Nobody could save George, and he is probably better off dead than living the haunted life of his old age. I am sad and angry that I no longer have the photograph of him, his hair and beard glowing, backlit in winter sun. It was a great record of George, and would have been a fitting epitaph, not for any reason connected to picture taking or to cameras, lighting or lensing, but because of the way he revealed himself as both unbelievably strong (in the sense of unbreakable) and very intelligent. These qualities seemed at odds with the wear and tear he had put on himself, the relentless alcohol consumption, the lack of care, of housing, of any purpose but to survive another day. George had painted my old mini that year. He began by taking things apart. "This is not a repair, John... It is a restoration." Months later, the car was in pieces which he no longer remembered having ever seen: everyday a new coat of primer went on, followed by a coat of paint and later he would sand it all off with paper rough enough to gouge deep scratches into the surface, which he would fill the following day with another coat of primer. It was when George offered to help out with an electrical problem that I realized that he was completely colour blind. He could barely see, but managed to get by through touch and by navigating between the tones of light and darkness. Perhaps this was when I deleted the photograph, "Arsehole!" ... and swore never to offer him work again. His home was an old Kombi on André's farm, and it was clear that he was going nowhere from the day that he arrived. He had been living for some time in this car outside his countryman Willie's house in Tamboerskloof. It was when the police threatened to arrest him and confiscate the car (which contained all George's possessions) that Willie arranged for it to be moved on a tow truck to a spot outside André's studio. George subsisted on odd jobs. If one couldn't afford a proper repair or service or one was just too mean to pay, then George was the man. So he was always in work, but never earned enough to repair his own car, which was engine-less, wheel-less, radiator-less and rusted. He would lure me into a discussion on the merits of cars and motors: "John, if I can just get a BM 1800 motor, I will drive anywhere in this Kombi". He insisted on a fee of R200, paid at the end of each day. He refused work that only offered payment on completion. And so jobs dragged on and on, because his daily fee was spent on supplies, some meat, sugar, bread, a bottle of old brown sherry. And he would be too sick to work the next day. He would pass out on the bed in the Kombi, the door open, his meat cooking on the tiny battered Weber - to awake convinced that the farm children had stolen his supper - but the dogs were never blamed. The next day the Kombi's sliding door would remain shut until late in the afternoon. Or it had not been closed and George was displayed inside, as if dead, surrounded by flies. It was André or Peter van Heerden who suggested installing George and his Kombi as an artwork and for a while afterwards the encampment was referred to as The Turner.
I had met George in two earlier incarnations, both forgotten - in the early 1970s when he was a prosperous engineer and was one of a group of German expats whom we Space Theatre people would observe gathering in Willie's restaurant, The Blue Lodge (Black Forest cake and Eisbein, under a glass counter, framed of black square tubular steel, perhaps built by George?). We were young and ignorant and liberal and imagined that these were reunions of ex ww2 soldiers, that the songs they sung were fascist, that they celebrated Hitler's Birthday. Forty years later when I got to know George a little on the farm, I learnt that he wasn't really German, the story is half forgotten but he was by ancestry partly Polish. When my friend Braam, who later became Braam the Props Man, phoned me in 1993 to let me in on a great sale of wood and steel and timber that he had just found at a house in Brooklyn, I met George a second time, without at that moment realizing that I had seen him, often, twenty years before. This was when he became 'German' George. That is how Braam and myself identified the various supplies we bought that day at cut price and used for years to come... "Do you still have any of that German George Plywood?" The house was in chaos. Bottles were piled up on every surface and in every corner. George had been building an ocean going sailing boat, or planning to. The garden was full of the pieces that would have one day made the boat: steel plating, sheets of plywood, poles and rods and tubes. A marine diesel engine in a crate. The tools with which it was to be made - saws, bending presses, welding machines, hoists. “Everything must go, must go”, he was jumping around like a fairground barker: a muscular man with red hair, half young, half pissed, surrounded by a crew of drinking women of the night. This was George. He was forced to sell everything (a divorce, an estranged wife), and then he turned up at Erf 81, about ten years ago, a white haired derelict in his own car cemetery. In his prime George had worked for visiting formula one teams. He spoke of Nigel (Manson), had built the red Eduardo Villa sculpture outside the civic center and once gave me a lecture on colour theory, which spanned heraldry and racing cars, Norse Mythology, and the psychology of fear. Now he is dead and I am happy for him.
Text and photos published with kind permission from my friend John Nankin. He is a great writer. I often encountered German George on my rambles at the Military Farm, which is around the corner from where I live. I would mostly take a wide berth around his van, as one could never be sure what his mood would be like on any particular day.