*Fuzzy Photos & Unreliable Tasting Notes, **Cape Town Road Trip
For a trio of Durban greenhorns in 1970, Cape Town was seriously exotic. Apart from the Mediterranean climate, it was considered to be a step-change in sophistication for those of us on the East Coast. Having had a taste for it a year earlier, I jumped at the opportunity to join Andrew and Jem in revisiting the 1,600 Km excursion.
This time the transport was to be a Ford Escort Mk1 Andrew shared with his older sister, Catherine. I can't really remember how they shared it because, at that time, Catherine was studying medicine at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The fact that they shared it was relevant to our plans, however, as Andrew didn't have exclusive rights to the 'scort and his Dad retained conservatorship. Also, Andrew and I had been on a road trip to the South African Grand Prix in Johannesburg with my aged VW Beetle chewing up the miles. I think my friends' parents considered my jalopy a tad insubstantial for the safe conveyance of younger brother Jem (A.K.A. Jeremy) on the 3,200 Km round trip.
The journey proper was to commence from a short distance South of Durban where Andrew and Jem's family had a beach cottage. Their parents were in residence and were a little surprised to see my sister, Sue, arrive with us. Andrew had agreed, without his parents' knowledge apparently, that Sue could accompany us as far as Gqeberha. As with my previous excursion in a South Westerly direction, Mums had equipped us with introductions to friends en route. In my case it was the same friends in the Eastern Cape but A&J's Mum had come up trumps with an altogether more exotic relation at Boulders' Beach on the outskirts of Simonstown, itself on the outskirts of our cultural Mecca, Cape Town. Sue was booked in at Chez MacEwan in Qqeberha where we were to abandon her for the onward trip.
This was a great cause for concern for A&J's Dad. Andrew, being the senior traveller, was summoned for a dressing down in a different room. We left the next morning much as we had intended and my two friends had been accorded a substantial travel allowance each by their Pater. I had recently been informed by the University of Natal that I was no longer welcome to continue my degree in 1971 so was rather impecunious at the time. I had secured a job, which would commence on our return, but in the meantime would have to exist on the remaining scratchings from my prematurely aborted university career.
Our first day's target was, once again, Port Alfred. Happily Mum's uni friend, Paula, would be in residence in her family's holiday cottage. Paula's daughter, Cherry, and I were born within a few days of each other and she was to be there too, along with her slightly younger sister, June.
Could a bog-standard lime-green 'scort Mk1 1100cc be a controversial conveyance? We made it to Port Alfred safely.
No sooner had we arrived than June summoned us. An oyster vendor was at the door. Did we want 100 freshly-picked oysters for a Rand. At that time there was more or less parity between the Rand and the Pound. The Rand had started life being worth 50p but the UK currency had dropped in value like one of the rocks that oysters clung to. The oysters were splendid and we learned to eat them with Tabasco. Not everyone was keen so those who were probably had at least 20 each!
The beginning of curried milkshakes
While we were staying with Paula, Cherry and June, it turned out that Cherry was moving to Cape Town and would arrive there before we would. We invited her to spend a weekend with us in Simonstown. Given that I had been there the year before, she asked me for recommendations of places to eat when she and her flatmate first arrived. Turns out I remembered one restaurant, an Indian establishment on the way up to Kloof Nek, name, address and everything. We had razor sharp memories in those days.
"Wow Mark, that's brilliant, right near where we'll be staying," Cherry enthused
" Well then, make sure you check it out and report back when you come out to Simonstown," I grinned before the divvil got to me: "You must have one of their curry milkshakes," I added waiting for a klap[ ] around the earhole.
But I'd forgotten that Durban was reputed to be the alternative Capital of India and Durbanites knew about this stuff. I'd assumed Cherry knew too. Rather unfairly I went in for the kill.
"You must insist on the milkshake having the proper garnishes on top, coconut, maybe chopped onion and tomato, certainly chutney for the sweetness balance." I was pushing my luck but the Durban angle seemed to give me credibility. "Anyway, it wouldn't be unusual to have chocolate garnishes on a chocolate milkshake, would it?"
Cherry seemed grudgingly convinced and the subject moved on.
The next morning we continued to Gqeberha. As we waved goodbye we shouted out: "See you in Simonstown, don't forget to report back on the restaurant."
We dropped Sue with the MacEwans and headed towards Plettenberg Bay (Plett).
The three of us heading for the Fairest Cape: (L to R) C'est moi, Jem and Andrew in the early 1970s.
I was excited to return to Plett. I had been there the previous year but had learned about it long before that from Mum, who had first holidayed in the area when the Beacon Island was home to a modest whaling station. During the early part of WW2, the whaling station was supplanted by the first iteration of the Beacon Island Hotel and Mum was taken there as a young(ish) teenager in the early 40s. Her parents spent most of the war in Kenya building trucks for the Allied forces so kind parents carted her off with them for family holidays.
My grandfather ran the General Motors factory in Nairobi (L), making trucks (R) for the North Africa campaign, during Mum's teenage years. Friends took her to Plett during the school holidays. In case you're interested, my Grandad was the bloke on the right, wearing a cap. Granny was the person in front of him. She worked in the machine shop.
When Andrew, Jem and I arrived in Plett the first Beacon Island hotel was about to give way to the new Sol Kerzner monstrosity that stands there to this day.
Not that we could have afforded either. Like the previous trip, de rigueur was sleeping bags, cold food and the deserted Lookout Beach for us. Jem and Andrew had brought "posh" enamelled tin porridge plates but I had remembered the indignity of the previous year when trying to wash greasy plates in the breakers with beach sand for soap.
I had come equipped with disposable styrofoam bowls (remember this was 50 years ago, before such containers were widely reviled). Boy, was I complacent relaxing after milky cornflakes, listening to Cat Stevens and Santana on Andrew's torch battery driven cassette player, while the brothers dodged the waves to rinse their soiled crockery.
After two nights of this, we needed provisions and Andrew added three eggs to our booty: "Fried eggs tonight," he smirked inscrutably.
"But how are you going to fry them," I inquired, unaware that we had a budding Bear Grylls in our party. Turns out he'd secreted a small pan and a Calor camping stove deep in the boot of the 'scort. A bit of leftover butter would do the rest.
I was impressed. I began to salivate at the thought.
After pride comes the fall (into the sand)
With the first egg sizzling in the pan, Jem prepared to receive it in his enamel bowl. It slid seductively alongside a buttered slice of bread. Salivating turned to drooling. In no time I was ready to receive my own feast and Andrew served it on to my disposable plate with a flourish.
It went straight through, taking my bread with it. The styrofoam had been no match for the heat of the egg and had melted without so much as a by-your-leave. It sat there all glutinous and covered in sand while the two brothers pissed themselves. I did try to wash the egg in the sea but it was too slippery. By this time Andrew and Jem were rolling about on the sand in mirth.
"Watch out for sand, Spook," Andrew shouted, using my derogatory nickname. Humiliation was complete.
Above L to right: The first Beacon Island hotel replaced the whaling station; Mandy (see below); Sol Kerzner replaced the hotel with the one on the right, which remains there to this day.
My egg debacle was not the only highlight of our the time in Plett. We spent our days on the central beach in front of Beacon Island, with a foray to Robberg, affording us a spectacular view of porpoises frolicking in the ocean below while Andrew's cassette player "blasted" out Matthew and Son as tumultuously as it was able. On the return journey we bumped unexpectedly into Mandy, a lovely friend from Durban to whom the brothers insisted on regaling with my eggy humiliation. Mandy was the closest friend of my girlfriend of the day, Viv, who was off in Europe skiing. Mandy's family was camping in the campsite in the centre of Plett with her parents and, I believe, her sister, Sara. Sadly Mandy died far too young from cancer leaving a hole in our lives.
We also met a family on Central Beach. Parents and two daughters. Turned out the mother was a golfing legend in the 60s, the women's equivalent of Gary Player, whom she knew well. I wish I could remember her name. It was instantly recognised when one mentioned it back in the 70s and. They invited us to stay with them at their home in Port Shepstone on our way back. We took them up on it for a night and dallied in the pool where they had the best lilos I've ever seen. Tried to find one like those ever since and never succeeded.
We left Plett during torrential rain that had been forecast to continue for a while. In my impecunious state, I imagined that we'd have to sleep in car. A bit tricky for three mature dudes in the 'scort. My companions weren't having any of it. Their parental travelling allowance came to the rescue and extended to motel accommodation just outside Knysna. I was glad of a "squatter" space on the floor between the beds and continued sleeping while A&J went off for a full breakfast. A housekeeper came to strip the beds, and I thought I'd been rumbled, but she daintily stepped over me as if I wasn't there. I pretended I wasn't.
Simonstown and Boulders Beach
We arrived at our terminus at Boulders Beach and gaped at the splendour of our accommodation. I've tried to don my virtual Google microlight to see if it's still there but I'm not optimistic. It was the optimum spot at Boulders and had a lawn sloping down to a cove, sheltered by the massive "boulders". Idyll was too bland a term to describe the setting. Our hostess lived in a smaller house in Simonstown, away from the sea. She came down to welcome us and to invite us to the local golf club for dinner, adding that she'd leave us to our own devices after that.
We had a few days to settle in before Cherry and her flatmate were due to descend so we were rather relieved to be economical with the truth about two young women descending on us for the weekend. Paula knew all about it, so it was fully above board, but, in those days attitudes about that kind of thing were pretty mixed.
We duly spivved ourselves up for supper at the golf club, and reported to our benefactor for more of her beneficence. She was quite excited about the menu du jour as they were serving avocado ritz as a starter that day. Avocado ritz, got right, is a splendid thing and we were hungry young lads. We were also from Durban, which was primarily famous for its curry, avocados and sugar cane, so we were smiling and completely unprepared for the apparition that arrived. This probably sounds ungrateful but shrimps in Marie-rose sauce surrounded by jet black, slimy avo-flesh demanded a further imbalance in the truth/economy quotient to summon up the appropriate approbation.
What with our delight at our accommodation and the generosity of our benefactor, we'd kind of forgotten the Durban curry advice given to our imminent guests.
"Mark Harrison, you complete bastard," Cherry snarled as we rocked up to fetch les femmes from the station.
"Wha-a-a-a," I exclaimed as I dodged a klap. And then the penny dropped, at which point I should've stopped digging, but I didn't. A bit like holding out my styrofoam dish for a sizzling fried egg, I retorted: "Oh! I never expected you to believe that old yarn ..."
"Can't wait for you see the cottage," Andrew interjected with an all-knowing twinkle in his eye. Cherry's flatmate switched her interest but my babyhood friend hadn't finished yet.
"The proprietors weren't very friendly when we asked for the milkshake and became a bit frigid when we insisted on the, what did you call it, 'sambals'." Her friend resumed nodding at that point but then Andrew turned the corner and the cottage was in sight. All was forgiven. They even cooked us dinner that night.
Cherry and I had "known" each other for almost all of our lives. Most of the time this would have been a virtual knowledge but Mum and Paula (holding us on the left) kept up consistent correspondence by letter so, when we were reunited at the beginning of 1971it seemed as if I knew her well. The picture on the right shows me as the introvert with Cherry clearly the extrovert.
Coming soon: Back to the future ... well, post 1975, anyway. Plus a few tangents into human interest stories
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