Monday, 9 July 2012

An Unexpected Adventure

It was early Saturday morning when Dadonator roused us from our whiskey-laden slumber. Must've been around 5am, even though he wanted to hit the road by 4:30, he must have recognised that Bruce and I would be of little to no use as back-up drivers without an extra hour.

We were leaving Pretoria, barely 24 hours after landing in Joburg and driving through there to visit my Pa in hospital. The night before, I was determined to stay, but there was no need. And my dad would need assistance behind the wheel if he wanted to get back to Cape Town by Saturday night. We started the trek well before sunrise, with dawn chasing our backs, yet dark enough to still feel like night time. Me, in my brother-in-law's Mazda 2, which he graciously loaned me for the trip to Pretoria at 1am on Friday morning, Dadonator  in his Jetta (the one just before the current model) hurtling along to North Riding to drop Robin's car before beginning our homeward journey.

The stopover at Robin's place was brief. He had a 6:30 flight to Cape Town to catch, and we wanted to hit Kroonstad by breakfast time. Once there, we managed to catch some Super Rugby action while downing Steers and too-milky coffee at the petrol station diner. It hit me that it had been a while since the three of us had watched a rugby game together, and far too many years had passed since my dad, my brother and I had been on the long road together. It must have been more than a decade ago. Far too long. Far too long to not do what had been such an integral part of our young life. The long road. The packed cars. The skottel-braais at picnic spots at the side of the road. Sitting on pillows and bedding that hours before had kept out the cold that creeps so easily into a car in the dead of night. The cold that lingers long after the sun has risen and sits golden ahead of you, casting a fiery orange glow on everything.

I took the wheel from Kroonstad. The 1.4 TSI is a marvel of engineering. Mated to a six-speed manual gear-box that manages cruise control surprisingly well, it seems this car was built for trips like this. Bruce went into hibernation in the back seat. Dadonator got some shut-eye. Bear in mind that the last time I drove this route was back in 2008 in a Toyota Hilux 2.7 with Robin Adams. It was a company car that we had volunteered to drive to Cape Town after spending a rather long time working from the Johannesburg office. Back then, it was -7 degrees outside, Robin was behind the wheel, we were devouring a bag of apples, singing Kylie Minouge's "Put your hand on your heart" and Adele's "Cold Shoulder" - apparently the only two songs Robin and I had at the time that we both didn't mind listening to for more than a thousand kilometres. It was around 3am. I wasn't paying attention to the road and chose instead to focus on not freezing to death, despite the heater being on full blast, drying my eyes and making me drowsy.

So this time, four years later, it was me driving, in daylight... and I missed the turn-off. One lane slips off along the N1 to Bloemfontein, the other along the R34 to Welkom. In my defence, there was an old Ford F150 bakkie towing an ancient caravan three sizes too big doing all manner of drifting across lanes, so I was less focused on the signage than I was on not dying. But along the R34 we went.

Dadonator stirs from his light slumber and says "this doesn't look at all familiar". I said that we'd get to Bloemfontein eventually. The road was smooth and empty, we avoided much of the roadworks and the ubiquitous trucks that make travelling at a constant 130km/h virtually impossible. We saw some bits of the Free State that we'd never before laid eyes on. Through mining towns and fields of lucerne, freshly cut so the ground looked like a vast stubbly face of an old man who hadn't shaved in a few days. When we re-connected with the N1, Dadonator suggested I pull off as he'd found another back route on his Blackberry's GPS that would bring us back onto the N1 at Three Sisters. I looked across the car at him, he looked to the back seat to find my brother still comatose after two hours of driving, then back at me. I could tell his tired eyes had a glint of excitement in them despite the dark sunglasses he wore. A smile crept over his face only now beginning to show some semblance of ageing. It struck me that I hadn't looked at his face for too long. He could tell what was going on in my head. I barely nodded my ascent before he broke my gaze to look at the road and said "take the N8". His voice lacked the confidence of a man who knew where he was going, but bore all the wonder that had been welling up inside me simultaneously... the prospect of adventure.

We followed the N8 for what seemed like forever. On the road, time passes slowly, but one tends to notice its passage more coherently, so that by noon, it feels like it should be 3PM. With nowhere to go but home, with nothing to do but drive and drink in the beauty of South Africa, and nothing to concentrate on but the road and harmonising John Denver songs with Dadonator (he's so good at that), it's one of the closest things to bliss I have found.

Following the N8 as far as Petrusburg, we peeled off along the R48, a road that at times is so straight with surrounds so uniform one scarcely feels like you're moving at all. The grass grows tall right up to the edge of the shoulderless road, so the car's turbulence causes it to wave behind fluidly. That image in the rearview is something I can only describe as serene. There were potholes that needed dodging, sure, and at times I found myself driving on the wrong side of the road, if only to preserve both my dad's Jetta's suspension and my brother's continued and inexplicable death-like sleep. Follow the R48 along Google Maps and you'll find stretches so straight it defies old-world road engineering.

It's along this road that we stumbled upon the delightful town of Koffiefontein. Once a diamond mining boomtown, it's a shadow of its former self. It's lost its glint. It's sheen is gone. But the small-town dorp feel of the place is a suitable veneer for the deep economic problems so evident just by driving through it. This place has a rich and shadowy history. I'd like to go back some day. We thought, based on the name, that we could grab a cup of the strong stuff, but we were disappointed and decided to continue. The R48 then took us through majestic flat-topped koppies completely uniform in their height, as if someone had heaped up the ground with their hands and then, in one fell precise swoop with a Katana, lopped off all the peaks in one lateral blow. We crossed the mighty Orange River exiting the Free State and into the Northern Cape on a bridge that can only accommodate one vehicle at a time. We had yet to see another car since leaving Petrusburg. It was completely vacant. We could have been the last people on earth, but for the aeroplanes thousands of metres above travelling through air so cold and windless, their jet-stream vapour trails hung in the air for hours at a time.

Hanging a right at Philipstown, we could've continued straight on to meet the N1 at Hanover via the R389 but this was an adventure, dammit. On towards De Aar where we failed to find a place to stop and eat. Heading out of the town I looked over at Dadonator, who again read my mind and said, "let's keep exploring, boy". We met up with the N10 and stopped over in Britstown. I fell in love. There's a hotel there where we stopped for coffee and scones. A whistle stop, really, as the afternoon was dragging on and dusk would soon be upon us. We didn't want to be on unknown roads at night. This hotel... majestic. Its stucco walls are peeling, its cuisine is French, its garden is gorgeous, its courtyard Italian, its wines magnificent. If I ever get married again, it's happening there.

The final stretch of the adventure would take us to Three Sisters first along the N12 and then peeling off onto the R398 through the Richmond district. Dadonator took the wheel from Britstown. I preferred not to sleep, and decided on helping him stay awake. Talking, singing, laughing, feeding him Fanta, biltong, water and Doritos while Bruce slept on in the back seat. It was just before reaching the N1 that I witnessed one of the the most beautiful sunsets I had ever had the privilege to see. Purple, orange, gold, bronze light streaming across the Karoo from the west painting the Three Sisters, those iconic koppies outside Beaufort West, in a palette far too beautiful to find words to describe.

I looked over at Dadonator's weathered face, concentrated solely on getting us home safely. Then out to my left at an oasis in the semi-desert. Lush, green and alive amidst the dry, arid flatlands where dinosaurs once walked. In that moment, I was entirely content. I must have sighed, because when I looked back at Dadonator, he was looking at me. We didn't have to say "it's been too long" or "I really miss this" or "that was an awesome adventure". No, words would have ruined the moment. Just a feint smile, a nod, and the memory of those words as we left De Aar.

"Let's keep exploring, boy."

Thursday, 7 June 2012


Chris de Burgh once sang: "I have never seen that dress you're wearing, nor the highlights in your hair that catch your eye, I have been blind"

Sometimes, something happens that makes you see something that you may not have noticed consciously. Seeing something for the first time always feels to me like a new discovery. Sure, you've laid eyes on the thing a hundred times, but when you truly see something, acknowledge its presence, its exuberance in the space in which it finds itself, when the light is just right, when the accompanying moments lock the memory so tacitly it is immediately recalled from the ether. Instant beauty, instant smile.

Sitting on the mountainside in a spot I had been to scores of times before, I had reason to stop and pause. The sun was setting and the light was catching her hair in such a way that made it glow like fire. A deep, smouldering fire as of embers, but raging with intense heat. It took my breath away. The orange of the setting sun, making everything look like life was Instagram'd.

The city carried on below, oblivious to the beauty of that moment. The quiet moment. The realisation of the absolute clarity that accompanies epiphany. Turning to leave, she pointed out the setting sun. Never before had I realised that at that time of year, one could see the setting sun from this spot I had visited too many times to remember, often alone, often accompanied by an entire car-load of friends, often just with one Other... I saw it for the first time. And it was as if I was watching the sun set for the first time.

We'd shared sunsets before, but this particular sunset was coupled with another spectacular birth of light. The full moon was bright and yellow and rising slow off the horizon. Sun and Moon are by no means mutually exclusive, but on this particular day, they appeared to be. One's brilliance could not, would not, be overshadowed by the other.

We're drawn to the light. We're children of the light. Watching the retiring sun, and witnessing the lazy moonrise. Its light casting shadows unusual for dusk, when everything should be wan and ashen, instead luminescent, writhing and alive. Take the time to notice these things you cast your eyes on and yet don't see.

Allow your eyes to rid themselves of the scales masking the spectacular as ordinary. It's been far too long since that sunset-moonrise, but since, there have been plenty more moments of noticing things. Paying closer attention to that moment your eyes meet across a distance, a wink and a smile that says the unspeakable, that moment you check your phone at exactly the point in time a message comes through that shakes your being, makes your tummy flip, your face flush, your knees a bit wobbly, and is accompanied by a simultaneous sigh that defies the laws of the space-time continuum.

Instant smile.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Terrific Tin Can Tuesdays

How do we make South Africa better?

We do it by helping out wherever we can. We donate money, we give blankets, we support drives once or twice a year, pat ourselves on the back, and feel chuffed. Attending a blanket drive doesn't necessarily mean you automatically deserve that feeling of self-satisfaction. By bringing that one blanket along, you certainly have made a difference.

But the difference I'm thinking of making is a huge one. I recently had the pleasure of meeting the CT Angels. You can find them on Facebook (find them here:, and hashtag them on Twitter (#CTAngels). They've done amazing things. We all know how hugely successful the Twitter Blanket Drive was. More than one and a half blankets were donated. But I still got the feeling that we could be doing more as Capetonians.

So my suggestion to Fatima Razzak was this - let's do something every three months. And the next big thing we're looking at doing, is assembling food. Canned food. Now, I know how sometimes having to go out of your way to help sometimes is the only thing hindering you from doing good. And that's ok. We're going to make it easy for you.

"How?" I hear you ask. Every Tuesday in July, we'll be collecting your cans at one of the busiest intersections in Cape Town. Right outside the CTICC, Coen Steytler, where the N1 and N2 converge to bring most of Cape Town into work. Here's all that's required of you:

Step 1: When doing your monthly/weekly shopping, slip a few extra cans into your trolley.

Step 2: Bring them along to work with you on any Tuesday in the month of July

Step 3: When you reach the traffic lights at the CTICC, hoot, and one of our volunteers will come running over to collect your cans.

Helping to make a big difference in three easy steps.

We aim to be at the intersection every Tuesday in July (there are five of them) between 7am and 9am, and then headed out of town at the same intersection at the Waterfront exit between 4pm and 6pm. And all you have to do, is bring us your cans.

We plan to do a very similar thing at major intersections in the northern suburbs. I'll post soon with a full timetable for all the intersections we're planning on hitting.

Winter fast approaches, and August is our wettest month. Let's help try to make Winter that little bit more bearable for those who are far less fortunate than you and I. When tweeting about it, kindly use the hashtag #TerricTincanTues along with #FollowSA and #CTAngels.

Let's do this, Cape Town.

Monday, 28 May 2012


What is home? What constitutes that feeling of complete groundedness and belonging?

Home is not a place. It's not where you lay your head. It's a feeling. There isn't a city or town in this country I don't feel at home in. There was a time I hated Johannesburg. And I learned to love it. I fell in love overnight.

The morning after the night before saw me participate in the Men's Health Urbanathlon back in 2010. It was a 13km run/obstacle course that took us through Sandton. It was a perfect morning. Clear skies, bright sunshine, I think the temperature must've gotten up to 28 by 8am.

I headed back to my guest house in Illovo, and after a long, drawn-out soak in the tub and a hot, steamy shower to rinse off after, I was drying myself when I thought I heard someone moving furniture across the wooden floors in the room above mine. Turns out it was thunder.

Moments later, rain was pelting down, lightning was crashing all around, car alarms were going off, dogs were barking. The thunderstorm lasted about 25 minutes. The whole time, I stood there, naked but for the towel around my waist, door still wide open onto the lush garden just beyond the rough-hewn stone pathway, gushes of water off the roof, hitting the still-warm ground creating a magical bed of steam enveloping the agapanthus and clivia. And then it was gone. Silence. No traffic noise, no dogs, no alarms, no thunder, no rain. Just the soft trickles of water finding their way back into the earth. The air was clean. There was peace. It was majestic.

Durban became home for me in much the same way Joburg did. It was almost an overnight experience as a result of a culmination of events. And that's when it hit me: home is that feeling. It's the culmination of events the result of which will always be greater than the sum of its parts.

Cape Town is my home. Always has been. But that true feeling of belonging, of collective memory, of shared moments lost to time but eternally satisfying, that true sense of foundation, of grounding doesn't come from a physical location.

It's that moment her hand seeks yours out and finds it. That moment just after your lips part after a kiss goodbye. That hug that says "everything is going to be alright". It's being in the same crowded room, apart and not even having to look at each other to know what's going on in the other's head. It can happen anywhere. It is by no means tied down to a place.

That's when you know you're home.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Midlands Meander

I posted recently about Byron and Adél's wedding. I flew up to Durban, stayed over on Saturday, drove about two hours to Granny Mouse's Country House (en route to Balgowan) along the N3 and back to Durban that night around 10pm. It was a truly whirlwind tour, with my flight back to Cape Town scheduled for 6am Monday morning, and incredibly tiring.

But there were some incredible memories and inspirations to be drawn from the trip. The flight, the excitement of adventuring through Durban - my last visit there having been for the Currie Cup final back in 2010, the occasion of which yielded a revelation that changed my life - the drive through the breathtaking Midlands Meander, the peace resting in the valley in which Granny Mouse's is located, and the realisation that no matter how awesome the journey, it means very little when no-one is there to share it with you.

It was about an hour out of Durban on the N3, headed towards Pietermaritzburg, when I passed a troupe of Vervet Monkeys. Seen by many as pests, and certainly on a trip to Sedgefield years back, I can attest to their mischievousness and general destructive behaviour, I found myself slowing down, wanting to point out to whoever it was in the car with me that there were monkeys at the side of the road. I live in the city. Seeing wildlife along the roadside is something I will never tire of. Hell, I still get excited to see squirrels in my garden.

There was no-one else in the car with me. I felt somewhat sad, knowing that Loved One would've enjoyed the drive, would've enjoyed the adventure, that many stops would be made and tons of pictures taken.

You see, we often forget that the destination is only a small part of the purpose of a journey. While my destination held awesome wonderment in store for me, I still longed for a driving partner. It was only a little two-hour jaunt, but it was a little two-hour jaunt that took me through some incredible valleys, past the quaint town of Hilton, past a troupe of monkeys, alongside a noisy gaggle of Harley Davidson motorcyclists, and saw me being overtaken in a flurry of high-pitched noise and flashes of red and black by some or other gang of Ducati-mounted demons.

For the most part, I found myself reaching over to the passenger seat with my left hand, and finding none to meet it. Words are useless when road noise is whirring through the thin doors of a rented Getz, but the feeling of another hand meeting yours, soft and smooth, is comforting.

When fingers interlock, there is the most amazing sense of calm that betakes one. Solid ground, as my best friend describes it. It augments every experience. Even just walking down a street, sitting in a restaurant, lying on a couch quietly watching crappy TV... suddenly, the mundane becomes sublime.

With the simple application of another human's hand in yours.

Things I Have Left Behind

This isn't one of those deep, introspective pieces on the things I have left behind me as part of my emotional and physical growth and ageing process. No, contrary to my very together appearance, I am rather forgetful - particularly when leaving a place I've spent the night (or a few nights) in that happens not to be my own home.

I tweeted a few of them under #thingsihaveleftbehind but I thought it might be an interesting list to look at again. So, here it is...

1X 3/4 bottle cologne, Joburg
1X exfoliating facecloth, Joburg
1X exfoliating facecloth, Durban
2X pair of socks, Port Elizabeth
1X full bottle shower gel, Durban
1X pair underwear, Port Elizabeth
1X tub matte hair wax, Joburg
1X heart, San Francisco

Monday, 21 May 2012

God Among Men

I'm dedicating this blog post to my grandfather, Pa. Jack Eley. At 84, still a legend.

I know what you might be thinking; two blog posts in one day? Isn't that against blogging rules? Well, seeing as this post ties in with my previous post, I hope I'll be forgiven.

I'm privileged to have a grandfather. Not many people do, and I've had him for as long as any adult human being can hope to have a grandfather. That is to say, long enough for him to see me become a man. And I pray every day that I am the kind of man that makes him proud.

You see, he isn't only a grandfather by nominative designation. He's grand in every sense of the word. I was telling my best friend the other day that he is the best man I know. The very definition of tall, dark and handsome. A strikingly good-looking man, Pa is wise. His wisdom often masked by his dry wit sharper than any words the sharpest among us could spend hours thinking up. He just spat them out. A never-ending string of witticisms.

 Once, while in the bathroom on one of our many holidays to Kleinkrans outside Wilderness (Pa and Granny owned a house there), Bruce and I asked him to hurry up so we could go to the beach. He remarked from behind the locked door: "then hand me the scissors". "Why?" came the inquisitive reply from Bruce. "So I can cut off."

Pa taught me how to play chess. I learnt from him patience, and the importance of measuring my words. Pa is a retired Shepherd in the New Apostolic Church. And while his preaching over the altar was often hard to swallow, I don't recall Pa ever causing offence. All of Pa's decisions were deeply considered decisions.

He'd always known I love animals. We'd spend hours in his perfectly manicured garden in Garlandale looking for chameleons, learning which plants were edible, how and when to prune, which flowers prefer which feed, and how you could increase your fruit yield by nailing iron nails into the trunk of your fruit trees. For one birthday, he gave me an ancient book called The Manual of Zoology. For others, they were books about gardening, flower varieties and other interesting topics.

When things seem to be falling apart around him, Pa is a centre of calm. He is peace personified. Always ready with advice, but only if asked for his opinion. Pa would never impose. He loves sport, and has impeccable taste in music.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years back. Granny got hold of every piece of literature she could about beating cancer through diet. I'm convinced she cooked him healthy. He beat cancer. Read that again. A man in his 70s beat cancer. He had a heart attack. He survived. Spent the minimum amount of time in hospital. He's suffered a stroke before. He nailed it. I'd begun thinking my Pa was Chuck Norris.

Now, as he lies struggling on a hospital bed in Pretoria, frustrated by his current condition after Tuesday's major stroke that has him paralysed on his left side, possibly for good, unable to speak, possibly for good, banging with his right hand against the bed-rails, defiant against weakness and failure as ever, he remains my superhero.

Beat it Pa. Beat it in its stupid face.