Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia travel

The Night We Hijacked the Orange Express

Trudi Wessels 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 de Witt 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:

Is this when the first train choofed in? Who was there?

Here’s Trudi with her hatbox:

train-station
credit: alamy free use

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 Venning-Leslie persuasion, as he partially relents: “OK, ve bess I can do for yous is I’ll slow down when I pass Rivierdraaistasie.”

Right!

We hop on, and soon the train pulls off. John the agile Venning 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 his desk drawer (just like in any good cowboy movie).

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

– my Country Mansion on the left –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 3_USA 8_Nostalgia sport travel

Playing in the Snow

1973, on my way back from the States, I fly to New York on a Monday in December and ask for a flight to Johannesburg via London.

‘Sorry you can’t. Your ticket is non-transferable, and the next SAA flight is via Rio on Friday’. The old man had paid for my ticket on his shiny new Barclaycard and had put it over 12 months, so one last payment was still outstanding.

Ooh shit, four days in NY with no money. Well, about $19. I got a $25 a month allowance in Apache from the Rotary club. Seventeen South African Diederiks Ront it was back then. And sixty cents. R1 was worth $1.42 – how times have changed if you’re reading this in 2020!

I put my suitcase in a locker, put a quarter in the slot and take the key.

Hop on a bus to Grand Central Station in Manhattan to look for the SAA office / kantoor. ‘That’ll be $2’ says the bus conductor.

At the SAA office / kantoor I get, ‘Sorry, can’t help’. Hey asseblief man! ‘OK, we’ll try’.

Back to JFK airport and sleep on the floor. The damn benches spitefully have armrests for each seat so you can’t lie down on them. Fitful sleep on the hard floor broken by a huge sit-on vacuum and polish machine that roars up to me at 3am. ‘Move along there’, says the cleaner driving the vengeful beast.

Tuesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA office run, but now I’m rather peckish so I stroll around Manhattan looking for something cheap to eat. I find a burger for $3. Not cheap in ’73, but that includes as much beer as you can drink, so I think OK. Big glasses, though, so I could only drink two. Then I wander the Manhattan streets with a nice beer buzz going. Going up the Empire State building was an amazing experience.

800px-Empire_State_Building_(aerial_view)

Wednesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA-hamburger-with-beers run but this time when I go into SAA at the end of the day they tell me ‘Good News, you’re free to go!’ To celebrate I book into the YMCA without my suitcase so I can have a shower. ‘That’ll be $11’ for the smallest room I have ever slept in: Just barely bigger than a small single bed.

Thursday I’m squeaky clean on the bus back to JFK. My ticket is now ‘transferable’ and I take the first plane to London: Air India. I grab a discarded newspaper lying on a bench on my way to board. It’s a jumbo jet – my first!

Air India 1973.jpg

Settling into my seat I read: “Air India has just been voted ‘Worst Airline in the World’ – Again”. Their cabin crew is on strike so admin staff are ‘standing in for them’ – by doing nothing. A delightful Irish lass is sitting next to me. Much older – she was probably all of thirty – she feels sorry for me so buys me a Pommy cold pork pie on the way out of Heathrow. Tastiest pie ever.

I’m on my way to meet a connection Don Inglis who once lived in Harrismith and is now in London for a year, so he knows the place. Turns out he has a rugby match playing for some Saffer team against the London Irish, so we scurry around Buck House circle and somewhere else where someone lived or died or married someone, and head off to near Wimbledon for the game. Five rugby okes are squeezed into his little Austin something, and we’re reading a map. I’ve been there one hour and I’m saying ‘Left, I think.’ At the ground the players huddle in a cold shed to change and notice they’re a couple of boerkies short can I play? Sure, I say, but only half the first half, then I have to catch a tube to Heathrow.

Rugby in London_2

Thank goodness (it’s sleeting outside) Don says rather don’t risk missing your flight. So they run out onto the mud with one blade of grass every ten yards without me and start puffing out steam and shoving some fat Irish blokes around.

Between scrums Don shouts out which tubes and buses I should catch and I leave before the halftime whistle to head south after a year in foreign climes. I’m very much looking forward to getting home now.

Once in the air the SAA koffie poppie gives me lip when I order a third beer so I’m feeling at home while still thousands of kays away.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Diederiks Ront – SA currency; Our finance minister’s name was Diederiks

office / kantoor – office / office

asseblief – puh-leez!

Saffer – South African

boerkies – South Africans

koffie poppie – SAA air hostess

~~~oo0oo~~~

The old man’s Barclaycard was brand new. Maybe he was persuaded to get one by a glass of sherry and a blonde?

barclaycard_launch

I recently (2019) packed some clothes for my 90yr-old Mom as she was going to stay in a home for the aged for a while. Get my suitcase down from on top of my cupboard, she said. It was the suitcase I had parked in the JFK locker 46 years ago! And it was probably old when she loaned it to me!

From: Box 123 Harrismith – To: Box 307 Apache OK 73006

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions sport travel

Rocky Horror in Senekal, Vrystaat

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. If I remember correctly Frik was charging all cylinders firing down the touchline; on his way to what look like a certain try. Bourgarel, however, had other plans the 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 Bourgarel as a consequence. I won’t repeat the chant here but it rhymed with his name. 

1971 French side - 1st test Bloemfontein.jpg

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.

Bliksem!

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?!

~~~oo0oo~~~

I had visited Senekal once before under happier circumstances.

Categories
3_USA 7_Confessions school travel

Definitely No Driving

Rotary had a few strict rules for exchange students. I can remember one: Definitely No Driving. So I didn’t. Except when really drunk.

Off we went one night into the sticks for beer and loud music. After a few hours we needed more beer to be fetched from town and I shouted “I’ll Drive!”

camaro_2

Amazingly (also a beer effect?) Jay said OK!

His beautiful, prize Camaro looked a lot like this one.

So off we went with this foreigner driving on the wrong (left) side of the car and the wrong (right) side of the road. Driving perfectly and safely until we got to a right turn on the country dirt road. Most bends around Apache are right-angle bends – the roads mostly run north-south or east-west.

And then the wheels came off. Quite literally. Jay’s prize 15-inch back slicks on his beautiful hot dark green ’69 Camaro popped off the rims as I blacked out momentarily and gunned too fast around the bend, off the left-hand side into a ditch.

Jay crapped all over me but – friend he was – let me off amazingly lightly. This poor – guilty – foreigner was allowed to get away with it.

Yikes! VERY lucky escape! *embarrassed*

~~~oo0oo~~~