In the shadow of old Platberg this weekend I sat down to lunch with an array of superb swimmers at my table. On my right was Sonja du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer; and on my right was Lyn du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer; and on my right was Pierre du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer. And that got me thinking of the days I’d line up next to the pool and on my right there’d be nobody. Nobody.
That’s because I’d fought (and easily won, you’ll see why) for the right-most lane in the shallowest part of the pool at swimming lessons. On my left was Francois vd Merwe, coming up to my navel; and on my left was Deon Joubert, coming up to my navel; and then some even shorter girls; That blerrie whistle would shriek, they’d dive in and I’d jump in – bravely; I’d sink to the bottom – very bravely – then kick powerfully off the bottom in the direction of the distant other side of the pool. We were swimming breadths. The older kids – some of them as old as my younger sister Sheila and the even-younger Sonja – would swim lengths. A few kicks off the bottom and much spluttering and gasping later I’d finally get to the blessed sanctuary of the other side of the pool just short of an asthmatic panic attack, sometimes even earning a podium place – well, if there were absentees due to coughs and colds and Harrismith’s notorious cold weather.
At about the same time I was also not a rugby player. I was in the u/11 second team it’s true, but that’s because there were 29 players and number 29 clearly deserves his place in the second fifteen-man team, nê? So although you could honestly say I was there on merit, there are also lots of other things you could say and I caused poor Giel du Toit much sadness and despair. But at the end of the season, a long season in which he had given me much encouragement and sympathetic ‘moenie worries nie’, he did an amazing thing. He did not say ‘Luister volgende week is netbal proewe, nê?’ No. What he actually did, I swear, this is Giel’s gospel and it is amazing. He had a rush of something to somewhere and he made me captain of the u/11B team for the last game of the season.
So there I was two days later, in Vrede, barefoot in orange, holding the ball and running onto the field at the head of an orange line of fourteen laaities doing something I almost never got to do: Holding the ball.
The rest is history: I scored the winning try against the olde enemy; I grew five inches that summer; the next winter I was the tallest oke in the u/13 team; and I scored the winning try against Grey College in the last game of that amazing season. So although Giel may have fluked it and definitely didn’t have anything to do with my growth spurt; and although he may have thought that was going to anyway be my last rugby game ever, he nevertheless changed something in my brain that day. It didn’t last long, but was fun while it did.
And thinking about this long-forgotten little tale, sparked off by sitting amongst those swimmers which, let’s be honest, may have sparked off a Caster Semenya-like debate had DNA testing been available – I mean did they have mermaid genes? dolphin genes? – made me think something else: Why didn’t Joan and Joyce think of something that could have sparked me off Mark Spitz-like? I dunno: Maybe choose me to hand out the oranges at half time at a gala or something equally inspirational?
Makes you think. Joan and Joyce may have missed a big one here.
nê? – just nod; except, not about the netbal
‘moenie worries nie’ – tut tuts
‘Luister volgende week is netbal proewe, nê?’ – Look, you don’t have a talent for rugby, OK? maybe you can sing?
I lost a bet to Tom with the Springboks’ loss to the All Blacks this weekend.
Paying up was painless compared to sitting with him watching the match!
Then Sunday I went to Pietermaritzburg where I got a blow-by-blow “Hoor Weer” of the match from the Ole Man.
Both my deskundiges cannot BELIEVE how the Boks just don’t LISTEN to their simple, foolproof advice! One says they should just play like he played for Westville Boys last year and the other says they should just play like he played for Maritzburg College in 1937.
Fuckit I’m going to heaven I swear. Or at the very least I’ll get a diplomatic posting.
Hoor Weer – Kyk Weer, but aural – a verbal re-run and re-hash
“Dad why are these people playing in the snow?” shouted my daughter Jessie.
This happened in 2014 but to tell the story I have to take you back to 1973:
On my way back home to South Africa from the ‘States, I flew from New York to London where I had arranged to meet a Harrismith friend Don Inglis, who was working in London for a year, so he knew the place. Turned out he had a rugby match (playing for some Saffer team against the London Irish**) so we scurried around Buck House circle and somewhere else where someone lived or died or married someone, and headed off to Wimbledon for the game in his little Austin something – with five rugby okes squeezed into it.
At the ground the players huddled in a cold shed to change and noticed they were a couple of boerkies short could I play? Sure, I said, but only half the first half, then I had to catch a tube to Heathrow. Thank goodness (it was sleeting outside) Don said ‘Rather don’t risk missing your flight’. So they ran out onto the mud with one blade of grass every ten yards without me and start puffing out steam and shoving some fat Irish blokes around.
Between scrums Don shouted out which tubes and buses I should catch and I left before the halftime whistle to head back to South Africa and home.
So forty years later (2014) daughter Jessie called out: “Dad why are these people playing in the snow?” Playing what, Jess? “I dunno, running around in the snow”. So I go and look: Rugby. London Wasps playing Northampton Saints. The pinkish poms don’t seem to notice there’s a blizzard swirling around their short-pants knees, but I see there’s a Wentzel playing and he’s probably feeling it.
So I explained to her the madness of Poms, and I explained how I hadn’t played rugby in the snow in London long ago. In Harrismith the u/11B’s played first thing Saturday mornings, so I had played on frosty white fields – kaalvoet nogal – but not in an actual blizzard.
My Jess looked at me as if I was stark staring mad. I think she was sorry she asked.
** London Irish? Old Wimbledonians (below)? I dunno. All Poms look the same to us Africans . . .