THE ECHO OF A NOISE: a Memoir of Then and Now by Pieter-Dirk Uys. Published by Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2018.
Is it perhaps because he has reached 70, that his writing – while still witty and pithy – has softened, sharing more of his persona? It took only a couple of chapters before I felt I really knew the little boy living in Pinelands, going to school, desperate to join the others wearing long pants, constantly in a state of skirmish with his unbending father.
The role of Sannie Abader, the Cape Malay housekeeper who ruled the Uys kitchen and doubled as a mother and friend to Pieter-Dirk, a situation replicated in so many South African domestic households during the middle of the 20th century.
For someone a few years older, who also grew up in southern suburban Cape Town with live-in maids, politically aware parents who were anti- Nat but fairly conservative followers of De Villiers Graaff, the world was white indeed.
This very human slice of his childhood and early career, his first trip to Europe and to Sophia Loren’s house makes enchanting reading. His student years at UCT Drama school and antics outside of it , another trip to Europe then back in Cape Town to work at the Space theatre and spend time annoying the inspectors of the Publications Control Board follows . In 1981 he performed the first of his one-man shows. As he remarks, 35 years later he is still writing, presenting and performing them...
Decades after the death of his parents, he regrets having not asked them more questions, particularly about his mother’s background. Scenarios like this that resonate with so many of us. Today P-D still churns out so many words using, of course, Windows 10. But always, next to his laptop sits his mother’s portable Underwood typewriter in its battered box, which she brought to South Africa in 1937.
As the back cover of this softback tells us “This is Pieter-Dirk Uys unpowdered. No props, no false eyelashes, no high heels...” Indeed. His first two memoirs, Elections and Erections published in 2002 and Between the Devil and the Deep in 2005 were great reads, but in this title I felt I really got to know something of the complex, talented person that he is, perhaps underlined with vivid memories of a matinee at Evita se Perron one spring weekend last year, where he was as brilliant as ever but looking, I thought, tired.
Does he ever get tired? The text finishes with a short biography followed by a list of his plays, revues, novels, memoirs, cookbooks and documentaries, feature films and television specials. Looking at that impressive list, one concludes that he cannot ever find time to be tired.
Illustrated with a fascinating collection of black and white photographs, ranging from babyhood to the present, a diverse family album that greatly enhances his prose.