Camping on the slopes of Platberg below Khyber Pass Pierre, Tuffy and I had made a fort of ouhout branches and cleared a big spot to make a fire. Sitting around talking shit when we heard a rustle and a shout and who appeared before us but Guillaume. He was excited that we were overnighting and asked to join us. Sure! we said. With pleasure!
He first had to head back to town, though, to go to movies. He had recently left school and had a date with one of the onnies. The one with the micro miniskirts! The one we had lustful thoughts about. That little blonde one with the pageboy hairstyle. That one!
Well after midnight there was another rustle, another shout, and Guillaume squeezed back through our hedge with a blanket over his shoulder and a plastic packet in his hand. He sat on the blanket, took a bloody ox heart out of the packet, stuck it on a stick and roasted it over the coals.
Look: We knew he was the nephew of the famous Deneys Reitz of Boer War Commando fame; and the son of legendary Dr Frank Reitz – but MAN, were we impressed! I mean Action Man had walked up a mountain in the dark, carried the lightest provisions (when we looked at the size of our rucksacks and sleeping bags), roasted and ate an ox heart – and pomped a teacher. All in one night!
Eat your heart out, Chuck Norris!
ouhout – Leucosidea sericea, lovely aromatic scrub bushes and trees found in stream beds in the Drakensberg our inselbergs, and surrounding foothills
onnies – teachers; from onderwyser
pomped – made love; who we kidding? had sex; shunted; or so we surmised
Trudi won Miss Personality at Maritzburg Varsity. We could have told them that beforehand if they’d asked. Her prize: A trip to Rio de Janeiro! Steph arranged a farewell party at Shady Pines on the night of her departure, after which we would deliver her safe and pickled to the Harrismith stasie. You didn’t know trips to Rio de Janeiro start at Harrismith Railway Station?! Ha! It goes to show . . .
At the station we bid her farewell in moviestar style, Trudi hanging out the window, fans crowded on the platform, much hubbub (just like in any good romantic movie). Here we are, hubbubbing:
Here’s Trudi with her hatbox:
Except some ringleaders are missing. Where could John and Nick be? At the very far end of the platform talking to the train driver. I get there just in time to hear: “Nooit, meneer, this are not a melktrein, this are ve Orange Express! No stops before Beflehem.”
He reminds me that they say you can’t find three wise men in the Vrystaat. But he does turn out to be wise after some rooinek private school farmer persuasion, as he partially relents: “OK, ve bess I can do for yous is I’ll slow down when I pass Rivierdraaistasie.”
We hop on, and soon the train pulls off. John the agile gymnast has a case of beer under his one arm and a wicked grin under his one moustache. We make our way to Trudi’s cabin. “What on earth are you guys doing here?” We repeat a very hasty goodbye because already the train is FLYING! I myself am now rather nervous and if it wasn’t for the medicinal value of beer I might have said something sensible. We each take position at a door and watch as the poles whizz past us in a blur. Past the crossing to Swiss Valley where Nick (whose leg was in plaster so he was chosen to drive the getaway car – just like in any good gangster movie) was going to meet us. The railway crossing whizzes past and it feels like we’re accelerating!
Suddenly a decrease in speed and, peering forward, some lights in the dark. Get ready to jump. Arse over kettle each one of us hits the ground and tumbles. I almost stayed on my feet but then had to duck for the big sign RIVIERDRAAISTASIE one word. But one man didn’t fall: He who held the case of beers kept it together! We ran back up the track into the dark as a man came stumbling out of the stasie kantoor, lantern held aloft (just like in any good Orient Express movie).
When we gathered, a sober head prevailed. “Boys, we can’t go! We can’t ‘drop’ the train driver. The stasiemeester will have to put in a report and our man will get into trouble. We have to go and talk to the stasiemeester.”
So a delegation is sent back to the stasie and some of us sit in the veld awaiting their return, supping thoughtfully on John’s case of ales. And we wait and await.
Eventually – just when we think maybe they’ve gone to jail – they return, much merrier and cleverer than when they left. Apparently as they started to say Naand Meneer the oke said: “That’s the BEST thing that’s happened to me in all my years at Rivierdraai Stasie!” and insisted they sit and join him for a dop, pulling a bottle of brandy from the top drawer of his desk (just like in any good cowboy movie).
A sequel: Is nothing a secret in a small dorp? I get home before sunrise, and later that same morning my Mom peeps her head into my bedroom in my garden cottage, The Country Mansion: “Were you on that train?” asks Mary Methodist in her woe-unto-us voice. And “I’m so glad you’re home safely,” what a special Mom. At about nineteen years old, though, I couldn’t understand why she was fussing.
Now the desk with the brandy bottle in the top drawer has gone . .
1971: Rugby in Bloemfontein, first test Springboks vs the Frogs, the French. We drove over in Tabs’ car to watch.
Apparently: . . . this test is remembered for a famous tackle by Bourgarel on a charging Frik du Preez. Frik was charging down the touchline, all cylinders firing, on his way to what look like a certain try. Bourgarel, however, had other plans. The little French wing came from the side, fly-tackling Frik; dumping him unceremoniously over the touchline to the disgust of the crowd, who even came-up with a chant for the Bourgarel as a consequence. ‘Boe-ga-rel, gaan na die hel!’
I remember that test for something different: After the game, Tabs, Des, Raz, Stervis and I are driving back when the kroeg – no way you would call it a pub – in Senekal beckoned.
By the time the barman threw us out Des had bonded deeply with one of Senekal’s left-behinds, and when we suggested we leave for home rather than go home with Deliverance for a braai, Des told us in no uncertain terms that WE could go, but HE was not leaving his lifelong mate – of three hours – in the lurch. There would be no abandonment, said Des with his nose in the air and his eyes closed – you know how he gets.
ONE fing we must NOT do, we were told, also in no uncertain terms, when we got to the small house on the wrong side of Senekal, is wake his wife. Lemme tell you carefully, you must not, no marrer whut you do, wake my wahf, you hear?
Wooden floors, five drunk ous stumbling around, I started to think this goon doesn’t actually have a wife. Conan meanwhile, is scratching around in the chest deep freeze. He hauls out what looks like a roundish, rock-hard lump of blood in a plastic checkers packet, and suddenly I get a clear image: He DOES have a wife and she IS in the house! In that deep freeze! In fact, he’s offering us a piece of her for a braai! I’m tallying you, we’re part of his alibi!
Des, I urge, we should go, this is going to take forever, I’m tallying you. But it’s like Des told us: WE can go, but HE’s not leaving his lifelong mate; his china.
It’s midnight in midwinter in Senekal, Vrystaat. It’s not hot. Eventually a fire gets going – sort of – and the icy red lumpy piece of deceased wife sits on it, refusing to melt. Its like ice vs small fire and ice is winning. An alternative hazy recollection is the oven was turned on and the lump placed in there. Exact facts are in dispute among us hostages decades later. Maybe Stockholm Syndrome?
Meantime, Jack Nicholson has found some dop and we have to drink, and luckily this puts him to sleep and mellows the Glutz, who loves him less sleeping than awake; so we’re able to persuade him to make a bolt for it, hitting the Senekal dirt roads till we find the tar to Harrismith. Stervis has a hazy recollection of the Wildman pulling out a gun, Clint Oosthuizen-style, and taking potshots at us as the getaway car spins madly down the driveway, slewing sideways and throwing up stones which put Rambo off his aim. Luckily the resulting dust plume obscures us from view and saves our lives. I like Stervis’ version.
To this day I can experience that weird, out-of-body sensation of “WTF are we DOING here? Am I in a bad movie or in a bad dream?!
Mary and Manie Wessels Rietvlei joined the folks Mary and Pieter Swanepoel for Xmas 1979 at 37 Piet Uys street. Barbara and Jeff, Koos and Sheila and Annie were there, too. As was poor Selina! Hopefully she got time off for being on duty on Xmas day!
Looks like colour film hadn’t been invented yet . .