On Sunday morning I woke up in a small red-brick room, on a single bed, as I heard the sound of a generator kick in somewhere. It was dark but getting light and my phone said it was 05h37. There were the sounds of birds. I would say birdsong, but that would be a lie. It was more like a birdcacophony. Later Jan told me they were katlaggers. I think. Whatever they were, birds seem to make the most alarming noises when they are unchecked by pollution and unafraid of the possibility that someone’s cat might want to impress someone by making a mush of bird guts and feathers on someone’s kitchen floor. In the bush, where they are free from the dangers of domesticated animal life, birds really never shut up, I swear.
In spite of any spin an urban curmudgeon can put on the bush, it remains a lovely and fresh place that tends to inspire some longing for a life that is simpler, cleaner, and filled with… birdsound.
The day before I got on the R511 right at its very origin (William Nichol, I think around Montecasino, or thereabouts), and rode it all the way to Beestekraal, north of Brits. I took it only because of the sign. It said R511 Hartebeespoort Dam. Until that moment I was going to take the R512 past Lanseria, but last week I came to the conclusion that ignoring the signs in my life only leads to frustration and unhappiness, so, the R511 it was.
I passed Dainfern and Diepsloot, nestling in increasing proximity to each other like two ballooning breasts during a series of augmentations. I wondered if it would be flippant to call these areas the double-D cup of South African urban development. Probably, but so what.
I drove through Hennopsriver. Ten years ago I worked on a French TV series that had its set close to the river. For a few weeks I drove out there every morning except Sundays; arriving in the freezing dark to switch on the heaters in the French actors’ caravans and waiting for them to arrive and bitch about the fact that I had them picked up so early. The patchwork tar has deteriorated since then, but I think it is part of its charm. One really wants to shoot the opening sequence to a vampire TV series there, I think (has anybody seen HBO’s Tru Blood? Absolutely wonderful. It’s at the video hire shop.) The fact that you cross the same river at least three times infuses the road with the perception that you can never leave.
I passed the dam, that odd Jasmyn place with the windmill and the miljoener-boerepaleis development on the hill, the strange and steaming black factory outside Brits (please somebody tell me what happens there?) and finally, crossed into unfamiliar territory: the Thabazimbi road to the North, and to Beestekraal.
There is something about the name that conjures up images of cultivated, irrigated paddocks and grazing livestock tugging at shoots growing by the side of the road, and it is so, indeed. As I drove past the large fields of greens – a variety of vegetable crops – I wondered if the chicken or the egg came first. And if one could refer to the name of a place as a chicken, or egg. Regardless, really, it was a new landscape for me and it was amazing. It occurred to me that I was very far from Fourways, the world was a different place, but I was still on the same road. The R511 stretched ahead, like a large black cat, quite pleased with itself after an afternoon nap.
I was sorry to leave it, and the Golf was positively in shock. We turned onto a gravel road so corrugated that it shook the face completely off the radio. The temptation to forego the farm and just head back towards the Magaliesberg was great, but I slowed down, greeted a curious kudu cow behind an impressive fence and edged forward. I clipped the face of the radio back on. I wondered if the Golf should make way for a bakkie. I rolled past two men congregated next to a parked jeep while finishing a beer. They looked like a local tourist attraction. And then, without losing an exhaust or any other obvious parts of the car, I made it to Izindulu, where I was going.
A man called Black came to open the gate for me. When I pulled up to the boma, Oom Hansie and Tannie Riena were already in the Landrover, with the dogs, and Barry was about to shoe-horn me into the back too so that we could go find his herd of buffalo. I was keen to just not move for a bit, up or down, or forwards, or sideways, so I declined. I just wanted to have a drink and sit quietly. Later Jan arrived and we talked about his script, which was why I was there. When the buffalo expedition came back Jan made a huge fire, we drank whisky and ate a lot of braaied meat. Everything was lovely and very bosveld.
Oom Hansie (deaf for quite some few years now, I believe) talked without pausing for breath about hunting, fishing and eventually about Robey Leibbrandt. Tannie Riena interjected every now and then. Later we sat staring at the fire and I asked her how she met her husband. She was eighteen when she married him. “Pure kind,” she said. Then she told me about how ugly she thought he was when she saw him for the first time, how she had no intention of marrying him, and about his tame kudu. The kudu had some role in their eventual union, but I am still unsure of exactly what it was. And after that she told me about both her liver operations, her arm operation, when she had water in her lungs, how she was generally not feeling great these days, and suspected that a 3rd liver operation might be due, and how she refuses to have her grandson’s wife in her house. She drank a lot of water, constantly, as this helped to rinse out her bladder, she said. It did mean that she had to run inside every now and then, and it was during such a moment that I said my goodnights and went to bed.
Oom Hansie’s voice carried on for a bit, the generator died down and eventually it was quiet. I thought about the day and about how perfect it had been. We won the Tri-Nations, I took a trip down memory lane, wandered about in new territory and the world I live in became a little larger. And I learnt that a man who owns a tame kudu will most likely marry the girl he sets his sights on, go deaf at eighty and tell detailed hunting stories to friendly strangers at eighty-eight.
On the way back, on the corrugated road, I saw the white mannequin torsos and I stopped to take pictures. I think they were a sign that my day was just a little bit surreal.