When I reached out into the early light,
Smelled the beautiful story of our night.
There was only a bare white sheet,
With no words left for me to read.
Her place was still warm to my touch,
But it was only the new sun that shone.
She was gone. Gone, gone, gone.
If I loved Stanford before this weekend, I don’t have the words to describe how I feel about it now.
I had never been down the river. I’ve sat and stared at the reflections in it. I’ve swam in it. I’ve thrown the ball into it for the Scrapster and Doodlebug, my two delinquent Jack Russells. I’ve even created a rather amateurish artwork next to it. But I’d never taken a boat ride down the Klein Rivier.
Until Saturday. I hadn’t yet stumbled out of the Stanford Arms on Friday night (or was it Saturday morning?) when the SMS came though: “Weather permitting, see you on the river bank at bottom of King St at 10.30am. Cheers, Tim.”
Tim Hague. Photographer. Boat-builder. Chairman of Rotary Stanford. Top-notch bloke. And builder of a very nifty motorboat called “Three Summers” (it took him three summers in London to build it).
So we go for a ride on the river. And this how it looked…
I must interrupt this hi-tech slideshow to ask how we are all getting on here? Enjoying the ride? I thought so. What, you’re thirsty? Hang on, I’ll get the beers out of the cooler box. Whoop, don’t touch this! Just kidding. Here you go. Hold on, we’re about to hit the blue lagoon. If you’re lucky, you might spot Brooke Shields pretending to build a grass hut on the beach while not pretending to be buck-naked. OK. Whooosh!
Fine. I think that all went rather well. I’m glad you enjoyed the ride as much as I did. The countryside, people. Not much wrong with it. You’ll be back behind your desks in the big, bad city this morning. It doesn’t have to be like that, you know. Make the change. And when you do, let me know and I’ll see if I can arrange a cosy little cabin on the lagoon for you.
* A wobbly-legged doff of the old hat to Tim Hague for making this all possible. Nice one, skipper!
In this, the fourth of my occasional interviews with interesting people who live in my home village of Stanford in the Western Cape, I ask the “Big Five” questions of Jill Smith, who runs the local agency of Pam Golding Properties.
It is fitting that I publish this interview today, on Women’s Day, because Jill is indeed one of those women who are, at once, strong, feminine and inspiring! But why don’t you see for yourself?
FH: Please give us a little personal background, Jill. Where were you born, schooled, shaped as a person and when and how did you first discover our lovely village of Stanford? And when and how did you and Brian meet?
JS: I was educated in East London and did what was one of only a few career choices young ladies had then – nurse, teacher, airhostess, (very posh) hairdresser and secretary. My Mom loved courtroom dramas so I was to become a Stenographer – not a Shorthand Typist which is what it is – but a Courtroom Stenographer… it sounds so much better! You know the type, glasses perched on the edge of your nose and taking down verbatim all the sordid details.
Only now am I able to deliver the Last Post on The Heart and Sole Tour saga.
And it is delivered in pretty much the same key as Peter Sellers used to such diabolical effect in the opening scenes of The Party.
I hope that you, dear Hatpeople, will find this as funny. But I doubt it.
Because it’s not. It has taken me damn nigh a week to even begin to drain the porridge from my stultified brain and start to order some thought process about the rather epic two-month unicycle ride from Durban to Cape Town, which ended in dramatic fashion at The V&A Waterfront last Friday.
In the case of our phenomenally gutsy unicyclist, Geoff Brink, it was utter physical exhaustion which enveloped him once the adrenaline began to ebb from his body at the end of his record 2,000km one-wheeled feat. But it was the mental pressure required of us to focus on finishing our cavalier mission, amid some distracting sideshows, which led to us spectacularly falling out at the finish line.
And only now can this story be told.
Please know that we were always mindful of the fact that the Heart and Sole Tour was about raising awareness of the awful devastation that landmines continue to wreak on the lives of innocent civilians around the world. And, of course, it should always have been about that alone. But Geoff Brink and I are only human. And very fallible humans at that. So it was that, early in the tour, when pressure was brought to bear on us from back home, that the ugly spectre of the male ego leapt to the fore. The jostling for position in the Heart & Sole roadside pod of the alpha male instinct began to permeate the high-spirited vibe of our beautiful roadtrip.
Don’t get me wrong. There were bucketfuls of banter, a chuckling stream of laughs and a camaraderie that one comes to expect of two friends combining to achieve something both mad and magnificent. In fact, many of you might question whether the flipside of our tour should be told at all. The Heart & Sole Tour undoubtedly achieved its objective and what purpose is there in hanging out the stinky unwashed laundry for all to sniff at? What goes on tour stays on tour and all that crap.
I’ll answer that. I have mulled over this for nearly a week. I am fascinated by the human condition. That is why I chose journalism as a career. I am equally captivated by the human spirit. And this piece of introspection – should that be “retrospection”? – is about wanting to understand how Geoff and I managed to complete our trip despite our differences as much as because of the unity we displayed when it really mattered.
I have talked with people about this since I emerged blinking into the bright Cape Town sunlight from the highly buffered bubble that was our “hard shoulder crawl” across our great country. Some have drawn comparisons with “The Long Way Down”, Ewan McGregor’s and Charlie Boorman’s motorcycle jaunt from Britain through Europe and down to the foot of Africa.
I must confess that I have yet to watch the whole movie. Geoff and I began to watch it as an entertaining aside to our minimal preparation for the Heart and Sole Tour but, dismayed by the showiness, grandstanding and, quite frankly, over-indulgence displayed over what amounted to a pretty easy ride, fell asleep.
I don’t see the similarities. Yes, Geoff’s fiancee, Kim Millar joined us towards the end of our ride, a development that, for me, was both unexpected and temporarily gripped me with trepidation… but, such was my determined hyperfocus on getting our unicyclist safely to the Mother City that her presence in the back-up truck proved to matter not a jot. And I know that Geoff was greatly motivated by his sweetheart to bravely finish what he had started.
What caused our “Skirmish at The Clock Tower” was the result of two very tired minds and one exhausted body melting down after 58 days of intense concentration and unbelievable strain. So what happened, you may ask? OK. Fair question. But I’m not saying. I have too much respect for what Geoff achieved and, yes, for what we as a team did for people who deserve a better life than to tarnish in detail the magnificent outcome of the Heart and Sole Tour.
Never mind the bollards which prohibited myself and the back-up truck from following our unicyclist – and our final-day amaonetya.co.za escort of unicyclists Alan van Heerden and Johnny Cronje down to the Clock Tower. After watching Geoff’s back for 58 days and nigh on 2,000km, a row of concrete bollards stopped me from seeing the boys home. Emotions spilled over. There were harsh words. It was unsavoury. It was, after what we had been through, almost inevitable. It happened. It is over. It’s gone. Gone, gone, gone. No regrets. We move on. We have learned lessons.
Before we set out on December 28, 2009 on a mission which many called impossible, both Geoff and I knew that there would be challenges for which we could not prepare, that lessons would be taught that might make better people of us. And so it proved. And I am massively thankful for this gift. I remain privileged to have had the experience of supporting Geoff Brink on his incredible journey.
Crikey, what a ripper, Nige! You are a total mensch.
* I will be working with Kai von Pannier of The Sole of Africa to draw up a full list of individuals, companies and establishments which should be acknowledged for the part they played in helping The Heart and Sole Tour to achieve its objective.
In the meantime, I would like to thank these people for the enormous help – and inspiration – they gave Geoff and I: John Fogarty, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Kim Millar, Olivia “OJ” Symcox, Rox-ann Govender, Kai and Cindy von Pannier, Mike Kendrick, Toni Rowland, Dilana, Sir Richard Branson, John L. Evans, Alan van Heerden, Johnny Cronje, Sharon Heger Basel, Steve Connor, Jimmy Reynolds, Andre Cronje, Rob Gower, Rich and Sarah McLennan, Neil and Hayley Millar, Kathy Reay, Dennis Theron, Pierre and Elise Brink, Jonny and Jane Roberts, Keith Chapman, Vaughan Raw, Warren Bartram, Donatella Pontesilli, Doc and Maggie Mears, Mama Cordelia, Martin Schroder, Toni Brodelle, Emily Shayler, Paul Chew, Janet Marshall, Marc Forrest, Mike Adams, Mandy Morgan, Fred and Yolandi Roed, Mike Perk, Clayton and Paula Whitaker, Father Matthias, Mama Zondeka, Nic Nel, Marcelle Delew-Kappen, Andreas Kappen, Brett Horner, Julie Davies, Seth Rotherham, Mike Kuttner, Jacqui Daniels, Riaan Manser, Bob Skinstad, Claire Alexander, Dave Duarte, Chris Rawlinson, Mike Saxby, Ken Taytasac, Penny Sandham, Carol-Anne Stephenson, Craig Bettridge, Vicky Nardell, Annette Oberholster, Helen Walne, Brandon McGugan, Martina Gilli, Michelle Solomon, Krista (New York), Neal Collins, Chris Whitfield, Lesley Byram, Marilyn Bernard, Wendy Landau, Dhashen Moodley. If anybody feels left out, it’s because you will be thanked in the full list to appear on both The Sole Of Africa website and this blog.
* One last thing. Both Geoff and I exhausted our savings on The Heart & Sole Tour. He’s a freelance photographer and a very good one at that. We both need to find paid work, he to finance his forthcoming wedding, I to pay the rent for a ramshackle dwelling down near the river. Should you have some paid work to slide our way, that would be completely cool. Ta!
Yes. It’s time to remember… what the Heart & Sole Tour has been all about.
So, as Geoff “Heartman” Brink and I (oh, and Kim, Geoff’s fiancee, who has joined me in the back-up truck) roll into Cape Town today (The Clock Tower, V&A Waterfront, 2pm) to complete our beautiful unicycling adventure, we would like to remind everybody of just why we set out from Durban two months ago.
I don’t know the name of the young girl in the above photograph. I only see, as you do, that she has just one leg. And I know that this is so because a landmine blew off the other one.
Isn’t it one crying and intolerable shame that, 16 years, after the civil war ended in Mozambique, children are still having legs blown to smithereens by unexploded ordnance left behind by those who engage in war?
It’s a simple extrapolation: because political groupings cannot agree on how to share the responsibility of representing the people of their country, they fight over who gets to hold absolute power… and the very people who have every right to expect their leaders to govern are then made to suffer.
It’s bloody diabolical.
And, to me, it is a complete craziness that, many long years after political stability has been returned, the people are still being attacked… by evil weapons of war which lurk in subterrannean subterfuge under the ground that they walk on. And that land is left unploughed, unplanted and unharvested because of the climate of fear that exists around it.
It is unacceptable that thousands of children such as the little girl in the photograph, too young to have known war, must hop around on a pole. Or drag themselves around on a trolley. Something must be done to help. The Sole of Africa, an anti-landmines campaign administered by The Mineseeker Foundation is doing what it can.
But they need help. Your help. Please go to their websites and sign up for membership or simply to receive their newsletter. That simple action will give the child amputees of Mozambique, Angola and elsewhere some hope. Hope that they may receive prosthetic limbs. Hope that, one day, their land will be cleared of the evil of landmines so that they may grow their own food. And move around in safety.
That is why Geoff Brink, our incredibly brave unicyclist, and myself have covered the 2,000 or so kilometres from Durban to Cape Town. Because we want to help. Because we can. And because… not once on this wondrous journey of ours, did it occur to us that we might have our legs blown off by a landmine.
Surely everybody has a right to expect that?
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
* The Heart & Sole Tour would like to thank Penny Sandham of Rotary Somerset West and Joop Weittingh of the beautiful Albourne guesthouse in Somerset West for so hospitably accommodating us on our last night on the road to Cape Town.
OK. I need to be like Speedy Gonzalez, my babies. As a 15kph back-up driver on the Heart & Sole unicycle tour, my name and “speedy” don’t ever feature together – but today is the exception.
The Heartman has arisen and, despite Stanford’s considerable charms, our homesick unicyclist is champing at the bit to get to Cape Town, where he is threatening to chuck his one-wheeled steed into the harbour and fly home to Umdloti and his soon-to-be-wife and five dogs.
Yup, we are hoping to stagger up to the Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront sometime around 2pm on Friday. Please do come down and and feel free to roll around in mirth as we do our sack-of-potatoes all fall down trick. Yes. We are knackered. Two months on the road is a very very long time. Especially when you are Geoff “Heartman” Brink and a completely uncooperative unicycle is between you and that road!
But there have been some wondrous experiences on the way. Such as hooking up with Bob Skinstad and his exceedingly winsome “Walk This Way” girls at Raka wine estate near Stanford yesterday. “Walk This Way” is a Western Cape initiative to promote Bob’s awesome Bob’s For Good Foundation and its work in providing disadvantaged children with shoes to wear to school.
As people who have zigzagged nearly 2,000km to raise awareness of landmines and the thousands of people who also have no shoes – because they have no legs – Geoff and I feel a special kinship with Bob’s excellent cause. Check it out at bobsforgood.co.za and, I exhort you, do the right thing and buy a pair of Bob’s really cool loafers, an act which will give a poor kid a pair of shoes. Easy. Good. And beautiful. Thanks.
OK. So this is what yesterday looked like…
Bob and his team need your support to put shoes on feet. I know you will help. Because our two-month unicycle rollercoaster ride has reminded us that, when it comes to stretching out a helping hand, South Africans are very quick on the draw.
It’s been beautifulness on a grand scale, Heartpeople. Thank you. There are so many of you to thank that I don’t have the space or time to do it right now. Later. We need to get on the road to Caledon. And, yes, it’s hot. And, yes, there are hills and passes. And, yes, we have just enough dosh for petrol to get us there. And, yes, we are going to conquer this super-hairy monster of a unicycle tour. Because there are thousands of people – those missing limbs – around this beautiful world whose plight is largely going unnoticed. That is all.
Fasten those seatbelts, Heartpeople. I have to issue a health and safety warning here… The following image may bring on feelings of dizziness and acute disorientation. You may experience extreme giddiness and an uncontainable desire to fall to the floor and writhe around in wanton wondrousness.
OK. Ready? Just roll around in the beauty of this little baby…
There. How was that for you? Did the earth move a little bit? I know. Nice, hey? All the work of a clever little clogs called John Gore who tootles around South Africa’s countryside and sets up his equally as clever camera wherever he pleases. Well, I suppose he hasn’t got to use it on Jacob Zuma’s wives’ residences yet. Not all of them anyway. But that is surely just a matter of time.
Never mind. He did capture the utter awesomeness of Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium, far and away everybody’s fave World Cup 2010 stadium (unless you are a Capetonian and can’t bear the thought of liking anything that exists in Durban or, for that matter, anything outside of The Republic of Cape Town).
Anyway, if you’re an individual with an open mind, why not prepare a picnic and take a stroll over here, and just chill while wallowing in the Moses Mabhida experience with 360 degree sense-a-round.
Out of this world, isn’t it? No. Wrong. Slap-bang in the middle of Durbs, actually!
Whatever. But what is true is that our Heart & Sole Tour – yes, that unicycle ride from Durban to Cape Town to raise awareness of the evil perpetrated by landmines – is now near George. Near George? Yes. George. Western Cape. Where PW Botha lived. Sorry. I don’t know anything else about it. And I’m not finding out because old Heartie, myself and our German hanger-on (Croc Cologne, the guy who left German about 23 years ago and is still trying to get to Cape Agulhas) are in Calitzdorp. I suggest you get out the old map because it’s beyond me. But it’s very nice and warm up here on the edge of the Karoo desert and we’re visiting The Heartman’s parents who are very accommodating and run a wonderful B&B called Spekboom Cottages.
This translates into “Bacon Tree Cottages” in English and if anybody knows why or has seen trees with strips of streaky rashers hanging off them, please do write in and let us all know. In the meantime, we’re enjoying being thoroughly spoilt and, when we start getting shifty glances from the locals, we’ll head back to George and start riding towards Mossel Bay. We think we’re only about 360km or so from Cape Town but we’re too scared to ask anybody in case we’re not.
This has been one long roadtrip. But we’re loving it and now know why a certified madventurer like Kingsley Holgate doesn’t bother with sitting around on a sofa and catching the 7pm news before retiring with a nice milky cocoa after putting the dogs out. This adventuring lark is seriously addictive!
Look. There you are minding your own business on the side of the road and trying to get a 2,000km unicycle ride from Durban to Cape Town out of the way when a German comes along and steals your deckchair. Um. Well, not exactly. I don’t do stereotypes on this blog, do I? No. Correct answer. Well, Martin Schroder has made a big impact on the Heart and Sole Tour anyway.
Unicyclist Geoff “Heartman” Brink and I went into the Oudebosch Farm Stall near Tsitsikamma to get a coffee and came out with a coffee and a German. Not just any old German. This one has been riding his bike (the more common two-wheeled version, mind) from his hometown of Cologne (Koln to Germans) in Germany through Europe and Africa to Cape Town. He’s doing a good job. But before I bang on about his little trip, let’s have a look at this crazy character…
Even ignoring the Abe Lincoln vibe of his beard, Martin is a bit odd. Especially for a German, a nation known for machine-making precision, lederhosen, being annoyingly shrewd at winning football matches, drinking beer at an unacceptably early hour but otherwise keeping things absurdly tidy.
At 22, he has visited 69 countries around the world instead of going to university, finding himself a girlfriend with flaxen pigtails and a name like Heidi and settling down over his books like a good boy and drinking barrels of beer before 11am. Fair enough. Even Germans have a right to dare to be different. So he hasn’t used the usual modes of transport when swanning off to these 69 countries. He tends to run, cycle and, for all I know, toboggan into strange places blowing a flugelhorn.
Yes. He’s wired a tad differently from your run-of-the-mill Herr and Fraulein. In fact, he’s getting along very, very well with The Heartman. So I suspect that, as kindred spirits, the Big Kahuna Creator Guy took a little time out to have some fun when putting together these two. So, in no time at all, old Heartie and his new mate were doing this…
Oh, yes. Martin fancies his extreme sports. Like us, extreme gardening, extreme card games and extreme origami are right up his street. and so is fooling around with crocs. Not the dodgy shoes, silly. Crocodiles. He played nicely with one in Mozambique until it bit him on the arm. Lucky to still have two. Heartie and I love this story. So much so that we have named him Crocodile Cologne. Which, I’m sure you’ll agree, has a far better ring to it than Crocodile Dundee. Or Crocodile Melbourne. Or Crocodile Wagga Wagga. Crikey, what a ripper!
OK. So then, before I, as super-responsible back-up driver and, er, chaperone and nanny to these two madventurers, had time to intervene, this happened…
Nice. We couldn’t pass the 216m bungy jump vibe at Bloukrans Bridge, allegedly the highest in the world, near Storms River without trying out the local freefall facilities.
OK. Two other things to tell you about. Well, I have 202 other things actually but you’ll have to wait for the book. First, Bob Skinstad’s in jail. No, he didn’t forget to pay his speeding fine. He put himself in a cell. As you all should know by now, Bob, after playing quite a lot of more than half-decent games behind the scrum for the Springboks, is doing some good. He’s heading up bobsforgood.co.za , an organisation dedicated to providing schoolchildren who walk around barefoot with much-needed shoes.
The Heart and Sole Tour, dedicated to fitting people who have lost legs to landmines with prosthetic limbs, likes this very cool initiative. We like it so much that, when Bob asked us to get involved with his “Walk This Way” series of events, we jumped at the opportunity to help. So when Bob’s been released from his self-imposed “jail term” at Cape Town’s Waterfront at the end of this week, we’ll be joining up with him on his road trip around the Western Cape to help raise awareness of this extremely good cause. More details later.
OK. One last thing. The Heartman and I have stayed at some wondrous boarding establishments on this tour. I can’t mention them all in this blog post but we would like to thank Tyrone and Tara for giving over to us part of their sublime oasis on the beach at Jeffreys Bay for three days.
It was immense. Their spot is called Beach Music, nestles among the coastal bush at Supertubes and its vibe is so chilled that even a Brazilian surfer called Flavio could forget that he had travelled hundreds of miles to catch as many of J Bay’s legendary waves as possible.
This pic probably sums up the Beach Music vibe…
Too many people to thank. But I’ll try… Clayton, Paula, Matthew and James Whitaker of Port Elizabeth, Earl and Jenny Lawrence of Wild Spirit Lodge, a beautiful backpackers phenomenally situated on the edge of the Tsitsikamma Forest (more about them later), Penny of Oudebosch Farm Stall who so generously fed and watered us, and Pieter and Sue Oosthuizen and Mike Mills of Rotary International (Knysna) who are extending the extraordinary hand of hospitality we have come to expect from Rotarians everywhere. Beautifulnesses all round!
* Right. Due to The Heartman’s very costly addiction to the finest champagne (that’s a porky pie (lie), OK?), The Heart and Sole Tour is scraping along on the bones of its bum. If you’ve got a bit of small change (or very large notes) to send our way, please do. We are relying on public donations to finish this hairy monster of a road trip. The bank details are…
G. M. Brink
Account: 056 706 804
Branch code: 042 626
OK. So it turns out that Geoff “Heartman” Brink, our intrepid and totally nutty unicyclist who is fixed-wheel pedalling all the way to Cape Town, has a good dose of Afrikaner in him.
This doesn’t surprise me. Although he’s been maintaining for some time that he’s one part Scottish, one part Viking (whatever that means). I mean, the longer we are on this madness of a Heart and Sole Tour – and the longer we travel the byways and dirt roads of our wondrous South Africa – the more he acts really boor… I mean, Boer-ish. He’s gone all feral on me.
It (The Unicyclist) speaks to cows, yells at hills, neighs at horses… and, if that weren’t enough, it held a long conversation with a very amiable and supportive Afrikaans-speaking geezer what called himself Jacques the other day. While chewing biltong at the same time. All rather perplexing, if not downright alarming, for a back-up driver/blogger/kiepie who is a regte soutpiel (English-speaking South African) brought up of Anglo-Scottish stock in Pietermaritzburg, widely considered to be the Last British Outpost.
So I wasn’t completely shocked when, upon finding evidence of buck droppings the other day, Meneer Brink challenged me to a bokdrol spoeg kompetisie. A what?! Er, that translates to “buck droppings spitting competition”. Afraid so. There’s no getting away from it. And there was no chance of me getting away from it. We do challenges – and sticking a perfectly-formed and rounded piece of buck crap – which looks like an earthy Ferrero Rocher – in one’s gob and seeing how far one can propel it using one’s power of lung expulsion seems perfectly normal behaviour. Um. Well, it does when you’ve been following a very feral unicyclist around the country for a month and a half.
OK. So it was game on, old chap. And may the man who can spit a piece of buck crap the furthest win. Let us – if you can bring yourself to do it – see what that looked like…
Not bad for a Engelsman who didn’t grow up on a farm eating half a cow for breakfast and not wearing shoes until he went to university, hey? And even more formidable a victory when it is considered that The Unicyclist doesn’t drink or smoke and is as fit as a butcher’s dog while the Back-up Driver does both the former to Richard Burton-like excess. And, it must be said, is about as fit as the butcher.
OK. so we’re all rather relieved that that little malarkyness is over. Well, almost over. How did this most indecorous of games come about? Well, it had got far too hot to ride a unicycle, as tends to happen every day, and we went off-road to seek some shade. We thought it rather cool to do that in a game reserve and plonked our mattresses under a tree near the reception office and promptly fell aslumber.
Only to be woken up by the “executive chef” of Kichari Game Reserve doing a Gordon Ramsay impersonation and shrieking at us to wake up and get inside the building. We were then chided for sleeping in a spot where elephants, rhino and lions are known to roam! And had pointed out to us a nearby tree that had clearly been used as a back-scratching post for a jumbo. There wasn’t much of said tree remaining. Our midday nap was rather ruined and the bokdrol spoegery ensued. Now you know.
And want to know something else? We had no sooner got back on to the road for a spot of marathon unicycling when we he heard an unmistakeable roar. The Unicyclist fell off his one-wheeled steed, I nearly ran over him, we both grabbed our cameras and ran to the side of the road. This is what we saw…
Right. Well, where to next? Somewhere a little more gentle, perhaps. Oh, yes. We saw a nice sunset. Again. Here you go…
Hang on. What’s that black speck just above the horizon? Let’s have a closer look…
There. That wasn’t so bad after all, was it? No. You’re right. it wasn’t. So all’s well that ends well (a saying that just came to me in a flash and, yes, do feel free to use it as the mood takes you). I just can’t be sure that I’ll be getting to kiss anybody anytime soon!