Where the Land meets the Sky

©2012 Edward C. Lunnon

Tuesday 15 May 2012: 5 years 8 months on … Advantage CBD

There are a number of “Queenstowns” in various countries in the world.

Our Queenstown, nicknamed the Rose Capital of South Africa and almost in the middle of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, was founded in 1853 and is named after Britain’s Queen Victoria.

The layout of Queenstown reflects its original objective as a defensive stronghold for the frontier area on the Border and has a most unusual design. There is a central hexagonal area where canon or rifle fire could be directed down six thoroughfares radiating from the centre. The canon sites have now been replaced with gardens and a central fountain was the dominant feature. A striking abstract sculpture replaced the fountain as part of the town’s 150th anniversary. The Hexagon still exists, with the outer road surrounding and encircling it named Robinson Road.

I have visited Queenstown on many occasions. The first time was at the age of eight (?) when, as a family, we caravanned through the country, from Cape Town to Bloemfontein to East London and back to Cape Town.  We stopped over in the Queenstown caravan park – more or less where the Casino and shopping centre is now. Then, I visited my sister Ingrid and brother-in-law Anton when I was in the army in 1982 and they taught there. When I started teaching in Port Elizabeth in 1984, we visited Queenstown bi-annually and, in my business life, I did numerous business visits – almost fortnightly! As a parent from Junior School days (from 2002), we also visited bi-annually – every even year.

I haven’t been there in the last two years – not since our last school visit in 2010.

But, last Friday, we travelled to Queenstown again. The reason for our trip was to meet the big canons – not those on the Hexagon – but those at Queen’s College. Our Grey High School boys were to take on the might of the boys of the College in the annual encounter of sporting and cultural disciplines.

Queens’s College is the oldest school on the Border. A Mr C.E. Ham set up a private school for boys, the Prospect House Academy. In 1858 it was taken over by the state as the Queenstown District School. That year is taken as the foundation date for Queen’s College and Queens is, therefore, just two years younger than our own Grey Schools – founded in 1856.

The venue for this encounter alternates on an annual basis: one year in Port Elizabeth and the next in Queenstown. As Phillip is now in his second last year at school, this trip to Queenstown would be our last to watch the games there!

Queenstown lies some 400km north-east of Port Elizabeth and there are a number of routes one can take to get there. 

From the Sunshine Coast through the Great Karoo: we chose the N10 north to Cradock and then the R61 north-east to Queenstown. However, we broke the trip, after an hour and a half’s travelling, at Middleton and stayed over on Friday evening with Colin and Michelle van Niekerk on their dairy farm Monterrey. (Their son Hugh was with Sean at Grey and Angus is Phillip’s vintage.)

Saturday was an early-morning start just as the mist was beginning to lift. The sun was starting to rise over that spot where the land meets the sky in the east and the vapour was rising up into the cold air over the relatively warmer water of the numerous farm dams. The darker mountains were silhouetted against the lighter azure of the pre-dawn sky.

It’s in scenes like this in the Heart of the Karoo that you discover your soul and more.

 It took another two and a half hours through Cradock and Tarkastad (where Pera taught for five years) to get to Queenstown, arriving there just after 09h00 and in good time for Phillip’s rugby game.

Phillip’s team won, as did all the other high school teams in the morning (except the Fourth’s). After lunch came the third rugby team (won), seconds (drew), and then the big one of the day: the Grey High School for Boys First XV against the Queens College Boys’ High School First XV.

At the turn into the second half of that match, life could not have been better for the Grey supporters. The score was 19 – 3 in Grey’s favour and we were riding the crest of the wave.

Then, as in Life, just when you think that things can’t get any better, the rug gets pulled out from underneath you. The dominos fall one at a time!

From hero to zero …

A new referee, a yellow card, a send-off, a few strange decisions, and before you can say “Life’s not fair!” the score is 19 all!

And just when you think it can’t get any worse, there’s one final nail in the coffin: that try that would have put you on the winning track and changed the course of history, just isn’t a try.

Never count your chickens before they hatch, and never celebrate until the money’s in the bank.

In the dying moments, smoke rings in the sky, an up-raised finger to thank God and a beautiful swallow dive result in the ball being lost and the try not being a try!

 The score remains 19 – 19! Or does it?

Just to add insult to injury and to rub salt in the wounds, a final penalty to Queens in the closing seconds of the game adds three points to their score and the scoreboard tells the story of the Ecstasy and the Agony of the day:  Queens 22 Grey 19! 

It’s when you are down in Life, that the tests of your true self come. How do you handle adversity? How do you respond to challenging situations? How do you pick yourself up from the gutters? How do you start all over again?

Did we pass the test?

If playing sport is to teach us Life Lessons, then Queenstown, last Saturday, was the ideal Place of Higher Learning: 

adversity, appreciation, behaviour, consideration, conduct, commitment, challenge, discipline, effort, emotion, example, ethics, frustration, get-up-and-go, hard work, influence, integrity, joy, kindness, loyalty, morals, mania, norms, obsession, passion, perspective, perception, qualities, reproach, respect, support, standards, self-restraint, truth, uprightness, values, ways, xenophobia, yeomanliness, zeal …  

(Please add more!)

That Saturday evening at the Kudu (the School Pub), the Heritage Guesthouse, Dagwoods Diner and the direct four-hour trip back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday morning were not necessarily as loud and as excited at they would have been had we won.

But, maybe, we did win: in our loss, in this beautiful part of the world where the land meets the sky, we hopefully discovered our Soul and more!






Four Funerals and Not a Wedding

Tuesday 27 July 2010: 3 years 10 months on…

1976 – South Africa had just got TV for the first time! The SABC service consisted of one channel that commenced at 18h00 with a Scripture reading and closed at 23h00 with the National Anthem and the flying orange, white and blue flag.

But it was already old hat for me because I had lived and gone to school in the USA in 1975. I returned in January 1976 and became a MATIE in the February, the first person in our family to go to University. Mom was so proud – when she dropped me at Helshoogte and attended the first parent’s function, she insisted on wearing a hat!

Anton Scholtz was already there, studying a BSc in his second year. He came from Kingswood College in Grahamstown.

We became friends – I’m not sure why, but he did drink more beers than anyone I knew, he partied harder than anyone I knew, he played rugby better than anyone I knew and he outran anyone I knew on what was known as the Berg Pad – even if it was after a party that continued until five in the morning! He was not known as the Mine K***** for nothing.

He captained the Res team, played rugby for Maties, served on the House Committee and had a bright green Volkswagen Beetle. It was known as the Automatic Apple!

It took us all over the Cape Peninsula, and in the summer months to Bikini Beach in Gordon’s Bay. On the way back to Stellenbosch, we would stop in at our home in The Strand. My sister, Ingrid, was still at school at Hottentots-Holland High. It soon became clear that the visits at home were not for my company.

Ingrid became Head Girl at HHH, then became a Matie, too, and at the time that I was Primarius at Helshoogte, she became Primaria of Serruria – her ladies’ residence (and where Jessica, their daughter and our Godchild, is now in residence.) It was quite something at the time at Stellenbosch University to have a brother and sister – and Engels nogal! – in charge of two University Residences.

All three of us became teachers (and Pera joined our staff room later!)

Ingrid also became Anton’s wife in January 1983. Their wedding photographs show me with very short hair! That’s because I was in my second year at Infantry School in Oudtshoorn where Anton, still ahead of me, was a Lieutenant when I had arrived as a troop in 1982. He occasionally made me run when he found me not wearing my beret!

Anton’s family came from Cradock and they had a holiday house at Keurboom’s Strand near Plettenberg Bay. As students, we sometimes spent time there. As soldiers in Oudtshoorn, we often spent time there because Keurbooms was but two hours away from the military base, and a very welcome diversion.

As officers, they were able to go out most weekends. As a troopie, I had to AWOL.

We ate braaied steaks for breakfast, lunch and supper. They somehow always came armed with boxes of steaks for the weekend that, I believe, were destined for the Troops’ Mess but never got there!

We also visited the Scholtz’s in Cradock. Between Cradock and Keurbooms, we got to know Anton’s parents, Uncle Piet and Aunty Ina and his extended family of three brothers and a sister (and their families over the years!)

My Dad died in my first year at Stellenbosch – 1976. But the Scholtz’s homes were always open to us as a family – that’s the people and the way they were!

I remember a Christmas that Mom, Ingrid and I spent in Cradock – it came complete with a Karoo thorn tree that doubled up as the Christmas tree.

Uncle Piet was the doctor in Cradock. But Aunty Ina dished out the medicine! She issued the prescriptions, handed out the pills and gave the instructions! She was the matriarch of the family. You didn’t want to cross paths with her! She organised everyone with an iron fist. But what loveable people they were.

Although they were “in-laws”, they were always great parents for Ingrid. After my Mom died in 1986, whilst I was teaching at Grey, they became almost surrogate parents to me, too. They were always interested in my progress and what I was doing, and always there to assist and support.

Even after Pera and I got married, and Sean and Phillip arrived on the scene, they were there for us. So much so, that Pera, Sean and Phil (and many others) refer to them as Oumie and Gramps.

And so it was with great sadness when Oumie became ill a few years ago. But, in her unique style, she fought even that cancer with strength and determination.

We saw her just three weeks ago when they were staying with Ingrid and Anton here in Port Elizabeth. It was obvious that the illness was taking its toll and that she had wasted away to that shadow of her former self. When we said goodbye, we knew it was for the last time.

Last Saturday, just after I returned from John Clarke’s funeral in Alexandria and just before Grey Bloem and Grey PE’s 1st rugby teams started to do battle before thousands of spectators around the Pollock Field, Oumie passed away in Oudtshoorn.

We have lost our Oumie. But Uncle Piet has lost his wife, and Anton, Ingrid, Rael, Leonie, Gerhard and Pieter, and all their families, have lost their Mom and their grandmother.

Pera, Sean and Phillip join me in extending our deepest sympathy to you all. We take solace in the fact that she is in That Place where her pain is no more. And, whilst death takes away the person from us, it can never take away the relationship or the memories.