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Lessons From The Sauna

Lessons From

The Sauna


- the peril of online dating -






Michael Klerck


a vonPeter Publication

Copyright © 2016 :: Michael von Petersom Klerck


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic or mechanical – without the prior written permission of the author.



Shakespir Edition





















Other books by Michael Klerck



From Biltong

to Beef Jerky & Beyond – autobiographical travelogue


Where The Light Is – adult, literary novel


The Key To Tantalis – fantasy/adventure for graders





View these at MichaelKlerck.com for details of the books & links to online bookshops. Available in e-book format for devices as well as in paperback, shipped worldwide. Unfortunately, because of multiple tables this book is not available digitally, except in pdf format.



This and other books are also all available

in paperback at major online bookstores, including

Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, etc.










Michael Klerck was born in 1955, in Cape Town, South Africa and soon went on to spend a significant part of his childhood on the infamous Robben Island where his parents met during the war. He began writing at an early age, and concentrated for some time on writing short stories, one of which was published by Stand Magazine, Newcastle. He qualified as a teacher at the then well-known Graaff-Reinet Teachers’ College, and went on to gain a Bachelor of Arts degree through the University of South Africa where he read courses in Economics, Communication and Philosophy while majoring in Psychology and English. He spent six years teaching in the former homeland of KaNgwane near Swaziland and began lecturing in tertiary education in 1987 which saw him involved in a number of pilot teaching programmes.


He is the author of a number of textbooks for the college market, including one on Public Finance that has enjoyed one of the longest uninterrupted runs in the college market since first published in 1996.


He has also had various articles published by Men’s Health, South Africa, and is the winner of the 2001 Mondi Paper Magazine Writer’s Award for work in the same magazine.


He is the author of the novel The Key To Tantalis, a children’s fantasy book, and an adult literary novel called Where The Light Is.


And his autobiographical travelogue, From Biltong To Beef Jerky & Beyond.


He lives in White Rock, near Vancouver, British Columbia.






– so many –




Cheryl, for all the edits, and the belief that I got it right this time – Jane, thanks for being the English professor that enthused – David, the only person who has read all my books and comes back for more – Carol, whose idea this was, after we met on the deck that day – Cathy, for saying you think I have found my niche – I think you are right.

To Trevor Webster and André Lemmer, for their abiding belief in me as a young student in their English class in the seventies.


Also Chris Bowling who, as my mentor and even when I wrote a novel that did not deserve to be read, he read it and encouraged me.

It saddens me to know he never got to see me published.

This one is for you, Chris.





~ In memory of Drywer Du Toit, and others ~





p<{color:#000;}. Visiting Greenland

p<{color:#000;}. Women With Small Dogs

p<{color:#000;}. Taking A Peek

p<{color:#000;}. Three Kings From Afar

p<{color:#000;}. A Fit

p<{color:#000;}. When The Trains Roll By

p<{color:#000;}. Too Hot To Handle

p<{color:#000;}. Serving Papers

p<{color:#000;}. La Petite Mort

p<{color:#000;}. The Right Ingredient

p<{color:#000;}. The Screaming Of Those Lambs

p<{color:#000;}. When War Was Right

p<{color:#000;}. Finding My Angel
























Visiting Greenland



Oom is not an easy word to pronounce.

Especially for the Dutch.

This is difficult to explain to most people because it is a Dutch word.

It is also very difficult explaining this to the Dutch themselves.

Whenever someone asks me why some people call me Oom, I have to give them an explanation, and then also say where the word comes from. And that people from Holland cannot pronounce it as it should be pronounced.

This sometimes leaves them feeling they should perhaps not have started a conversation with me.

With some people this is an advantage.

But with others, I feel the explanation could be a bit of a problem. So if I like someone, I leave out the Dutch portion of the explanation so as not to confuse them.

It is only because someone who went to my school started calling me Oom.

Not necessarily because I feel old, but because it is a title that younger people use for older men, and this friend is younger than me. It is also because when I moved to Canada, I started speaking more Afrikaans than when I lived in South Africa. That’s another story, and I am not going to bore you with it right now.

This particular person from my school is ten years younger, and so when we became friends he called me Oom as a joke, but it stuck with me.

So I am Oom. The simple translation is Uncle.

And it is used just like Indian people use the word Aunty: out of respect for an older woman of standing in the community.

I am not a woman, but I think you know what I mean.

Although we have many people from India in South Africa, I first heard this title, Aunty, here in Canada. If you were born in North America you probably also pronounce this word differently, as in Anty.

But it should sound like this: Onty.

As I have said, in South Africa, there are many people from India who live in Durban, but very few in Cape Town. The only Indians I remember were the Osmans who seemed to own every convenience store, on the corner of almost every street. But apart from this family, most of them stayed in Durban where it is hot and there are more sharks. Although I don’t want to digress too much at this point, the Indians in South Africa are mainly Hindus.

The people from India, in Canada, are all Sikhs. They wear turbans.

Of course I am speaking about the men, and not the women. Although the women are also Sikhs.

The Hindus would never be seen dead in a turban. I think it is because they talk so fast and so much, it would fall off.

I remember going to Durban once; there I visited a shop. I was exhausted when I left, because when I came out onto the street I found I had products in my arms I had never seen before.

My wife, Emma, who was still alive then, said she would never go to India with me.

You can imagine my surprise when we arrived in British Columbia and I found that there was a whole city of people from India.

They are the Sikhs I was talking about. They are very different. A lot quieter and very hard working.

But beware. If you are not careful, you will end up with as many products in your arms, just with them looking silently at you.

They are very generous people. And when I visit their city which is called Surrey, and enter the sauna, there is always an Aunty who looks for a younger man after seeing me arrive, and just says one word: respect. And at least two younger men jump up and offer me a seat. I am often embarrassed by this, but I sit down anyway.

And when they discover where I come from originally, and I mention all the Indians in Durban, I get a funny look from them. I am now careful not to say much about Hindus.

Anyway, the point is that I get to sit down because an Onty has made sure that one of her family shows respect. And I am always grateful, and often wonder whether it was the British that taught them this respectful way of doing things.

Or if it was the other way around.

Thank goodness I am not Oompie. But that is yet another explanation.

So, in Dutch, Oom is pronounced just as English-speaking people pronounce ohm which is the resistance in a circuit transmitting a current of one ampere when subjected to a potential difference of one volt.

Neither this definition nor the word itself has anything to do with my name, except that one woman did tell me once she thought I was electrifying.

Now if you pronounced Oom like this – ohm – no one in South Africa would understand you.

But in Holland, they will not understand you when you pronounce it the way it should be said.

Everybody talks about the Dutch in Holland. But there is no country called Holland, a Dutch person told me one day. He said we should be calling it The Netherlands. I realised that with such confusion about the name of their own country, it is no wonder they don’t know how to pronounce Oom properly.

It should be pronounced like this: Oo-wim. This is the way we say it in Afrikaans; the proper way.

It occurred to me one day that I would hate for people to meet me in the street and shout, hey, Ohm!

Instead of, hey Oo-wim!

Many years ago I visited Holland as a student, and stayed with a family. They had a daughter who liked to engage with me at the dinner table every night. I used to speak a little Afrikaans to her and her mother, just as a tease. She loved this because deep inside her she could understand what I was saying, but on the surface she could not. I think it was like being able to smell the rain that splashes on the dry African soil, but at the same time not having it touch your skin.

It is strange.

I used to say “Die ooo-wimm sit in die boo-wim.” The uncle sits in the tree.

And she would bend over double with laughter, because in Dutch it should have been De ohm zat in de bohm.

This never sounded right to me.

Every night she would ask me what the ohm was doing. And I would tell her, and she would burst out laughing all over again. I even drew her a picture of an oom in a tree, and each night I made sure there was something different about him. One day I made his beard longer. She noticed and asked me why. I said because he had been in the tree for some days and could not trim it. She found this very funny.

I soon found out why they pronounced oom incorrectly.

One day I added a little stream below the tree. And some flowers next to the stream, because the Dutch love flowers. I cannot remember if they were specifically tulips, but nevertheless.

She looked at me and asked what it was at the bottom of the tree. I was a little insulted because to me it was obvious. But when I told her, she giggled with renewed delight.

And then I knew why they had it wrong with oom. It was because they also had it wrong with stroom.

In Afrikaans stroom would be pronounced just like oom. One simply adds the str- in front of oo-wim. So my drawing would be: Die oo-wim sit in die boo-wim, boo-er die stroo-wim. The uncle sits in the tree, above the stream.

In fact it was Gord, my confidant in dating, who alerted me to the fact that bo could be pronounced as one would say Boer in English, or Luxembourgish.

Gord was born in Luxembourg. I didn’t even know there was a language called Luxembourgish.

And they say boer, just like the Engelse would say it: baw-er.

It sounds like it rhymes with abhor.

This makes sense because the Engelse did abhor the Boers. Mostly because the Boers almost beat them.

But that is another story.

Of course in Dutch they had it all wrong, and when she had finished laughing at me, she said it like this: de ohm zat in de bohm, boh-ve de strohm.

I smiled, even though the pronunciation was entirely wrong.

Perhaps, I thought, the Dutch would one day come back to Cape Town, and then learn to say it correctly.

When the oom in the tree had grown a long beard, and we were both a little tired of him, I decided to do something else.

I decided to share a poem.

I was sensitive enough not to simply blurt it out loud to her first. I used her brother as a reason, because it was a poem that was more often taught to a boy.

But when she translated it into her own language, Dutch, she squealed with even more laughter.

It was then that her mother looked at me out of the corner of her eye, and I thought that perhaps I had gone too far.

It went like this in Afrikaans, because I could not speak Dutch, or Nederlands, for that matter:


Oupa en Ouma sit op die stoep – Oupa and Ouma are sitting on the veranda;

Ouma maak ‘n helse poep – Ouma makes a helluva fart;

Oupa sê: “wat makeer?” – Oupa asks, “what is wrong?”

Ouma sê: “my hol is seer.” – Ouma says, “my arse is sore.”


This was probably one of the naughtiest poems fathers could teach their children when I was young. And it would make many tannies (aunties, or ontys) look away in disgust.

Of course, the naughty tannies just winked.

And so it sometimes became the reason why it was recited in the first place: to upset some tannies, and to get those naughty tannies on one’s side.

I often wondered what was so special about sitting on the stoep and feeling sick.

But of course it was always about the word poep. She and her brother understood immediately what poep meant, and from then on this took precedence at the dinner table, even over the ohm sitting in the bohm. Boh-ve de strohm.

Until her mother said it was enough, talking about poep at supper, and so we stopped.

It is interesting, while we are talking about words, now that I am living in North America I have discovered a whole lot of Afrikaans words that people here understand. The Americans talk about their pinkie finger. And they often use the word stoep as well.

But they pronounce it as one would stoop or group, which of course is wrong. And this explains why they pronounce poep wrongly also. Here in North America dogs make pooops. Not poeps, which is said quickly. As one would say oop in oops.

I think we in South Africa shortened the pronunciation in order to save time. It was probably when someone was sitting on the stoep and wanted to make a poep. There was no time to say it the long way, as it stoo-oop, droo-oop or sloo-oop which many people might know is a one-masted sailing yacht.

And it of course makes sense because one would use the word oops if one did not get off the stoep quickly enough.

But there are other similar words too.

When I push my golf cart down the fairway some days I feel warm inside when I read the brand name on the handle: Trekker.

In fact it will surprise many people, even those who call me Oom, that there are many similarities between American and South African history. The Dutch arrived in their ships not only at Cape Town, but also at New York which they called New Amsterdam. The settlers then both trekked into the interior in ox wagons, with their Bibles in one hand and their guns in the other.

The women even had Voortrekker kappies, or bonnets.

They both encountered first-nation people as Canada calls them, and both formed identical laagers with their wagons: these were fortifications in a rectangle or circle for protection.

There were a lot of first-nation people who didn’t want them there and so there was a lot of fighting. But instead of using too many bullets, the settlers simply coughed, and their European diseases wiped out most of the local population.

Almost the same thing happened in South Africa: laagers, and fighting. It was not pleasant. Unfortunately for the Boer trekkers, king Shaka was one of the most brilliant military strategists of all time, and things did not go well for them when they trekked into parts of the interior.

But that’s a sad part of history, and we didn’t talk too much about this at the table when I was young. Instead we stuck very close to innocent images of uncles in trees, and grandmothers farting on the stoep. It was a lot more politically correct, even if it was rude.

As it is, poep can mean to fart, as well as the other thing.

I hope you don’t have the idea that I am a rude man. Especially when it comes to dating, and because I am now in my sixties.

It is just that, moving here to North America and then losing my wife has not been easy and, to be honest, although I was quite happy to live alone, it was Gord who got me into the dating thing.

And of course Merle, my father’s ex-housekeeper from Cape Town.

She said to me one day, “No man should live alone. What about these dating sites? There must be lots of lekker – nice – women in America.”

Merle always talked about my living in America, even though I told her again and again that Canada is a very different place.

I sometimes talk about North America. And when I use this title, I always think this means America and Canada only.

But living here can be confusing, especially as one gets older, because I have now learnt that even Greenland is included in North America.

And Mexico.

But I don’t think that they speak the same in Greenland as they do here in Canada. They might even pronounce Oom correctly, for instance.

I think that I should go there one day to find out.

But even that would be confusing because when we first came over to settle in Vancouver, we flew over both Greenland and Iceland. Except that Greenland was very icy, and Iceland looked very green, from so high up.

But that was a long time ago, and many things have happened since then.

Who would have said that my Emma would die, and I would be left with such a big hole inside of me?

And then meet so many interesting women? And get into so much trouble, also?

Just when I was planning my trip to Greenland to find out if they say poep like we do, I got into dating and then didn’t seem to have the time.









Women With Small Dogs



I cannot remember if it was Gord or Merle who persuaded me to start dating first.

I think I did say that Merle was my father’s housekeeper, from Cape Town.

She has never left Cape Town.

I flew back to South Africa, with Emma’s ashes in a jar, and scattered them on the slopes of the oldest mountain in the world – Table Mountain, and she stood next to me there, looking at my wife’s ashes blowing in the wind. And I thought of that song, Blowin’ In The Wind, and the words about how many years before someone can be free. And I thought of how Emma felt free only when we had settled in Canada. For the first time, truly free.

It was there on the slopes of this mountain, just above the city itself, in an old slave house, that she was born and her parents and those before her. Merle still lives there, next door.

Merle always says that South Africa is a world in one country, and just about all the good things in the country are in Cape Town, so there is not ever a reason to go anywhere else.

I think it is just because she is bang; she has after all never left her home, and I suspect that underneath all that talk she is more scared than she lets on sometimes. But it is also perhaps because she is a flower seller, and has a number of people working for her: Geraldine, and Stompie. Stoffel, Miriam, Sampie and Daisy.

They all work for her selling flowers at various locations in the city.

She is not always an easy boss to work for, I don’t think. I am sure they are a little frightened of her, just as I was of the Little Man, as you will find out later.

When Sampie’s son went a little astray and impregnated a girl whose brother was in a gang, Merle took him aside and said, in no uncertain terms, and using words I could not repeat here, but in true South African Cape Flats disciplinary language, that if he went on drugs she would kill him to save the gangs the trouble.

I am sometimes glad I didn’t train as a flower seller because when I get something wrong she skells me out something terrible. Like when I added chillies to the curry recipe and my date got me into a whole lot of trouble.

More of this later.

But then, in addition to Merle, Gord has also been instrumental in getting me out there with dates.

Long before my wife passed on, I visited the local pool and sauna most days of the week. And that is where I met Gord.

It is a strange place, the sauna. And many strange things happen there.

If you know anything about Canada, you will know it is a very gentle place, and the people are kind, caring and always polite.

It is as if the pool area is a microcosm of the whole country. In Canada, they are not only gentle and caring people, they are also very cautious.

Even if there are just two people in the pool, there are at least three lifeguards scanning the water for any danger.

One day Gerry collapsed after spending too much time in the sauna.

Everyone was called out of the water. We were told to back off and look the other way. And then they called 911.

So many people arrived, and in so many fire-engines, ambulances and police vehicles, I found it difficult to get out of the parking lot. I was convinced that when I got home I could see a naval destroyer in Semiahmoo Bay. Perhaps it was just the heat of the sauna and the shock of seeing Gerry lying there.

Of course, Merle would have said I was talking kak, but in truth I felt that something terrible had happened. And the Canadians have a way of making what we South Africans might consider an element of everyday life look like a spectacle. In truth when a north-wester blows gently in Cape Town to clear the air, the Canadians would consider this a hurricane. So I did not feel that I was overstating things.

At one stage I said I was sure I had heard a helicopter.

Gord did say he had heard nothing.

Anyway Gerry returned two weeks later with three stents in his arteries. Thank goodness, he has not collapsed again.

But now the lifeguards are so afraid something will go wrong that they open the door of the sauna every few minutes to check up on us.

I think they should have a camera, because letting in all that cold air simply made Trevor and George irritated, and I am sure this was the reason for all fracas.

So when Trevor smacked George with his ExcelPower Highthrust fins, knocking his glasses off his head and his book from his lap it was almost not a surprise, as we had witnessed Trevor’s irritation each time a lifeguard opened the door to see if everyone was still alive.

But it was surprising in another way, because Trevor is sixty-eight and poor old George is seventy-nine, and one does not normally expect such a thing from two older men.

Apparently George had said something bad to Trevor and he had been waiting for some weeks for the right moment.

It did remind me of a similar incident in Cape Town when I was young.

Oom Athol and Uncle Storky Steyn had ended up getting into a scrap in much the same way. Uncle Storky was a veteran of World War II, and had fought with my father at Tobruk. He was always bragging about his medals, and Oom Athol would then comment that his contribution as a bus driver during the war, in Cape Town, was just as valuable.

Uncle Storky could never get his head around this, and one day called him an objector. This made Oom Athol very angry, because he said he had never objected to anything, least of all Storky going up North. It was just all the flashing of his medals he had a problem with.

On this particular day, I shall not easily forget, they had gotten very drunk – in those days during apartheid, men drank alone as no women were allowed inside any bar. Not even if they were white.

That meant that because their women where not there to keep an eye on them, visits to the bar sometimes resulted in drunken incidents, and a few bruises the following day.

Apparently, just before I arrived, Storky Steyn had said that he could get into the lion enclosure, at the zoo up the hill, on the slopes of Table Mountain.

Of course Oom Athol immediately said he was befok. This was a very rude word for someone who is crazy.

I happened to be walking home from cricket practice at the time and was standing at the open sash window. They must have seen me because Oom Athol called me.

“Jongman! We need your help.”

I was not allowed into the bar, so they came outside to continue their argument, with both of them agreeing that I was to be the referee, on account of the fact that they both respected my father. It was probably because he had won more medals than even Uncle Storky.

By this time Jan Hendricks, also a veteran of the war, but not of Tobruk, joined us. I knew all the war stories, of course, because I was born only ten years after the war ended, in 1955.

Uncle Storky said that he was not talking nonsense and that he would give Oom Athol just about anything he wanted if he showed him that he could get into the lion enclosure.

Oom Athol was so confident he was talking kak, he even went so far as to say that he would give Uncle Storky anything if he did so.

Uncle Storky thought for a moment.

He then said that if he could get into the enclosure, that Oom Athol should follow him inside.

Oom Athol thought about this as he swayed from one side to the other on uncertain feet. And then remembering that there was only one old lion in the enclosure, he agreed.

They shook hands.

But then, for some reason, Oom Storky suddenly seemed hesitant, and said that it could be difficult. This made Oom Athol very upset.

He then told Uncle Storky that he was talking even more kak, and grabbed my cricket bat, clearly wanting to teach Storky a lesson.

Oom Storky quickly changed his mind, and said that he would definitely do it as agreed. Oom Hendricks quickly grabbed the cricket bat out of Oom Athol’s hands and gave it back to me.

But, said Uncle Storky looking Oom Athol straight in the eye while he stood quite firmly on both legs, if he did actually manage to get inside, Athol should give the lion an enema.

As you can imagine, they were so drunk by this stage that both of them thought this was possible.

Athol looked at him for a long time.

At one point I thought they were going to fall over, but both managed to keep upright. Oom Athol seemed so sure that Storky would never manage even to get inside the lion enclosure that he agreed to this also.

They shook hands again.

But, said Athol, only if Storky held the lion down while he gave him the enema.

Storky said he was quite fine with that. Holding the lion would be no problem, he said.

They went inside and told the barman their plan while I waited for them outside. I could hear the barman chuckle. But he played along anyway, because they came out with a long rubber hose which was normally used to siphon beer from a large barrel to a smaller cask. Two litres of warm beer in a jug, and a large aluminium funnel.

We set off, up the mountain towards the zoo, all four of us. Oom Hendricks carrying the funnel and the hose, Storky carrying the beer. And me carrying my cricket bat.

Although the bar was on the main road of Observatory just below the zoo that was on the slopes of Table Mountain, it was still a long walk.

Halfway up Storky said that he thought it was too far and he refused to carry the jug, so he started to drink the beer.

This set Athol off once again and he started to use many foul swear words in Afrikaans which were much worse than befok.

Storky said that he could not believe Athol got upset so quickly, and that it might have been better if instead he had been with my father at Tobruk, because he was sure General Rommel might have retreated sooner.

Oom Athol wasn’t sure if this was a compliment or not, and grabbed the jug from Storky. This was probably what Storky wanted in the first place.

I held firmly onto my cricket bat just in case.

We set off again, up the hill.

When we finally arrived, the most incredible thing happened.

Uncle Storky, whose name was Storky because he walked exactly like a stork, was able to enter through the gate that did not seem to require even a key.

All of us stared at him as he walked inside, and stood on the rock right in the middle of the open lion enclosure.

He put his arms out.

For a moment I thought he looked like General Pienaar, with his arms wide, talking to his troops. General Pienaar was a favourite of my father, so you can imagine how easily this image came to mind.

I could see Athol hesitate.

Storky shouted out, through the wire fence:

“Nee, nee Athol. Jou fok! You must come inside, like you said.”

Athol looked very white in the face but walked through the gate, looking like a stork himself as he gently probed the ground before him.

“Nou’s jou kans, Boet!” – Now’s your chance, Brother!” said Uncle Storky. “Do what you said you would do!”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the old lion raise his head and look at the two men – one standing on the rock everyone knew the lion sat on to survey the other animals, and the suburbs of Cape Town below, and the other one approaching as gingerly as a gazelle.

Athol stopped in front of the rock with Storky on it.

We held our breaths.

And then it happened.

Athol said that following Storky inside was enough, and that giving the lion an enema was onosel – stupid.

Now it seemed to me that it was Uncle Storky’s turn. Because he, himself, got very upset.

He dropped to the ground, pulled Athol’s trousers down and started to give Oom Athol the enema.

Athol of course tried frantically to crawl away from the rock, but instead fell to the ground himself. And because he was on his knees, he provided Uncle Storky with the perfect opportunity to carry out the deed.

I do not wish to go into any more details, except to say that by the time the lion had ambled over to see what they were doing, the jug of beer was empty and Oom Athol was lying on his stomach with his arse in the air and a very short rubber hose sticking out.

I cannot tell you what happened after that because I ran down the hill back home with my cricket bat firmly under my one arm and with Oom Hendricks behind me, trying desperately to keep up.


I did not personally witness the fracas between Trevor and George in the sauna that day. I was grateful, as the memory of my visit to the zoo when I was young and the fracas there had been quite enough.

It was Gord who told me the whole story, but suffice it to say that Trevor was then banned from the gym for a month.

I was always grateful to Gord.

Not particularly for the details of the fracas between Trevor and George, but for his tips on dating.

It was he, for instance, that told me never to date women with small dogs.























Taking A Peek



“Women with small dogs…” said Gord. “Keep away from them.”

I did not wish him to think that I might be contradicting him, even by simply asking why it was that they were dangerous, so I kept quiet.

Gord sweated some more and then added, “They buy dogs to replace their husbands and, trust me, you’ll never have any place in her home. Before you know it, you’ll be sleeping on the couch. And you won’t be able to go anywhere without the frigging dog.”

I looked sideways at him.

“They are all highly bred, shit chocolate and bark at everything.”

I contemplated this for some time while I sweated too.

“And the owners are not far off that either,” he added.

Gord had clearly had a bad experience.

I decided to visit the water fountain, but before I could get myself off the seat, Gord continued.

“This one time I had a second date with one of them. I think they try to make up for the size of their dogs, I swear…”

I said nothing.

“She ordered three glasses of French wine at $20 per glass, on my credit card, and then when we got back to her place, she took out some crap that didn’t cost more than $8 for the whole bottle.”

I coughed, trying to show some sympathy.

“Then we took Foo-Foo for a walk. I have never seen such a dump – I swear it was bigger than the dog! And then she expected me to carry the poop in the bag. When I said I didn’t know her, or her dog that well, she asked me if it was because I didn’t like animals!”

Gord had never said so much before. I could see that his experience had not been a good one.

A lifeguard peered inside through the window. It is likely that they felt partly responsible for the fracas between Trevor who was now banned from the gym for a month, and George who was sitting next to me on the right reading his book, and so no longer opened the door each time.

We were grateful.

“Make sure you check on their profile. There will always be a picture of a small dog somewhere. Usually up against their face. And they’re all so frigging ugly too,” he added.

I assumed Gord meant the dog and not necessarily the women.

By this time Gord had managed to get me onto Match.com, Plenty Of Fish and a few other sites. My favourite was pof, although now looking back, and because I no longer have any need for these sites, I cannot tell you why.

I think it was probably because it was free.

Not that I want you to think that I am cheap, even though my friend, Johan, a doctor originally from Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo said that he felt I might appear as such.

I did feel a little insulted, but I also felt that maybe he had a point. I had told him the story about one of my first interactions. A very nice looking women by the name of Celia from North Vancouver who had answered a wink I had sent her. She seemed quite keen on phoning me which I thought was very nice.

I was to find out, later, that this was unusual.

I sent her my number and she phoned me one Saturday morning. We chatted for a while and then she suggested we meet somewhere for lunch.

For some reason I became a little suspicious.

The first meeting is always something like sharing coffee, or perhaps just a walk somewhere. But it is not seen as the first date.

Gord had been very specific.

I decided to follow his lead and asked her whether she considered the first meeting a date or simply a meeting.

She seemed hesitant, but then did answer: “I think it is a bit of both.”

After a respectful pause, I then asked if it was just a meeting also, whether she felt we should share the bill.

I was careful to say this gently, like the Canadians do, and not be pushy in any way.

The phone call ended abruptly.

I was left with two trains of thought for some time afterwards. One from Gord who said: “I told you so – she’s just a serial dater, and goes from one lunch date to another. You would have paid for the lunch, and never heard from her again.”

There was also the opinion of Johan when next I sat on his stoep at the back of his house and had a beer with him.

“You never talk about money on the first date,” he said. Then he looked at me, and quickly added, “or the first meeting.”

I sat without saying anything because I felt that Johan should know about these things. He had only been divorced once, and his father had also been a doctor. And also coming from Oudtshoorn which had been a very rich town when Ostrich feathers were popular, and not Observatory in Cape Town, he probably knew better.

When Merle skyped me that night she said that she wasn’t sure who should pay for what, but that a flower was always a good thing.

And so with this in mind, I always stopped somewhere to buy a flower or two.

It was to Zoe that I took the first flower, a small tulip, one day.

She was, during all the months of dating, the only women who ever contacted me first. She mentioned that she was impressed with my reference to intellectual stimulation.

It had been Johan, and not Gord who had alerted me to this. It might be tempting to talk about physical attraction, but he had said that this was not what most women were looking for, only.

I thought that coming from Oudtshoorn he knew best so had included the fact, in my profile, that I felt the other kind of stimulation was just as important.

Besides, I had noticed an Emily-lu from Port Moody whose subtitle read, “Sincere men seem to be odsolete. How much truth is this ?”

It spurred me on to believe that maybe Johan was right, and I decided it was important that I should come across as sincere. And talking about physical stuff up front is perhaps not the way to go about this.

Zoe had emailed me to say that she liked my profile and thought we should meet.

When I read this I was encouraged because I thought that I was getting the hang of things.

Even Gord said that it is quite rare for women to email first, that they rather wait for the man to email them, or give them a wink before responding.

I scanned all three of her pics for dogs and found none. After three or four emails we set about finding a place to meet.

I could tell from the way she said things that she also saw this first meeting as just a meeting.

We agreed on False Creek which is probably my favourite place next to the Waterfront in Cape Town. One can spend hours walking around, looking out across the water at the boats and the apartments on the other side. And when one gets tired, a ride on a water taxi is even more exciting.

So we met for coffee at a local pub, right on the water.

I paid.

After we had walked all the way to Science World and back, she said she would like to see me again. It would be my first real date, apart from some meetings and two lunches.

So we made a date for that Saturday evening. I was sure the flower had done it.

I took her more flowers – this time two tulips.

I think she was delighted.

I found parking which can be difficult in Vancouver and can also result in one’s car easily being towed away, and a fine costing more than three dates.

We had agreed on Mahony & Sons again.

We sat on the deck downstairs, and looked out over the water with the sun catching the windows of the apartments on the other side and turning them into mirrors that looked as though they were made of gold.

There was a thin blanket of snow on the mountains above them, and we chatted about the beautiful vistas Vancouver offered so abundantly while we enjoyed a delicious dinner and some wine.

Then we walked some way around False Creek once again, and caught a water taxi back to the opposite side of the creek.

I felt my heart beating when she slipped her hand into mine and, just like a teenager, I was worried that my hand might be sweaty. Even though it was cool outside, I began to feel I was in the sauna back at the pool.

This worried me because I could recall a long conversation Merle and I had had, on skype, about hot flushes.

I made a mental note to ask Johan if men could also get them.

Before I knew it, we were standing outside an apartment building, just one street up from False Creek. I had hardly noticed, holding so tightly onto Zoe’s hand like that.

“Would you like to come up for some coffee?” asked Zoe.

Gord had said that I would know that things were going right if they invited me in for coffee.

Or something else.

I was almost breathless from expectation and, all I could do was nod. She led me inside, through the fancy front doors, and up in an elevator that seemed to have been decorated by family of a Spanish conquistador.

It was when she opened her front door that I felt things had turned around for the worst.

There on the floor, staring up at us, was the smallest, scruffiest looking dog I had ever seen.

In the olden days before they genetically engineered fruit, mangoes were very stringy. And when one had finished eating a mango, one was left with a pip and an untidy bunch of stringy hairs that jutted outwards into the air at all angles, and that always reminded me of the flames from rockets.

This dog looked just like a mango pip.

As I stared at him I was hoping that the flames were not the result of a desperate attempt by flees to escape from his body.

In addition to his untidy appearance, he had one black eye and one blue one.

In fact after sitting down to recover, and eyeing him myself for a while I became convinced that Zoe could make money by casting him in an alien movie.

Of course I didn’t say anything to her about alien movies. I was mindful of the fact that I was there to give her intellectual stimulation, as I had claimed in my profile, and not advice about her dog.

While she poured us a drink I sat looking at him.

He sat at my feet, staring up at me.

After a while I noticed that his left eye was not only blue, but that it was also squint. One small tooth also stuck out, and a portion of his tongue dangled to one side, out of the corner of his mouth.

I think he assumed I was startled in noticing all this, and felt sorry for me, because he tried to pacify me with a tiny, friendly growl. Even when he did, his tongue did not go back into his mouth.

“He’s my Little Man,” said Zoe. “I couldn’t do without him. He keeps me company, listens to my stories and welcomes me home each day after work.”

I asked what he did all day while she was at work.

“Oh, he goes to doggie day care,” she said. “It’s a little expensive – $500 a month – but the Little Man deserves the best, don’t you think?” she said, as she put a glass of whisky in my hand.

I took a small sip and immediately felt better.

At eight thousand Rands a month, I imagined Merle could keep at least two families alive in Cape Town.

Zoe sat down next to me. I wondered what would happen next.

I soon found out.

It is amazing how woman seem to treat couches. No man may ever put his shoes or feet on a couch, as Merle and my deceased wife always told me, but here in Canada, or perhaps with a newer generation, women today lift their feet and curl them under their buttocks or a blanket on any couch.

It looked very inviting when she did that, and I took another sip of whisky.

For a while we spoke about the difference between whisky and whiskey. Thankfully I knew that one was Scottish and the other Irish, even though I could not remember which one.

I told her that the best way to drink whisky was to drink it neat without ice, because the ice bruises the whisky. And to pour into the glass a teaspoon of water to release the flavours. I then commented on the peatiness of the taste and suggested that it might come from the Isle of Islay.

She squealed with delight and said I had guessed the exact place. I did not want to tell her that it was pure luck that I had recognised the taste.

I think Zoe was impressed because she moved closer to me and before long I discovered that my right arm was on the couch behind her and my hand was hanging over her shoulder.

When I realised, after a third sip, that my fingers were neatly fitted over her small breast, I quickly sat more upright and took my hand away. It’s amazing what a few tots of whisky can do, I thought.

But Zoe must have seen the position of my hand as a good sign, because she unfolded her legs from under her, got up and beckoned me to follow her.

When I did lean forward to get up off the couch, I felt a tiny pressure on my foot. When I looked down I realised that the Little Alien had his behind resting on my shoe. I was grateful that when we came into the apartment, Zoe had said not to worry about taking my shoes off, which is what Canadians usually do before they enter their home.

Zoe disappeared down the passage.

I leant forward and very gently, so as not to upset the Little Man, nudged him off.

I followed Zoe down to the end of the corridor. There I found her bedroom.

By this time the whisky was beginning to have some effect and I even found myself commenting favourably on the many pictures of her and the Little Man on the walls all around me.

Before I knew what was happening I was lying down on the bed next to Zoe. I had a warm feeling, lying there. We were alone and it was comforting to smell the aromas of lavender and peach in the room.

I exhaled deeply, closed my eyes and began to float as though I were one of the yachts tied to a buoy in False Creek, with just a gentle current that lifted and dropped me every now and then.

Suddenly I heard a soft thud.

I raised my head and found I was looking straight into the blue, squint eye of the Little Alien. He had taken position in the middle of a bench covered in furry fabric, at the foot of the bed. He was staring at me with his head cocked to the left. I became convinced that with the weight of the squint, and also the dangling tongue pulling him in one direction, that this was why his head was bent over to the left.

I took a slow, deep breath and lowered my head onto the pillow again.

Zoe seemed very comfortable. In fact, so comfortable she leaned over and began to tickle my ear with her tongue. I was immediately reminded of the kiss she had given the dog when we entered the apartment, and hoped that the whisky had had some effect not only on her mood, but also on her mouth.

It was a strange sensation, the tickling, and soon I realised that the entire tip of her tongue was inside my ear.

“I don’t mind some nookie,” she said, taking her tongue out of my ear, “but I must just tell you that when we’re finished, and you do perhaps get to sleep over, it will have to be in the spare room.”

I was determined not to show my ignorance in asking what nookie meant, because I felt I was getting a handle on the whole dating scene, and imagined I knew what it was.

At least, if I was to sleep over, I could do so alone without the Little Man between us. Or staring at me from the foot of the bed.

Zoe whispered into my ear, after licking it once again, “Just pretend to fall asleep and he’ll go away.”

I lay as still as I could with my eyes closed.

I don’t know if it was the whisky, or the fact that I had brought her two flowers, or just that it was having a man lie down beside her, but she soon fell fast asleep.

All that talk of nookie, me sleeping over, and whisky must have been just too much for her.

I lay there contemplating my future with Zoe. And the Little Man.

When Zoe started snoring I decided that perhaps The Universe was giving me a sign.

I slipped off the bed as easily as the Little Man had slid off my shoe, and made my way down the short passage to the front door. Behind me I could hear the soft thud of a tiny body landing on the floor of the bedroom, and then the pitter-patter of little feet on the tiles all the way to the kitchen and the front door.

What happened there reinforced my idea that Gord knew exactly what he was talking about when it came to small dogs because when I looked down, just before I closed the door, there was the Little Alien sitting on his butt, staring up at me.

I cannot tell you for certain whether it was just the image of the mango pip that did it.

Or if it was the three tots of that deliciously peaty whisky I had in my stomach, but when I looked down at him he seemed to have swapped eyes.

The right eye was now blue, and squint. And the left one was now black. In addition to this his tongue was now dangling down the right side of his face, rather than the left, having followed the squint.

I know, after talking to Johan, my doctor friend, a few days later, that this is impossible but I have decided to record these incidents just as I remember them.

In addition to the fact that they had swapped places, the right eye, which was now blue, went especially squint.

But it was not just that it went squint.

It was that it went so squint, and his tongue dangled out so far, that the poor little fellow fell right over onto his side.

I felt so sorry for him, that when I did relate part of the encounter to Gord the following day in the sauna, I referred to the dog as neither Little Alien nor the Mango Pip, but respectfully as the Little Man.

Gord just said, “I told you so.”

And that was the end of it.

We never said anything about small dogs again.
























Three Kings From Afar



I told Gord a few days later that I felt it was truly remarkable how much going on dates reminded me of things back in South Africa.

He simply nodded.

Take Jennifer and Sinterklaas, for example.

And how that reminded me of the three kings on donkeys that special night all those years before.

Now that was something I remembered well, I said to myself while I sat next to Gord, grateful that there would be no more talk of small dogs.

Jennifer was, is a kindergarten teacher.

Amazingly, we did not meet online at all.

In fact we had been introduced by one of Emma’s friends right here in White Rock, British Columbia.

At first I was apprehensive because when I did talk to any of Emma’s friends I was, as you can imagine, always reminded of her.

And how she had died.

I was no longer frightened of blind dates simply because, what with all those meeting-dates, I felt comfortable walking into a venue and looking around for the person I was supposed to meet, having not met them before.

In fact I was so used to this, that I realised that the second date was never quite as exciting as the first. Funny how our brains work sometimes.

Jennifer was far from dull.

In fact she burst into a big smile when I walked onto the deck of Hemmingways in White Rock, overlooking the bay, and across at the little town of Blaine in Washington, USA.

I know that you might think that I had chosen Hemmingways because of the remarkable Innis & Gunn – a beer matured in whiskey oak casks, and in my opinion one of the best beers in the world. And a beer that I felt some higher power itself had offered to me in place of those bitter pale ale and IPA’s. Of course I did not suggest this to Merle who, I am sure, would have given me a lengthy description of how God’s powers work.

But I had not suggested this place, because I had said to Emma’s friend that Jennifer should choose whatever venue she felt comfortable with. As you can see I was wanting to handle this carefully so as to make a good impression with Emma’s friend as I knew everything would get back to her.

But I must tell you, I was grateful when we messaged one another, and she suggested we meet there.

She said she would be wearing a red and white blouse and would have a hat. At first I was apprehensive, because I remembered the red and white Bel Air that fateful day when I met Sharon and Sparky.

Jennifer was sitting quietly, up against the railing and looking out across the bay. She did indeed have a red and white top on and it shimmered in the afternoon sun. A white scarf drifted down her back from her cream coloured hat. She painted quite a picture, but I secretly hoped that the red and white colours did not signal the start of anything too dramatic.

But then I relaxed because I remembered that she was a kindergarten teacher.

I bent down, and kissed her on her cheek. Very lightly, so as not to cause any alarm.

She smiled. “This is such a nice spot, don’t you think?” She had her head cocked to one side as she looked up at me.

I said I did.

“Have you tried their Innis & Gunn?”

I laughed.

When I told her that it was my favourite beer she giggled, and touched my arm. I felt warm inside and got the idea that we could be good together.

I sat with my back to the setting sun and looked out at the boats in the bay while Jennifer told me about herself.

Jennifer bounced this way and that in her chatty manner and after some time she apologised, touched my arm again, and asked me something about myself.

I smiled and told her that I had studied to be a teacher many years before. And that I felt strongly, and quite sincerely, that pre-school teachers were the real heroes of our society and should be paid more than teachers of other grades.

After all, I said, our personalities are fully formed by around six years of age, as was our intelligence too. And I felt this meant that pre-school was the most critical period.

“Oh, I know!” she said, laughing out aloud. “That’s amazing. Anyone would think you were my principal! It’s a pity other people don’t fully realise this.”

I know what you are thinking, but I did genuinely feel this to be true.

Jennifer looked at me. “Would you…; would you like to help me with something? I know this is the first date. I mean, meeting. Oh, I feel a bit stupid! But I. I was….”

I touched her hand, lightly. I told her it was okay, she could just come out with it and it would be fine.

“Well, I’m looking for a Sinterklaas! Do you know what that is?”

I told her that I did because I had spent some time, as a student, in the Netherlands and had attended a little pageant at a primary school many years before.

She raised her hands to her cheeks and clapped them with delight.

“Oh! That’s amazing! Just truly amazing…”

And then she became almost quiet. “You know,” she said. “I had such a good feeling about coming here to meet you?”

I might have been wrong, but looking back now, I am sure she winked at me.

“So you can help me, then? We choose two cultural events each year, so that the kids can get exposure to cultures from around the world. And this time we’re doing Sinterklaas.”

She looked at me, as though it was my turn.

I took a small sip of my Innis & Gunn, mindful of the fact that it’s alcohol contents was 7%, and I smiled at her.

“I need…, I mean, could you possibly agree to being Sinterklaas? What with your experience and all that. I know the kids are going to love it.”

I said I would.

I had no idea that it involved almost the entire outfit which can sometimes be tricky. What with the long red cape. And the long white beard. A red mitre and a ruby ring. Not to mention the shepherd’s staff.

When they dressed me in the gymnasium I felt so weighed down I wondered whether I might make it down the passage to the main hall where the kids were waiting – there with a tree of presents and tables laden with food.

In addition to the heavy ring and the shepherd’s mitre, I was asked to carry a large book. It had the names of the kids, and my job was to look them up and read a list of achievements.

I was not given any helper. Least of all a black one, which would normally have been a Zwarte Piet who would have carried both a bag of sweets for the good kids, and a chimney sweep’s broom made of willow branches, and used to spank naughty children.

There was, of course, no spanking of kids in Canada. And we don’t have too many willows, either.

After having done some research, I found out that some of the Sinterklaas songs talk about putting kids in a bag and sending them to Spain. But no one really knows what Spain has got to do with it.

Frankly, when it gets cold in Canada, I imagine that any child would endure anything in order to get to Spain.

But I was told not to mention this because a child had been abducted, in Ontario in 1996, and talk of moving children around in bags was not a preferred subject to speak about in front of them.

Especially in Canada.

The ceremony went off very well.

Except that one child asked why I had not arrived on a white horse.

I felt put out.

I mumbled something through my beard, but the teacher quickly offered the explanation that no horses were allowed on school premises. Besides, she said, they didn’t have big enough poop-bags for horses.

The boy seemed content with this explanation.

In place of Zwarte Piet, two teachers came to my aid, and I paged through the book and whispered something to them before they handed out the presents.

I sat there sweating in my heavy outfit, wondering what the teachers intended doing with the naughty kids.

I decided though, after reading the achievements of some of them, that there were probably none.

For some reason, I could not get a picture of me on a white horse out of my mind for the rest of that day.

And it made me think of my mother’s nativity play in Greyton, back home in South Africa.

When we had lived on Robben Island, she had insisted on organising one in the small stadium. It involved almost everyone living on the island at the time except the prisoners, of course, who in those days were not political prisoners, and walked the island in work details, often visiting me.

I had been the boy that had held the donkey still, while Mary was lifted onto its back. And I could remember the experience as though it were yesterday.

The tiffies – electrical technicians in the Navy (it was a naval base at the time) – had even managed to illuminate the archangel’s wings and with the lights off in the stadium that night the angel had lit up to such a degree that my Nanny, a Xhosa woman from the Transkei, screamed with delight, telling us afterwards that she was sure the angel was Catholic.

How so? my mother had asked afterwards.

Because just like the bread that became the body of Christ, so this electrified angel walking into the stadium in darkness and then having his wings flood the grounds had, at least for a moment, become the real archangel Michael.

From then on we were all suitably impressed with Mary’s observations. And it occurred to me that perhaps in a previous life Nanny and Merle had met, because as you will find out Merle is an expert on angels.

Years later, when Nanny left us, Merle had come into our lives as our housekeeper.

And so it was that, one day, my mother told Merle all about the nativity play on the island.

And Merle must have thought about it for a long time and when my parents retired to the small town, far from Robben Island, called Greyton she and my mother decided to stage another one.

Because my father had become mayor, my mother was determined to involve him in some way. But because he was not religious, and in fact especially disliked dominees – pastors – whom he claimed adopted mournful, dour looks on their faces when pronouncing the wages of sin, he was adamant that he not be Joseph, or any kind of angel.

“Wat van een van die 3 kings?” What about one of the three kings? said Merle one day as they sat down with the large sewing box, and a number of robes and nativity paraphernalia.

My mother raised her eyebrows.

That meant they needed three donkeys or horses, and two more men. They looked at me, but I was to be Joseph, so I shook my head.

My mother approached my father that evening at dinner. He seemed to finish his meal with some apathy.

But he did agreed as it was for my mother. I think he felt partly relieved that it was not in any way a religious role. I think his dislike of anything religious had stemmed from an early childhood memory he had once shared with me.

Apparently coming back from a church service during which the dominee had suggested that because of sin in the community the drought had been particularly bad, it had rained.

They had spent half the time groaning over the consequences of their sin, and the other half of the service praying for the rain so badly needed.

On the way back to the farm, unfortunately it had rained so heavily the crops were destroyed. My father, apparently, had piped up from the back of the ox-wagon, that they had probably prayed too hard.

His mother had insisted he be tied to a pole and whipped.

I felt that it was a good idea he sat on a donkey or a horse, with some exotic and colourful attire my mother and Merle would conjure up, rather than be on the ground anywhere near baby Jesus or angels, just in case he might recall that whipping.

But then again, my father was not a vengeful man at all.

There remained the problem of finding two other kings.

Emma was of course Mary, and to complement her beautiful Mediterranean toned complexion, and to be both politically and socially correct, Merle had actually found a live baby in the town next door that looked very black.

The stage was set.

But we were still missing two kings.

My father disappeared while all further arrangements were made, and the frantic activities took place – costumes, candles, music.

The wooden manger he constructed in the workshop took longer than it might have done. I am sure this was the case because he did not want to be too involved in the rest of the fuss. Especially if it involved anything religious. Not that he said anything; it was just that I knew him well.

I think that when the other two kings were finally found, he might have been sorry for not making himself more available, and perhaps in another role.

In true Merle-style she had managed to think of something that would challenge, and heal at the same time.

She was good at this, and I think deep down, just as Zwarte Piet was Sinterklaas’s helper, she definitely felt that she was more than a housekeeper and assistant to my parents alone – I was always convinced she felt she had the same position with God Himself.

“Jy weet wat het gebeur twee maande terug by ons kerk?” she asked my mother. Do you know what happened two months ago at our church?

My mother stopped sewing, and looked up. She knew, instinctively, there was something important about to be revealed.

There always was with Merle.

“Ons dominee het die wit dominee gevra vir stoelle vir ‘n groot gathering by ons.” Our pastor asked the white pastor for some chairs for a big gathering at our church.

“Can you believe it? He said no. Hulle wou nie kleurlinge op hulle stoelle hé nie…!” They didn’t want coloured people sitting on their chairs!

My mother shook her head.

I looked at my father who had just walked in. And right there, I knew that Merle was up to something.

And somehow I knew that my father would regret first moving to Greyton, second becoming mayor. And third agreeing to help Merle and my mother. Not that there had ever been a chance of avoiding that.

One did not say no to my mother. And certainly not to Merle. She ruled our house with an iron rod bigger than that of Sinterklaas.

She waited for my father to leave the room, bent over and whispered to my mother:

“Jy moet die wit dominee vra om die een king te wees. Ek vra vir ons dominee…” You ask the white dominee to be the one king, and I’ll ask our pastor…

My mother stopped sewing, again.

And then they both burst out laughing.

“Ja,” said Merle. “Vir sy sondes, kan die dominee saam met onsin ry. Miskien sal hy leer om saam met ander mense op stoelle to sit!” For his sins, the dominee can ride with our pastor. Perhaps he will learn to sit with others on chairs!

Neither Merle nor my mother wasted any time. I could hear my mother’s honey voice smooth-talking the white dominee on the phone. The next day Merle came back from the village smiling.

“Ons dominee sé ja!” He says yes! “And he didn’t ask who the other kings were. I told him we had only one donkey so far.

It was a white lie and I wondered what Merle would have to say for it, when she stood before God one day.

Greyton had many horses and donkeys. In fact they often wandered around looking for company.

The evening of the grand nativity play arrived; most of the villagers showed up with food and clothing donations for the poor, and also wrapped gifts for the local schools in the area, especially the one in Genadendal, the next town that was not quite as affluent as Greyton.

It was a huge success.

Not least of all when my father the mayor, beautifully attired, rode into the garden on a donkey, only just behind a surprised looking dominee and Merle’s smiling pastor with a big smile on his face, and who seemed to be to only one who was fully enjoying the irony.

Merle had not gotten her entire way; my father had refused to wear his mayoral chain, even though it looked as though it was made of gold.

If nothing else, their arrival elicited a round of applause which in fact startled the archangel who was behind the small covering under which our black Jesus lay.

This in turn made the baby Jesus cry.

Luckily, Emma, who was then still my girlfriend, came to the rescue and picked him up in her arms.

I think that somehow God and Merle had worked perfectly together that day, because not only did the three kings end well, but it was the sight of Emma holding that beautiful baby that made me realise I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

We all settled down again with the baby Jesus falling asleep, right there in my father’s manger.

And although dismounting was somewhat difficult for the three men in their robes, my mother and Merle both insisted the three kings approach the crib and place their gifts at the baby’s feet.

It is ironic but that is the only time I could ever remember my father looking as dismal as the dominee himself, that night as he rode into our garden on his donkey.

But he redeemed himself, and when mounted again and on his way out, he leant over and said something to the other two kings.

I never found out what it was, but they exited, all laughing.

And Merle was happy to report that there was no longer any problem borrowing chairs from the white church.

In fact, before my mother and Merle could eek out any more revenge the following year, Merle reported that the coloured congregation she belonged to, and the white Dutch Reformed church had started having combined services once a month.

Indeed, God moves in mysterious ways, I thought to myself, when I remembered the donkey I had held steady for Mary that day as a child on Robben Island, and I decided that clearly God favoured donkeys above all else and that when they were involved, mighty things always happened.

And so you can see the reason the image of riding a horse became so clear to me – not least of all when, now, many years later, I was almost duped into riding one myself.

And, no, I do not mean at the school.

My appearance as Sinterklaas was apparently so successful that Jennifer’s children asked if they could do it again.

I am not sure whether Jennifer assumed that we, as a couple, would still be together, or perhaps she felt time between us was running out, but without giving too many details I can only say the following: we spent many interesting hours with me in my Sinterklaas outfit, alone, on her small holding in Langely.

Exactly how we managed to get the outfit off and what we did after it lay on the floor I feel, because I could never give such details to Merle or my mother, it would not be appropriate for me to share them here either.

It was fun, as you might imagine.

Especially when I kept the large white beard on.

But sadly, I think Jennifer became too obsessed with the idea of me in my Sinterklaas outfit.

And of me taking it off.

One Friday evening during one of our sessions, I felt that it was time to say goodbye.

Jennifer had decided that she would catch one of the neighbour’s donkeys, and have me ride it into her courtyard suitably mounted and in my Sinterklaas outfit, while she was tied to the olive tree.

I felt that she was taking this too far, and that it was, perhaps, time to end the fun and games.

I somehow did not wish to indulge Jennifer’s desire, even though I had been determined to make a good impression.

I could somehow not see myself, in her courtyard, on the back of a donkey. Not even, I felt, if God Himself had a particularly profound revelation to share with me when I did.

I think that little voice within me, saying it was time to exit, was enough to be the motivator. Whether it was indeed God’s, or just mine.

And so it was that Jennifer and I went our separate ways.

She, of course, managed to find someone else.

I knew this because there, in the Peace Arch News the next year, was Jennifer smiling up at a large handsome Sinterklaas.

I felt he did not paint a picture as handsome as me, but to be fair he sat the donkey very well, up against the blue Canadian sky, as he rode through the gates of Jennifer’s small school.

I assumed they had found a poop-bag big enough, or the city bylaws had changed.

And, strangely, it was a donkey that seemed to look as if it might be very comfortable anywhere it went.

I am a little embarrassed to even admit this but I wondered, looking at the picture in the newspaper, whether that donkey itself had perhaps seen the inside of a courtyard on a few occasions.

And it occurred to me, thinking of Jennifer, and of my mother and of Merle. And of those three kings that day. That it is often amazing what men will do to please a woman.




















A Fit



Gord had given me a clear warning about small dogs.

But he had never mentioned anything about cars, or larger dogs.

There can be no doubt, coming to North America, that men – and sometimes women – love their cars.

One of my favourite pastimes is to sit on the deck of a pub in White Rock, on a warm evening, and watch the parade of vehicles up and down the strip.

All manner of cars come to the fore. Hotrods, exotic speedsters, and the moneyed showing off with their Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Maseratis.

In Cape Town before sanctions, my father had had many cars including a Studebaker that was the talk of our neighbourhood. I became famous when I took special friends out for a ride, and asked my father to stop on an incline. The marvel of the particular model Studebaker was that it had an automatic brake, so that the car remained stationary without the driver having to put his foot on the brake pedal.

On most Saturday afternoons my father would take a short drive to get wood, beer and meat for a braai – barbeque – later in the day. There would usually be a long line-up of little boys hoping to go for a ride in the car.

And in the line-up one could hear, when my father started the engine, Jislaaik, Man! Jislaaik! – Jeez-man!

They would gladly pay me for the privilege of sitting in front, in the passenger seat, so that when my father stopped on an incline and the car did not slide backwards, they could bend down, and later vouch for the fact that he did not move his foot from the accelerator.

It became a topic of discussion so far and wide that many years later when I was almost twenty, and in between going to the Angolan border to fight the Cubans, I was sitting having a vodka, lime and lemonade with my girlfriend Emma in a pub in Greenpoint when I heard someone at the table next to us discussing this phenomenon.

I remember how impressed she was when I told her they were talking about my father.

Even though this was Greenpoint, and Greenpoint was a suburb of Cape Town, and Cape Town was the most progressive city that often defied the apartheid laws, I had to keep her chatting to take her mind off the fact that as a non-white, she should not be there.

Strictly speaking we were not allowed to date one another, because I was classified as white.

I remember looking at Emma sitting on the stool in the soft evening light at the restaurant, and thinking that when one starts with something unnatural it results in many complications and difficulties.

And so I chatted about all the cars my father had owned, and those he had restored, like the 1935 8hp two-seater Morris Tourer that he had found on Oom Kieppie Cronje’s (pronounced Kron-year’s) chicken farm in Phillipi.

It was just a kippie-hok – a chicken coop – and Pa and I had spent many evenings restoring it.

Or the 1948 Rover I had learnt to drive in.

What about two-tone 1958 Oldsmobile that could accommodate ten of us boys in the boot? I asked.

I kept her busy listening to me while we drank our vodka’s, and before we left to go see Deliverance at the local bioscope.

That was also a challenge because the non-whites usually sat upstairs and the whites downstairs, which always seemed to me ironic discrimination.

Depending on the usher, we had to make a decision as to whether I could pass for coloured or she would pass for white. The decision would then result in us going upstairs or remaining down.

Those were heady day for us, the early seventies. What with critical decisions such as these to make every time we went out.

But it didn’t matter to Emma and me because we were in love.

Only once did we have our tickets taken away because we refused to be separated, when an old usher recognised us as being, one coloured, and the other white.

Even though we were used to a system that separated people, Emma was in tears when we walked home that evening.

I put my arm around her and said that we would think of something, even though I had no idea what to do.

Luckily I had just got my licence and, at home, when I told Pa what had happened he gave me the keys to the Oldsmobile.

My heart beat wildly.

So much so I was worried, when I got into the driver’s seat, that it would come flying out of my chest.

But it all worked out for the best because I drove Emma up to the top of Signal Hill.

There we sat on the wide bench of the front seat, and looked down at the shimmering lights of Greenpoint and Seapoint below us. And out, in the darkness, to the flickering lights of Robben Island.

It was there, on that hill, that Emma and I truly kissed for the first time. I was so giddy with excitement – what with my heart beating so much, sitting in that great Oldsmobile, and the kiss itself – that the next day I went to the bioscope and kissed the mean old usher on the cheek to thank him for being so mean.

But when I told Emma this she was not impressed with me. And I had to wait a few weeks before she kissed me properly again.

With such wonderful memories of dating in Cape Town when I was young I often sit, today, with an Innis & Gunn beer, in a special designer beer glass in deference to the parade of vehicles down the strip on Marine Drive, in White Rock, British Columbia. And I think of my Emma.

On one such evening I noticed a teenager driving a McLaren 675LT.

Although I am not one for sitting in public and playing with an electronic device, I did quickly consult Google and learned that this car has a horsepower rating of exactly 666.

I took a very small sip of the beer, on account of the fact that even though I was able to walk the short distance back home, the beer did have an alcohol content of over 7%.

In fact it was like the beer equivalent of a McLaren 675LT.

Taking that sip, I felt as though I might be sitting in the car itself, with the smell of leather all around me.

The McLaren grumbled its way past me.

It was so low that I imagined the driver’s buttocks could not be more than six inches above the road. I tried to imagine what six hundred and sixty-six horsepower could do to a young man’s butt. Or the butt of a man of my age.

And once again I thought about the enema that Uncle Storky had given Oom Athol, and whether his butt ever did fully recover.

And the 666 reminded me of the time Merle got mixed up with some evangelical group. We used to call them chandelier swingers on account of the fact that when the spirit got hold of them, after much chanting and shouting, they went a little wild.

And when the spirit had arrived, there was always talk of The Beast. And I remember how it was that this Beast would rule the world one day with his signature number: 666.

I could only imagine what it must be like with the spirit inside one, although I was always too frightened to try.

Merle said it was like having a you-know-what, but in a religious sort of way.

I have often wondered what she meant.

But sitting there on that veranda, with the golden sun bouncing off the water in the bay, and half a glass of Innis & Gunn inside me, and that McLaren rumbling by, I could imagine that putting one’s foot down on the accelerator, on an open road, must indeed be something like the spirit taking hold of one.

And so it was one day that Sharon from Abbotsford popped up on my Plenty Of Fish screen saying in her profile that she was interested only in men who knew about cars.

I thought of my drive with Emma up to Signal Hill and the restoration of the Morris and all the other cars, and felt I might perhaps fit such requirements, so I replied.

She met me for coffee in Abbotsford.

I immediately thought that she was very good looking, although a bit short. Her hair was red and her eyes were green, and she wore a very colourful blouse that was red and white. She certainly stood out in a crowd and I got to thinking that this seemed to make up for her lack of height.

I told her she looked nice.

And then we arranged for the first date at Cosmos, a Greek restaurant in White Rock.

I walked there because, as I said, I lived down the road. But Sharon arrived in a red and white 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible.

Jislaaik! What a car that was.

I started telling her about Pa’s cars, and slowly built up to the climax – when I told her I was born in 1955 she got so excited I thought she might have an accident sitting right there in the restaurant.

It was perhaps then that I should have heard at least a few warning bells.

But I was so taken with the car, and even more with her appreciation of the fact that I had stories about so many others, I got the idea that we were very compatible.

Sharon arranged for a drive down the strip the following Friday evening in the Bel Air. It would be the perfect time because my weather app said it was going to be sunny.

I had promised that after the ride I would take her to dinner at any restaurant she might choose. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and smiled broadly, and I was convinced we were becoming more and more compatible. I could feel my heart beat just a little faster.

I thought of the car every day that week, and alerted some of my friends, Johan and even Gord that I would be parading down the strip in it, at around 6:30.

“Do you think she will let you drive the car?” asked Gord.

I said that I didn’t mind if she did not because it would be a treat just to sit next to her and wave at them.

I could hardly wait for Friday to arrive.

In preparation for the event I decided to make sure I was dressed properly.

Because the Bel Air was half red and Sharon seemed to like red blouses, I took out, from the back of my closet, my red velskoen (shoes from skin).

I cleaned them thoroughly and made sure the laces were not frayed and that they tied neatly. In addition, I had bought a new pair of dark blue jeans that I felt would set the red velskoen off.

And a white shirt.

And because I was also Canadian, I put on a Canucks baseball cap.

I was ready for Sharon and her Bel Air.

Unfortunately, after all that waiting, when she finally arrived on time, I was a little deflated.

I had pictured the two of us driving up and down the strip in that beautiful car together, with me sitting beside her.

If Gord had warned me about little dogs, he had said nothing about large ones.

When she pulled up outside in the driveway I noticed there was someone sitting next to her in the front.

When I looked a little more closely I realised it was one of the largest dogs I had seen. It was even larger than Sergeant-Major De Beer’s giant Poodle who was the parade mascot at the Wynberg Military Base in Cape Town when I was a child.

In South Africa, probably because of apartheid and sanctions, we were perhaps not so informed about international terminology and trends.

I always thought that the small Poodles were the normal size, and the large ones were called giant. We had no idea that large Poodles were the normal size, and the smaller ones were miniature.

Sergeant-Major De Beer’s Poodle was definitely the giant version.

He led each parade on special occasions, with a pipe in his mouth and a range of medals pinned to a military sash that was draped over his body.

He was a very intelligent dog and would know exactly what formation the different parades demanded.

In fact he was so intelligent that he could open and close doors on command and even fetch the daily newspaper from the post-box. Sergeant-Major De Beer had called him Lelik which in Afrikaans means ugly, and is pronounced leer-luck, although the lik is difficult to say with an English tongue.

Lelik didn’t seem to mind at all. And even though he held high status in the family, and on the parade-ground itself, he was not necessarily a dog vol fiemies – full of airs, and fussiness.

Each winter he was quite content to travel to the De Beer farm in the Free State, some eight hundred kilometres from their home in Wynberg, in the boot of the family car. It was always something that amazed me as a little boy, that a dog was happy in the trunk of a car.

“Hi!” said Sharon. “Say hello to Sparky!”

Sparky, a Labradoodle, which is a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle, might have been even bigger than Lelik, but I was soon to find out that he had very few characteristics of the dog on the parade ground, of a military base.

As soon as the car stopped, he jumped out straight into a puddle in the gutter. He then came bounding over to me to say hello.

I am unsure if it was the smell of the chemicals I used to clean my velskoen, or the brand new jeans, but he went befok – crazy – when he reached me.

He danced up and down wildly, his legs pounding the ground, and with careful aim, it seemed, he planted his dirty paws onto my clean velskoen, soiling them immediately.

He proceeded to nudge whatever he thought he could find in my groin with his nose, so that I felt my body being lifting off the driveway itself.

Then he noticed my brand new jeans.

If indeed it was the smell of the new jeans, it set him off in a spasm of further exhibitionism, and something came over him suddenly. It was almost as if some spirit that was not necessarily holy had taken control of him.

He flung his front paws around my one leg and proceeded to copulate so aggressively I thought he would have a heart attack. I was certain that I would fall over, and very uncharacteristically I began to shout out in desperation.

“Oh, Sparky, really!” said Sharon.

But she said this as if the dog had brought over a toy for her to play with while she was busy making supper.

I did not think that this gentle approach would have much effect, so instead I began swearing loudly at him in Afrikaans, using as many unspeakable words as I could muster.

To be honest, I thought the dog was demented, and was probably having a fit.

I don’t know whether suddenly he realised that, like him, I was also male or that he heard the tone of my voice, because he stopped and jumped right back onto the front seat.

“So,” said Sharon. “You’re ready for a ride down the strip, then?”

I tried my best to brush my soiled jeans, but was reluctant to wipe my velskoen, because they were made of skin, and any dirt could be embedded with such a wipe.

Sharon got into the driver’s seat.

Sparky wouldn’t budge.

“You’ll enjoy it in the back,” said Sharon, leaning over.

Clearly I had no choice.

I climbed in by sliding my butt over the side of the car so as not to disturb or entice Sparky by opening the passenger door. He was getting excited and started barking.

“I’m going to ride all the way down to East Beach, then come back along the strip to West Beach, go up the hill, turn around, and then we can go for dinner,” said Sharon, as she started the car.

I decided to remain as quiet as possible just in case anything I had to say got Sparky going again.

As we drove east towards the end of White Rock, I settled down low in the back seat, hoping that neither Gord nor Johan could see me if they were sitting anywhere along the strip.

Each time someone waved or called out, Sparky barked back at them.

“Whooo-eee!” said Sharon, as a breeze caught the scarf she was wearing around her head.

I thought she looked just like Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise.

Every now and then she would give us a burst of speed and I found myself thrown into the back of the seat. I wondered whether it might be a good idea to remind Sharon of the speed limit in White Rock.

But then I thought of the time I had failed my learner’s licence examination, and thought better of it.

Mindful of the fact that I came from a different culture, I had learnt here in Canada not to assume too much. But there have been times when I have not fully appreciated the differences, and such a time was when I attempted to answer some multiple choice questions at the ICBC licensing centre in Surrey.

I felt I was doing rather well, until I encountered this question:

You are driving in the passenger seat of a vehicle, and the driver is exceeding the speed limit.


Do you …

p<>{color:#000;}. pull the keys out of the ignition in order to bring the vehicle to a stop;

p<>{color:#000;}. raise your voice at the driver in order to cause alarm;

p<>{color:#000;}. ask whether the driver noticed the speed limit a few kilometres back;

p<>{color:#000;}. say that you’re feeling uncomfortable with the speed of the vehicle?


Clearly numbers one and two were wrong. That was easy. I liked number four but somehow it felt a little too touchy-feely. Number three on the other hand looked more objective and business-like.

I had gone for number three.

I failed the test.

When I asked a friend about this, he had looked at me and said, “Of course it’s number 4. It’s all about feelings here.”

Now sitting in the back of Sharon’s beautiful Bel Air I decided that I would not share my feelings about the speed limit along the strip, or anywhere else.

I felt that the signs posted along the way were clear enough.

Unfortunately, on our return, travelling due west, Johan noticed me in the back of the car.

He was sitting having a drink with his tjerrie (girlfriend) and watching the parade of vehicles.

“Hey! Jou moegoe, het jy iets gedoen? Hoekom sit jy agter?”

Moegoe is a name we, in South Africa, use to call someone who has done something silly. He wanted to know if I had done something wrong because I was sitting in the back of the car, rather than in the front.

I thought it was very unfair, and that he should rather be calling Sparky a moegoe, and not me.

I was so embarrassed that I slunk down as far as I could until my baseball cap fell off.

But when we reached the end of the strip on West Beach, I realised that I should rather have been paying closer attention to what was happening up front.

But not necessarily with Sparky, the dog.

I thought maybe it was time to adopt the Canadian way of doing things and say that I was feeling uncomfortable. Better still, I might have just said simply that she was driving too fast.

Sharon must have become bored with sticking to the speed limit. After all, she came from Abbotsford where they had a race track.

They even had an airport they claimed was international. I think this was just because some of their planes flew three kilometres over the border, into America.

Now I have heard it said that people have cars that emulate them and, also, sometimes that pets choose their owners and grow to be like them.

I don’t know if this is true.

But when Sharon came to the end of West Beach and she noticed a steep hill, she went as befok as Sparky.

She put her foot down on that pedal so hard, I thought the end of the world had come, and The Beast himself was about to appear.

It reminded me of Blikkies Adonis, when I was young.

We used to call him Blikkies, which means Tin, because whenever we saw him with a tin in his hand, we knew for sure that there was some alcohol inside.

And he always seemed to be carrying a tin.

He was fired more times, from various jobs, than he had years in his date of birth, because people said he was too slow, and he could get nothing done.

Besides, he was always drunk.

But there was something remarkable about Blikkies. When he was sitting quietly, on some bench, and a young meid walked by, no matter how drunk he was, he would jump up like a pouncing leopard, in order to chat her up.

It was as though her sweet perfume did something deep inside his brain, because it never ceased to amaze us all just how fast he could launch that slow body of his into the air.

He would lurch forward so fast, it was as if he had some springboard underneath him. And when he followed that girl, he walked as though he had a steel brace in his back so upright was he, even though he did the walk with just the tiniest little swagger, as well.

And he would always say the same thing, no matter how many girls walked passed: “Hello, my dah-ling. Kan ek ‘n entjie saam met djo loep?” Can I walk a little way with you?

I am sure that Bel Air must have been locked up in a garage for a long time, because when the fuel nozzle opened up wide in that carburettor, and injected the sweet-smelling high-octane gas into the combustion chamber, that engine came to life like a thoroughbred out of a starting gate.

Man! That Bel Air leapt forward, not unlike Blikkies going after a tjerrie, and with such a roar I imagined it must have rattled half the old age homes in White Rock.

I fell deeper into the seat and was unable to see much at all, least of all the traffic signs warning drivers about the speed limit.

I am sure Sharon did not see them either.

Now, I perhaps need to remind you that Canada is not like South Africa in some ways, thankfully. In South Africa, drivers speed up when it rains and when they see a blind-rise ahead, they change down into a lower gear, put their foot down and overtake whatever is in front of them.

It takes balls to live there, and drive on the roads.

Canada, as I have said, is a gentle, slow-moving place.

And none more so than White Rock itself, with it’s speed limit of just 30 km/h down the strip on Marine Drive, beside the majestic Semiahmoo Bay.

Not even Australia drives that slowly.

There are times when I find myself a little more South African than Canadian, and I feel I could jump out of a car on Marine Drive, and run even faster.

Even in my sixties.

But when that Bel Air took off, I decided it was time to be a lot more Canadian than South African, and I began to moan loudly, in a desperate attempt to get in touch with my own feelings, on the back seat of that thrusting beast.

Sparky must have heard my moaning.

He turned around, took one look at me lying there and thought this was an invitation to play.

He landed right on top of me.

Suddenly, I heard a very loud, and ominous BWOW-WOW-WOW!

I scrambled out from underneath Sparky, groping for my Canucks baseball cap.

There, right behind us, was a police car and a frantic-looking policewoman waving Sharon down.

Thankfully Sharon pulled over.

I said I thought she should switch the engine off.

She did.

Clearly her Bel Air did not like this.

The car began to shudder and shake as if starving for that sweet-smelling fuel. It was not unlike Blikkies Adonis’s swagger when following a young girl on the street.

I climbed out, over the side, and stood in the road.

Still she shuddered and shook beside me.

And looking at her beautiful lines as I watched her shake like that, I realised there and then what Merle meant when she said the spirit came over her. And there was no doubt this was happening multiple times.

I shook my head, and came back to reality.

The policewoman was standing next to me.

“Good afternoon,” she said, leaning over towards Sharon. “We were going a little fast I see. Out for an afternoon’s drive?”

Sparky took one look at her.

He jumped from the back seat, right out of the car and into the street.

I fell to the ground and put my hands over my head, hoping rather that she would arrest me than endure another attack from the dog.

I don’t know whether Sparky felt the need to make amends for his homosexual encounter with me earlier, but when he saw the policewoman’s trousers it was as if a mightily evil spirit got hold of him.

He jumped right onto both her legs, with such gusto I imagined he must have thought he was swinging from some chandelier also.

And he humped that poor policewomen’s leg with such vigour, she began to cry out.

In fact he must have felt so taken with this new opportunity, he actually began to howl.

As I lay on the ground, all I could hear were the screams of the policewoman, and a quiet, calm voice of Sharon saying: “Oh Sparky, really!”

I was so confused, lying there in the street, that I could not decide what approach to take – one that was good for Canada, or perhaps another that worked better in South Africa.

But when I heard that women screaming, I realised that I needed to do something.

If it took balls to drive on the roads in South Africa, it would take even bigger ones to deal with this situation.

Thankfully, I think some spirit finally got hold of me.

I leapt up off the ground, dived over Sharon, pulled the keys from the ignition, grabbed hold of Sparky, dragged him to the back of the car. I opened the trunk, lifted him over the sill, put him inside and slammed the trunk shut.

There was, what seemed to be, a very long moment of silence.

The policewomen straightened her trousers, pulled herself together, and bent down over the side of the Bel Air that had now only just stopped shaking.

I leant against the back of the car, wondering whether in the days to come I would be getting a visit from a White Rock by-law officer about cruelty to dogs.

As I said, they are gentle here in Canada, and I imagined that putting a dog in the trunk of a car would attract some attention.

But, when the policewoman had finished with Sharon, leaving her with a handful of tickets, Sharon beckoned me into the passenger seat and we drove back the one kilometre to my driveway.

With Sparky still in the trunk.

When we arrived at my house, Sharon got out of the Bel Air, walked to the back of the car and opened the trunk.

It was the most amazing thing – there lay Sparky, as calm as a lap dog on the couch watching a hockey game.

He raised his head, just a little, as if to say, really, what do you want now? And then he put his head down on the soft carpet of the truck of that beautiful red and white Bel Air.

Sharon climbed back into the driver’s seat, waved goodbye, and drove off into the red sunset with the different coloured tickets stuck in her visor, and flapping in the breeze.

I saw her only once again.

I was driving down to Seattle one weekend with my Little Angel, for a getaway weekend.

We were listening to some Led Zeppelin – it might even have been Ramble On.

I think Sharon was flying across the border in her Bel Air, on a getaway weekend of her own.

I was driving unlike a South African – very serenely, and in the slow, right-hand lane when Sharon passed us in her red and white Bel Air.

She was alone in the front of the car.

As she drove by us, with her scarf flowing in the wind, I remembered that she had said to me while driving down the strip in White Rock that day, that she never, ever went anywhere without Sparky.

When I saw a very large suitcase on the back seat of the car, it was then that I realised Sparky had found his place.

His fit.

Without the frenzied desire to go so befok, he must have been lying peacefully in the trunk of that beautiful Bel Air, on their journey to some international destination.

And for some reason, I found myself wondering if, back home, Blikkies ever got to find his own fit somewhere too, with some lekker tjerrie.

Perhaps he had finally succeeded and she, too, had a scarf that blew in the breeze as they walked down the road together.

Perhaps even to some international destination themselves, who knows?













When The Trains Roll By



Every man has an iconic male who plays the part of a role model.

Driver Du Toit was one of them, for me.

It is strange, but even in a bad society, sometimes good things happen. It was because I met Driver Du Toit that I met Patrick, and because I met Patrick that I met Merle and she then started working for my parents and became a member of our family.

And if the Universe makes connections, no connection could possibly be more strange than the fact that Gord, from the sauna, looked almost identical to driver Du Toit.

But it is perhaps unnecessary to look for so many co-incidences. What is important is that Driver Du Toit made an impression on me, and I on him.

I had just finished two years of conscription in our national service and I had some time on my hands. A friend had told me that getting a job as a fireman on a steam engine paid really good money.

And so it was that I found myself working with Driver Du Toit, on his steam engine, in the middle of the seventies when South Africa still had a large fleet of them in operation, and people would come from all over the world to photograph them. And us.

You might be wondering what this has to do with living in White Rock, British Columbia and dating. But in fact it is just about impossible to live in this small town and void any trains, and not see my Driver Du Toit. I see him regularly, high up on his seat, commanding the engine. Looking out to see what might be on the tracks up ahead.

Looking out for any danger.

Leila found me online, and messaged me out of the blue one day.

She was obsessed with trains.

And in White Rock, it is impossible to avoid the trains. For some reason, the British Columbian government, or the little city of White Rock itself, had seen fit, many years before, to actually sell all of its water frontage to a foreign company in America in order to lay down tracks and have trains pass through.

I felt it was strange because I had never heard of a country selling sovereign land to a private company, and in another country. I had been used to 99-year leases in South Africa, as my father had once explained to me how they worked.

And so years later, in contrast to the small logging trains and a few others that brought tourists to the sleepy town of White Rock many years before, trains were now much longer, with not just one engine pulling them, but four, and each weighing hundreds of tonnes. And the fully loaded cargo trains weighed in more than the largest ferry in the British Columbian Ferry Services fleet.

And there are many of them each day, swamping the town itself. As you can imagine, many people are not impressed with these trains as they often wake the residents when blasting their horns early each morning. And the tracks, sadly, do a good job of separating the shoreline and the bay from the town itself.

Their presence presented a conflict inside of me, because I remembered Driver Du Toit with each one, and when a train goes by, I look up and honour my memory of him by acknowledging the driver himself. With at least a nod or a smile.

Of course there were some residents who glare at me, and one day one even said, “Don’t wave at them, please; it only encourages them. We don’t want the trains here.”

Leila was different.

She became so excited when any train rumbled by, she would whistle, call out hooray! and sometimes jump up and down like a schoolgirl trying to attract the attention of the captain of her sporting team.

I asked her if her father had perhaps been an engineer, or what we in South Africa called a drywer in Afrikaans – a driver.


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Lessons From The Sauna

Oom who comes from Cape Town, South Africa, recalls his childhood there with stories of true-life characters that are used as a backdrop for his dating escapades in British Columbia, Canada. He takes the readers from one dating encounter to the next with graphic portrayals of the colourful and humorous characters that enter his life: ladies with small dogs, and those with large ones. A woman with her muscle car, and another with a donkey. You will learn about the difference between a meeting and a proper date, and discover one woman's date-rules that produce comedic outcomes. The light-hearted humorous episodes are counterbalanced with more poignant, moving memories and incidents that leave the reader with a feeling of deep emotion, and sometimes sorrow. This is the funniest book as well as the most touching you will have read in a long time.

  • ISBN: 9781370034925
  • Author: Michael Klerck
  • Published: 2016-09-13 19:50:12
  • Words: 63924
Lessons From The Sauna Lessons From The Sauna