Monthly Archives: December 2015

Vetfaan’s New Year

Gertruida always says you mustn’t underestimate the creativity of a desperate man. Look at our president, she says. Whenever he can’t answer questions, he simply laughs his way out of trouble. And when his inability to prepare a speech becomes too obvious, he tries to bamboozle his audience with his own interpretation of the numerical system. Gertruida reckons he’s the only man alive to revise the age-old custom of counting properly.

Now, if you looked carefully at the little crowd of people gathered in Boggel’s Place to celebrate Old Year’s Eve, you’d notice the stranger hanging on to the counter. That’s Fines Visagie, the notorious speedcop from Prieska. You’d find that odd; not only because he’s a sworn tee-totaller, but as the most unpopular figure next to the tarred road between Grootdrink and Upington, he’s the most unlikely guest in Rolbos.

The thing about Fines is that he’ll never turn a blind eye – and that Vetfaan’s old Land Rover is a source of infinite and obvious joy to him. He’ll stop Vetfaan every time the burly farmer goes to town – and every time…every time…he’ll find something amiss with the aging vehicle. He’ll start his meticulous inspection at the front bumper, checking whether Vetfaan fixed the rusting bolts keeping it attached to the corroded chassis. From there he’ll work his way backward, checking everything from tyre pressure to the battery terminals. Of course, the old vehicle has never had safety belts, which only adds to the figure of the fine every time.

This morning, as usual, Vetfaan was stopped once again by Fines, just outside Grootdrink. It’s been uncommonly hot in the Northern Cape lately and Fines was in no mood for idle chatter. Vetfaan, however, had different ideas.

He was desperate, you see?

As usual, no greetings were exchanged. Vetfaan sat, stony-faced, staring straight ahead. He did hiccup once or twice and fumbled quite a lot to get his licence from his wallet.

“But you saw my licenche last week, Finesh.”

This made the officer look up sharply.

“You been drinking?”

“Who, me?”

Fines didn’t answer.

“Nah..nevah touscha stuff. Ba…bad for your health.” (Hiccup)

Fines would have nothing of it. He made Vetfaan get out of the Landy and asked him to stand on one foot. Vetfaan fell over.

“You are drunk, man!” Fines seemed most pleased with the situation. “Have you been drinking and driving as well?”

Vetfaan focussed his eyes on a spot an inch above Fines’ head and shook his own, slowly. “Huh-uh.”

klipdrift_gold-228x228Fines looked into the cab and fished out a brandy bottle.

“And what, Vetfaan, is this?”

“Wa…wat…water.” Vetfaan finally got the word right.

An argument ensued as to the content of the bottle during which Vetfaan maintained it was only pure Orange River water. Fines looked at the swaying Vetfaan and told him to pull the other one.

“Well, then,” Vetfaan rocked back and forth while concentrating to talk. “Hava look yourshelf. Tashte it. You’ll shee.”

Fines looked that the bottle, sniffed at the top, and frowned. “Water? My foot! Look at the label! This is alcohol – pure and simple.. You can fuel Koeberg with this.”

Vetfaan shook  his head. “Huh-uh. Wa…water. S’true.”

Fines unscrewed the top, sniffed, and put the bottle to his lips.

That’s when Kleinpiet took the photograph with his new cellphone. He had been waiting patiently below the tarpaulin over the back seat of the Landy for that exact moment.

Vetfaan, suddenly as sober as Oudoom on a Sunday morning, laughed out loud.

“Gotcha, you scoundrel. Drinking on duty. Wait till the Mminister of Transport sees this. We’ll send him the picture and then you’ll never stop any of our vehicles again for the rest of your life! Well done, Kleinpiet!”

“But…but it’s ….only water!” Fines stuttered. “I tasted it! Water!”

“I told you it was water, Fines. But will the minister listen to you? He’ll take one look at this photo and suspend you for life. Getting sloshed in uniform is ample reason to fire you, indeed.”

“No, wait, you guys. Please man. I’m only doing my job.”

“Your job is to keep our roads safe. Sure, this Landy is old, but I take good care of it. I serviced it myself last summer and the brakes are good. And have I ever caused an accident? But you? You ignore all the unroadworthy taxis shuddering by at tremendous speeds because you’re afraid of being called a racist. So now you target us farmers because you want to keep the record of the most profitable officer in the Kalahari.”

“Ja, you see, we emptied the brandy in to the water bottle here,” Kleinpiet holds up the plastic bottle, “and Vetfaan tricked you into raising the Klipdrift bottle to your lips. We know that. You know that…but the minister doesn’t.”

Fines pleaded desperately. To facilitate proceedings, Vetfaan suggested they had a nip rom the plastic bottle.

And now Fines is holding on to the counter, telling everybody what a good upschtanding citizhen Vetfaan is. Vetfaan takes a bow and asks him whether he’ll ever stop him again.

When Fines answers, he sounds uncommonly like our president – come to think about it.

 

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Singing in the Silence

IMG_5907I suppose you can say that I knew him well. At least, that’s what you’d expect when you write somebody’s biography, after all. We did spend days talking, months in chatting about what had been written and what still needs to be done. It took almost six years. You learn a lot about somebody under such circumstances.

At times I thought he exaggerated some incidents, especially when he joked about himself. At others, I got the impression that he underplayed his role in other people’s lives.Yet, when checking up on these stories ( a biographer’s second priority – the first is grammar!), I was always surprised at the accuracy of his memories.  He surely had joy. He had fun. And he had a season in the sun…

He did make mistakes in his life – like we all do. In talking about these he was brutally honest, often with an acceptance that he not only learnt from them but that he also had to shoulder the responsibilities associated with them. I find solace in the thought that maybe – in a very small way – talking and writing about his life contributed to healing some of the rifts that invariably follow well-intended but flawed steps in life.

But we had fun as well. In the process of setting down a lifetime in mere words (such an unfair project to condense three score and ten on a few pages!), he’d take a break, get out the blue guitar and sing. I’d have a glass of wine. Ever the professional, he’d make absolutely sure that the guitar was in tune before caressing a melody from the instrument. An audience of one or an audience of many didn’t make a difference; his performance had to be perfect every time.

During one of his visits, he composed the music for a CD that was released later. It contained his adaption of some of the most famous love poems in Afrikaans. During that time it was impossible to start with his life story before ten of eleven – he’d work on the compositions from six until then before announcing his readiness to continue. Whenever it came to music, his dedicated professionalism and discipline never wavered.

And now his story has been told, the book is on the shelves, and it’s there for all to read. His one regret was that it was impossible to include all the people that meant so much to him. There were many famous individuals who touched his life – but it were the chance meetings with fans and friends that meant especially much to him. These meetings often blossomed into friendships that existed till his death. The support he and his family received during his last few days, remains testimony to his charisma and ability to reach out to friends and starngers alike.

The way his family rallied during his final days, deserves mention. Those readers who know his story, will realise how precious this must have been for him.

And now that famous voice is silent. We talked about death quite a lot, almost always including the question about what will be sung in heaven. Will there be choirs? Individual performers? Or will it be an entirely new adventure to discover the music of angels? Whatever it is, I find it easy to imagine him up there, adding his rich tenor to the melody of eternity.

He leaves us with such a wonderful legacy. The songs he sung – both old and new – will add spice to our days in future. The memories he made with so many people will add to that whenever his CD’s are played. A few years from now, people won’t remember him for the cancer he struggled with or the politics of his youth. They’ll stop what they’re doing when his songs are played, smile sadly, and say: “He enriched our lives with that voice. He made us laugh with the silly ditties. His rendition of Heimwee made us cry. But you know what? That man could sing. And he did…”

The voice is silent.

But his song goes on.

No ‘Happy Holidays’ here

linux-christmas“I don’t like it.” Vetfaan points at the Upington Liquor Store’s pamphlet, advertising the specials for the season.

“I do. Look: the beer is a bargain.” Kleinpiet smiles.

“Not the beer, man. It says here: ‘Happy Holidays’.” Vetfaan frowns. “Whatever happened to Merry Christmas?”

“Politically incorrect, my friend. It’s not fashionable to advertise your religion any more. It’s like BEE – if you don’t comply with the norm, you don’t do business. Christmas is seen as an excluding factor in society these days; you have to respect other religions, too. So, ‘Merry Christmas’ is no longer acceptable.” Gertruida sighs. “It was so much simpler in the old days…”

“But what about Ramadan? Are they going to wish those guys ‘Happy Fasting’ now? Or ‘Happy Candles’ when it’s the Festival of Lights? And what about ‘Happy Adulthood’ for Sammie’s nephew’s bar mitzvah?  What’s with the ‘Happy’, anyway?”

“Good question,” Oudoom says. “‘Happy’ is such a nonsensical word. It’s the name of one of the Seven Dwarfs, isn’t it? One of these days somebody from the Association of National Cretins will demand compensation for the abuse of the poor midget’s name. It’s all so politicized these days. Even Father Christmas flies in the face of gender equality…and who says he’s got to be a fat, middle-aged, bearded chap with a booming laugh? And don’t get me started on carols either; Jingle Bells and White Christmas doesn’t really convey the wonder of what we’re celebrating.” He hums the tune and does a little jig around his chair. “Not very pious, see,” he says as he sits down again.

“Well,” Vetfaan gets up to make his point, “I’m sticking to the Afrikaans, which is what Christmas should be about, anyway. ‘Geseënde Kersfees’ says something about blessing and grace – for everybody. When I shake somebody’s hand with that wish, I’m not trying to advertise religion. I’m merely confirming a universal faith. We all believe in something, and that’s okay. Words like ‘halaal’ and ‘kosher’ don’t offend me; simply because I respect the way other people go about their lives. Surely it’s not too much to ask that they see my wish as a gesture of goodwill?”

Oudoom nods and drops the frivolous attitude. “Goodwill to all. Yes, that’s what it’s about. You can go on a happy holiday in the Drakensberg or Kruger Park – that’s fine. Happy holidays are for summer days , braaivleis and lots of fun. Geseënde Kersfees is about celebrating God’s love for us all.”

The group in Boggel’s Place falls silent while they contemplate the grace and mercy  of the Christmas message. It is – they’ll all agree – a concept that has been commercialised and watered down to such an extent that many people simply miss the point of it all.

But, despite the political frowns and all the other objectors, the people of Rolbos – all of them -unite in wishing every reader a Geseënd Kersfees. May this time be a time of grace and blessing; allowing peace, love and goodwill to flourish amidst the turmoil of a world we all hope will be a better place next year.

Rolbos will be back in the new year, but if you feel like reading up on a miracle in the meantime: read the story of Silent Night. It really is one of the best Christmas stories ever.

An Interview with an Ailing Man (In Afrikaans)

kleur-1000This post is directed at all people who love that most beautiful language, Afrikaans.

This interview was broadcast this week. It is in Afrikaans, and the reason for posting it here, is to reach out to the many, many expats living all over the world.

‘Kleur’, the biography, concerns the life of Randall Charles Wicomb. It traces his childhood years against the background of Apartheid – and the battle his mother fought to ensure that the word ‘European’ appeared on his birth certificate. The book explores his life, his loves, and his terminal cancer. It tells of his musical achievements and the long and winding road in the search of identity. In the end, it’s a poignant tale of a man who looks back, remembering the good times, but not shying away from those incidents that caused hurt and sadness. Between the smiles and the tears, the book aims to convey a simple message: we all belong to the human family. And also…enjoy life; we don’t live forever.

Photo Challenge: Transitional Normality.

We all start life filled with hopeand innocence. Oh, parents mean well, don’t they? But how can anyone prepare a child to live in a world where hope and innocence are so easily lost? Teaching a child to be a ‘normal’ member of society often leads to a life of pretence – you have to act, speak, talk and exercise your choices in an ‘acceptable’ manner; denying the instinct to be an individual with unique characteristics.

t1We grow up, losing much along the way. And then we get to that point in the woods, where the two roads diverge, just like Robert Frost promised it would…

t4

‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…’

t3Of course we choose one…expecting to find rest, comfort, good fortune…and possibly, Love. That is, after all, the promise of ‘normality’…isn’t it?

t2Sadly, all too often these dreams are shattered by the thorny seat we eventually find ourselves in. Here the dreams of a quiet life, ‘normal’ relationships and peace are shattered by the reality of the outcome of our choices. Pretending to be content, just isn’t good enough any more.

IMG_2528That’s when we begin to realise: ‘normal’ doesn’t mean a thing. It’s time to shun pretence and follow the heart. If it raises a few eyebrows, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.

t5And then, having lost so much and found so little – we start afresh: finding happiness in simplicity; hope in reality and love in the most unexpected place. Love isn’t out there, waiting for us to find it; love has all along been  inside us; the sad  prisoner of pretence. Only once those walls are shattered, can we reclaim the hope and innocence we were born with. That’s when we dance on sunshine…