After NTC Rag Ball in 976, we left Pietermaritzburg’s notorious Hotel Insomnia and drove home in Tabs’ red Datsun fastback, famed for having being called a Ferrari by one of the automotively-challenged TC girls, and a Datsun Triple Ess Ess Ess by Geoff Leslie. We had spent a few short hours in the Hotel Insomnia after the ball was over.
Braithwaite was behind the wheel as he had held back slightly as he still had to drive on from Harrismith to Nelspruit where he was needed to dry-clean some Lowvelders’ underpants. Tabs was in the passenger seat, me on the back seat.
me & Liz Howe, Sheila & Hilton – Tabs in full voice with John Venning –
Under the flat raking back window of that fastback was most of a case of beer, baking in the sun. After a short hung-over silence Tabs turned to me and asked “How hot are those beers?”
I said “Shall we share one and see?”
He said “Let’s open two and share them and see.”
We happened to finish the case before we got to HY. Thank goodness for Hilton’s driving!
Tabs & Jilly Shipman sing – Dave Simpson, Lettuce and me sit -all at a very clever stage of these academic proceedings –
Booze opened wonderful opportunities for us as kids in the olden days. As our hawk-eyed parents became bleary-eyed and witty and hilarious, so their surveillance levels dropped and we could get on with doing more interesting things than we could when they were sober.
So it was at the MOTH picnic one year on the far bank of the mighty Vulgar river down in the President Brand park where, after a lekker braai and quite a few pots the folks were suitably shickered and plans could go afoot.
The older boys formed a syndicate which consisted of them hiding and the younger boys being sent in to do the dangerous stuff. See if you can get us some beer from the pub, was the thinking. So (some of or all of) Pierre, Fluffy, Tuffy and I approached the MOTH barman Ray Taylor – as always alone at the bar, teetotal. The other old WW2 servicemen and their wives a little way off making a lot of noise. Uncle Ray, quiet as ever, was easily distracted by my accomplices and as he was being his kind and obliging self to them, I slid a full case of dumpy beers off the makeshift bar counter and turned round, hugging it vertically straight in front of me against my chest. I walked straight away with my back to Uncle Ray into the darkness of the poplar and oak trees towards the river.
Under the suspension bridge the receivers of stolen goods waited. Etienne Joubert, a Brockett and a Putterill, I seem to recall. They took the loot and told us to move along then. We were too young to be allowed to partake; we were simply a small part of the supply chain!
Etienne remembers: “I remember this incident well. We drank them on the river bank upstream. We had female company as well, but best we do not dwell on that subject. There was also unhappiness about the brand that was procured………
Dear old Uncle Ray with his Alsatians . . Twice I went on walks with him up our beloved Platberg!! He was an interesting man, who behind a façade of dullness was very wise!!
Stories like this bring back a thousand other memories……!! Cheers vir eers, Et
Another memory of The Far Side – of the river: Roaring around the dirt roads between those big trees in Dr Dick Venning’s light blue Triumph and in his Land Rover, Tim Venning at the helm. Hell for leather, running commentary all the way, huge grin on his face.
Uncle Ray was attacked by baboons on one of his Platberg walks. Not sure if his dog/s were with him, but he said he fought off the babs with his walking stick. We were told he had suffered “shell shock” in the war.
From: Pete Subject: The Hotel Devonshire – famous again Sent: 23 May 2011
I see the “rapture” crazies chose the Dev to await the end of their world. In some ways the Dev was the beginning of mine!
“Buite die Devonshire-hotel in Braamfontein, waar Suid-Afrikaanse aanhangers van die wegraping-kultus saamgetrek het om op die eindtyd te wag, het hulle vir oulaas mense op straat probeer oortuig om by hulle aan te sluit.” (Rapport newspaper)
Brauer wrote: In some ways the beginning, yes. But in many ways fuckin’ close to the end. No doubt the reason why they chose it – for symbolic reasons . .
Pete wrote: Actually, – – and come to think of it . . .
How we survived some of those lightly-inebriated evenings in our um, almost roadworthy jalopies . . .
Maybe THAT’S the miracle they’re referring to!
I have a clear thutty-year-old mental picture of laughing at some oke hanging out of the left rear window of a car spray-painting it with chunder in Wolmarans Street. I’m in another car, witnessing the sight. (Our car probably full of sober okes on their way back from Shul. Probly a Friday). Who and whose car is mentally blurry, though. Beige colour. Thin exhaust pipe.
Austin Apache, maybe?
Steve reed wrote: Ah that dapper little beige beauty. Memories of crossing Nugget Street on Wolmarans at high speed when Swain Pull has a flash of genius and yanks up the handbriek, Barely a murmur of “Oh Pete” from mesdames Fotherby and Forsdick on the back seat as we 360. Thank heavens in 1977 the ABS EBD BA and ESC all kicked in after the 5th beer. Only one airbag in the vehicle in those days however.
~~~oo0oo~~~ Pete wrote: I learnt that trick from Pierre du Plessis. He used to do it in his old lady’s little Ford Prefect. Difference, I suppose, was sober and in Harrismith’s quiet streets where we knew the cops by name. And speaking of chundering: Pierre himself threw a mighty one outside Bergville after a wedding to which we had not been invited, but had partaken in. Thoroughly. Luckily it was his own Datsun 1200 bakkie in which he was a passenger. Light green. The bakkie. The other was multi-colour yellowish.
Steve wrote: I do remember partaking in an engagement party to which we had not been invited at a little Drakenberg resort. Arrived just as the happy couple were having a post party nightcap with the family. The bloke’s fiance took quite a fancy to us rough boys [we fancied through our drunken haze] and one of us asked her to dance. The blokes family got into an angry huddle and declared the party over – stat. We were sadly abandoned and the generator was switched off leaving us sad creatures to polish off all their left-over booze in the dark. We seemed not to mind this too much.
Pete wrote: The Devonshire! Remember the Hotel School okes?! Disgraceful. Was it them who auctioned the chicks?
Hold on! Another sudden flashback picture: “Nugget” – short, wild hair and an Irish-looking beard. Poes-dronk through the beer-splatter in the Dev. Remember him? Got his name, it was said, when he rolled down Nugget Hill, blind as only the thoroughly drunk can be.
He had a huge mate Syd Someone (Oertel?), who did civil engineering between beers. I may have met both these characters through Pierre, who also did civils – inappropriate name if ever there was one – at Wits Tech, remember? Another bloke was called “Irish”.
One would have thought these brain cells would have been obliterated ages ago.
~~~oo0oo~~~ Steve reed wrote: To me the most worshipped oke in the Dev was the bloke from hotel school who could drink a quart of Castle standing on his head.
(Ah, such tertiary skills!)
“Buite die Devonshire-hotel. . . . ” – Outside the Dev a rapture cult of crazies gather to be swept up to heaven bang on the appointed hour. Nothing happened. Funnily enough, none of them had given their possessions to charity . . . they musta had faith like potatoes.
I’m sure I told you about Tabbo’s first boat? Before the Pheasant Plucker with its inboard motor and Hamilton jet?
After Sarclet dam was built he NEEDED a boat and he found one for sale in Howick. Good price, so we set off to fetch it. It was rather small – for which read: very; and its 30-horse Johnson looked like Noah would have only used it as backup. But it was cheap.
We set off towing back to the big HY, city of sin and laughter, at a rate of knots, Tabbo behind the wheel of his red Datsun-Lamborghini with the round lights at the back.
We had a good chuckle when we saw a wheel overtaking us on the main tar road between Howick and Estcourt: ‘Wonder which poor fool that belongs to?’ till we heard a scraping in the rear (we hadn’t felt a thing). Well, it was our wheel that had parted and rushed forward to try and give us a message. So that was a problem, as we had sort of ruined whatever a new wheel might have attached to by driving on blissfully ignorant, feeling smug, dragging the axle stump on the tar.
A couple weekends later we finally got the boat to Sarclet dam and into the water. Some okes came around (I think Rob Spilsbury was one) – fortunately no ladies to roll their eyes – and we launched the tiny boat and plucked the starting cord. There was only room for two, so Tabs was sitting in the boat with one other oke who stood in the boat and rukked and plukked. Two of us were standing in the shallow water, holding the transom.
And we plucked and yanked and plukked and then we took turns to pluck and pull and huff. Then we pulled and puffed. Then we took the motor apart and cleaned the spark plugs and put stuff in the carb and did all the things okes do who know a bit and then we re-assembled it and rukked. And still fokol. Two okes were in the boat and two in the water standing on each side of the motor holding the boat and taking turns plucking.
After 4520 plucks it spluttered and began to roar, so the two okes in the water hopped on and the whole fucking thing sank, motor and all.
Dave Simpson wrote: Peter, I think my staff must think I am a bit fucked in the head, as I have just burst out into some raucous laughter. What a classic tale. I can just imagine what happened next: Everyone pissed themselves laughing; Tabbo called some of his trusty staff to pull the boat out; and you all got stuck into a few cases of Lion Lager. Did the boat ever get a second life? – (answer: no) –
Here’s the newer, bigger Pheasant Plucker – some years later:
One day I’ll have to tell how I parked the Pheasant Plucker on the bank amongst the parked cars. At high speed. Eish . . petrol and beer . . .
Comments ensued on this picture, which was taken apres ski on nearby Gailian:
This picture got emails going again – Dave Simpson wrote: It looks to me like an early morning thaw in winter. This probably explains why you are the only oke drinking cuppachino.
Me: Because of Sheils’ notes I can tell you: It was 18 August 1974. And that was cold tea. I’m amazed I was the only one drinking – probly you okes overdid it the night before.
Steve Reed: Hill – larious !! I wonder whose feet and prize winning bell bottoms are on the left. Nothing could beat a Sunday morning debrief on the lawn on a chillsome Free State morning.
Simpson: Do you know Peter, I actually remember that day on the new dam at Sarclet, down there in valley in front of Ian and Bev’s new house. It was the first time I had ever been water skiing. I was totally wind-gat to say the least, as the water was minus plenty, but I though this will be no problem – get up on the skis and have little or no contact with the water.
Well, needless to say, my nuts nearly froze off and my body was just about in the state ready for one of those cryogenic capsules – you know, those things that some Yanks get into before they die with a plan to wake up in about 300 years. Not much chance of that here, with all the load shedding going on.
On the positive side, I did learn to water ski in double quick time, as after that, I never did have a problem on the skis. Was this really in August, the coldest month of the year?? What madness!!
Me: Hosed myself at the cryogenics and load shedding! Imagine strolling into the cryo chamber to re-awaken granpa and the whole place stinks of vrot!! I’m going to stick to my original idea of pickling meself . . . internally.
Reed: Cannot believe your bravery / madness entering those waters in August. Also laughed out loud at both tales!
The black Saab is packed to capacity as we roar off in the dead of night to Kestell, that mecca of silence and stillness and, uh peace, I guess. Or was that Vrede? We aimed to fix that in our 1961 black two-door Saab 93. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing! – that’s the two-stroke engine you can hear.
Steph, Larry, Pierre, Tuffy and Me. Warmly dressed against the Harrismith winter chill, we’re packed shoulder-to-shoulder, hardly able to lift our elbows to down the 455ml can of beer we each have. The sixth one of the carry-pack we’ll share. Tuffy’s empty can goes clanking along the tarmac before Steph has even hit third gear. Glugged.
When the Saab goes quiet we stop briefly to tap the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for that purpose and we’re off again. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing!
After cavorting on the gravel main street of Kestell and losing a tyre off the rim on one of our laps drifting – did I mention we invented drifting? – around the biggest thing in Kestell, the Groot Klip Kerk, we pick up the car to change the wheel as there’s no jack. Come to think of it, the word ‘domkrag’ might have been invented that night!
The guys at Jakes Grove’s garage kindly fix things for us and we’re away, heading for Jan van Wyk’s place on the way home.
Jan’s farm is a turn-off to the left on the way back home. He’s the sitting hoofseun at Harrismith se Hoer, 1970 edition. It’s 3am and there’s something we need to tell him.
Tuffy tackles an ox en-route.
Driving down the farm road with its middel-mannetjie the passenger-side door suddenly flies open as we drive past a few cattle blinded by our headlights. Next thing we know there’s a dust cloud and some concerned moo-ing. Tuffy has launched himself into a flying tackle of one of the cows / bulls / oxen. We stop and Tuffy gets back into the car dusting off his khaki grootjas with a smug look of “that’ll teach them” on his dial. Long toms always went straight to the clever-witty-and-brave lobe of his brain, especially when he downed them in seconds flat.
Arriving at the homestead all is in darkness. The dogs sniff us as we tiptoe into Jan’s room and wake him. Maybe we aren’t quite as stealthy as we think, as a voice comes from down the passage ‘Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee.’ His Ma. Ma’s. They always know what’s going on.
As we leave we spy pa Hertzog’s big Chev Commando parked in the open garage with a few big sacks next to it. Mielies, probably. Takes a bit of effort but we manage to raise it and push the sacks under it, leaving the rear wheels just off the ground. The beer is obviously still circulating, making us innovative, witty and irresistible.
Larry left for home – Cobleskill, New York – soon after, missing the school photo session. We sent him this:
Groot Klip Kerk – see the action picture of us drifting; It’s the building in the background;
middel-mannetjie – hump between the tracks in a rustic road to tickle the undercarriage;
domkrag – car jack; literally ‘stupid strength’; Us;
hoofseun – head boy;
Harrismith se Hoerskool – Place of learning; but without an umlaut: place of ill repute; place where you could learn some tricks;
grootjas – greatcoat issued by the army or bought 2nd-hand from army surplus stores;
‘Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee’ – Give these drunks something to sober them up, would you?;
Mielies – maize, corn;
drifting – right foot flat; steering wheel turned full lock; hold till you cannot see a thing from all the dust; turn the steering wheel to opposite lock; rinse and repeat; any passengers present should be yelling advice at the driver, telling him they should be driving;
R.I.P – Jan van Wyk died in a car accident ca.2010
It was the Eastern Free State athletics championships, and we were three kranige athletes, in our prime. Well, so far . . we would get better at some things as time went on.
Here’s the line-up!!
In the triple jump we had Steph de Witt, matric. Long legs, big springs. In with a chance of a medal. The driesprong.
In the pole vault we had Richter Hoender Kok, Std 9. Feisty competitor, but probably not a contender as his short aluminium pole looks ancient next to the long, whippy fibreglass poles the boys from Bethlehem Voortrekker school are sporting. Fullback for the rugby team, he was nicknamed “HO Ender” after HO de Villiers, the Springbok fullback (hoender, geddit?). The paalspring.
In the javelin we had Me, Std 8. New to javelin, just discovered it that year and loved it. Unknown factor, only frown wif a spear once before – at the recent Harrismith Hoerskool Atletiekbyeenkoms, where I had won the Victor Ludorum very unexpectedly. The spiesgooi.
The school bus was naturally available for us to get to the metropolis of Senekal. That was the usual and expected way, so we naturally declined, Steph organising that we drove ourselves to Senekal in Gerrie Pretorius’ white Ford Corsair. Actually we weren’t licenced – to drink OR drive – so one of the guys who worked for his Mom Alet at JN de Witt Hardware drove us.
Accompanying us was Larry Wingert, Rotary exchange student from Cobleskill New York and keen athletic spectator. That day.
The white Ford Corsair’s engine roared off in the pre-dawn heading west, the rising sun behind us, to Senekal, city of song and laughter – and horror.Tiekiedraai songs, probly. As we pulled in to the dusty dorp Steph had us pull over outside likely the only cafe in town, where he asked the Greek owner, who became his mate in two seconds flat – Steph is like that – if he’d please keep our beers. ‘MY FRIEN’! Of course I keep your beers cold for you!’ Stuck them under the eskimo pies, he did.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention: Steph’s gardener had procured a sixpack of Black Label Mansize cans for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales, Mom & Dad losing the sale at Platberg bottle store because of their unreasonable “No under 18’s” policy. Also known as “the law.”
Now at this juncture, please don’t come with any stimulant or performance-enhancing accusations. Let it be noted that we did not partake in our stimulants until AFTER the athletic meeting was over. During the competition we were clean, nê? And anyway those mansize cans were only conversation stimulants and personality enhancers.
Let the games begin!
Steph’s event was first and we watched, moedig’d him aan and coached him. He won the driesprong! We had a gold medal in the Corsair! The beer was legitimised: It was celebratory! True it was only a paper certificate, but it said Eerste Plek and to us that = Gold Medal.
A long gap followed before my event after lunch. It didn’t look too good and I was languishing, but then I didn’t have any expectations. My last throw came and the whole thing is etched in my memory. I can still today feel the quickening run, the cross-step, the full-strength launch, the perfect flight of me – and of the javelin – and my landing, right spiked foot digging in one inch behind the wavy, hand-drawn white-wash line on the grass and having to push back to not lurch over it and get disqualified. I just knew it was perfection and it flew on and on, second stage booster firing halfway, soaring past all the markers of the langgatte from Voortrekker in Bethlehem and pegging perfectly. Another gold medal for the Corsair! Spiesgooi. This one out of the blue, even though the skies were grey (which significant fact would come into play later that day).
Hoender’s event was last and we went to cheer. It didn’t look good. One short stiff aluminium pole vs a bunch of long whippy fibreglass poles seemed unfair. He was offered the use of a newfangled pole but he declined. They take some getting used to.
Then it started to drizzle. The grey sky got wet. Suddenly everything changed! The langgatte with the whippy poles started floundering and slipping. Hoender soldiered on. It made no difference to him what the weather was like. On the last height there were two competitors left. Whippy pole slipped and gly’d and got nowhere. Hoender went over to a roar of applause from all four of us. He’d won! Our third gold medal! Paalspring. A clean sweep! The trifecta!
The music from Chariots of Fire swelled over the once dusty, now damp, dorp, rising to a crescendo. Sure, the movie was 1981 and this was 1970, but WE HEARD IT.
We hastened straight to the white Corsair, parked in the drizzle under the nearby bluegum trees, skipping the official podium pomp for Hoender.
We had our own unofficial celebration waiting. Off to the cafe to rescue the beer from under the eskimo pies and away we went “with the windshield wipers slappin’ time, n Larry clappin’ hands”! We roared off in the twilight, heading east, the setting sun behind us, slightly pickled after glugging the 450ml of contraband nectar, conversations stimulated and personalities enhanced.
AND: We got our name up in lights and our handprints pressed in to concrete next to a big star on the pavement.
Well, the Harrismith Hoerskool equivalent: On the Monday morning we were mentioned in dispatches by Johan Steyl at assembly in the skoolsaal. He sounded rather amazed.
kranige – excellent; and handsome
hoender – his nickname; he looked a bit like a scrawny old rooster, I guess?
Harrismith Hoerskool Atletiekbyeenkoms – renowned school athletics meet, widely known in the district, like famous
tiekiedraai – Like, lame dancing that adults approve of; you were allowed to tiekiedraai, so who would want to
nê? – y’unnerstand?
moedig’d him aan – told him ‘C’mon, Move Your Arse! JUMP!’ Also coached him by saying the same thing
driesprong – triple jump; hop, skip, n jump
langgatte – long arses, tall chaps
spiesgooi – spear chuck, javelin; Seems all that practice frowing fings wif a stone of our youth translated well into frowing wif a spear.
gly’d – slipped
paalspring – pole vault; see how we pole-vaulted in the tough old days, with stiff poles and the ground ploughed over and a sprinkling of wood shavings and sawdust to act as a “soft” landing;
skoolsaal – hall where you assembled
Years later a nocturnal visit to Senekal involving beer would not be as much fun; more dark hillbilly horror than daylight athletic fun!
When I was called up to the army in 1979 my friend Tabs Fyvie offered to deliver me to the (not so pearly) gates of Voortrekkerhoogte (or as Barks always insisted: Roberts’ Heights. Now thankfully at last it has a non-bullshit name: Thaba Tshwane!).
Off we went to Pretoria and sought out a pub. A kroeg, really – we were on the Central Gevangenis side of downtown Pretoria. A final drink before disappearing into uniform.
Many drinks later the 5pm deadline was approaching. Walking to the car we passed a sangoma’s emporium with enticing offers and claims written crudely on the window. Opportunity beckoned.
Turning in we were met by the great consultant himself. Tabs explained he would like to get rid of his paunch, and the man indicated this was a very minor thing which he could do with one hand tied behind his back. We were not sharp enough at that particular juncture to enquire how come he didn’t use it on himself . As in, y’know: “Physician, Heal Thyself .”
He reached for a metal rasp, took down a piece of bark from the many shelves behind him piled with bark, skins, leaves, string, dead animals, bottles of various sizes, seeds, skulls and who knows what else and grated off a pile of sawdust onto a newspaper, folded it up and said “Twenty bucks”.
Shit! Twenty Ront! In 1979! We were both pickled and we hadn’t spent that much on beer! Still, Tabs coughed up and the great man asked me my pleasure.
“I want to get out of going to the army”, I said, “Two years is too long, I’d rather dodge it altogether”. “Not a problem” he said, and “That is easy” he said. He whipped around, reached for the same metal rasp, took down the same piece of bark, grated the same amount into the next page of the same newspaper, folded it up and said – you guessed it: “Twenty bucks.”
We paid him quite solemnly, not wanting to damage or weaken the muti with any faint tinges of doubt and repaired to a nearby dive for two more beers to wash down the potion. It was vile, bitter and powder-dry, but we managed, one pinch at a time.
Well, it worked for me: Days later* I emerged from the army a free man – just like the man said.
* OK, 730 days later to be exact.
Tabs, I’m sorry to say, on the other hand, still had his little paunch. Maybe he’d harboured secret doubts? Or maybe the Sangoma had specialised in psychiatry rather than physiology? **
** Decades later Tabbo DID lose his paunch. He credits it to Tim Noakes’ eating plan, but I can’t help wondering . . . .
Peter Brauer wrote:
Clearly he mistakenly gave you the “slow release” version and probly just underestimated the dosage required for Tabs.
I replied: Or maybe it’s because we were “double blind”?
Fresh from the City of Sin and Laughter, OFS, where I’d spent my first seventeen years, I arrived in New York with great expectations.
I was READY – more than ready! – to see the big wide world. After landing we – the gang of South African Rotary Exchange students -were bussed to a hotel in Queens. Someone – a Rotarian, I guess? – checked us in and then left us to go to bed for the night. Early the next morning we’d be boarding different planes to the various states we’d been assigned to.
Go to bed?! Fuhgeddaboudit!
But most did! I was horrified. “Excuse me, no WAY I’m going to bed”. Only one other guy (was he Gary or was he heading to Gary, Indiana?) joined me and we went to the night porter. “Right! Where can we go for a night on the town, sir? We want to go for a walk, which way shall we head?”
Oh, I wouldn’t advise you did that, he drawled, I’ll get the hotel bus to take you someplace.
So off we went, noses plastered against the windows, fascinated. Our personal chauffeur dropped us off at a brightly-lit truck stop and asked when we wanted to be fetched. “Three Ay Emm” we said, pushing our luck. Check, he said without blinking. So we sat and watched a New York night go by drinking beer and eating burgers n fries till he fetched us as arranged.
After three hours sleep, we were taken back to JFK where we split up. Some of us boarded a HUGE helicopter for the hop over to La Guardia airport from where I would be going on to Oklahoma, OFS – uh, USA.
When modern man decided to pinch water from the Tugela river and pump it uphill to satisfy the Vaalies’ thirst, our area around Harrismith and Bergville saw a flurry of activity and an influx of new people. A bus arrived at school and a flock of new kids tumbled out. They were cruelly christened Die Dam Paddas by us parochials.
New things started appearing in the distrik: Sterkfontein dam; TuVa township (Tu Va – Tugela/Vaalies, geddit?); a vertical tunnel in the Drakensberg for the hydro-electric turbines; canals and smaller dams. All had to be built.
One of the latter was Driel Barrage on the Tugela river on Kai Reitz’s farm The Bend, so once we’d had sufficient beer one fine day we drove down on the back of Kai’s big Chevy pickup to look at the construction and to say some insightful engineering things about it.
A very high wall had been built starting out from dry land until its highest point in the middle of the river. Very interesting, but we don’t have to . . . . Oh, we do?
So we climbed up it and inched our way on our bums along the 30cm wide wall to its highest point. Some walked, but they were just being foolish, right? OK, so we’ve seen it, can we go now?
The muddy brown water way below us was completely opaque, no way you could see even one centimetre into it. It could have been knee deep or ten metres deep, who knows, so we definitely won’t be . . . . Mandy! ARE YOU MA-AA-aa-aD?!
She’s jumped! Holy shee-yit!! Ah neely dahd, she took forever to plummet as I watched in slow motion, and then she entered with a big splash and disappeared, which I s’pose was better than if she hadn’t.
Eventually she surfaced with a huge grin on her face and now I knew I was stuffed. I’d have to jump. Unless the others chickened out, but no, there went Sheila and so before long I had to stand up, act casual and plummet meself.
Unbelievable what a fierce hold brave women have over us cowardly um, circumspect men . . .
There were two reasons we ‘borrowed’ Gerrie’s 1961 black Saab 93 late one night: (1). If you don’t give a car a run the battery can go flat, and (2). We had Larry the American Rotary Exchange student with us, who might have heard that the Free State can be a very boring place with “nothing to do”. Especially at night. And also (3). A moving car is a safe place to drink beer in. These are facts.
Quietly wheeling it down the driveway we held our breath until we’d pushed it far enough, then quickly started it and we were OFF! Freedom! Beer! Speed! Steph was multi-tasking, driving and handing out the ‘longtom’ cans of Black Label beer his family’s obliging gardener had bought for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales. My folks lost the sale because of their silly and pedantic “over-18’s” policy.
Tuffy always finished his before we hit third gear . . .
A quick routine stop to tap the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for just that purpose, and we headed for new terrain.
We had already done the town athletic track and the school netball fields on other occasions, leaving our trademark donuts and figure-of-eights in the gravel.* This time our destination was the National Botanic Gardens on top of Queen’s Hill, stopping only once more to tap the fuel pump with the half-brick kept under the bonnet for just that purpose.
In the dark we met Kolhaas Lindstrom in his car. He was legit: He’d already left school and was a licenced driver. “Dice?” he challenged, and the game was on! Whizzing through the veld Rring-ding-ding-ding-RRriiing! It’s a two-stroke, remember?
Don’t believe the Minister of Transport, speed doesn’t kill you. Speed exhilarates. It’s the sudden stops that kill you. And the sudden stop and loud bang came as a surprise to us. Dead silence reigned until in an awed American upstate New York accent Larry exclaimed from the back seat, “We’ve had a head-on collision with a hill!” .
That broke the ice. The hill, meantime, had probably broken the suspension.
But no. A committee undercarriage inspection revealed all four wheels suspended in mid-air. Trying to gun it out left the front wheels whizzing around uselessly. Well, that is why there were five of us, so we man-handled it over the ditch and away we went, cleverer than before.
Forty five years later I flew in to inspect the scene of the mystery. Which was still unsolved and now a very cold case. The mystery was this: How could it be that such great and experienced drivers crashed? I mean some of us had been driving for . . well, months! And in not too many years’ time, we’d be licenced drivers.
I flew in via google earth. And there it was: A fault!! It was Queen’s Hill’s fault, not ours!
A great big fault – or ditch? – runs North-South across the whole hill. THAT was what caught us by surprise in the long grass.
I have little doubt that if one were to measure its width you’ll find it just a bit greater than the wheelbase of a 1961 Saab93!
* Next time you’re wondering who made those ‘crop circles’? Think a) Homo sapiens; b) Homo sapiens subspecies pranksterii; c) Alcohol; These are facts.