A QUESTION OF GOETHE
Meryl Hancock meets Guy Cheales, a “boring, grumpy, middle-aged white anglo-saxon,” to unlock the secret to his smile.
His notebook is petite yet immaculate. It is chocked full with hobbit scrawl, which surely a bespectacled man of his age would find difficult to read. The words are imprisoned in their miniature gaol. These black scratchings on white paper are important to him, two highly significant colours. They link him to his past, to tumultuous times when racial tension forced him from his homeland over thirty years ago.
Guy Cheales is comfortable in his smooth, shiny skin. More than he ever was as a child growing up in South Africa. Raised in the bush in the North East, his Father farmed citrus and dairy, later converting the property to a commercial gum tree plantation. “I grew up in a minority group. I was the white guy.” Society in the sixties was very segregated. “I can still remember my grandmother calling black people “niggers”,” he shares.
The household ran four staff, a houseboy, a gardener, a nanny and a cook. Food was plentiful and magically appeared on the table. His life was focused on play, particularly with the black kids. He never quite understood why they were forbidden from entering the house. “I never felt at home in South Africa,” he says sadly.
At the age of twenty he shed the privilege of his white cocoon and moved to the UK. Living alone for the first time in his life was a shock. “I was raised like nineteenth century European Royalty, I had never associated food preparation with what arrived on the table,” he admits.
Between there and South Africa, he commenced a career as a motor mechanic before emigrating to Australia in 1974. He then switched to sheet metal manufacturing, even registering some Australian designs. All this from a man who describes himself as “a boring, middle-aged, white anglo saxon, a grumpy old man.” Guy’s liquid brown eyes glisten with amusement. It is evident that this self-effacement is just a ruse.
He considers himself “manually and dextrally challenged,” yet he has forever kept notes and diaries. His greatest pleasures are ferreting in bookstores, visualising sunsets, writing and reading. Not surprisingly he often thinks in colour.
Apart from his wife Cate and family, Guy’s major inspiration is Goethe, the seventeenth Century German Philosopher with whom he would choose to spend his last meal on earth. What would they dine on? “If I had to go back to the 1790’s with him, it would probably be German sausage and a beer,” he chuckles. He has just completed Goethe’s “How to be happy in an imperfect world” and loved it. “Goethe was happy and functional, abilities that I strive towards,” he says.
If his beaming smile is anything to go by, he is succeeding. He dons his grubby white cap, complete with frayed flag. It is not South African, nor the standard Australian, but the red, black and yellow aboriginal flag. “Do you like my cap?” he demands, ever the provocateur. He has what he terms “some passive sympathy” for Australia’s original people. “I think it’s a more appropriate flag for Australia,” he quips, “but I do get some funny looks.”
Where to find Guy Cheales online
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