The old man gave up his workshop in Ivy Road with great regret about a year ago. Now he has finally finished enclosing the front porch of his cottage to use as his new micro-workshop, where he hopes to do a bit of wood-turning, make some clocks and some mosaic pictures.
After a long saga of great criticism about the poor work ethic of Maritzburg builders, largely endured by Sheila who has stuck with him through thick and thin, he finally has what he wanted. When he announced it, Barbara and Sheila swooped in, fetching all the stuff he had stored at his friend Johan’s workshop and moved it into his lounge, forcing his hand. Suddenly he had to stop moaning and get to work.
Slowly, slowly he moved it all into the workshop. This meant he could no longer get in there. So today he tells me he’s going to move half of it back into the lounge while he puts up five shelves, whereupon he’ll move it all back and he will then be able to get into the workshop and start doing his thing. Except he can only do three shelves, the bottom two he’ll have to have done as he can’t bend down to do them. Ons sal sien if he can complete his first project before he turns 99. The race is on.
The feature pic shows the old Montgomery-Ward desktop wood-lathe he wanted to use. He may have bought a better one since then? He spoke about it a lot.
The WARDS Powr-Kraft Model 9WFD Number 2002 Factory 952, made in USA by Montgomery-Ward. Seems ca.1930 – 1940.
‘Don’t come and visit! I’ve got head lice. They’re all over. I’ve told Linda to keep great-granddaughter Katie away! I have used over R1000 worth of muti from Aidan the chemist, I’ve sprayed the carpets and bedroom with Doom, I even sprayed my head with Doom, I know I shouldn’t have, but they’re crawling all over my body.‘
OK. That doesn’t sound right, so I go and visit. No sign of head lice. Have you seen any? ‘Only one, in my bed, but I saw three or four eggs on the lice comb. The louse on my bed was about the size of a grain of rice.’ Hmmm.
I write it down so he can’t mis-hear me or get me wrong: “I don’t think you have head lice. I think you have crawling nerve ends. Peripheral neuropathy.”
I’m wrong, of course. Immediately wrong. This and that.
I spell it out again: “I do not think you have head lice. In fact I KNOW you don’t have head lice. Stop using poisons. Your shingles and nerve endings cause crawling and itching sensations. Basically it’s peripheral neuropathy – nerve damage.” You’re not allowed to say Dis Die Ouderdom, but nevertheless I say, “You don’t have any specific cause, so it’s probably age-related.”
He’s skeptical, but at least when I take him to PicknPay he doesn’t buy any more Doom – which was on his list.
Later I take him the blurb on neuropathy – which is also the most likely cause of his pins and needles fingers and burning feet. It’s a bugger. But it’s not lice.
Nowadays he tells people about peripheral neuropathy.
Dad had me in stiches last week….wasn’t sure if he was joking until the second letter accepting the refusal, and Sheila re-inforced it was a joke…..he formally in writing asked to keep a cow here in the greens as milk is costing him too much each month….
Mrs Collett Doncaster
Azalea Gardens Body Corporate
I wondered what he was on about just about a week before:
You know I tried to get Mary to drink milk, but she wouldn’t. We had a cow, we had our own milk, we used to make cream in the separator right there in the pantry on the plot. But no, she wouldn’t drink milk, and isnt it true calcium builds strong bones?
Ah, I see where this is going. Mom broke her hip last year at age 91. Had she only done as he TOLD HER at age 31, no broken bones, QED.
I remember the separator. We called it the yob yob ting. As you turned the handle it went yob yob ting and you could time how fast to turn it by getting into a rhythm. Also the butter churn – I seem to remember the propeller-like paddles inside glass. Maybe like this:
The building trade in Maritzburg is the worst I’ve ever dealt with. They’re useless, useless.
Its my xmas phone call from the old goat. He’s been in the old age home retirement village for something under a year now and has finally achieved one of his many goals to change things there, to improve things. Meaning, to do things his way. He has covered in the small veranda that was useless, useless, so he can now use it as a workshop. Or at least he has nearly covered it in. The steel framework for the windows and the door has been installed after much fighting with a guy ‘who Sheila has known for forty years. You’d think he would do my installation right!’ Now he’s fighting with glaziers. The glaziers in Maritzburg are the worst I’ve ever dealt with. They’re useless, useless.
I would do it myself, but I can’t lift my right arm and my ladder has one dodgy leg, like me. My leg is 98yrs old, so it has an excuse. Otherwise I would just do it myself. They say I must use 4mm glass, but I’m going to use 3mm. I’ll save over R500. I should just do it myself.
I’m tired of cooking, eating, cleaning. I enjoyed it for a while, I was like a little girl playing house, but now I’m tired of it. It’s not productive. Cook, eat and clean; I’m not achieving anything.
So now I’ll have to wait till after xmas. I think I’ll phone them on Monday and shit all over them! What do you think?
Me, bellowing down the phone: NO, I DON’T THINK THAT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA. PHONE THEM AND BE NICE AND SAY PLEASE.
Good. I’ll do that then. I’ll phone them and shit all over them.
** sigh ** Makes my eyes glaze over. I’ll get on now with preparing our xmas lunch. His phone call interrupted the proceedings. I’m busy glazing the gammon.
Ole man phones on his new cellphone. FINALLY a cellphone like I always wanted.
As usual, its a one-way call; he can’t hear me, but I can listen.
The phone is perfect. BIG numbers, which display BIG on the screen when pushed AND I can actually hear when I push the button; And get this, the best of all! – it speaks out the number when I push it! It doesn’t just beep, it says SIX when I push the six. Only the four is not working. I told them to take it back to the shop, the four isn’t working.
But they told me they can’t – they bought it online. So the four makes a scratchy sound, I know now that means FOUR.
Then he starts laughing. He says It came with a pamphlet and I saw ‘Italiano’ on it so I turned to the Italian description and I’m still laughing. It said this is a special phone for “ANTICA” – not for “ANZIANI,” for “ANTICA.”
That means it’s a phone not for THE ELDERLY; it’s a phone for THE ANCIENT!
Now I know what I am! laughs the 97yr-old!
Gotta go – this call is costing me a fortune. You owe me R33.
We are ten cousins from the four children of Ouma Elizabeth and Oupa Paul Fouche Swanepoel of Pietermaritzburg. Our cousin Liz Grundling-Fortmann in Camperdown passed away in 2018 and a gathering of family and friends took place in Camperdown where Liz lived most of her life, to salute a special lady.
Afterwards, I wrote to cousin Shirley Solomon-Miller in Seattle Washington, USA:
Hi Shirley – Well, Lizzie had an amazing memorial service in Camperdown! I was amazed at the number of people who turned out. There were five cousins – the ‘Uncle Pieter’ Swanies, Barbara Sheila & Koos, and the ‘Aunty Lizzie or Aunty Anne’ Grundlings, Jack and Marlene. The four generations present were beautifully represented by Mary, Barbara Mary, Linda Mary and Mary-Kate.
Lizzie’s son Zane and brother Jack spoke beautifully of her at the service. She sure was loved and admired. Dad said it was the biggest funeral he’d ever been to – and he’s been to a bundle! I arrived just on time and then waited for Sheila, hoping I’d be able to hang back and maybe even stand outside as I have at many a funeral and wedding, but they had kept seats for us! We were ushered to the very front row! Caught out!
After the preacherman had finished Dad (95 then) leaned over and in his loud deaf voice he complained the service had been way too long. I indicated HUSH and he says ‘Can they hear me?’ Yes! I nodded, so he – no handbrake – says ‘Well, the last time he was subjected to such a long sermon was by dominee Ras in Harrismith.’ That was about fifty years back. See, people forget he’s there for the food!
And the Camperdonians laid on a feast – tea and coffee and tons of food – and then they said we must follow them home for a braai!
We all gathered at Auntie Lizzie and Uncle Con’s old home (and Lizzie’s home ever since) and had a lovely gathering and braai and then Sheila followed me and we drove home in the dark on that very busy N3 road to Durban – the road that runs right past Lizzie’s garage and petrol station. When we got home I phoned Sheila to check she was in – she was already in bed!
We agreed on what a really lovely bunch of people Lizzie had around her, her son and daughter, their spouses and kids were all so friendly, hospitable and helpful to all of us, some of whom – like me – they have seen very seldom indeed.
I saw Aunty Lizzie and Uncle Con’s graves and was surprised to find she didn’t have Elizabeth in her name! She was Anna Naomi, and Con’s nickname was Sarge. I did know a lot of people called her Aunty Anne. We only called them Uncle Con and Aunty Lizzie! Sheila says it was something about Dad’s nickname for her – ‘Skinny Lizzie” or something. Surprised me.
Another surprise: Lizzie was affected by emphysema after smoking for years – even when she was sick she ‘cut down to one a day.’ And there was her daughter Lisa smoking! I had to chuckle! Us humans!
Other pics were taken. I’ll send as I get them. I see mine have very few people in them! Just Sheila and Jack on the back stoep. – Lotsa love – cousin Koos
Some time before, Shirley and I had spoken of her Mom, Liz’s aunt, Adriana ‘Janie’ (pr. ‘Yahnee’) Swanepoel-Solomon who died in 1974. Shirley had held a ceremony on the Skagit River up north of Seattle where she lives.
Luckily nine of the cousins had managed to get together not long before – I think in 2014?
Recently it was Liz’s birthday. Cousin Solly in New Zealand reminded us, and Liz’s kids Zane and Lisa and their partners Bridget and John sent a pic of the flowers they had placed at her plaque:
An old post from my pre-marriage blog vrystaatconfessions.com
My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!
The plot was was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries filled with racing pigeons, then later with fancy pigeons.
I was there from when I was carried home from the maternity home to when I was about five years old, when we moved into the bright lights and traffic of the 1955 Harrismith metropolis.
I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch – meat and veg – and a siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1 o’clock sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2 o’clock sharp. I now know the trip was exactly three kilometres door-to-door, thanks to google maps.
Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway with big sister Barbara waving out the window – four seconds of action:
1. Birdhaven and ruins of our house; 2. Glen Khyber, Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit.
None of those houses on the left were there back then.
Back then the folks would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis.
Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night. Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in west-facing stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.
Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.
Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-now-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;
I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.
Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilkovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave him a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.
rondawel – pr. ‘ron-dah-vill’; circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;
spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days? Probably
stoep – veranda
donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;
Sheila worked at Fugitives Drift Lodge with David and Nicky Rattray for a while and met many interesting people and characters from all over the world. She should write about the weird folk she met – the judges and military men and colonial types and rich folk and historians and chief constables and all the other titles the Breetish Empire invented.
While there, she organised for the five of us – her old Swanie family from Harrismith – to have a family weekend there with her as our guide. One afternoon she took us out to the Isandlwana battlefield in a Landrover and got lost. Her sense of direction was imperfect, but she was unfazed and soldiered on like a lost Pom fleeing a battlefield. She had the Buffalo River on her left (or was it right?) and was headed in a direction she thought might get us somewhere sometime. Don’t panic.
So we’re bouncing over the veld, Sheila driving the ponderous old Defender, and our 85yr-old ‘ole man’ sitting in the back getting fidgety.
After a while the bouncing got to his ancient bones and he groaned and – forsaking the old stiff upper lip – moaned about the bumpiness – sort of a geriatric ‘Are we there yet?’
Sheila whipped round and said, “Keep quiet and sit still. Don’t make me come back there and sort you out!” then grinned triumphantly and crowed, “I’ve waited fifty years to say that!”
I didn’t take a pic so this one will have to do – taken by Sheila when he was a mere 96. He was very restrained today: he waited a good few minutes before mentioning the H word. Then he relented: ‘When people say Hau! Ninety Seven!? I say, Just three years and I’ll be a hundred,’ he said.
And then he told the tale of the old man at Pick n Pay: He was bragging about how old he was, with his white hair and white beard. How old are you, kehla? I said to him. He puffed his chest out and said dramatically, SEVENTY SEVEN! I said Sit Down Umfaan. I’m NINETY seven. Hau! Hau! Hau! he said, shaking my hand a hundred times.
hau – goodness gracious me; gosh
kehla – old man
umfaan – little boy
hau – swear!? that’s amazing! you don’t look a day over eighty seven
Here’s a more recent pic – in Azalea Gardens Pietermaritzburg, going through Sheila’s old photo albums.
7.30am Jessie to the dentist up the road in Westville. A filling dropped out. I leave her there – she can walk home.
10am Mother Mary to the ophthalmologist in Pietermaritzburg (PMB). R. 6/18 and L. 6/36 no worse than before; Pressures holding good with the drops; field loss very near to the macula. All much the same as a year ago, so at least that’s the good news. She’s around -2,50 / -1,50 and you know what? She can read much better if she removes her son’s glasses. Funny that . .
11.30am the old man to the optometrist in PMB. Thanks to my good friend Owen Hilliar we don’t need him to schlep to Durban this time. Ooh! His eyes widen and he sits up straight. This is a better optometrist! She’s young and female! He’s been saddled with an old bald plump male optom down in Durban for years. And:She, at least, laughs at his jokes!
He has lost his slight myopia and doubled his astigmatism to -1,50 so this should help a bit. Still only 6/15+ best though. Of course, he doesn’t actually need glasses, ‘I can see perfectly without them; just not when I have to read small print , or in poor light, or the score on the TV, or road signs, but otherwise PERFECT.’ But to humour his son he’ll get some glasses. ‘See this here? If I took it out into the sun I could read it no problem without any glasses.’ Ja, Dad, it’s overcast and raining today. Hmph . .
Read this: M S R U – ‘Um, Vee, Ess, Aar, Gee.’ OK, close. That was the 6/12 line, so she gave him 6/15+.
When we leave I try and pay or get them to claim from Medshield. Ooh, no, sir, we have strict instructions from Mr Hilliar not to charge you anything. Quite a guy, young Owen Hilliar!
I tell them all to take a week off in December, they’ve been so kind. They don’t believe I have that kind of authority. ** sigh **
Mom has a bad spell so I visit her in frail care in PMB Sunday. While I was there she had a much worse spell, fading, then going far-away-staring-eyed and then collapsing, limp as a ragdoll. This after she’d played the piano then ate supper and drank a cup of tea. I caught her and lowered her into her chair, holding her upright. Sister Rose is there in a flash and leans her way back, getting her head low and her arms up. Of, course, low blood pressure! I should have thought of that. I was thinking TIA, not low BP.
We lift her onto a wheelchair and then into her bed. Rose jacks up the foot of the bed to get her blood flowing to her head. Whenever we talk to her, dear old stalwart always-keen-to-please Mary responds, but very faint and random words, no connection to what we’re asking. She falls asleep, blood pressure is improving, pulse is strong throughout and blood sugar levels fine. Sister Rose monitors regularly.
I spend the night with Dad in their home so I can visit her the next morning. Monday 7am I make tea before we visit Mom. Dad arrives sans teeth and hearing aids, talking a blue streak as always. I can safely ignore the muffled patter. He takes a sip of tea and then realises: ‘Damn! My teeth.’ I point at his ears. He comes back, teeth in and intelligible, one hearing aid in. Not that he needs to hear me. He just needs me to hear him and nod him yes. I wonder why he only puts one ear in, the other he puts on the table.
At Mom’s (she’s much better, but definitely not right) he can’t hear. ‘What? Wait, let me put my other hearing aid in, and then say that again.’ Skoffels around in his ear, in his jersey pockets. Then his pants pockets. Then his shirt pocket. Oh hell, he must have left it at home.
Tuesday night he phones me. He heated the soup that Sheila had made for him, microwaved it for two minutes, nice and hot. In swallowing the last spoonful he bit down * crunch * on something.
The missing hearing aid.
He says he phoned Mom to tell her of the hearing aid drama. She has been hugely involved in the saga and frustrations of his hearing aid devices and his moans about useless audiologists over the last decade.
She sounded much better, he says. Then, sadly, she piped up: ‘I didn’t know you wore a hearing aid!’ says dear old Mom.
Dad:“Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright (later Ruth Dominy) on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.
(This was on the slopes of Platberg, the mountain that overshadows Harrismith Free State).
“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. (Mom and Dad owned a bottle store, liquor store, in the town). I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”
So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s 98yr-old memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad.
I just knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking, and at Love Camping I found:
A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.
This post was seen by old Westvillians Tony and Elesa Willies, who wrote in the comments. Elesa sent a pic of her and her folks taken 43 years ago in the same ‘shrubs beside a cascading stream’ spot above Mahai campsite in RNNP!
And Tony sent a Victor Simmonds painting called ‘Harrismith’ (wish I knew where this was done – maybe near Sunnymede on the banks of the Wilge river, looking away from the river towards Platberg?):
I asked Dad if he could remember more. Just these (mainly sad) memories: – He was a lovely little man – small, frail even; I don’t think he ate much – he drank too much; – Ruth Wright probly gave him some grub, she was a lovely woman (he stayed in a cottage on their plot); – His pub was the Grand National in Warden street – quite a walk from the plot next door to us. He never had a car, nor even a bicycle; – I wish I had asked him to give you kids drawing or sketching lessons – I could have paid him a bit. He never had any money; – I fear he probably died penniless and got a paupers burial;
Two more from the “early student paintings” he gave Dad. Both are marked Harrismith ca.1946 – but by who? Not by Victor himself.
Its ongoing. There’s even less stuff there, but some stuff is going to have to be pried from his tight reluctant fingers, maybe?
The awl and the hand drill brace were Oupa’s in Boom street in PMB. The screwdriver and needle-nose pliers on the right were issued to Dad by the General Post Office when he started as an apprentice electrician in 1938. He had to climb up telephone poles with those in his pocket. Here’s the GPO vehicle he’d drive around in, fixing the phones! They didn’t bother with parcels and letters, no! That was old-school! They were the high-tech side of the Post Office: The telephones!
By the way, everything has a correct name. The screwdriver is a ‘perfect handle’ screwdriver. That’s a specific kind of screwdriver.
Today I learnt Mr Buckle didn’t shoe horses. No, he was the blacksmith, upholsterer and wagon-maker. Charlie Rustov shoed horses. He was a few rungs lower down the totem pole, and the only farrier in town. He had a high-pitched voice and would say‘Nee man, Mnr Swanepoel, daai blerrie hings gaan my skop!’when I took my stallion in to be shod. Dad would buy horses, school them, then sell them for a much higher price. I made more on horses than my post office pay.
‘Nee man, Mnr Swanepoel, daai blerrie hings gaan my skop!’ – No man, Mr Swanepoel, that blerrie stallion is going to kick me!
blerrie – bladdy
bladdy – bloody; no blood though, just a swearword
The ole man’s first visit to South West Africa was by train in 1939. The trip cost six pounds return. His father being a railway man, he probably got a good family-rate deal. He would have ‘entrained’ here. where Oupa worked:
. . crossed all of South Africa to Upington, then passed through Keetmanshoop, Rehoboth and Windhoek:
.. and arrived at his destination station: Okahandja. The last stretch on a narrow gauge line.
He remembers a lovely wooden dining car, wooden tables, wooden carriage walls. Maybe like this?
His destination was his uncle and aunt’s farms. His aunt Isabel and her husband Theunis van Solms farmed on Engadien or Engadine. They did a lot of hunting.
The farms were clustered east of Okahandja – about fifty miles east, he says.
One farm called Nooi Bremen – Was originally owned by a German Count someone – a scion of the Staedtler pencil family and fortune. Or was it the Faber-Castell pencil family? They had more counts.
Daantjie’s farm Uitkyk – original name Onjombojarapati (meant ‘giraffe fell in a hole’)
Sarel’s farm Hartbeesteich – he left his father (or got kicked off the farm?) when he couldn’t stand the abuse any longer. Was sent away with nothing, but rounded up 600 cattle and drove them off to a widow’s farm near the village of Hochveld, 70 miles ENE of Okahandja, where he farmed for her and with her. When she died he bought the farm. Hartbeesteich. ‘teich’ = German for pan.
Japie’s farm was a dry farm; he drilled eighteen holes but never struck water. Dad can’t remember ithe name of the farm.
As we left Mother Mary today – at the old aged home Retirement Village – he used to call them old aged homes and be very anti but now suddenly they’re OK and they’re retirement villages cos he has just made an offer on a cottage there, deciding at age 96 that it might be time before too long that he may, perhaps, have to move in there one day. Anyway, as we’re leaving we’re energetically flagged down by an old blue-rinse biddy sitting in a smart white sedan outside the frail care section.
‘Oy! Are you ignoring me?’ she shouts, waving her hand in Dad’s direction. He, of course, doesn’t hear her, so I look in the open driver’s window across at her in the front passenger seat and she waves me aside. ‘No, not you,’ she indicates with a dismissive wave, ‘The bald gentleman; Well, the bald gentleman with the white hair; OK, the bald gentleman with the white hair and the walking stick.’
Oh. So she doesn’t mean me.
He sticks his head in the window. ‘Were you going to walk right by me?’ she asks. Hello! He smiles, switching straight into charm mode; Who are you? Ooh, she thinks. Some doubt creeps in. ‘Aren’t you . .’ she starts and hits a geriatric blank. Staring at him, knowing she knows him but has just lost his name right now. It’s on the tip of her tongue. ‘Um, aren’t you . .’ she repeats. Who are you? he repeats.
They reach out to shake hands – instinctive, cos if you’ve been to Maritzburg College and St Annes or Epworth and lived through a world war, that’s what you do. So they’re now holding hands both being furiously pleasant and both trying to figure out who the hell this other person is.
She changes tack: ‘I bet you I’m older than you,’ she says.
YUSSIS! That MAKES his day! He’s had a bit of a rough day with his idiot son who doesn’t know when to shut up and just nod him yes, so this – THIS – is a godsend. He jumps up in the air, clicks his heels and leans right in to the car. The click might have been his teeth.
I’ll bet you you’re not! he challenges. ‘I bet you I am,’ she repeats confidently. I’ll bet you . . how much you wanna bet? he says. They’re still holding hands and staring into each others eyes. It’s getting ‘Yes I am; No you’re not!’ stuck, so I chip in. How about one Rand? I suggest. ‘Well, I only have ten Rand,’ she fibs. I’ll take you on, he says, How old are you? She leans back and puffs out her bosom and announces triumphantly ‘Nearly ninety ONE.’
WELL! Victory is his! He wriggles with glee and says I’m . . . . no. This is my son Koos. Koos, you tell her how old I am! The old goat is 96 in the shade, I say. She deflates, he puffs up. He smoked her! Blew her doors off! Left her in his dust! Annihilated her. They’re still holding hands. He rubs it in: I prefer to say I’ve got four years to go to a hundred.
I walk off, leaving them to their embarrassment and awkward ending. Well, nice to have met you, he says. ‘Yes, indeed,’ she says, even though neither cagey old codger has divulged their name yet. The only name we have out of this joyful meeting of long-lost strangers so far is “Koos.”
As the old man leaves she outs when he’s ten metres down the drive with ‘So sorry to have mistaken you; Sorry to be a bother.’ That St Annes politeness training is deeply embedded. Of course he didn’t hear it. Ten metres is way out of range. Anyway, his face was wreathed in such a wide smile his ears were probably blocked by the wrinkles. This avenged the stinging loss he’d suffered at the College reunion.