Monthly Archives: April 2016

Charel’s less than triumphant entry into Napier

At the towering height of 6 feet 9 inches my brother Charel is a sight to behold at the best of times. You could never miss him in a crowd. These days he sports long, thinning hair and a longish grey beard. To say that he looks a tad eccentric would be somewhat of an under-statement.

When I visited him last year Marlien, my sister-in-law, told me about his less than triumphant entry into the country town of Napier in the Western Cape region of South Africa a few months earlier. She had received a call on her mobile phone from him, asking her to drive to Napier because his motorbike had conked out along the road, a few kilometres before arriving at the town. When she arrived there an hour or so later, he was still stranded.

He rang a service station in the town. The manager told him that he would send someone out to transport Charel’s motorbike to Napier and Marlien could then take him home. They could go back on another day to pick up the motorbike once it had been fixed.

A little while later the driver from the service station arrived. He had brought along a black youth to assist in getting the motorbike on to the trailer. What he had failed to take along were ties to secure the motorbike.

Annoyed at this oversight, Charel ripped off his belt once they had manoeuvred the bike onto the trailer and used it to tie the motorbike to one side of the trailer. As this would not suffice to keep the bike secure all the way to Napier, he hopped on to the seat of the bike, planted his feet firmly on the floor and told the driver to get going. By this time the reader would appreciate that the road rules in South Africa are considered to be rather rubbery when the circumstances require it to be so.

Just before the driver took off, the black youth jumped onto the trailer and climbed on to the seat of the motorbike behind my brother, hanging onto him tightly with his hands around my brother’s chest.

They set off for the town with Marlien following them in her car. When they arrived in the town it was at the hour of day when most people had just returned home from work. Some of the townsfolk were sitting on their verandahs drinking cups of coffee and watching the passing traffic. As the trailer with Charel and his dark companion went by, they stared at this spectacle in amazement. The black youth grinned from ear to ear and waved at the townsfolk as if he were a real life celebrity. Charel, hugely embarrassed at this turn of events, tried his damnedest to look invisible. His sheer size ensured that his attempt was doomed to failure.

On the evening of the day that Marlien had told me this story, I said to my brother, “That was a pretty amazing entry that you’d made into Napier with your motorbike on the trailer.”

He glared at Marlien and growled accusingly, “Why did you tell Tiens about that damn incident?”

Marlien responded with a bare-faced lie. “I wasn’t the one who told him about it. Someone had taken a photo of you that day and they’d put it up in one of the shop windows. We stopped in the town for coffee this morning and Tiens spotted it while we were there. He asked about it and then the whole story came out.”

“Bloody mongrels,” Charel grumbled. But I could tell that he was secretly quite pleased at the thought of having achieved a moment of notoriety on the main street of Napier.

133 Tim, Marlien & Charel

Tim, Marlien and Charel


I am standing in the Neues Museum in Berlin, looking in wonder at the bust of Nefertiti, the Egyptian queen. She has borne the same enigmatic look for more than 3,300 years.


It strikes me that this very Nefertiti sculpture in front of me has seen human folly in all its expressions over the aeons: the greed, the aggression, the cruelty and the violence, the self-delusion, superstition and xenophobia, the over-exploitation of the planet and the wanton killing of its non-human inhabitants.

She has witnessed the rise of a great many religions including Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, all being claimed by their respective followers to be the one and only true religion. She has seen the believers of different religions and sects kill each other by the millions because of their differences in beliefs.

She has seen the development of increasingly sophisticated weapons which humans used to wage war against each other: guns and cannons, flame throwers and hand grenades, mustard gas, tanks and nuclear devices. She wears the exact same expression today as she did on the two days when atomic bombs were being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

She has observed humans taking their warfare to the skies and to the oceans. She has seen the bombardment along the Western front, maiming and killing millions. She was around when the bombs were being dropped from the sky on London and on Berlin and when Dresden was bombed to a rubble.

Over the millennia she has seen genocide after genocide and the rape and murder of millions of women and children. She has witnessed the extinction of a vast number of animal species because of human greed and indifference. She has seen the temperature rising and the very life on earth being threatened by humankind’s continuing excesses, selfishness and short-sightedness.

I look at the sculpture of Nefertiti. She doesn’t blink an eye. She has seen at it all and nothing will surprise her now.

I think I can guess what she is thinking. She is regretting the fact that the apes have ever come down from the trees. Most likely she will still be around when we clever, self-destructive apes have vanished from the face of the earth.