Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rus in Vrede, Kobus van Loggerenberg




Jirre Kobus, wat nou?

Die feit dat jy weg is sonder om te groet, in die middel van
‘n besige dag, sommer netso, skielik, is OK met my – dis seker maar wat mens
van ‘n biker soos jy kon verwag, iemand wat altyd voluit geleef het, iemand wat
gedurig besig was met ‘n honderd dinge op dieselfde tyd, iemand wat gereeld
ingeloer het in jou lewe maar ewe vinnig weer teruggetrek en homself vir eers
weer uit die voete gemaak het.

Maar dit was net te blerrie vining; dit was ten minste 30
jaar te vroeg! Jy kon darem maar gewag het tot net na jou tagtigste verjaarsdag, en dan met glyende bande saam met jou ysterperd heengegaan het op nat gruis in die Oliviershoekpas na ‘n helse donderstorm, of hoe?

Maar selfs dan sou dit te vroeg gewees het; selfs dan sou
niemand van ons versadig kon wees van dit wat jy sonder ophou vir ons geleer het nie, al die dinge waaroor jy ons so gereeld laat lag het en die magdom redes waarom ons jou geselskap so verskriklik geniet en jou liefgehad het nie.

* * *
Biker.
Lover.
Skrywer.
Musiekmens.
Boekwurm.
Besigheidsman.
Brugspeler.
Brugbouer.
Fynproewer.
Filantroop.
Filosoof.
Vrystater.
Vriend.
Vader.
Intellektuele reus.
Sagmoedige Neelsie, maar met ‘n hardegat streep.
En ‘n polities Verligte – op ‘n manier wat Willem de Klerk
sou trots maak toe hy oorspronklik daai term uitgedink het, en een wat vir PW se trawante tog so kon irriteer in die tagtigs toe jou politieke bewussyn behoorlik aan die gang gekom het en jou tot aksie begin dryf het.

Dis die tyd wat ons ontmoet het: November 1987, Abe
Bailey-toer, jy vars van jou jaar as SR-Voorsitter by Kovsies, ek aan die einde van my eie storm-en-drang-jare aan die RAU. Jy ‘n gesoute politieke ontleder (aktivis?), ek ‘n snotneus wat nog ‘n bietjie wonder oor die “Swart Gevaar” waarteen hulle my op die teevee waarsku (al stem ek darem al vir Van Zyl Slabbert). Jy, ‘n ingeskrewe lid van die ANC – lank voor dit wettig was, laat staan nog te sê fashionable… ek wat in daai stadium nog nooit iemand ontmoet het wat ruiterlik sou erken dat hulle aan enige “verbode” (kan jy glo!) organisasie behoort het nie.

Ruiterlik. Excuse the
pun. Dis mos eintlik waar ons vriendskap begin het: daai gesprek wat ek en jy een nag gehad het in die klein, koue vertrekkie in ‘n Oxford-kollege waar ons kamermaats was ten tye van die Abe Bailey-toer. Deur die nag gesels oor politiek en alles en nog wat – die kamer binnegegaan as relatiewe vreemdelinge, die volgende oggend daar uitgestap as dik vrinne.

“Mense soos ons” was mos almal in die Ruiterwag daai tyd –
aspirant Broederbonders wat Afrikaner-kampuspolitiek vanuit die ondergrond probeer regeer het, Junior Rapportryers die publieke front. Moerse belangrik, moerse geheim, onsself verskriklik ernstig opgeneem.

Behalwe dat ek teen die tyd wat ek jou ontmoet het, reeds
bedank het uit Die Organisasie omdat die agterbakse ondergrawery wat ek daar gesien het my sensitiewe siel ontstel het. En die storie het by jou ore uitgekom het dat die eintlike rede vir my bedanking uit die Wagpos verband gehou het met my sogenaamde regse neigings. Jou bronne het jou voor die toer al dienooreenkomstig gewaarsku teen my, m.a.w. nog voordat jy en ek die eerste keer ooit ontmoet het.

Regse tjomme het ek wel gehad ja, maar ek het ook pelle
gehad wat lekker kon suip op varsity, en sover ek weet het niemand my ‘n alkoholis genoem nie? (in elk geval nie daai dae al nie!).

En jy en ek het mekaar êrens in die middel van daai nag
gevind, en van toe af (tot vandag toe) (of sal ek sê gister… shit) is (was) jy my politieke inspirasie, my klankbord, immer ‘n bron van insig en ewewigtigheid.

Ek onthou nog die oproep toe jy my ‘n jaar of wat na die
toer gebel het, net om te laat weet dat jy ook intussen “afgesaal” het. Ek is nie heeltemal seker nie, maar ek dink dit het verband gehou met jou eie teleurstelling in sommige van die Afrikaner-leiers om jou wat ooglopend daarop uit was om hulleself te bevorder in ‘n tyd wat die Volk toenemend polities irrelevant begin raak het, terwyl dit vir jou altyd eerder gegaan het oor die onderliggende saak – jy wou minder praat en meer doen. En ek vermoed dis presies hoekom jy op die ou end by die Stedelike Stigting opgedaag het, en later begin huise bou het in Mangaung (terwyl die hoofstroom-politici aangehou het om op verhoë te staan en vinger te swaai en in luukse swart motors met blou ligte rond te ry).

* * *
Die ander onderwerp waaroor ons laat daai nag in Oxford gesels
het, was die kerk. Jy, ‘n briljante, hoogs-geskoolde amperse dominee in die NG Kerk, en ek wat darem self jare lank diens gedoen het in die CSV en die KJA en skoolverlaterskampe en kerkrade van studente-gemeentes.

Jou verhouding met die kerk was, sal ek maar sê,
kompleks? As ek al daai gesprekke in die vroeë dae van ons vriendskap moet probeer opsom, sou ek sê dat dit moontlik daarop neergekom het dat die jarelange intellektuele verdieping in die Geskrifte jou toenemend tot ontnugtering gestem het, eerder as verootmoediging. Dat jy moontlik nie jou geloof verloor het nie, maar dat jou affiniteit vir die kerk vir seker skade gelei het.

Onthou jy ons gesprek die dag na die St James Massacre in
1993 (waarin 11 mense gesterf het en 58 beseer is, toe 4 APLA-lede by ‘n kerk in Kenilworth in die Kaap ingestap en links en regs begin skiet het)? Ek het jou gevra wat jy daarvan dink, en ek sal nooit jou antwoord vergeet nie: “Dis hulle verdiende loon – die bliksems wou mos kerk toe gaan…”

Let wel: ek verwys hier na kerk, en nie na die kwessie van geloof
nie, want ek vermoed dat jy altyd op jou manier bly glo het. Ek het jou mos vertel van ‘n hempie wat ek in 2006 in Indië gekoop het, met die prentjie van ‘n kruis, en ‘n boeddha, en die Taoiste se yin/yang simbool, en Islam se maan & sterretjie, en die ster van Dawid… en die onderskrif wat lees: “God is too Big to fit into one Religion”. Ons kerk se T-shirt. ‘n Toewyding aan liefde vir jou medemens en alles wat dit meebring, definitief nie tot die uitsluiting van enigiemand wat anders is as jy, of iemand wat anders dink as jy, of anders glo as jy nie.

Later jare, spesifiek in die tyd na jou vliegongeluk, het
dit vir my voorgekom asof selfs jou opinie van die kerk en sy mense dalk ‘n bietjie verander het, dat dit definitief sagter geword het. Jy het baie van die goeie kant van die mensdom gesien in daai tyd, dit het jou uiteraard diep geraak, en as jy ooit voorheen ‘n siniese of ‘n negatiewe haar op jou kop gehad het, meen ek dié het in daardie vliegtuigwrak agtergebly.

* * *

Ai, daai vliegtuigongeluk, die vorige keer toe jy ons rêrig
groot laat skrik het. Opgestaan uit die dode, teruggekeer met ‘n gesig wat bietjie anders lyk en ‘n bioniese liggaam – maar dankie tog dieselfde humorsin, dieselfde skerp brein. Wonderwerk.

En daai eerste email wat jy vir ons gestuur het, nie lank na
die ongeluk nie, die eerste van vele emails van jou wat my diep sou raak (en ek sou eers later begin om die meeste van hulle te kollekteer, om hulle te bewaar soos ‘n kleinood). Onthou, dit was 1999 – as mens terugkyk, eintlik redelik vroeg in die geskiedenis van emails – nie lank voor dit nie het mense nog regte briewe geskryf met pen en ink!

‘n Uittreksel uit daai email (wat jy jare later weer gebruik
het, in jou speech by Albert Weideman se 60ste):

Na twee dae se bewustelose slaap word
ek stadig wakker in die intensiewe sorgeenheid van die Rosepark hospitaal in Bloemfontein . Ek onthou die half geirriteerde stem van die verpleegster – ‘Meneer, vir die 4de keer – jy was in ‘n vliegongeluk.’

Later herken ek my vrou en kinders
soos ek in en uit beweeg tussen die koel donkerte van amper dood-wees en die ongemaklike bewus raak van die lewende pyn van ‘n gebroke liggaam. Die detail van die ongeluk was nie toe of nou tersake nie. Ek kon nie eintlik praat nie – alles was toegeswel.

Maar wat ek baie goed onthou is my
vrou wat my vertel van almal wat gebel het en al die goeie wense en gebede ens. En dat Albert oppad is uit die Kaap, waar hy op daardie stadium gebly het. Albert het nie net langs my bed kom sit en los praatjies maak nie. Hy het al my ander vriende byeengeroep en georganiseer om in die tyd na my gesin om te sien – die een vir die tuin, die ander vir die swembad, die een om die kinders te help rondry, die vroue om kos te maak, ens.

Ek onthou soos gister dat die eerste
song wat by my opgekom het by die aanhoor van al hierdie gebare van liefde die lied was wat Louis Armstrong bekend gemaak het:

“What a wonderful world – I see
friends shaking hands, saying how do you do. They really say – I love you…”

* * *

Wat my bring by my volgende punt: musiek – so ‘n groot deel
van jou lewe. En natuurlik boeke, en flieks – maar meer daaroor later.

Op die Abe Bailey-toer (toe ons almal nog state-of-the-art
walkman-kasetspelers uit ons daaglikse toelaag aangeskaf het in Londen) was dit “Only You” van die Flying Pickets. Vir die res van my lewe sal daai a capella “Ba, da, da, daah” my aan jou herinner…

En die woorde:
All I needed was the love you gave
All I needed for another day
All I ever knew
Only you

Drie en ‘n half jaar later, toe ek in Engeland geswot het,
het jy vir my ‘n tape gestuur van die Kommissie van Ondersoek. Die Nuwe Afrikaanse Musiek was in sy babaskoene, en jy was daar teenwoordig, soos ‘n vroedvrou. En jy het oombliklik begin om die babatjie af te wys aan mense soos ek, wat salig onbewus was, en jy het my oortuig: watch hierie een, hy gaan dit nog ver bring, ons mag maar trots wees op hom...
Dit was die Voëlvry-tyd, die vroeë dae van Koos Kombuis en Johannes Kerkorrel en Lucas Maree en ‘n hele paar ander kunstenaars van wie ons later jare CD’s sou uitruil en na wie se vertonings ons saam gaan kyk het by die Blou Hond.
En toe gaan staan Johannes en neem sy eie lewe.

En Lucas verloor sy stryd teen kanker.
En nou gister, jy ook weg, sonder kans vir groet.
Fok.
Nog musiek. Carla
Bruni. Ek het altyd gedink sy’s eintlik maar net ‘n mooi gesiggie met baie houding; ‘n versiersel op Sarkozy se arm – tot jy vir my een van haar albums gegee het. Fantasties. Ek het nie ‘n clue
waaroor sy sing nie (al was my voorouers Hugenote, verstaan ek nie die taal nie) – maar hel, dis mooi…
En toe, meer onlangs, ‘ n gedeelde obsessie met Leonard
Cohen. Ek weet nie hoe lank jy dalk al in die geheim na hom geluister het nie, maar self gaan my geskiedenis met die man darem terug na my eie universiteitsdae.

So vind ons toe mos onder andere uit dat dieselfde aand wat ek vir
Leonard lewendig sien optree het (in Lille, aan die einde van September 2010), jy ook ‘n konsert van hom bygewoon het… in die Karoo, op ‘n groot skerm, in die opelug, die DVD’s van “Live in London” saam met al jou zen-pelle.
Ek is nou nog nie seker wie van ons die beste ervaring gehad
het daai aand nie.
Die laaste email wat jy ooit vir my (en 12 ander dissipels in
Leonard se gemeente) gestuur het, was vroeër vandeesweek, presies 48 uur voor jou dood – met links na 2 liedjies van sy nuutste, tot nog toe onuitgereikte CD aangeheg, onder andere:
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/01/leonard-cohens-going-home-new-song.html
Ek het laat Vrydagoggend vir die eerste keer kans gekry om die
email te lees en na die snitte te luister – volgens Yahoo se tydstempel, het ek my eie email in antwoord op joune om 11:48 gestuur. Soos wat ek later sou verneem, was dit slegs enkele minute voor jou moeilikheid begin het… Ek wonder of jy darem (vir oulaas) my naam op jou blackberry sien flits het?
Ek het vanoggend weer oor en oor na “Going Home” gesit en
luister:
Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

Het jy ‘n voorgevoel gehad, ou maat?

* * *
Flieks.
Jou smaak was eklekties (ek het nou die dag nog “The Men who
Stare at Goats” by jou geleen… weird!). Jy het gehou van kunsflieks, ernstige rolprente, flieks met ‘n boodskap. Ek onthou nog hoe opgewonde “Mr Holland’s Opus” jou gehad het, seker 15 jaar gelede – die storie van ‘n pa se komplekse verhouding met sy dowe seun, met musiek (weer eens) ‘n sterk tema.
In Oktober 2010 het jy vir my ‘n email gestuur met die
opskrif “Vir pa’s soos jy”, en die boodskap was eenvoudig: “Ek het gedink jy sal dalk hiervan hou – as jy eers eendag met die animasie en Lassie flieks klaar is!” (my dogtertjie Amelie was toe skaars 3 jaar oud). Aangeheg was ‘n skakel na http://www.reeldad.com/ – die webtuiste van ‘n regte pa in die VSA wat flieks as medium gekies het om bepaalde lewenslesse vir sy kinders te leer.
Aldus meneer Reeldad
himself:
As a father, I have always believed
film can be a learning tool for children, to show them places they have not visited, introduce them to people they have not experienced, visit time periods they could not live in and, most important, prompt discussions about sensitive topics that, otherwise, might be challenging discussions to begin. In this way, we can be real (and effective) parents as we share a reel experience.
Amelie is nog nie 5 nie, so ek kon die strategie (en Reeldad
se aanbevelings) nog nie op die proef stel nie, maar ek moet sê, dit lyk vir my na ‘n sinvolle model vir vaderskap…

* * *
Boeke was daar baie (weet Antony Osler hoeveel mense vandag
‘n kopie van Stoep Zen besit te danke aan jou?).
Maar vir nou sal ek volstaan met ‘n verwysing na die laaste boek
wat jy vir my gegee het, vir my mees onlangse verjaarsdag: “The Brooklyn Follies”, van Paul Auster.
Dis die storie van ‘n alleenlopende man vol selfkennis en
besondere lewenswysheid, klaarblyklik nie heeltemal gesond nie (die openingswoorde is “I was looking for a quiet place to die”…), wat boesemvriende maak met ‘n uiteenlopende groep mense van verskillende ouderdomme en agtergronde, en op die ou einde ‘n fundamentele invloed op almal van hulle se lewens het.
Dis eintlik ‘n storie oor jou, Kobus. Maar ek het dit eers later besef.

* * *
Van boeke gepraat, is ek sommer nou die moer in dat jy nooit
self een gaan uitgee nie. Die bevoorregte groepie vriende wat af en toe een van jou diep en/of skreeusnaakse emails ontvang het, weet almal dat jy ‘n beter skrywer is as meeste – en nou is
jy weg.
Jy kon oor enigiets skryf: van jou liefde vir Vrystaatse
rugby, tot drie manne op motorfietse in die Karoo (waarvan jou een stuk op die ou end in Tobie Wiese se bundel gepubliseer is, saam met die werk van o.m. Deon Meyer, Dana Snyman en Kerneels Breytenbach), en die ontwykende soeke in jou middeljare na ‘n droomvrou met mooi tiete en min admin.
En toe natuurlik, die kersie op die koek, jou mees onlangse
en ernstigste storie ooit: die tragiese verhaal van die Meisie van Skeerpoort – skaars ‘n halwe jaar gelede…
Eers sy, Kobus, en nou jy.
Jirre tog.

* * *
Allegeval. Miskien
kan die uitgelese lede van die Bond van Oud-Gereformeerdes uithelp (BOG, soos hulle algemeen bekendstaan: ‘n groep vriende wat soms ernstig, maar meestal ligsinnig omgaan met enige iets
van politiek tot geloof tot sekswenke vir die sestigers – in jou eie woorde, by geleentheid van Albert se 60ste verjaarsdag). Dalk kan hulle saamspan en jou pittigste bydraes op die een of ander manier in ‘n bundel vir die volk verewig?
So gepraat van Albert se 60ste: jy het daai aand die
volgende oor hom kwytgeraak:

Albert is nie ‘n goeie
Afrikaner nie. Hy is nie daarom noodwendig ‘n slegte Afrikaner nie. In fact, hy is in die woorde van ene Fourie Roussouw – predikant in die Kaap - nog Afrikaner nog Afrikaan.

Net gewoon ‘n mens:
- Hy is daai ding wat Jan Smuts was, ’n bewoner van die ganse wêreld.
- wat Steve Biko was, ’n vegter vir vryheid.
- wat Desmond Tutu is, ’n vredesoeker vir alle mense.
- wat Nelson Mandela is, deel van iets groter as net hyself.
- wat Beyers Naudé was, aan die kant van genade.
- iemand wat kwaad raak wanneer mense kla en kla en maak asof dinge nou baie slegter is as ooit.

As jy my die stukkie plagiaat sal vergewe, Kobus, dink ek
ons kan vandag maar dieselfde van jou sê?

Om terug te kom na BOG toe: ek was natuurlik nooit self ‘n lid
nie; ek was immers nóg Bloemfonteiner, nóg brugspeler, nóg biker. Maar jy het darem af en toe so ‘n proeseltjie van jou/julle interessantste en pittigste beuselagtighede na my email-adres se
kant toe gegooi – so ek is terdeë bewus daarvan dat baie van jou beste skryfwerk op die keper van BOG die lig gesien het.

Ek dink hulle gaat vir jou mis, daai BOG-manne.
Ons gaat jou almal mis.

* * *

So, wat nou, Kobus?
Wie gaan my in die toekoms voorstel aan al die talentvolle en interessante mense? Die vervalle dominees, die gefrustreerde politici, die township-sangers, hoofde van universiteitsdepartemente, koorleiers, sakereuse, raadgewers aan Afrika-regerings, Zen-meesters in die Karoo en
beeldskone blondines in Londen?
Met wie gaan ek gesels oor kerk en Kortbroek en Koos
Kombuis?
Jy was wragtag almal se beste pel; hoe het jy dit reggekry? Ek wonder hoeveel mense is daar wat vanaand sit en verval in dronkverdriet oor jou, soos ek, waar ek tans hier sit in ons kerk se T-shirt, met ‘n groot glas wyn binne my bereik, terwyl ek snot en trane huil oor al die goeie tye saam met jou… (terloops, hulle was almal goed, die tye saam met jou – van wie kan ek dit nóg sê?).
Ek ken die meeste van jou vriende nie eers regtig nie (noem dit maar die Joh’burg – Bloemfontein divide as jy wil), maar ek skat almal van ons is vanaand ewe platgeslaan. Al 100 of 200 van ons; miskien nog meer…

* * *
Voor ek klaarmaak, weer Leonard Cohen.
Een van Cohen se mooiste gedigte (liedjies) is “Boogie
Street”, waaroor hyself soos volg aangehaal is in ‘n onderhoud in 2001:

Boogie Street to me was
that street of work and desire, the ordinary life and also the place we live in most of the time that is relieved by the embrace of your children, or the kiss of your beloved, or the peak experience in which you yourself are dissolved, and there is no one to experience it so you feel the refreshment when you come back from those moments....

So we all hope for those heavenly moments, which we get in those embraces and those sudden
perceptions of beauty and sensations of pleasure, but we're immediately returned
to Boogie Street.

Jy’s nou weg, Kobus, en die res van ons is terug in Boogie
Street. Of soos einste liedjie dit weet te vertel:
O Crown of Light, O Darkened One,
I never thought we’d meet.
You kiss my lips, and then it’s done:
I’m back on Boogie Street.

En later:

So, come my friends, be
not afraid.
We are so lightly here.
It is in love that we are made;
In love we disappear.

Laaste maar nie die minste nie, haal ek vir jou ‘n stukkie
aan uit Jack Parrow se “Tussen Stasies” – dieselfde stukkie wat jy 7 maande gelede aan die Meisie van Skeerpoort opgedra het:
As ons staan op einde
van die langpad langs die spoor
Daars net donkerte daarvoor, ek staan en bewe
Dit raak swarter en daar’s net stilte wat ek hoor
Hou my hand styf vas lanks jou sy
Is jy nog lief vir my?
sal jy my by die hemelpoorte kry?

* * *

Nag, ou Grote, en dankie vir alles.
Ek hoop jy kan bike ry en brug speel en na Oom Leonard
luister waar jy nou is.
Maak seker jy vertel al jou stories, in die gebruiklike
detail, as daar iemand is wat kan hoor. En wie ookal gelukkig genoeg is om te kan luister, gaan dit vir seker moerse geniet. En lekker lag.
O, hoe wens ek vanaand jy was soos Koos Kombuis se ou pel
Johnnie, nie dood nie, maar net uitgepaas…
Liefhewwend,

Voetstoots van Tonder
21 Januarie 2012

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Otter Ramble (42km trail run, Sunday 2 October 2011)


It all started about six months ago when a friend of mine in Cape Town emailed to let me know that he (as well as another friend who lives in New York) had managed to arrange entries for the Otter Trail Run.

I did of course know about the Otter, but to be frank, I’d never really had the urge to do the hike (or participate in the trail run in its first two years of existence – road running was my thing, and an annual pilgrimage to the Two Oceans provided more than enough endorphins to keep me going).
In a moment of boredom (or was it inspiration?) I did however sneak a peek at the website – and before I knew it, the bug had bitten. This year’s race had of course already been way over-subscribed, so all I could do was to join the waiting list at position number several hundred and plenty, and hope to eventually crack that coveted entry in the next few years (SANparks only allow 400 people to do the race each year, split between a faster group doing the “Race” on one day and a slower group doing the “Ramble” two days later).
A couple of months after joining the waiting list, I got an email from the organisers, enquiring as to whether I was still interested, as they were about to have a lottery for 5 places which had become free.
What a question!
Not only did I confirm my interest, I also sent them a begging letter that my 4 year old daughter (who knows exactly how to get her way) would have been proud of. I will never know whether it was simply the luck of the draw, or whether my heartfelt plea actually made any difference, but a week later I got another email, congratulating me on “winning” the lottery and giving me 48 hours to confirm my Ramble entry.
From then on I was hooked. I had a reasonable base fitness, but had never done proper trail running before – this clearly needed to be rectified immediately. I also did a bit of gym training (lunges, squats, burpees and some core exercise) as well as the dreaded Westcliff steps once a week (all 204 of them, up to 8 times per session…). Unfortunately I couldn’t train for most of July due to flu and a seemingly unshakable cough, but with a pretty good August and decent September, I was ready to ramble a couple of weeks before the event.
And then disaster struck. Having survived the koppies at Groenkloof and Hennops as well as the Jonkershoek mountains without as much as spraining an ankle, I had my first (and to date most serious) fall of my trail running career – and it happened in my own living room, of all places.
Carrying my daughter on my shoulders on the way to her bath, I tripped over a coffee table in the dark, if you can believe that. No, I wasn’t intoxicated: the furniture had been moved by carpet cleaners a day earlier, and I’d forgotten all about it… until that fateful moment. Desperate to break my daughter’s fall (she’s fine, thanks for asking), I twisted my back which in turn pulled practically every other muscle in my body out of alignment… leading to a few choice swear words and numerous sessions of physiotherapy in the last two weeks before The Big Race.
All’s well that ends well, however, and in spite of the coffee table injury, I eventually managed to take up my place in the Ramble last weekend. Unfortunately my friends from Cape Town and New York never made it to the start: after having successfully inspired my lottery-assisted entry, both of them ended up withdrawing due to illness and injury.
Because the Otter route is a single track virtually from the beginning, it would not be practical for all competitors to start at the same time. In order to solve this minor problem, everyone had to do a short and sharp time trial (the “Prologue”) over approximately 4km of fairly treacherous terrain the day before, based on which we were then seeded (with groups of 4 starting at 30 second intervals).
We had near-perfect conditions for the Prologue, but the weather started changing that afternoon and when we eventually sat down for the final race briefing the evening before the race, the rains came. At least this would cool us down the next day, I said to myself, trying to remain positive…
At 5:00 the next morning, we were picked up from Nature’s Valley and shuttled to the start of the event at Storm’s River Mouth. The nervous energy in the minibus was palpable.
Based on my seeding, I started at 6:10 – in approximately the first 20% of the field. But in hindsight, I probably made a schoolboy error in running the Prologue too hard.
I quickly paid the price as I could sense being “pushed” by some of the runners who had started just after me. This in turn meant that when I started scaling some of the sharp rocks just a kilometre or so from the start, I was rushing… and before I knew it, I had my first fall.
My initial relief when I realised that my legs were fine in spite of the fall was quickly superceded by a minor panic attack when I saw the blood gushing from my left hand. I had cut myself just under the thumb – about 2 centimetres across, and pretty deep, from what I could see.
“Idiot!”, I thought to myself when I assessed the wound. After all these months of preparation and anticipation, traveling all the way down from Gauteng to the Southern Cape, spending loads of money on kit and entry fees and travel expenses… and here I am less than 10 minutes into the event, and I cannot even keep myself upright on the rocks! Do I even deserve to be here in the first place?
But not a problem, I soon thought: I was after all carrying tampons and strapping for exactly this kind of eventuality. It did however take me a while to get the tampon out of its wrapping (I only had one good hand at this point, remember, and I can honestly say that this is the first tampon that I’ve opened in my life). But eventually I got the job done, arrested the blood flow, strapped it all up, and I could start running again.
My fall happened to take place only a few meters from where Kelvin Trautman (the official race photographer) was standing at the time. Maybe that’s precisely why he had positioned himself there in the first place, realising exactly where the route gets interesting and mishaps were therefore likely to happen (like those vulture tow trucks at busy intersections on some of the main roads)… but be that as it may, he took some choice pictures of yours truly with outstretched bloody hand. He also helped to cut my plaster (I had only one good hand, remember) – so thank you, Kelvin; I look forward to the picture.
About two hours later, when I was approaching Scott hut (the second overnight point for those who hike the Otter in five days rather than ramble it in one, about 12 and a half kilometres into the route), the blood was starting to ooze through the plaster and I realised that I would have to up the ante: time for superglue to come out of Camelbak and liberally apply to wound.
The glue burnt like fire, but it worked like a charm: the flow of blood was arrested pretty much instantaneously. It did have an effect on the rest of my race though – healthy hands may not be quite as important as functioning feet in order to finish the Otter, but you actually do use your hands a lot on a route such as that.
You need your hands, for example, when climbing rocks, as well as for holding onto tree trunks and branches and roots next to the route (especially on some of the steeper downhill bits). Furthermore, in wet conditions such as those that we experienced on the day, nearly everyone will slip and fall at least once or twice (even if it is only a relatively minor sit-on-your-bum exercise) – and guess what everyone uses instinctively to break their fall?
Needless to say, therefore, that I re-injured my hand a number of times, and the superglue had to come out time and again.
It is very hard to describe to someone who hasn’t done the Otter how tough it really is. The fact that it’s a total of 42 kilometres over rugged coastline doesn’t even begin to tell the story. Neither does 2,700 meters of vertical ascent paint the full picture (even though that equates to scaling Table Mountain no less than four times on one day). You should also bear in mind that one needs to be totally self-sufficient in this race: it’s up to each competitor to decide how much food and drink and energy gels he or she carries along the route; you don’t have the luxury of water tables every couple of kilometres.
You hardly ever get into a proper running rhythm on the Otter: if you’re not clambering over rocks, you are going up or down steep stairs, crossing rivers or navigating boulders and beach sand – I estimate that I actually ran less than 25% of the route. This also goes some way towards explaining why I took the better part of a day to complete the event: my finishing time of 9:13 placed me in 104th position out of 165 finishers on the day. That works out to an average of over 13 minutes per kilometre, and I doubled my previous slowest time over the marathon distance.
The conditions on the day of our Ramble were also pretty extreme. It rained consistently until the afternoon, which meant that all the footpaths turned into muddy streams, requiring additional concentration not to slip and fall every few yards. According to the organisers, this probably added between 30 and 60 minutes to everyone’s total running time.
In addition to being tough, the route is also pretty dangerous in some parts. I say this not only because I fell and induced a tampon-and-superglue injury early on, but I honestly believe that there’s a number of the technical (i.e. rock-climbing) bits where you can seriously hurt yourself if you’re not careful. The most telling example of this is just after the Bloukrans crossing, where they have tied some rope to the rockface (which is virtually vertical at that point) in order to assist one’s ascent. It’s one thing climbing that with a Camelbak weighing 3kg; I’m not sure I’d really enjoy doing it as part of a “normal” hike with a backpack of 15kg or more.
Speaking about Bloukrans: I have to say that the thought of crossing this river (approximately 50 meters of deep water, 30km into the race) gave me some sleepless nights in the build-up to the event. I may not be the best runner that’s ever taken to the trails, but I’m definitely The Worst Swimmer In The World.
Fortunately my timing was near perfect: I arrived at the river just after midday, within half an hour of low tide – which meant that I could wade through, chest-deep in the water, and without having to resort to a slow breast stroke (in full kit, and with Camelbak, in case you were wondering…).
But some of those behind me were not so lucky. About an hour after I had crossed, the Bloukrans came down in flood (due to the steady rain of the previous 24 hours) and nearly took one of the competitors out to the deep sea. Fortunately there were professional lifesavers on duty, and all turned out OK – but those participants who arrived at the river subsequent to this had to be re-routed.
At the risk of stating the very obvious, the Otter is probably one of the most beautiful trails in the world. The fact that you run through a national park means that nature conservation is the highest possible priority. The coastline, the rock formations, the vegetation, the white sand and perfectly round boulders on the beaches are plentiful and pristine. I never saw an otter though.
I picked up a couple of beautiful, rare shells for my daughter in one of the coves that we passed through – although in hindsight I’m not sure that I was allowed to? Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footsteps – that’s the golden rule, I seem to remember… I hope I’m not banned from the event in future years due to this slightly absent-minded transgression?
The last 10km of the race is comparatively easy – a relatively flat run along the plateau, followed by a descent down to Nature Valley’s sandy beach and a bit of dirt road. And then, just when you think it’s over, you come around the final bend and realise that you have to cross the lagoon via a fairly rickety floating bridge about 50 metres long.
By the time I got there, the tide had come in, and the bridge was somewhat submerged. As you can imagine, unstable legs meeting unstable bridge is not quite a recipe for success, and my resulting fall into the freezing water was witnessed by fifty or so cheering supporters (the first ones I came across in more than 9 hours of running, not counting the handful of marshalls on the course).
Desperately treading water and arms flailing in all directions – this was not quite the way that The Worst Swimmer In The World had planned to finish his first Otter Trail Run. It was a mission to get back onto the bridge (full kit, remember, Camelbak etc…) – and those last few steps tested my balance, my nerve and more than anything, my sense of humour.
Having finished, there was one final equipment check (you’ll get disqualified if you forgot to carry emergency equipment such as space blanket and whistle all the way around the course).
For the first time in my running life, there was no medal at the end: I had to attend the prize giving that evening in order to receive it. At first I thought this was a bit silly – I honestly didn’t feel like going out after getting up at 4:00 in the morning and engaging in strenuous physical activity for the better part of the day.
But in the end, this after-party was one of the many highlights of a fantastic weekend: everybody swopping stories, making new friends, enjoying a very tasty meal (although I would’ve eaten anything that night) and sipping Mitchell’s beer which went down like mother’s milk. I realised that this intimate atmosphere, with everyone fitting into one tent and relating to each other, must have been what it used to be like in the first few years of events such as the Two Oceans marathon, four decades ago (when only a hundred or so competitors took part in the race) – but the beauty is that the Otter will probably always be like this, given the fact that SANparks will only allow so many permits per annum.
The satisfaction of finishing the Otter in one day is a memory which will stay with me forever. As I sit here writing this, I am overwhelmed by a multitude of clichés: I am filled with deep sense of gratitude for being alive, for being one of the privileged few to have experienced this, for being healthy enough to take on the challenge and lucky enough to get to the other side in one piece.
My prevailing memory will be of running through the fynbos in absolute solitude, at one with nature – with big waves crashing into gigantic rocks on my left, a steady rain falling from above and a strong breeze blowing into my face.
And the best of all is that I now have preferred entry for the next 2 years, so I can go and do it all over again.

Voetstoots van Tonder
5 October 2011

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge 19km trail run, Sunday 21 August 2011

It was when the rain beating down on the N2 heading out of Cape Town was forming little white horses just after 6:00 in the morning that I realised I was in trouble. This was clearly going to be a day to remember, especially for someone like me: someone who is still a relative novice in the world of trail running.

It’s been only about three months since I made the in-principle decision that perhaps it’s time to try something different. Too old to take up gymnastics, too young for bowls, too scared for cycling, I ended up selecting trail running.

The good thing about taking to the trails after 25 enjoyable years of road running (during which I’ve done a total of nearly 70 marathons and ultra-marathons), is that on the one hand it is actually quite different from road running (and not everyone who makes the switch, ends up enjoying it – just to prove the point) whilst on the other hand you don’t really have to acquire a totally new skill. You just have to adapt your running style a little bit, and I guess you will eventually get a bit stronger.

I proceeded to enter the Gauteng Winter Trail Series (GWTS), consisting of 4 events in 5 weekends in June and July, all of which took place on rocky routes within an hour of Johannesburg.

Not having the mountains or the forests or the seaside scenery of the Cape, you sometimes have to use your imagination to call these trails in the greater Johannesburg / Pretoria area “pretty”. When you crest a mountain in the Boland, all you see is other mountains. When you get to the top of the koppie at Groenkloof, however, you see, in no particular order, the highway, the suburbs and Unisa.

But in spite of this, trail running makes a wonderful change from road running – even if the only routes within striking distance are in relatively non-exotic locations such as Pelindaba. It makes a change to run on single tracks, designed for hikers, rather than wide strips of tarmac. It makes a change to have to watch your every footfall, lest you hit a stone and fall head over heels – which is also a great equaliser: if all you’re gonna be looking at is the 2 meters of trail ahead of you, it doesn’t really matter that you’re in Gauteng rather than the Tokai forest, because there’s no real chance to appreciate the scenery in any event.

The organisers of these trail events do, of course, drive a pretty hard bargain. Everybody knows that the entry fees are roughly double (and often more) compared to road races of similar distance, but you only realise when you do your first one that you don’t seem to get very much for it (except the opportunity to sprain your ankle). No water points, no distance markers, no marshals, only a brightly coloured ribbon tied to a bush every now and then to set your mind at ease that you did actually take the correct fork in the route a few hundred yards ago (a la Hansel and Gretel).

And in my case, after doing the first two events of the GWTS, not even a medal to give to my four year old daughter as a reward for being a good girl, looking after Mama while her father has been out since before the crack of dawn. To be an official finisher (and get that elusive medal) a minimum of 3 out of the 4 races that formed part of the series had to be completed – and I got the dreaded flu after the second one.

Oh well, perhaps next year.

But then I heard about the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge, and I decided that this was the ideal opportunity to take my trail running to the next level (to use a cliché from the world of management speak). And the next level in this case, to be exact, was a total of 800 meters of elevation – but more about that later.

“The Jonkershoek valley is without doubt one of the most beautiful mountain scenes in the Western Cape. Massive turrets & cliffs of orange-faced quartzite hold fortress over a collection of rambling mountain streams and waterfalls. It's so magnificent that it's impossible to ignore, the essence of the place seeping under your skin into the fabric of your senses.” - so said the internet page promoting the event. And since I thought this would make a nice change from the dry, yellow grass and the smoke of the Highveld, I promptly entered the event and booked my plane ticket.

For the first time in my running life, there was also a long list of compulsory equipment.

Except for the obvious such as energy bars and backpack with “bladder” (did I mention there are no water points?), we also needed a waterproof jacket with hood, a beanie, a cell phone (to phone for help, should you break a leg and/or get stuck in a crevice), a whistle (in case there’s no cell phone reception, resort to more primal measures), and a space blanket (to preserve a modicum of body heat while they assemble a rescue party and start up the helicopter – or to create some shade and hide from the sun in the unlikely event that the Cape would treat us to hot weather, this time of the year).

In addition, we also needed to carry a first aid kit that Florence Nightingale would have been proud of. The list included, and once again I quote: pain killers, stretch bandage, rigid strapping, safety pins x 2, super glue, tampon x 2, cable ties x 2, rehydrate sachet x 1, any personal medication.”

Whilst anyone can understand the pain killers and the stretch bandage, I was a little flabbergasted by the tampons and the super glue.

The organisers must have had this question from a number of people, as they provided the following explanation: “Why Tampons? Any wilderness medic will tell you that tampons are an asset to any remote field kit. A big gash that is pouring blood and needs stitches? Shove a Tampon in the cut and bandage it closed. It will work to stem the flow of blood and block the gash until we can get you to a hospital.”

“Super-glue? Works brilliantly to seal open cuts that need one or two stitches. Super-glue is non-allergic and sterile, dries like a scab and will simply work its way out of the wound like a scab does. Brilliant to stop any further dirt and infection from setting in.”

So there you have it – all seems to make perfect sense, doesn’t it?

That is until I walked into a pharmacy in Canal Walk the day before the event in order to do tampon shopping for the first time ever at the ripe old age of 46.

Did you know, dear reader (assuming you’re a man, like me) that all tampons are not made equal? Did you know that you get regular and you get super and you get a whole range of others, the details of which probably don’t really belong in a write-up of a running event?

Neither did I.

Anyway, there I stood in the feminine hygiene aisle in Dis-Chem, when this cute little sales assistant walked straight up to me and offered help with a beautiful, knowing smile on her face. And I couldn’t even use the excuse that I was tampon-shopping on behalf of my wife… I ended up taking one box of regular and one super – you never know how deep the gash might be when I fall down the crevice the next day, do you?

Shopping done, registration completed, energy drink mixed, backpack weighing in at 2.6 kg (approximately equal to the weight of a slightly premature baby at birth)…and at last it was time to put my feet up and start the mental preparation for the next day’s big race.

I guess it was a good omen when the Boks beat the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth whilst I was wolfing down my pasta that evening, but it wasn’t such a good sign when I noticed the weather starting to change a couple of hours later. Or rather, this being the Western Cape, should I perhaps say that it was in fact a change of seasons, no less?

Be that as it may, I was pretty excited when I went to bed that night and listened to the howling north-wester and the pouring rain. A few hours of broken sleep, a strong cup of coffee and a couple of rusks later, and off I went in my hired little Kia Picanto (all 1,000 cc of it), negotiating the white horses on the N2 past the airport on my way to the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve on the other side of Stellenbosch.

“Does your mother know that you play outside in weather like this?”, an ex-colleague asked me when I bumped into him at the start. I sincerely hope she doesn’t, is the honest answer – she will soon be 85, and she worries enough about me as it is… please help me to make sure that she never sees what I’ve written here?

But I was never in the army, so I do these things, for “fun”, nogal, to make up for it – sort of.

And what fun it was that day.

After 6 undulating kilometres, we hit a stretch of approximately 2.6km in which we gained no less than 700m of vertical height (out of the total elevation of 800m for the whole race) before reaching the high level contour trail. You do the math… that’s an average incline of some 25 degrees (according to the official course description, it was 40 degrees in parts) – the equivalent of a steep flight of stairs which never seems to end.

To put it in perspective, there is very little of even the renowned mountain stages of the Tour de France where the incline exceeds 10 degrees – basically because they don’t really build roads any steeper than that (most French cars wouldn’t be able to ascend such inclines).

Another way of looking at it: 700m of elevation equates to approximately 230 stories of the average building. Not that many buildings have 230 stories, however (except perhaps in Dubai); it’s a little more than twice the height of the Empire States Building, for example. It also happens to be a very similar vertical height gain to a climb up the front face of Table Mountain, starting at the cable car station (off Kloofnek Road) and following Platteklip Gorge up to Maclear’s Beacon.

This stretch of 2.6km took me more than 45 minutes (and I am normally able to walk quite comfortably at a pace of under 10 minute per kilometre… but I learnt that day that rock climbing is not the same as brisk walking).

Cresting the highest point did not fill me with quite as much elation as I had anticipated – on the contrary, it ended up being somewhat of a shock.

Nothing could have prepared me for the conditions that we would experience once we got to the high level contour trail, with our lungs burning and our legs aching. An ill wind was blowing, the rain was coming down sideways, it was absolutely freezing – it felt like we were caught in a blizzard.

I heard that the wind got up to 50 knots that morning, I understand that the modified temperature (including wind chill factor) at the top of the mountain (which is well above the snow line) got down to minus 23 degrees. To be clear however, the numbers quoted are in respect of the 30km event (which took place at the same time) – and these superheroes climbed to an altitude no less than 500 meters higher than us 19km plodders (and hence they would have experienced stronger winds, and colder temperatures – leading to one 30km participant suffering a severe attack of hypothermia, requiring her to be brought down the mountain by Metro & Wilderness Search and Rescue in an exercise which took more than eight and a half hours).

Suffice it to say, however, that even lower down the mountain it was still bitterly cold and more than just a little bit breezy…

Soon after we had started our descent, I realised that my right shoelace had become undone. At first I couldn’t find anywhere to stop (it’s single track, remember, and there’s a whole procession of mountain goats behind me, all trying to get down to a bowl of hot soup at the finish line as quickly as possible). So there I am, running in freezing, slippery conditions, down a slope, worrying about stepping on my own shoelace. And when I eventually found a little bit of space to stop and a rock to sit on, I was shocked to find out that my fingers were practically frozen. I don’t know exactly how long I battled to tie that shoelace, but it felt like an eternity.

Onward and downward we went, the mountain towering upwards to our right, and what felt like the edge of the precipice on the left. It may not have been quite as life-threateningly dangerous as it seemed to me, but I had visions (nightmares?) of slipping in the mud and tumbling down the cliffs, ending up in a place where my cell phone wouldn’t work, my frozen fingers wouldn’t be able to find my whistle, and not even a tampon or two would give me any comfort.

As a result, I was running (rather slowly, I have to say, but running still) with my right arm stretched out, in order to move my centre of gravity towards the mountain… just in case I slipped and fell. “Eerder bang Jan as dooie Jan”, as we say in Afrikaans (“better safe than sorry” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it).

The next thing we had to contend with, was crossing all the mountain streams at the back of the mountain. According to the official course description, “the trail crosses in and out of a few indigenous forested gullies that need careful negotiation over wet rocks and roots”.

Romantic as that may seem, it certainly wasn’t as much fun as it sounds.

On a day like we had out there, you realise exactly how the gully got there in the first place – the landform created by running water, rushing down the hillside. Which is exactly what we had to negotiate on about eight or nine occasions, I reckon (I stopped counting after three).

At the first mountain stream, I was still trying to do some rock-hopping, fooling myself into thinking that I could keep my socks (if not my trail running shoes) relatively dry. At the second stream, there was no such luxury: it was about half a meter deep, there were no protruding rocks, we had to get to the other side, and I learnt within a fraction of a second that, when faced with only one option (however unpalatable it might appear), it doesn’t take you long to decide accordingly.

A couple of deep breaths and a few very wet steps later, and it was onwards and downwards again. And it’s amazing how quickly you get used to it: by the time of the next crossing, the “decision” comes naturally to Just Do It, Nike-style, and immerse your feet without thinking too much or worrying about it at all. In 25 years of road running, I don’t believe that I’ve ever had to do anything similar?

The last part of the race was mostly Jeep-track (a euphemism for pretty rough roads – not recommended for your average Mercedes ML or Audi Q7 or BMW X5, but pretty smooth going in the context of trail running).

It was an amazing feeling of achievement to reach the finish line. It took me a shade over two and a half hours – the slowest 19km of my life, even though I managed to finish in the top third of the field (44th out of 141 competitors).

I guess it doesn’t beat a Comrades or Two Oceans or one’s first ever marathon, but the combination of terrain, elevation and conditions made it one of the most memorable runs of my life. And one of the most enjoyable ones as well, in that slightly perverse sense that only participants of endurance events will really understand (a friend told me that I would have enjoyed the army when I told him this – but I think that may be pushing it…)

I never saw how beautiful the route was, by the way, I never noticed the “massive turrets” or the “orange-faced quartzite”. Apart from focusing on the 2 meters ahead of me at all times, as one does, the pouring rain and the mist meant that there wasn’t much visibility out there in any event.

Perhaps I’ll have to go back next year and do it again, therefore; perhaps I’ll have to go and appreciate the scenery. Perhaps I’ll even tackle the 30km next time (assuming that I can graduate into a slightly more proficient trail runner in the next 12 months).

At least this time I won’t have to buy any more tampons: I still have a supply which will probably last for the rest of my trail running career. Does anyone know whether they have an expiry date?


Voetstoots van Tonder

4 September 2011

Postscript

The official race report can be found here

Race photographs can be found here

The official web page of the event can be found here

Oud maar nog nie koud nie (Psalm 90 ten spyt)

Almal weet dat daar twee tipes mense in die wêreld is: dié wat van Neil Diamond hou, en dié wat nie van hom hou nie.

Twintig jaar gelede is daar selfs ‘n fliek gemaak uit hierdie stukkie lewenswysheid. In “What About Bob” vertolk Bill Murray naamlik die titelrol, synde ‘n psigiatriese pasiënt wat van sy eggenote geskei is omdat sy ‘n Diamond-aanhanger was terwyl Bob self die sanger nie kon staan nie.

Die teendeel is egter waar in my en my vrou se verhouding. Trouens, toe die twee van ons mekaar die heel eerste keer ontmoet het, was dit juis een van die dinge wat ons bymekaargebring het: nie net was sy in haar noppies met die feit dat ek inderdaad ‘n Neil Diamond CD of twee besit het nie, maar sy was veral hoogs beïndruk dat ek nie eers omgegee het om in die openbaar daaroor te praat nie! Kort voor lank het sy by my woonstel kom kuier – net om seker te maak dat ek nie vir haar gelieg het oor die musiek nie – en sewe jaar later is ons steeds saam.

Teen hierdie agtergrond was daar derhalwe geen keuse nie: ons moes eenvoudig verlede Saterdag die pelgrimstog na die FNB Stadium meemaak om respek te betoon aan Oom Neels wat hier aan die begin van sy agtste dekade vir die eerste keer aan die suidpunt van Afrika vir ons kom sing het. En daar is miskien twee tipes mense in die wêreld, maar byna 53,000 van die eerste tipe was in vir ‘n onvergeetlike ervaring op hierdie soel herfsaand in Gauteng.

Ons het my ouer suster en dié se man genooi om saam te gaan – dit is immers aan haar te danke (of moet ek sê te wyte?) dat ekself vandag nog ‘n Neil Diamond-aanhanger is. Dis seker maar hoe baie mense se musieksmaak ontwikkel: op ‘n jong ouderdom hoor jy wat elders in die huis speel, en as jy nie ‘n weersin daarin ontwikkel nie, raak jy gewoond daaraan. Later begin jy selfs om saam te neurie. En voor jy jou kom kry, koop jy self ‘n langspeelplaat (nota vir jonger lesers: plate is wat ons gekoop het voordat daar iTunes was om af te laai).

Vanuit alle rigtings is gewaarsku dat ons nie die verkeer moes onderskat nie, en derhalwe besluit ons groepie om die halfuur-rit stadion toe aan te pak sowat drie ure voor die konsert sou begin. Sweet Caroline, die nie-amptelike volkslied van alle Neil Diamond-aanhangers, blêr uit elke viertrekvoertuig se sondak terwyl die verkeer by Nasrec verby kronkel. En skaars ‘n driekwartier later daag ons toe by ons sitplekke op terwyl die son nog water trek (en Diamond self waarskynlik nog besig is om ‘n middagslapie te geniet in sy vyfster-hotelsuite).

Uit blote verveeldheid drink ons toe maar ‘n paar biere om die tyd te verwyl.

Terwyl ek so rondstaan met ‘n drankie in die hand, is dit opvallend hoe oorweldigend die gehoor uit ons dam se ganse bestaan. Nie almal wat Afrikaans praat, is daar nie, maar omtrent almal wat daar is, praat Afrikaans. Daar’s miskien ‘n streng kwotastelsel wanneer ons land rugbyspanne kies of poste gevul word by die werk, maar definitief nie wanneer gehore saamgestel word nie. Moet tog asseblief net nie vir Julius Malema of Jimmy Manyi daarvan vertel nie, anders is almal van ons dalk in die pekel…

Waar is ons Engels-sprekende landgenote dan vanaand? En na wie het hulle in die sewentigerjare geluister toe Neil Diamond op sy beste was? Hulle het tog seker nie almal vasgehaak by Pink Floyd en die Eagles nie? Die antwoord op hierdie groot vrae het ek nie, maar dit was inderdaad ‘n magdom Boere wat opgeruk het in die rigting van Soweto – soos hulle laas gedoen het toe die Bulle in die Orlando-stadion rugby gespeel het.

Uiteindelik, ongeveer tien minute na die geskeduleerde begintyd, ses maande nadat ek die kaartjies gekoop het, en meer as veertig jaar sedert ek sy stem die eerste keer gehoor het, stap Neil Diamond op die verhoog. Of laat ek eerder sê hy waggel – die man se stem klink dalk nie 70 jaar oud nie, maar sy lyf is definitief nie meer dié van ‘n jong man nie. Volgens Psalm 90 (vers 10) het Diamond se gebeendere immers al ‘n volle leeftyd agter die rug…

Sy vel, aan die ander kant, lyk nie ‘n dag ouer as 35 nie – daar is nie ‘n plooi in sig nie (Psalm 90 ten spyt). Dalk kan Oom Neil sy eie velroom begin bemark wanneer sy musiekdae verby is?

Daar word afgeskop met die ritmiese Soolaimon. Kort voor lank is die skare op hulle voete en almal sing en dans tesame (nota vir jonger lesers: Neil Diamond is die ou wat Soolaimon gesing het voordat Steve Hofmeyr dit begin doen het).

“I love it when you get up and dance – it makes me feel useful”, weet die ou oom ons mos te vertel. En ons juig.

‘n Rukkie later sing hy vir ons Solitary Man – op sy eie, sonder enige ondersteunende samesang van die drie sonskynsusters in die agtergrond, getrou aan die liedjie se titel. Ons juig weer. En hy sê vir ons “Dankie” (nie “Thank you” nie, maar “Dankie”). Grootste gejuig van die aand.

Kort daarna is dit tyd vir I’m a Believer – in nie minder nie as vier verskillende weergawes, nogal (nota vir jonger lesers: Neil Diamond is die ou wat I’m a Believer gesing het voordat Shrek dit gedoen het).

Ek let op dat die lede van sy orkes self ook nie te jonk is nie. Volgens die program toer die meeste van hulle al saam vir meer as 30 jaar, en as jy so na hulle kyk, besef jy dat die myle begin wys. Dit herinner so effens aan die Buena Vista Social Club (indien nie Hanno Gelderblom se Jerry-Hattricks nie…).

In ‘n stadium fokus die groot skerm op die klawerbord-speler se hande soos wat hy die note tokkel; dit lyk kompleet soos dinosourus-pote.

Wanneer dit tyd is vir You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, is Barbara Streisand nêrens in sig nie. In haar plek is daar ‘n ou tannie met gekleurde rooi hare en plooie op haar arms en plooie op haar ken. Miskien moet Neil vir haar van daai gesigroom gee…

Maar wie is ek om te spot met die ouderdom? Ek, wat self hier by ‘n Neil Diamond konsert sit terwyl die jeug van vandag hulle kop skud vir my; ek, wat nog nie vyftig is nie, maar ek het meer plooie op my voorkop as vanaand se bejaarde hoofkunstenaar? Ek onthou nog ‘n slagspreuk wat ek eendag teen die muur in my suster se huis raakgelees het: “Do not criticise the coffee – you may be old and weak yourself some day”...

En ek moet sê: hierdie klomp is dalk oud, maar hulle is nog glad nie koud nie. Hulle kappityt vir ‘n vale, en daar is geen fout te vinde met die klank wat hulle produseer nie. Ek weet nie hoe lank dit nog is voordat Neil Diamond en sy orkes dalk halt roep en besluit dis tyd om ouetehuis toe te trek nie, maar ek kan jou een ding belowe: die karaoke-sessies in die aftree-oord waar hulle dalk land, sal nooit weer dieselfde wees nie!

So skuins na 9 besef ek daar gaan nie ‘n pouse wees nie, en die ekstra bier wat ek voor die vertoning gedrink het wil nie meer wil saamspeel nie – dis tyd om ‘n draai te loop. Ek pak die honderdtal trappies op pad kleedkamer toe. En, net toe dit sulke tyd is, hoor ek hoe begin die soet note van Sweet Caroline.

Ek kan dit nie glo nie. Vir omtrent 90% van my lewe wag ek al vir hierdie oomblik. Ek het die liedjie seker al 10,000 keer in my lewe saamgesing. En noudat die oomblik uiteindelik aanbreek, en Neil Diamond sing sy bekendste stuk in lewende lywe om die draai van my af, staan ek tou in die toilet!

Maar eind goed, alles goed: onse Neil het op die ou end Sweet Caroline nie minder nie as drie keer gesing (gelukkig vir my, sowel as die hordes ander wat ook min of meer op daardie tydstip toilet toe moes gaan – ek was immers nie die oudste man in die stadion nie…).

Dit was wonderlik; ek het laas so baie pret gehad in hierdie einste stadion toe Siphiwe Tshabalala die eerste doel van laasjaar se Sokker Wêreldbeker aangeteken het in Suid-Afrika se openingswedstryd teen Mexiko.

Kort daarna is dit tyd vir die enigste “nuwe” liedjie van die aand, te wete Hell Yeah (van Neil Diamond se 2005-album, 12 Songs). Hier kan die beste gehoor word hoe die kunstenaar met homself praat, homself adviseer, en waarsku, en gelukwens, en kritiseer – soos wat hy ook in die program opmerk. En jy besef ook opnuut hoe ‘n talentvolle digter en liedjieskrywer Neil Diamond eintlik is.

Niks som dit beter op as ‘n paar strofes uit die liedjie self nie:


So if they ask you when I'm gone

Was it everything he wanted?

When he had to travel on

Did he know he'd be missed?

You can tell them this

Hell yeah he did

He saw it all

He walked the line

Never had to crawl

He cried a bit

But not for long

Hell yeah he found the life that he was after

Filled it up with love and laughter

Finally got it right and made it fit

Hell yeah he did

Wat meer kan enigiemand vra wanneer die uurglas begin uitloop?

Uiteindelik, 1 uur en 55 minute nadat Neil Diamond op die verhoog gestap het, is dit tyd vir oumense om te gaan slaap en die vertoning is verby. Diamond waggel van die verhoog af. Hy lyk moeg, maar ek moet sê, ek blameer hom nie. Hy en sy orkes het alles gegee. Dit was ‘n grootse ervaring en ‘n wonderlike voorreg om een van die grootste kunstenaars van alle tye in aksie te sien.

So, vir daardie Kapenaars van die eerste tipe wat wel van Neil Diamond hou en môre-aand ‘n beurt kry om die man se vertoning te gaan bywoon: geniet dit, julle is in vir ‘n helse belewenis.

Moet net nie te veel bier drink voor die tyd nie – netnou mis julle dalk ook Sweet Caroline…


Voetstoots van Tonder

4 April 2011

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