a suitable height, circles about and somehow orientates itself, and then heads straight for home at a steady seventy or eighty miles an hour. And remember, never forget to extinguish candle or lamp before drifting into sweet slumber."
Henry was to receive free board and lodging at the student house and in return was to prepare breakfast and dinner when required, and to wash Ivor's dirty linen in an aged twin tub washing machine. They both agreed that ironing, like shaving, was an idiotic waste of energy and time. In addition to these domestic duties he was to accompany the undergraduate to lectures, carrying his books, taking notes and assisting him with research and the writing of essays. He did not view any of this as "work", having to prepare food and do washing for himself anyway, and being insatiable in his eclectic desire for knowledge. For more than two years it proved a most satisfactory arrangement.
There were five bedrooms, all spacious and well-proportioned with high ceilings, tall sash windows and creaking timber floors. The dining room contained a long table with eight chairs and a sideboard against one wall. There was an open fireplace in the sitting room and there were two divans and a battered green lounge suite of advanced age which could seat seven in varying degrees of comfort, and discomfort, depending on one's ability to avoid the broken springs. The kitchen and scullery were mean and cramped, having been designed for the use of servants. The plumbing was inadequate and the electrical wiring was antiquated and overloaded, resulting in frequent blowing of fuses. On such occasions when the house was plunged into sudden stygian silence the brief cessation of sound was always followed by loud shouts of rage and streams of anti-Semitic invective directed at the landlord. (At a later stage Mr Isodore Slick was to pay dearly for having caused his tenants this recurrent inconvenience.)
The Thompson brothers, who each had a room upstairs, were in no hurry to graduate and leave behind a life of happy-go-lucky simplicity. Joe, the elder, was in his sixth year of study, having successfully completed three years of a four-year Geology degree. Steve was three years younger. He had passed his first year after only two years study and was making cautious headway into the second year of a five-year degree in Architecture.
Mike de Jongh was in his third year of Dentistry. A diligent student, tall and athletic, he played first team rugby, showered and shaved a lot, and was thoroughly unBohemian in behaviour and appearance. He had the room at the top of the stair opposite that of the only female resident.
Kaye Goldblatt instilled fear in most men. Of average height her body was shapely - nice ass, nice tits, flat belly. But she made no effort to show it off, wearing dowdily functional clothes, and fixing her long black hair in a tight bun at the back of her head. Her spectacles were black-rimmed and thick-lensed so it was not easy to read emotion in her dark eyes. She had the sallow complexion of a heavy smoker and because her features were in an almost habitual state of reflective repose her general demeanour was perceived as saturnine. She was reputed to be a genius, having completed in two years a four-year honours degree in English and Philosophy. She was now in her second year at Medical School, achieving excellent marks with minimal effort, disdaining attendance of most lectures.
In later years Henry was to acknowledge the debts of gratitude he owed to the five of them, realising that in the time at Bedford Street he developed some attitudes and acquired some habits that were to stay with him for a long time. It was Joe who taught him the morality of taking from the unworthy and giving to the needy. "The world is full of pigs and sheep," he said, by way of illustrating his argument. "The pigs are greedy and without scruples. The sheep are stupid and weak. Of course the pigs will share nothing with the sheep; why should they? A pig is a pig." He went on to explain to Henry that to take from a pig was entirely moral and correct providing one remained contemptuous of pigs and did not envy them or covet their possessions. One took what one needed and redistributed the rest. "And remember, never doubt your assumptions. If you think he's a pig, then he is one and you must act accordingly. Start doubting your judgement and you'll end up taking nothing."
"Ah, you belong to the Braithwaite School." And later Henry told him about his amazing uncles, Septimus, Aubrey and Fritz.
One Saturday morning, having noted the ragged condition of his clothing, Joe took him to Cape Union Mart in Plein Street with the intention of stocking Henry's wardrobe for the next decade. Cape Union Mart was a form of Army & Navy Store selling military and outdoor clothing and equipment. Its main line of business was in contracts with the armed forces as well as the Department of Transport, which undertook three expeditions a year to its remote South Atlantic weather stations. After an hour of trying on a range of clothing Henry had selected PT shorts, a cotton t-shirt, a pair of long blue trousers, a button-up naval shirt, a pair of black leather boots, three pairs of Norweigen socks, a Navy pullover, and a floppy cotton bush hat.
Ten days later, around lunchtime, an olive green seven-ton Bedford truck with high canvas canopy pulled up in Bedford Street. The Thompsons, Ivor and Henry each took a corner of the wooden crate, struggled up the path and put it down on the stoep. Joe took the clipboard from the Naval driver and signed himself as Captain Ahab. The seaman looked from the signature to the signer, who was somewhat dishevelled and wearing only a sarong, having just risen from his bed. The look of bored disdain left the sailor's face, along with some of his colour, and he stiffened to attention and saluted smartly. Joe responded with the peace sign. "Fuck it, son, stand easy. We're not up on the fucking bridge, you know." The serviceman clambered hastily into the cab and the truck pulled away.
On the stoep, with the crate lid off, there was much oohing and aahing and other expressions of appreciation. Joe folded his arms and looked on with avuncular good humour. "Shiiit, Joe, this is unbelievably generous." Henry was a little overawed. "Thirty of everything! I mean, this is the type of extravagant generosity I thought belonged to a bygone age. I am embarrassed by the lavishness of this gift. It's almost obscene. Thirty T-shirts, thirty shorts. Alright, that's still within the bounds of liberality. Ten years' supply. But thirty pairs of boots! Thirty pullovers? What am I going to do with thirty pairs of boots? How the hell did you arrange this?"
Joe's manner became cool and offhand making it clear that he took offence at Henry's crass ingratitude. "I can't believe that you should be looking a gift horse in the mouth. You big poes, don't you realise this is currency? Now you have something to barter with. And to give away. I'm offering you Karma, you cunt. You are rich! And never ever again be so stupid as to ask from whence cometh thy help. Just be happy that I made some valuable connections in the year the Navy stole from my life. Always turn vicissitude to advantage. Always be ready to learn. I learned that the highest rank in the Navy, the most powerful, the most influential, is not Admiral but Chief Petty Officer, Stores!" With that he turned and went inside to the kitchen in order to drink a glass of milk and prepare himself a nutritious wholewheat sandwich with lettuce, onion and strong cheese.
Steve Thompson had a lasting influence on Henry's diet. He was one of those vegetarians who ate meat whenever it was freely available, lean and well prepared. Fish and chicken he did not classify as true meat and ate them with relish and without apology. His main source of protein was from eggs, cheese, nuts and pulses. He advocated the benefits of eating fresh fruit and raw vegetables and he had nothing against beer and wine in excess, and spirits in moderation. Above all he introduced Henry to muesli:
"Hold back with the wheat germ. Thoroughly mix the other ingredients and stir in the honey combined with the warm oil. Then very lightly toast in a moderate oven with the door ajar. Stir frequently. When cool it is safe to add the wheat germ, and the dried fruit, of course."
"What's so special about the wheat germ?"
"It's the embryo of the wheat grain. Bursting with vitamins. Heat it and you kill the vitamins stone dead and then there's no point in eating wheat germ. Total waste of money. This quantity, properly stored in an airtight plastic bucket, will last one man six weeks, if he has four tablespoons a day. If you were required to cut out all meals except one, then the one to remain should be muesli. Balanced and nutritious, it keeps your bowels open, your complexion clear, your hair glossy, your eyes bright, your jaws strong, your muscles supple and your joints loose. It enhances mental activity and you sleep soundly. And, I think this is worth mentioning, it improves the rigidity of your erections and tones up the rugose surface of your scrotum."
"Ah, there we are - that alone is good enough reason for me. It's common knowledge that a tight scrotum is most beneficial for the well-being of the gonads."
Over time Henry developed his own personal technique for the eating of this muesli. Into a bowl he cut finely a quarter of an apple and half a banana. Upon this fresh fruit he spread four heaped tablespoons of the wonder cereal and stirred the dry contents together before inundating with cold milk. He covered the bowl and allowed it to stand for half an hour. In this time most of the milk was absorbed and the dried fruit began to swell and become succulent. Prior to commencing the meal he topped it with three spoons of plain Bulgarian yoghurt. Preferring solitude at breakfast he sought out a comfortable place where he would not be interfered with and, cupping the bowl in left hand, he began the slow ruminative process of eating his muesli with a teaspoon.
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