I am somewhat apprehensive when I am amongst blokes from fishing villages. They tend to be strong fellows who are not shy of throwing a punch, whereas my own physical prowess is at the lower end of the scale. Amongst such fellows one can easily get caught up in disputes that can only have unfortunate outcomes for one’s own health and safety.
Of course I shouldn’t generalise. I know from experience that not every bloke in a fishing village is hell bent on beating me up. Take Frankie, for instance. I met him in the bar of the Astoria Hotel in the fishing village of Hermanus when I was 19 years old. At the time of our first encounter we were both lying on the floor, having fallen off our respective bar stools as a result of extreme inebriation. Frankie was a truck driver who was covered in tattoos at a time when body art was the exclusive domain of those who belonged to the lowest strata of society. Frankie and I slurred our mutual introductions while prostrate on the floor and a friendship of sorts ensued.
Frankie was a heavy drinker while I was in the early stages of a binge drinking phase that continued for some years, so we shared a common interest. On the Friday night a week after we had met he came to pick me up at my parents’ house to spend a weekend at the place in Hermanus where he rented a room. I now wonder what my dad, a school principal and church elder, had made of Frankie, but he never commented at the time and I did not elicit his opinion then or later. Frankie and I got as far as the Royal Hotel in the main street of my home town, where we stopped for a while to drink glasses of beer topped up with double measures of Witblits (White Lightning) to increase the alcohol content. It is a miracle that we made it alive to Hermanus, 80 kilometres away across a couple of mountain passes. On arrival I found that Frankie’s middle-aged landlady was an alcoholic, so we all got on famously and drank ourselves into a stupor.
Hermanus in those days was home to quite a few tough nuts whose arms generally carried more muscle than my legs. One Saturday night I was at a dance at the Royal Hotel with my friend Dirk, who had a muscular build, but for some unfathomable reason was even physically weaker than me. We had had a few drinks and were minding our own business when my chair was suddenly plucked out from underneath me and I fell to the ground. I saw one of the locals walking off with my chair and, putting it down, making himself at home with a group of his mates.
I know, I know, I should have quietly slunk off while the going was good, but I didn’t. Instead, I walked up to him and said, quite politely but firmly, ‘That’s my chair that you’ve taken.’
He barely glanced at me. ‘Get lost,’ he said dismissively. ‘It was your chair. Now it’s mine.’ Then he continued his conversation with his mates.
In an insane moment of unbearably hurt pride my mouth took on a life of its own. ‘Well, f*** you!’ I retorted.
He jumped up from his chair. ‘Did you guys hear that?’ he enquired from his mates in an incredulous tone.
They all got up and formed a menacing circle around me. There was nowhere to go. He strode up to me and punched me mightily on the nose. Outmuscled by a large margin, I did not even lift a hand to try and defend myself as that would have been a pointless exercise. My nose, which was broken, started bleeding profusely.
At this juncture Dirk broke through the circle of onlookers and shouted at my attacker, ‘Leave him alone! He’s done nothing to you!’ The fellow lifted Dirk up with one hand and hurled him against the wall. Fortunately Dirk was uninjured and we managed to slink off with our tails between our legs.
Later, at our campsite, when my nose had stopped bleeding, I said to Dirk accusingly, ‘At least he could have punched you too. All he did was to throw you against the wall’.
During the following year I went with my university friends Louis and Quentin to Laaiplek (Loading Place) for a few days to dabble in door to door sales. Laaiplek is a small fishing village on the west coast to the north of Cape Town. We were flogging cheap vinyl records by little known Afrikaans country and western singers to the local populace for a small commission.
Laaiplek was a trawlerman’s town. The men had thick forearms and biceps from hauling in nets and most of them went around in shorts and bare feet. Financial planning over the duration of the year was not really their forte. During the high season for trawling for fish they earned substantial incomes and squandered it straight away on expensive cars, mostly Ford Mustangs, but during the rest of the year they barely managed to scrape by. It was a perfect town in which to sell cheap records by little known Afrikaans country and western artistes.
The three of us were sitting in the town’s only bar one evening after a day of door to door sales, having a few drinks, when the bar doors suddenly flew open and a barefooted trawlerman appeared in the doorway. ‘You three, come here!’ he bellowed in an angry voice. You can imagine my angst at this turn of events after that unfortunate incident in Hermanus. I braced myself for another battering of my body and my pride. We left our half empty glasses at the bar and did as we were told.
‘Come along and give my bakkie (ute) a push. The bloody thing won’t start.’
I was hugely relieved that his anger was directed at the bakkie and not at us.
He got into the driver’s seat, put the bakkie into gear and stepped on the clutch. ‘Let’s go!’ he bawled and we pushed with all our might. There was a downhill slope from the bar to the river below, about a hundred yards away. As the bakkie gathered speed he released the clutch and the engine grumbled into life as he hurtled towards the river. He slammed on the brakes and the bakkie skidded to within a short nose of the riverbank. Then he put it into reverse gear and put his foot down on the accelerator so that he came roaring back up the hill.
In front of the bar entrance he stopped with a skid and pulled the handbrake on. Leaving the vehicle idling, he slammed the door shut and strode off towards the bar door. Over his shoulder he snarled at the bakkie, ‘Now you can just stand there and idle while I go and have a drink, you useless piece of sh*t.’
We followed him in, gulped the remainder of our drinks down as fast as we could, and scurried off into the safety of the night.