“…Of the several ‘altered states’ experienced in my life, the events pertinent to this personal reflection occurred throughout the duration of my two year period as a military conscript, in mandatory National Service in South Africa.
Sure, the military genre is not everyone’s topic of choice, but this book concentrates more on the life changing experiences during my training. For those who feel they are not well versed in military doctrine, it is actually a tradition more than an institution. The military instills in one the character traits of obedience, honour, bravery, pride and comradeship by applying rules, uniformity and leadership. This system creates an environment which is capable of producing experiences that are extremely boring and staid one minute and full of adrenaline-pumping physical activity the next.
It has the ability to take one’s emotional barometer from a negative reading one instant, to an overpoweringly positive emotional experience the next. At times, as impossible as this may seem, the army was even capable of producing a feeling of no emotion whatsoever, a state of numbness which is difficult to imagine unless one has experienced it.
There is a second intentional and more literal meaning in this title too. Whilst serving on the border, we always referred to home, South Africa, as ‘The States’, which at the time was also undergoing its own changes in our absence. Mostly these changes took shape in respect to politics, crime, business, financial markets and the increasing international pressures on the Apartheid policies of the day.
The essence of ALTERED STATES is the message that we have the ability to accept change and to ensure a positive outcome. I survived military service by using humour as a tool, even though at times circumstances were dire and life threatening. Most ex servicemen I have spoken to readily agree that at the time of service they found it tough, some hated the daily regime while others were more accepting. But collectively they strongly concur that they cannot let go of the powerful memories, feelings of camaraderie, shared purpose and friendships made during their years of service.”
An excerpt from the book:
“One evening at 101 Battalion base, we went off to the camp canteen which was packed solid. In the corner was an old television set mounted on a wall bracket and a newly acquired video machine. They were showing a music video marathon, a very rare treat and the attendance was outstanding.
In fact we could not find space to fit into the canteen, so we sat outside smoking and watching through an open window. The VCR must have been brand spanking new because everyone seemed to have a go at fiddling to get the manual tracking right. Eventually someone came to the rescue, stopped the sporadic slipping of the picture and the night of pop videos commenced and continued into the wee hours. It is so much simpler these days with digital DVD equipment, it just works!
Well the same tape must have been played several times in succession. In particular I remember the Blondie clip ‘The Tide is High’ and Ultravox with ‘Vienna.’
The video evening was escapism at its very best. As for our day job, after patrol duty, we would to retreat to the closest base for dinner, a shower and a hard army bed. I think mostly it was about sourcing a hot meal, but on some occasions we were denied entry and were forced to rough it in the bush. Either way we would spend a lot of time making small talk, cracking jokes, listening to music when we had batteries for the tape cassette player or at times rereading the latest letter or two. There was also a lot of time allocated to daydreaming and philosophising. I distinctly remember dissecting every lyric, every guitar riff and tune from Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ album. I was trying to find its true meaning, which was eventually and instantly revealed when I watched the music video several years later. But had I arrived at the same conclusion anyhow.
Everyone also wanted their own bit of quiet time, spending 24 hours a day with the same group of people, especially out of wedlock, can become taxing. Each of us had our own preference regarding singular recreation. Carl would sit under a bush and smoke, while writing poetry or drawing pictures in his little notebook. Most took lots of snoozes. In order to develop ideas on prospective careers, I used this time to rotate and talk to the guys who had come from working jobs, or those in apprenticeships. I was still undecided on my future plans…..”
Paperback, 338 pages