*Fuzzy Photos & Unreliable Tasting Notes **Mobile version
Above: Norman is the most notable exception from this attempt, in 1987, to gather a part of the diaspora that was Shelley-ann's and mine as we set off for a new life abroad. I suspect the reason was either that he hated big parties or had just felt disinclined on the evening. There are many other notable exceptions who weren't there for one reason or another and of those that are there, 8 are no longer with us.
It's a strange old diaspora, that of a South African émigré. Friendships last for ever in an intermittent kind of way. Precious moments, differences and even quarrels come and go but the same old bedrock remains. People one cares about, wherever they are in the world and whatever the current state of those relationships.
I would be no less sad to hear of the demise of a member of that diaspora if we hadn't spoken for years than if we'd broken bread and shared a flagon of wine yesterday. If there was prior warning and a "last touch" was possible, I'd like to make the effort to generate that one last spark.
And so it was with "Norman", "Spikey" or "Tony"; call him what you will. To me he was Norm or Norman for most of our attachment that had lasted from the mid-1970s when he was officially Anthony Kinnear, a fellow newspaper reporter and then my flat-mate.
Earlier this year I found out that Norman had terminal cancer. We had once been particularly close and still kept in touch at a distance but I hadn't seen him physically for, I think, a decade. The bond was still there and we'd spoken in the intervening years on the telephone, at times quite frequently.
And so it was that our little close-knit family of Shelley-ann (Shan), Kate and Andrew (Kate's husband and our son-in-law) were ruminating after lunch on a warm Sunday in September. I let it be known that I'd like to see Spikey again.
"You should go and see him," Shan and Kate chorused. I professed that I was a little nervous about travelling on my own in South Africa (at the time the thought was to fly to Johannesburg and rent a car and drive to Durban ... the way I'd always done it, often solo, in the past).
"I'll come," Andrew interjected, adding with his Aussie straightforwardness. "We'll make a road trip of it."
And so it was sealed. I phoned Norman and he seemed pleased. He was having a lot of Chemo at the time, and it left him savagely drained, but he'd decided to abandon the treatment to enjoy what remained of his life. The earliest Andrew and I would be able to get away was mid-November but that seemed a realistic time to go so we booked flights and car and sat back, supposedly for a couple of months.
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men ... 
Sadly, on Friday, October 6, I had a note from Camilla, Norman's wife and by now a long-time family friend, that his health was deteriorating quickly. With no thanks to British Airways (BA) I managed to get to Durban the following Tuesday evening. Thankfully I had some reasonable interaction with the man himself during the first day or two I was there but his communicative ability fluctuated and deteriorated over the week. I spent time with him every day but the interactions decreased and he slept a lot. With the benefit of hindsight I suspect Norman might have had some premonition when he suddenly exclaimed on the Friday:
"Go home Banjo."
I couldn't as my flight was on the Sunday, which enabled me to kiss my old friend on the forehead that morning before his daughter, Saxon drove me to the airport. I think he was just about aware of my presence, then.
During my stay I was privileged to be able to reacquaint myself with the rest of the Kinnear family and to spend quality time with Finn, Saxon, Jason and Camilla.
I arrived back in the UK on Monday, October 16.
Norman's battle with cancer ended on Tuesday, October 17. It would have been a relief.
Above: (top 4) random pictures taken in October of our old Durban stamping grounds; "that" picture taken by John Pauling - Norman, Garnet and me; (bottom 2) Jock Leyden cartoon of Norman and me running the 1978 Comrades Marathon *Norman finished long before I did*, 4 desperados in 1986, me, Andy, Norman, John.
... and then there was the original trip
British Airways wasn't going to give Andrew and me our money back. Besides, it was the perfect opportunity to properly celebrate Norman's life with his beautiful family and for them to meet my next-generation-in-law, Andrew (sadly Kate wasn't there but there will be a next time).
Our first leg was from OR Tambo Airport to the splendid Giant's Castle Nature Reserve in the KZNDrakensberg Mountains. We were blissfully unaware of an evolving crisis at home as we settled into our chalet with a sunset enhanced but cloud-shrouded view of the 3315 m Giant itself. An inkling of what was to come came when we couldn't pay our supper bill. The resort's connection to the Internet was defunct and we had insufficient cash. It was resolved that we should report to the main office the next morning to discuss how we would get out of our predicament ... we were there for a couple more days so surely they'd be reconnected before it was our time to leave?
We then set off for the splendid nearby caves with their Bushman paintings. When Shan and I'd first been there more than 4 decades previously, it had been thought the paintings were a few hundred years old. However recent archaeology has revealed that they were, in fact, started as much as 3,000 years ago. Our excellent guide explained the art and included some of the history of the area including the relatively recent British Invasion of the valley in 1873, in pursuit of Zulu King, Langalibalele. Our guide also mourned the relatively recent blight of poaching that had dramatically reduced the population in the area of Eland, the world's largest antelope.
On our way back Andrew insisted on bathing in the crystal clear Bushman's River before returning to camp. We had only just made the ascent back to camp when my senses were assaulted by an apparition in the form of Shan's brother Patrick (a.k.a. Packet seeing as name shifting seems de rigeur for this blog). Confusion and pleasure ensued: "How wonderful," I thought, "we'll be able to spend more time with him than during a short visit to Hilton in a few days time."
Turns out there was a more urgent reason for his visit. Our inability to pay our dinner bill had been the least of our problems with the camp's loss of its internet connection. Our wives had been frantic with the fact that Andrew and I had seemingly disappeared without trace at 2.20 pm the previous day. Approximately 20 calls from the UK had encountered a blind vortex. Packet had jumped into his trusty Mercedes and made the epic-potholed 125 km journey to seek us out. It was at least serendipitous that we'd encountered him just as we'd re-entered the camp because he had been gathering speed for his own walk to the caves (the office had told him that's where we'd gone). He was embarking on the same clockwise loop we'd taken so a mere minute might have delayed our Stanley-Livingstone encounter by at least a few hours. And he was in the same communications black hole as we were.
Happily we managed to provide Packet with sustenance before he hurriedly set off to set minds at rest. Before he drove off to repeat the 125 km of potholes in reverse he had the presence of mind to set up a message on his phone that would automatically wing its way to the UK as soon as he departed the black hole and entered the light.
The message was simply this:
From this Shan deduced that I'd gone blind and wandered off and had only just been found by Andrew wandering aimlessly around the foothills of the Drakensberg ...
The remainder of our time at Giant's Castle was spent gainfully with Andrew waiting for me on a long walk with a fair bit of climbing ... and then we set off in Packet's footsteps for a bit of potholing.
But, before that we were to visit my old school and before that it would be remiss not to air one or two of the 500 odd snaps assembled during our short sojourn in South Africa
Above:First sight of the Drakensberg proper (peaks of 3km+) from 50 km away as the crow flies; the Giant's Castle peeks coquettishly through the clouds on our first evening; the next day and it's there in it's full glory; evening approaches and the sun slips behind the mountain, lighting the clouds in a cleft in the range; Bushman paintings dating back as far the beginning of the first millennium and beyond; Andrew attempting to dam the Bushman's River, After a 7 km hike to "World View" the mountains now look further away, even though the crow would only have to fly around 10 km; "Ag please boss ... got a baby and a teenager to feed ... open da door"; a lonely silhouette.
It was a long time ago but my late brother, Paul, had been at Hilton College in the KZN Midlands and I wanted to show it off to Andrew, the next generation. A contemporary of Paul's, Brett Armstrong, was now a senior manager at the school and was keen to show us how it had progressed since the 60s-80s when I and Paul had been there. Extraordinary how the school has developed since those days. Keen as Brett was to show us the highlights, I could feel he was leading up to something and our path was moving inexorably towards the school museum, housed in what had been my dormitory in 1967. We were introduced to Bruce MacLachlan, the museum's creator and there was a nudge and a wink between the two men. Bruce returned with a blazer, which had been Paul's "colours" uniform when at Hilton in his final year. Evidently it had been presented to the museum that week by an "old boy" who had been given it by my parents, Shirley and Woody. After Paul died they set up a scholarship in his name and its 6th recipient, in 1994 was Doug Gain, who I believe went on to be head boy (or who may already have been head boy). Woody and Shirley liked to invite the scholarship recipients to dinner and evidently Mum produced the blazer as a gift for Doug, which he had kept until a few days before I visited the school in November. I'm not sure why he handed it over to Bruce but it is appropriate that he did. Thank you Doug and thank you Brett and Bruce for showing it to Andrew and me.
Above: Paul and Brett running out on to the field, probably in 1983; Brett and me checking out the scholarship board; Andrew and me with the lamps donated in Paul's name by one of his greatest friends, Peter Feuilherade; Bruce showing me Paul's blazer.
Not that there was any hint of doubt at the garment's provenance but Mum's rather ragged, painstaking stitching of the name tag made the blazer unmistakably Paul's.
We had a (proper this time) lunch at Packet and Susie Deale's at their gorgeous home in Hilton, overlooking Pietermaritzburg, before resuming our journey for its original purpose: toasting the life of a unique friend with his precious family.
We paused in Umhlanga for two nights and our accommodation was on the 7th floor of an apartment block (the Oyster Schelles) overlooking the doyenne of what has become the Northern tip of Durban, the Oyster Box Hotel. The hotel's bottomless breakfast provided the perfect platform for an interlude with Andrew, Ann, Jem and Tory (presented here, carefully, in alphabetical order and all having the last name, Hathorn). It is always good to check that some of the people you've known the longest are still behaving themselves. We also found out from Jem that the overnight lack of water in our apartment was actually a collapse in the supply to most of the North of Durban. We'd sort of expected electricity load shedding but dry taps were a new one for us in the burdened infrastructure of South Africa.
Happily the H2O was restored by the time Andrew and I needed to freshen up for the BIG EVENING OUT WITH THE KINNEARS otherwise we might have been a bit ripe heading back to the Oyster Box for cocktails and then to the pretty much incomparable Chef's Kitchen for a supper to celebrate Norman's life in an appropriate manner.
Above: Finn, Saxon and Camilla Kinnear joined Andrew and me at the OBH for sundowners; after which we repaired to the Chef's Table up the road for a meal; a novel way to launch a ski boat, into a seemingly perilous channel; like a lakeside Italian tower with lights glimmering on the opposite bank - the Umhlanga lighthouse has kept guard of its domain for almost 70 years ... it replaced the function of the original Oyster Box Hotel (OBH) that was really just a hut housing a beacon that shone out to sea; the sun did rise the next morning so goodbye to the OBH and its attendant tower; sharing the colour scheme the two buildings that dominated Umhlanga from the early 1950s and still do in their own way; sunrise lights up the roadstead,
My son-in-law excelled himself in entertaining Camilla's and my inheriting generation, all of them making us optimistic that the world might yet have a chance to be a better place by the time Andrew and Kate need to shuffle Shan and me off to that cushy care home in Letcombe Regis.
A little more nostalgia - when did we last go to Hluhluwe?
Before Andrew was born, that's for sure ... also before there were Elephants; or at least before they were restored to Kwa Zulu Natal after the rampant polygamist and pachyderm exterminator, John Dunn, shot the last survivor in the province in 1890 on the banks of the iMfolosi River. Shan and I had visited iMfolozi, now reunited with Hluhluwe, with Rory and Brenda Lynsky in the mid-1980s and there had been nary an elephant in sight. Plenty of buffalo, some rhino and a family of cheetahs but no ellies.
After a fairly easy run (the coal trucks were headed in the opposite direction at this stage), Andrew and I checked through the Nyalazi Gate at the southern end of Hluhluwe (and Northern end of iMfolosi) and while meandering up to the camp headquarters encountered our first ellie. Right. Beside. The. Road.
Above: no sooner in the park and there were ellies; baby impala - too cute for words; morning; our transport from 5 am - expertly guided by Pinky; Andrew's fave animal in the morning light; a new ellie strode down the road in front of us until Pinky got too close - she was pretty nifty with the reverse gear; duelling male buffaloes; completely ignored by the rhinos; warthog feeding time; croc eying up potential fodder, an nyala joins Andrew at the camp swimming pool; nostalgic accommodation for two nights in a rondavel - the beds were more capacious but we still had to use the communal washroom (it was a lifestyle choice for two days); evening; night; going back to the beginning of the day when a scary herd of buffalo blocked our path but Pinky negotiated them perfectly,
There are carnivores and giraffe in the Hluhluwe-iMfolosi park. We didn't see any (except, perhaps the croc) so we left some things for later. Now we were off to cousin Stuart's place in Mpumalanga, making good time despite the gazillion coal monsters that have taken to the roads to replace the trains that previously shipped chunks of carbon between South Africa's coalfields, in North-Western KZN and Eastern Mpulalanga, and the port at Richard's Bay on the KZN East Coast.
Although Stuart's dear sister (and my dear cousin), Jane, had died 4 years ago, he and I had never properly laid her to rest. This was important to me as he and I had not been close before 2019, which had been a cause of some anguish to our then Harrison matriarch, Jane, until shortly before she collapsed while working as a carer in Hertfordshire in the UK. She had engineered a lunch for the three of us at the historic Boot & Flogger pub in London's borough of Southwark and then dropped out at the last moment. Stuart had been on London on business and we enjoyed our lunch.
I never saw Jane again. It wasn't long before Stuart phoned me from Johannesburg on September 8, 2019 to tell me Jane was dead.
Once we'd got over the shock we agreed that I would fetch him from the station and we'd travel together around Hertforshire/Bedforshire where he, as Jane's next of kin, would have to complete the formalities to obtain the official paperwork. We were in the car for most of the day and got to know each other a whole lot better than we had before. It wasn't long before there were reciprocal visits between our house in Oxfordshire and Stuart's second home in Mpumalanga on a private estate near Dullstroom.
To cut a very long story shortish we discussed, inter alia, what was to be done with Jane's ashes. I was in England and my cuz was in SA when he contacted me to ask if I minded if he constructed a bench on the top of a mountain in Dullstroom and planted Jane's ashes there. Jane had always been a free spirit and the forever views from up there would be ideal.
"Brilliant idea," I told my cuz.
And so it was that Andrew and I were entering Dullstroom with plenty to look forward to. Not only could he walk up a mountain and share my introduction to Jane's bench but Stuart had corralled two of his three sons to be there, too. Ryan, Dylan and Kyle had literally been strangers to me and now I'd be meeting Ryan and Dylan with Andrew in tow (or perhaps it was the other way around). As a bonus, Dylan's charming fiancée, Sam, had taken charge of hospitality and Ryan would walk up the mountain with Andrew while the rest of us would take a more sedate approach in Stuart's bakkie.
Jane had always taken great pride in her nephews and I was about to find out why. Andrew was absorbed into their midst immediately and shortly after lunch they took him swimming, somewhat a passion of Andrew's, especially if it involved wild water.
Above: Andrew being braced and invigorated taking a dip in the Walkersons' waterfall; Ryan and Andrew approach the summit; Stuart, Dylan, Andrew, Sam and Ryan prepare to quaff a few bubbles in Jane's memory at Oinkers' view; to Jane, her family were all "Oinkers"; the plaque is mounted on a bench with an evening view that is constantly changing; three examples follow ... the last of them only slightly sullied by two Oinkers and one honorary Oinker; a black wildebeest; what type of animal is this and how many legs does it have?; the fire pit is ready for the splendid kos prepared by Sam and Dylan; it's a full moon that takes us into our last day in Africa.
After the "march" up the mountain the clan retired to the house and the fire pit for a feast, all washed down with some choice wines. The younger Harrisons (I include Sam in that as she is soon to become one) departed the next day while the remaining three of us went through a drying out process before returning to our respective homes.
If the future of our planet is being handed over to the likes of the six young people featured in this piece, our generation can have some optimism. I hope Shan and I will have the opportunity to entertain them in our home during the next few years with Andrew and Kate leading the charge. Of course, the bacchanalia would be diminished without the presence of Camilla, Viv, Stuart ... the list goes on.
We will continue to toast Paul, Jane and Norman as we do.
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