*Fuzzy Photos and Unreliable Tasting Notes
Above: Shelley-ann (hereinafter to be referred to as "Shan") finally ensconced on the beach at Blaauwberg ... Table Mountain in the background confirms our arrival.
After some negotiation with Shan's mum, Judy, involving presentation of credentials vis-a-vis suitable chaperones, we got the green light to travel a deux to Cape Town just after Christmas 1979. The fact that the posse included brother, Martin (a.k.a. Mart), and my married sister, Sue, appeared to have clinched the Deale. But there was a last minute setback.
Having repatriated my red Renault 5 from Carmela[2}, I set about packing it for the journey to Cape Town. An essential piece of kit was my surfboard and while manoeuvring it on to the roof with the rear hatch open it prematurely closed on to my forehead. There was a lot of blood, necessitating a trip to A&E on the eve of departure. Apparently stitches were required. These would have to be removed in Cape Town.
"Yes, yes, I understand, I have friends at Groote Schuur," I reassured the paramedics in Durban. I was winging it but they seemed to be satisfied.
Maybe there was a degree of bang-on-the-head euphoria at play in the early stages of our trip but neither of us can remember where we spent our first night en route to Cape Town (typically a 2-3 day journey). Port Alfred springs to mind but who knows. I seem to remember chaperone #1, Mart, who was driving his own car and having to stock up on "padkos" while we waited to exit Durban .
Above: this little cutie was tasked with ferrying four adults with their luggage and a surfboard the more than 3,000 km to Cape Town and back.
Lunch in Queenstown
My/our first accurate memory of the trip was stopping for lunch with our to-be-host Ivor Wilkins' parents at their house in Queenstown. Ivor had been visiting for Christmas and was also on his way to his own pad in Cape Town. If it wasn't a Sunday, the lunch was splendid enough for it to have been so and once Ivor's Dad, a vicar, had said grace we tucked into a hearty feast of local fare.
After lunch we repaired to the lounge for coffee and were just seated when Ivor's Mum addressed her son:
"When are you going to get married, Ivor?" she demanded.
Ivor mumbled something to the effect that he wasn't sure he was quite ready yet.
"Nonsense," his mum retorted, gesturing towards my sister, "All the nice young women are already married, look at Sue! There'll soon be no-one left for you to marry."
Caught in the headlights, Ivor pointed towards Shan exclaiming: "well, look at Shelley-ann, she's not married ... ."
At this point my beloved was trying to be as inconspicuous as possible but was in the process of retrieving her cigarettes from her handbag.
"But Shelley-ann's just a little, little girl," Mrs Wilkins retorted.
Shan managed to drop the cigs back into her bag before they were detected. Soon afterwards we thanked the Reverend and Mrs Wilkins profusely for their hospitality and bid Ivor au revoir before heading off to Cape St Francis to rejoin Mart at the holiday home of Myles Budd.
At that time of the year the Durban diaspora was in evidence wherever we seemed to go. Stopping in the car park in St Francis, we bumped into Alastair Robertson, a childhood friend of Shan's. In fact that trip became such a blur of friends and relatives that I've often wound up unsuccessfully digging into my generally reliable memory banks in relating this tale.
Cape Town at last
We eventually pitched up at Ivor's pied-à-terre in the Kloof Nek area of Cape Town, at the foot of Table Mountain. Shan, freshly showered and blowdried can be spotted below on our host's balcony with the famous mountain shrouded in its familiar tablecloth.
And now to surf
Having split my forehead open and lugged a surfboard and wetsuit all the way from Durban, I needed some confirmation that it had all been worth it. On the first morning in the "mother city" we headed up to Blaauwberg Strand where there was reputed to be a bit of a swell running. Shan can be seen languishing on the beach at the top of this article, once again with a (somewhat clearer) view of Table Mountain in the background.
It was a hot day. The sun was shining fiercely but I donned my wetsuit, after all the water was supposed to be cold here. Perhaps a little bit of an explanation would be appropriate at this juncture: Cape Town is situated alongside the Benguela Current that flows up unchallenged from the Antarctic and Durban is situated alongside Mozambique/Agulhas current that flows down unchallenged from the equator. This is depicted below. The upshot of this is that seawater in Cape Town is not even fit for brass monkeys whereas seawater in Durban, even in winter, could be mistaken for fresh vervet monkey urine, straight out of the ape herself.
So, in Durban, there is very little point in owning a full wetsuit. Just a top in winter when there is a bit of a chilly wind on one's torso. You've probably guessed by now that the reverse is true of Cape Town. Especially on a day when it is 35°C in the sunshine. On this day the swells were minuscule, too.
So our ardent suitor spends half a morning sitting waiting for non-existent waves with a sweating torso until his legs begin to feel as if they're about to freeze off. Having carted a board and wetsuit to the South Western tip of Africa all I had to look forward to was finding someone to remove the stitches from my forehead.
Above: Stylised map of the currents around Southern Africa; Shan at the top of Table Mountain.
And a virgin trip for my new girlfriend to the top of Table Mountain, which enabled me to resurrect some kudos, having been up there before. Ironically, after 35°C at the beach more covering was required in the mist at 1,000m.
The next time we went to the beach, we were accompanied by Ivor to Clifton where the rich and famous people have always hung out and there is grass to sit on if you prefer to avoid fine beach sand in your knickers.
Above: Ivor and a current girlfriend at Clifton Beach; Shan on the grass with Ivor in the background, chatting to some fellow locals.
In between beaching and eating out with friends we seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in our little red Renault. This time was constructively spent establishing every aspect of my earlier romantic episodes. You could call it interrogation; I'll go with catharsis. No stone was left unturned. Any attempt I made at shortcuts to cut though some uncomfortable episodes has come back for a return visit during the passing years, final adjustments made and put away. One of these continued until 2021 and I'm not going to commit that to print without permission from the highest authority perhaps when I reach that stage in my blogs after 40 years of this narrative have been committed to paper.
I do believe most of the key tripwires were expunged in that week of driving around from beach to dinner, back to Ivor's and out to another beach etc..
No wonder Shan went on to become a successful counsellor, peeling back the layers and rebuilding lives.
There was one particularly painful episode when we were treating ourselves to a pukka restaurant and my tooth broke when negotiating something innocuous from a dental point of view. Slightly less painful was the removal of my stitches by a jovial group of junior doctors at Groote Schuur.
Also part of our agenda was to meet up with Mart, Shan's sister Kerry and my sister Cath. These two had been major incentives for Shan's, Sue's and my expedition to the Cape in the first place. Kerry (hereinafter to be referred to as "Kinks" a family nickname since time immemorial) was to join us in the car on our return journey.
We did drink a lot of wine. Whether it was on an epic 5-6 bottler on the Friday night in a fine restaurant with Ivor (causing our host to call in on the Saturday morning with the message "your captain has been injured" to his staff in the Cape Town bureau). Or during a lunch at Lanzerac in Stellenbosch with a bunch of Mart's reprobate buddies in which we played forfeit bar games. Happily I was able to mitigate my own forfeits at some of these having had substantial experience during my sojourn as motoring editor of the Daily News. There is a numbers' game, Chuckles, in which combatants seated in a circle have to pass a "baton" sequentially to a neighbour who has to come up with a number in an ever diminishing range that wasn't a) the "actual number" (set by a nominated member of the party who had to declare each guess either too high, too low or actual) or b) outside of the diminishing range established by the too highs or too lows. The forfeit for failure was to drink something horrible. Of course there is a probability strategy to be deployed if one can keep one's wits, which decrease exponentially in those who fail a) or b).
Sounds complicated? Not really but it helps to have your wits about you from the start. Chatting happily over a bottomless wineglass and losing the plot doesn't help either. Having played the game before helps. Having a bit of an actuarial bent does too.
New Year's Eve and Chapman's Peak Drive (Chappies)
Shan and I traversed Chappies several times during our trip. Once during daytime because it was a spectacular thing to do.
Above: Shan near the top pf Chappies in "those shorts" taken while we were out viewing the spectacle the Cape Peninsular is famous for..
The other time we encountered Chappies (in both directions) was on New Year's Eve in which a whole assorted bunch of people we knew, and many we didn't know, assembled on Llandudno Beach for a bonfire and general piss-up.
Our relationship strayed close to the edge that evening when we returned to Cape Town to fetch my sister who was to join us for the remainder of the evening (night). I can't remember how we got to Llandudno nor can I remember why I was driving some bloke I didn't know's Alfa Romeo Alfetta. Nice car. Perfect place to try it out: Chapman's Peak Drive (it was a tad less busy in 1979). So I gave it a bit of wellie (I had recently been the Motoring Editor of the Daily News so kinda knew what I was doing). I haven't lived that down to this day. It still comes up when I least expect it.
Aside to Ivor
Mon ami, I don't think I've ever thanked you enough for the role you played in Shan's and my developing relationship and continued to play until we were safely married (next blog). Thank you my friend.
One last pivotal conversation Shan and I had before we left the freedom of Cape Town revolved around an expectation between her and her namesake Shelley Renaud that they would take a year or two off to tour the world before they settled down. Boy, did I have to come up with something convincing. A lot of what follows this in upcoming blogs will be about my efforts to deliver as promised.
Now it was 4 up in the little red car. What a hoot. First stop Pea Ee (a.k.a. Port Elizabeth, Gqeberha etc.). It was quite a journey, of necessity punctuated by comfort breaks.
I feel sure we must have had a feast on our last night in Cape Town, after which we had to leave early in the morning. We had been travelling for quite a while when I had to stop the car to release some air. I pulled over where it was safe to do so and announced that I needed to "stretch my legs" ... we didn't fart in each others' company at that stage. The others seemingly elected to stay in the car so I exited and had gone a few paces up the road when I noticed that Shan was following me. I went a few more paces, thinking that maybe she was experiencing similar discomfort. She followed. After this sequence repeated itself a couple of times I turned to face her.
"I need a hug," she announced. This has become a delightfully welcome refrain that has lasted until the current day. How could I resist. As we returned to the car, with my girlfriend seemingly satisfied, I was able to drop back slightly and perform the deed.
Our last major stop (as far as I can remember) on our way back was to drop Sue off with her parents-in-law, Zia and Ian MacEwan, who lived in PE and were also old family friends. They had invited us to spend the night before heading on for Durban.
Kinks was, and still is, an extremely accomplished sportswoman. She was also extremely short-sighted and had been a very early adopter of contact lenses. Somehow the subject came up in conversation at dinner with the MacEwans. Ian, who had always been quite taciturn and a good listener, asked her a good number of relevant questions as our lovely companion became bolder and bolder in her claims. Never once did he let on what his profession was.
We didn't have heart to tell Kinks that Dr Ian MacEwan was a leading eye surgeon in South Africa until we were safely in the car the next morning.
No doubt Kerry will get me back for this story when I move to this blog's sequel and I am planning the roles of the functionaries at our wedding.
Kind of more of the same. Shan and I had got under each others' skins but it wasn't always rosy in 1980. These Deales were (and still are) nothing if they're weren't feisty.
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