No fuzzy photos, shurely, ed?
Rule #1 for aspirant photographers: never mention the aspiration to Working Professional Light Monkeys (WPLMs). Rule #2: if your actual friends are WPLMs, they may concede that you can construct the occasional well-formed sentence but never a picture. Rule #3: If a WPLM gives you any praise, for whatever reason, ever, be very happy. There are some fairly legitimate reasons for this. I'll elaborate later.
In the meantime, I have always loved taking photographs, ever since my Gran, Molla, gave me a Kodak Brownie 127 when I was old enough to aim and press the shutter button. Most pics I took with it ended up in-frame. I took relatively few as film was strictly rationed. This was better than Molla, who contrived to miss with her own camera whenever possible. She singularly failed to capture an image of more than my late brother Paul’s hair.
I managed to get this full-length one of him, proudly protecting Dad's Alfa, with my Brownie that continued in service for quite a few years until I “inherited” a VIEW-MASTER Personal STEREO CAMERA from my Grandad, Cecil; the one not married to Molla. Wait a minute, are those wine boxes on the left of frame?
Actually, for Cecil, a great pioneer of photography, the stereo camera had been a trinket. He had wanted me to have his Leica M3 and lenses. My step gran wanted the Leica for herself and gave me the stereo job so she could claim she’d carried out his wishes. Initially the 35mm format and some adjusting knobs added an exciting level of sophistication. Sadly, however, the stereo meant that the slide images were ¼ of a frame. Extracting anything from those tiny slides these days turns out pretty fuzzy, as my attempts at portrait photography demonstrate.
I very much doubt that any one of Barbi, Jane, Sue, Viv or Carmela would have paid good money for these "portraits" from the tiny slides.
In 1972 I became a reporter on The Daily News in Durban. I bought myself my first “proper” camera, a used Pentax SLR, and started trying to become a WPLM. This never happened, despite achieving the front page with a full-frontal nude of a proper WPLM streaking on his motorbike. This led to some notoriety when the then pictures were rather less expurgated than hoped for. The pictures editor had “missed” with the appropriate black censoring cross. I have tried to recover the negs so that I can blackmail said WPLM but they have mysteriously disappeared.
It seems WPLMs just materialise suddenly from the ectoplasm and immediately close ranks. I did learn a bit from a famous photographer who ran a course at our local uni, though. He eyed up his students, dripping with Nikon kit, and ostentatiously pulled out Molla’s Instamatic when he took us out on a field trip. We processed the black and white film back in the labs that afternoon. Readers will already have guessed whose results turned out best. I did learn that it was all about eye and composition. The latter can be fairly easily doctored after the fact, and I’ve witnessed a few WPLMs doing that, but the raw material has to be in there somewhere. That is where the eye comes in.
As my recently acquired son-in-law (not a WPLM) sagely commented, while walking along a canal before lockdown and hearing me complain that I only had a smartphone with me, “the best camera is the one in your hand when you need it.” Do you know what? I got a cherished WPLM compliment that day: “nice pic Banj.” It was a closeup of a nicely lit piece of moss on some Victorian brickwork.
.A long standing buddy of mine, Gillian, used to be a WPLM (literally) until recently. Most of my other WPLM mates originated from print journalism, some of them moving on to other things. Gillian had a formal art education and she and I were an item for a while in the very early 70s. My cousin Jane of the earlier fuzzy photo was the catalyst. When we met up again, decades later, Gillian was Ligapie. She actually claimed recently to like fuzzy photos but I do not recall having received a compliment from her for my own work. Ever.
I do understand, really. WPLMs make a living from their photography and are constantly being squeezed by smartphone jockeys.
“There are game rangers out there with modern smartphones. They are in amongst the wildlife day in, day out and can take 1,000 snaps in a day. There is bound to be the odd decent one in there, somewhere,” explained Daryl (a.k.a. Bikey), a renowned wildlife photographer. Gillian, although a caring, gentle soul, would hold a similar view, having had to fund a couple of studios and heaps of expensive equipment.
And if you want to wind up JP just ask him why his Hasselblad, studio-crafted work is so expensive when one can “just do that on my smartphone”. His response would be more blunt than Gillian’s but the message is the same. If you want a reliable photoshoot you’re going to need someone with the experience. Imagine cocking up someone's wedding memories? Quelle Horreur!
I did sell an image on Adobe Stock a few years ago (above). Got paid £0.30 and jokingly suggested I might qualify to be a WPLM as a result. Well, this is a polite blog so I shan't report the responses to my suggestion.
I do have 22,000 digital images of my own and there are maybe a few halfway decent ones in there. The primary objective of this column is to record (mainly wine) drinking expeditions, exploits, capers and related japes.
Japes range from gentle perambulations with the wonderful, artistic Shelley-ann for dinner and wine in the back lanes of the Cinque Terre to staying around long enough to savour the puppy on the right in its prime.
Maybe the odd Slightly Less Fuzzy Photo (SLFP) could slip in to underline a point. That. Is. Not. The. Primary Objective. And Gillian graciously took a swathe of splendid photos to celebrate my 60th.
So that’s an explanation for the first half of the title of this series. If I get one to two “nice one Banj”s out of it I will carry a wine induced smile with me into the next world.
Coming next: A little undecided at this stage. Might try a bit of Back to the Future with a car filled with blank bottles or continue with the early days' potted history? Watch this space at a similar time next week ...
 Probably accounts for 22,000 fuzzy photos in my digital catalogue today and my reluctance to archive them.
 And inventor of a lot of other things including an electronic liquor cabinet … more about Cecil in a later chapter.
 Fake news alert but it WAS identical
 Her professional moniker was Ligapie (a Saffa take on Albert Einstein’s “Lichtaffen”) or Lightmonkey for quite some time.
Andrew Newby - an inspiration and true friend
Yesterday evening I received a lovely accolade from one of the most genuine and multi-talented people I know. I wouldn't normally write love letters to old mates via my newly established blog but he prompted me by apologising for correcting an endnote.
My dear friend, this was always intended to be a living biography. The clue is in my title stolen in part from Clive James. All of our generation's memories are beginning to falter and you (and other good ous) are positively invited to correct me when my memoirs stumble and I start speaking kak..
An all too short interlude in which these splendid ous treated me to a sumptuously fab lunch on the verandah of one of their favourite cheesemakers on the outskirts of Paternoster on the Weskus. Andrew and Heidi Newby. Outspoken when injustices occur. Kind and generous to their friends and those less fortunate than themselves.
It is difficult to keep track of the Newby menagerie but there are definitely horses, sheep and dogs that I saw with my own eyes in Hopefield, nearby on the Weskus. Certainly cows in the plan. When we sat looking at the distant sea, however, they were in the midst of moving to greener pastures. Literally. Not enough grass in Hopefield so they have long since removed themselves lock stock and barrel to Deneysville on the Vaal River.
I was a little nervous about meeting Heidi for the first time. Her reputation had preceded her as intolerant of fools, posers and Kafkaesque bureaucrats. She also speaks at least 4 languages (and probably many more besides) absolutely fluently. The 4 I can name with confidence are English, Afrikaans, Spanish and German. Every now and then, when they need to build a new barn or something, Heidi sets off to Spain or Germany to do some translation work. I am confident that Mila, their daughter whom I haven't met yet, is hewn from the same granite.
Señor Newbs and I like to waffle a bit and had already done so over a 4-hour coffee break in Riebeek Kasteel a few days before, which had turned into lunch. So we'd already had about 6 hours of talking kak by the time we met Heidi on the stoep of the Afsaal Padstal. She had travelled there separately so she could attend to some business in Hopefield.
Why did I worry? The nettle was grasped and we were all swearing about our mutual exasperation with all poseurs, exploiters and incompetents within minutes of being seated with this vista, looking all the way to the sea.
Andrew and I had had a mountain to catch up on. Cycling, photography, journalism (the state of), food, pretentiousness in that industry, cheese and exploits over our much interrupted more than 40 years of shared past.
Our friendship started out on the Daily News in Durban where we were petrol heads together. We must have worked that out of our respective systems because our residual interest was in the characters involved rather than the machines they and we rode, drove or crashed.
His culinary skills became evident to me very early on in our friendship. The sequence of things is lost in this mists of time but:
1. I recall asking his advice on cooking a proper evening meal for R1 (mid 70s prices). I believe this was probably as a result of a debate with my first wife, Carmela, as to whether I'd be up to the task.
"Banj," he came back immediately, "you must make chili con carne."
"You what?" I exclaimed. I'd never heard of it.
"I'll give you the recipe."
2. Larousse was reputed to be his bedtime reading
3. He was mightily pissed off that he needed two incisions to debone a duck and there was some famous chef who could do it with one (it may have been 3 and two but you get the gist)
4. From a very young age he has always ground his own spices with a pestle and mortar and is a complete fundi on a number of traditional curries.
Between then and now he helped me procure a motorbike, nearly killed me by letting me ride his competition scrambler while my wife, Shelley-ann, looked on in horror and has fed me more fabulous anecdotes than I can remember. Coincidentally some of these involved the fact that S-a's grandparents lived next door to his and were great mates.
We share an enjoyment of odd odes and human interest yarns. He is the master of recording these and has written at least one novel that includes some examples of his own life's experiences. Best to read these in the original. This is beginning to sound like a sneaky attempt at my friend's biography. That would be a completely nugatory exercise as his autobiography will always be a better read when he gets around to joining up all his stories. In the meantime readers have a wealth of material to be getting on with by following a few links I have provided.
In signing off from my brief tribute to one of life's genuinely remarkable human beings, I know he will be embarrassed at the unsolicited attention. But he needs to know how much his stories are appreciated. They are full of compassion, when appropriate, while not being afraid to poke a stick at an angry cobra when bullies and conmen cross his path. His acerbic wit is as sharp as a razor and full-on confrontation is never avoided when he deems it necessary.
Heidi is a more than able partner in making a difference in an uncaring world. Knowing this, I asked Andrew when we took our leave in the Cape last July, "don't you find it intensely frustrating trying to right society's wrongs?"
"We can't boil the ocean, Banj, but small things to improve others' lives do add up."
Eight months later, Heidi and Andrew were feeding hungry local people on the banks of the Vaal as South African lockdown commenced.
"The food must be nutritious," Heidi told Andrew as she sent him off with a specific list to procure provisions for the first banquet of curried dumplings.
I most strongly recommend reading the original stories. Inspiring, honest and told by a true storyteller.
PS: I have taken the liberty to insert Andrew's correction to the endnote, mentioned in the intro to this blog, in the comments to the appropriate blog. It relates to the accuracy of my recollections of the naming of one of Durban's most prominent hills.
 Good ou is a Seffrikkin expression for a good egg. Heidi and Andrew are unquestionable in this category
 Weskus is the local name for the Western Cape Atlantic Coast
 Andrew had been in the fine dining industry and hated the waste. I tried to persuade him that some of the restaurants in nearby Paternoster, Wolfgat in particular, shared his philosophy for humble beginnings and turning them into wonderful things to eat. I'm not sure I convinced him. You'll have to ask Andrew.
 Maybe even a fanatic.
 a) Some of his own words are part of his Facebook timeline; Andrew's contribution is filled with wonderfully eclectic headlines such as: "NO ROAST LAMB FOR MR JACKAL", "KATIE HOPKINS: FEAR, HATE AND OTHER THINGS", to name but a a couple.
b) There is also the website of the Newby Family Retreat, Heidi, Mila and Andrew's new venture with grass on the Vaal. .
c) He also has a current personal website that succeeds his earlier weskus site.
 Newbs, you will correct this quote, please? Readers who wish an accurate account would enjoy being redirected to the prime account. i.e. your own blog.
More than 50 years of drinking around the globe. Some of it louche. Some of it formal tasting. Most of it dodgy memory bytes recalling encounters with wine and the wonderful souls involved in making it, selling it and consuming it.
Dazed by a modern world that dismisses honest thought as “fake news”, Clive James’ recent demise spurred me to record some unreliable history while I was still able to recall any of it. Clive was an inspiration to many of us who wished to find the spot where literacy intersected with (often but not always hilarious) japes. Few have attained the heights of Unreliable Memoirs*, which crept up on us in the early 80s, gaining momentum as its author’s fame grew as a TV presenter.
Of course, I am not a TV presenter. Just a retired 70s reporter who looked up to a legend. When the Beeb re-ran the late legend’s Postcard from Sydney a few months ago and visited an old mate I found myself being reinvigorated. His friend was Len Evans, a winemaker in the Hunter Valley. I had dreamed of recording a few wine exploits when I retired. Some of Clive’s capers, albeit exquisitely drawn, had some parallels with my own.
Could I call it Unreliable Memoirs of Wine? I wouldn’t dare; I hope my current effort at a title doesn’t sail too close to that wind.
Returning to the “fake news”, it is my opinion that it is a liberally applied fake epithet used mostly by arseholes trying to wriggle off hooks of their own making. Sadly, if repeated enough by the biggest arseholes these things become adopted into our lexicon. Don’t get me started about “IMHO”. The H in that epithet is fake news itself in the vast majority of cases.
My anecdotes are mostly unsupported by fact. The opinions are my own and I consequently refuse to be humble about them. If anyone reading these texts is offended by this approach, please accept that they stem from the heart.
I may say I do/don’t like/approve of something/someone. It reflects a completely subjective but honest impression of my own. My friends, mostly those who call me “Banj/Banjo/Spook” etc. don’t do it to cause offence; well maybe just a little bit. I reserve the right to retaliate. Furthermore, if I opine that, for example, a wine/vista/plate of food/book was of less than 5-star quality, it has only been rated that way to leave room for creations that are perfect in every way.
Cheers Clive, a superb raconteur with a “colonial” dash of scepticism
Coming next: Early days. Humble beginnings and how digging around in the rapidly diminishing mental archives may or may not lead to some serious research into a thread linking cheap plonk with some truly splendid Chenin Blanc in the Cape today.
* © Clive James 1980
Health warning - RELIABLE notes.
It is an increasingly rare thing in current times to find people who genuinely care about their customers and who always go the extra mile. This week's blog celebrates two people, one of whom I have never met and one, perhaps the hero of this tale, who I met for about 60 seconds. I salute Aneen and Pieter Walser.
Writers I admire (perhaps they know each other)
Before I get started on my ode to this irreverent winemaker, and the woman who oils the wheels of the operation, I want to briefly touch on the latest endeavour of another couple I have never met but with whom there is a tangible synergy. I did promise that this "column" was about tasting notes, after all, and winemaking, and the people who make it have a great affection in my heart.
Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais literally literally inspired my first adventure into the Karoo Desert in Southern Africa. They publish these colourful books about their exploits in the region. They come in print and in online versions and are beautifully illustrated. I have quite a few now and every one makes me want to explore further. Now there's a tantalising new tome on the horizon: Karoo Roads which captures what true #Roaminations are all about. Yes there are destinations in between but it's the journey that is special to some of us. I didn't really get the Karoo until I went there. Chris brings a hint of Herman Charles Bosman to the storytelling and I hope my account of my first trip there reflects that.
And now for some Walser wine
In august company from left to right above, Pieter's wines occupy spots 3, 4, 5, and 7. More about this pic later in this article. Richard Kershaw and Craig Hawkins are also favourites and will appear in later stories in Unreliable Tasting Notes
I suspect Pieter may have crossed paths with Julie and Chris (even if unwittingly) during their treks of discovery around the Western Cape and beyond. Like Chris, Pieter has a great eye for a story and knows how to tell them. But as far as I know these stories only get told in his blog and occasionally on his beloved wine labels. There is insufficient space on a wine label to describe his ongoing quest for the perfect clay pots in which to mature his wines. These anecdotes tend to be reserved for his occasional letters to his subscribers and for intrepid visitors to his blog site. When one of his letters arrives, I put everything else to one side so I can enjoy some new revelation or the latest episode in a running saga. I'll draw on this source as I relate my own anecdote of meeting one of life's originals.
But first there is Aneen, mother of his children and, from where I stand, his greatest champion.
A little more than a year ago I was chatting to an old mate and wine connoisseur, Daryl (Bikey) Balfour, who mentioned some intriguing wine he'd just tried. He told a convincing story. "Get hold of Aneen," he said, giving me the email address.
Pieter and Aneen are people after my own heart. They grab life's adventures with all hands and their enthusiasm was immediately evident from the warm emails that went back and forth. It wasn't long before I felt like a welcome friend. I had committed to buy the wine for my Mum-in-law's 90th Family Gathering in Hermanus last June. A Kershaw case was already in my back pocket but I wanted something a little more outré for some of the guests I knew would appreciate such a thing. BLANKbottle Familiemoord (in the lineup above) seemed just the ticket. The story is inscribed on the label in all its glory.
During my initial contact with them, Pieter and Aneen were on a trade tasting expedition to London and Bruges. Ninety-nine percent of people would've used that as an excuse for taking a week or so to reply.
"Fantastic news that Daryl’s enjoying the wine! We’re in London at the moment ... would you like to do a tasting?" Aneen came back almost instantaneously. And then, as soon as they got back: "Arrived back in SA yesterday ... we were only there for 5 nights and it was madness as usual. Pieter is normally booked back to back for trade tastings from morning to late eve/early mornings. Not that we are complaining - it is wonderful! Our agent there is SWIG."
I need to go off on a spontaneous tangent at this stage. One on which I feel sure the Walsers would approve. We like to follow our noses and a healthy relationship with SWIG has ensued for me not only to procure BLANKbottle but also to make a frenzied order for stuff like a cheeky limited release of 2016 Barolo gold dust and rescuing a case of Craig Hawkins' wine that seemed to have "fallen off the back of a lorry" from one of SWIG's rivals. And the best wine-tasting ever in Soho ... the only F2F meeting I have had with a Walser and a whole bunch of others, including Adi Badenhorst. Pieter was doing everything on his own ... I wish I had his stamina.
Back to Aneen: "Pieter said you two were in contact," she continued after I rudely interrupted with my tangent, "and you’re going to let him know when you are coming back through Somerset West after your trip, for you to do a tasting with him at the cellar?" Sadly Pieter was out of town on my return trip, too, but Aneen's hospitality knew no bounds: "... unless you are anywhere near [our family holiday house] which is where we will be : ))." From our written correspondence I had no doubt the invitation was genuine and I was close by but these guys deserve a break with their family once in a blue moon.
After all family plays a big part in the naming and production of BLANKbottle wines as you can see below:
These are a couple of labels that demonstrate this better than I can. I've already introduced Familiemoord earlier in the story and will describe a brief adventure with that bottle to end off this chapter. Manon des Sources draws on Pieter's adventures in Marseilles and is inspired by a drawing done by his daughter. I would not presume to attempt a precis of the beautiful story that Pieter tells. Do yourself a favour and read it on Pieter's blog. Better still, listen to the audio. It moved this old git to tears.
My personal travels with BLANKbottle
I'm going to conclude this story with my own personal experiences with a case of wine in the back of my hire car. There are a few anecdotes along the way celebrating more than a few BLANKbottles.
It all started with Judy's 90th. Despite her protestations, a huge bash was planned in the garden of her little cottage in Hermanus. Actually her protestations were drowned out by those of the extended family (and friends) at the idea that the occasion should slip by without an appropriate selebrasie. Kate (my daughter and Judy's granddaughter, who had decided to surprise Granny with her attendance) and I flew out together from London to Cape Town and made two pitstops, in Somerset West and Grabouw, to collect the wine.
90th birthday celebration pics anticlockwise from top right: Packing the Kortpad Kaaptoe at Somerset West and I'm hoping my smile will be this big the next day; Kate smiling on the morning of the lunch; Judy with her first great-grandchild, Luna; Luna's Dad, Chris helped with serving and drinking the BLANKbottle ... this was the only white BB left.
We were excited for our friends and family to try the wine we had brought. We hadn't altogether reckoned with the challenge presented by many lunch parties that cross four generations i.e. that many guests bring their own booze and ask the waitron (in this case, moi) to keep their precious bottle(s) cool for them. Often this wine will be a generic Chardonnay or white blend, which is absolutely fair enough until the bar person offers:
"Would you like to try a glass of this superb white?" showing a specially selected bottle.
"Actually, could I just get some of the wine I brought?"
"Oh shit," the erstwhile waitron exclaims under his breath, wondering WTF this particular punter has asked him to put in the vast galvanised bath filled with ice, Windhoek and Castle.
"Was it this?"
"No, she only likes that ... we brought."
How naïve can one person be. I had had visions of guests coming back for more of what we had provided, possibly with a constructive comment here or there.
Thank heavens for Chris and the occasional brother-in-law/cousin in the younger contingent. Chris was super enthusiastic and mingled amongst the drinkers sussing out the likely customers. We both had "a bit" and time went so quickly that we couldn't remember which ones were which but were unanimous about the BLANKbottle whites ... I think there was only about half a bottle of white left by the end of the party. The reds were untouched
L to R: Kate with Luna's enthusiastic parents, Lane and Chris; the appropriately named Oppie Koppie being enjoyed two weeks later in the shadow of a rocky outcrop in the far eastern Karoo.
Cheese and wine (and maybe a jumper to warm a cold Karoo night)
And so it came to pass that I departed Hermanus on a second Karoo Road Trip with substantial padkos! First stop Riebeek Kasteel for almost a week, where I spent an inordinate amount of time in the Wine Kollective sharing some of my bottles with the backroom guys. Most of them knew Pieter but so much had been, and was being, consumed that I didn't really get a sensible opinion from them.
On the last leg of my journey I had been hoping to acquire some fresh pecorino to take to Mario in Joburg to show off a Milanese dessert with honey drizzled over the newly-cut fresh cheese, washed down, of course, by the remaining BLANKbottles.
Another friend, Andy, a cheesemaker from Hopefield, and the kind of bloke who reads Larousse for fun, had told me that I needed to go to Smithfield if I wanted proper pecorino. He confirmed this with a nod of great portent while treating me to a splendid lunch on a fellow cheesemaker's Padstal stoep, overlooking Tietiesbaai.
"Yes Banj, they have grass for their sheep there," he nodded, gesturing expansively in the general direction 1000 km of semi-desert to the North East.
"Yussus Meneer, this is blerrie lekker! Uitstekend!" my fellow diner enthused, passing his glass over for a refill. This was two days later in Buckley's Restaurant and Bar in Kerk Straat, Smithfield. I was enjoying a bottle of Oppie Koppie with a stonkingly good steak and needed to share my wine to save me from falling over.
The next day I got my cheese, and before heading off to Clarens for my last stop before Johannesburg, I had an hour or so to kill in the morning and thought I'd try to find some runny honey for the drizzling bit. No luck in Smithfield:
"You'll be sure to find it in Clarens, Meneer," I was reassured.
I had also been on a mission to get myself a woollen pullover while in SA. The real deal with not too much intervention between sheep and the knitted article. After all, Karoo lamb is a big thing but evidently not Karoo wool. Then, in Smithfield, I found this French bloke who hand knits these things. Problem was, he still had to start knitting and I had to head on up the road. So I bought a natural wool beanie from him as a consolation prize. Ironically, I found the beanie's complement in London, knitted from Scottish sheep's wool ... a missed opportunity, perhaps?
L to R: Lunchtime "pukka" tasting to decide; Proper wino accoutrements; a welcome partner; paired with Calamari
Next on to Clarens in time for a sundowner on the terrace of my gorgeous accommodation for two nights. It was still warm enough in the winter sun to sit outside and I pulled out a bottle of My Koffer and poured a glass while luxuriating in the mountain setting. Next thing a Durban couple, en route to visit relatives in Bloemfontein, joined me on the terrace. It would've been churlish not to have offered them a glass. They absolutely loved it and we shared a few anecdotes until it became too cold to remain outside and we had finished the bottle. They were effusive in their gratitude.
The next morning the gentleman approached me and asked if they could buy my last bottle as a gift for their relatives in "Bloem". They would be blown away my new friend assured me.
I would have loved to have fulfilled his request but had to explain that the last of my My Koffer was a designated gift for Mario and I had specially selected it because of its associations with the Tassies of yore. Pieter would understand.
I had a little formal wine-tasting at lunch-time all by myself. Decided to take the "Familie" on a walkabout. We preserved modesty with a brown paper bag during the stroll into town and while enjoying a late afternoon craft beer at the Clarens Brewery I did get some funny looks but I generally get those anyway so nothing to be too perturbed about. What a wonderful day, topped off with a fine Portuguese meal with a view over the Malutis.
No runny honey anywhere in Clarens, though. Tried everywhere.
Anyway, enough about the wine and back to the lovely Walsers to conclude my sojourn.
I feel I could compile a book from Pieter's stories. I just love his spontaneity and derring do. He even turned his own epilepsy into an opportunity. I would never attempt to precis or paraphrase his anecdotes. You really need to read them in the original for yourselves. I've provided some links in . I can't believe that anyone who ventures down that route won't follow other forks in the road, just as I did. I do so hope I eventually get to meet the Walser family.
Maybe somewhere in the Klein Karoo sharing a glass with Julie and Chris. Who knows, maybe Shelley-ann too? Stranger things have happened to all of us.
Coming up: Honeymoon with wine attached.
 More info about South Africa's legendary short story writer here.
 More legible label supplied or else read the full text
 Reading list: Epileptic Inspiration ; Little William ; Manon des Sources ; Familiemoord ; A personal favourite about finding the perfect amphora
 To be the subject of an upcoming blog of its own ... I'm keeping this one for wine related anecdotes (and maybe a little cheese - after all they go so well together)
 Gosh sir, this is bloody marvellous! Outstanding!
*Fuzzy Photos and Unreliable Tasting Notes
Above: OK so my nickname in certain circles was "Banjo". Perhaps it still is, although the circle is a little smaller today than it was a year ago. Biff, the signatory of the first message in the right hand frame, slipped away yesterday in 2022. How JP, the creator of the first card, is still with us is a miracle, may he continue scrambling forever. S. Norman Esq. is still an inscrutable enigma. It was a special time in journalism in the 20th century. Friends were made, not to be forgotten.
Journo mates back in the 70s and 80s actually wrote to each other. This blog is predominantly a letter written by me to my chums from those newsroom days after having moved to the UK in April 1987. JP's cartoon above was somewhat prescient in its depiction of yours truly already exhibiting signs of wear and tear.
Garnet "Groper" Currie was another consistent correspondent and Rory Lynsky dropped in from time to time. We nursed old-fashioned values back then and my letter in reply to these great friends is apologetic in tone, being slightly less personal in that they all got the same one. I hope they have forgiven me by now for not replying to each one individually.
A video was also created from this end and nestles somewhere in the back of a cupboard in all it's plastic encased VHS glory - every now and then I nurture a whim to convert it to MP4 or whatever. As each day goes by, the number of photo shops providing such a service is probably dwindling ...
Our 1987 newsletter in full
Opinions reflect those that were predominant 36 years ago.
And so, here it is, verbatim. That late-1987 newsletter:
"We are now ensconced in our mid-terrace, Victorian townhouse on the edge of Faringdon, overlooking the Thames Valley. The nights are drawing in and we are seated side by side before our borrowed word-processor to compile a structured bunch of waffle, which we hope will give some idea to our good friends in South Africa of how we are getting on in the UK. The fact is that some of you may've heard some of this before but we are sure that those of you will treat the boring bits with forbearance.
"Okay, so we are seated in our house with black and white cows staring at us through our lounge windows and are contemplating the five minute walk to the local hostelry where we will indulge in warm beer and those of us who find this repulsive, white wine. Interspersed between glasses of the aforementioned beverages, are such items of pub grub as are deemed appropriate by the landlord of the establishment and afford us the opportunity to eat rather well for a reasonable consideration. Crispy, barbecued pork strips with chips and salad are our current favourite and very filling at just £2.50 (think of a pound as being R2 for comparison purposes as that is the real exchange rate based on our relative spending power).
Above (l to r): we finally get the keys to our new home and are reunited with our dogs; we also embark on recording our new life on some ancient technology.
"If we decide against braving this mild (still not cold enough to snuggle completely comfortably under the down duvet bought at John Orrs' prior to departure) November evening to go down a pub, the option is an action packed evening filled by the BBC (1 and 2) or ITV (Central and Channel 4). Unfortunately, there is no Afrikaans television here so we are faced with the problem of having to choose between four programmes at any one time. This choice will probably be preferable to Bilbo and Baggins as they would almost definitely not be included in the trip to the pub although it is not unknown for dogs to spend the evening in The Crown (an Elizabethan edifice), but Bilbo is too partial to the crispy strips of pork to behave properly.
"However, the doggy pair have had their entertainment for the day pursuing rabbits, pheasants, cows and sheep on the towpath of the Isis (Thames) which is close at hand and provides many a diversion for them and for us on a weekend such as this one. This towpath meanders along the edge of the Thames which is rather full at the moment and is a peaceful setting for the many coarse fishermen who choose to while away their Sundays catching perch and then throwing them back in again. The paraphernalia for a coarse fisherman requires something akin to a Range Rover to deliver it to the water's edge. Apart from a collection of amazingly long poles which they use to actually catch the fish, they also require their purpose-built shelters, camp stools and a huge net which they leave in the water to store their catch for the day (just so they can show other coarse fishermen how much they have caught) before letting it go again. Anyway, enough of coarse fishermen, at either end of the towpath are situated pubs with the unlikely names of The Swan and The Trout which sometimes provide nourishment for the wandering Harrisons and their occasional friends. One such occasion occurred last Sunday with the Lynskys, Rory and Brenda, and the Duffs, Phil and Ali, at which more warm beer was quaffed to wash down a meal of bread, cheese and ploughman's pickle. The canoeists of you might have shown a similar interest to that of Rory at the safety course given by the local Council's extramural activities section. A bunch of English men and women in their canoes ducking each other in the freezing Thames.
"The Lynskys had been staying with us for a week during which time they explored the surrounding countryside and discovered places of interest which we didn't even know existed including a pub known as the Woodman that serves such poisonous brews as Old Peculier (sic!) and Bishop's Tipple. These particular ales are brewed for maximum alcohol content and three halves had Harrison and Lynsky reeling back to Faringdon.
Above (l to r): I suspect Rory might've had biltong in that silver foil - if you look carefully at the bottom of the pic the dogs are looking far more interested than they would be at the bottle of Tassie's that Phil is waving about; The obligatory Thames footpath walk with Rory, Brenda, Shan, Ali and moi; At the Clanfield Tavern with Adele.
"Were it Saturday and not Sunday that this newsletter was being compiled, we could have made the same five minute journey as we are contemplating to The Crown to the town square to go about our business of banking, procuring victuals, visiting the hardware shop or the bargain centre. If none of these establishments were able to provide for some of those specific needs that from time to time occur, we might have made the 20 minute journey to Oxford where we enjoy a wider range of shopping opportunities. Oxford is also one of three train stations which are more or less equidistant from Faringdon and which provide a one hour service to London Paddington, a journey which is made fairly often by the male Harrison in the course of his employment by the multinational organisation, Unisys.
Work begins in earnest
"However tomorrow will find him at the wheel of his company Rover (only a little one) on the way to consultation with a client in Birmingham. This is a journey fairly often made as well as journeys to Milton Keynes and Bristol. All of these journeys take between an hour and an hour and a half from Faringdon so you can see that we are fairly conveniently placed for all of these major centres although not very conveniently placed for any single one of them.
"Tomorrow morning will also find the female of the species at the wheel of the Homecare (Oxfordshire) Ltd., Escort panel van on her way to Horspath near Oxford where she runs the local Kirby vacuum cleaner service organisation on behalf of Philip Duff.
"Both of us have been most fortunate to find employment quickly and in positions that we enjoy. The social life of the community that we find ourselves in is very much rural in flavour and subject to the dictates of a day's work of a farmer. Friends spend most of Summer working in the fields until 10.00/11.00 at night and, while the more adventurous of those are still game for some revelry thereafter, they do most of their socialising in Winter when they do very little work. Hunting takes place on Wednesdays and Fridays so as not to interrupt the serious carousing that occurs at the weekends. So you can see that a full social calendar is expected over the ensuing months including participation in February and March in the Old Berks (contrary to what you may think, Berks is the shortened version of Berkshire and the Old Berks are the members of the Berkshire hunt) and Beagle Balls. These latter entertainments have necessitated the contemplation of the purchase of a ballgown for Shelley-ann, although this step is being deferred until the post-Christmas sales!
Above (l to r): Our social life in those heady early days was a veritable whirl - here hosting Jack Beasant (and his wife Debbie) in our new abode for his birthday; Shan did eventually get her ball gown, see here exchanging notes with Deborah Read
"This mention of a packed Winter calendar does not mean that Summer went without its social highlights. Barbecues (pronounced braais) were the order of the day and were held on many an evening when any self-respecting Durbanite would have been seated cosily in Legends. Those evenings where the company was good but the weather was too bad even for a British braai, have been spent in several local farmhouses ranging from 17th century to Edwardian, sipping port and eating Stilton. Some of you might have envisioned mass consumption of the ubiquitous bangers and mash but we happy to report that New British Cooking is in the ascendancy and makes judicious use of delicious and sometimes obscure locally-grown vegetables.
Above: early "County" clobber chosen to fit in with our new surroundings - here at the Windsor horse trials.
"A further benefit of being accepted into this bonafide farming community is that one is able to wear the latest "Sloane" styles with the approbation of said farmers. For those who don't know, many of the privileged spend half their lives pacing trendy and very urban Sloane Square trying to look like farmers and getting in and out of their Land Rover 110s parked for the purpose of being seen got in and out of. This has become more fashionable than Punk was in the early 80s and has raised the ire of genuine farmers who now find they have to pay fashion prices for their cords, waxed cotton, thorn-proof jackets, green wellies and motor vehicles (the genuine upper class drive Land Rovers, the wealthy middle class Range Rovers, the yuppies Suzukis and for those who don't quite understand, but have enough money anyway, E-reg Lada Nivas).
A break in the Med
Five months of sponging off the ever-generous Duffs and the availability of cheap trips to far-flung sunspots meant a trip to Skiathos in August for two weeks during which time sun, swimming in the idyllic Aegean, wine and giros were the order of the day. Long walks on this most attractive island did some good for the waistline for those who needed it.
Above: Carousing in Skiathos in 1987
If we weren't entertaining locals, there was a string of friends
"Having thought that we were taking a step into oblivion, we have been most pleased and surprised to have been able to entertain a positive stream of good Seff Effrican friends.
"The Lynksys have already had their mention in this tome but most enjoyable days have also been spent with the likes of the du Plessis, Gorge and Lynne, the former having been not once but twice, and having been dragged around the Cotswolds and to the Cricketers Arms somewhere on the outskirts of London, where scandal was caught up upon and still more warm beer drunk. In addition 22 Church Street, Faringdon has enjoyed visits from Harold Roffey (now a fellow Durbanite-in-exile) and Adele Ganswyk who spent several happy evenings relating her travels through Europe and her experiences as a London au pair before returning to Paul in Cape Town.
"Another person lucky enough to have made two 1987 trips to this shore was Ingrid van der Walt, a former Durban Burroughs colleague, and her company was enjoyed during a weekend in July with the ubiquitous tour of the Cotswolds.
"The list does not end there as a January visit by Catherine, Andrew, Carmen and William Wijnberg is looked forward to with anticipation as is a May visit by Woody and Shirley, a ? visit by Judy and Bill and a ? visit by S. Norman esq.
"This already extensive list has already been further extended by the prodigious letter writing of those dear friends who have not yet been able to make the journey but who have nevertheless made their presence felt in this most welcome manner. It is hoped that all of these kind people realise the strain that has been placed on the letter-writing resources on those in England and will accept this newsletter without too many "nudge nudge wink wink you see what the Harrisons are reduced to"s during chance meetings in Musgrave Centre.
"This evening's trip to The Crown has been called off owing to the time that has been spent compiling this sheet and the attraction that now exists in building a fire in the Faringdon house's ornate cast iron fireplace and sitting beside it with a glass of the Grouse and uno bano bino blanco secco, dogs at feet and Bach on stereo.
*Fuzzy Photos & Unreliable Tasting Notes
Above: Happy ending (l to r) My brother Paul, Ivor Wilkins, Me, Shelley-ann (Shan), her sister Kerry, their sister-in-law Susie Deale.
The whirlwind continued upon our return from our Cape Tour. Life was a series of jolly japes with friends and family with a lot of love thrown in. With Shan's support I switched my rented bachelor pad for a mortgage and an apartment in a tower block. Where was it heading?
On a bit of a labyrinthine journey it turns out. The romance continued but so did my impoverishment, having embarked on a career switch that involved starting from the bottom again. I had left my beloved journalism in search of mammon in the form of the pot of gold that was computer programming. But first I had to earn a pittance while learning the ropes.
I also had to sell my beloved Honda to scratch up a deposit for the above-mentioned apartment but had somehow never taken my girlfriend for a ride on said motorbike, although she'd been longing for a spin. This was rectified on its last day in my possession and while shuffling it and Mum's bakkie (ute) that I was using to move furniture, I managed to reverse into the bike. The damage was minor (just a front indicator light) but I had to give its new owner a substantial discount when he came to pick it up later in the day.
Shan had recently started a job as a house model at a clothing manufacturer in Umbilo and, while this wasn't her life's ambition, she made a new set of friends in the clothing industry.
Model to manager
This part of the story is not exactly sequential with the rest of the narrative ... it kind of overlaps at either end. Friends who follow this blog might recall that I came up with a plausible yarn vis-a-vis my beloved not needing to have a temporary (a year or two) sabbatical from our relationship while she toured the world with her bestie, spookily also named Shelley-Anne. I promised that we would do all these things together but it became evident that I would have to scrabble up the corporate ladder a bit before I could support a mortgage and a globetrotting lifestyle (many years later, globetrotting consumed my working life and that had its own challenges).
But at the moment I was nearing thirty with a 19-year-old girlfriend. By mid-1980 some kind of stasis was setting in. I won't say we'd got into a bit of a rut, but the signs were there. In the mean time I was continuing my long-distance running (I had completed the 55-mile Comrades Marathon in 1978 and was trying to regain the impetus/fitness). This was quite a selfish pursuit for a bloke conducting a relationship with someone not in the least interested in pounding the tarmac. It also resulted in bit of a bizarre incident that will take us off on a bit of a tangent ...
Shan was a competent driver and shared an automatic Chevrolet with her mother. But she had not had much experience with a manual car so I was encouraging her to use the Renault 5 recently returned to me by my ex-wife, Carmela.
On this particular evening I set off for a 10km run. I'd given Shan the route and she was to set off to collect me in the trusty Renault after an hour. Only I had a massive catastrophe while attempting to hurdle a double Armco barrier. Of course I did! My toe caught the top of the barrier and, as I came down, I tried to save myself by sticking out my arm at an awkward angle, dislocating my shoulder.
A kind couple saw it all happen and loaded me into the front passenger seat of their car and started to drive me home; they had offered to drive me to hospital but these were the days before mobile phones and Shan would have been beside herself if she'd trawled the route and I'd disappeared without trace. As luck would have it (thankfully I still had a few reserves of that at least) I spotted the little red bug coming the other way and my new friend managed to attract Shan's attention. The first thing she noticed was my ashen face in the passenger seat.
To cut an even longer story short, we ended up much later at Entabeni Hospital, our GP having failed to be able to relocate my shoulder at his home.
So, in a space of not very many months my 19-year-old heartthrob had had to step in twice to put me back together with hospitals involved.
Above: spot the Shelley-ann; (top, l to r) Catalogue duties with an unknown model; on the catwalk with Charmaine Naidoo and Dudley Haskins; (bottom, l to r) fancy dress party with Carla and other modelling friends; now a manager at Smiley Blue, seen here with Rita Coolidge, Martin Locke and Jenny Toms.
Above - jolly japes (l to r): acrobatic dancing at Garnet's pad in Musgrave Mansions; heaven knows but Shan seems to find it amusing that I've gained a third eye between my lips.
It was only a fortnight but could have been forever
I'm sure it happens to many couples at some stage during courtship, even those who appeared to have been as smitten as we had been from day 1. Shan announced in June that she wanted out. We were en route to a party and I was thunderstruck. I didn't help matters by over-imbibing-in-extremis at the party. Not in an aggressive way but I felt as if my life had caved in.
Once I'd sobered up (it might have been a day or two) I tried to repair the situation. Shan wasn't speaking to me so I tried her siblings and their Mum, perhaps for some advice or maybe even for some intervention on my behalf. The least I had hoped for was some means to contact her myself.
But ranks had closed. My despair descended into resignation ... there seemed to be no way back.
It was at this time that I was walking along Durban's West Street and by pure happenstance bumped into a good friend of us both, Nadine Pauling. She could see I was out of sorts, extracted the story while we stood there on the pavement, and commenced putting me back together.
The gist was that she'd rarely seen a couple as made for each other than Shelley-ann and I were. In a kindly voice she told me in no uncertain terms that I owed it myself, Shan and our circle of friends to make a more concerted effort at reconciliation and a new start.
With Nadine's help I regained my mojo. I had to do some detective work to discover Shan's whereabouts and by the evening of that day I was knocking on a friend of her's door where I'd found she was likely to be. I managed to persuade her to leave with me so we could reopen a dialogue.
She wasn't entirely convinced but agreed that we could take a weekend break together in the Drakensberg at the Giant's Castle resort to review the situation.
Above - some pensive moments at Giant's Castle.
The reconciliation wasn't immediate but within a few weeks, Shan being Shan, she'd made up her mind and engagement was on the cards. Not only that but, if we were going to get married, why procrastinate, she declared. A date was set for the 13th of December, 1980.
Of course you can imagine the rumours around Durba of pregnancies, etc.!
Above - some snogging takes place (l to r): still in the berg and a tentative reconciliation; some while later back in Durban an engagement is sealed.
Above: OK, we've agreed to get married, now let's get the show on the road.
One small challenge was that my fiancée wanted a proper celebration. I wasn't averse to that notion, either. But there was a small snag. None of us, apart from my parents, had any money to pay for a conventional reception and all the trimmings. My Dad would've liked to contribute but was sensitive to the humiliation this might involve.
So it was all hands to the pumps for the family. Judy rounded up her Morningside mates, many of whom manned pumps, too. Pam (Shan's wonderful godmother) and Gordon Baber provided their home and garden with a splendid view of Durban for the venue. Special mention should go to Mart for funding the food and for giving Shan away at the ceremony.
The result was a happy and splendid wedding celebration with close friends and relatives.
But, before that, we had to convince a minister to marry us. Shan had set her heart on the ceremony taking place in St James's Anglican Church in Morningside; evidently generations of her ancestors had had their nuptials formalised there. But there were obstacles. The minister, the Reverend Kingsley Walker, was a decent enough cove but our request hit the buffers when it was established that I was a) divorced and b) had never been confirmed in the Anglican Church. My parents, although nominally Anglican, were pretty much agnostic and I had had no inclination to sit through confirmation classes as a teenager.
As I said, Rev. Walker was a decent fellow and wanted to marry us but he had to get permission for a special case from the Anglican Bishop of Durban. The latter was a different breed of cleric. Bully is really the only word that springs to mind. He had nothing but contempt for me, being an unconfirmed divorcee. I was dismissed while he submitted Shan to what can only be described as an interrogation. Only a bully would have held it against her that her parents and husband to be had been divorced. She was furious and depressed at the same time. Eventually, however, Rev. Walker contacted us with the news that he would marry us in St James's with one proviso: I would have to be confirmed and Shan would need to go through the process with me, despite having been confirmed herself. As the next confirmation classes were after the wedding, we'd have to agree to attend as a married couple (more of this later).
Above: the same happy couple as depicted at the introduction to this blog but this time with my parents, Shirley and Woody and Shan's brother Martin, standing in for their Dad, Arthur. Their Mum, Judy, is on the extreme left..
Above: Nadine, at our wedding, making sure we are well and truly hitched.
Assorted wedding photos to follow:
I won't caption all of them, hopefully most are self evident so I'll just add context where I think it helps.
Above (l to r): Patrick Deale (Packet) delivering the patriarch speech; Ivor, best man; Andrew Hathorn was Master of Ceremonies; c'est moi, the groom.
You can see from the picture of Ivor, and from Susie's response, that Ivor's speech went down a treat. The Eriksen patriarch, Peter, (Judy's brother and an attender of many grand functions) exclaimed that it was the best speech at wedding he'd ever heard.
I guess this is where Kerry gets her own back, too. She asked me what rôle Andrew was playing at the wedding:
"MS," I replied.
"MS?" she quizzed.
" Master of Cere...; oh shit." by this time Kinks a.k.a. Kerry was in hysterics.
Above (l to r): the ones facing the front are my sisters, Cath and Sue, and Mary Hathorn; me with Chas Phillips and Rory Lynsky; Ian Curran, Mart and Guy Haines; Deane MacEwan, Sue and Norman a.k.a. Spike/Tony Kinnear.
Above: And we're off ... 
It had been a happy wedding, achieved on a shoestring by the participants, especially the mother-of-the-bride, Judy, aided and abetted by her friends and family. We didn't have much left over for a honeymoon and my dad, Woody, came to the rescue with flights and accommodation at Wilderness on the Cape's Garden Route. We stayed in the Wilderness Hotel, a fairly posh establishment in those days, which we seemingly shared with other honeymooners and a bunch of lantern-jawed musclemen. You could tell the honeymooners as we were the ones all drinking Pina Coladas before and during the evening meal. We blamed that on a hit song du jour, Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by one-hit-wonder, Rupert Holmes.
We had shared the outbound flight with the group, Blood Sweat and Tears, who were on tour in South Africa that year (we'd seen them in Durban a few days before). We'd been thrilled to meet and congratulate them and became even more beholden when it was discovered that the bridal couple had been allocated seats apart and the band cheerfully shuffled their coterie around so's we could sit together in the best seats.
While at Wilderness I decided to paddle my bride up the picturesque lagoon in a canoe whose gunwales protruded not much more than 6 inches from the water. It had been peaceful and romantic until we we had just turned for home and this massive powerboat appeared to share our water. The lagoon was small and the boat was fast and sped to and fro getting closer and closer to our hapless craft. I don't know how I managed it but I slammed the paddle down across the cockpit with a loud bang and gesticulated at our tormentor.
The phrase "Fuck Off" may have passed my lips just as I recognised the speed boat's driver. it was P.W. Botha the then Prime Minister of South Africa's Apartheid government. We nearly capsized in our hilarity.
Once we had regained the shore, made more difficult by near hysterical laughter from our experience, it occurred to us that that was why we were sharing our dining room with the muscle men. They would have been operatives of the dreaded special police that upheld apartheid in those days. The ones whose children were shouting and screaming in the pool "Gooi my na die son" to their neanderthal fathers, whereupon a "kind" would be thrown into the air screeching with delight seeming to hover before descending into the water. Attempts by non-bodyguard fathers to achieve the same feat with their own children were met with abject disappointment.
But no-one could dampen our sojourn in this all too short idyllic interlude ... "another Pina Colada, please barman."
Back to reality
As suggested by the first subheading in this piece, Shan left being a house model to become manager of a fashionable boutique, Smiley Blue, in Durban's then prestigious Musgrave Centre. I continued learning to program computers by day and resumed by night a degree in economics that had been abandoned a decade earlier for the delights of journalism.
And there were the confirmation classes we'd promised Rev. Walker we'd participate in, thereby earning the right to be married in St James's church. Some of my friends raised their brows that we were actually fulfilling this promise but we had given our word. At first we found it mildly diverting to debate elements of doctrine with a man of obvious intellect. But the precious weekly 2-3 hours of an evening devoted to meetings (that were increasingly proving to be more of an opportunity for acolytes to swoon over the handsome minister} soon became a chore.
After we had dutifully fulfilled our obligation for quite a few sessions, Rev. Walker entered the room for a session with his customary mug of tea, sat down, and immediately demanded: "Can anyone tell me the meaning of life?"
Before I could fully think it through, "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" escaped my lips. It was crass, I know, but it earned our release from the remaining evening soirées.
We shall see ... maybe Topless in Tinos (Serifos surely? Ed)?
*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.
*Fuzzy Photos and Unreliable Tasting Notes
Three amigos: (l to r) Tony Kinnear a.k.a. Spikey Norman (latterly shortened to Spike or Norman), Garnet Currie a.k.a. Groper, Yours truly a.k.a. Banjo. Picture by John Pauling.
I have to say I felt a bit glum after the dissolution of my partnership with Carmela. I didn't know what to do with myself and was overcome with an emptiness that took a while to put behind me. To be honest, I was lonely.
Our flat in Montpelier Road had two bedrooms and I prevailed upon Norman to enter into a sharing arrangement. It was a somewhat strange setup with a maudlin edge. We kind of felt that we were les étrangers from the world in which we found ourselves. We read weighty tomes and spoke of acquiring a small holding to share with dogs. We had occasional girlfriends (Norman more than I did) but there was a sense of being adrift in our late twenties. Maybe we'd stay bachelors into middle-age. All a bit dramatic and flying in the face of both of our underlying desires for the long stable partnerships that we have both enjoyed since those days more than 40 years ago.
1979 Gunston 500
The headline picture to this blog occurred in the middle of this period. Coming up to winter surf and an epic Gunston 500, South Africa's premier surfing event. The contest was held at the Bay of Plenty, opposite Dante's Cafe where we are seated in the photo. The waves at "Bay", as it was known to local surfers, could be pretty capricious and unpredictable, from minuscule to massive. The 1979 event started out massive on two fronts: the waves and the international contingent that was travelling to Durban to compete in the event. Particularly notable was the Hawaiian contingent, worshipped for their prowess in big waves.
First day of the Gunston and we were lurking at Dante's. The waves were immense. Not necessarily in sheer height as in some of the premier Hawaiian events but in sheer power, scary. Ours was a beach break and relatively close to shore, The swells were rolling in from a typhoon pushing against the Mozambique Current a few days earlier and which were now pounding the coast in Durban.
I was standing near the beach wall when one of the Hawaiian Team came out of the water exclaiming: "Man, it's sheer survival out there!" I believe it was Dane Kealoha, the eventual winner of the event.
A few solo ventures into the unknown
I went to a wedding on my own. It was a long way from home base in Durban; 140 km inland at Nottingham Road. I had agreed that Carmela should hold on to our Renault 5 until she set off for Australia. But I had my shiny new Honda Hawk and it was a sunny day and the wonderful Andrew Newby was getting married. It was a happy event among friends and I probably tarried a little longer than was sensible and eventually climbed back on my bike having substituted my leather sports coat for a supposedly toasty anorak.
I doubt I've ever been as cold as that. Not before and not after. Andy's wedding had been in the Natal Midlands at an altitude of around 1,500 metres, which can get way below freezing at night in winter. By the time I rolled into Durban I was stiff with it and could barely get off my bike. Back in the flat I thought I might thaw out now that I was at sea level. I soon realised that it wasn't going to happen without some corrective action and ran a piping hot bath and lay in it for 20 minutes before my torso became reacquainted with me extremities.
6Above (l-r): Helmet hair from riding my pride and joy to Nottingham Road for Andy Newby's first wedding; beginnings of a responsible adulthood - after the christening of my latest godson, Daryl du Plessis.
My next opportunity to wear my posh clobber also involved the bike and the christening of Daryl, son of my friends Jeremy (Gorgs) and Lynne du Plessis. Fortunately I didn't have to stray out of Durban and my body temperature remained stable.
Left: an official SFW tasting glass, left at our flat after one of the tasting evenings held in Oslo Court. I still have it after more than 40 years.
Having the bachelor pad in Oslo Court in Montpelier Road and having been introduced to a girl friend of Andrew Hathorn's who worked for Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW) we happened upon a ruse for entertaining our friends with free wine. All we had to do was to guarantee a venue, a minimum number of eager subjects to attend a wine tasting (such a chore) and subject ourselves to being tutored for a short while and bountiful quantities of wine were supplied along with suitable glasses for the occasion. Our wine appreciation took a welcome fillip, too. To this day I reckon there are more than a few of those 70s guests who have continued the tradition.
The uncertainty continues
Having reverted to a proper surfboard after a short stretch as a paddle skier, a fair amount of time was spent with the two other amigos around Dante's. Working on an evening newspaper meant we started early and finished early. If there was an offshore wind, the late afternoons were spent in the sea at Bay. Otherwise we might venture to the "ladies" bar in the Butterworth Hotel, although another friend, Ivor Wilkins, and I twigged that we might just be becoming dissolute a little too young (following in the footsteps of the journos of old and more recently Hunter S Thompson and one or two of our colleagues). So surfing in the evening and heading out for a meal or a game of bridge afterwards became the norm.
And so it happened that I accepted an invitation to dinner at the Queen's Tavern (a.k.a. the British Middle-East Indian Sporting and Dining Club), a classy curry joint alongside the racecourse in the Greyville area of Durban. One of those places where suits or blazers were de rigueur for men. I decided not to take a partner, which nearly ended up very badly, as several members of our 20-strong party had matchmaking ambitions for me.
As I entered the restaurant a group of my friends, collectively known as Deale, were standing at the bar (where else would you find them?). A particularly handsome young woman was holding forth and one of the Deale party interrupted her:
"Do you remember Mark Harrison?"
"Oh hello Mark Harrison," she responded before turning back to her audience.
I spied Charles Philips (a.k.a. Phorsh, heaven knows why) and wandered over to chat. I asked who the tall blonde had been.
"Oh that's Shelley-ann Deale," he responded.
'Hmm, last time I saw Shelley-ann she must have been about this high," I replied, holding my hand at about my own waist level. I had met her 8 years earlier in a Deale kitchen family soirée. She would have been about 11 years old then.
As I did this I looked down and this vision was crouched beneath my hand, smiling upwards.
"I know what you're saying!" she grinned. Turns out she'd regretted her original short response and had come over to make amends.
To cut a long story a little short, the Deale clan summoned me to sit between them and Shelley-ann. Patrick's partner Susie Haines (now more than 40 years a Deale) being at the forefront of this interception. Apparently my new friend was a little more tuned-in to what was going down and was distinctly discombobulated by the situation. Next thing she'd upended her curry on my new suit. In her embarrassment she'd eaten a mouthful of chillies and was blinded by tears. Deale done!
Not long afterwards the party dispersed and headed for the bars on Durban's beachfront. I offered Shelley-ann a lift. She was encouraged by her sibling group to accept and we all agreed that we were heading for the cocktail bar at the Edenroc Hotel. Turns out the Edenroc had become an old-age home and someone suggested the Bali Hai. Shelley-ann and I repaired to the Bali Hai. No-one else did. A clear set up. At this point neither of us was complaining.
Early the next week I suggested to Groper that I might have met someone a bit special. Groper knew Patrick Deale and approved.
That week the Curries and I had a long-standing arrangement to have dinner with Groper's sister and brother-in-law, Lorna and George Thomopolous. I had already arranged for a female friend to accompany me to this event and it was not Shelley-ann. But she was blonde.
But Groper had put two and two together and arrived at five:
"So how's Patrick?" he inquired of my partner for that evening.
"Who's Patrick," she inquired.
The rest is history with only the odd blip along the way.
The first blip being a short hiccough when Shelley-ann's beloved grandpa Eric died. Susie advised me to give her some space but then I received a phone call from Miss Deale inviting me to her 19th birthday celebrations on November 16, 1979. And so we had our first proper date.
Bye bye Oslo Cou(rt)
(My) subterranean flat in Durban was a bit of a legend. It had been our landing pad when Carmela and I had first returned from London, then a "bachelor" cavern for two divorcees and now it was going to be consigned to history.
Above: The entrance to the building in Montpelier Road with our cavern on the left - site of optimism, lighthearted bacchanalia, heartbreak and disappointments and then optimism again.
But first ... we had a few months left and a few parties to annoy and scandalise the neighbours.
My new love became part of that process, even though she never lived there. Mother Judy insisted that she should not move in before a proper marriage had formalised the relationship..
As Shelley-ann lived with her Mum just a few hundred metres down the road the obstacle was slightly academic and the return strolls to Chez Deale late of an evening added some frisson. "Drat" the cat, the adopted stray that couldn't meow, was often a chaperone when those short walks returning my girlfriend to home base played out. Then Drat would return home with me and retire to her perch on a high windowsill from whence she dive-bombed my toes if they dared wander from under the sheets.
Those who chose to be unkind failed to hide their scepticism at Shelley-ann's and my May to December relationship. Perhaps they weren't being unkind, just solicitous. The consequence was that we alternated between being inseparable and separable.
An example was Christmas Day 1979 when we were officially separable while each of us went our separate ways for the festive celebrations.
Norman and I spent Christmas Night in Oslo Court commiserating. We opened a bottle of malt whisky and sipped the last sip well into the morning of Boxing Day achieving a phenomenon ... consuming a whole bottle of whisky without getting drunk.
Love is often capricious during these formative stages and we were soon headed to Cape Town, lightly chaperoned by Shelley-ann's brother Martin, sister Kerry and my sister, Sue, who were on separate but parallel expeditions to ours in Cape Town.
Above: Cape Town awaits.
*Fuzzy Photos & Unreliable Tasting Notes
Christmas Day 1978 and, after a huge setback, Carmela seeks solace in Molla, while Molla seeks solace in the camera. Part of me wishes I hadn't taken this photo but it so well exemplifies how alone my wife was feeling that day.
"Irretrievable breakdown, how convenient," uttered the contemptuous regter with a smug grimace and a flounce of his gown. I had to bite my lip at his condescension on that sad day in court in Durban early in 1979.
The law stated that one party needed to appear in court to formalise a divorce after submission of a joint affidavit between husband and wife declaring that a marriage was over. Carmela and I had already sat in front of a sympathetic solicitor who was a friend to both of our families. He liked us and we liked and trusted him. He was not a pushover and tested our reasoning strenuously before agreeing to submit the affidavit.
So the regter was out of order but had to get his snide word in before affixing the official stamp. He wasn't interested in our wellbeing one jot.
In the early days our relationship was pretty much under the watchful eye of her tightly knit Italian family, complete with maternal Grandfather, 'Daddy', who shared their spacious home in Durban's Morningside. The rest of the family consisted of Papa Ciro, Mama Aurora, sisters Elena and Luisa and brother Antonio. Actually, Daddy was an Austrian aristocrat who had ended up on the wrong side of history at the end of WW1 and emigrated to South Africa from Trieste, which had become part of Italy.
His full name was Eduardo Giovanni Bruno von Thomann de Montalmar and he was a constant presence at the Morningside home, always someone to come home to for the children if their parents were working. Ciro and Aurora had a delicatessen and older daughters Elena and Carmela spent much of their time working there, too.
My first 'date' with Carmela was to join her with her mother and father for a concert at a formal Durban venue. If it was part of a vetting process, I assume I passed muster. My one failure was being a skinny dude and Papa Ciro set about rectifying that with stupendous Italian feasts on Sundays. For the first time in my life I became a bit porky.
I could go on but I am just trying to give some idea of how integral the wider family can be to the life of a young Italian wife. What's not to love! To this day I remain friends with the surviving extended Toscano family, now including Carmela's daughters, Carla and Nikki. My daughter, Kate, has too been succoured by them while visiting Australia.
I removed Carmela from this comfort zone when I was seconded to London immediately after we were married in late 1974. I went straight into a job in Fleet Street and my lovely 19-year-old wife was relegated to a studio apartment in Ealing. She was such a trooper and I was so caught up in my dream career that I failed to pick up on how lonely she became. Ripped from the bosom of a family where she had been a protected and adored teenager into a world where her husband was expected to be wedded to a newspaper bureau with postings abroad and weird shifts around the clock. My young bride had only the TV for company. The occasional holiday was compensation but really couldn't make up for endless time spent fending for herself in what must have been an intimidating and unfamiliar environment.
Above: Our first year of marriage wasn't exactly a gentle introduction ... (top) just arrived and in Hyde Park corner; (row 2 l-r) pretty much Carmela's only environment when we first arrived in London, Elena came to visit; (row 3 l-r) St Tropez, photobombed in Naples; (bottom l-r) Summer flowers in the Swiss alps, the Acropolis.
Coming back to Earth
It wasn't that long after we returned to Durban from our year's stint in London that I became Motoring Editor at The Daily News. This involved a lot more gadding about on staying-away motoring jaunts, including a month in Germany and the UK. By that stage we had a flat but hadn't yet acquired television, which was new to South Africa and consisted of not much more than a test pattern for a while. Carmela's parents lived just down the road and had a TV and it was easy to avail herself of the warm environment of parents and siblings.
Then came bombshell #1
Aurora's brother Merino (Mike) von Thomann who lived in New South Wales in Australia, became concerned about his sister and her family living in South Africa in the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising. He was able to help them move to Australia, which was great for them but left Carmela (and probably Elena, too) with a huge void. All of which could potentially have been overcome had
As far as beetling off to London was concerned, Elena's husband, my friend Howie, had other plans for me and lured me into the IT world. By the time I'd got my feet under that table with suitable qualifications, it was the end of 1986. It was therefore long after Carmela and I had gone our separate ways before Shelley-ann and I left for the UK, as it turns out for good, in April 1987.
Actually, I'm not sure Carmela will believe me to this day but I always did want children but had hoped to hold back awhile until careers were established etc ... . However, I can see today why she might have been exasperated. I was a selfish git. Carmela had been a saint.
Above: Some pics from the late 70s; (top row) some motor-editing activities in SA and in Germany; (2nd row) Kayaking was a favourite activity; (3rd row) Carmela and Elena were constant support crew; (bottom row) some 70s glamour.
As it turns out we did agree in 1978 to start trying for a baby and it happened quite quickly. Actually I became quite excited myself. At first everything went pretty well and I was quietly crossing my fingers for a little girl. Then it wasn't so great. Carmela was confined to bed by our family GP (who I think was a little in love with Carmeeela [what he called her] himself). He visited frequently and after some scary moments things started to stabilise. Christmas was approaching and we had things to celebrate.
It was a Harrison family tradition that we alternated celebrations between our home and Dad's brother, Graham's. Carmela and I stopped at my parents' home en route to the other Harrisons' for a Christmas knees up. In days gone by, the Toscanos would have been invited, too, but they were now in Australia.
Carmela suddenly started feeling abdominal pains and my mum, Shirley, accompanied her to the toilet to see if she could help. Mum emerged to say our baby had been premature and stillborn. She told the rest of us to leave immediately for the Christmas lunch and that she'd follow on with Carmela in a while.
I have no idea why I acceded to Mum's request. That seemed to be the way in those days. Mum would never have been cruel but her own background had been one of stoicism brought about by absent parents and, I found out, at least one miscarriage of her own.
Mum and Carmela appeared after a while and the jollifications resumed. I cannot believe Famiglia Toscano would have played it with quite such emotional understatement. Carmela was magnificently stoical. She shouldn't have had to be. I can only now imagine what was going on under the surface. She kept to herself and sought solace by being close to Molla, whom she adored. Molla had her own problems. I'm not sure she was much help. Neither was I. I was privately devastated, particularly for my wife, but could only watch her with compassion and resentment at my relatives for thinking life could just go on and we could have a bumper Christmas.
Carmela was, and still is, a warm compassionate person and would not have allowed that to happen to anyone else.
Above: Some of the sparkle went out of my wife, to be replaced with a sadder, more contemplative demeanour.
We continued with our lives but increasingly doing things separately. Of course, I had my work and associated social activities. Carmela started working in banking and made a few friends there. I'm sure they were some support. But I had the career I wanted and my family in Durban. Europe still beckoned. Her job was not a career and her all-embracing family had decamped to Australia.
We tried to make things work, Neither of us wished to abandon the vows we'd made to each other in good faith four years earlier.
It was finally Carmela who had the guts to call time. She would move to join her family in Australia. This was not a decision a young woman of Italian Catholic background took lightly.
Paradoxically, the tension eased in the lead up to our divorce and we have remained friends ever since. Kate, at one stage having developed a great fondness for Carla while she was visiting us in Oxfordshire, asked quite seriously what familial relationship existed between the two of them.
One last question for Mr Smug Regter
How was this convenient? Life is not perfect. How would Carla, Nicola and Kate have emerged into this world as such fine young women had we clung to a dream that had evaporated?
Above: Daddy (a.k.a. Eduardo Giovanni Bruno von Thomann de Montalmar), seen in the livery of his prestigious Viennese school before the First World War, died shortly after our wedding. He rebuilt his life in Durban and saw out his final years supporting Carmela and her siblings. He always wanted us to travel back to Europe and it was sad that he wasn't around to enjoy these pictures of Carmela, taken on our grand 1975 European tour - the first in Spain and the other on the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
*Fuzzy Photos and Unreliable Tasting Notes
I'd been pinching myself since I'd won the Mercedes economy test at Kyalami, South Africa's international Grand Prix circuit. Now I had landed in Frankfurt, had been installed in a hotel on the outskirts of the city and was being cautioned to keep an eye out for the murderous Red Army Faction (RAF). It was 1977 and German terrorism was definitely a thing.
Somewhat ironically sharing an acronym with Britain's Royal Air Force, this RAF had kidnapped the industrialist and former board member of Mercedes, Hanss Martin Schleyer, and were threatening further terror action. The Mercedes public relations team hosting the international motoring press were at pains to ensure we kept vigilant, delivering the message in our hotel conference suite. This suite was located in parklike grounds with a strip of grass separating us from a dark forest. I found myself glancing repeatedly at the window expecting any minute to see camouflaged faction members bursting from the undergrowth bearing automatic rifles.
In the event, the most dangerous interval of our stay was the press day at the Hockenheim Ring where journos, hospitality tents and a broad spread of the latest German autos were combined to make the best of the Grand Prix track. There seemed to be an abundance of Opel Kadett 1.2 saloons doing battle around what was quite a fast track, the motoring reporters eagerly dicing with each other for some ephemeral badge or other.
The star of the show that year was the brand-spanking-new Porsche 928. Quite an award winning sensation combining luxury motoring with a 4.5l V8 capable of 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds and with a top speed of more than 140 mph. Doesn't sound that much compared with the supercars of today but against the aforementioned Opels at 18 seconds and 86 mph respectively, it seemed a bit like oil and water on a Grand Prix track with journos giving it the max.
I was a special guest of Mercedes and more or less had my own PR person for the day. She lined me up with a few choice Mercs before asking if there was anything else I'd like to drive. As there were a few Golf GTIs buzzing around, and they hadn't yet been released in South Africa, I replied:
"The 928, obviously, but not much chance of that [there were 100s of press members queueing] so I'd be keen on a Golf GTI, please."
"OK," she smiled, "I'll get you a GTI, come with me."
Above (l to r): Opel Kadett; Golf GTI - 0-60 < 9 seconds, top speed 113 mph - with which I instantly fell in love, darting between the Kadetts and sundry other more pedestrian German marques - eventually owned one years later; Porsche 928.
After my allocated laps in the Golf, I returned to the Volkswagen "pits" where my Mercedes friend was still chatting to her VW counterparts.
She grinned when she saw me: "Now Mark let's go and get you your 928."
I wasn't intimidated for long and on the second lap prepared to let the beast have its head as I swept through the bend into the back straight only to find two Kadetts dicing wing-mirror to wing-mirror. Thankfully the Porsche had brakes to match its performance and by the time I'd pared 30 mph off my speed, the left-hand Opel had noticed me approaching rather quickly and ducked in behind the rival car. A brief sweaty moment before sweeping on to 140 mph before the end of my treat.
Incredibly in the day's jumbled mix of people and cars there was only one incident. A journo got a bit frisky with a Porsche 911 and spun it in front of the grandstand but, for all the smoking of tyres, didn't hit anything and was able to continue.
London to Sydney Rally
My memory becomes a bit jumbled after that apart from being taken to a gorgeous bar and restaurant up in the hills somewhere between the Rhine and Main rivers and the next day being apologised to by Daimler-Benz's head of PR. I was to have gone with them to Stuttgart to the factory but they had, apparently unexpectedly, come first and second in the stupendous London to Sydney Rally and needed all hands on deck ... they'd equip me with a car for as many days as I wanted it if I was happy to do my own thing. They'd done so much for me already that I elected to seek out an old colleague and comrade, Phil Duff, who was living in the Frankfurt vicinity selling Kirby vacuum cleaners to households on the US military bases.
Phil and his partner put me up for a couple of days including motoring out to a wine festival in the Mosel. It was great to see how an old newspaper colleague was making his way in Germany
Above (l to r): Phil Duff and his then partner, living in Germany; we partook in a Mosel wine festival in Traben-Trarbach ; me in the days of smoking overlooking the Mosel from Burgruine Winneburg castle.
England and Wales road trip
Then it was off to the UK to spend a week of annual leave, including a visit to the Lynskys. The most interesting anecdotes of my time spent with Rory and Brenda and Catherine are covered in a recent tribute to Rory. I'm sad he couldn't read and, no doubt correct, some of the details of this short interlude but it will allow me to make some stuff up.
Above: one jazzy Ford Escort - I only had black and white pics so had to do some trickery to get the stripes on using the wonders of 2023 Lightroom.
I had arranged with Ford in South Africa to test a prototype of a sportier version of an Escort that may or may not have appeared down South at some stage. What I do remember is that it attracted more attention than the Golf GTIs in Germany, even though the Ford was nowhere near as competent as the VW. The Brits can be funny like that.
No sooner had I parked it outside the Lynsky pad in Ham near Richmond than a teenager appeared at the driver's window:
"D'you jazz it up yersel' then?" he demanded admiringly. I demurred half-heartedly enjoying the attention.
Flashing from a bus
Wherever I went over the next few days the car drew admiring glances. It seemed that something attainable in its unadorned form became an object of desire because its pedestrian roots were clear beneath the flash add-ons. This one had a rear boot spoiler, mag wheels and a 1.6l engine ... oh yes and stripes.
Now I'm innocently driving this magnet down the A38 to visit my friends, Bob and Carol Crampton, at their abode at Windy Ridge, Crapstone (somewhere near Plymouth). I was minding my own business when I came up behind a school bus. A teenager seemed to have been peering out of the rear window when my stripy Escort approached, initially fairly rapidly. I had to slow down and took stock of the rear window of the bus. The teenager was beckoning to her friends and pointing at the car, which was now pretty close behind. Suddenly, as if choreographed (actually it probably was) 8-10 breasts were exposed. I can't be sure whether there were 8 or 10 because I had to focus some of my attention on keeping the car on the road and not running into the rear of the bus. I don't know how long it lasted but at least until the bus turned off the A38 and on to more local roads. I continued on my journey wondering what had just happened. Remember that this was in the time of "Carry On" films when an abundance of double entendre was not yet de trop. Carry On Emmanuelle still had to be screened. Carry On Flashing at Souped Up Cars?
My sojourn with Bob and Carol flashed past in a blur. They had very recently added a little Crampton to their family and Carol was determined that my visit should not be affected in any way. She dispatched Bob and me off to the local pub on the promise that she and their young son could treat me to a tour of North Devon the following day. So off we went. Bob and I had worked together in Durban on The Daily News. We'd had quite a few itinerant international journos doing a stint and Bob had been a favourite. It was therefore appropriate that we had been sent off to The Who'd Have Thought It a mile and a half away. Evidently, the name had links to newspapers and the pub had scrumpy. I'd had scrumpy before, in London at the Smithfield Meat Market in 1975. But that was for a quick pint at lunch time. Now we were in the home of the hallowed beverage.
Bob kinda warned me but we got into reminiscing and philosophising. The pub was quiet as it was early evening and one pint of scrumpy followed the previous. I don't know how many we had, probably not that many, and I certainly didn't feel affected after all the stimulating conversation. We'd been ensconced on bar stools and now was the time to make a move back to Crapstone. Sliding off my seat my knees just kept on going until they hit the flagstone floor. Bob wasn't in a much better state despite his local knowledge. The initial stretch of the journey back to Windy Ridge involved a steep incline that both of us continued up on our hands and knees. I'd like to think that we continued our intellectual reminiscences as we progressed glacially up that hill.
Carol did not judge us and Bob bade me farewell the next morning as he set off for work looking remarkably chipper. His wife had a treat for me ... we were heading off for Clovelly and then lunch at a pub that was legendarily rude to outsiders a.k.a. "Grockles".
Above, clockwise from top: Clovelly from above; Clovelly from below; Avebury earthworks; Avebury stones.
I was predictably blown away by Clovelly. Never before seen anything like it. I have subsequently seen similar places in England's West Country but none had quite managed to match that original awe of the houses tumbling down the steepest of hills to the little harbour.
We returned to Crapstone via the aforementioned pub for lunch and Carol primed me to observe the sign above the door.
"For heaven's sake don't say anything," she cautioned, "just let me do the talking."
I kept my lips sealed as I read the sign proclaiming, "No Grockles Allowed."
Evidently, Carol explained later, anyone foolish enough to ask "what's a Grockle?" would invariably receive the reply:
"If you don't know, you are one," before being turned away from the bar.
Whizzing around Wiltshire and Wales
I had been urged, by the Lynskys and the Cramptons alike, to visit Avebury in Wiltshire. Don't bother with Stonehenge they all told me, Avebury's the real deal. And it is. In the intervening 46 years I've been back quite a number of times. Driven past Stonehenge on the A303 even more times but never been tempted to stop the car apart from once on holiday with Shelley-ann before it was all fenced off with a charge for entry.
Above (l to r): the "new" 300-year-old bridge over the Usk at Crickhowell; the Bridge End Inn back in 1977; the sporty 'scort does a glamour shot somewhere in mid-Wales
It had taken three hours to get from Crapstone to Avebury and by lunch I had time on my hands. I decided to head to Wales with no specific agenda other than an association in my head between fly-fishing and the Usk River. By the time I'd meandered up the Usk, and was about ready for a pint, I was in Crickhowell and pulling up outside The Bear Hotel, an exceedingly fine looking public house. It was late afternoon/early evening and the only other people in the bar area were three young women sharing a table.
"Nice car," one of them volunteered as I entered. I sensed a North American accent. So far the Escort's only admirers had been Brits. I wasn't particularly surprised as, bar one or two exceptions, bog standard American cars were even more boring than their British counterparts.
They invited me to join them and the conversation turned to accommodation in the town.
"Are you staying here," I asked, indicating the Bear
"No, far too expensive, we're students touring Europe," they exclaimed.
Turns out they were staying on the edge of town. I believe it was at the Bridge End Inn. The Bear was too expensive for me, too and my new friends said there was room at the Inn. Perhaps they could show me the way if I gave them a lift in the zippy Ford. The car was beginning to pay its way.
The next morning, I had to set off early to meet up with some friends in London. Elaine was a mutual friend with the Lynskys and she and a pal were heading out for dinner. We'd heard that there was a casual section as part of Simpson's in the Strand, in turn located in the Savoy. Elaine and I were wearing jeans but with smart shirts, shoes and jackets. Her friend worked at Woolmark and suits were required for work. The three of us met outside the Savoy in the early evening and mounted the steps at the entrance.
A seriously liveried functionary stepped immediately into our path.
"Where do you think you're going?" he demanded.
"We understand that there's a casual part of Simpson's and we'd like to eat there," I introduced our party.
"I'm afraid you ain't quite making it, dressed like that!" was the response and then, and I don't know if he thought he was being helpful or whatever, he gestured at Elaine's friend, adding, "apart from the young lady, who is welcome to enter."
Fortunately the car was parked not far away and we went elsewhere. There wasn't much choice in London in those days.
Back to Germany, this time to Stuttgart to check out the Mercedes HQ.
This mainly consisted of an exceedingly splendid lunch followed by being handed over to the top test driver ... a mature gentlemen who was going to take me around the legendary test track at Untertürkheim with its vertical banking on one of the corners. The experience was both exhilarating and terrifying. He struck a relaxed pose behind the wheel of a 6.9l V8 S-Class and drove around most of the track facing me and chatting. Even as we approached the wall. I must've turned very pale indeed because he eventually faced the front and entered the "wall" at something like 100 mph. I'm still here to tell the tale so we got round the banking, my lunch still in my belly and the car slowing for the pits. My host was grinning benignly and congratulated me on my fortitude.
Above: Just imagine finishing off this partially eaten eisbein after a massive lunch and a tour of the Untertürkheim banking
Then the Marketing Director of Daimler-Benz took me to the Stuttgart Oktoberfest. I found out that I wasn't allowed any beer until I'd eaten either half a chicken or an Eisbein. Needed to grease the stomach lining to lessen the effect of endless alcohol. Not even having seen the latter and knowing full well how big a chicken was, I chose the Eisbein. No sooner than I'd polished off my second enormous feast and had a 2 litre stein in my hand, the oompah band struck up and the assembled community linked arms to sway merrily back and forth. My Merc-guy was on my right and an enormous young woman was on my left. Taller than me (I was 6ft then) and sporting considerable bulk, none which appeared to be fat. My guess was an Eastern European shot-putter. Not to be trifled with.
I nodded a greeting and she nodded with what appeared to be a stern expression and then added:
"I from Finland ... do you wanna vok?"
I think mine host helped to extract me from that one. My suitor seemed unconcerned about the rebuttal but perhaps was a little more strenuous in her attempts to dislocate my left arm thereafter. The increasingly drunken swaying had to continue until the marketing man deemed it time to leave. I lost count of how many steins we consumed before he eventually dropped me at my hotel as pissed as a lord. I don't often stagger about but fine wine at lunch time and an endless stream of pilsner had taken its toll.
My flight back to Johannesburg was the next day. I had a suitcase for my clothes and a plastic carrier bag for my contraband consisting of the smelliest cheese imaginable. Limburger, ripe Camembert etc. as a gift for my Dad who loved the stuff, the more rancid the better. It also contained a copy of The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh. Bob Crampton had insisted I should read it before I got back to SA because it was sure to have been banned and be confiscated.
When I eventually arrived at Frankfurt Airport and was passing through German customs, the officer demanded to look inside my carrier bag. She recoiled instantly as the cheese odour escaped. Shutting it immediately she motioned me through hurriedly. As soon as I was on the plane I retrieved The Choirboys, finishing all 346 pages of fine print just as we were preparing to land in Joburg. I hadn't slept a wink. South African customs didn't even bat an eyelid and I still have the book today.
A sad tail - the end of an era.
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