Just had a criminal come into the practice and scoop up six Oakley sunglasses and run for it. Dropped one on the way out. Seventy year old Genevieve let him have her shrillest STOP THIEF! and did a ten metre dash after him. Yours truly emerged from the testing room and did . . NOTHING. Well, maybe I did a half-hearted five metres in the general direction well after the incident, but hadn’t a clue what to do.
A lady out in the car park did though. She saw him hot footing and took his number plate when he drove off. At least someone was ‘speronsible’ as Zunckel would put it. Problem is, the cops have got their hands quite full out that way, what with a couple of shootings, murders etc. What IS this place coming to?
pete swanepoel wrote: Hey! Some action. Jolly good! (Another Pat Bean-ism).
I think what you did was EXACTLY the right thing. Delay, go slow, emerge cautiously, look concerned, ask after the staff’s well-being, call the security ous.
What!? Physically apprehend the culprit!? Not a bliksem. You think he sterilises his knife? Uh uh.
Standing instructions to my people: You hand over EVERYTHING. You let them have the lot. Everything. Don’t look them in the face. Tell the insurance.
Steve again: Agree the thinking thing to do is let the poor old shoplifters take the stuff. What are you actually going to DO wif dem if you do perform a perfectly executed ankle tap in the shopping centre or car park? Lie on top of em? BUT Genevieve! The Slovenian! She is different! She would have gone after him! We have good laughs however. She is teaching me about Slovenian cooking. In a previous life she was a commercial caterer. Brings me dubious bits of food to try and I have introduced her to Mrs Balls chutney with which she is most impressed.
‘Speronsible’ reminds me of Zunckel on the crossbar of my bicycle on the way to the golf club (while the school wished he was playing tennis and me rugby), singing “Let the spidnight m-ecial , line a hell of a lot of shite on me”
I gave a talk in the Kruger Park once called The Art of the Game Drive. It was magnificent, complete with exciting sightings and livestreaming. Pity was, I had an unappreciative audience. Well, they were from behind the boerewors curtain, so . . you know how they are.
It almost sounded like they had a pet monkey with them, as they kept muttering Ari Aap as I drove them serenely in quiet splendour and exquisite comfort in my VW Kombi 2,1 in subtle camouflage blue and white. But you won’t believe this, when I stopped to examine old poo there was audible sighing. Philistines. The talks are still wildly popular* but I notice none of that particular batch were ever repeat guests. And I mainly have repeat guests.
*Jessie has been a repeat guest dozens – scores – of times. She can appreciate the Art of the Game Drive. Specially if she has her phone, her music and noise-cancelling earphones with her.
(A re-post with added pictures, as I throw out paper photo albums after copying and uploading. Major un-cluttering happening as I prepare my home for the past sixteen years for sale. Next chapter about to begin!)
Another trip to the Delta!
Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in August 2001 when Janet & Duncan were helping Landela Safaris run their show. We landed on the nearby bush strip. We had been before, in January 2000. This post has pictures from both trips.
After a few days in camp they had business in Maun and we accompanied them on the drive out of the Delta to Maun in the Land Cruiser. Rickety bridges, deep water crossings with water washing over the bonnet onto the windscreen.
On the drive back to camp after the day in the big smoke of the metropolis of Maun we entered a Tamboti grove and saw two leopard cubs in the road. They split and ran off to left and right, then ran alongside of us on either side for a minute calling to each other before we moved off and let them be.
We enjoyed mekoro trips, game drives & walks and afternoon boat trips stretching into evenings watching the sunset from the boat while fishing for silver catfish or silvertooth barbel – I forget what they called them. Later, wading in thigh-deep water sorting out the pumps, earning my keep as a guest of the lodge managers. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.
Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where Keith and Angie Rowles were our hosts. That’s where we first heard the now-common salute before starting a meal: “Born Up a Tree.”
Janet moved us from camp to camp as guests arrive, filling in where there were gaps in other camps. We transferred by boat, mekoro or 4X4 vehicle. One night we stayed in a tree house in Little Xudum camp.
Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s
Here’s Trish’s paper album – photographed and discarded:
Later Xudum was taken over by super-luxury company ‘&Beyond.’ OTT luxury, and R15 000 per person per night! Very different to the lovely rustic – but still luxurious – tented camp it was when we were there. Should ‘conservationists’ really be using miles of glass and wooden decking and flooring in the bush!? Methinks rich spoilt children are doing the designing for Daddy’s company and perspective has flown out the canvas-zip window and crashed into the plate glass floor-length picture window.
In May 2019 it burnt down. Had it been canvas there’d have been less pollution from the fire and the re-build.
Another chapter begins. I’ll be leaving the home I’ve lived in the longest in my life – sixteen years. The kids were eight and four when we moved in.
How hard can it be, right? You sell, bank the cash and drive off into the sunset. So I called Aitch’s friend and colleague in her four-year stint as an estate agent, Pam.
Pam, You Know What You’re Doing, You Come And Do This.
So you know what she does? She gives me a list as long as your arm! You do this, then you do this, then . . she’s as bad as Aitch was!
So she tells me: Sell your furniture; sell your books; sell the many wall hangings which haven’t hung on a wall for ten years since Aitch went; Fix the cracks, the windows, the doors, the ceilings; Paint – a lot; Rip up those carpets; New light bulbs;
Mow the lawn – WHAT!? Now you’ve gone too far!
Hell, if I didn’t do all those things for us, why should I do them for strangers? Cos you want to sell the house, Pete.
I decided I’ll never get this done, so we put the house on the market “as is” – its called voetstoots in South Africa. And on that very day we got two offers for the full asking price. A week later their finance was approved and so I asked ‘Must I Leave Now?’ No, they said, it takes about three months before you’ll have your money! Damn!
Now it is very real and I sat Jess and Tom down and broke the news. They picked what they wanted from the house, a truckload went off to Tom’s rented rooms:
Jess wants less, but the other fridge and microwave will go to her.
Ole man had an avo today. Sheila bought it for him.
When I was little, Ouma used to pick avos for us – much bigger ones than these little ones – and she used to cut them in half, throw away the pip, fill the hollow with sugar and we would eat the whole thing with a spoon.
Avos were free. Everyone had an avo tree. Nowadays they cost a fortune. Robert – his grandson – has just sent his first crop to Europe from his farm in Tanzania. One container load of avos. I think he got R874 000.
And those avos we had were big! Not like these tiny things you get today:
Guess what I did with the avo Sheila bought me today?
Dunno Dad, tell me.
I cut it in half, threw away the pip, filled the hollow with sugar and ate the whole thing with a spoon.
It’s been over ninety years since I last did that!
On Mon, Nov 22, 2010, Pete wrote: I felt a snuggle in bed last night. Wasn’t Aitch. Eight year-old TomTom had come through and was spooned tightly against my back.
Later, when I had to roll over he was wide awake. “Dad” he whispers close to my ear, scared he’ll wake his Ma. Mm “I’m hungry. Can I get up and make myself a snack. I’m really hungry.” He’s 24 kg wringing wet, and his muti suppresses his appetite by day, so I say: Mm
I wake again to a feeling that it has been some time. I can hear dishes clanking, so I get up and tiptoe to the kitchen, where the clock shows straight up 4am. Still dark outside, but the kitchen neon is blazing.
Lots of kit has been employed and a good dusting of icing sugar is evident on the chairs and the floor. What? I ask “Dad” he says, “I’m icing Marie biscuits.” Have you eaten? I ask. “Not yet, Dad, but they’re nearly ready.”
“And” he says, “I’ve made my school lunch.”
I didn’t ask.
Steve replied: Doncha just love it. This young man is not only a problem solver but also aware of the necessity for contingency planning. Hope this does not turn into a regular event though. Our Neil  occasionally mentions he is “off to get some food” at the end of a phone chat to him down in Welly. I imagine this would mean most likely pizza, burger or when he is at his most domesticated, a ready-roasted chicken with some breadrolls. Like you, I don’t ask.
Friend Rohan owns Detour Trails and arranges the most amazing bespoke mountain bike holidays all over Africa. We joined him Easter 2010 on a ride from the Mtamvuna River to the Mtentu River. At least I did. Aitch drove the kids to Mtentu in the kombi (or maybe in friend Craig’s Colt 4X4 – not sure).
Both hands on the handlebar, so no pics of the ride. I only fell off once, and no-one saw. On the way we stopped for a refreshing swim in a clear deep pool in a steep valley.
Once we got to the magnificent Mtentu River mouth (see the feature pic above) I abandoned my bike and joined the family for lazy hiking, while the keen MTB’ers rode out and back each day.
An easy stroll across pristine coastal grasslands took us to where the Mkambathi River drops straight into the sea at high tide.
At low tide the falls (very low flow here) drop onto the sand of a beautiful beach. Tommy knows there’s bait under here somewhere for his fishing!
Everyone loves this little bay. Aitch, Jess and Tom each had a spell where they had the whole beach to themselves: (click on pics for detail)
Upstream along the Mkambathi River you find Strandloper Falls. The last time we’d been we said ‘Must Bring Our Diving Masks And Snorkels Next Time!’ – and we remembered.
Then we strolled back:
Back on the Mtentu River, Rohan had kayaks for us to paddle upstream in search of another waterfall
Then back downstream to the Mtentu mouth
Paradise – three hours south of Durban. There’s a lodge there now, so it’s even easier to stay.
The female Black Cuckooshrike returned and I got a better view. Pics are poor as I took them through my dirty window rather than open up and spook her. One bird, I compiled this montage with FastStone again.
Tabs Fyvie called me this morning: Jenny and I are on our way back from Namibia and guess where we spent the night?
I can’t guess.
NO WAY!! Senekal!? I would have bet money that Tabs Fyvie would never again in his WHOLE LAHF voluntarily spend a night in the dusty and sinister metropolis of Senekal Vrystaat!
And here’s why:
1975: Rugby in Bloemfontein, first test Springboks vs the Frogs, the French. We drove over in Tabs’ car to watch.
One of the teams must have won, but I remember that test for something different than rugby: After the game, Tabs, Des, Raz, Stervis and I are driving back to Harrismith when the beer ran out and a kroeg – no way you would call it a pub – in the dusty metropolis of Senekal beckoned.
Tabs remembers us playing darts and drinking maybe quite a lot. By the time the barman threw us out Des had bonded deeply with one of Senekal’s left-behinds, and when we suggested we leave for home rather than go home with Deliverance for a braai, Des told us in no uncertain terms that WE could go, but HE was not leaving his lifelong mate – of three hours – in the lurch. There would be no abandonment, said Des with his nose in the air and his eyes closed – you know how he gets.
ONE fing we must NOT do, we were told, also in no uncertain terms, by Des’ Brokeback Mountain mate when we got to the small house on the wrong side of Senekal, is wake his wife. Lemme tell you carefully, you must not, no marrer whut you do, wake my wahf, you hear?
Wooden floors, five drunk ous stumbling around, I started to think this goon doesn’t actually have a wife. Conan meanwhile, is scratching around in the chest deep freeze. He hauls out what looks like a roundish, rock-hard lump of blood in a plastic checkers packet, and suddenly I get a clear image: He DOES have a wife and she IS in the house! In that deep freeze! In fact, he’s offering us a piece of her for a braai! I’m tallying you, we’re part of his alibi!
Des, I urge, we should go, this is going to take forever, I’m tallying you. But it’s like Des told us: WE can go, but HE’s not leaving his lifelong mate; his china; his Senekal Soulmate.
It’s midnight in midwinter in Senekal, Vrystaat. It’s not warm. Eventually a fire gets going – sort of – and the icy red lumpy piece of deceased wife sits on it, refusing to melt. Its like ice vs small fire and ice is winning. An alternative hazy recollection is the oven was turned on and the lump placed in there. Exact facts are in dispute among us hostages decades later. Maybe we’re suffering from Stockholm Syndrome?
Meantime, Jack Nicholson has found some dop and we have to drink, and luckily this puts him to sleep and mellows the Glutz, who loves him less sleeping than awake; so we’re able to persuade him to make a bolt for it, hitting the Senekal dirt roads till we find the tar to Harrismith.
Stervis has a hazy recollection of a lump of red meat being put into an oven, not on a braai; and of the Wildman pulling out a gun, Clint Oosthuizen-style, and taking potshots at us as the getaway car spins madly down the driveway, slewing sideways and throwing up stones which put Rambo off his aim. Luckily the resulting dust plume obscures us from view and saves our lives. I like Stervis’ version.
Tabs has a slightly different recollection which the years have not made any less exciting: His version is also wilder than mine: He remembers this Clyde making threats against anyone wanting to pomp his Bonnie, who he thought we may have seen – maybe she was present? Having to protect his wahf’s honour made our Clyde mutter he was going to fetch his gun. We took the break and ran for the car. Out of the corner of his eye Tabs, now the driver of the getaway car, noticed one of us was quite a way behind in this desperate race. As the car peeled out, wheels spinning, Des leapt the fence Olympic hurdler-style. His short cut got him to the moving car, the door was flung open and he dived inside, saving him from a feit worse van deaf.
To this day I can experience that weird, out-of-body sensation of “WTF are we DOING here? Am I in a bad movie or in a bad dream?!”
Blustery day with a warm wind after the cold of the last few days. Rather unpleasant outside, so I sat in the lounge and re-read my Damon Runyon.
What’s that in the birdbath copse? Just Cape White-eyes. And that? Ah, a Yellow-bellied Greenbul in the afternoon sunlight. I took a couple shots for the record with my little Canon compact with its lovely 25X zoom.
What’s that behind him? Two canaries, No, next to them. A mannikin. Now two of them. Wait, they look bigger. Thank goodness for my binocs. I’m sure . . . I’m not twitching, am I?
Must take pics. One from the lounge with the little Canon on full zoom:
Then some from much closer, on the cottage deck using my tripod. Upper beak silver, not black? Check. Chest white, less dark below the chin? Check. Dark shoulder flash? Check. That broad orange bar on the flank? It is! It’s a Magpie Mannikin! Bogey bird of mine for decades; and after searching all over for it, up and down the east coast, I nail it in my own front garden!
A while ago I spotted an Ashy Flycatcher in my garden and wrote about ‘nailing it at last!’
This morning I got up at 5.40am, made a cup o’ coffee and settled on my lazyboy chair warmly dressed and covered in an old sleeping bag, binocs in hand. Lovely windless, cloudless morning.
And boy, what a parade!
I saw the Tambourine Dove above.
Two drongos chased a Mother-of-Pearl butterfly over the grass and meadow, over the pool towards me and then right under my patio roof, where one of the drongos nailed it. It flew off to that tree you see below and ate it, shedding the wings. Pieces of wing spiralled down slowly in the still air.
And then to top it off, for the first time here, I saw this at last – I’d heard of sightings down the valley, but I hadn’t seen him in my garden yet. Now I have!
Sunrise was behind them, so poor pics but nice and clear in my binoculars.
A Grey Cuckooshrike! Louis in the valley had been crowing and I’d been fuming. Now I’m his equal! Ha!
Saw: Weavers Spectacled and Thick-billed; Starlings Red-winged and Black-bellied; Sunbirds Olive and Amethyst; Greenbuls Sombre and Yellow-bellied; Dark-capped Bulbul; White-eye; Red-eyed Dove; Olive Thrush; Hadeda; Yellow-billed Kite; Purple-crested Turaco; Flycatchers Black and Dusky; Fork-tailed Drongo; Yellow-fronted Canary; Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird; Egyptian Goose; Speckled Mousebird; Barn Swallow; Barbets Black-collared and White-eared; Lesser Honeyguide; Black-backed Puffback; Black-headed Oriole;
“Insanity like yours should be recorded,” I said to Charles in 2015. “You might not think so, and your children might not want to read it, and even your grandkids might yawn. But your great-grandkids WILL be fascinated . . . or their kids.”
He said ‘Let’s meet,’ and so it was that for the first and last time in my life I had tea at Rose’s Tearoom in Kloof.
Which worried me. Mr Lion Ale suggesting we meet for tea. Especially when he actually ordered tea. And this was not Rosie’s Cantina. I cleared my throat and was about to say what I had rehearsed: You have paddled down one river 49 times for 49 years in a row. This perseveration needs to be analysed in case it is contagious. We need to save future generations from such insanity, but Charles pre-empted me. In that way that he has, Chas earnestly said, ‘Well, this is very opportune, you know. Next year is the fiftieth Umko,’ and proceeded to turn the focus less on himself and his amazing paddling, organising and mentoring career, and more on the river and race that he loves. So the rest of 2015 and the first two months of 2016 I wrote and he helped edit Umko 50 Years, finishing it in time for the 50th Umkomaas Canoe Marathon where it was given to around 300 paddlers who did that historic race.
So we had to re-start the process.
Charles did that race, his 50th, but ‘only’ his 49th finish (he broke his boat in 1970, thank goodness, then got married to make up for it). Not learning anything, he went on to complete his 50th – and then two more. So after the 2019 Umko I cleared my throat again and this time he listened; and so we started writing what I called The Book of Charles, Chapter 77 (years old), verse 52 (Umkos). Later he and his long-suffering wife Barbs came up with a much better title. We started by meeting every Tuesday morning. My manager Raksha Singh at work rolled her eyes and cleared my appointment book till 11am Tuesdays. At first we met at Ninos for breakfast, later we settled down on my stoep, where the coffee is cheaper.
Roses came into the story again in July 2019 when a deadline was missed; Charles’ excuse was: ‘Got a couple of English Roses here. They leave on Sunday.’ Granddaughters. Over the two years many other excuses have come fast and thick: We’re walking in the Drakensberg; I’m going to Dermot’s funeral; Writers’ block; Have to mow the lawn; My bakkie needs a new windscreen; The Chief Whip (aka The Typing Pool) made me do ____ (whatever) she was often blamed; We’re moving house; I’m hiking the Baviaanskloof; etc etc. Weak excuses when there was work to do.
Rory Lynsky, old friend of Charles’, got involved from early on and was a huge help. He did stuff we would never have even thought of, like genealogy, checking stuff for accuracy, punctuation n shit. Also he coined the lofty title for our scribe: ‘The Bard of Everton.’Chas and I asked other geriatrics for help and some did. Others: ‘Budge has burst from his South Coast obscurity. Had a phone call. ‘Twas difficult to follow the inebriated diction. He wants to contribute. We’ll see if push turns to shove.’ It didn’t. Rasmussen – another old paddling friend – pledged to try, but pre-emptively pleaded an ancient and addled brain.
The earliest time I saved what he’d written on my computer was August 2019. We were not what you would call a well-oiled machine. Nor would you call us efficient, driven, focused or any of those corporate-speak words. But we did have a lot of fun.
Especially when Barbara started taking an interest. Her rise in the then three-man organisation was swift. She moved from expressing a desire to not be mentioned at all – to be strictly the typing pool only – to becoming chief puncture-rater, liberally sprinkling commas throughout the manuscript, to co-editor with Rory, to eventually appearing in fourteen of the sixteen chapters.
We have to mention Rory Lynsky again at this point as he was the only oke who knew what he was doing. Luckily he was far away in Aussie, so we could continue with our weekly or twice-weekly high-powered meetings that would start with coffee then move on to “I thought YOU were going to do that.” Rory and Charles have known each other since before the rinderpest was a sniffle, so not only was his journalism, editing and published author background handy, he could add stories and fact-check Charles, as he was right there in a number of Charles’ adventures! Charles even took some of his advice, but Rory is polite, so when he asked why exactly the story of three other ous paddling down another river at another time was relevant to this book, Chas just blithely ignored him. My role as cheerleader, compiler and picture-inserter meant all I said was, “It’s your book, Charles, it has got to be your book. People have got to hear the voice of the Charles, Chas or Charlie they knew and know, leaning back and saying ‘Life’s Not So Bad,’ as he pops open another frosty.”
Barbara was a major asset once we’d corrupted her. At first she was all censorship, and, commas, comma. At one point she wrote a resignation letter of sorts: “Pete, I don’t do commas anymore, as you and Charles don’t feel they are very important. It kills me as I read over chapters, and I dare not put in a comma where I feel there should be one. Months ago I thought I had been retrenched from the punctuation job after Charles said of my corrections, ‘Gee Barb, it looks like a bloodbath!‘ It’s been quite peaceful since then.”
(all our corrections were red pen and ink, as Charles avoids the computer where he can, hence ‘bloodbath’).
Once, Charles scurried in looking excited. ‘Quick!’ he said, ‘Get the kaalgat picture in. Barbs has said it’s OK for us to use it!’ Up till then as self-designated Sales Executive I had been pushing for more swearwords, racy pictures, nipples and tales of bachelor conquests, but Charles had been dubious and nervous, fearing possible Catholic repercussions. He had tried sneaking a few things in to see if Barbara would notice. Now the floodgates were open and sales were set to soar. A New York Times Best-seller listing loomed and we discussed upping the print run from fifty to a hundred. Especially when ‘Abandon hope all ye maidens . . ‘ went into the chapter called The Restless Years.
When lockdown came we changed gears. Charles said ‘This reminds me of Arnold’s stormy weather strategy on Uzulane: Haul down the sails, batten the hatches and open a bottle of Tullamore Dew.’ I responded, ‘That’s exactly what we have to do! Chill. Think. Reminisce. Drink. Limit our worrying and Be Grateful. And in your case: Edit. Revise.’
Milestones in the writing: Charles got rid of two his boats that he’d had since Noah was into boats: A green vinylon-decked Limfy and a blue fibreglass-decked whitewater boat from Gordie Rowe. Both were just short of fifty years old. Then their 45yr-old Everton home went! Luckily for him, Barbara let him keep the fifty year marriage, the biggest milestone while we were scribbling.
A red letter day: On Tuesday 12th February 2021 I texted Charles: ‘The Full Manuscript version XXIII has been converted into eucalyptus pulp format ready for the red ink inspection.’
Sundry rejected covers and titles:
We decided to do an index of all the characters who appear in the book, a kind of Rogues Gallery. Many of them I suspected to be illiterate; many of them I knew to be dead. This way they could look up their name, check where they appeared, and more easily decide whether to sue Charles or not; I wanted to make it easy for them cos they’re so old. So Chas listed all names – six pages. It was too long, we needed to compress them into columns. Lack of skill once again came to the fore, but luckily when discussing Patricia Stannard one morning and how helpful she’d been in the Umko book, Chas mentioned that she’s a librarian. I knew we had our answer. I am a big admirer of librarians. Skilful, useful, underrated people. ‘Ask Patricia to do columns for us,” I urged. He did. She did. And she made them so they work even when we inevitably have to add in names dredged up in long-forgotten stories that come to light over coffee and Barbara’s home-made rock cakes. Perfect. The cakes and the columns.
Talking about adding names, how do you finish a book sub-titled Odyssey of an Adventurous Beancounter when he won’t stop having adventures? He wanders off to walk 120km along the Wild Coast, then climb the Drakensberg, then hike the Baviaanskloof. I have to squeeze in the new stories, bumping pictures off pages and generally causing havoc due to a slight shortage of skill in what to do in such cases. If we could include half the swearwords I muttered slaving over a hot desktop on the book we’d have a runaway bestseller.
The messaging back-and-forth while writing:
The Editorial Board had to communicate. Here’s an early example of a successful Old-Bullet Memory-Mining Operation. Most of these produced no mineral-bearing ore. (Nor any scandal-bearing ‘ores, come to that):
18 April 2019 I wrote: Hi Rory – Hope this finds you well. I haven’t badgered you for a long time now and that must end. In 2015 I set out to badger Charles to get his story on paper, but he side-stepped and turned the exercise into a book for the 50th Umko. We have now re-started the Charles Fred Project and we have a better chance of success this time as Barbara has joined the team! There’s a bit more focus and discipline now. We’re looking for any memories of times with Charles – not just Umko-specific. Any memories, paddling-related or not.
19 April 2019 Rory John replied: Morning squire. So old “Fred” is going to get the full Monty treatment. Looks promising if the family are on board. I gave it some thought in the wee hours of the night and after ceiling-staring I think I have a story which only Bren and Barbara would recall. It has nothing to do with A) canoeing, or B) shooting poor unsuspecting buck. I’ll put something on paper. It may need some embellishment, and when in draft form Barbara may need to vet a few details as it took place a long time ago. Questions: Does he know about this project? – What is your time line? – What length story? – Would you like photos with it?
19 Apr 2019 Me: Hi Rory & Brenda. ‘shooting poor unsuspecting buck!’ I’d temporarily forgotten about his murderous instincts! We’ll have a chapter on bambi slaughter in the mountains of the Eastern Cape! Barbara will conspire with us I’m sure. She’s the stabilising force in the project.
Your Questions: 1. He knows and is involved. This does not mean we cannot spring a surprise or two; 2. When you can; 3. Any length; 4. Photos would be great – a paper book may have photo limits, but in an ebook there’s no limit;
17 May 2019 Rory John: Morning Pete. I’ve started writing up a story, but some way to go. I thought I’d just let u see what I’ve completed to date and if this is the sort of thing you’re looking for. The story does get more eventful. End of June okay with you? (note: Rory was concerned about deadlines, not knowing that at the end of June 2021 we’ll probably still be plugging away).
18 May 2019 Me: Exactly right! Perfect! Keep it going! End-June is fine. PS: Allie Peter has written on bambi slaughter. It’s gruesome and relentless. Dead warthogs and mounted baboon bums feature . . .
21 June 2019 Rory wrote: Morning Pete. I attach my contribution with photo. I passed it by Bruce Webber as a courtesy since it was his place we were staying at, also to check for accuracy after 37 years. He enjoyed it! The photo was taken at the Webbers after the Tshani Marathon as Charles enthralled his young audience of Catherine, Joanna, Anthony and Maurice with tales of derring-do. The foursome are now 40yr-olds – how time flies.
21 June 2019 Me: Hi Rory – Thanks v much! I’m sure Charles Fred will be very chuffed. I’ll send it on to him and Editor-in-Chief, Censor and Chief Whip Barbara for their perusal. Once Charles gets through all the many stories we’ll have to start choosing chapter headings and how to run a thread through the whole autobiography. It has been a fascinating exercise so far and the hard bit is still to come!
An example of feedback to the Editor-in-Chief, Censor and Chief Whip after one of our high-pressure morning editorial meetings: 8 August 2019: Me: Great. Thanks Barbara. Good decision. I look forward to reading it. We went over the hunting scandals and I have the obituaries to add to it. We were very focused this morning, and our wandering far and wide was kept to a minimum.
Gallivanting: 12 November 2019: Rory wondered if we were still awake, having to ask again if we had received some of his work. I replied: Yes, that was wonderful. We went over it only this morning. Very irresponsibly, The Bard was off gallivanting and doing totally unnecessary and uncalled-for things like family business and trudging from shebeen-to-shebeen on the Wild Coast near Mtentu with some fellow vagrants. He has lost focus on the main objective: The Book of Charles! Barbara has been very busy too – side-issues like family, friends, churches and ashrams – and when she’s not around, productivity suffers. Charles will tell you he needs to issue orders, meantime she’s the Chief Whip.
An Alarming Scandal: 21 Nov 2019 Research into Charles’ Pommy ancestry revealed an acute shortage of baptisms! Rory’s genealogy sleuth John Powell in England searched for piousness in vain: ‘Looking for Mason baptisms was a completely unsuccessful exercise, I must say. Were the Masons perhaps Baptists (no baptisms) or, more likely, Methodists?’ . . . I felt I had to hasten to alert his good Catholic wife in an effort to forestall an annulment: Hey Barbara, have you had Charles baptised? Maybe a ceremony in the waters of the Umkomaas is needed?
Money Troubles: As so often on these big money projects, a financial dispute rose its ugly head. 11 Dec 2019: Me: Hi Barbara. Charles is writing about the first Umko race and needs some excerpts from the Umko book. I managed to find some of the stuff he wanted, but unfortunately it will need to be re-typed! Charge him per word.
Barbara: Hi Pete. He doesn't pay his accounts!
Me: A delinquent !? We'll just attach his boats at KCC . .
Charles: They wouldn't be worth attaching.
On 27 Dec 2019 we had a Major Breakthrough!
Barbara wrote: Dear Rory, Thanks for your practical suggestions some of which we miss because we go backwards and forwards and have read it many times. When I was typing a section for Charles I also said to him, “You mention Barbara – no one knows who Barbara is. Those things are important or they frustrate the reader. Rory replied: The same thought crossed my mind. I wondered when we would hear more about ‘Barbara’ while the lads were engaged in all these Boys Own adventures. I look forward to a Chapter entirely devoted to Barbara from The First Meeting to the Altar. (Editor-in-Chief Swanie please Note).
Ha! I wrote to Rory: The cat is among the pigeons. Charles is grappling with this. Initially he was under orders not to write about Barbara, but we have discussed it before – and had a long discussion over coffee this morning. He will now write all he wants while – initially anyway – not revealing it to The Chief Whip. “In public” he will continue with all other aspects of the book – there’s plenty to keep him busy. After that . . ons sal sien. I personally think she’ll be fine with what is actually a fun tale of their eyes meeting across a crowded licencing office, match-ups plotted, Comrades races, restaurant dates, a modern, less conventional wedding, a honeymoon featuring underwear, etc. There’s no doubt it will have to be faced! Like The Approaches, followed by No.1 rapid, he will simply have to paddle through it and write about Number One.
Delinquency and Dancing Winds: 10 August 2020 Barbara:Charles is off tomorrow to walk in the Champagne area of the Berg. I was wondering why he wasn’t making much of a contribution towards the group’s food, but then saw him packing a box with six beers and a bottle of white wine. With the ban on the sale of alcohol, this is pure gold. I enjoy these times when he goes away. We get on well but it is good, as Kahlil Gibran says, “To let the winds of heaven dance between you.” I know just what I will do with the next few days.
Puncture-ation: Deep discussions were held on punctuation. Commas and apostrophes were debated the most. Barbara:I’ve been reading a book on punctuation written with a lot of humour by someone who calls herself a stickler for correct pronunciation and punctuation. She dithers outside a charity shop that has a sign in the window which reads, “Can you spare any old records”. There is no question mark! Should she go in and mention it? “But what will I do if the elderly charity shop lady gives me the usual disbelieving stare and then tells me to “Bugger off, get a life and mind your own business?”Well, Barbs knows my sympathies lie not with the author, but firmly with the old charity shop lady!
Nativity Nonsense: 12 Nov 2020 Barbara wrote: Hi to you two from a very tired typist. Recently I was retrenched from the job of proof reader when I tried to put about a hundred commas into one chapter and things have been quiet for a few weeks, but tonight I have been back on the job of typist with a very exacting task master next to me trying to get me to type a timeline for him. The meticulous ‘Virgo’ at his best.
Rory, I include you in this ‘just to keep you in the loop’. I say this facetiously, as Charles and I are very critical of these buzz words and we have laughed at this. The end is in sight for this ‘bestseller.’ All we do now is sit back and wait to be acknowledged as a finalist in the Pulitzer prize. Except he can’t get that because he is not American. Anyway, Charles wants to know if he has missed anyone in his acknowledgements. Enough nonsense for now. Good night.
Rory John: All looking good. I like the timeline for 1966. Were the two events linked? “Met Barbara” – “World’s first heart transplant” – ?? As for acknowledgements – BARBARA should be Highlighted in Rhinestone.
Me: Hear hear – Long service medal, VC with Halo and a Pugilist Prize.
Barbara: Hi to you both, once again. I must reply to the last email. Rory, I take it that having my name in Rhinestone, is some acknowledgement of my efforts as typist. Thanks for that, although I don’t quite understand the use of that word. Pete, I do try to polish my Halo, but it is still very tarnished and sits cock-eyed on my head. Your mention of me getting the Pugilist Prize reminds me of a conversation between Charles and I which made me laugh, although I don’t think it was supposed to:
I was telling him a story from my childhood. My mother and her two sisters were Catholics, so the children of those three sisters had a religious upbringing. Every Christmas, the four little girls (the two boys were probably already showing signs of agnosticism or atheism) would put on a Nativity Play. We organised it ourselves and had rehearsals and I think the adults enjoyed it. It was usually performed on Christmas night. My cousin, Sylvia, was the leader and so she chose the prettiest role – she was the angel, Sharron was Mary, my sister Irene was St. Joseph. I was saying to Charles that I don’t remember what part I played, when he said, “You were probably Herod.” So you see Pete, you weren’t far off the mark. Until the next time.
Me: That really cracked me up. I had a long hearty chuckle at that. Luvvit! In our Nativity Plays stretched over my (it seems) one hundred years in the Harrismith Methylated Spirits, it was of some concern to me that I never rose above the station of being a sheep. I wanted to be a shepherd because of their cool long wooden crooks painted gold – not even aspiring to be Joseph or anything, just a shepherd. But a sheep I was destined to be. I suffered but I dared not complain. The threat of arousing FC’s ire was ever-present. In our church, FC was more often considered in actual practice than JC. JC was fine, but FC actually delivered the goods!
Then: An Actual Book!
I was eager to have one amateur copy of the book printed and be damned. Without any professional designer or printer involved. ‘Take a chance on saving the money.’ I said to Charlie, ‘We’ll learn something from the exercise before we commit to making lots of them. Maybe we’ll collapse with laughter and embarrassment and realise we do need an expert. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll turn out fine.’ Charles was bok for it: ‘Order TWO!” he commanded boldly.
The April day that the ‘test’ books arrived, Charles was in the wilderness trudging the Trappist Trail, doing penance for being half a catholic. You have to trudge for miles and miles from one monastery to another monastery and live like a monk till you come right. Or something. I’m not clear on the details of why one trudges when transport is available. Maybe he has to do it to compensate for those trudges when he goes from one shebeen to another shebeen on the Wild Coast?
I was going to await his return but he clambered to the top of the cross on top of the steeple of the monastery at Centocow to get signal and phoned me: ‘Go ahead and open it,’ he commanded boldly. I did. It looked great until I noticed it was only half a book. It ended at chapter nine, and we had sixteen chapters. I hastily opened the other copy. Darn! Same half. If it had been two different halves we could have breezily said, ‘Yes, Charles’ Memoirs Appeared in Two Volumes,’ but no such luck.
Finally, the book arrived. We thought. This time it was three chapter headings and twenty six pages of text short! Whoa! Now we were rattled. A double and triple check was done and we pressed PRINT again. Third time lucky, right?
Indeed! The final saga was learning how to insert page numbers, we held our breath and ordered thirty copies, which arrived in two boxes, safe and sound:
Bakgat by Charles Mason ISBN number 978-0-620-93270-7 (print). Read online here.
17 August 2021: Now also in hardcover!
Is this the start of a new publishing powerhouse? bewilderbeast publishers – pete@bewilderbees
Jessica arrived as Jessica Gambushe, her name give to her by her Tummy Mummy Tembi Gambushe. Tommy arrived as Tommy Ngobese, his name given to him by the local magistrate.
When their adoption papers came through – wonderful papers with “legally they are asof uit u gebore” written on them in black and white! – we started to arrange new birth certificates, passports, etc at home affairs. We loved their names, and kept them, naturally; We also decided to keep their surnames as middle names, so Jess became Jessica Gambushe Swanepoel and Tommy became Tommy Ngobese Swanepoel. But Tommy’s had a twist. Much as we loved his first name, Aitch suggested we name him Thomas and then he could decide to be Thomas, Tom or Tommy in time to come. He has loved that. He was Thomas at school and formal occasions, he prefers Tommy at home.
They were both too young to argue, so although we consulted them formally, they just looked at us with a Can I Have Some More Cooldrink? look on their faces.
Years later, a different story. They had now been subjected to pale schools and their middle names had undergone scrutiny by pale people. Why is my middle name Gambushe / Ngobese? Change it if you don’t like it, I’d say, I still say. Go to home affairs, fill in a form and get it changed, don’t moan.
Back when Aitch was around I’d have to ignore a slight eyebrow arching in the background as madam overheard this. She had heard that story for many years when she would moan about her name Patricia! I would say . . you guessed it: Go to home affairs, fill in a form and get it changed, don’t moan. Lead balloons have soared higher.
Sheila kept a diary in high school. It’s amazing reading such detailed notes of long-forgotten happenings. Last time it was a trip up Mt aux Sources. This time it’s a winter trip to the warm sub-tropical south coast of KwaZuluNatal by a family of Vrystaters.
Pennington, Monday 5 July: – Walked to the beach alone. Stayed for a while. Walked home (± 1 mile – the distance from our beach cottage to the beach). Left for Hibberdene with the whole family. Elsie & Richard Scott were there. Barbara went with them. Went on to Port Shepstone. Went to see Upsie Sorenson, a friend of Dad’s. Walked around a bit in town. Spoke to Lilly du Plessis. Went to Margate. Spoke to Philly and the whole Mikkers family. Swam in the sea with Philly. Went to Port Shepstone to the Sorensons. Chatted to Upsie and his daughter Ingrid. Had tea. Stopped at Park Rynie went to Scottburgh. Bought stuff. Came back to Umdoni Park/Pennington. Went to the café. Went to Uncle Joe Geyser’s sister’s house near our cottage. Met Danie & Pearly (Geyser) du Toit and Pieter Geyser. Went home, had supper with Mom, Dad and Koos. Bathed. Went for a drive. Came back. Barbara & Richard were here. He left. Chatted to Barbara.
Tuesday 6 July: – Had breakfast with the family. Walked to the beach with Mom & Barbara. Swam in the rock pool. Went to the café. Walked to the Caravan Park. Spoke to the Macgregors. Met Glenda & Joan Brand. Went to the beach with them. Spoke to Denise Brand, Glynis and Brian Fisher. Went for a walk alone. Sat on the beach alone. Walked to the café. There were six guys there on three motorbikes. They had met Barbara. They said they are having coffee at our place. They gave me a lift home on the buzz bike. Had lunch with the family. Then the guys, Mike, George, Charles, Terry, Dogs and Kevin arrived. Sat and chatted. Went down to the beach with them. Nine of us on three bikes. I was with Terry & George. Went to the café. They brought us home. Stood and chatted outside. Went to the Happy Wanderers Caravan Park at Kelso with the family. Sat at the boys tent. Had supper in the café. Chatted to them all in the café. Went to Park Rynie with Terry on the buzz bike, Barbara went with Mike. They brought us home. Chatted for a long time. They left. Mike brought Koos back.
Pic of us three taken in Harrismith around about then:
oops, posted this a bit late, but what’s a couple days after fifty years!?
vrystaters – citizens of the province of song and laughter – the Free State
The birdbaths have been quiet. Maybe the winter rain we’ve had? Yesterday was different, we had a little flurry. I heard the tirrilink of firefinches and there they were, at the dripping tap birdbath. They usually hide from me.
A Dark-capped Bulbul, A Dusky Fycatcher and Cape White-Eyes joined them.