I can’t talk long cos they’re coming to take me from my warm armchair – its falling to pieces, mind you – in front of the heater and wrapped under a blanket, to the piano, where I’ll play a bit before lunch. Lunch is a roast and vegetables and then ice cream cos its Sunday. And Sundays we get egg and bacon for breakfast.
You know Kosie, it’s amazing how an old tune suddenly comes back into my head and I start playing it. Then I keep playing it each day and it gets better every time!
You go, Ma! Remember to eat your vegetables, or you won’t get any ice cream. **Laughs** I eat all my vegetables except pumpkin, and that’s why I haven’t got curly hair. That’s what we were told when I was small.
Oh, Dad says the temperature is going to drop steeply tomorrow, you must wear warm clothes, she tells her 66yr-old son.
So we were drinking beer on Tabbo’s farm when a younger chap arrived and was introduced to us as the young Frenchman whose parents wanted him to experience agriculture before he started to study it at university. Tabbo had gladly agreed to host a frog for a weekend so he could learn agriculture on a farm in Africa in English before going back to learn it in France at a university in French. Ours not to reason why . .
I’m Tabbo; I’m Koos we said. Hervé, he said. Ah, hello Hervé! Non non! Hervé.
Ah! Hervé, we said, copying his pronunciation carefully. Non! Hervé. OK, Hervé. Non! Non! Hervé!Hervé!
Um, yes, hello Hervé, welcome to the Vrystaat. Hervé! he muttered.
And that set the tone for the visit of eighteen year old Hervé, le frog, to the Vrystaat vlaktes.
We piled into Tabs’ pickup and drove around the farm, Tabbo pointing out a cow chewing the cud, a sheep walking and a mielie growing. He showed little interest. The only animation was whenever we mentioned his name. He would immediately say Non, Non. Hervé! So we stopped using his name.
Back to the lovely sandstone homestead at Gailian and lunch, where he refused a beer, muttering something that sounded like muffy arse. We were to hear muffy arse A LOT.
Lunch arrived, a delicious roast something produced by Julia and ____ in the large and splendid Gailian kitchen, origin of many a magnificent meal. Non, Non. Muffy arse, came the response after he’d peered at the meat on his plate intently, nose 20mm from it. He ate the potatoes.
I’ve never met such such an impossible eighteen year old! Obnoxious, opinionated, impossible to please.
In the afternoon Tabbo drove him around some more. We – yes, even I was lecturing agricul-cher! – helpfully pointed out the grass, and the clouds, which would hopefully bring rain and grow that same grass; which animals would eat and convert into delicious roasts so he could mutter muffy arse. We generally gave him a thorough education in agriculture which we were sure would put him ahead of his fellow amphibious classmates when he went back across the pond to study utilisées pour l’agriculture at l’école agricole. And I’m sure le frog would have had a lot to correct there. Pardon my French.
That evening we were back into the beer and offered him one. Non, Non. Muffy arse, the response we’d grown used to. We went through all the grog in the Fyvie’s very well stocked pub and at last we got a oui !
I forget if it was Ricard or Benedictine or Cointreau, but it was definitely Made In France and I think that was all le frog was interested in. By the look on his face as he took his first sip, he hadn’t actually tasted it before, but we were beyond caring any more. He was impossible to please and we were now just keeping him quiet, happy that a sixpack of beer divided more easily into two than into three.
After a while the silly little frog whipped out a tiny little French-English dictionary out of his pocket and pointed to the word méfiance and muttered urgently muffy arse. So THAT was muffy arse! méfiance!
The translation: MISTRUST!
We hosed ourselves, which miffed le frog. He got all miffy arsed.
We were not sad to see him go. Still, being polite we asked him if he thought he’d learnt enough to help him when he went back to study his agriculture? Non, Non. he said indignantly. He was going to l’université to study mathematique!
John Newby was an LLB attorney and a CA accountant, wine connoisseur, boyfriend of the lovely Heather – and a crayfisherman. A very capable and interesting fella. That’s him in the pic above, ‘cept I gave him more hair on top. He would shove his scrawny frame into a wetsuit and disappear under the waves among the rocks at low tide, then emerge with crayfish. Which he would then very generously cook and share with his fellow inmates at 72 Hunt Road, our communal house on the Berea in Durban.
I always knew when a crayfish treat was coming cos he’d walk into my room, mumble an apology, roll back the carpet and shove his scrawny frame into a hole. He’d disappear under the floor of my baronial-style bedroom and emerge covered in cobwebs clutching a dusty wine bottle or two talking French and flowery oenologicalwords which I took with a pinch of salt. Some people are just like that and you tolerate them, nodding gravely, while quaffing their wine. You don’t contradict if they’re buying.
But lo! As with everything he did, Newby wasn’t bullshitting. We suddenly found out he had won the Natal Wine-Tasters Guild sniffing and spitting finals and was off to represent us at the nationals in Cape Town! I mean I always thought of myself as an oenophile, but that was in a volume and enthusiasm sense, not so much as a nexpert judge. I always swallow.
So now we were rooting for Nubile! We always knew he was a connoisseur, we now said. We had helped him train, we said. My memory is that he won that tasting too, and Hunt Road thus had an SA champion under our roof; WE were expert wine tasters.
If I were you, I would take this 38yr-old self-serving memory with another sizable pinch of salt. And a large swallow of chablis.
Nubile upped and offed to Aussie, which we didn’t like, but worse: he took Heather with him!
“Kom, kom, kom! Vyf Rand elk. Brings your money! Five Rands. I’m going to town. E’ gat do’p toe”. Town being Ellisras or Thabazimbi. The civilian staff sergeant from the Cape was shouting in that well-known accent – or eccent, ek sê. He was organising a whip-around to augment the army rations he had been issued as mess sergeant on our Commando camp out in the bushveld somewhere north of Pretoria. We were playing ‘Field Hospital Field Hospital’.
He returned a few hours later with a big sack of onions, cooking oil and a vark of cheap white wine – a 25l plastic spug-spug. So instead of plain bully beef and boiled spuds we had a varkpan full of fried bully beef, spuds and onions, like bubble-n-squeak GT, and a fire-bucket filled with half a litre of semi-soetes for our supper. Much better. We considered the matter carefully and then all agreed one could actually quite easily call him a gourmet chef, and so we gave his mess a Michelin star.
His vark was unlike the one on the left. Also actually unlike the one on the right. It was a big, floppy, papsak bag – like a very large colostomy bag.
One of the civvies on camp was Rod Mackenzie, trainee-ophthalmologist and lovely mensch from Durban who I would soon meet again and work with for years, first in hospitals and then in private practice. That was after the weermag in their wisdom sent me to Durbs as adjutant to the medics in the various KwaZulu hospitals.
E’ gat do’p toe – Capetonian toothless way of saying I’m Going on a Shopping Spree
vark, spug-spug – large plastic container filled with fine, rare vintage wine, if you ask me
varkpan – metal army-issue eating and cooking pan
fire bucket – metal army-issue drinking and cooking bucket
semi-soetes – fine, rare vintage wine, if you ask me
papsak – scrotum-like but transparent, unlike the army
As students 1974-1977 we would frequent the Casa Blanca roadhouse at the foot of Nugget Hill below Hillbrow when the pocket money arrived from home. Squeezed into Joz Simpson’s lime-green VW Beetle or Steve Reed’s beige Apache or Bobby Friderich’s white Mini Cooper S or Glen Barker’s green Toyota, we’d ask the old Elvis-looking guy with a cap, flip-up sunglasses and whispy whiskers for a burger n chips plus a coke; Or a cheeseburger chips n coke 70c, or – as Steve reminded me – “if we were flush, the Dagwood with everything including the runny fried egg. Sheer luxury. Messy, but worth it!”
I don’t have a pic, but here’s the Doll House in Highlands North so long. We called it the Doll’s House. Were we wrong?
Every so often you’d be asked “Move forward” and you’d inch forward to make room for new arrivals behind you, till you reached the “finishing line” where you handed back the tray Elvis had clipped to your half-rolled-up window and drove off under the big sign on the wall: QUIET. HOSPITAL.
Many years later (OK, twenty six years later!) work took me back to Jozi and I had time to kill in my hired car so I drove around Doories and Yeoville and Hillbrow. Lunchtime I pulled in to the Casa Blanca and I SWEAR there was the exact same oke who had served us twenty six years earlier, with his SAME cap, his SAME flip-up shades and his SAME whispy whiskers! Astonishing!
I told him cheeseburger chips n coke and how long have you been here?
“Thirty six years,” he said “but I’m just filling in now.”
Charged me 70c. Plus twenty six years-worth of inflation.