I suffered severe stress in the army in 1979. Once.
My 2-tone 1965 Opel Rekord 4-door bench seat column-shift sedan (in sophisticated shades of grey: dark grey body, pale grey roof, grey upholstery) got indisposed while parked under the bluegum trees outside the Medics base camp on Roberts Heights (then Voortrekkerhoogte, now Thaba Tshwane). She wouldn’t start.
This was serious! We had a weekend pass and there was a party on in the City of Sin & Laughter, aka the metropolis of Harrismith.
Not a problem, said KO (surname). We were all KO’s: candidate officers. He kindly offered to tow me to Harrismith behind his V6 Cortina bakkie. A short piece of nylon rope was found and we set off. I immediately thought Uh Oh!! as we hared off, accelerating furiously. Soon we reached what felt like 100 miles an hour. Slow down! I screamed silently. We hadn’t arranged any signals or communication, so I simply gripped the steering wheel and concentrated. If cellphones had been invented I’d have sms’d him: WTF RU MAD? Then I’d have worried about him reading his sms while driving at that speed.
I sat tensely, staring at the rear of the bakkie a mere 6ft from my bonnet. I couldn’t even see the towrope as we roared along. We’re going East so fast we hasten the setting of the sun.
Then it started to rain! Then twilight fell. Then it got dark, with the rain falling ever harder as my wipers feebly swished back, and then later on, forth. With the motor not turning the battery got flatter and flatter and the wipers got slower and slower. Blowing the hooter and flashing my lights just made things worse – the wipers stopped if anything else was switched on. Upfront in the bakkie the music was so loud and the chit-chat so intense they didn’t even notice us. Or pretended not to?
There was nothing for it but to hang in there for hours. Worst journey of my life. My chin got closer and closer to the windscreen and my knuckles got whiter. Still the KO kept the bakkie floored! He had to get to Durbs where a girlfriend was waiting. My neck was tense and I don’t think I blinked once, staring at the top edge of the bakkie tailgate. My right thigh ached as it poised ready to brake – delicately! – at any moment.
An eternity later we pulled up in Harrismith, unhitched the towrope and off he went, on to Durban. ‘Hey, thanks!’ I said. ‘Appreciate it!’
Fu-u-uck-uck-uck!!! I have never felt such relief. The beer soon relieved the stress though.