THE POACHER AND PACHELBEL

Certain tunes are said to evoke memories; and there’s one in particular that evokes a series of images and memories for me.

About 25 years ago Alan and I were driving in my many-miled Opel from Cape Town to see a client on a farm near Robertson. Alan was a big guy with charm and baby face, and the attractive boss that we worked for thought he’d be able to help me persuade a difficult farmer to invest some of his considerable wealth with our share-management company.

As we cruised over the mountains it became clear that Babyface was not as innocent as he seemed. He’d had a varied life which included a dangerous but lucrative couple of years as a crayfish poacher. This involved anchoring his boat in a marine reserve and using scuba gear to dive for the west coast rock lobster. Alan did the diving while a helper manned the pumps that supplied him with air. And afterwards he sold the kreef to certain restaurants. If the police had caught him he would have lost his boat, equipment, and probably the vehicle he used to tow the boat. Not to mention a jail term or heavy fine.

He had been in the marketing of equity management for a few years, and had recently joined our firm. When there was a lull in the conversation I slipped a cassette containing classical music into the car’s radio/tape machine. One of the tunes that I had grown to like had a compelling theme that gradually built to crescendo of violins and cellos. As it began he brightened up and said, “That’s Pachelbel’s Canon”. Not the sort of information I expected to receive from a crayfish poacher.

Just then the car started to hesitate and the engine noise became distinctly unmelodious. In the rear-view mirror I could see blue smoke billowing behind us. We decided to pull in to Worcester. The first garage we came to was a BMW agency and they directed us to an Opel dealer a bit further on. We managed to limp into the forecourt, and the engine died. The news was not good. An engine overhaul was needed and would take a few days.

Alan and I tried to hire a car without success. We called off our appointment, found out that a train to Cape Town left late that afternoon, and repaired to the Cumberland Hotel to have drinks, then lunch and try to while away the rest of the day. Pool in the bar seemed an option. Alan quickly discovered that I was not a worthy opponent, but then a few locals drifted in and the standard of the competition rose appreciably. When money was mentioned Alan brightened up considerably.

He always seemed to lose his first encounter with a new arrival, but when the stakes were raised for the next match, he improved markedly. The beers flowed freely.

Later on an old acquaintance, Dave, from Forries arrived. Turned out he could give us a lift back in his Passat; but he wasn’t ready to leave just yet. Dave and Alan teamed up against the locals and gradually reduced them to penury. Eventually the last man standing wagered his nice new pair of running shoes in an attempt to win some money back. Before accepting the wager Alan made him take off his shoes so he could try them on.

It was a hard-fought match, but it ended with the local handing over his shoes and walking away barefoot as the three of us climbed into the Passat. I said to Alan, “You’re not really going to let that poor fellow walk home without shoes, are you?”

“Why not? He would have taken my money if he’d won.” My sorrowful look must have had some effect on the hard-hearted baby-faced one: as we drove past the loser, Alan lent out of the window with the shoes in his hand and said, “Here.”

Then Dave the driver put his foot down, and we left town at a rate of knots. He looked like Jack Nicholson, but he drove like Steve McQueen – at a speed of 180 along the straight. As we approached the Huguenot Tunnel I noticed that we were doing 140 while passing a sign indicating that the speed limit was 40 km/h.

Somehow we got safely back to Alan’s house in Kenilworth. Naturally our arrival called for a celebration, and Alan’s girlfriend broke out the wine while he got the music going. We learned that he had many hours of classical music on a huge reel-to-reel machine, and we weren’t going to get out of there until he had played his fill at maximum volume.

“What about the neighbours” asked wimpy me. “They love it” assured Alan in a tone that implied that they’d better!

Around midnight Dave said his goodbyes, and I began the process of persuading Alan to drive me home to the Marina da Gama. After finishing off the red wine he got into the car with a bottle of KWV brandy. I offered to drive, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

I endured a most meandering journey down the Blue Route freeway to Prince George Drive, as he swigged the brandy. A couple of times I had to wrench the steering wheel violently to prevent us colliding with the centre island. This really upset Alan who made it plain that he knew exactly what he was doing, and didn’t need any help from me.

Miraculously we eventually got to my place. As I gratefully staggered out of the car, still in one piece, I bumped into a member of the Marina management committee and told him of my hair-raising experience. The elderly man offered this advice: “You can insult a man – even call him a bad lover, and get away with it; just don’t ever dare to call him a bad driver. That is the ultimate insult.”

After a sound sleep I phoned the office and discovered that Alan had arrived at 9 am, hale and hearty. A true South African.

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