This next instalment of this blog was supposed to be a joyous thing. It would have been had I kept on top of things. However, the longer I've taken, the sadder the outcome has become.
When I first set about a series of anecdotes covering a road trip up the East Coast of South Africa and then returning more or less through the middle, I had planned for three episodes. I am now on episode 5 with probably two more to come.
First in Mpumalanga there were Sharna and Daryl, followed by Stuart, and now we come to Heidi and Andrew Newby. The last time I had seen them was while in the Western Cape 18 months previously when they were living in Hopefield, North of Cape Town. A couple of fleeting visits that left more questions unanswered than had been on the original list.
In the mean time the intrepid couple had upped stakes and moved most of the way across South Africa to the banks of the Vaal River, just below the Vaal Dam wall. Ok, not quite in Mpumalanga but as near as dammit is to swearing.
Above, L to R: Andrew proudly cutting into a round from his new cheesery in Deneysville; 18 months earlier, Andrew, Heidi and me near Smitswinkelbaai, lunching at a friend's cheesery.
"Why are you abandoning Hopefield for Deneysville?" I asked Andy shortly after the Newby family embarked on a Great Trek of their own, from the Western Cape to the banks of the Vaal.
“We need more grass for the animals, Banj,” was the explanation. Short and to the point as always.
When I finally arrived in Deneysville in January, my old friend was equally succinct.
"Why are you staying here for such a short time, Banj? And without Kate and Shelley-ann?"
I mumbled through my explanation of all the Covid obstacles. I'm not sure he was convinced but it did lead to the three of us talking about daughters that evening, how proud we were of them and how Mila was spreading her wings and working in Germany. Andrew was proud and sad that she was so far away but not so far that she didn’t drop everything to visit her Dad when he first became ill. Kate had done something similar for me when I wound up in hospital in France a few years previously. Dad-daughter bonding over a glass of something was highly recommended. The three of us counted our blessings with some rather fine wine provided by Daryl “Bikey” Balfour. We were in the Newby restaurant on the plaas and discussing their ambitious plans for a padstal.
Beyond that they were contemplating converting their almost 100 stables into B&B accommodations for parents and children to share experiences with the animals on the farm, a short distance from the Vaal River. Earlier in the afternoon Andrew had proudly showed me around his recently completed cheesery (already with a sideline into wider charcuterie). We discussed the finer differences between Chorizo and Chouriço, the latter being more spicy, something that was proved the next morning at breakfast.
I had set out that morning from the Eastern Transvaal, the boot of the car containing a box of assorted wine, something Mr and Mrs Newby appreciated with the splendid repast the three of us had devoured with a degree of lip smacking enjoyment. Food was second nature to the plaaswoners but decent wine was less easy to come by in rural Deneysville. Bikey’s cellar is, by contrast, a legend and we muttered our appreciation as we settled into nostalgic reminiscences.
I can’t pretend we weren’t concerned about Andrew’s mobility but there was an air of cautious optimism. He was in the South African health care system and appropriate treatment was on the horizon.
Above, L to R: Group Daily News photo, possibly as early as 1976, starring ... Back row - Andrew, Greg Dardagan, Garnet Currie, Rob Melville, Middle row - Kathy Usher, Liz Clarke, Front row - Don Blackbeard, Russel Kay; Andrew exercised significant influence to secure me a wholesale price on my Honda, which I rode up to Nottingham Road in his honour in 1978/79 (the licence disc being a giveaway as to the date) and smoking a fag to celebrate.
A short detour into shared history
I’m not exactly sure when I first met Andrew? It would have been some time in the second half of the 1970s when I was Motoring Editor of the Daily News and he helped me by testing the motorbikes, something he was infinitely more qualified to do than I was.
I just enjoyed riding the one he had out on test at any given time and they became a unifying factor. We did stuff like a bike and caravan foray to the Transkei Wild Coast and participant/scrambler cooperative coverage of the Dusi canoe marathon. He procured me my first (and last) motorbike (above). But when I saw him in January he had remained a biker at heart, planning a solo expedition on a high-end "scooter" he had recently acquired.
Above, L to R: A bunch of us hung about in the 70s and 80s (Garnet and Bikey Balfour AWOL on this occasion) ... top row, Tony (a.k.a. Spikey Norman) Kinnear and John Pauling ... bottom row, yours truly, Andrew; John Pauling trying to ignore Andrew's gurning, something he was wont to do occasionally; Andrew chatting to Brenda Lynsky at Shan's and my leaving do in 1987 ... I think I spy Andy King and Johnny Thorpe in the background.
As well as working together we spent a good deal of time socialising. Perhaps at the core of this particular "journo" group were the four reprobates in the first frame above but Garnet was always around, too, as was Daryl.
There was a point when the dissolute journo aspect of our lives began to cause health concerns. Some of us resumed surfing and bicycles emerged for regular Sunday rides. Andy was more of a diver than a surfer and expressed his contempt for the rest of the group by gurning.
Shan's and my participation in the Durban group came to an end when we moved to the UK to start a new life in 1987. Andy was at our leaving do. He continued pursue cycling and went on to post some seriously quick times in the Cape Argus cycle race.
We didn't see each other again for 31 years and it was the Argus that reunited us. I took a local group of cyclists to participate in the 2018 event and got in touch again. A couple of reunions occurred with the most recent having been the feature of this blog.
When we parted on the 16th of January, 2022, I couldn't be sure when I'd next be in SA but felt sure there would be another visit. We discussed prospects and the uncertainty of it all.
"Don't worry, Banj," my friend summarised, "We aren't going anywhere."
“Next time you drop by, Banj," Andrew continued, "make sure you bring Shelley-ann and Kate with you ... and stay a bit longer,” were among his parting words as I set off on that Sunday morning to fetch Kate from Joburg airport.
Above, L to R: Mr Newby was so excited for us to taste his new cheese for breakfast as the cat and terrier testify; always an animal lover and encouraged by Heidi, the house in Deneysville was a haven for waifs and strays ... only a terrier can look this beseeching; cheers Andrew, you were one of a kind.
There was to be no next time
Heidi walked me to the gates their plaas in Deneysville because Andrew was finding it difficult to walk more than a short distance. As she waved goodbye and I set off to collect Kate I was feeling optimistic about my friend's prospects. His enthusiasm for his charcuterie adventure and the prospects the farm offered had rubbed off during the previous nights longe dinner.
On the 3rd of March, 2022, I received a message from Daryl to tell me Andrew had died that day. Heidi later posted an explanation on Facebook of the information she'd been given.
Andrew Newby, 1951-2022, RIP
Up to this point I haven't mentioned Graeme Newby, Andrew's slightly younger brother. I don't remember him that well other than that he was a thoroughly decent cove and we all enjoyed his gentle humour when he was around. I do know that he became an optometrist and practised in Cape Town for many decades.
He was known to our group as "Peppermint" and also liked his motorbikes. According to urban legend, Graeme was once visiting the Skyline Hotel, a bit of a notorious dive in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, when he needed to use the loo. He would have been reluctant to leave his belongings out of sight so took his crash helmet with him to the Gents where he was jumped by two aggressors. Not knowing what else to do, he dispatched them with his crash helmet.
On the 19th of July this year, Graeme suffered a massive heart attack in his Cape Town surgery and died.
Graeme Newby, 195?-2022, RIP
Guys, the world is a poorer place.
I commence another road trip with my darling daughter, Kate.