One dark night in Deepest Darkest Doornfontein we were playing darts in the New Doornfontein Hotel pub, a salubrious emporium of renown. Probably one of the best hotels in Doornfontein. Top three anyway.
Actually to be more exact, we were engaged in a very important international darts championship tournament, and we were in the final. We had made it through to the final by skill and courage. And imbibing. See, it was The unOfficial Inebriated World Darts Championships of The World. Our opponents were the Sicilian Mafia who had materialised out of nowhere, tapped one of us on the shoulder and announced darkly in a sinister growl: “We play you next.” That’s how they got into the final. We didn’t dare to do anything but nod nervously.
It was like this in the Us vs Them stakes:
We were not fooled when during the important ceremony of ‘diddle for middle’ they missed the bull’s eye by about three metres and we hit bull to go off first. We knew they were simply lulling us into a false sense of security and had in fact wanted us to go first as part of a dastardly plot. This plan was executed faultlessly as we continued to whip they asses and beat them by a mile in all three rounds. Something was afoot. We got even more nervous when they appeared to accept their defeat in good spirit and retired to a corner of the bar conversing – sinisterly for Sicilians – in Portuguese and Joburg English.
Our lives were saved that night in that we ordered beers when the barman called ‘Last Round!’ and the Mafia didn’t. So at closing time the Mafiosi left and we stayed behind to finish our drinks, huddled in a corner as far away as we could get from the door in case it suddenly shattered and splintered under sustained machine gun fire.
The barman then escorted us out the back. He ‘eskorted’ us note . . Behind the bar counter, through the kitchen past the chest freezers – take note, I am not mentioning the chest freezers for nothing here – past the chest freezers: these clues will feature again at the end of this story, eskort and those chest freezers – and out the back door. As I hurried through the kitchen I thought I had seen some movement of the one chest freezer lid out of the corner of my eye . .
Then we were outside – into the courtyard of the New Doornfontein which was even darker than the unlit streets. Then out that side motor gate visible on the far left into Height Street.
We scurried home through the empty streets at night to our lavish quarters in the plush Doories residence of the Witwatersrand College for Advanced Technical Education a few blocks away, keeping to the shadows. It was all shadows.
Once safely inside we opened the large door of the old off-white Westinghouse with ‘Fridge Over Troubled Waters’ written on it in cokie pen. Finally we, The unOfficial Inebriated World Darts Champions of The World, could relax. Another beer to calm our troubled nerves . .
Suddenly the smell of frying bacon filled the room . . .
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!! It was 1970:
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 orange vest 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
HO de Villiers – Henry Oswald de Villiers (1945-2022) “HO” played 14 Tests and 15 tour matches for South Africa. Made his Springbok debut against France in Durban in 1967 and scored four conversions and a penalty as the Boks won 26-3. His last international was in 1970 in the drawn Test against Wales in Cardiff. He also represented UCT and Villagers at club level, and played in the blue and white hoops of Western Province from 1965 to 1975. HO revolutionised fullback play at the time with his counter attacks.
Years later a nocturnalvisit to Senekalinvolving beer would not be as much fun; more dark hillbilly horror than daylight athletic fun!