“The Secret Mystical Meaning of the Lady on the Fish”
Pour yourself a glass of wine and find a comfortable chair. This is a true story. It isn’t going to be quick.
It was the perfect storm.
I was 43. It should have happened to a younger man.
I had spent the last 20 years in advertising. The last bit, I spent building the ad agency Da Vinci Edison Bell with my partner and long-term girlfriend. It took years of many failures until it began to grow and flourish. It was gone overnight. Effortlessly taking our newly built house, our 18 year relationship and business partner with it.
I was eventually brought to my knees emotionally, financially and spiritually. That’s when my hearing was suddenly at it’s keenest. The lessons were administered by the Universe in exacting measures in ever-larger doses over the course of the next 600 or so days. I had no idea how long it would continue. Or when I would end up on the street homeless and invisible after the money ran out.
Nevertheless, I had some income left over and a little money owing that would trickle in at the last minute so I could keep going. I left Johannesburg and moved back to Cape Town and the small fishing village where I grew up. Hout Bay. There I found a quiet little thatch house in a nature reserve tucked away in the mountains. I moved in with my two German Shepherds to prepare myself for the dreadful fears of uncertainty and the nightly demons that I knew would surely come. High up with the circling crows and the black eagle, at least the view was numbingly spectacular.
WALKING ON THE MOON.
It was to become a sort of sanctuary of meditation, vino and incense. Not necessarily in that order. I spent nearly all of that time in solitude. A hermit. It was precisely what I needed. I hadn’t been alone in two decades. My dogs were the fearless kind and never left my side. Every night, they urged me to the dunes behind my house. It became a nocturnal religion. To the German Shepherd, weather is irrelevant. So we walked the late ungodly hours on the white canvas of dunes that stretched across the mountainside behind the thatched cabin, high above the farm-quilted valley of Hout Bay.
Nobody ventured there after dark. But it was perfect for us. Filled with shadows and bizarre rumour-conjuring noises. Those frightening things that kept people away. In the timeless void of night it was otherworldly. A lunar landscape under a chalk crescent that hung on a silver thread from a velvet blanket of stars.
It became my own private Sea of Tranquility. And I, the man on the moon.
A perfect stillness where you have all the time in the world to contemplate the regret that you had spent your whole life knowing nothing. And that what little knowledge you had gathered held no value in the greater scheme of things that were now unfolding. You have to be reduced to nothing. And stare at yourself for long whiles before you might be ushered to that place where one is offered but a glimpse of something called the Truth.
With nothing left, I was ready to start over. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do.
I vaguely remembered meeting two clairvoyants at a psychic fair my Order had organized in Benoni, Johannesburg, shortly before my carefully constructed life vaporized. They both said the precisely same thing. Both were unflinchingly adamant. Their bent cards and their crystals and their piercing eyes were very sure of the future they saw. I wasn’t sure. Even of my own sanity. Long after I had forgotten, their eerie prophesies began to rise to the surface.
LIFE DOESN’T ALWAYS THROW YOU LEMONS. SOMETIMES IT’LL THROW YOU A FISH.
It was winter and I still wasn’t out of the woods. I warmed my self beside the antique wood-fired stove at the small, bohemian cantina, called Deez Mexican. I nursed a glass of cheap red wine surrounded by a history of empty square Tequila bottles that lined the walls. Legend has it that the proprietor of the place, Deon, had drunk every single one of them himself. He now doesn’t drink. So it must be true.
Outside, the rain came down in loud sheets. It was late and the room had shrunk. It was empty except for 2 young girls drowning their gloom in the corner. We began talking. They were sisters who had a little design business together. It wasn’t making the kind of money they’d hoped.
Filled to the gills with Dutch courage and impervious ignorance, I offered my help since I used to be a Creative Director during a time when I knew everything and might still remember a few worthless things. Suddenly I was looking at their portfolio on a beaten iPad. They were different from all the other designers and endless portfolios of Vanilla I had seen. These two had an alarming talent.
A STORMY NIGHT AND A CURIOUS DRAWING OF A LADY ON A FISH.
Suddenly there it was. A hand-illustrated enigma of a lady on a fish. On a make-believe wine label. All the lights went on inside my head. I instantly fell in love with it. I had to have it. I heard myself begging them to hide it away and not show anyone until I could afford to buy it from them. They agreed that no matter how long it took, they would keep it for me.
A year later, I purchased the design and with my soon-to-be business partner and new housemate Ed, we set off. Two big South Africans crammed into a small pick-up truck made for Chinese delivery men. With no air-conditioning, a picture of a lady on a fish and a vague marketing idea, we set off to scour all the wine estates in the famous Cape Wine regions. It was definitely going to be a hit.
Nobody was interested.
After weeks of fruitless journeying and lobbying like men possessed by the spirits of John the Baptist and Dale Carnegie, we stopped in at the last wine farm on our list. The wind had finally gone from our sails and abandoned us in the doldrums. The estate was minutes from Hout Bay in a vineyard-grooved corner of Constantia. So we decided to pop in, have a glass of wine - and give up.
NOBODY BELIEVES THIS SORT OF STUFF.
It was a kingdom of vines too famous to be interested. So the pressure was off. The farm was none other than the world-renowned Buitenverwachting Wine Estate. I had always known of it (growing up in Hout Bay) but I had never been there. Though it had been on my doorstep all these years. Once there and quite by chance, I literally walked into the visionary owner of the farm, almost knocking him off his feet - a young and energetic German man named Lars. When he saw the design I had on the table, he lit up with excitement. “That’s sexy, huh!” he exclaimed with a grinning German accent.
Instantly there was a chemistry between Lars and myself. It was as if time stood still, daring not to blink. (When one of the best wine farms in Cape Town is offering to make wine for you, you tend to prefer not being woken up for the time being). The meeting lasted 6 hours.
WORK FOR NOTHING. THEN WORK SOME MORE.
My Friend and Business partner Ed steadily began to lose interest. All this thankless labour sans pay in a baking-tin of a bakkie (we call pick-ups bakkie’s in South Africa), just wasn’t his cup of tea. I didn’t blame him. It wasn’t my cup of tea either. But somebody had to do the heavy lifting otherwise it would wither and die. Stubborn and resolute by nature, I continued on for the next 3 years like an outcast evangelist - the endless trips to and fro, personally delivering wine daily and nightly, to all the restaurants, delis and the fabulous places that you’ll find The Fishwives Club wines today. I became a nuisance to anybody with a liquor license and a loitering ear.
Since those days, a lot has changed. But I still continue to make a nuisance of myself as the ambassador of this wonderfully eccentric brand. The brand that started in a storm is beginning to take the world by storm. One country at a time.
And that’s how it all began. Just in case you were curious.