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!’
One of the teams must have won, but I remember that test for something different: After the game, Tabs, Des, Raz, Stervis and I are driving back to Harrismith when the beer ran out and a kroeg – no way you would call it a pub – in the dusty metropolis of Senekal beckoned.
Tabs remembers us playing darts and drinking maybe quite a lot. 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, by Des’ Brokeback Mountain mate 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; his Senekal Soulmate.
It’s midnight in midwinter in Senekal, Vrystaat. It’s not warm. 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 a lump of red meat being put into an oven, not on a braai; and 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.
Tabs has a slightly different recollection which the years have not made any less exciting: His version is also wilder than mine: He remembers this Clyde making threats against anyone wanting to pomp his Bonnie, who he thought we may have seen – maybe she was present? Having to protect his wahf’s honour made our Clyde mutter he was going to fetch his gun. We took the break and ran for the car. Out of the corner of his eye Tabs, now the driver of the getaway car, noticed one of us was quite a way behind in this desperate race. As the car peeled out, wheels spinning, Des leapt the fence Olympic hurdler-style. His short cut got him to the moving car, the door was flung open and he dived inside, saving him from a feit worse van deaf.
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?!”
I had visited Senekal once before under happier circumstances.
Memories are dodgy things. Tabs pointed out in 2021 that it could not have been 1971 as we were both still in school. It was 1975 – I have fixed it here, but I’ve left this post as is so you can read about Bourgarel le brave Frog!