THE MINES AND ME (3): SONNY

Sonny was a tall, wiry fellow with an impressive schlong. I know this because a group of miners and learners regularly faced each other in a double bank of showers after work in the Kimberley diamond mines in 1960.

In case you’re wondering, men’s private parts were of no particular interest to me, but I couldn’t help noticing that Sonny’s member was not quite as big as Pielman’s piel; but was a lot bigger than that of the man with the high-pitched voice who had one the size of my little finger.

I recognized Sonny from school (Christian Brothers’ College). He had been a year or two ahead of me, and the first thing people noticed about him was that he had an accent like a Cape Flats gangster, even though he went to a fairly expensive private school. He was a very matter-of-fact sort of chap with no airs and graces, and used to belong to a motorcycle gang in the days when such people were known as “Ducktail Boys” who liked getting into fights with other gangs and short-back-and-sides types who looked down on them. Steel-tipped boots and bicycle chains were reputed to be weapons of choice.

Ductail

Talking about bicycle chains, the most creative use of one as a weapon apparently happened years later when Steve Viljoen, a tough little cyclist from Kimberley, was on an early morning training ride north of Cape Town when a gang of thugs in a car started hassling him. The car stopped ahead of him and the men in it walked towards him in a threatening manner. Steve just happened to have a tool with him that was used for de-coupling a chain’s link. He quickly used the tool to remove his bike’s chain, and with it firmly clamped in the jaws of the tool he advanced towards the thugs, swinging it. They decided that they didn’t need to confront him after all, and retreated. Steve was able to complete his ride without further incident.

Somehow Sonny and I found ourselves one day on the road between Dutoitspan and Wesselton mines. Miners’ private cars were not allowed in this security area, but apparently Sonny was allowed to bring his Norton 500 into this area, and he offered to give me my first ride on the back of a motorbike. Unfortunately he also offered somebody else a ride at the same time. This meant that I had to squash onto the passenger seat behind this chap while the three of us accelerated along a bumpy road, and quickly reached a speed of 90 mph. Sonny was quite amused at the sight of my ashen face afterwards.

The next time I encountered Sonny and his motorbike was when I was riding my bicycle home after work. He came up behind me and decided to help me by grabbing my right shoulder in a firm grip with his left hand while he got us up to a speed of 60 mph. Just before we reached a bend he let me go. The bend was too tight for me to get round it at a speed of 100 km/h. Somehow I managed to career off the road into the veld and bring my bike to halt without falling or hitting anything. Sonny didn’t stick around to hear my protests.

Why was I not too surprised when, on a subsequent occasion, Sonny told me that he had been to a rock concert where he’d had a bit too much to drink and, rather taken by the band’s skinny electric guitars, decided to make his acoustic guitar skinny by attacking it with a saw? Needless to say that didn’t work out too well.

On another drunken occasion he decided that his Ford Starliner sedan didn’t look sporty enough. So he removed the roof with a hacksaw and acetylene torch. This affected the stability of the car’s body and made it rattle. He eventually had to install roll bars which partly solved the problem.

Ford Starliner

I met him again in the late eighties. He was running a TV repair shop in Fish Hoek with a devil-may-care attitude. But he had settled down: he’d married his Kimberley girlfriend and he invited me to their home in Sun Valley where they lived with their attractive daughter. Needless to say, Sonny did not have the same manicured front lawn that everybody else had. He had an enormous concrete yacht that he was building in his spare time.

The after-hours message on his firm’s answering machine was so laid back that my children used to phone it just to hear his flat Kimberley accent drawl a laconic instruction while they dissolved into giggles.

He’s gone now. We’ll all be gone. But the sunny one’s memory lingers on.
 

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