A Fine Spectacle

This story will be fuzzy in parts because of the long passage of time. But although some details may be slightly different, ‘strue. So I must tell the tale before those last few grey cells that hold the memory get blitzed by the box wine.

It was on the Berg River Canoe Marathon that Christof Heyns came to tell me was pulling out of the race. Why!? I asked, dismayed. He’d fallen out in the frigid flooded Berg river and lost his glasses. Couldn’t see past his nose, so it was way too dangerous to carry on in the mid-winter Cape cold and the flooding brown water in the gale-force wind that was the 1983 second day.

Hell, no, I said, I’ve got a spare pair, you can use mine.

He rolled his eyes and smiled sadly at my ignorance. His eyes were very special, his glasses were very thick and there was no way just any ‘arb’ specs would do, he mansplained patiently. In his defence, he didn’t know I was an optometrist, that I was wearing contact lenses, that I had a spare pair of specs in my luggage and another tied to the rudder cable in my boat; nor could he know that I had a very good idea of what his prescription was from seeing his glasses on his nose both on this race and on a Tugela trip we had been on together earlier. I knew about his eyes better than he knew about my soul (he might have known a bit about that, as his Dad was a very belangrike dominee in the Much Deformed Church – top dog, in fact).

So I said, trust me swaer and went and fetched my spares. He put them on and was amazed. I can see! he shouted like I was Jesus who had just restored his sight. I know, I said.

So he wore the glasses and finished the race and I said keep them till we next meet.

Many months later I saw an article in the SA Canews, the paddling magazine, titled: “My Broer se Bril”. Christof wrote the story of how he had lost hope when some arb oke said “Here, try mine” and he could see! And he could finish the race.

He ended off by saying “Actually they were so good I’m wearing them to this day”. Ja, you bugger, I know, I thought. I could have written an article “How a dominee’s son appropriated my bril,” but I didn’t. I’m way too kind! In his defence, we haven’t seen each other since that race.

Berg marathon

. . and today – April 2021 – I heard he died, aged only 62. Damn!


belangrike dominee – important churchman; flock leader; the lord is my shepherd, I am a sheep;

swaer – bro;

my broer se bril – my brother’s spectacles;

mansplain – when a man laboriously, carefully and ‘kindly’ explains something to you that you already know; usually inflicted on women;

2 thoughts on “A Fine Spectacle

  1. Methinks your powers of persuasion may have been too much for the bewildered and myopic Berg paddler, who, in the dire circumstances he found himself, had surely managed to ensure his loss of sight so as to find somewhere warm to assume the foetal position under a Boland duvet . . . .

    Reminds me of Rob Clegg and I, on the first Fish, leading the field, we exited swiftly at some red tape on the river bank above Collets weir – where the double trouble chute now swaggers – portaged like champions through what was in those days pretty dense East Cape thorn bush, reentered the river, and blindly, some thirty metres later, shot the weir in error!!

    A very looong drop, no swim, sore backs, and remarkably, an undamaged ( homemade ) K2 followed. Fortunately for the two blind Capies, the flow in those early days was somewhat less than what became the norm.


    • Ha! Didn’t occur to me he may have been trying a dodge! Reminds me of Greg Bennett on that same ’83 Berg. After the freezing second day he vowed that – UNLESS the next day dawned sunny and windless (impossible in the blizzard we were in), he was going home. So he drank lots of sherry and prepared to leave. The next day dawned . .
      RIDICULOUSLY sunny and windless! It was in fact so windless the Capies couldn’t breathe. He finished.


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