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Hilarity, Swimming and a Fear of Death at the Launch of Darrel Bristow-Bovey’s One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo

Darrel Bristow-Bovey

If a Romantic poet and dandy like Lord Byron could successfully cross the Dardanelles – the most famous stretch of open water in ancient history separating Europe from Asia, which coincidentally inspired Byron’s epic Don Juan – then how hard could it really be?

That question set Darrel Bristow-Bovey off on his own Speedo-clad endeavour, which led in due course to him facing that eternal chestnut the meaning of life – and eventually to the writing and publication of his poignant and funny memoir One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo. The book was launched at Kalk Bay Books this month.

Darrel Bristow-BoveyOne Midlife Crisis and a SpeedoThe author, who is a well-known screenwriter, travel writer and columnist, was joined by the award-winning writer Henrietta Rose-Innes in sparkling conversation, replete with witty repartee, about the trials and tribulations of realising one’s mortality and the particular perils associated with the age of 43.

Rose-Innes recalled waking recently in the small hours with her own “typical midlife crisis-y anxiety”. “As an antidote to insomnia,” she says, “I picked up this book, read it – one shot – in two hours, laughing throughout. I was laughing initially with a pained recognition, but by the end with relief and a kind of joy.” She commented that the book appears to be written for the 40-somethings of this particular generation, who appear to be singularly unprepared for adulthood. “We seem to think we’re going to be kids forever,” she said.

Bristow-Bovey said he’d identified his midlife crisis with a sense of relief. “It was good to be of an age that I could put a label on the free-floating anxieties that have plagued me ever since I was three … it is about every generation, though, and what happens when you get to a certain age and start thinking about time, and your life.” It’s not just about the 40s, he says, it’s about making sense of your life and how fast it is suddenly going.

“Everybody thinks they’re going to be kids forever. When you’re young, aging and death is something that happens to other people. I always thought there’d be an exception made, that death wouldn’t particularly come for me, but then the realisation strikes like a thief in the night, and you lie awake, fretting.

One pair of socks and a midlife crisisRose-Innes questioned whether the concept of a midlife crisis wasn’t somehow outdated. “In the ’70s and ’80s, when we were growing up,” she said, “it was something that happened to other people’s dodgy fathers, who left their wives and went off with a swimsuit model in a Ferrari.”

“Or in my neighbourhood,” interjected the author, “they burnt their bald patch as they drove off in the Mazda 323 …”

On a more somber note, Bristow-Bovey said: “We laugh and sneer, but really it’s about a lack of preparation, a lack of self-examination. Our peer group was spoiled. When we were 20, things suddenly went well. Apartheid ended. The Berlin Wall fell. It felt like we were young and would be happy forever. History had ended and we were entitled, expecting things to get better and better.”

The audience thoroughly enjoyed the event, weeping tears of merriment at the bemused look on the author’s face as he articulated how little he actually likes swimming – “It’s awful, swimming!” – and the plaintive bewildered tone as he said, “But where are all the swimsuit models?”

Books were signed, Leopards Leap wine was quaffed, and the author gazed happily at the Kalk Bay coastline and departed with the signature wry smile on his face.

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Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:


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