I like taking tourists to the Cape Point Ostrich Farm. Ernst the owner is a retired orthopaedic surgeon who takes quite an interest in the anatomy and lifestyle of ostriches. He keeps his in paddocks with a breeding pair in each, and he says that ostriches and humans have a lot in common.

Like us, they run around on two legs – but a lot faster than we do. They live for 70 to 80 years. They mate for life; but just like human beings, if they can get a bit on the side they will. The males are always in the mood for love, and the girls are not – they sometimes have a headache. To give the girls a rest from being chased around the paddocks by the randy boys he separates the sexes for a couple of months in the winter.

Then, on the first day of spring he puts them together again. It seems that, even with ostriches, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So, on that day they are all in the mood. “It’s like a whorehouse here” says Ernst.

Dad and kids at Cape of Good Hope

Dad and kids at Cape of Good Hope

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When I cycled from Cape Town to Durban in May 1982 I carried a tent, sleeping bag, cooking utensils and a few changes of clothing that I would need for a holiday in Natal and Sun City with the sexy girlfriend who was flying to meet me at the end  of the bicycle leg.

The camping gear came in handy at the caravan parks where I spent my nights in South Africa. But when I got to the independent state of Transkei there were no caravan parks. At my first hotel stop, in the one-horse town of Butterworth, I learnt that I had left a vital item behind. “We require gentlemen to wear jackets and ties for dinner,” I was informed by the severe-looking elderly female receptionist. My plea that I wasn’t really a gentleman was not accepted. She said that she could lend me a tie, but that I would have to find my own jacket.

Later that evening, as I tucked into the substantial hotel dinner, I looked around me to see if anyone was staring at me, because I was quite sure that I was the only person in the whole world wearing a tie and pyjama jacket. Fortunately the diners at such an upmarket venue were too polite to stare. Instead I stared at them; and reflected that, after dinner I would have a slight advantage over them: I merely had to change my trousers, but not my top when I got into bed.

My next stop, at the Holiday Inn in Umtata was unremarkable. But the clientele at this one was far more mixed than at any hotel in South Africa.

My final Transkei stop was at the New Carlton Hotel in Mount Frere.  A glance through the register revealed that I was the only paleface to have stayed there in yonks.  Nevertheless my bike and I were made very welcome by the locals.  Almost too welcome.  One fellow was most insistent about buying my bike for R100 and putting me on the bus to Durban: “Come, let us go to the bar and discuss this deal.”  Fortunately these negotiations were cut short when the pretty receptionist announced that my room was ready.

At dinner that evening nobody wore a tie. I watched the next table with interest as a hip fellow with a fuzzy-wuzzy hairdo sat down next to a large great-coated baldy from the Transkei.  After a while their talk drifted into silence, and the fuzzy-wuzzy announced loudly, “You know, I seem to be the only one making conversation around heah.”  Baldy muttered, “You people from Joburg make us nervous.”

After dinner I decided to absorb some more local colour in the TV lounge where I was joined by Baldy and Fuzzy.  Baldy thought we should go to the bar to get drinks, but Fuzzy (who turned out to be a lawyer from Soweto assisting in a local case) cut him short: “No – one of these boys will bring us a drink”

He dashed out into the passage and came back with the 70-year-old waiter who had earlier brought me afternoon tea in my room, and who had told me that he had worked at the Arthur’s Seat Hotel in Sea Point.  He courteously took our orders of a Carling for Baldy, a Castle for me, and a gin and tonic for Fuzzy.

The total bill for the drinks came to about R3 (things were a lot cheaper in 1982).  Fuzzy handed the waiter a R10 note and said grandly, “Keep the change.”  Need I add that the service remained top class after that?

There were a few subsequent shortcomings such as three power failures, a cessation of the water supply after my morning bath, and a few weevils in the breakfast Weet-Bix. But I wouldn’t have missed my stay there for anything. Incidentally, the lack of cold tap water when I needed to fill my three water bottles for the next leg of the journey caused some concern. But the clever 70-year-old solved the problem by getting water from the hot tap and mixing it with ice from the kitchen fridge.

When I hauled out a credit card to pay the bill (I think it came to R15) there was some consternation. Eventually a dust-covered credit-card machine was found, and a long-handled feather duster was used to clean it. The machine went flick flack and I was sent on my way with beaming smiles and enthusiastic waves.

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I don’t know why on earth I thought I would enjoy playing golf. Maybe it was because I’d seen somebody hitting a golf ball on the back field of our school, and it seemed to go incredibly far before dropping to earth.

I quite liked seeing how far I could shoot an arrow from the bow I had made, or a stone from my catapult; or how hard I could make a hockey ball crash into the back of the net, while avoiding the clutches of the goalie. Whatever the reason, when Angus who had been the goalie on our hockey team, mentioned that he had taken up golf, I asked him if he could get me into the Kimberley Golf Club.

He said he would get his father, a respected dentist in the town (who had subjected me to many hours of torture with his exceedingly slow tooth-drilling machine) to propose me as a member. I felt it was the least he could do. Within a month my membership had been approved. Angus and I then went to the club to pay my annual subscription and buy a set of second-hand clubs and a bag of second-hand balls from the golf professional.

The two hockey players then marched onto the practice tee, selected woods from our bags and started banging away.

I found out years later that it was much more usual to borrow or hire clubs, have lessons from a professional, and then play a few rounds as a guest of the club before actually joining the club. And it was also more usual to start hitting balls with irons before venturing onto drivers, which were much more difficult to manage.

At any rate Angus was already a member and had played a few games. So I imitated the way he held his club; I put a ball on a tee, and smacked it almost out of sight. This wasn’t as difficult as everybody seemed to think it was!

Mind you, not every ball we hit went exactly where we intended it to go. The very testy GM of De Beers who was at the practice tee near ours actually made some pithy comments about us. I thought of giving him a load of cheek; but seeing that I was one of his employees, decided this might not be in the best interests of my future career or golf club membership. So I satisfied myself with merely giving him a filthy look.

Enough of our balls went more or less where we’d hoped they’d go for us to decide to have a proper game that Saturday afternoon.

At 1 pm on Saturday when it was our turn to drive off from the first tee there were quite a lot of people behind us. I think this might have made Angus a little nervous: when he hit the ball it shot off at right angles into the bushes to the left of us. When I hit the ball I managed to slice it at such an angle that it went into the bunker of the 10th hole.

“What do I do now?” said I to Angus. He replied, “Don’t worry, your caddy will show you what to do.”

So Angus and I, with our caddies, set off in opposite directions. When my caddy and I got to the bunker we marched straight in. As the caddy dropped my golf bag into the white sand I said, “What do I do now?”

“Dunno Boss; first time I’m a caddy.”

“Give me that iron that looks like a scoop.”

He handed me a sand wedge, and I waggled it back and forth to make a little indentation in the sand that lifted the ball slightly and made it easier to hit. Then I swung! The ball went straight up in the air and came back down again.

While this was going on the four city dignitaries who were putting on the adjacent 10th green stopped what they were doing. I could see a doctor and a pharmacist who both went to our church and knew our family well. They looked bemused at the farce playing itself out in the bunker below them.

Eventually I managed to scoop the ball out of the bunker onto the fairway. The caddy and I scuttled away.

Mr Harrison the pharmacist called me back. “Wineou, you do not address a ball in a bunker; you do not take your caddy and bag into the bunker, and you rake over your tracks when you’re finished.”

I blushed and got busy with the rake.

I never fully recovered from that incident. But I did recover somewhat. I managed to beat Angus by a couple of strokes. I think he got 164 and I got 162.

If I ever do try to take up the game again one thing is for sure: I will not suffer from over confidence, and I won’t be asking a hockey player for any assistance.

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I don’t often use a lift (or elevator if you are American and prefer long words to short ones).

But, after some heavy grocery shopping today, I decided to use one to get the bags down to my car without straining my back too much. I then realised that not everyone is aware of the correct Cape Town technique for using a lift. Here are the rules:

  • If somebody is standing at the lift and has pushed the down button, shove him aside and push the UP and DOWN buttons. Several times. That way the lift will know that somebody important is waiting and will pull its finger out to get there quickly. It will know that you actually want to go down, and will ignore any other buttons that have been pushed by lesser mortals.
  • GET INTO THE LIFT AS SOON AS IT STOPS. Do not wait for others to get out first. This works best if you are fat and are moving bulky items into the lift. A skilled practitioner of the art can block the entrance for many seconds and may even trap people inside who couldn’t get past you in time.
  • Once inside, push past people hovering around the buttons and select the floor you want to go to, EVEN IF THAT BUTTON HAS ALREADY BEEN PUSHED AND A RED LIGHT IS GLOWING TO INDICATE THIS. Let’s face it, a lift doesn’t have much intelligence and might forgotten where it was going. Also, if that button gets forcefully shoved by YOU, the lift will realise that it must go straight there and ignore the idiots who only pushed their button once.


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My first car was a 1950 Nash. I never got to drive it.

In July 1960 my father was driving it through Kimberley when his Nash broke down. At the time I was working in the diamond mines, aged 17. He decided to leave the Nash there and buy a Packard and carry on to Johannesburg with his new wife. But first he invited my brother and me to have dinner with him and Sylvia at his hotel. This became an ordeal where he felt it necessary to give us a prolonged lesson in table manners that my mother (who had divorced him in Cape Town in 1946 for being a stingy arsehole) had obviously failed to adequately impart to us.

We learned to break slices of bread before buttering them, and to leap to our feet every time Sylvia entered or left the room. Which seemed to be exceedingly often. At the third leap my younger brother, an eccentric, shouted “Hup!” This didn’t go down too well.

On the plus side, a De Beers official from Scotland staying at the hotel had said some complimentary things to him about my progress in the company, mentioning that I had come first in the mine learners’ course. This mollified Dad somewhat. Prior to that he’d had exalted ideas about sending me to Oxford University (who fortunately did not have a course in mining engineering). He’d also wanted me to learn to play the violin.

Before we parted he told me that he had decided to give me the Nash, and that I could get it from the garage where it was being repaired as soon as I turned 18 and got my driver’s licence. As we shook hands he looked at my calloused hands and said that a gentleman should have the hands of a lady. I should never do manual work.

That’s when I knew he was delusional. It was impossible to work underground and not get calloused hands. I quite liked having those brown bumps on my palms. They made me feel tough.

After a few days the repaired Nash stood in the car dealer’s showroom like a big brown upturned bathtub. It was not a thing of beauty. Still, it was mine, and I was able to point it out to friends through the showroom windows. (The pic below is the closest I could find to what I “owned”; this looks a lot lovelier than mine was.)

1950 Nash Statesman

1950 Nash Statesman

About a month later it disappeared. Apparently the Packard had given trouble on the return journey, so he sold it and took the Nash back to his farm near Bredasdorp. I gathered that I could fetch it if I still wanted it, but I could see no way of getting there without a car.

To hell with it. I’d make do with my bicycle until I’d saved up to buy my own car. A smaller one that was less ugly, and not a petrol guzzler.

The first car I bought was a 1960 Ford Anglia. This is a close resemblance.

The first car I bought was a 1960 Ford Anglia. This is a close resemblance.

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Do you have a pathological fear of heights? Me neither. But I do have a healthy respect for dangerous heights. I would rather approach the edge of a vertical cliff doing the leopard crawl than a brisk jog – especially when there’s a strong wind blowing.

I started off life as a skinny, nervous kid who respected authority.  But  soon realised that facing up to my fears and challenging authority made for a more interesting, happier life. I went through a period of deliberately doing the thing I feared to do; and by the age of 10 was game for almost anything. By the age of 65 I’d had at least 10 near-death experiences (falling down or getting stuck on cliff faces, several spectacular mining accidents, nearly drowning while diving for crayfish in front of Camps Bay police station, and dealing with muggers and then some armed robbers who did not like me throwing my car and house keys into the neighbouring property).

Recently, though, things have been rather tranquil. The most exciting thing to happen was wrecking the back wheel of my bicycle while screaming down Canterbury Drive and hitting a pothole two weeks ago. So, for my 72nd birthday I decided to go tandem paragliding off Signal Hill.

Last Monday I found myself trudging up a steep path behind fit young men carrying paragliders in large back packs. After about 15 minutes we got to the launch site half way up Lions Head (Signal Hill, lower down, was getting wind from the wrong direction).

Mias, my pilot, was soon strapped into a harness behind me and told me what to do. Within seconds we were gliding alongside Lions Head – and then soaring above it looking down on the people who had climbed to the top. The view of Cape Town and the coastline was magnificent. This was easy! And fun.

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Maybe Mias shouldn’t have asked me if I suffered from motion sickness. I instantly remembered that this was the one thing that I excelled at. As a child I couldn’t travel more than a mile in a car without vomiting. Luckily we didn’t own a car; and others soon learned to put me in the front seat with the window open. I’m the only person I know who managed to get violently ill while shark cage diving, and even got queasy sitting on a surfboard beyond the breakers after a night of heavy drinking.

Straight after he raised the matter I started to feel a little strange. Then, while floating above Clifton, he offered to do some acrobatics. I said I would prefer it if he headed straight for the landing strip. We landed softly on the fields next to Maidens Cove. But I felt so dizzy afterwards that I couldn’t face the planned ride up Table Mountain in a revolving cable car to go abseiling off the edge of the mountain.

I’ll do that next year.

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Everything seemed so routine the last night that I worked underground. Only one thing differed from the usual – my resolve to drill and blast three ends instead of the usual two: I wanted my varsity vacation job to end on a high note.

My team of workers had not been highly motivated before – they knew I was there only temporarily and did not feel the need to impress me. But somehow, that night everything went smoothly; and shortly before the end of the shift we had drilled and charged up one horizontal development end, and two short vertical raises on the level below.

I thanked my team and told them they could knock off – I would “cheesa” all the fuses myself.

I lit the first raise, then hurried to the next one. It was important to finish lighting up this one before the first one began to go off as they both led off the same tunnel, and I could be affected by the dust and fumes in the relatively confined space.

I finished the second raise in time – no sound of explosions. Everything was going well.

I then ran about 100 metres to a set of steps and climbed up to the next level. I walked along the final tunnel to be lit up, with the spluttering cheesa stick in my hand.

About halfway along this tunnel I heard loud explosions going off very close by. I hesitated – one of the raises I had just lit up could be due to hole through into the tunnel I was in, and no one had told me! If this was the case my superior had failed to observe one of the most important mining safety rules: the miner had to be warned in writing when a hole-through was expected.

I was torn between my desire to flee and the desire to finish the job. The face I had battled to drill and charge up was only 30 metres away.

Suddenly, I decided that if the raise was going to hole it would have done so with the first explosion. (This is the “cut” and consists of six holes drilled in a tight circle and timed to go off simultaneously.)

I ran to the face, saying to myself that if something went wrong I could always return and cut the fuses before they burnt into the holes. I lit up the seventeen fuses and hurried back.

To my horror I found the tunnel completely blocked with broken rock. As I stood there another loud explosion filled the tunnel with acrid fumes.

I clawed at the broken rock; but it was no use. I couldn’t move enough of it to make a space to crawl through. It was now too late to run back to cut the fuses. In less than a minute I would be ripped to shreds by the equivalent of seventeen powerful hand grenades.

I sat down and clearly remember saying, “God, I’m not going to die now.”

Just then I felt a massive explosion beneath me lift me up. Then I fell through a hole that it had blasted, together with tons of rock. I seemed to fall in slow motion and as I fell an explosion went off right next to me. Flying rocks cut through my boots and into my feet. I fell onto a pile of broken rock and rolled down to safety.

The next day in hospital where the wounds in my hand, elbow and feet had been stitched up, I was visited by the inspector of mines. In the background was mine captain DT who had met me as I was being carried out of the mine on a stretcher, and tried to convince me that he had told me that the raise was due to hole into the tunnel I was drilling above it.

The inspector asked me how I was feeling, and asked me to tell him what had happened the previous night. When I’d finished he said, “That’s fine; but in future remember it’s safer to have someone with you when lighting up.” I assured him that was my last shift working underground.

“Just one more thing: mine captain DT says that he warned you that the raise was due to hole into the tunnel.” I had to inform him that nobody had warned me of this possibility.

It was the same mine captain DT who, a few years before, had instructed me to drill and blast the tunnel in De Beers Mine that caused devastation in the shaft. I almost felt sorry for him: once again he would have to endure a painful inquisition. But felt that any trouble he got into was richly deserved.

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