Another re-cycled post to save ink, pixels and perspiration. I tried to reason with these ous, but would they lissen to me?
My lift from JHB dropped me off at home. The dorp was empty. The city of sin and laughter was somnolent. Soporific even. Where WAS everyone?
I phoned 2630 pring pring pring. Or was it 2603 priiiiing priiiing priiiing? I forget. Can you fetch me? No, get yourself here quick, we’re going to Warden to scare some guineafowls. Now.
What could I do? The imported white Ford Econoline 302 cu. inch V8 van was in the garage, I knew where the keys were, and the folks were away. And after all, I’d only be using it to get to Gilliann then hop into T’s bakkie and away we’d go. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, and I’d better borrow Dad’s cheap Russian 12-gauge shotgun, too. And take a few beers.
As I drew up next to the prefab on Gilliann a cry of Perfect! A real shooting brake! went up and six pre-lubricated gentlemen holding shotguns and beers piled in, calling Tommy the German Pointer in with them. No, guys, hang on, I said feebly . .
The day at Roest was a blur but the drive back came into sharp focus. We ‘had to’ pull in to the village pub. The dorpskroeg. I, of course, had suggested we go straight home, but that went down like a lead balloon. A vote wasn’t taken and I lost, blithely ignored. Overruled. In the pub the barman took one look at us and refused to serve us. Someone who shall remain nameless but whose surname maybe started with a Gee and ended with a Zee, fetched his shotgun and casually aimed it at the expensive bottles of hooch above the barman’s head whereupon said barman suddenly remembered our order and delivered seven beers pronto. When we decided we’d like to play snooker, same thing: It was a No until a The Simpsons-like character aimed a shotgun at the white ball and the cues were produced with alacrity. And chalk.
When to my huge relief, we finally got going, the G-man, who was riding shotgun on my right (the van was Left-Hand-Drive), sat on the windowsill and three of Warden’s four streetlamps went ‘pop’. There he is, in the window, next to the weapon in question. Tommy’s wondering What.The.Hell!? The guinea is mortally wounded, deceased and bleeding on the van carpet.
Now I KNEW I was going to jail forever. Putting my head down and roaring for home I wasn’t stopping again for NOBODY. Except the gentle tickle of a shotgun against my ear persuaded me otherwise and I stopped as instructed with my headlights shining on Eeram. A firing squad lined up, three kneeling in front and four standing behind them. This is for Ram, guys, he’s getting married in Bergville next weekend! BLAM!! The ‘Ee’ disappeared, and there was just ‘ram’. In honour of Ram’s wedding. Nor do I believe it. Maybe it was a dream?
I finally got rid of the miscreants, got home and looked at the van. Holy cow! Dog hair, guineafowl feathers and the mud and the blood and the beer all over the carpets and upholstery of Dad’s white Ford Econoline V8 camper van! 302 cu. inches. I set to work cleaning it. And cleaning it. And scrubbing it. Still it stank of that mixture. In desperation, I took a jerrycan and spread petrol liberally on the carpet and scrubbed again.
When the folks got home I made a full – OK, partial – confession: Dad, I spilled some petrol in your van, but I’ve cleaned it all up. Sorry about that!
the mud and the blood and the beer – Johnny Cash –
I was looking thru Dan Palatnik’s Digital Garage – well worth a visit – and an old Willys Jeep reminded me of Leibs and Achim who had developed the bad habit of lying under their old Jeeps in the backyard of our communal home at 4 Hillside Road, Parktown. Mainly they were banging out rust and stuffing revived V8 engines under the bonnets. Leibs was a handsome schoolteacher at Roosevelt school in Joburg (why ‘Roosevelt?’).
One of the highlights of 4 Hillside was when his girlfriend visited. The delightful Claire was a huge favourite among the bachelors. What a sweetie. Leibs was a myope like me (shortsighted) and happily allowed us optometry students to practice our contact lens skills on him, trying out all the latest lenses. We practiced and he got free lenses: Win-Win!
Achim parked his Jeep next to Leibs’ so they could get greasy and talk ball bearings together. Achim went on to do a lot of off-road rallying in the dodgy metropolis of Brits, where he ran his optometric practice with his bream, wife and former lecturer, Eva the dispensing optician aus Austria or Germany. On the side, Achim ran a garage to tjoon up his racing 4X4’s and fit double divorce pipes. One of those eventually got him. Maybe Eva kicked him out for getting grease on the contact lenses?
Inmates of 4 Hillside:
‘4 Hillside’ was a lovely big old communal house in Parktown, Johannesburg run by teachers and former teachers in the Hillside Road cul-de-sac on the corner of Empire Road. Hillside was a leafy lane completely engulfed by big old London Plane and Jacaranda trees, a lovely quiet spot, right on busy Empire road but isolated from it thanks to being a ‘straat loop dood’ and having a big water furrow servitude with a lane of trees on our Empire Road boundary. The house was a lovely old white single story gabled family home with a circular driveway that had seen better days. Big hydrangea bushes against the walls; we’d greet them Hi Granger!
It was a Teachers Digs. Educators. You would think teachers would have brains, but no, they allowed an optometry student into their hitherto blissful existence: Clive Nel of Kokstad and the long-suffering Sandy Norton. Norts. Clive was allowed in as he offered to take a run-down tin shed annex and convert it into habitable quarters. And he did just that! Soon the shed was carpeted in fine vintage carpets, Rembrandts and Monets on the corrugated iron walls and makeshift shelves stocked with fine wines. He was generous with his wine was Nel, so soon the teachers were (very) happy to have him! Also Norton was such an asset that she almost balanced Nel’s faults. White Mazda RX2 rotary-engined gas guzzler with NCW then CCW plates: That’s Kokstad, where his Dad Theunie sold Massey Ferguson tractors to the boere. I’m not kidding here – except for the Rembrandts and Monets. Clive ‘Nel’ Nel. A book could – and should – be written. “Dee dee dee BARKER! baap”. “Howdy Norts!” Endured by the wonderful and long-suffering Sandy Norts. His white Mazda RX2 – high speed, high consumption rotary-engined boy racer, ended up in a head-on collision after the Brauer-Saks wedding of the year.
The rot having set in, the next student to sully the joint was the inimitable Glen Barker, non-farming, hard-golfing sugar and jersey cow farmer from Umzinto and Dumisa, with some anthirium hothouse culture thrown in. Green Toyota Corona NX 106, inherited from Gran. They also had NX 101 and 102 and 103 and 104 and 105 – you get the picture: Old money in the Umzinto and Dumisa district. NX was for “Alexandra County,” Glen would never tire of reminding us, knowing that behind the boerewors curtain we didn’t have counties, we had ‘distriks.’ The first NX 106 plate had been nailed to their ossewa when the first very Reverend Barker arrived aus England to bullshit, rob and confuse the poor happy heathens.
Then they let me in – Vrystaat boykie with a grey and grey 1965 Opel Rekord OHS 5678. I was given a shoe cupboard next to the spare bathroom and the second back door. So now the digs had deteriorated down to four teachers, three optometry students, a Malawian and a Norts – a delicate balance.
– Pierre ‘Leibs’ Leibbrandt and the lovely Claire. As students we fitted Leibs with silicon permawear contact lenses! And we ogled the gorgeous Claire. He drove a TJ Alfa Romeo. Was it a horrible brown colour?
– Granger Grey was a teacher too. He drove a dove-grey VW Beetle; TVB plates.
– Donald ‘Coolsie’ Collins. Teacher. Coolest of the gang. There was some pottery in his family background, I seem to recall. He had various girlfriends, all of whom were reminded not to get too serious. One was‘Vaalwater’ who was famously told to ‘take off your clothes, so long, I’m just having a shit . . ‘
– Mike Doyle, ex-teacher, now a cement mogul; lovely girlfriend Michaela or ‘Shale’. Old blue British Land Rover 5-door station wagon; a healthy cynic, he loved the great outdoors.
– Gerald or Gerrard – ‘Gelard’, pronounce Jell-laahd, the Malawian butler with ambitions of becoming a tycoon. Deeply hurt and offended that we thought mowing the lawn was in his portfolio. Decent people would have hired a gardener and placed him under Gerrard’s command. He called CoolsieBoss Donut. Anyone who asked him to do anything he considered unreasonable, he would defer to Boss Donut.
Friends-of-4-Hillside – not quite inmates – included:
– Jos, another teacher who lived nearby. Not tall, with high-plus specs, an Alfa Romeo and a lovely girlfriend Brenda;
– ‘Norbs’ Norbury. Yet another educator. Big black beard. Norbs imitated Charles Fortune to perfection at the Wanderers cricket ground, entertaining the inebriated crowds on the grassy banks as he waxed lyrical about the clouds and the birds while blissfully ignoring the fall of a wicket. Would sing loud John Denver: ‘You Philip My Dentures . . . Like a Knight at the Florist;’
– A Demmler oke – ?? Craig?
– Brauer – full-time tutor to Nel. Inhabitant of a huge Yeoville flat full of dodgy flatmates.
– Budgie Burge – mild-mannered gentleman.
Sitting in the crowded little TV lounge watching the news and Dorianne Berry came on to read the news wearing a strapless top. The camera carefully stayed just above her dress line making her look maybe naked! Horny bachelorness ran rampant: “Ooh, maybe we’ll get to see Dorianne’s berries”, was the call. The camera zoomed out and disappointment set in. Again.
Lying under the grey-and-grey Opel fixing the drum brakes before going to Port Shepstone. Now, I ask you: Who the hell would drive 700km in a car whose brakes I had fiddled with!? Turns out a few students, including the delightful Cheryl Forsdick;
The delightful Triple SSS – Sexy Susan Staniland Fotherby – was a welcome visitor to 4 Hillside in one of my lucky – and brief – periods I . . . ‘had a girlfriend!’ Far and few between, they were.
Steve Reed wrote:Granger – never forgotten. Mostly for his height-enhancing shoe-stuffing for weight watchers meetings;
Pete Brauer wrote:More vivid nostalgic memories of Granger Grey stuffing quarts of Black Label down his throat;
I remember Granger Grey (6ft 4 high, 4ft 6 wide) getting home late one night, well-oiled with a placid beam on his face. He joined us students braaiing on the lawn next to the pool and started eyeing the sizzling meat, staring hypnotically. Borrowing one ale after the other he got progressively more glass-eyed and we watched in awe as he swayed, Obelix-like, WAY past a normal centre of gravity then slowed to a halt, jutting chin way forward, eyes on the tjops n boerie till you just knew he was going to platz on his face; and then SLO-OWLY swayed back to upright, then way back past upright, with his beer resting on his boep till he was leaning 450 backwards and HAD to see his arse and crack his skull; but again he halted, hovered, and started the slow sway forward again. Musta been the size eleventeen shoes that held him upright! We formed a wall round the fire, guarding the tjops n boerie, and keeping a close eye on the large man as we knew he had needs.
We had to hurriedly clear the braai and endure his hurt look. Imperative to be tough and take evasive action when Granger got near food. I think we invented the phrase ‘tough love.’
Mealtimes for Seven Lads and a Norts
The problem of feeding seven hungry men was solved by Gerrard cooking and placing the food in the oven. First man to crack and start eating had to divide the food scrupulously fairly onto seven plates and only then was he allowed to eat. This led to lots of circling around and cagily watching while pretending to be unconcerned, hoping someone else would crack first and do the tedious division under intense scrutiny.
On steak nights – Big Nights – the potato and veg would be in the oven, the uncooked steaks high up on a shelf – a dividing wall, actually. This led to the memorable night when Granger cracked first. He was alone at home and he was ravenous, so he divided the veg into seven and cooked his steak and ate it. Then he ate just one more. After all, someone might not be coming home that night, you never know. Often someone would skip supper. Maybe they lucked out with a chick, who can tell? Then one more, and then just one more. And SO, verily, did Granger finished the seventh and last steak and was overcome with remorse. The Seventh Steak – quite biblical, actually. He was a very good man, Granger Grey and he had a heart of gold. So verily, remorse he didth feel.
Jumping into his grey VW beetle – TVB numberplate for Vanderbijlpark, home of ISCOR, Boipatong and Sharpeville – he roared off to Fontana in Highpoint in Hillbrow, bought three beautiful golden-brown roast chickens off their famous rotisserie to make good for his sin – he was atoning bedonderd – and rushed back, flattening only one whole chicken by himself en-route.
This caused him to reflect. He had wobbled before, but this was a seismic wobble. So he joined Weight-Watchers and became a regular at the weigh-in report-backs. Getting back from his initial weigh-in he sank down onto the low – low cos it was broken – couch in the TV room with a huge sigh. Reaching down to his shoes with difficulty, he wheezed as he removed a thick wad of newspaper from each shoe. ‘And now, Granger?’ we asked. ‘No, we had a weigh-in tonight and I didn’t want them to give me a low target weight,’ he said, quite seriously, matter of fact. We collapsed when we realised what that entailed! He had made himself taller so the nazis at Weight-Watchers would give him a higher target weight! You gotta love Granger Grey! Not only for doing that, but for the complete openness and honesty with which he ‘crooked!’
Granger. Heart of gold. He had bigger brothers, one called Tiny. He read Ayn Rand and thought she was on to something.
The problem of seven men all wearing boring black socks was ingeniously solved by someone who fitted a long narrow wooden shelf in the passage where all socks were placed after washing. Sort them out yourself. Some of the holy ones would grow mould on that shelf. So we always had a choice: Clean or Matching.
Steve Reed again:The legend that I subscribe to is that the famous Vespa scooter that ended up on the bottom of the 4 Hillside Road pool originally belonged to a bird called Terry, who later married Keith Taylor. Keith’s brother Ian Taylor [who became a Doctor] had apparently commandeered Terry’s scooter and somehow it had ended up at 4 Hillside where it met its famous fate. Of course, the story may be the result of the effects on Terry of the third bottle of pinot noir on a cold Auckland night.
Me: Vespa scooter reminds me of Keith Ballin zipping along, specs and moustache peering out from under his helmet, scarf trailing behind him in the breeze!
I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine – (Lou Reed)
Nostalgia: A device that removes the potholes from memory lane – (Doug Larson)
Vaalwater – name of young lass from the distant metropolis of Vaalwater
tjoon – tune-up in this case; sometimes ‘explain’
braai – barbecue
tjops n boerie – red meat sacrificed over an open fire
boep – stomach; paunch
‘Twas at 4 Hillside that a knock came at the front door. We knew it was a stranger as no-one knocked at the front door. Actually, no one knocked, you just walked into the open kitchen door.
It was a pink-faced balding chap and he asked for Peter Swanepoel.
We found out later from Madeleine what had transpired: A pink-faced balding chap walked into the School of Optometry and enquired at reception: Who’s your BEST optometrist? When Madeleine asked Um, Why? he said I want to employ your best final year optom student. Stifling a grin, Madeleine said politely, Actually most of them already have jobs, they’re nearly finished their exams. Oh, said the pink-faced balding chap, So who hasn’t got a job yet?
The rumour that he then went on to ask Oh. OK, then who’s your WORST student? is just that: A vicious rumour.
He made me an offer I couldn’t understand; I haggled the pink-faced balding chap up by a full R100 a month – that was 20% – and I had a job in Hillbrow! This Vrystaat boykie would be testing unsuspecting eyes in Highpoint in Hillbrow for a while – in fact, for the foreseeable future! Geddit!? We lasted three months before I fired him.
The old house is gone now – Hannover Reinsurance’s expensive headquarters now spoil the space! Bah!
The Kleinspan schooltime ended around twelve noon or one o’ clock I guess and we lived less than a mile east along Stuart Street and so one bleak and chilly winter day Donald Coleman and I set off for home in our grey shirts, grey shorts and grey socks – and grey jerseys.
We had lots to talk about and so we walked along on the pavement under the big old plain trees, mostly bereft of leaves, many of which were lying in the deep sandstone gutters.
It was really cold and Donald had a box of matches in his pocket and a plan. We raked together a pile of the dry leaves with our chilly hands and started a nice fire and sat down to warm our hands and shins as the fire crackled away.
It soon burnt out and we meandered on and a block or two later made another blazing but short-lived fire to sit and chat and warm up by.
Then we reached Hector Street and Donald turned down toward his home and I turned up to mine. Mine on the corner and his a block or two closer to the mountain.
“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN!?” greeted me. The tone of the question surprised me and ruined the quiet, gentle ambience of our leisurely journey home. At his home Donald was being asked the same unreasonable question. We’d been to school. Everyone knew that, why were they asking?
“IT’S FIVE O’ CLOCK! SCHOOL ENDED OVER FOUR HOURS AGO!” We weren’t arguing. We didn’t say it didn’t. What was their point? “WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?” Uh, we were talking . . .
We were told off and left to ponder the mysteries of the adult world. They obviously marched to a different drum. We sauntered to ours.
They didn’t know that Donald was an archeologist, paleontologist, cosmologist, naturalist and we had LOTS to think about and consider. They just assumed we were buggering around.
And anyway, whose stress levels were highest? I arse you that.
Huge thanks to Sandra of Harrismith’s best blog DeDoudeHuizeYard for the pictures – exactly right! That is the SAME gutter we sat in. You can even see a few of the plane leaves, great-great-great descendants of the ones we burned, um, (surely it can’t be!) fifty six years ago.
That Pretoria restaurant probably spiked our drinks with omega fish oil because when they finally asked us to leave we were brilliant. We wisely allowed Terry to drive my white Ford Cortina 2-litre deluxe GL while Pierre and Old Pete and I gave comments, directions, instructions, witticisms and dropped pearls – or bokdrols – of wisdom.
‘Twas a balmy night and the breeze was slight. The canoe on the roofrack seemed to Brauer to be a better bet for catching that breeze, so he nimbly hopped out of the window and sat in the cockpit of my Dusi boat, a white Limfy with red deck with matching red tie-downs. I was on an army camp and had brought the boat to get some time off as I was ‘training for Dusi’ on Roodeplaat dam.
Terry thought ‘Uh! Oh! HKK’ and pressed on the accelerator to get us home quicker, which meant the breeze inside the car was now adequate. With Brauer’s departure the average IQ in the car had also risen appreciably. Outside meantime, Brauer started undoing the paddle possibly thinking he could speed up matters if he also paddled through the air. My warnings that the rope tying the paddle on was also the rope holding the boat on, just spurred him to loosen it more. You know how he is. Which caused Terry to press harder on the accelerator thinking if I go really fast maybe the cops won’t notice there’s a carbuncle on my roof and now we were FLYING! This was not good . . . Brauer’s ass was saved by a red light where we managed to haul him down and explain gravity, wind resistance, speed, inertia, impact, abrasions, contusions and broken bones to him. As usual, I was the stabilising influence.
He did seem to understand at last, as he poured some stiff drinks when we got home to the Gramadoelas in Tshwane – ancestral home of the original Tshwanepoels, to which we have land claim rights. But that’s another (important) story for another barmy evening.
Limfy – Limfjorden kayak; sleek fibreglass speed machine (Hey! It was – in 1959!)
Gramadoelas – upmarket suburb in Pretoria, or – more correctly – Tshwane; some call it Maroelana
Comment followed –
Terry Brauer:No-one ever believes that story Pete! My two Peters really have aged me rapidly I fear. When I look back I guess I deserve some accolades for hanging in there!
Me: ‘Some accolades!?’ You deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, a Victoria Cross, various gold medals, an Oscar and a salary increase with perks including danger pay! And that’s just for surviving Pete – I haven’t factored Ryan into that deal . . .
Uncle Jack Kemp had a big dilemma. He loved a party and there were two parties on, one at our house and the other at Ronnie from Threeburgh’s place. To get from the one brandy bottle to the other he had to walk down our front steps, down our little-used front path and out the gate onto Stuart Street. He then had to cross the road and walk northwest to the other corner where Ronnie and Martie were whooping it up – and they could whoop it up!
Then he had to retrace his steps in case there was something more exciting going on where he had just come from.
After a few such sorties he went missing and Isabel Necessary asked her Koosie (pr: coosie) to Go And Look For Him Please My Love, throwing back her head to let out a peal of loud cackling laughter, drink in one hand and ciggie in the other.
I found him under the willow, flat on his back with the unspilt brandy glass balanced on his big boep. Hello Cock, he rasped. ‘Hello Cock’ he’d say to everyone. Saved him remembering names.
Uncle Jack was fine, he had just run out of steam and vertical-ness and was thinking about his next move. What lovely people were Jack and Isabel Kemp!
In the map the four dots mark our yard. Just above the top dot is the van Tubbergh home, showing the short route Uncle Jack had to negotiate. In the picture of the front of our house, there’s a willow tree on the left. Just out of picture on the right is the willow tree under which dear Uncle Jack came unstuck, where schoolboy me found and ‘rescued’ him.
Fanie, is that a box of matches in your pocket? asked stern Uncle Louis. No Dad, its just a block of wood.
We were having lunch on their smallholding east of Harrismith and father Louis knew enough to ask, but not enough to check. After lunch we were off into the veld and once out of sight Farnie bent down, struck a match and set fire to the grass, watched it in fascination for a few seconds, then beat the flames out with his hands. My turn. Then his turn again.
Who knows whose turn it was – doesn’t matter – but we let it grow too big. Both of us tried to beat it out, stomp it out, but the flames spread and ran away from us.
OH! SH*T!! We ran back to the farm house and phoned the fire engine in town. When Louis found out he phoned again and told them not to come. He had already phoned the neighbours and alerted all hands on deck.
My most vivid memory was herding cattle out of a paddock and having a cow refuse to go, charging straight back at us and forcing her way back in. Her calf was in there and she only left once it was with her.
Nine farms burnt, we were told. And calling the fire engine costs money we were told. And we learnt some other lessons, too. You can tell: Both of us are fine upstanding citizens today (telling our kids to BEHAVE themselves, dammit).
A fire in 2014 in the exact same spot (click on the pic). Our fire was ca 1960.
NB: As memories are notoriously fickle, read older sister Barbara‘s (probably more accurate!) recollection of this day:
Let’s go back to the Schoeman’s farm. The three little Swanepoels were spending a week-end on the farm with the three little Schoemans.
Three Swanies ca 1960
After breakfast the six of us went for a walk in the veld. Unbeknown to me, two little sh*ts had lied about having matches in their pockets. Not far from the house they crouched down and I thought they had seen something on the ground. On inspection I now knew that it was matches that they were playing with. They lit a few little fires and quickly with their bare hands (brave boys!) killed the flames. Until then it was all fun for them but I felt very uneasy.
Suddenly the next little flame became a “grand-daddy” of a flame and within no time the two little sh*ts could not longer use their brave little hands. Guess who ran away first? Yes, the two little sh*ts! Something made me look back at the roaring fire and that’s when I saw little Louie – who was 3yrs old – standing in a circle of flames with his arm raised and covering his face – he was frozen stiff. I turned around, ran through the flames, picked him up and ‘sent it’ back to the farmhouse.
With no grown-ups at home, I phoned my mother at the Platberg Bottle Store and through lots of “snot and trane” told her what had happened. She ran across the road to the Town Hall corner and “hit” the fire alarm for the Harrismith Fire Brigade to come and save the day. Needless to say they saw no fire in town so must have just gone home.
The fire did burn through about three farms – the damage was extensive. Uncle Louie and Aunty Cathy, on coming home that afternoon, apparently stopped the car on the main road, got out and just stared – could not believe what they was seeing.
Well, we were supposed to spend the week-end there but all the grown-ups had had enough. We were packed up, bundled up into the car and taken home.
Years later (before they left SA) I bumped into Louie and Gaylyn and told them the story. I could not believe it when Louie told me he had always known that I had saved his life – and I thought that that memory had gone up in flames!
Lots of love to you all Yours “Firewoman” Barbara
Later I wrote (thinking that nothing had really happened to us after the fire): Dammitall, we really had amazingly tolerant parents back in the sixties, come to think of it!
To which Farn Schoeman replied: Koos, small correction: YOU had amazingly tolerant parents!
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.
The mighty Vulgar river had risen! It was flowing way higher than usual, and had overflown its banks. We needed to get onto it!
So Pierre and I dusted off the open blue and red fibreglass canoe the old man had bought us and headed off downstream early one summer morning from below the weir in the park.
By the time we started the river had dropped a lot. Still flowing well, but below the heights of the previous days. This left a muddy verge metres high where the banks were vertical, and up to 100m wide where the banks were sloped and the river was wide.
When we got to Swiss Valley past the confluence of the Nuwejaar spruit, we had a wide wet floodplain to slip and slide across before we reached dry land, leaving us muddy from head to toe. Dragging the boat along we headed for the farmhouse where Lel Venning looked at us in astonishment. I don’t think she even recognised us.
No, You haven’t! You can’t fool me! APRIL FOOL! she exclaimed when we said we’d paddled out from town.
Pierre and I looked at each other and he said “Happy birthday!”
1979 Army “basics” – basic training – and my buddy Graham DryBright Lewis and I are hitch-hiking from Potch to Harrismith. Waiting for a next ride outside Villiers in the darkness of that Friday night a clapped-out bakkie stopped. At last. Jump on, says the weirdo who looks three sheets to the wind, while handing us a quart of beer to share. We jumped. We drank. Screaming along the road to Warden we glance nervously over our shoulders through the back window into the cab and over the driver’s shoulder. The speedo needle was quivering at 135kmh! We glance at each other, trying to be casual. Nonchalant.
Suddenly a loud schlap schlap schlap schlap sound and the bakkie lurches. Burst tyre! We start skidding sideways with the white line coming at us from the left; Then skidding sideways with the white line coming at us from the right; Then going backwards staring at the white line racing under the back of the bakkie towards us as we sit facing what should have been backwards; Then spinning round to see the white line receding away from us – as it should.
We come to a halt still upright and facing forward – and on the correct side of the road. RELIEF!
COME! I barked at Graham. Grabbing our balsaks we hopped off and walked back where we’d come from into the night without a backward glance or a single word to the driver. I did not want to engage with him in any way at all. Fucked if I was getting into Stockholm Syndrome with the twerp who’d almost killed us! We walked till completely out of sight and out of earshot in the dark night.
The first time I ran from the cops was about 1969 in the wee hours of a Harrismith Vrystaat morning. We were lurking, having climbed out of our bedroom windows to rendezvous on the dark streets of the silent metropolis as unaccompanied minors.
Near Greg’s cafe we spotted one of The SAP’s Finest, drunk behind the wheel of his grey cop van. Remember them? Ford F150’s with that metal mesh over the windows.
Being upstanding citizens we phoned the pulley stasie from a tickey box to report him.
Next minute we heard a squeal of tyres and we were being chased in the dead of night by the drunk himself – his buddies had obviously radioed him. Or maybe his stukkie was on desk duty.
No ways he could catch us fleet-footed schoolboys in his weaving van. We ducked and eventually dived under the foundations of Alet de Witt’s new block of flats and watched him careen past us. We emerged boldly and walked home, knowing we would hear him LONG before he could spot us. Anyway, we didn’t want to be late for school.
No doubt he took another sluk of brandy and went looking for someone dark to beat up.
Chips! The gendarmes are coming!
That was also the last time I ran from the law, come to think of it.
pulley stasie – the fuzz; the police station
tickey box – public phone booth – see picture stukkie – significant other; connection