Friday 16 July 2010: 3 years 10 months on . . .
In our winter academic holiday of 1981, a group of eight of us from Stellenbosch embarked on a summer tour of Europe. Charles and Diana had just become engaged, and Royal trinkets were sold all over, much like the World Cup memorabilia has decorated our shops and streets for the last month. But we had no money for trinkets!
Working on a shoestring budget and a Eurail Train Pass, we visited England, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Greece – all in three weeks!
Our motto was All for one and one for all. No one was permitted to do anything that everyone in the group could not afford to do. It also applied to meals. We were only to eat out once at a traditional restaurant in each of the countries we visited. For the rest, we had a blue Cadac gas burner, sachets of Cup-of-Soup, tea and coffee and a lot of student initiative.
At least, that was the way it was supposed to be and that was the way the tour started.
We would raid the tables at breakfast time and take with whatever was left to help out at lunch and suppertime. In Amsterdam, we even took leftovers from another table when those tourists got up and left – only to have them return a few minutes later to continue their breakfast, which had miraculously disappeared! (And we were the only other people there – we pretended we couldn’t understand them!)
As the tour continued, the rules were bent somewhat. In Rome, I desperately needed an egg! So I broke away from the group, entered a café just opposite the Coliseum and bought a toasted egg sandwich. In Italy, they charged you a tax to sit inside and eat, so I took my sandwich and sat outside on the kerb.
What more could I want? A freshly fried egg and a view of the magnificent Coliseum!
But so much for cheating! As I put the sandwich in my mouth, the egg slipped off the bread and landed in the dirty Roman street! But, in desperate times, so much for hygiene! I picked up what I could save of the egg and just popped it straight into my mouth – and here I am to tell the tale!
In Copenhagen, before we visited the famous Tivoli Gardens and rather than buy the beer, we visited the Carlsberg Brewery. A free tour and lots of beer to taste – free – made good economic sense! Tourists from all over the world visit there and they have this huge beer hall where everyone gathers at the end of the tour for the tasting.
Thank goodness, unlike wine tasting, beer tasting does not require spitting out but does require swallowing! But, we also swallowed hurriedly and left when it was discovered that the SA flag had “disappeared” and all the South Africans were asked to remain behind to have their bags searched! (We were honestly not the guilty party!)
One reason being that, last night, our Men’s Group (known as Fred’s Must have Beer Group) and a few others, visited the local Ibhayi SAB Brewery.
Unfortunately, the CBD affects one’s short-term memory and so I can’t remember all the facts and figures given to us last night. What I do remember is that only some 120 people operate this fully mechanised brewery that supplies millions of litres of beer to the Eastern Cape from George to Umtata. (They are still crunching the numbers to calculate how many extra litres were consumed during the 31 days of the World Cup!)
There is also the ever-present communication of responsible drinking!
Kilometres of carefully planned stainless steel pipes carry the precious cargo from tank to newly washed reusable glass bottles that arrive at the right place at the right time on kilometres of carefully planned conveyor belts. I could have sat there for hours watching everything going up and down and round and round . . . it’s quite a process to get that beer into your throat!
There was no reason to take a flag because we all have our flags left over from the World Cup now! But we did taste, until quite late last night, and then just had to stop at Dagwoods on the way home (only because we were responsible and had parked our cars there!)
Another reason for reminiscing was because earlier in the week, I spent time with a group of almost 50 students from Helshoogte Residence at Stellenbosch University. I had lived there when I was a Matie and became the Primarius, the head of hostel, in 1981.
This group is currently touring the Easter Cape in the last week of their winter holiday. It is a 30 odd year-old tradition that a rugby tour is undertaken at this time. I met up with them on day 2 of their 6-day tour (no one seems to be quite sure!)
The tour is now called a sports tour – what sport, I’m not quite sure because I was told that only one pair of rugby togs was packed in! But, thanks to Kipper Halbert, the tour operator in St Francis Bay, we managed to take them on a boat tour of the magnificent St Francis canals, and later had a beer at Cob’s Cove in the village.
There was also no money for food, but they seemed to manage well on the two bags of oranges that I passed on to them (with courtesy of Eppie and Lande Ferreira from Patensie with whom we had a wonderful braai earlier in the week). There did appear to be a substantial amount of money for beer though (and other liquid food!) and I was a bit concerned that the weight of the packets carried onto the boat would see them all swimming in the ice cold sea water!
Many of the tourists are sons of student contemporaries of mine, and it was amazing to remember those friends when seeing their peas-from-the pod sons. One thing worried me though – I was convinced that as students we definitely did not drink as much as these youngsters!
I phoned Noel Basson, a contemporary of mine and now a father of two students. After leaving Stellenbosch, he became the private secretary of FW de Klerk and later Nelson Mandela. With such authority, I wouldn’t question his integrity, and he concurred with me that we definitely did not drink as much in our student days as they do today!
Anyway, after a fines meeting on Tuesday evening (which also brought back many good memories), we parted our ways. Me back to Port Elizabeth, and them, on to Grahamstown, Rhodes University and the Rat and Parrot, and then to Somerset East for the Biltong Festival. Indeed, a “sports tour” of note!
My thoughts turned to Sean. He has had quite an eventful few months. It started off with him being awarded his Colours Blazer for service to his school. In all probability, he will also be a student next year. In May, he turned 18 and that made him “legal”, meaning, of course, that he could now legally, in terms of the law of the land, purchase alcohol.
It also means that, in terms of the law of the land, he could now get his driver’s licence. And, because he could get an appointment much earlier in Humansdorp than in PE, that’s where he went on Tuesday morning. After a three quarter of an hour test, he appeared with a large smile on his face that told me everything. Another ten minutes and R200 later, and he became the proud owner of that document that also now makes him “legal” on the road. (He is, since 16, with his Skipper’s Licence, also “legal” on the water!)
On the way back to Port Elizabeth, we discussed this “legal” thing, and I reminded him that despite now being legal to drink and legal to drive, that it was not legal to do these things at the same time! (Possibly, I should phone Noel and get him to affirm that we never did do that as students or as adults either!!)
Maybe the Americans have it right. At least, you can get your driver’s licence there at the age of 16 (and earlier in some states), which gives you at least two years to get more driving experience before you become legal to buy alcohol at eighteen (or even later in some states).
Whatever, with the freedom comes the responsibility, and I guess, as parents, at some stage, we let go and hope that we have met all our responsibilities!
To Sean and all your friends who are now attaining that magical age of 18:
May you drive many happy kilometres, may you experience many happy tours in our wonderful world, may your beers always be cold, and may you always be responsible!
Happy driving, happy touring, happy beering!