Roads trips – a retrospective

Having grown up in a small town and in high school, having gone to boarding school in another town, road trips were commonplace.  There are, however, some trips that remain embedded in my memory.  The first that I really remember would have been in 1967.  It was the year after we arrived in South Africa and my father had a new job, necessitating a move from Port Elizabeth to East London.  It’s a trip of about 300km and at the time, my parents didn’t have a car.  A friend offered to drive us to East London.  I remember little about the trip (I’d have been about four and my sister nineteen months younger), except that the car was huge.  The four of us – plus the driver – had ample space.  One thing I do remember – other than the heat and burning the backs of my legs on the shiny vinyl seats – was the bench-like front seat from which I could just about see over the dashboard.  A music play list? I doubt it.  The driver would have been accompanied by anything a capella – if anyone sang.  I don’t have a clue!

Granny and the Mini

The next road trip that I remember, was not long after that, and as my Dad was going for a(nother) job interview – in Grahamstown.  It would have been late 1969 or early 1970 because my granny was visiting from the UK.   By then, my parents had acquired a motor car which was the complete antithesis of the vehicle in which we made that other road trip.  It was a Mini Minor, much like the one below.Source

What you do need to know, is that both my mother and my grandmother were tall women, so I still have difficulty thinking of their folding themselves up so that they could get into that car.

Granny outside her home in Cowley, Oxford. Ironically, this is where Austin manufactured minis and it’s likely that she had worked in that factory during the war. I wrote a bit about that here.

Back to that trip.  Granny sat in the back:  in the middle. She was bookended by her granddaughters.  I have vivid memories of putting my head in her lap and sleeping at least part of the way.  Although I don’t actually remember her singing, I have no doubt that she did.  This was her nightly lullaby.  I sometimes still sing it in my head and Joan Baez’s rendition reminds me of Granny and her beautiful voice.

As I mentioned, road trips were a regular feature of my childhood.  After moving to Grahamstown, there were frequent visits to Port Elizabeth and even one to Cape Town.  Then in my high school years there were regular trips from Grahamstown to East London and back – at least monthly, if not more often – to and from boarding school.  The subsequent series of motor cars didn’t have a radio in them, let alone a tape cassette.  Consequently, there was no such thing as a road trip play list.  I must have sung on some of these trips – especially as a little girl.  I loved singing, but my singing was not loved:

Daddy, what can I sing for you?

His inevitable reply:

Over the hills and faraway….

He meant not the tune, but … literally.

Consequently, road trips included games like “I spy with my little eye….” or counting cars, and more interesting, guessing the origins of motor vehicles from their number plates.  This was long before the advent of the current number plate series, and we could guess province, town and country.  We prided ourselves on knowing that TSN was Sandton (if memory serves).  TJ and TP were Johannesburg and Pretoria, respectively, both in the then Transvaal (now Gauteng).  There was a time I could recite the towns for number plates that started with C(ape) and from A to Z.  The Western Cape has retained this series for its towns and I can still tell you some of them, including that CA is Cape Town (a no-brainer since we lived there for years) and that CZ is Beaufort West.  B, C, D, E and F were all in the Eastern Cape and were, in order:  Port Elizabeth, Kimberley, King Williams Town, East London and Grahamstown.  I did have to check that I was right with Kimberley (Source).  Funny how these trivial things stick.  I wish some other information was so readily retrievable from the memory banks!  Actually, the second car I owned, was registered in Grahamstown, and it was with that CF number plate that my Blue Fiat Uno and I arrived in Cape Town in the mid-1990s.  Not a road trip I remember with any relish at all.

A stop in Parys

Moving swiftly back to happier times, well, sort of, is a road trip made not long after my 21st birthday and on which occasion this photo was taken.

Dad, Mum and I at my 21st birthday (garden) party

That road trip is memorable for a range of good and awful reasons.  It was a 1,000km trip from Grahamstown to Johannesburg.  On the trip up – in a clapped out Datsun – packed to the gills with students – the weather was appalling.  It poured with rain and there was a hole the floor of the car – my feet were perpetually wet.  Of course, the inevitable happened:  the car broke down.  The water pipe connecting the radiator with the engine … well … it burst.  Suffice it to say, we had to stop and have a Heath Robinson repair in Paris Parys, 100km from Johannesburg.  It was already dark and, as I said, miserable.  Even though it was early autumn and should have been balmy (we were all barmy at that point…).  It was pitch dark by the time we hit the road again.  All I remember of the rest of the trip, other than the belching and screeching of the water pipe, was the orange moon at which I stared out of the back passenger window, with frozen, wet feet, and to the sound track to the 1983 (this was 1984) film, Lawyers in Love.

Any of those Jackson Brown songs, particularly that one, take me back – less to the trip – and more to that moon.


Johannesburg-Queenstown, return

Fast forward just about ten years to when I was living in Johannesburg (which skyline still does it for me…):  for the entire year or so prior to leaving that city, and once a month, I’d make the just under 700km trip to Queenstown and back – for the weekend.  At the time, I had a company car and it was the first of “my” cars to have a radio and a cassette deck.  I was in heaven.  Prior to that, I’d had a little 1970-something yellow Renault 5.  The Yellow Peril had no frills, let alone a sound system.  I compensated with my pink walkman portable cassette player and ear phones.  Any how, I digress.  As usual.

Those trips between Johannesburg and Queenstown were accompanied by a pile of cassette tapes.  They were all loud, sing-alongs because I was travelling alone and would leave around 1pm, and drive straight through, stopping once and just to long enough fill the car, the stomach and to use the ablutions, arriving some six and a half hours later.  I have wracked my brains to remember what those tapes were, and the only one I can remember, is Bette Middler’s Some People’s Lives and especially this song:

Spoilt for choice

Having travelled quite a bit for may day job in the last 20 years ago, and living where we do, I’m not so fond of road trips.  I prefer to stay put. That said, there is the odd trip to Cape Town and the-not-odd-enough-trip to places we’ve not been.  We don’t have a hard and fast playlist, and with our not-so-new Chevvy just having a CD player, we both select what we’d like to hear and put the discs in a box.  The selection ranges from The Beetles to Santana, Mango Groove to Edith Piaf, The African Jazz Pioneers and Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) and a whole lot in between.

There have been times, though, having selected the maximum number of CDs our carrier would allow, it lived in splendour on the diningroom table until our return from a trip.

Post Script

This post was was originally posted in August 2019 as a non-entry to that month’s Top 3 contest.  Because of what I explain here, and because I want to link to this post, here it is again.

Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing and online tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I also share the occasional post on Medium.

le zoulou blanc – a man for all

Before I get going…

It’s week or so ago that shared what was, kinda the soundtrack of my life (on WordPress; on Hive). It was, in part a piece of fluff, but in others, not. In the final paragraph, I note –

There are songs missing from this list and which I’d love to have included, like Johnny Clegg’s Asimbonanga (We have not seen him [Mandela])….”

And then…

Around about a year after I first wrote that, Johnny Clegg died. The news of his death came as I was preparing dinner on an ordinary Tuesday in July. It seemed that suddenly the world, and South Africa in particular, were the poorer. Another voice in the soundtrack of my life silenced forever.

This is what I wrote exactly a year ago today. Mandela Day and the anniversary of that great man’s birthday. With hindsight, rather apt.

A necessary digression

I was seventeen the first time I heard a Juluka song. I was at boarding school, and as seniors, we were allowed to have our own transistor radios.

At the end of the preceding year, 1979, the first independent radio station in South Africa had been launched. Broadcasting from the beautiful and then pristine coastal village of Port St Johns in the “independent” Transkei, Capital Radio 604 was essentially a music station that broadcast music and news often not heard on mainstream state-owned radio stations.


The line-up, I clearly remember, included a mishmash of folk: Englishmen (pukka) an American and South Africans – black and white. Unheard of. As a young, unaware kid, the significance was totally lost on me. As was the fact that one of the most popular songs of 1980 was banned in South Africa: Pink Floyd’s Another brick in the wall. It was also on this radio station that Juluka’s song, Africa topped the charts. It was their first hit.

I listen to this song and am immediately transported into the cell-like room in which I stayed for at least one term. It had no windows and could literally just take a narrow single bed, the “tin shanty” as we called our bedside lockers and the laundry box that stood at the foot of the bed.

In my childish ignorance, I did not know that the African language melded with the English, was isiZulu. I had only been exposed to a little isiXhosa. Of course, I sang every single word, but my words in the isiZulu verses were all mondegreens. It’s only as an adult, searching for the lyrics that I learned what they meant:

As he grew, people told him, son, don’t you trust anyone, you don’t learn how to trust a stone,
This is not a gentle land, and it breaks those who never learn how to be alone.

Afrika kukhala abangcwele
eAfrika kukhala abangcwele wena (Africa be holy to you)

And so, he walked in the passion of his land, until at last he cried out,
Can anybody hear, hear me, hear the song in my heart?
There’s a song to be sung that can heal these broken men,
Let us sing and we’ll walk through the dark, hand in hand, hand in hand.

From the album, Universal Men, 1979

The soundtrack to many South Africans’ lives

They took on a new poignancy for me yesterday when I saw this Facebook post from Andrew Boraine:

While in solitary confinement in 1980, I would pace around my cell and sing to myself over and over a Johnny Clegg and Jaluka song [Africa], to strengthen my resolve in the face of my interrogators:….

RIP Johnny, I will miss you and your music. It saved me when I was a young man. It is part of the soundtrack of my life.

That Clegg, Jaluka and Savuka’s music was integral to the soundtrack of so many South Africans’ lives, was the overriding theme to all the tributes I heard yesterday: from the celebrities and musicians who worked with him, to ordinary people, whom he may or may not have actually met.

Clegg, in an interview, following his diagnosis and in advance of his Final Journey Tour, said two things that resonated for me. He didn’t go looking for politics, but rather that “politics found me”: because he had simply followed his passion and curiosity, spending time with the people with whom he felt most connected. The second was that he had toured every year since 1983.

Dancing to a political awakening

This made me realise that when I was at university, and the first time I saw him perform, they were on that first tour. The venues had to be places where he and Sipho Mchunu could perform together on the same stage: the liberal (white) universities and townships. I remember the Great Hall at Rhodes University, filling up with students, armed with their joints cigarettes, cheap wine and/or beer. The music, in modern parlance, was epic, and even thirty-seven years later, the image of the two of them doing the high kicks of Zulu dances, is as vivid as if it had been just last night (without the side-effects of alcohol and second-hand dope-smoking).

How far we have come: a friend of mine from those days, now living in London, was at both that concert and at the London show of the Final Journey Tour. He and I have not seen each other since we both lived in Johannesburg in the mid- to late 1980s, and this was our exchange on Facebook the night Clegg died:

Steve and I were on opposite sides of the student politics spectrum. We ran into each other where I worked in 1986, and had our first ever real adult conversation. We both lived in Yeoville and we both lived in Rockey Street, a few houses from each other. As he says: all those years ago (with no apologies to George Harrison, whose 1981 song is also part of the soundtrack of our university days, too).

The years, 1982 to 1986 were also the time of my real political awakening: I have alluded to it elsewhere, but it was driven home in 1986 when I spent some of my happiest ever times dancing the night away to Maskanda and Mbaqanga music in the depths of Soweto. I tell you: this white girl could dance. She was, in those circles, made an “honorary Sowetan”; an honour I still hold dear.

The following year (1987) saw the release of Asimbonanga (We have not seen him [Mandela])….”. Many young people don’t know the double entendre of “we have not seen him”: any likeness, image or photograph of Nelson Mandela was also banned. In about 1988, an early memoir of Winnie Mandela emerged, written by Fatima Meer. It contained photographs of Winnie; not one of Madiba. Asimbonanga, with its most haunting melody, celebrates and mourns people killed by the Apartheid regime. At the time Clegg wrote it, neither he, nor I dreamed that Mandela would be free, let alone be South Africa’s first democratically elected President. One can only but imagine how he felt, singing this song and discovering Mandela behind him. I watch it now, and have, many times. Still the tears come.

Clegg’s songs punctuate different parts of my life; it was not until I worked in the mining industry, and had actually gone down gold mines, that the words of African Sky Blue really hit:

I could reel off and find other songs that I love, especially from the first two albums whose songs take me back to the common room at boarding school and parties at university, but I shan’t. There is, however, one that must not be glossed over. Clegg wrote it after the death of a band member. That year, 1997, was a year of crossing for me, too. It was the first time I had to confront the sudden death of a colleague and friend. It also marked a crossing point in my first marriage.


It is the song that a group of Clegg’s friends recorded for him – as a surprise gift – and as a celebration of the man – just eight before his death in 2019.

When Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, was interviewed the day after his death, he pondered the significance of having spontaneously played this on his saxophone the morning of Clegg’s own crossing.

Johnny Clegg
(7 June 1953 – 16 July 2019)
Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters)
Your voice may be silent, but your songs live on


Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing and online tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain. Click on the image below to sign up
  • I also share the occasional post on Medium.