LONDON LETTER: When life comes full circle

WE’RE in the middle of a cold snap, and bizarrely, when it’s freezing in England it usually means the sun is shining.

That’s pretty eerie for an African-born git like me to grasp, but it’s something to do with heat bouncing off clouds. So cloudy days are warmer days – go figure.

Anyway, I’m sitting at my desk looking out onto our wintry pocket-sized garden.

The pond is frozen with goldfish gazing up through a translucent film.

The birdbath is a weird convex-shaped circle of ice.

The grass is dusted with frost, looking like peppermint cake, and the birds are pecking at rock-hard fat-balls swinging from a wire spanning the lawn.

I’m pretty toasty with a heater at my legs, and the only time I’ll go outside will be when the dog starts yowling for a walk. He has thick fur and loves this weather.

That thought makes me melancholy. Now I’m approaching the winter (segued effortlessly into that!) of my years, I often wish I had become a professional outdoorsman.

I had the perfect upbringing in Mozambique, roaming the veld with a pellet gun, while my dad was an avid yachtsman. So if not hunting, or pretending to, most weekends were spent either fishing or sailing.

My dad was born in Mozambique when it was truly wild country. He built himself a canoe in his teens, and as he lived just above the bay, he could launch at will.

Anyone who’s been to Maputo – or Lourenco Marques as it was then – will know how big that bay is. My dad paddled virtually every inch of its coastline in a flimsy canvas kayak.

So when he finally got himself a decent boat, a 9m yacht, he already knew where most sandbanks or rocks were.

Navigation was simple. He just hoisted me up the mast in a bosun’s chair to point out the darker patches, which indicated deeper water. He could also steer by the stars.

Sadly, I didn’t learn as much from him as I should have. I didn’t listen when he pointed out the Southern Cross, or how to hear what the winds whispered.

But I certainly knew the basics; how to steer in a southerly gale with a skittish tiller, how to tie a bowline blindfolded, and how to bait and catch fish before I could recite the alphabet.

You can imagine the effect that lifestyle had on me when I was packed off to boarding school in Jo’burg.


Most of the time was spent dreaming of the outdoors – fishing and sailing. And when I left school, I was more equipped for crewing on a yacht than going to university.

However, that’s not what happened in those days. There were no jobs pulling ropes on boats or guiding anglers to monster groupers lurking around the wrecks I knew first-hand off Xefina Island.

You could not be gainfully employed taking scuba divers to Inhaca. It did not even enter my consciousness. Fishing and sailing were fun things, and work was not meant to be fun.

Actually, to my surprise work was fun. For most of my life, journalism has been a no-seatbelt ride that I’m not sure being a professional yachtie or fishing gilly would equal.

Then we came to England. I got into digital journalism where the trick is to excite Google rather than readers. That’s where you get the hits – and advertisers go for hits.

For 16 years I did that, and all I can say is I paid my dues putting bread on the table for my family. Perhaps just hanging in there is my proudest achievement.

So… what’s the reason for these whimsical musings? As the barman said to the horse, why the long face?

Not so. In fact, the opposite. It suddenly came to me that in some weirdly happy way, things have turned a full circle.

Most weekends, ice or sun, I’m at the lake fishing. I drive a Jimny, a tough little off-road jeep that I have always wanted. Management graciously books getaways where I can roam the woods.

So maybe spiritually I’m back to those days of Mozambique where it all started. Now that’s something to cherish.

Graham Spence

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