Monday, April 13, 2015

High and not so dry in Poffadder

High-and-not-so-dry in Pofadder and Munich

Have you ever been left stranded whilst you were on holiday or perhaps even when you were contracted to perform a job or a mission in a foreign clime?

Well I have.

On more than four occasions I have been left to fend for myself with only “Toddie”, a friend or two, a Good Samaritan and my own wits, to help me disengage from the predicament in which I found myself.

I hope you remember by brief description of the area of “poor grazing” found in the upper regions of the Northern Cape in South Africa.  The one-horse, one-bar, one-shop, one-church, one-petrol station, 10-farmers, 20-locals, and one hundred fifty thousand sheep, town of Pofadder stays sun-burnt on my aging hard drive.

In the month of November the temperature hovers in the upper thirties and settles around forty-three degrees at noon, and that’s in the shade. It was a Sunday and ten local English-speaking actors were assembling for breakfast in the Pofadder Hotel. We were all nursing hangovers as the previous night had been our wrap party.  Bloody Marys were organised by yours truly and gently sipped as we partook of a large Boere breakfast. Boerwors, - that’s like a sausage, bacon, liver, spiced mince, fried eggs, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. A lavish cholesterol packed meal fit for a Springbok front row forward.

We had been informed that we would be picked up at eleven o’clock and be driven to the nearest airport five hundred and fifty kilometres away at Uppington. Our flight back to civilisation in Egoli, the city of gold - Johannesburg, was booked for 5 p.m. and we were told that the drive would only take five hours.

Although this all happened in the early nineties the Sunday Gestapo observance laws of the Second World War remained securely locked in force in Pofadder. Had I not organised the purchase the previous morning, of a take-away supply of vodka, beer and wine we would have dryless-in-Pofadder, so to speak.

The Hotel owner, known affectionately as Oom Jan, was a good-hearted soul and was used to entertaining “uitlanders” – people from overseas. Although the bar was securely barricaded and completely off limits even to us guests he was happy to let us consume our beverages in the garden next to the swimming pool or on the well shaded patio. He also willingly served us with non-alcoholic mixers and gave us pots of herbal rooibos tea.

Iced rooibos with a splash of vodka and a twist of lemon is a beautifully refreshing drink and I heartily recommend it. Oom Jan told me that I was not the first visitor to imbibe of this delicious
beverage. He pointed to a photograph on the lobby wall. Nicki Lauder, Nigel Mansel and Michael Schummacher all linked arm in arm with glasses raised toasting the setting sun.

Oom Jan explained that they were regular visitors and that this photo was very valuable. All these formula-one drivers raced for different teams and to have Honda-Williams, Ferrari, and Jaguar personnel staying at his hotel at the same time was a strange occurrence.

 “Why”, I asked.

“The teams, they is coming here to test drive. They is using the airport runway.”

“What runway, I though the nearest airport was at Uppington?”

“Ja, she is!” he replied curtly and continued with a whisper, “But they is using the secret one!”

My ears pricked up, eager to hear yet another conspiracy theory, which were common urban legends circulating in the soon to be liberated apartheid South Africa.

He continued moving closer to my sun recliner so he could whisper in my ear. “We, us Nats, we have to be building it during the onslaught. The reds under the bed. The Yanks couldn’t be landing their Lockheed C-5 Galaxys at Waterkloof military base near Pretoria when we is up in Angola, right?”

I had no idea were Angola was never mind Pretoria and I’d never heard of a C-5 Galaxy, which sounded like cosmic chocolate bar, so I was soaking up every word.

“The Cubans man, they is up there! Thousands of the fuckas, and we is only eighty ks from Luanda! They is supplying old Savimbi with arms, the Yanks. They bring in everything, artillery, tanks, the works!”

I donned my John Le Care hat and poured him a drink. He beamed from ear to ear, knocked back a huge gulp, licked his lips and continued. “You see, Waterkloof, she is too high, on the Highveld, altitude is too high. Those big fuckers, the C-5s, they’s needing a lot of fuel for landings and take-offs, right?”

 I nodded in agreement trying to recall my A-level physics lessons in aero-dymanics.

“So we Boere maak a plan! We builds them a longer runway down here. They is nearer to the Angloan border and we is helping them fuck up the Cubans! And should the shit hit the fan, we’s got an brand new airport!”

 I think I got the picture.

 “So what happens at this runway now? A white- elephant?” seemed the obvious question.

 “Hell no man! They’s using it.” he said pointing to the photograph on the wall, “for their testing.”

“The formula-one teams?”  I asked.

“Ja, twice a year they comes in droves only for two or three days and we tries never to book them double. You know, to have two different teams at the same time. They don’t like that, ‘cause of espionage!”

 “Spying”, I enquired.

 “Ja, their trade secrets, close to the chest man”, he whispered as I refilled his glass. “They come in winter when she is cold and then in summer when its baaia varm like now. Test their cars at extreme temperatures.”

 “So what happened there?” I asked pointing to the photograph.

“Jerra man! That was Nigel, a Pom like you Cess, he discovered the rooibos and vodka and refused to leave. He had two chicks with him and he wanted to party like. Him and Nickie were great buddies and then Schooey arrived with his team and I had them all for two days! Lekker

Suddenly we were interrupted by a very disagreeable junior thespian in a near state of panic, who inadvertently knocked over my bottle of vodka and told us that it was quarter past two.

 “So what?” I said as I licked the spilt vodka off the tabletop. The poor young man broke into a soliloquy of a man demented.

“We’ve all been trying to reach them. We can’t get through. Nobody’s answering their phones, We’ve tried the assistant director, the transport manager, even the director and the grips and lighting department, they’ve gone! Everybody’s gone! There’s nobody in town, nobody!”

“Of course not son,” said Oom Jan trying to calm the young man down, “It’s Sunday, nobody moves on a Sunday in Pofadder, not even Schumacher!”

“They were meant to be taking us to the airport at eleven o’clock!!”

Oom Jan and I broke into uncontrollable laughter and I poured us another drink. “Join us.” I said to the young thespian, who seemed to be wetting his pants with agitation at the thought of being marooned in Pofadder. “I’ve even tried calling my agent!”

 I was about to say, “And what would that achieve?” but I thought better of it, as I did not want to disillusion the youngster as to the futility of agents at such a tender age.

Oom Jan sprang into Boere action. A true good Samaritan. “Tell your okes to load up my Kombi, I’lls drive you.”

We arrived at Uppington airport well in time to board our flight to Johannesburg. Oom Jan had donned the feet of his idol Mr. Shumacher. I was sorry that I had fallen asleep on the back seat of the Kombi and missed our low flying drive at two hundred and ninety kilometres an hour through the desert.

I’ll tell you about Munich next month. It was a bit drier but not much.


Meg said...

Most entertaining, all sorts of secret delights going on in small town South Africa...

Sir Cess Poole said...

thanx Meg. are you a follower? Send a freind request to facebook. Ciao.

Nicky Rebelo said...

I recall that the hotel owner took great pleasure in sending a poor old coloured man, whom we met at an intersection on our dash to Upington airport, on the wrong road to the local prison. The old man was wanting to visit his son. "Loop in jou moer in" (walk to your bloody death), the hotel owner said as he drove off again. Thanks for the memory Cess.

Sir Cess Poole said...

Remeber that too Nicky. We were almost in Uppington right?

Alexandra Romanova said...

Sir Cess

Another piece of perfect writing engineering - keep up the good words! Lady Alexandra

Adrian Galley said...

Great story, well told. It's as if I was there.Thanks Cess