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Raising a glass to David Biggs, a Goliath of a columnist

After entertaining the readers of his much loved, iconic, weekly column, Tavern of the Seas in the Cape Argus for 42 years David Biggs is calling it a day. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

After entertaining the readers of his much loved, iconic, weekly column, Tavern of the Seas in the Cape Argus for 42 years David Biggs is calling it a day. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Dec 6, 2021


It is common, if regrettable, knowledge by now that David Biggs will no longer write his excellent column for our entertainment and edification in the pages of the Cape Argus.

Not many have successful careers that last that long, let alone maintain an impeccable standard of unbiased, unadulterated commentary on the day-to-day mundanities and miracles that constitute this enigmatic experience called life.

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I never understood the odd utterance at the death of a monarch: “The King is dead; long live the King.”

With David’s departure, and happily, not his demise, I am beginning to understand the notion. It means that some things come to an end, a closing, but it doesn’t mean irretrievable loss.

Marcus Antony (Julius Caesar) said famously, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

Not so with David. I remember several decades ago when I started reading the column in my early teens, when it was called “The Wanderer”.

And I recall the joy of the eagerness to get to the copy and drink in his quotidian style, so easy and conversational, yet so wide-reaching and resonant of our own actual experiences.

Granted, he had to straddle several divides, what with being born in the Karoo, being open about his love for his tipple and the many human things that were fodder for his detractors.

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He merely soldiered on, writing his impeccable, if plain, prose, covering everything from one of his many cats killing a bird to his epic 800km trip on his legendary Vespa.

Or the shenanigans of the City regarding burst pipes or the promotion of the various art forms as essential to the spirit of the city in which he lived (that is, if he wasn’t fitting another washer to an old creaking windmill that faithfully raised water in the parched domain of his advent.)

This column is not a rave about Biggs (much as I admired and followed him as a reader), but he resonates with me because we share a common conviction that communication is a human trait, that sharing daily life-experiences was a conduit through which we could defend or break down barriers.

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Built into his love of sharing his experiences with all and sundry is our common belief that literacy through reading is a certainty for success on our one trip through this world.

I hesitantly proffer my achievement of scoring the first cum laude in post-graduate language study of English at UWC in 1988. The connection with David is that I gained it by being sent to the US on a scholarship for the very thing he was known for: writing for a newspaper.

Because it was at a university in Iowa that I refined my favourite theory in a research paper that posited the newspaper as the primary source of literacy by providing material for cognition and learning in all modalities. It is similar to the mother being the child’s first epistemic encounter.

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My paper resides in the academic records of Iowa State University because my model for that piece of research was, in fact, David Biggs. He didn’t know it then, but he knows it now.

And so we come to another ending of a good thing, and the question resonates. Who will follow him? One thing is certain. It won’t be me.

I am over 80 and long-past my sell-by date. But, as Larkin says that “ …what will survive of us is love… ”, so I believe that what will remain of this columnist will be happy memories, acquired skills, discovered strengths and perhaps, please God, the urge in some young fresh mind, the idea that reading and writing are the key elements in the pulmonary system of education, erudition and constructive criticism.

So long, Dave. I don’t drink, but I raise a glass to you, your eloquence, your dedication, your consistency, your fairness and your fearlessness in facing what must be said head on.

Maybe you have taught the government something about moral courage and renewal. Long life, my fellow traveller.

* Literally Yours is a weekly column from Cape Argus reader Alex Tabisher. He can be contacted on email by [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus

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