“You guys remember Bobby? Bobby Blackboot?”
Rolbos has been rather quiet lately, with nobody doing something outrageously stupid or exceedingly clever. Life, you may say, has been easy, with days slotting seamlessly into each other. Now, after the many mishaps and adventures over the past few years, the patrons in Boggel’s Place spend the days staring out of the window or into their empty glasses.
Boggel, of course, checks the till at the end of every evening and he is worried. If his customers stop talking, they stop drinking. There just isn’t a point in enjoying something cool if you don’t impart the wisdom you acquire while savouring whatever IQ-enhancing content you prefer in your glass. Like any good barman will tell you: get your customers excited, and your sales go up. That’s why he mentions Bobby.
Gertruida brightens immediately despite Servaas’ scowl. Of course they remember. How could they forget…?
Robert Redford Swartvoet was born in the humble rondawel behind the only cinema in the Northern Cape. Nowadays people flock to the Ster Kalahari in the Pick-and-Pay Centre off Le Roux Street, but way back then the old black-and-white (and sometimes silent – especially when the speakers conked in again) movies were shown in a rather dilapidated little theatre known inappropriately as The Palace.
Abram Swartvoet (Blackfoot) climbed the steep career ladder from cleaner to ticket seller to projectionist with a smile and lots of good humour.. This, we all know, was no mean feat in the Old South Africa. Be that as it may, Abram would have been mayor if he wasn’t hampered by the abundant pigment-producing cells he inherited from his mother. His father was, according to gossip, a travelling salesman with a propensity to get inebriated and rather…um…over-impressed with his manhood.
Abram’s popularity as the provider of the only entertainment in town was enhanced by his sunny personality. He would sit outside the cinema and tell stories about the movies and actors (at least some of them were true) and generate so much excitement that the little theatre was filled to capacity every Saturday night. Old Hymie Shewitz, the owner of the establishment, looked after his investment well and made sure Abram stayed in his employ – hence the rondawel.
Abram had other talents as well. One of them was to father a string of Swartvoets – and so Upington welcomed Clark Gable Swartvoet, Errol Flynn Swartvoet, Marlon Brando Swartvoet, Gary Cooper Swartvoet…etcetera. One after the other they were named after a famous actor of the time. Robert Redford Swartvoet was the youngest and probably the most loved of them all.
Little Robert bore the name with stoic acceptance, laughed shyly whenever people made fun of it and withdrew quietly whenever the questions became too personal.
At the age of ten, Robert asked for – and got – permission to get singing lessons from Aunty Bessie – the lady who played the piano during the silent movies. Aunty Bessie was renowned throughout the Kalahari for her fine singing voice which she used with great effect whenever she polished a bottle of peach brandy – usually on Sunday afternoons. Old Hymie saw this as a business opportunity and became her manager. Together they staged the then-famous Sunday Afternoon Concerts, which saw them travelling as far as Keimoes and Prieska. They even staged a concert in Kakamas once, which proved how popular Aunty Bessie was.
Little Robert surprised everybody with a soprano voice that eclipsed the best efforts of Aunty Bessie, no matter how much peach brandy she had drunk. Hymie was impressed. Bessie and Robert became an act that people still talk about. When the two of them sang at weddings and the occasional ‘good’ funerals, people took extra handkerchiefs because the duo had a way to make them realise how sad and sweet life can be.
(Note: a ‘good’ funeral is characterised with a proper send-off. Usually this means a sheep on a spit and a goodly supply of peach brandy. Frowned upon by the clergy but most popular amongst people who consider living to be preferable to the alternative)
When puberty struck and vanity became an issue Robert Redford Swartvoet decided the name was just not right and adopted the more melodious Bobby Blackboot. After all, going barefoot wasn’t the fashion any more and ‘boot’ sounded superior to ‘foot’ or ‘shoe’. ‘Black’ turned out to be an advantage in the New South Africa, and was retained as part of the surname.
Then tragedy struck. As we all know, tragedy can – on rare occasions – be a blessing in disguise; so it may be wrong to describe Aunty Bessie’s demise as a complete disaster. Anyway, she had – during her last illness (jaundice – and we all know why) insisted on a ‘good’ funeral. A short service. Two sheep. A barrel of peach brandy. Her extended family and all her friends. And, of course, Bobby sang.
And this is where Aunty Bessie’s distant relative, a man well-known in the rest of the country, heard the clear and well-modulated voice of Bobby Blackboot for the first time. She sang O Boereplaas with so much feeling that the great Nico Carstens had to swallow hard before he asked if he can have a word with Bobby.
“Ja, and that was the last we saw of Bobby. Right after that talk, Nico wrote a contract on the back of the paper napkin he used after enjoying the braaied ribs and insisted that it be signed there and then. Bobby, of course, did just that.”
“Yes, and I hear Bobby is doing an overseas tour now. Very popular in the Netherlands and now heading for Mexico or somewhere. Apparently got an invite to San Miguel as well, which is about as good as it gets.”
With his customers actively involved in the discussion, Boggel serves round after round with a big smile. He knew Robert Redford Swartvoet would get them going again. Not only are they proud of the many achievements and the international fame of Bobby Blackboot, but they feel a personal connection with the star.
They also owe Bobby an apology. Like the rest of the district, they predicted a lifetime of hardship and ridicule when the poor baby girl was burdened with such inappropriate names.
The song is about a young man who asks his girl whether her mother knows where she is and what she’s doing. The young man obviously has plans…