Des is a mensch. He’s a gentleman and he has good intentions.
He’s in a serious marriage and under strict starter’s orders. The thing is Des has a bit of a dodgy handbrake. Even when pulled up tight it can occasionally slip and he can lurch forward a few steps and then all hell can break loose and you don’t know if he’ll be able to stop.
So Hector Fyvie being a legend and him being a nephew, Des got written permission to go to Uncle Hec’s funeral and straight back. Promise. It was a lovely funeral and lots of people were there celebrating the life of a very special man. Now it was time to go home, and Des was definitely going to leave as he had clearly undertaken to do. Honour bright. And he would have . .
But there were Vennings and Fyvies and Leslies and other people there and a strong case was put forward for Des to stay for the wake. The after-gathering was naturally well-catered with sustenance and libations – Aunt Stella, Gail, Ian, Skig and Tabbo always do things right. Still, Des refused to relax and partake, which made the exhortations stronger. With friends like this . .
He raised himself up, closed his eyes in that way he does and made a small speech, one of many we have heard from Des:
“You guys”, he said. “Jy weet: Een is genoeg, Twee is te veel and Drie is te min”and he agreed to have Just One. Just. The. One.
So we knew he was staying for the duration.
Een is genoeg, Twee is te veel and Drie is te min – “One martini is all right. Two are too many, and Three are not enough” – James Thurber
A large gathering of the Goor Koor – that assembly of happy inebriates led and accompanied by virtual-teetotaller Mary Methodist, our Mom, gathered together – assembled, amassed – on the occasion of Mom’s 45th birthday. Usually there were far fewer of them gathered at any one time, an occasional Lubricated Quartet perhaps, but this was a special occasion!
And Sheila – thanks goodness! – took pictures. She was in matric at the time, I was in Oklahoma, Barbara in Pietermaritzburg.
. . and here – precious picture! – Mary at the keyboard and Hugo Wessels right there, ready to belt out a number! Two very talented people, 45 years old, who were in matric together in 1945. And this fun gathering happened 45 years ago, as Mom is now 90! I think all my stats are right . . .
Wonderful memories of crawling down the long passage to get nearer to the sound of Mom playing the piano; Also of sundry ‘choir members’ over the years, belting out popular songs with high enthusiasm and various degrees of talent. If spotted by any of the choir it would be ‘Hello Kosie!’ – if spotted by Mom or Dad it would be ‘Get back to bed!’
Also memories of the smell of ash trays! Always plenty of ash trays. Ours were from tyre companies, so they were glass inside miniature Dunlop or Goodyear tyres!
We had a few gatherings in the long, wide and high Gailian lounge / dining room / bar with the smooth parquet floor – for a while shenanigan-central for the Harrismith Jet Set. While the cats were away the lightly inebriated mice came out to play.
Luckily Hec & Stell Fyvie would regularly gallivant off to Kruger Park and other places in their yellow and white kombi. ‘Don’t worry’ Tabs would say, ‘We’ll look after the place;Enjoy yourselves.’
I would nod.
One such evening* is engraved in the memory bank. ‘Twas a dark and starlit night after we had sat all afternoon seeing to it that the sun set properly, and fine-chooning ourselves to a well-honed pitch, like a master-crafted musical instrument. A lute, perhaps. A flute, perhaps. By carefully choosing our poison by percentage alcohol multiplied by millilitres consumed we had manipulated our PE Factor** to a wonderfully advanced state where we were erudite, witty, charming, sparkling company – and wonderful dancers.
Especially wonderful dancers.
The theme for the evening was high-speed langarm, and we whizzed around the lounge to loud classical waltzes at ever-increasing speeds on that slick polished parquet wooden floor till centrifugal force spun us out onto the veranda, onto the lawn and across it to the swimming hole in the dark, thutty metres away; back over the lawn and round the dance floor again. To tremendous applause. I personally did a few laps with Lettuce Leaf which were wondrous in nature. Strauss would have been proud of his waltz that night. Jet-fuelled ballroom dancing par excellence.
Some people didn’t get the langarm memo though and arrived in punk outfits. No names, no packdrill, but Des had a safety pin through his earlobe and Timothy Leary one through his foreskin and these two pins were joined in holy matrimony by a chain. Never before have two ballroom dancers been so synchronised, Des leading and Tim not daring not to follow. After that performance they even named a band N Sync.
Before the sun rose there was snoring and long after the sun rose there was still snoring and that is how Aunt Stella found us when she returned unexpectedly to find Des and other bodies in her double bed. On seeing his Aunt Stell, Des spun onto his tummy, burying his face into the pillow. Des has always believed if you hide your head in the sand maybe the problem will go away.
But this time he shouldn’t have: Written in bright red lipstick on his back was “FUCK! PUNK! PUNK!!”
*This tale might be an amalgam of a few blurry evenings, skilfully blended and spiked;
**PE Factor – Personality Enhancement Factor; Found to various degrees in all bottles of hooch;
langarm – two or more perpetrators remain attached by various body parts and run around more or less in time to music they normally would not listen to, while pumping the outermost arms up and down; unlikely to work sober
This critical observer might have been watching us at Gailian, although he was actually talking about the 1815 season in Brussels:
Whenever they get together the severest etiquette is present. The women on entering always salute on each side of the cheek; they then set down as stiff as waxworks. They begin a ball with a perfect froideur, then they go on with their dangerous ‘waltz’ (in which all the Englishwomen join!) and finish with the gallopade *, a completely indecent and violent romp. – Rev. George Griffin Stonestreet
A lively French country dance of the nineteenth century, a forerunner of the polka, combining a glissade with a chassé on alternate feet, usually in a fast 2/4 time. Sounds about right, huh? I think that’s what we were doing. Indecent and violent romps bedondered.
Recently Des went viral – no, no, in a good way. Thanks to great backing from sister Val, he put what he learnt at Gailian to good use. Roomerazzit he got extra points for his broek and his dancing shoes:
I was telling you earlier that the Road Safety slogan in days of yore was Friends Don’t Tell Friends They Can’t Drive Because They’re Drunk Because Then Friends Will SHOW Friends How They Actually Drive Very Well When They’re Drunk, Thank You Very Much and this was proven half true one night when I told Tabs ‘Listen, I think you’ve had a few too many and the best thing to do is to let ME drive.’
It was all Bess Reitz’s fault. She was buggering off to America and insisted we drink beer at the Holiday Inn . .
. . and that we then repair to her garage opposite the Town Hall to drink beer. We were all sad to see her go so we had drunk more than usual.
It was OK though, the cops wouldn’t catch as us we had a lookout in the tree on the pavement outside the garage in the form of John. Where a normal person would climb up a tree till the branches started thinning, John climbed up into the twigs till his head popped out from the very top and kept a 360° lookout shouting ‘Where are the coppers!?’ and ‘The coast is clear!’ and ‘Ahoy!’
Now it was true I had been with Tabs all night drinking and he could have said the same of me, but it was me talking, making my sensible suggestion. And anyway Pierre agreed with me and said he’d fetch me from Gailian after I’d delivered Tabbo safely home.
Tabs was perfectly rational and amenable to my eminently sensible suggestion. ‘Tell you what,’ he said, ‘I’ll drive to the top of forty two second hill and then you can drive.’ I was perfectly rational and amenable to that suggestion and we set off down Warden Street.
Tabbo had a green two-door Datsun SSS 1800 (Geoff Leslie had famously called his red Datsun 1600 his ‘Triple Ess Ess Ess’) and that thing fucked off went fast. We touched the tar twice on the way down Warden street and flew up 42nd Hill at a hell of a rate of knots. I was highly relieved when Tabs pulled over as promised and I took over, proceeding at a more sedate pace.
Soon after, I turned sedately into Gailian and the road took a sharp left and I didn’t. Changing down into second I let out the clutch but I hadn’t taken my foot off the gas, so we leapt forward into the only deep ditch in the veld for miles around. Tabbo bit a huge chunk out of the dashboard. I was OK as the steering wheel stopped me from doing the same. Seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet. Or more accurately, the wearing of seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet *. OK, the wearing of seatbelts hadn’t yet become popular.
As it turned out, speed hadn’t been the problem after all – it was the sudden stop that dented Tabbo.
Fortunately for us, Pierre was right behind us and took us to hospital where the local vet stitched up Tabbo’s lip and he ended up looking quite handsome after that. As the doc said Vasbyt Tebs, he said ‘Hit it Doc!’ but gripped my hand tightly as he said it. It was True Valour in the face of adversity.
The sudden stop and the hospital afterwards were NOTHING. We now had to face the hard part: Telling Stella. They were in bed in the dark, we couldn’t see them, we could just hear Stella.
She asked if we were OK. Hector was silent.
* I looked it up: The first U.S. patent for automobile seat belts was issued to Edward J. Claghorn of New York not long before our escapade. In 1885. So we weren’t used to them yet.