Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Saying goodbye to an old friend

Before I ‘semigrated’ from the city to the country, I saw in my last Cape Town New Year morning – the year 2000 – on the slopes of Lion’s Head with lots of other partying people, including my boyfriend, Marc.

Lion’s Head was special to Marc and me – we often went up there (in the days before you were regularly mugged) to have picnics, and on one particularly memorable occasion, we took magic mushrooms and had an astonishing sunset, then spent what turned out to be an entire night watching the grass grow and being utterly entranced by it.

That was Marc: ask him if he was game for something, and he’d always say, ‘You can’t scare me.’ And, really, you couldn’t. Nothing could.

I met him at a mutual friend’s birthday party. My date for the evening was an old and understanding friend – fortunately, as it turned out, because Marc moved in on me as if chum had been thrown in the water and he was a feeding shark. (He wouldn’t mind me using this analogy since it’s one he himself came up with.) My date gracefully bowed out, and Marc ended up driving me home, after the party, from Hout Bay to Observatory, where I lived at the time, in a raging Cape winter storm, in his soft-top Beetle.
Above: Marc and me at Burns’ Night at Kelvin Grove. The necklace I’m wearing was a gift from him. It won first prize in an art competition. We went to see the exhibition and I loved it, and Marc bought it for me as a surprise. (It was later stolen, a loss I still grind my teeth about.)

It was the beginning of a tumultuous relationship and six years of mayhem. Marc, a twice-married, reformed bachelor who at the time had just (along with his partner, Gary) sold the very successful MG’s Coffee Shop franchise and opened The Blue Plate restaurant in Kloof Street, lived a largely nocturnal existence (as restaurateurs do). I was – as I still am – an early riser, with two small school-going children and a daytime freelance career. As a result, finding time to spend together (even when we lived together, as we did for several years) was a constant battle – and as a result of that, when we did both have an evening off, we tended to go a bit wild.
Above: About to go horse-riding in Paarl. Marc was a cowboy at heart, so this is one thing he didn't mind doing with me.

Marc was a very friendly, sociable creature – there was nothing he loved more than hosting a party, along with good food, great wine and plenty of ’70s metal hippie music (he adored Clapton and Hendrix). I was – and again, still am – much keener to spend time one-on-one and often got freaked out by too many people; and, of course, I love Abba and Neil. And his friends didn’t like me, and mine didn’t like him. So it was always a somewhat difficult match.
Left: Marc often did things I liked but he didn’t. (But, hey, and vice versa!) Here, we’re finishing the Cape Times Big Walk. You can see how much he’s enjoying it.

One way we did connect was in hedonism – we both loved getting out of it. We’d go, just the two of us, to The Corner House or some other Cape Town club and drink tequila and dance our feet off. And sometimes we did the same at home – putting on CD after CD and drinking wine and smoking endless cigarettes and dancing and chatting until morning. (Those were, I think, my favourite times.) We loved the Red Herring in Hout Bay for long Sunday lunches. And occasionally I’d go and meet him after The Blue Plate had closed for the evening, and we’d join the other night-owls at the Kloof Street restaurants that catered for that stay-awake-all-night, sleep-all-day community.

Marc had two children from his first marriage whom he adored – they lived with their mother in Joburg, and he never really got his head around life away from them. Once a year they would arrive for the holidays, and that was Marc’s real Christmas. Even though his kids were considerably older than mine (so, another mismatch), we somehow muddled through – Carols by Candlelight at Kirstenbosch, climbing Lion’s Head (of course!), picnics on the beach, playing boules (with tennis, one of Marc’s all-time favourite games) in Cecilia Forest, going to movies at the Waterfront. By then Marc had a left-hand-drive Alpha Spider (a totally unsuitable car for a South African 6-foot-6 man with a family!) so we’d have to travel in convoy (I had a little red Golf). It was always disorganised but mainly fun, and Marc would takes weeks to get happy again after his kids had left.

It’s probably fair to say that Marc and I went at it too hard and too fast, and when our relationship ended, we needed several years (yes, years) to both process what we’d gone through and appreciate what we’d had. To Marc’s endless credit, he achieved this both more quickly and more graciously than me, and was much more willing to let bygones be bygones.

But I’m happy to say that we never completely lost contact, and that the last email I got from him, last Saturday, told me that he was listening to one of our favourite songs from that time, ‘How Bizarre’. ‘How fabulous,’ he wrote. Both his children are grown-ups and he was so proud of them – and he had a grandchild. I think he was happy.

Marc died on Monday 18 July – not incidentally (I like to think) the birthday of one of his heroes, Nelson Mandela.

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