I’ve been writing professionally since I was nineteen.
Yes, I was damn lucky, and also, I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was about nine.
I started out as a trainee copywriter for an ad agency in the Carlton Centre, Johannesburg.
My feet, blistered from pounding the streets with a portfolio, were enshrouded in gray socks and army issue leather sandals ( Air Force issue actually, and I had just mustered out a little over a month before).
The footwear helped, because everybody thought I must be creative to wear sandals and socks. Only my feet knew the truth.
They gave me piles and piles of technical papers to sift through and make sense of, and turn into ‘single -minded propositions’ for engineering and construction firms, and other related industrial stuff.
Not the glamour division this.
But hey, I had a job, and diligently sifted and learned how gang nails hold joists in place, and how they were better than nails that didn’t hang out in gangs, and let the buyers of joists know this.
It was actually damn fine training. Wading through all the technical bumph, chucking out the waffle, and distilling the message to a core idea was great discipline, and I am grateful for it today.
But no flash advertising stuff.
That would take some time. Which brings me to my story.
Many years later, we were shooting a commercial for Elastoplast (the breathing plaster).
I wanted the pack to breathe in and out at the end of the movie, and in those days CG was an abbreviation for cigar.
So we took the cardboard pack, cut a hole in the bottom, and drilled a hole in thecurved white perspex we had carefully placed our prize packshot on.
From beneath, with a footpump, someone was to pump air into an attached balloon, hidden within said Elastoplast pack, and voila, the pack would ‘breathe’ in and out..
There was an added dimension to this. I wanted the pack to breathe in and out in its reflection too.
So they coated the perspex with shiny vaseline. Looked great, but melted fast under the lights.
Then they started pumping. The balloons puffed the pack out and then, bang! they popped.
After some time, many balloons later, and no breathing packshot, I got to thinking.
What works like a balloon, but is much stronger? Right.
I told the crew to hang in there, grabbed a nearby lady production assistant, and drove off to the the late night chemist’s, in Highpoint, Hillbrow, one of the most densely populated ,and weirder, square miles in the world.
I screeched up to the drugstore, and the production lady confided she was too shy to go and order a gross of condoms.
Muttering, I ran in, dragging her along.
The chemist was behind the counter, looking world weary and tired. There were a few characters shading parts of the store.
I said ‘ Please give us a hundred and forty four condoms and a family jar of vaseline’.
Suddenly the shadows in the room gathered. And dimly in the recesses of my brain, I realised what I had said. So I said ‘ You’re not going to believe what this is for…’
The chemist said, waving his tremulous hands ‘ I don’t want to know.’
Who says you don’t have fun writing?