Category Archives: publishing

The Apartheid story with a Hearty Twist

downloadWhen little Winston had to spend a significant portion of his youth behind his mother’s wardrobe, he had no idea what Life had in store for him. He realised soon enough that he wasn’t dirty (scrubbing didn’t help), but that it was his complexion that put the family in danger.

His story is touching hearts around the world, resulting in comments like : “An extraordinary book“, “What a great read a must read book . Very good hard to put down . A 5 star book“, and “It was a beautifully well written, bittersweet story of great hardship and triumph.

The book? It’s actually two books – one published in South Africa by Naledi and the other a UK publication by Fonthill Media.

This is the story of the guy that was forced to fix Volkswagens in his backyard to survive – and then made medical history by transporting the first human heart destined for transplantation. It’s a story of hardship, triumph over insurmountable odds…and love.

Here’s the background:

Click to order in South Africa here, or the rest of the world, here. Let us spread stories of hope, rather than the doom and gloom we get fed every day.

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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.

Now the words have wings.

Kort buiteblad

It started as a casual remark, a vague notion, six years ago. A glass of wine, a late night and the comfort of relaxed companionship made us explore something neither of us had contemplated before. ‘What if?’ changed to ‘why not?’ and we smiled and said ‘maybe’.

Time rolled by. Words trickled on to the computer screen, ever so slowly at first, but later – when the situation changed – it became an unstoppable torrent. A lot has changed: we’re both older, maybe wiser, and an unwelcome diagnosis clouded the horizon.

Randall Wicomb is a biographer’s dream. He remembers details with such clarity that it creates vivid pictures for a writer to put to words. He is accurate, honest and humorous. Add to that a lifetime of highs and lows, the influence of politics on his life and the many  people that have had an impact on his life, and you have a heady mix of humor and tragedy.

Now, at last, the book is on the shelf. Brilliantly edited by Daleen Malan, I am proud of the final product.

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With Japie Gouws (ATKV)

The launch on the 14th October was memorable for many reasons. Leone Pitts arranged an evening that will remain with me forever. It had all the glitz and glamour a writer can wish for – and more. Randall was the star of the show and entertained the guests with his music and words. The ATKV (the organisation for the preservation and promotion of Afrikaans) honoured him during the evening – in recognition for not only his years in the Afrikaans entertainment business, but also for the remarkable work he’s done in preserving the music and words of previous generations.

12119921_1645154049073209_2306824655083130497_oThe book also explores Randall’s family life, something that had to be done with brutal honesty. The breakup of his marriage meant the end of the Randall-an-Koba duo, one of the most loved and admired couples in the South African music scene. Their three children were interviewed and contributed additional insight in to their family life. Now, with the launch, it was a privilege to see Koba and the daughters there. Once again, like at the launch in Pretoria, Koba joined Randall on stage. It had been a long twenty years since their last performance…

met adam smallThe event was graced by the presence of Rosalie and Adam Small. What an honour it was to meet them there! Adam did, of course, write the introduction to the book; but that was all done via e-mails. The Small couple lives up to their name only in physical stature – Adam’s contribution to South African literature is undeniably huge. Rosalie, the quiet power behind the throne, is the subject of a recent column by Adam. This endearing piece appeared in the Cape Times, and is well worth reading.

12109814_904208186325592_1814827794224502249_oJohan Rademan was the MC for the night. As a famous radio personality he needed no introduction and he navigated the audience through a most entertaining program with considerable skill and consummate ease. His interview with Randall illustrated why he is such a popular voice on the radio. Poignant and funny, but to the point, the conversation had audience spellbound while he guided Randall through some of the incidents in the book.

The catering by Hester Hoogendijk was superb while Distell sponsored the wine. There were reporters and TV crews. And, most important of all, there were the fans, the friends and the family of a man whose life touched them all. I’ll remember the night as one of kindness, compassion and many smiles. It passed all too quickly. Then again: that’s the nature of life, isn’t it? However, knowing that books tend to have a longer lifespan than the conventional  three-score-and-ten, there is some  consolation in imagining the the words on the pages are alive and well and living on bookstore shelves, waiting to tell you a story of triumph and heartbreak.

It has wings…let it fly!

And now for something completely different.

It’s time for a small break. Writing the stories of the patrons in Boggels Place is a whole heap of fun, often requires a bit of research, and takes up a lot of time. Living out the passion of writing is all good and well…but try buying a bread with it? (Or a bottle of wine, for that matter). The sad fact is that man cannot live by blogging alone.

So, while I’m going to busy myself in a financially productive way by finishing a novel, I leave you with several alternatives.

download (1)First of all, there’s Imagine: Africa! with myths, stories and a few surprises. I loved writing this collection of short stories, aiming the book at the intrepid traveller reading it in lamp light on his fold-up bed in the tent. Allow your imagination to take you to some wild parts and some very strange people. Close your eyes and hear the lions roar a few metres away…or listen to the soft, slithering sound of a boomslang inspecting the smelly boots you placed at the bedside.

Available for e-readers as well as in soft cover, these stories tell of Africa as it should be – a fun and adventurous place to live in, filled with some of the world’s best individuals.

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Then there’s the Afrikaans book on the life and times of right-winger, Eugene Terre’Blanche. Never having been a member of his organisation, I wanted to know how and why he thought the way he did. I expected a dictator, but found him to be a humble man, living quietly with his family after his time in prison. Instead of a radical racist, I heard him talk about his fellow prisoners (all of them black) with compassion and respect.

Oh, but the old fire was still there, burning beneath the surface. He told the stories of his youth and later career with the passionate oratory gift only he had, giving me a unique look at his life.

The book was finished and at the publisher at the time of his murder. In a way, it represents his last message to the Afrikaner nation.

download (2)Another book I found challenging to write, is ShimmerSTATE, about near-death experiences and the nature of the spirit. While I struggled to piece together who and what we are, the book wrote itself. I cannot explain where this story came from, but it started as a very lucid dream I had one night.

I had a choice: write a dry, academic-philosophical account of my insight after the dream (knowing nobody would read it), or package it as a detective/love/mystery novel. The main character embarks on a fantastic journey of discovery while in coma in hospital, where he meets others in the same condition.

This is the one book I think everybody should read. As human beings, we tend to concentrate on the physical world – but there is much, much more to living than that.

LogoAnd then – oh my! – my publisher suggested I write an erotic novel. “It’s the in thing,” she said, “sex sells.”  So I tried…and found that I simply cannot write smut.

Old Oom Servaas came to my rescue. Sure, he is lewd and he – like all older men – appreciates the beauty of youth; but will his fantasies ever materialise? In the book he is an old bachelor with no…such…experience. And then his initial fascination with a beautiful young lady drags him into a web of deceit and murder.

In 65 Shades I found my previous career extremely useful when it came to understanding the mindset of older men. Old Servaas turned out to be a combination of several patients I had treated in the past – men who never lost their zest for life, and jealously guarded their ability to spot a shapely figure.

rolbos-engThe last book to be published, is the Rolbos collection of stories. Here the setting will be familiar to the Rolbos enthusiast, with the usual crowd gathered in Boggel’s Place.

Regular readers will know how I enjoy the characters that have become personal friends over the years. They still do the stupidest things, get involved in impossible schemes, and yet still manage to convey a message of kindness and love.

It’s a book of human nature and relationships. We are, after all, created to interact – with people, animals and nature alike. History shows that we fail dismally to succeed in this quest – and that our efforts often end up on  border of  the the extremes of poignant humour.  Rolbos is an easy read, perfect for those quiet moments after a difficult day.

61YG1UGFNTLFor the serious reader, there is Facing Surgery with Christ.

This book was born because I had found that I spent too little time with my cancer patients. I simply couldn’t explain all the why’s and wherefores in the allotted time during consultations. Patients facing life-threatening disease deserve explanations. They need answers as badly as they need treatment.

Facing Surgery explores the doubt, the anxiety and the (wait for it) benefit associated with such conditions. It is not aimed at Christians only, although it contains many references to the Bible. What I tried to do, was to create a book the patient can read through a bit at a time, allowing for the anxiety and stress that follows when somebody suggests radical steps to combat disease.

vanessa_1And then there’s Vanessa. Oh, how I love this character!

On a sunny day, next to the beach, I saw a young lady (more child than adult) who commanded my interest immediately. Who was she and why did she act the way she did?

It is a single short story about a strange young lady, but writing it was a slow process. She came to me in bits and pieces, and it took some time to arrange the story properly. Is it a fun read? Yes and no. It challenged me to look beyond the obvious and the see through the facade we all tend to hide behind at times. I’d describe the story more as thought provoking, than humourous.

These books and stories are available at Amazon, but you’d find them at most on-line bookstores serving your region.

Enjoy!

The Portefolio (so far)

The virtual family of Rolbos has slowly expanded over the years to just shy of 5000 followers. I want to thank each and every reader for taking the time to sit down for a while in Boggel’s Place to join the conversation. Revolvermaps.com tells me these readers are from 176 countries  (I didn’t even know there are so many).
While such statistics may sound flattering, I must confess a certain level of surprise (Rolbos is such a small place!) as well as a degree of anxiety (what is Boggel & Co going to do next?). The good news is that the group in the bar is very much alive and well – every time I think they can’t possibly land themselves in more trouble, they open another bottle of peach brandy…
Still, with so many customers to serve, our hunchbacked barman is worried about the stock in the little store room behind Boggel’s Place. When he mentioned this to Gertruida, she told him to advertise the only export product to originate in the little town called Rolbos. And, as we all know, you never, never argue with the woman who knows everything…
Product Details

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art

Selecting a cover for the book on Rolbos wasn’t easy. How do you capture the poignant but sometimes outrageous escapades of the group at the bar in Boggel’s Place? The cover had to say something about isolation and the atmosphere of the stories. Here are a few examples:

B 1But no, that didn’t do it. It had to be more human, more humane, say something about the town.

b 2Too desolate, run down. Maybe something more romantic?

c 1

Nice…but still not enough character. So here’s the one that made it to the cover. It’s a lovely image, kindly provided by my most efficient publisher, and it says it all…

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Rolbos – The Book

Finally!

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Click picture to go to Amazon.com

Due to international demand Because I enjoyed sharing Rolbos with so many readers, my ego drove me  it seemed only natural to give Rolbos wings. And so, after exhaustive writing, editing, and months of effort…the book is available. Marinda Ehlers did a sterling job of compiling, correcting and coercing the text into a readable format – and I thank her for that.

The dream of an Afrikaans version will have to wait, though. (I personally think it is far superior slightly better than almost as good as the English version. Who knows what the future will bring? )

So, there you are. The story of Everybody has a You will continue tomorrow.

The Kalahari Biker in Court

Credit: Leon Schuster

Credit: Leon Schuster

Catastrophe has a way of finding you, no matter how far you go to avoid trouble. History records many such instances: from people drowning in a tsunami of molasses in Boston (1919), to the B-52 that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945 (an accident, but chillingly similar to the events of 9-11). Since biblical times mankind has never been fast enough to escape the long and surprisingly sticky fingers of fate.

And Servaas – having left the nudist camp only that morning – wasn’t even going fast on the old Enfield. In fact, he was riding along at a sedate speed when the traffic cop suddenly appeared from behind the bush, one white-gloved hand held high while the other tried to button his fly

Philip Petrus de Lange had suffered from a weak bladder since childhood, causing much embarrassment and resulting in him being ridiculed in school. His initials did not improve his lot at all, either. This sad state of affairs caused Philip to avoid social contact and he grew up to be a morose individual with a huge chip on his shoulder. When he had to choose a career, he narrowed it down to either being a traffic cop or working at the local funeral parlour. Quite logically, he assumed that harassing living individuals would be much more satisfactory than burying his erstwhile tormentors (who obviously wouldn’t be aware of his actions), so he chose the former. Another factor in his decision was that he didn’t want to wait so long before having his revenge – he wanted to get even…soon!

And so Officer PP de Lange spent his days alongside the roads of the district, becoming an important source of income for the local municipality and the bane of everyone who used public roads in the area.

Servaas stopped, killed the engine, and took off his hat after making sure the kudu tail was still neatly in place.

“License.”

PP wasn’t one to waste time. Revenge might well be a dish best served cold, but in his case he liked to pounce, strike hard and leave his victims fuming. Being courteous wasn’t part of his default personality.

Servaas, feeling slightly guilty about enjoying his recent experience so much, shook his head. Perhaps, he thought, the encounter with a traffic cop (here in the middle of nowhere), was an apt punishment for his actions. Best to be honest and get it over with.

“No, I don’t have one.”

PP’s eyes lit up with unmitigated pleasure. A real catch! He’d simply throw the book at this old man – it’s been a quiet day, but this one will satisfy his daily need to get even with society.

“Then you are under arrest for driving without the necessary documentation. No license, hey? Isn’t that nice? Who do you think you are? Get in my car…now!”

Despite Servaas’s protestations, PP led the old man to the well-hidden vehicle, made him get into the back after checking the child locks, and drove off. The Enfield, PP informed him, would be Exhibit A in court and be fetched later.

***

The jail in town was as much a surprise as his arrest had been, only marginally more unpleasant. The little shed behind the municipal building – itself not a grand affair – housed a fire extinguisher, a few spades and a drum of tar. Servaas sat down on the extinguisher after the rusted door banged shut. This was, he decided, a real catastrophe.

Still, he considered his options. He could bang down the door with the extinguisher. Or dig his way out. Or light the tar and start a fire… But no! He must face his punishment with dignity. While it was true that he had no license to operate a two-wheeled motorized vehicle, it was also true that the time in the nudist camp had been most…entertaining. If he had to get punished for that, then he’d just have to face the wrath of the law and get it over with. Servaas knew about rights and wrongs – his years as elder in Oudoom’s church saw to that.

He spent a miserable night in that shed, thinking about the nudist camp, begging for forgiveness and promising that – if he could get out of jail – he’d never, ever, visit people who didn’t dress properly again. He closed his eyes, but before he drifted off to sleep, he considered the double disaster he had landed himself in. He’d lose his bike. He’d go to jail. Just before he drifted off to an uneasy slumber, the word ‘jeopardy’ lodged itself in his mind. Indeed, he thought.

The next morning Officer PP – dressed in his finest uniform, complete with the shiny buttons and the peaked cap – escorted his prisoner to the mayor’s office. Servaas was, understandably, a sight for sore eyes. Or his sight would have caused sore eyes, if one wanted to play with words. Hungry, dishevelled and dusty, he looked like a homeless vagabond.

Mayor Struwig was the town’s only lawyer, a man who made quite a decent living buying out farmers who couldn’t service their debts, holding on to the property for a year or so, and then selling it to the rich Gauteng yuppies who thought farming would supply a much-needed tax break. Of course, a year or so later, the same yuppie would beg the Honourable Mayor to find a willing buyer again. It was a game he couldn’t lose.

Struwig was a ferrety man with pointed ears and a receding jaw. Completely bald, his squint didn’t add to his appearance. Like Officer PP, he wasn’t exactly a social butterfly and used his job to inflate his ego. He was also the local magistrate. In this capacity he then faced the bedraggled old man from behind his polished desk.

Miss Agatha Droogsloot (called thus because of her little farm outside town) took the notes.

Struwig: “How do you plead?”

Servaas, hesitant: “Plead to what…sir?”

Struwig, impatient: “Driving a motorised two-wheeled vehicle without a license?”

Servaas, (pause), brightening: “Not guilty, your honour.”

Struwig, angry: “What?”

Servaas:”I have a question, your honour.”

Struwig, frustrated: “What”

Servaas, “What’s the story with double jeopardy?”

Struwig, quoting from memory: “Double jeopardy is a procedural defence that forbids a defendant from being tried again on the same (or similar) charges following a legitimate acquittal or conviction.”

Servaas, smiling: “Then I want the charge against me on record, your honour.”

Struwig: “It is on record, you fool!”

Servaas: “If it pleases your honour, then read it again, so I can justify my plea.”

Struwig, clearly irritated: “That you drove a motorised two-wheeled vehicle without license.”

Servaas: “That all?”

Struwig: “Dammit! Yes!!”

Servaas: “Then may I hold it to the  court that driving is something you do with motor cars and lorries, even cattle. Or you can drive people to distraction. But motorcycles? You ride them, your honour. Ride. That’s what I did. Not drive. That’s why you should dismiss the case. I’m innocent of the charge against me – I never drove a motor cycle.”

Struwig, foaming: “I’ll. Simply. Change. The. Wording. You. Old. *&%#!”

Servaas, shaking his head: “You can’t do that. First you must find me not guilty as charged, then you have to change the charge, and then – your honour – you get to that little bit of the definition you just read; which says something about the same or similar charges being brought against an innocent man.”

***

Officer PP de Lange watched as Servaas – still without a license – pushed the old Enfield out of town. He’ll follow that old man to the ends of the world, but he wasn’t going to let him get away! Getting into his patrol car, he followed the slow progress Servaas made, anticipating the glee of arresting him again – only this time, he’ll get the wording of his charge right. So maybe the old man could play the double jeopardy card again, but he’ll get him for speeding, or loitering, or something.

An hour later, his old problem acted up again. He stopped and was doing what he had to do when he heard the motor cycle roar to life.

Now, ask any man who is halfway through the process of answering a call of nature – especially when it is urgent. Stopping, buttoning up and getting back to the vehicle takes a minute or two.

By then, Servaas had taken a sharp left along a footpath, crossed the dry bed of a creek, and was heading towards some far-off hills – the kudu tail bobbing gaily up and down as he negotiated the uneven terrain.

Officer PP resigned the same day. He told Mayor Struwig that he’d prefer to work with dead people. They didn’t run away while he attended to his problem, he said. And, he added, they can’t come up with some lame defence – there’s no such thing as double jeopardy in a funeral parlour.

When will we ever learn…?

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Master Story-teller: Pieter Pieterse

(Following on the two previous posts)

Not everything was banged-up during the war,” Kleinpiet says in an effort to lift Vetfaan’s mood. “Remember that porcupine?”

Vetfaan nods reluctantly. When he is in the grip of those dark thoughts, he doesn’t smile easily.

Spiesie (Afrikaans for ‘Little Spear’) they called him. He rattled into camp one cold winter morning, apparently oblivious of the fact that there was a war going on and that you needed special permission to get anywhere near the workshops.  Without bothering with the fine military tradition of saluting your superiors, he made straight for the one large shed, where a SAMIL was unloading a new axle for a broken-down Bedford. There, still ignoring the men in their browns, he settled down under the idling engine. He liked it there – it was nice and warm.

“Man, that little prickly pet had a mind of his own. Unlike the other animals in the Caprivi, he had no fear of man…or beast. And he refused to be tamed in any way. But if you had an apple in your tent, Spiesie would find it. The cook had to put the potatoes in a locked cupboard. And don’t think he was deterred by plastic bottles – he simply gnawed his way through them to find out what’s inside.”

Vetfaan straightens his shoulders a bit. “That’s how we lost him, not so?”

“Ja, the poor thing. Spiesie gnawed his way into a 2-litre Windhoek Lager bottle one night. We found his tracks that morning…weaving about in a rather random way. Sometimes straight, then – apparently confused – doubling back.  Once or twice he even rolled about in the sand. But…that was the last. Maybe he simply didn’t like the beer?”

“Nah.” Vetfaan shakes his head. “Wasn’t that. I think he hated that early-morning bugle. And he couldn’t stick to mealtimes. Undisciplined, he was.”

“No, not like that little elephant.”

This remark hits the target. Vetfaan brightens considerably as he signals for another beer.

“Yes, now that was something, hey? Imagine that?”

Elephants aren’t rare in the Caprivi and the Okavango Delta. In fact, one has to be careful driving around there, as one might find one of these giants thinking deep thoughts right in the middle of the road on a daily basis. Usually these encounters occur while negotiating the rutted tracks at speed.

On the day he met Daisy, Vetfaan was driving the SAMIL sedately, nursing an apocalyptic hangover. The previous night had been a hectic affair at Rundu, where the quartermaster took pride in showing off (and sharing) his ‘hidden’ (read: stolen, or more aptly, rerouted) stash of imported whiskies. As a result of the pounding headache, Vetfaan was leaning forward on the steering wheel, staring at the track with half-closed eyes while keeping a gentle (if slightly shaking) foot on the accelerator.

Now, here’s a fact few people are aware of: you want to cure somebody’s hangover? Get rid of the headache and restore 20/20 vision to bleary eyes? It’s simple. Put an elephant in his path. Try it; it works like a charm. In the micro-second it takes to recognise the obstacle, all thoughts of self-pity get replaced by such loud alarm bells that the afflicted forgets – instantly – about such trivia as sore heads and dry mouths. In fact, the tongue becomes even more arid, but that isn’t noticed.

The lorry slewed to a skidding stop only metres away from the giant beast. Vetfaan – now in  total panic-mode – tried to engage reverse, but forgot to use the clutch. The engine died. Vetfaan prepared to do the same.

And waited for the beast to charge.

And waited.

And nothing happened.

That’s when he saw the injury to the pachyderm. In fact the elephant just stood there, swaying from side to side, paying no attention to the vehicle at all. When Vetfaan peeked over the dashboard, he took in the fact that he might just survive this encounter. There was a reason: the elephant’s trunk had been almost amputated by a snare.

The poor animal was in a terrible state. With the wound relatively fresh, Vetfaan saw a drop of blood plopping down in the dust. More relaxed now, he noticed the flies around the raw flesh and the pleading, helpless eyes imploring him to help. What to do? He couldn’t just walk up to the elephant and offer his services, could he? Maybe he should shoot it and get the suffering over with. Vetfaan never shot an elephant before. To be merciful, the coup de grace must be instantaneous and not add to the animal’s woes at all. And, while it may be possible to shoot an elephant with a R1, one had to be pretty sure where to aim at. Where is an elephant’s brain?

Then the miracle happened.

Three older cows emerged from the bush, to gather around their stricken family member. Prodding their patient along gently with soft touches of their trunks and the occasional gentle bump of a head, they herded their injured younger sister along the track.

Vetfaan knew that track well. He realised what they were doing: they were taking the injured one to a river that was about a kilometer away. He waited for a minute or two, and then managed to get the engine going again. Idling along slowly, he followed the four to the place where the river (then only a stream, as it was the dry season) crossed the road.

Daisy’s state was obviously due to two major factors: her trunk was badly injured…and she couldn’t drink with the damaged trunk. Vetfaan watched in complete amazement as the others led her to the water and started offering water to her with their own trunks. One after the other, trunkfull after trunkfull, the other females fed the life-giving water to the greedy mouth of Daisy.

Vetfaan sat there for a long time, watching the spectacle. Daisy certainly perked up and the other cows led her off into the reeds.

In the months following, Vetfaan found many an excuse to return to the river. Sometimes he’d see the four sets of tracks, sometimes not. On three separate occasions he was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the four backs amongst the reeds. Daisy, it seemed, was recovering. Slowly, but surely. And then, one memorable day, the four elephants emerged from the reeds only minutes after he stopped there. Daisy’s trunk was scarred, but certainly functional. Standing proudly amongst her saviours, she raised het trunk halfway as if to tell Vetfaan she’s well enough to help herself again.

And they turned away, ambled off towards the bush…and Vetfaan never saw Daisy again.

“Yes,” Vetfaan says, gulping down the beer, “the animals. They were special. I leant a lot from them. Spiesie wanted food and warmth – just like us. And like us, he got drunk and lost his way. But Daisy and her helpers?  They showed me what Life is all about. Or at least, how it should be.”

Gertruida puts down the book she’s been reading, peering at Vetfaan over her glasses. “That, Vetfaan, is what we’ve been doing for the last few days. That elephant recovered from that dreadful wound due to the others helping her. I just so wish you’d get rid of your snare.”

And Vetfaan, still wounded by the war, smiles gratefully at her, gets up, walks over to the austere woman, and gives her a hug.

“It takes time, Gertruida. A lot of it.”

Sometimes the atmosphere in Boggel’s Place is upbeat and frivolous. Not always. There are times when the ghosts of the past join the group at Boggel’s counter, to remind the customers if the price they had paid for the privilege. The war, the struggle of the oppressed masses, the mad propaganda justifying murder and mayhem, the injustices preached by the media and churches alike…the list goes on and on. Somehow, everybody in the country can look back at history with sadness. Was it really necessary for so many young men to lay down their lives? Why did we allow politics to divide the country so? And yet – despite the knowledge of the past – aren’t we hard at work repeating all the same mistakes?.

That’s when Vetfaan remembers the animals during the Border War, knowing they, at least, survived because they cared. The thought always gives him hope.

1328929_140116135753_Birthday_3237PS: These animal events and encounters are based on fact. Pieter Pieterse witnessed and described them (in a different context and style) in his beautiful book: Winterwerf in die Kavango, published by Tafelberg in 1989. The book is out of print now, but if you can lay hands on one, it’s well-worth reading. I hereby acknowledge his valuable contribution to Afrikaans literature and so wish I could swap stories with him. Sadly, he was brutally murdered in 2002 – yet another victim to the endemic violence so prevalent in our beautiful country..

Oh, Mister Dickens!

367px-Greatexpectations_vol1“Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” 
― Charles DickensGreat Expectations

Gertruida sits down after discussing that wonderful work of literature by Charles Dickens. Boggel wipes a tear: he just loved the coming of age by the orphaned Pip, identifying strongly with the character.

“We all have great expectations, I suppose. We hope and pray for many things. Love. Health. Even money, at times.” Precilla – who’ll never be a mother – stares wistfully through the window at the empty horizon. “But sometimes we have to make peace with what we’ve got. And then, just like Dickens describes, we often find that people we despise are actually the heroes – and the heroes turn out to be villains.”

Kleinpiet, highly sensitive of what Precilla is saying, squeezes her hand. “Ja, that’s so. What I liked about the book is the way it ended. Pip gets Estella and now faces a future with her at his side. Good triumphed over evil. What an array of characters! Quite astounding!”

They’re silent for a moment, reflecting on the great writer’s ability to create poignant moments in his writing.

“Sooo,…” Vetfaan sits back, not quite sure what to say. “What are our Great Expectations for this year?”

“That’s easy.” Gertruida, who knows everything, smiles happily. “We’re going to get published. We’ll make history.”

Oudoom, who’s confined him to his study lately while working on a complicated sermon (Why do we have a corrupt government when the Bible tells us everything works out well for those who believe?)  frowns. What is Gertruida talking about?

“Oudoom, you should pay more attention. There are two books about Rolbos in the offing. One in English, one in Afrikaans. And no, it’s not a translation either. Two completely different collections of short stories. As far as I know, the simultaneous publication of two volumes of short stories by the same author in two languages has never happened in the Northern Cape. Maybe not even in the country…”

“…or the world, for that matter.” Boggel finishes her sentence. “Now the selection of stories are complete, it’s being rewritten and then the final editing has to be done. Exciting times, I’m sure. With a bit of luck, we can look forward to publication in September or so.”

“Yes, it’s been a long process,” Gertruida agrees. “You know how set that editor is on delivering perfection. She’s quite a tiger when it comes to sorting out the minutest details. I’m glad I won’t have to field her criticism.”

“Well, we know some of the stories at least. I heard the English version is arranged in different moods. So you’ll have sections on Love, Sad Stories, Nostalgia and so on. There’s even a section about Vrede.” Servaas, uncommonly dressed in khaki, fondles the dog’s ears when he sits up on hearing his name. “The Afrikaans book tells the story of Rolbos, and is arranged to follow on each other. In a way it’s a long story made up by many short stories. I hope readers will like that.”

Boggel serves a round on the house. Yes, they’ll be quietly optimistic about the reception of the books. And like things turned out for Pip, they expect happy smiles on the faces of readers once they get tstuck into the weird adventures the townsfolk become involved in.

“Let me quote something from Wikipedia.” Gertruida knows it’s useless to explain what Wikipedia is. They won’t understand.  ” Critics hailed it as one of Dickens’ greatest successes although often for conflicting reasons: GK Chesterton admired the novel’s optimism; Edmung Wilson its pessimism; Humphry House in 1941 emphasized its social context; while in 1974, JH Buckley saw it foremost as a bildungsroman”

“Huh?” Servaas doesn’t understand.

“What I’m saying, Servaas, is that readers experienced Dickens’ book in a variety of ways. Just like us, the characters interacted with the readers on different levels. Some will laugh, others cry, and yet others might frown. 

“Now that’s my Great Expectation: that people will read about us and feel – rather than read – our stories. That, I’m confident, will happen. But…only time will tell. So let’s hold thumbs.”

They fall silent after her little speech, remembering the words of Joe in Dickens’ book:

“Give me,” said Joe, “a good book, or a good newspaper, and sit me down afore a good fire, and I ask no better.”

Great expectations, indeed…