On Bognor’s sun-soaked promenade Michelle told me how her link to the town dates back to working for the late and much-loved Erik-Jack as a dancer.
“I worked for him for many years and he was wonderful,” she recalled; her voice full of affection for ‘Mr Bognor.’
But in recent times Michelle has been more focussed on punctuation than pirouettes, as she has been busy editing ‘Soul Safari,’ her husband Gary’s autobiography.
“I nagged him to write a memoir for the family, but I soon realised that there was a wider audience for his story.”
And what a story it is. Telling of a changing country and incredible wildlife, the overriding message is one of hope. Diagnosed at birth in the late 60s with Asperger’s Syndrome, Gary’s family emigrated to South Africa when he was very young. Raised on a farm, toughened up at boarding school and tempered by military service, he became a hunter and later a game ranger, safari guide and lion researcher. His love of nature was further accelerated when he trained as a dive leader.
Believing that he has managed his condition so successfully because he has always followed his passions for music and nature, it was The Beatles ‘Yellow Submarine’ that provided the initial breakthrough with Gary’s Asperger’s syndrome.
“I remember it being played on the radio. It unlocked something in me, but as the song faded, so did I. My parents were stunned and took me to the hospital and played the song again. My doctor couldn’t believe it,” said Gary, who met Ringo while in South Africa and was able to tell him how the curious little song had impacted on his life.
“The farm school I went to was also important. It was so raw, but it gave me freedom to be myself. Kids were dropped off barefoot and on tractors,” he grinned.
An accomplished musician and wildlife photographer, Gary believes music and nature are a potent pairing.
“Music is inherent in nature and both make us better people. To crickets, the sound they make is like a choir, and you can feel the sound of elephants trumpeting reverberate right through you. It’s like a base note from Led Zeppelin.
“In the natural world you are always a student. Nature is so powerful and it’s right outside your front door.”
Telling me that the act of writing about his past brought the memories flooding back, Gary has advice for anyone contemplating writing their memoirs.
“Just to sit down and start writing. Just open that door.”
A labour of love to edit the manuscript, Michelle added with a laugh: “I agreed to do it, but only because I thought it would just be read by the family. When we realised that it had a bigger audience I agonised over every comma!”
SOUL SAFARI is available in kindle and paperback formats via amazon. More information or to book a talk: www.innermigrations.weebly.com.
Gary is appearing at the South Downs Folk Festival. Tickets: www.southdownsfolkfest.co.uk.