Growing up in eighties South Africa

2015-11-04 06:00
Author Trevor Romain with some of his illustrations. PHOTO: facebook

Author Trevor Romain with some of his illustrations. PHOTO: facebook

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TREVOR Romain’s latest literary offering, Blind Date at a Funeral (Penguin Random House), will make you laugh, remember similar events in your own life, and may even make you shed a tear or two.

The book is a collection of coming-of-age stories, which the author recorded in “journals, notebooks and on beer-stained bar napkins”, and which he says were inspired by the much-loved tales of Herman Charles Bosman.

In fact, the opening story, also called Blind Date at a Funeral, has a Bosman-esque setting.

In it, Romain joins an army friend at a funeral in Potchefstroom where he hopes to meet and sweep his friend’s cousin off her feet. Unfortunately, she has a rather large boyfriend, so he opts instead to listen to another elderly relative telling the Bosman stories.

Other tales in Johannesburg-born Romain’s book deal with his “foolish endeavours, dumb decisions, army adventures and the searing pain of losing the love of your life”.

“I couldn’t just write nonsense,” he said, “so I tried to find a gem in every story. The stories are poignant and humorous. And it’s fun to read them aloud and to see people laughing and crying at the same time. I love seeing the physical response to a story.

“Since Blind Date at a Funeral’s publication, I have received thousands of e-mails saying how they have triggered memories for them or reminded them of people they have not thought of for a long time.”

One of the most touching tales in the book is A Map of Heaven, in which Romain recalls meeting Victor, a 10-year-old patient at the American Childhood Cancer Organisation in Texas.

When Victor asks him if he thinks those who arrive in heaven are given a map to help them get about, Romain says that if and when he gets to heaven he should speak to his (Romain’s) grandfather and then gives the boy a sketch drawing of Teddy Tanchel to memorise.

Months later, after Victor loses his battle with cancer, Romain is stunned to see that the little boy, who is lying in an open casket, is holding the picture of his grandfather in his hands.

Romain is on the board of Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation and can often be found on the cancer ward at Brackenridge Hospital doing his rounds as Doctor of Mischief.

“Working with terminally ill children can include funny moments and sadness,” he said, “but I reckon that if you want to see the happiest place in the world, go to a children’s cancer ward ... These children live for now. It is so inspiring.”

Speaking to The Witness during a whistle-stop visit to promote Blind Date at a Funeral in South Africa and “hug his mom”, who lives in Gauteng, he said he is loving the chance to have African soil beneath his feet.

“I travel extensively but I always try to find time to come home to recharge the batteries,” he said. “I miss SA every day. I’ve been gone 30 years but still …”

Reading Blind Date at a Funeral, his affection for his homeland is clear.

And the book makes a great accompaniment to his previous releases — Random Kak I Remember About Growing Up in South Africa and Random Kak 2: Living, Loving and Laughing in South Africa — in which Romain shares what it was like growing up in SA in the seventies and eighties. Those books are, however, in sharp contrast to his award-winning series of self-help books for children, which deal with everything from bullying and stress to dyslexia and divorce.

“I’m dyslexic,” Romain said, “but I like to call myself attention-span challenged.

“I get distracted very quickly and at school I struggled with homework. I was speaking to a child about it and ended up writing down that story in a letter.”

One thing all his books have in common, however, is Romain’s drawings, ironic really when you consider that he was told by a teacher that he wasn’t talented enough to do art.

“For 20 years I doodled and messed around. Then I wrote a children’s book but I couldn’t find an illustrator whimsical enough,” he said.

“I ended up illustrating my own work and the rest is, as they say, history.”

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