John “Spud” Milton on posing as an intellectual, flashing, and his tricky relationship with “literary middleman” John van de Ruit
John “Spud” Milton is the star of three published volumes of diaries and a film. He started boarding school in 1990 and in Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear, his final volume of memoir, written by middleman John van de Ruit, 1993 finds Spud returning to school wearing a prefect’s tie, armed with a raging libido and learning that being a large(ish) fish in a small pond has its fair share of challenges.
He finds himself embroiled in fighting for his own room, directing a play where the lead actors refuse to learn their lines, and assisting in Vern Blackadder’s dramatic return from the dead with nothing more than a drip cord and a pair of oven gloves.
Amid mounting pressure in the classroom and on the cricket field, Spud prepares to face down the most dreaded challenge of them all – finding a date for the matric dance.
The best thing about being John “Spud” Milton is that I am far more famous in South Africa than the original John Milton. For those of you who have never heard of the previous John Milton, he was an old English poet – if you don’t know that then you may struggle or have struggled in your English exams.
A word of advice when having intellectual conversations with people far cleverer than oneself, never admit when you don’t know who or what they’re talking about. When confused, nod sagely at certain points and when in doubt throw in a neutrally supportive comment like “Couldn’t agree more.”
Being a real-life fictional character certainly has its downsides. My very existence on this earth is often questioned, as is the size of my manhood, thanks to my nickname, which has stuck ever since first year. I mean, think about it from my perspective: the only way to prove to somebody that you are no longer a spud is by flashing, which I understand is illegal just about everywhere barring Italy and Harrismith. Being known for the former size of your member may be a laughing matter for half a million South Africans, but I am not amused.
It’s difficult to predict where the future might take me. I guess that’s probably why it’s called the future. In the short term I plan to take my share of the royalties, cash in on my short-lived fame and throw a huge party with far more girls than boys. In fact, make that a huge party with only girls.
When I think long term I dream of living the quiet life in a beach house on a remote island with only a few sheep and a small community of strange hobbit-like people for company. In short I dream of New Zealand. (That said, we live in an excellent country stacked with a variety of fascinating and insanely mad people, most of whom seem to work in local government.)
There are certain things that I would never dream of writing in my diary. Let’s face it, we all have a few skeletons in the closet (Boggo claims to have several, though he’s most probably referring to his vast collection of inflatable Tanit Phoenix dolls.) I guess the trick with writing a public private diary is figuring out what to say and when to say it. It’s called tact and considering my immediate family, it’s astonishing that I have any at all.
Sometimes though, I feel trapped in a bizarre contradiction; it’s like the more honest I am in words, the less I reveal of my inner self. Words are funny like that.
I have to be diplomatic when talking about my literary middleman, John van de Ruit. Let’s just say we share a “cordial” working relationship although I still maintain he’s disturbed upstairs and a poor choice as Spud’s front man. For starters he takes far too much of the credit and despite having signed thousands of books over the years, his signature still appears as if it has been written by the ink-stained beak of a disorientated lesser flamingo. Still, he serves a purpose, and far rather him than me being sent off to sell books in far-flung rural areas like East London.
After years of attempting to unlock the secrets of the fairer sex I have come to the conclusion that I’ve failed dismally. Years of intense experimenting with numerous techniques, approaches, and even an attempt at a radical new personality have achieved nothing.
Sadly,I raise the white flag in surrender. Like the identity of the constructers of Stonehenge and the true recipients of all the arms deal money, girls are a complete mystery and more difficult to unlock than a fiendish Sudoku.
I am seriously considering writing a self-help manual for teenagers to assist them in dealing with embarrassing adults in public situations. What the youth everywhere need to understand is that there is a certain age for every adult when they give up caring about what people think of them.
This is an incredibly dangerous situation for any self-conscious teenager with insecurity issues. (This applies to all teenagers apart from Rambo, who claims never to have known the emotion embarrassment, and Vern, who doesn’t even realise his terrible habit of holding himself inappropriately when nervous or needing the loo.)
No doubt it’s hard to say goodbye and walk away. I understand how these things work. I’ve had my moment in the sun and now I must take my rightful place on the old bookshelf of the recent past. From there I shall fantasise about another of my diaries, mysteriously found, dusted off and containing glittering jewels of surprise and delight. After all, everybody needs to dream of something.