April 1986: Disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in the Ukraine.
September 1986: Disaster in the Gillmer’s old kombi near Cradock en route to the Fish.
The trouble started with Black Label beer and Ship Sherry. I had wanted to buy a bottle of Old Brown, but I had fallen amongst thieves and my chairman was in the bottle store with me. “No man Swanie”, said Allie Peter, “Buy Ship Sherry. Then you can get TWO bottles”. Who was I to argue? He was a Kingfisher heavy, he was a Eesin Kayp local and I was blissfully unaware that this decision would not turn out to be in my medium-term best interests.
The night at Gattie’s place was a lot of fun and I clearly remember that clever feeling as I decanted more Ship Sherry into my bottle of Black Label. There was an aura of invincibility at one stage, but eventually – as happened too often in my youth – I looked around mid-sentence and found I was lonely. There was no-one else still vertical. I had no more friends. I dutifully (why does one DO this!?) downed the last of my blend and found a floor to lie down on.
Very soon after this I heard a loud noise. It sounded like someone was slitting the throat of Gattie’s prize bull. I knew vaguely that it was actually me and the loudness was due to the porcelain bowl echoing my distress. Gattie came to check, but seeing that it wasn’t one of his bulls protesting lustily, went back to bed.
Very soon after this it was morning. I was fine, but on the way to the race in the light blue Gillmer bus there was a low rumbling and some inner turmoil and I considerately thought to warn the inhabitants of the kombi of the pending gaseous pollutant. “Open the windows! There’s been a Chernobyl-like disaster” I shouted. They looked at me uncomprehendingly for half a second. And then the green cloud hit their nostrils, and they understood.
The hardest part of the Fish River canoe marathon – by far – was keeping my upchuck behind my tonsils on the dam we were cruelly forced to navigate before we were allowed to start the real paddling. Once on the river all was hunky dory and I ambled downstream in my white Sabre at my usual blistering pace (equal to the current) with frequent stops to stretch my legs or tie my shoelaces.
That night I ignored Allie’s advice and stuck to plain Black Label. Much safer.