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. He would shove his scrawny frame into a wetsuit and disappear under the waves among the rocks and 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 disappear under my floor. He’d emerge covered in cobwebs clutching a dusty wine bottle or two talking French and flowery poetical words which I took with a pinch of salt. Some people are just like that and you tolerate them while quaffing their wine.
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 sense, not so much as a critic.
So now we were rooting for him! 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; I would take this 38yr-old self-serving memory with another pinch of salt, though. Or a swallow of chablis.
“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 bush near Pretoria.
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 spuds we had a varkpan full of fried bully-beef-spuds-n-onions and a fire-bucket filled with over half a litre of semi-soetes for our supper. Much better.
Not the one on the left:
One of the civvies on camp was Rod Mackenzie, trainee-ophthalmologist from Durban who I would soon meet again and work with for years later, 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.
varkpan – metal army-issue eating and cooking pan
fire bucket – metal army-issue drinking container 500ml
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:
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.