Starting with a month in which two young people experienced some dramatic new experiences: new found freedom, international travel and an old-school wine tasting at an actual winery.
Around the big day
The plan (if there was a plan) was to be fully prepared for everything that should take place during the last days of September 1974 so that mid-October would not be a blind panic. I have to state right here that any hiccoughs in that plan were entirely mea culpa.
As both Carmela and I were complete greenhorns at most things, and especially international travel, there was a lot to take in. Neither of us had passports and we also needed international driving permits for the UK in those days. At least the Argus Group was arranging the travel tickets.
It all started with an irritating foible that I possess to this day. If you're approaching a complicated project, make it more complicated by adding in more steps at the beginning. My first task was to obtain a passport while working out of a newspaper bureau in Empangeni. First I needed photographs.
My counterpart from the opposition newspaper group at the time, South African Associated Newspapers (SAAN) was George De'Ath. He worked just down the corridor from me and lived in the same block of studio flats. We also had to cover most of the same news stories and were much the same age. George had an altogether more sociable working environment than I did, reporting as he did from his desk within the offices of the doyenne of community press, Reg Anthony, founder in 1969 of the Zululand Observer. But he couldn't sneak out unnoticed by me (if I was in my cubby hole) for a scoop story. We became firm friends and I became absorbed into Reg's community to the extent she insisted on throwing a farewell party for me when I left. Carmela had to be there and she would arrange appropriate chaperoning.
One of George's benefits of working out of the Zululand Observer premises was access to a darkroom. One evening, maybe over an apple juice in Empangeni's salubrious Royal Hotel (or perhaps it was the Imperial - all towns of a certain size had one of each in the carry over from our Colonial past), he mentioned that he needed to get a passport too. We were young and vain and discussed the possibility of getting a decent mug shot in Empangeni. Passports were notorious for the proliferation of crap head-and-shoulders pics that caused immigration officials to snigger, if not openly guffaw.
We formed a pact there and then. We would not succumb.
"I'll ask Reg if we can use the darkroom," George promised.
So it happened that we spent the afternoon buffing up our egos taking each other's mug shot. Sadly I have no evidence of the results but I believe we were satisfied. I can't ask George either because, tragically, he died while working as a TV cameraman during the Crossroads riots. I don't have any pictures of George but his, what I always thought of as rueful, grin shines out from the tiny pic in the article in the link above.
We hadn't even had TV in SA before I left for the UK.
I departed from Empangeni and survived a complete nightmare of the traditional "stag" party from those days. But, before that, an even worse nightmare occurred. Everything needed for everything over the next month was in my wallet. Dad had always warned me about wallets. I was fetching some suits for the wedding from the Toscanos' Cowey Road residence and placed the wallet on the roof of the car while loading up. I discovered what had happened at my destination. Perhaps that's why I succumbed to so much drink during the "stag" proceedings. In fact, I'm surprised Carmela chose to proceed with the wedding after being woken by the doorbell at some ungodly hour to find a blob of ectoplasm handcuffed to the family security gate.
As it was, the wedding and its aftermath was a happy affair, greatly heightened by the phone call from a lovely person who had found my wallet on the road. My telephone number had in my wallet and we arranged for me to retrieve it, completely in tact. Thank you again to that wonderful person if she ever gets to read this more than 45 years later. Saved my bacon for sure. We really should've invited you to our wedding.
L to R The offending gate, sans handcuffs now, being guarded by Marianne and Merino, Carmela's aunt and uncle, who had flown in from New South Wales for the wedding; The bride and me, looking surprisingly unscathed by the labyrinthine lead up to the event; unlike the Fiat that eventually delivered us unscathed to the Cape, albeit in a subtly altered shade of yellow (pic repeated just so's you can get a gratuitous snigger at the shorts again).
And so we commenced our journey Kaapstad toe. The big treat en route was two nights in the recently rebuilt Beacon Island Hotel in Plettenberg Bay. A luxurious edifice on a small island now connected by a causeway and a beach. Mum had been there in her youth when it had been a few storeys high, with a rambling bungalow attached, and was somewhat scandalised by its latter day swank and pretensions to International 5-star status.
I have capitalised the "I" in International deliberately. We learned a great deal on our second night when we popped into the "ladies'" bar after dinner for a post-prandial nightcap. The only other patron in the bar was a black man. He greeted us as we entered the room. He exuded a friendly and urbane aura. It was obvious from his accent that he was American, which accounted for him being there at all. South Africa had recently been making some small cosmetic changes to Apartheid so that foreign "non-white" dignitaries need not be completely excluded from visiting the country. The algorithm for the changes was somewhat tedious. Suffice to say that black people could drink in a bar in South Africa provided they were not South African and the bar was situated in a designated International hotel. They may have had to be staying there, too? Perhaps they could entertain black South African guests? I said the algorithm was arcane.
This lovely man could sense that Carmela and I were embarrassed by the ridiculousness of it all and not the fact that he was Black so he set about putting us at our ease. He also told us about the discrimination he had experienced in the USA, the extent of which we had not been aware of until then.
"Yes," he nodded sagely, "You don't have to go back too many decades in American history to find conditions very similar to those you have here now."
It was a weird feeling, then, when we departed the next morning, headed for our B&B in Cape Town where Black people would not be allowed to stay, let alone have a drink in the bar.
I need to recap a little at this juncture. If you have read my earlier blogs where wine was mentioned, you'll be aware that Durban was not spoiled for choice in the variety on offer in the late 60s and early 70s. The likes of Chateau Libertas, Nederburg, Lanzerac, Zonneblom and perhaps Rustenberg were on wine lovers' lips. Tassies was never a staple in our household, my parents having preferred white in the earlier times. Most of the reds were based on Cabernet Sauvignon (some more loosely than others) although there was the odd diversion into stuff like Pinotage from Spier. KWV pushed out some reasonable high-volume red.
Then, from where I was standing, along came Backsberg and blew everything apart. An estate wine that set the scene for things to come (not that we knew the extent in 1974). More of that m-u-u-u-c-h later ...
These days it is quite difficult to find anyone in the Western Cape who shows much interest in the historical happenings in their wine industry during that period. I have followed up many leads but they almost invariably end up in dead ends. Consequently I have to rely on my own unreliable memories.
I do know that Carmela and I visited the Backsberg Estate and the evidence is below. Being an ex-journo with some residual pride in establishing the provenance of his stories, I tried to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that two of the pictures below were actually taken by me at Backsberg. Living, as I do now, more than 5,000 miles away, I took to the internet. None of my contacts at the time was sure. Last time I looked for myself (very recently), the arch was still there.
So, it is with some confidence, aided by some leads from Angela Lloyd, taster and copywriter on the current Platter Wine Guide, that I relate the following anecdote
The pictures above are of our excursion to Backsberg Winery. At that stage of her life, I am led to believe (and I do) that Carmela did not enjoy the consumption of alcohol . This might account for the slightly sceptical look in the first frame. In her inimitable fashion, however, she did embrace this expedition as a tangent to our first holiday together.
First wine tasting
"You just sommer rock up," a wine fundi of my acquaintance instructed confidently. Now this was intimidating for a start because Sydney Back was rapidly becoming a legend. Not that you'd believe it if you tried the only source of info anyone seems to rely on these days, i.e. Google.
"Are you sure?" Carmela sounded doubtful when I relayed the instructions.
"Do you mind if we give it a go? Stellenbosch is not far from Cape Town."
"OK, it's not such a great day for the beach today, anyway," my new bride responded stoically.
It took a bit longer in those days. Well maybe, the traffic on the dual carriageway and the multiple traffic lights are pretty kak these days. But we arrived more or less at the target time at the barrel-bedecked arch with its dramatic backdrop of what may or may not be the Simonsberg.
"We should probably take a photo," one of us suggested.
"Agreed," replied the other one.
So, using the self-timer and our mottled yellow Fiat as a tripod, we took the picture of the barrel-bedecked arch (above) before following the fundi's advice and proceeding up the drive.
It was kind of obvious where we should stop, which we did and got out of the car and looked around. There was no-one about. For those familiar with the wine-tasting industry in the Paarl-Franschhoek-Stellenbosch area today, this may be beyond comprehension. But it was so.
It didn't take too long for a kindly-looking gentleman to appear. If I remember correctly, he was scratching his head.
"Would you like to taste some wine?" he asked. "I have some cheese and a bit of bread on a table in the cellar." We worked out pretty quickly that this was the great man himself, Sydney Back.
He gave us a personal tour and, knowing that Carmela was unaccustomed to wine, explained the process with patient empathy. I'm pretty sure I must have tasted Mr Back's Cabernet Sauvignon du jour and some Dry Red, possibly Shiraz, too. It was all delicious and I was committed to Backsberg Cab for the next decade.
"What a lovely, sweet man," Carmela exclaimed after he had bid us farewell. He'd smiled benignly when she'd asked if she could take the corny picture of me sipping from the faux-barrell in the set above.
He did seem unassuming to the point of maybe even being a little shy and had invited us to come back. I did go back on a works jolly a few years later but it wasn't quite the same with a herd of half sozzled journos jockeying for position as they clambered off the bus.
"Where's the toilet," at least one person demanded before greetings had even been exchanged.
Sometimes wonderful experiences should be left for posterity.
"Enough's as good as a feast," was a bit of a mantra for Dad.
My mind is completely blank on the Backsberg to Britain leg of this saga. There was so much going on, my brain must have given up and archived the next few weeks. There is some photographic evidence that, having been a good sport at Backsberg, Carmela got to enjoy some traditional holiday stuff on her first trip to the Western Cape:
Coming soon: Finding our feet in London and its surroundings
 to Cape Town
 At the end of the day, these are anecdotes after all and I didn't have the time nor the inclination to delve into the letter of a law that no longer exists and may now be impossible to find.
 Message to Carmela (or any other parties of interest), please do leave comments on my blogs if you disagree with any of the content. Come to think of it, if you agree, too, that would add some kudos.
[5} Seffrikkin for "expert"
 Seffrikkin for "shit"
 Believe it or not, Shelley-ann, Kate, Fiona Tibone and I had a very similar experience around 20 years later when visiting a Barolo cantina. Kate and Shelley-ann, not being red wine fans, chose to lie in a conveniently placed hammock while Fiona and I tasted the Barolo con formaggio e pane.
I will be pausing this series for a few weeks while I look for daily things to amuse you on my Random Blogs. The announcement was the way things happened in those days. Not sure which paper? Probably the Daily News just after the 28th September, 1974. I will pick up the story again in October 2020.
Comping soon: The streets of London.
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