Walking around in a campsite which shall remain nameless (I don’t want anyone to disturb him), I heard a host of birds kicking up a big fuss. I couldn’t see anything, so lay down on my back and searched the whole tree with my binocs. Then a toppie revealed him by flying right at his head and slapping his face with its wings!! A big beautiful black mamba, who just quietly took the birds’ abuse. Maybe wrote down its name . .
I carefully marked the spot so I could find the snake again – I know how snakes can ‘disappear’ – and went back to our chalet nearby and called friends to come and look. I got them to X Marks The Spot . . . and I could not find him! I searched thoroughly, but no go.
We assumed he had moved off, but after my friends left I lay down again and searched the branches again. He was in almost the same position! He’d hardly moved. How the heck had we missed him? The incredible camouflage power of ‘not moving!’
While lying on my back on the mowed lawn I spotted a butterfly land on a blade of grass and twist its abdomen, wriggle, then fly off. I went to look and found a neat single spherical egg laid on the under-surface of the green blade of grass. Beautiful. A greenish-yellow colour, I think. I thought I took a photo of the egg but cannot find it.
This time Minenhle joined us, using Gayle Adlam’s mountain bike.
Sheils took us to the start again, in our bakkie, then drove it to her home, which is near the finish line. The night before we had been to the rugby Sharks vs WP and got soaked – Cold and rainy, but the cycling day dawned warm and dry.
Minnie and Jess trundled along, chatting away and eye-ing out the male talent en route. For the first time, Tom put his head down and pedaled off with intent. I caught him twice, then waited for Jess near Cowies Hill. Never saw him again. Rode the rest alone. At the finish he came up proudly boasting “Blew your doors off, Dad. Beat Jess by MILES!”
Jess & Min took quite a while longer.
Subway sarmies afterwards; then we rode and pushed steep uphills to Sheila’s flat.
My old mate Bob Ilsley the Vagabond Pilot – or Vagabob – has flown his last. His undercarriage buckled, he ran out of runway.
Many of his stories which I have heard since 1979, came out at his memorial service, and it was lovely listening to people who knew and loved Bob as I did. I met him at Addington hospital when the army sent me to Out Patients Dept ‘B’ (called ‘Oh Pee Dee Bee’ by all). He was there to fix legs and I was there to fix eyes. “You get them to see where they’re going, and I’ll get them to walk straight there,” he’d say. As luck would have it, years later in 2000, I bought a practice in Montclair that’s just two blocks from his home, and we could renew our OPDB friendship.
He built his own Piper Vagabond in his garage (hence his email moniker vagabob – and wife Barbara’s vagabarb), and he was repairing it there when I first saw it after their only prang.
He inspected home-built planes for the Experimental Aircraft Association for years. Up to February this year. If you built a plane on your porch you couldn’t fly it till Bob said so. He would punch holes in the fabric and break the ribs, saying to the distraught owner-builder, “You can thank me. Rather now than in the air”.
On their first flight with Bob next to or behind them they’d quite often have something go wrong in the air, only to find it was him pulling a cable or stopping it from moving, or turning off the fuel (he knew where everything was!). “Just testing,” he’d say with his “innocent look,” as they tried to calm their hearts down from going boom-biddy-boom at 800 beats per minute in the shade. That ‘innocent look’ of his was a killer! How often I saw him say something outrageous to people with that innocent look!
He flew all over. KZN and the wild coast he’d talk about most often to me, landing on remote strips. Some of those I remember are Port St Johns, Creighton, Scottburgh and Ixopo.
He only took to plummeting once, when the Vagabond gave up while taking off from Maritzburg’s Oribi airfield. His wife Barbara came out of it with her arm in a sling and all bruised. Bob untouched. How’d you do that? he was asked. “Hard right rudder” he said. “I thought it would be softer to land on top of Barbara.”
Often wore T-shirts that made Barbara walk a good few paces behind him: (“If its got tits or wheels it’ll give you shit”; “Please ask your boobs to stop staring at my eyes”; “Recycled Teenager”). A very quiet guy, he would stare intensely with twinkling eyes at people to see their reaction, seldom smiling until they did. If it was cold he would wear frayed old jerseys (and by the sounds of it at the service, maybe the same one always). Still short pants, though.
Every flight physical he would come to me for his eyes, muttering “They’ve referred me for my heart again. Every time the same thing.” He had a little heart anomaly that showed up on the ECG that always raised a query but always got passed in the end. I don’t think modern medicine could cope with his big, generous, genuine, honest heart. His Private Pilot’s Licence was valid for 60 years!
Bob had very little time for religion and, of course, had a pithy saying about it: “They’re all just travel agents trying to sell you a ticket to the same place”, he’d say, cheerfully deadpan. The American dominee at his funeral used Bob’s quote to do a little pitch for how his church is different! Bob would have loved disputing that.
I made his glasses for about 32 years and the Rx stayed exactly the same: About -3,50 cyls in PGX glass executive bifocals, the worst lens in creation. In a thick old square plastic Safilo frame with monster flex hinges, the worst frame in creation. With his own home repair with acetone to build up the bridge. Three times I changed him: Once the Rx and twice the lenses, a multifocal once and a flattop once. All three times he came back and stated with his earnest and innocent face on: “Good try, but I think we’ll go back to what works, OK?” In the end I just tricked him, making up a lovely new lightweight plastic frame with thin flattop Transitions lenses for free “as a spare” while I “fixed” his ancient ones. The “fixing” took so long and he got so many compliments with the better-looking frame from all his many girlfriends on his jaunts around town that his vanity (“vain!? me, never!” – but notice he removed his specs for the pic!) made him quietly continue wearing them.
Once though, he came in wearing his old ones and in front of everyone in the practice he moaned loudly that “These new glasses are TERRIBLE; My old ones are MUCH better!” to the consternation of my ladies who made the mistake of trying to tell him he was wearing the old ones. Constant comic theatre with Bob. Then they’d make us tea and we would retire to look at the internet or his pictures of his travels. These were pop-in visits, which sometimes caused havoc with practice manager Raksha’s scheduling. For his actual appointments she would book a double appointment at lunchtime.
Bob left Zim when his first wife split, bringing his four sons to Durbs in about 1973. He met Barbara in about 1976, I think. She had four daughters! They raised them well. Many grandkids followed and to the daughters’ and daughters-in-laws’ horror (and the kids’ delight) he called them by number in the order they arrived. “Number Ten skyped us last night” he’d tell me. “Number Four has finished school.”
Loved hiking and hiked many of the famous trails: The Otter, the Whale trail in de Hoop Nature Reserve, the Fish river canyon in Namibia, the Fanie something trail in Mpumalanga, and more. Always with a full backpack. It’d be him at seventy to eighty and some thirty to fifty year olds. “We had to wait for the old people to catch up,” he’d tell me without a trace of a smile as he showed me his pics. He’d usually have at least one tale of a prank he’d play on someone, too – usually the prettiest or spunkiest young lady present! Fell in love often, did our Bob. Barbara would just watch and marvel.
Loved mangling Afrikaans with his ZimBARBwe and Durbs background, so if there was an “Africana” there he’d have a field day. Especially with ladies.
His favourite holidays were road trips, camping in his Opel station wagon, using the back as a double bed.
Three times he went to the big airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, camping out on the airfield and revelling in the aircraft, spacecraft and especially the simulators where he could test his skill. He flew the Wright brothers craft and could only keep it aloft for a few seconds, so went straight to the back of the queue again and the second time flew it for longer than they had! Determined bugger, Bob.
After Oshkosh he would appear in the practice doorway and say nothing. Raksha would just say Uh, Oh! and put the kettle on for coffee and postpone a few appointments. She knew he’d brought a memory stick and we’d spend an hour in the back de-briefing Oshkosh.
Aitch doesn’t mess around. Suddenly a big marquee was pitched on the front lawn. What’s that for? I ask. We’re having a party, says me wife. Oh. OK. So tip-toe’ing discreetly past my half century mark is not going to happen?
So I help the guys lay down a dance floor; and I carry chairs. And I carry chairs. Do we need so many chairs? I ask. Carry chairs, I’m told.
Then a minibus arrives and musical instruments are carried out – a trombone, a saxophone and a guitar – and one of the guys looks familiar. Big, braces, white hair. Mario!? I say / ask in amazement. Yes, says he in an Italian accent. What are you doing here? I ask, onnosel-y. He just smiles. I spose he’s used to that.
Mario Montereggi! When he’s not marshaling his Big Band, he runs a trio, Music Unlimited, for small events: Him on trombone, a guitarist and a saxophonist.
WOW!! Aitch certainly does NOT mess around!
The theme was Africa, but Brauer thought it was Out of Africa, and of course he took it literally. You know how he is . .
Instead of a solemn speech full of half a century of carefully censored praise . .
Terry and Pete sang a song full of scurrilous exaggerations – and duped the rest of the mense into singing the chorus! Everyone knows Billy Joel’s Piano Man tune . .
Then Jonathan and Aitch said some words and I had to correct everyone and put them straight.
. . into Deepest Darkest America, we go kitted out in readiness . .
Eight weeks; Yep, lo-ong leave; Seven destinations in the USA and one week in England;
I got these details from Aitch’s diary
FLORIDA – Miami airport – 3rd March 1988; Fly on to Orlando, Florida – Sheraton Hotel Disney World Epcot Centre Rent a car and drive east to Merritt Island – sparrows and mosquitoes Kennedy Space Centre
Fly back to Miami and rent a car Titusville (Town Motel $28.90 for the room) Biscayne Nature Reserve Florida City (Town Motel) Everglades – Long Pine Key; Mrazek Lake; Mahogany Hammock
Flamingo Lodge in the Everglades
On Saturday, 12 March we drive to Big Cypress along the Tamiami Trail and on to Everglade City – The Rod & Gun Club – 2 nights
CALIFORNIA – San Francisco, California – Tuesday, 15th March
Aitch said “I want to see an American city, not just nature reserves! so we walked , bussed and rode trams in the city. Stay in a Howard Johnson’s Motel, where I use the phone book to enquire about hiring a camping van. Its more expensive than a small car and motels, so . . we hire a Ford 351 cubic inch V8 RecVee from Western RV Rentals! The first night near Escalon we sleep in a parking lot – maybe illegal, but free!
Yosemite National Park We walk to Mirror Lake Badger Pass Ski Resort Wawona Rail Creek Camp in Wawona campground (pay $6 in a box – honour system) Maraposa Grove Paso Robles Atascadero Santa Marguerita – Campground ($8) Rinconada Santa Marguerita Lake Los Osos; Baywood Park Morro Bay Cayucos Beach San Simeon Los Padres National Forest Plaskett Creek camp ($8) – Van loo overflowed – Big clean up delayed departure! Carmel town Sunset Beach KOA camp ($20.95, ‘all amenities’) Santa Cruz Natural Bridges Park Halfmoon Bay We return the RecVee – and pay $59 damage for a fender scrape in Yosemite! Ouch! Total $679 for 7 nights – more than car hire + motels, it’s true. But much more fun!
Hired a car (from Snappy!) and drove around San Francisco – Lombard Street, Chinatown, over Golden Gate bridge to Muirwoods Rec area & beach Marin – Fountain Motel Downtown San Francisco – Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney – Aitch finally saw a few shops! I bought a telescope – not a good buy! Slept in the airport; Aitch wrote postcards;
WYOMING – Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Tuesday, 24th March (via Salt Lake City) Toyota Tercel 4WD – I loved it! Antler Motel ($28 for the room); Dinner at The Blue Lion (delish. Aitch: “Like St Geran”) Breakfast at Vernet Cafe Wilson (saw a Dipper underwater!) Dinner at Anthony’s Turned back before Teton Village – road blocked due to thick snow on the Moose/Jenny Lake road; Yellowstone south gate closed!
Moran Junction to Jackson Lake Sleigh ride at Teton Village – see a white grouse in a tree Kelly (NE of Jackson Hole)
WASHINGTON – Seattle, Washington (via Salt Lake City) – Sunday 27th March 1988 Puget Sound San Juan Islands We hire another all-wheel-drive Toyota Tercel and drive north to Anacortes – San Juan Motel Ferry crossing to Guernes (Guemes?) Orcas Island Capt Cook’s Resort
Drive up Mt Constitution until snow blocks road Walk around Mountain Lake East Sound Doe Bay Resort – stay in a rustic cabin (very rustic! but its cheap, Aitch!) called Decatur; hot tubs, ‘suits optional’
Back on the ferry – 30th March; In Seattle we handed back the little Tercel – our 2nd-best vehicle on honeymoon;
OKLAHOMA – Fly south to Dallas / Fort Worth, planning to go to the gulf; But we change our plans and head back north to Lawton, Oklahoma – 30th March; This because the newspaper said: ‘You don’t want to be flying over Easter’ and we asked our air hostess ‘When’s Easter?’ and she said ‘Easter? That’s tomorrow;’ We drive to the farm outside Apache – Apache Oklahoma – 31st March; Only Jimmy there when we arrive after dark; Jim & Katie arrive – 4yrs since my last visit; 15yrs since I stayed with them;
Jim gives me the Chevy Suburban 4X4 keys – ours to drive – our best vehicle on honeymoon!
1st April, my birthday – Breakfast in bed!
Lunch with Granma (Patterson)
Mary Kate arrives from OU
Big family gathering at Plantation Restaurant in Wichita Wildlife Reserve, near Meers. We drive past the old Patterson Ranch;
Jim gives Aitch the Cadillac convertible keys – hers to drive!
Tuesday 5 Apr – We take the Cadillac convertible to town to the First National Bank of Apache’s drive-in window Lawton to the drive-thru liquor store Porter Hill Clung’s Store
I forget to go to my Rotary meeting! Damn! That really was a bad slip-up! BIG BAD!! We were searching for a Vermillion Flycatcher and I forgot!
Jim and I settle in front of the TV to watch a ballgame. Oklahoma U playing someone. Katie and Trish decide that’s way too boring so they load up on Bloody Marys internally and in a hebcooler and drive off in the night looking for owls. They spot a possum and tail it in the headlights. It shuffles onto the dirt road in front of them and Trish is watching in awesome wonder when Katie asks, ‘Shall I kill it?’ Trish is horrified and gasps ‘No!’ and Katie, seeing what she’s thinking exclaims, ‘Not the possum! The engine!’
They collapsed with laughter as they repeatedly regaled us with the tale when they got home, giggling and unmanageable.
OHIO – Fly away!! Lawton/Dallas/Ft Worth/Little Rock Arkansas/Cincinatti – Akron Akron, Ohio – Friday 8 April Dave “Z” picked us up and took us to his condominium and fed us (Larry busy) On to Larry’s beautiful old home on North Portage Path Cuyahoga River State Park (Quarry area) Shopping at a great Deli Larry cooks delicious steaks and he and Trish hit the piano. They ask me not to sing so loud;
Cleveland Lake Erie Supper at a French restaurant on Larry; Home to liquers and piano and song; They ask me not to sing so loud; Bed 2am, rise 5.30am
MASSACHUSETTS – Boston, Massachusetts – 13 April – we rent a car and drive on the busiest highway to date – thru Boston in traffic Hingham (stay in motel $39) Cohasset Cape Cod
Daniel Webster Inn for supper Sandwich (stay in Country Acres Motel $33) Wellfleet Bay Orleans Meadows Motel ($35) Back in Boston its late and we have to return the car so we stay in the most convenient place, a Ramada Inn ($89 for the room! Most expensive night in the USA)
Boston/ JFK New York/ London – 18 April 1988
Last flight: Our 30-day Delta pass expired, but we still had a free return ticket we got for giving up our seat on an overbooked flight earlier on; So we use it to get from Boston to JFK
On to England: A week in England – to Paddock Wood in Kent where Val & Pete Excell, oldtime friends of Trish from Cape Town, host us; Then they take us on a road tip to Cornwall, through Dartmoor to stay with Mel Spaggiari’s folks Den & Mary Blewett on their farm outside Bodmin. Where we saw a newt and a hedgehog!
Then home – HOME to our Marriott Road flat in Durban.