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 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 my floor and emerge covered in cobwebs clutching a dusty wine bottle or two talking French and flowery oenological words which I took with a pinch of salt. Some people are just like that and you tolerate them, nodding gravely, 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; WE were expert wine tasters. I would take this 38yr-old self-serving memory with another pinch of salt, though. And a large swallow of chablis.