. . to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking
Maybe Steph was thinking of Masefield’s poem when he suggested we’d done enough short jaunts with our parents’ cars late at night while the dorp was sleeping and good kids were in bed dreaming of homework well done.
Been to Kestell? Tick;
Been to Swinburne? Tick;
Been to Queen’s Hill? Tick;
Had a head-on collision with a hill on Queen’s Hill? Tick;
Drifting laps around the atletiekbaan in Pres Brand Park? Tick;
Donuts on the high school netball courts? Tick;
What was there left to do? Maybe this was the first sign of his lifelong love of the sea – in time to come he would sail a huge ocean-going catamaran and go deep-sea fishing on his skiboat off Sordwana. In those far-off days of our youth, all that was yet to come.
Whatever – (let’s face it, more likely Steph was just thinking ADVENTURE! REBELLION! ADRENALIN!) – he started us plotting a biggie.
It was certainly him who came up with the bold idea:
I know. Have we been to the sea? Does the Vrystaat even have a sea? NO!! Let’s go to Durbs, dip our toes in the Indian Ocean and bring back a bottle of sea water, and – as always – be back before sonop.
We must plan:
– We need the white Corsair, not the black Saab; It’s faster. Here’s what it looked like except Gerrie’s was white. And four-door. Otherwise like this.
– We must leave much earlier. We can’t wait for our parents to fall asleep; We need longer.
But not too much planning:
– I don’t remember discussing fuel or mileage or consumption. Those weren’t really fashionable topics in those days.
So Steph strolls into his Mom Alet’s bedroom, the one nearest the long getaway driveway, to talk to her as she lies reading in bed in their lovely sandstone home The Pines. At a given signal we start wheeling the Corsair out of the open garage and down the long driveway to Stuart Street. The driveway is downhill – that helps – and made of two long concrete strips – that doesn’t help: the wheels fall off the edge GghgGghgGghg! SHHH! shhh!
And they’re off!
There’s no beer this trip. This is more serious. It’s a journey, not a jaunt. We have a mission.
We roar past Swinburne; We roar past van Reenen; We leave the Orange Free State; We enter Natal; We zoom down van Reenen’s Pass; Past Ladysmith and on into unknown territory.
Suddenly: Flashing Blue Lights! Oh Shit! They’re after us. We slow down a little bit. Just to the speed limit. We sit straight in the car, no slouching. We practice ‘innocent face.’ We rehearse our story: Ja Meneer, Nee Meneer. The flashing blue light fills the car – then overtakes us and whizzes past and shrinks into the distance.
We slow down. We think. We reconsider. Wordlessly, we make a U-turn and head back to the big HY, City of Sin and Laughter.
Oh well, it was a good idea while it lasted. And anyway, that story about the health benefits of bottled sea water is just a myth.
I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over
R.I.P Steph de Witt – Our histories are forever entwined. You are part of who I am. My sense of self would be poorer without those short-lived mad crazy daze!
Your long trick’s over and I have no doubt there’s a quiet sleep and a sweet dream for you. Whattalife. MANY a merry yarn we got from you, our laughing fellow-rover!
dorp – our village, The City of Sin and Laughter
atletiekbaan – athletic track; our oval, cinder track
sonop – sunrise, when swimming training started
Ja Meneer, Nee Meneer – Yes Sir, No Sir