I have a bike!! Can you believe it? No, neither can I. After two weeks of feeling guilty barely warming the car up on the way to and from work, I finally took the plunge and laid out nearly a hundred pounds on a beautiful new bicycle. It’s one of those classic Oxford don style things (I feel like a fraud riding it without a big gown and mortar board hat) with back-pedal brakes and proper, wrap-round mudguards. No more of that ridiculous 50mm guttering malarkey, oh no. I tooled the thing up with lights and a pump for a little extra, but Desmond struck me a deal – they knocked a hundred Emalangeni off in exchange for fitting a little advertisement for the shop. Sadly, they didn’t have one to hand, but apparently they wanted to get something special made up. Even riding the short journey to work attracted whistles, hooting and cheers from passing motorists, and a bout of enthusiastic bell-ringing from a fellow two-wheeler. I feel like an extra from A Passage to India. Yes, there are photos.. enjoy.
Desmond, as you will have gathered, returned from South Africa yesterday, sadly without a Mercedes. As it happens, Bouke was made an offer at a petrol station in Kwambunambi and simply handed over the keys right there on the forecourt. The good side, of course, was that he then had to drive Desmond and Ava back to Swaziland, and when I got in from work, they had decided to go into town to Mbabane’s only recording studio and jam for a while. Only too happy to provide moral support, I jumped in the car and within moments I was three doors up from the Times. Ah, well. The studio is right at the back of a building on the trading estate, down a long corridor lined with bizarre pictures from the turn of the century – my favourite being the junction between Gilfillan and Allister Miller streets in 1902, when Mbabane was three mud huts and a single parking space for Swaziland’s only model T.
It’s a fantastic little place, a beacon of blues in the silent industrial area, and I sat down outside the door to listen to Bouke’s guitar solos and the most amazing, powerful jazz singing from Nana, a female friend of his from Johannesburg. I met a couple of tremendous guys, Mandla – painter by day, jazz piano player by night – and Jose, who plays bass one-handed while thrashing out a rhythm on the drums. It was an amazing sight, and as Bouke and Desmond got stuck into a bottle of Oude Meester brandy, the mood seemed to surge and ebb like some kind of musical ocean. Eventually, it was time to leave. Concerned for certain persons’ sobriety, I offered to drive.
“Ag, would you? Thanks,” Bouke mumbled, pressing the keys into my hands and pouring himself into the back seat. This was a moment of mixed emotion for me. On the one hand, I was desperately hungry, having only had a sandwich since lunchtime, on the other I was about to get behind the wheel of a BMW 540, and this was not an experience with which I was keen to finish quickly. Fortunately, I was instructed to drive all the way down into eZulwini, to pick up things from our Nana's parents’ house.
The only downfall of the car, featherlight steering, silent engine, electronically adjusted seats and leather finish aside, was that it was an automatic. A subsidiary problem was that the bulb under the gear selector had gone, meaning Desmond had to open the vanity mirror every time I needed to go, stop, engage reverse, etc, but anybody who’s asked my opinion on the subject knows I hate the things anyway, and, not overly keen to fiddle with the darkened selector, I now had to drive down the longest downhill road in the country without any engine braking. To be fair to the car, the brakes are excellent and it feels so safe on the corners that it really isn’t difficult to drive reasonably smoothly, but I couldn’t help missing the friendly, nose-heavy moan of a forced third.
The only excitement came on the way back. Fortified by a Chinese meal in the valley, Desmond warned me (in the somewhat provocative manner young men are wont to adopt on a night out) not to use, ‘the button’. He meant the kick-down switch. I didn’t believe him. Joining the motorway, I pressed said button, at around 60 km/h. After roughly three and a half seconds, I was speeding at a healthy 140. I backed off the button. Needless to say, I failed to press it again, busy as I was trying to get out of the wet patch on my seat – oh, and steer back up the Malagwane.
Amazingly, Bouke seemed, if anything, grateful for a quiet drive home (however, this may be attributed to his analysis this morning – “God, I don’t think I’ve ever been that pussed in my life!”) and thanked me for “not putting too much foot.”
Damn, an opportunity missed.
Tonight, I'm driving up to the farm (apparently I need to sample the freshly-graded road), to dispose of Ava for the weekend; Desmond and I are coming to Johannesburg. Lock up your daughters and warn the cops.
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