19 April 2010: 3 years 7 months on . . .
If Heaven is a place on earth, then surely that place must be Stellenbosch. Maybe I am biased, only because Stellenbosch is the birthplace of one Edward Charles Lunnon!
Affectionately known as Stellies to thousands of students, it is the second oldest town in South Africa (after Cape Town) and was founded in 1679 as an agricultural settlement. It has been an important educational centre for over a century and is the home to the famed Stellenbosch University, as well as schools such as Paul Roos Gymnasium, Rhenish Institute for Girls and Bloemhof Girls’ School.
It is at the heart of the South African winelands and is surrounded by majestic mountain ranges, and orchards and, of course, the vineyards crawling over the hilltops for as far as the eyes can see and creeping up the bases of the blue mountain peaks. At this time of the year – autumn – the usually green leaves take on the resplendent colours of red and orange and yellow.
Dorp Street has the longest row of historic buildings in the country and De Braak, the once village green used for military parades is still surrounded by the quaint old buildings of the 17th and 18th centuries (and now also surrounded by the informal traders that have become a part of our South African landscape!)
Besides being my birthplace, I also studied here when I returned from the USA in 1976. I lived in Helshoogte for six years. Helshoogte is not only one of the tallest peaks surrounding the town, but it is also the tallest 9 story residence of some 300 men, of which I had the privilege of being the Primarius – head student – in 1981.
So this is where I obtained my degrees and diplomas and I also returned here in 2004 when I obtained a PDHIV/AIDS Management Cum Laude. I not only received my formal education here, but I made many friends here, many with whom I still have contact today – I guess, they are a part of my informal education that I obtained here (arguably more important than the formal education!) and the basis of many stories and reminiscing that still takes place today.
The whole family is here for the weekend, because Sean and Phillip are playing rugby against Paul Roos. They are part of a contingent of hundreds of Grey boys who are here to play tennis, rugby, hockey, chess, catch fish and whatever . . .
On the way down, with Sean at the wheel again, we spent Thursday night in Knysna. There we caught up with Herman and Sally (friends from my business days) in their magnificent home that overlooks the Knysna lagoon.
The boys have travelled extensively with us since birth, and time spent together in this way has been some of the best quality time that we spend together as a family. When not sleeping, conversation moves from history to geography to bantering and even to the odd occasional mathematical calculation which is thrown in. These travelling times are and have always been special moments for us – whether it has been England, USA, Durban, the Drakensberg, Kruger National Park, Gauteng, the West Coast, the Karoo, the Western Cape or the Garden Route.
Then, on to Stellies. Sean is in the process of deciding where to study next year and so a bit of promotion work for Stellenbosch is necessary from my side.
Firstly, we go to the Neelsie, the Langenhoven Student Centre, which is where, as students, we played bridge, drank copious amounts of coffee and ate many plates of “slap” chips (fries) on cold rainy winter days. These were supposedly inter-lecture breaks, but often served as the lectures themselves!
We are just in time to watch Koshuis (inter-Residence) rugby at Coetzenberg at 17h00. This is the breeding ground of Danie Craven and of South African and Springbok rugby and often the experimental ground for rugby rules that are later implemented around the world. Some ten games of rugby taking place simultaneously with hundreds of students watching from the sidelines and often on the field of play. The decorum, the dress, the drinks, the comments, are all part of the show – maybe this will guide Sean’s thinking a bit, although the amount of Afrikaans heard is still a concern for him!
Then the 20-minute drive to Durbanville, where we are staying with old university friends, Willem and Gretel, and are later joined by Kobus and Tillie, also old Maties, for the obligatory braai and red wine. And the reminiscing . . . and the stories.
On Saturday morning, we head off back to Stellies, first to watch Phillip’s team and then Sean’s team. Then, it’s the turn of the first rugby team where we learn another life lesson. Despite the odds being against you, don’t give up and you, too, can come to within 5 points of winning the game.
(Travelling is becoming more difficult for me, and on Friday morning, I heard myself saying that this would be the last trip! I need to learn not to give up so easily . . .)
I also met up on the sideline with my eldest sister, Lyn, and her husband, Anton, who have come from The Strand to see us. Then there is ex varsity housemate, Rabe Botha who I haven’t seen for 30 years and I just missed Steve Fourie’s parents (due to my poor memory!) with whom I lodged when I first moved to Port Elizabeth in 1984.
After the rugby, we have a bite to eat at the Dros. Amongst downtown development and a club/pub/restaurant/eatery/drinkery on every Stellies street corner, part of the Dros has been maintained, including the façade. It is also the first in what has now become a national chain of restaurants.
In my student days, the Dros was the student name for the Drostdy Hotel. It was one of three popular “watering holes” in Stellies, the others being Tollies and Die Akker (where Neil Thomson – an ex teaching colleague and still at Grey and now Sean’s rugby coach) played with his band Leatherbone!) In those days, beers (LION was the popular choice) were 50 cents each and Tassies (Tassenberg) was the red wine of choice (I can’t remember the price!) They also served a midnight student rump steak and chips for R2.50. This came from my pocket-money, after I had spent my R1000 per annum bursary from AECI on tuition fees of R300 and R600 for annual residence fees (including three meals a day!) A 300-page hard covered economics textbook that I threw out the other day had its price pencilled on the front page – R7.99 (and, by the way, only ten pages of chapter 4 had been separated – the rest of the book was amazingly still untouched after 34 years!)
If you really wanted to splash out, you took your date to the Lanzerac Hotel for a cheese lunch on a Friday afternoon (she always ordered a ginger square!) at the princely price of R2.00. Inevitably, you had to return to res later in the afternoon to get a tie, as ties were mandatory after 6pm!
This has been a weekend of memories. But on Sunday morning, we have to head back to Port Elizabeth, this time via the country’s major arterial route, the N1. It heads north from Cape Town, to Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Messina and Beit Bridge at the Zimbabwean border on the Limpopo River. We will leave it at Worcester and turn east via Robertson and Ashton, and then link up with the N2 to Port Elizabeth at Swellendam. It is the third oldest white settlement in South Africa, (founded in 1746) and to where my grandfather, Walter Charles, came from England as the postmaster at the beginning of the 20th century. The desk that I am working at now was a gift from the people of Swellendam when he retired there on 1 November 1923.
Some 30 km from Cape Town, at Paarl, the road approaches the Drakenstein Mountains and enters the Huguenot Tunnel, which has been tunnelled through the base of the mountain for easier access to the north. After spending some ten minutes in the darkness of the tunnel, suddenly you see the light shining in from the Worcester side.
It reminds me that no matter what one’s circumstances are, there is always light at the end of every tunnel. Heaven is indeed a place . . .