9½ drives

Prince Pro

Prince Pro

About my father's record collection and my mother's tennis racket.

Object Relations: Essays and Images.  Edited and photographed by Stephen Inggs | Michaelis School of Fine Art, 2014. Reprinted in Monday Monthly | 1 December 2014.

...It is a Prince Pro, with a dark frame and a brown grip. Once, in the 1970s perhaps, it was cutting-edge, the era when my mother was wielding it from the baselines of the Rec Club (she was never much of a net player), dispatching her trademark cross-court slices. The grip seems to be the original, and is worn smooth like old wood by the serves and volleys, the ceaseless changing between forehand and backhand, rough or smooth, p or d.

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N2

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Financial Times | 20 September 2013.

The N2 is the longest highway in South Africa. It starts at an intersection near the docks in Cape Town, follows the eastern seaboard of the country (roughly), then bends inland below Swaziland to end at the town of Ermelo in the province of Mpumalanga.

It is 2,241km long. Can it be done justice in 2,241 words?

Original (and longer) version published in the wonderful Prufrock magazine: www.prufrock.co.za

22 July | Rearview

22 July | Rearview

Sunday in Calitzdorp: a kitsch tearoom with panpiped music, ragged kids saying they will look after my car nicely. It is the 22nd of July. If I had to track backwards, to rewind the last week…

The Peugeot is reversing along the R62, speedometer at 12 o’clock, 110 km/h on the dot. Petrol is extracted at Ladismit, below the Towerkop, the snow on it unthawing as I deposit R600 in the ATM.

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A certain kind of South Africa evaporated...

                    ...for me when I finally got my driver’s licence, fifth time lucky near a cold northern ring road. No more solidarity with the verge walkers and all those who talk about, worry about, conceive of a whole domain of life as “transport.” There were illegal stints behind the wheel in the past: schoolboy backroads in the foothills of the Berg, the long night of landing lanes when DB fed me slimming tablets and I guided the Renault Scenic from the Karoo to the Midlands. But now the novelty is wearing off as I steer my father’s white van up and down the coastal highways that I cursed for so long, and me wanting to record something of it before all the strangeness of tar-hurtling, death-by-inch arthritic pedal-fiddling and glance-snatching at the sliding world of that earlier, odder place has disappeared forever. Leaving the city, flicking across lanes from Waterfront to hospital, slungshot out of the mountain suburbs but immediately running into a real clutch cruncher of a traffic jam along side the twin cooling towers…locals u-turning, cutting in, hard shouldering it to take alternate routes, but me locked there under the winter sun, men looking back at me from an open-backed truck: the quintessential South African dialogue. Dad talks, talks, talks madly, the coffee still fizzling in his veins. About the book fair, the local radio station, the problem of listless retirees, the road to Cape Agulhas, the lack of adequate marketing as a winter holiday destination. I murmur assent, yes yes, eyes casting around the early N2 scenery, trying to work out what has changed since I was last here.

We passed the obstruction (men digging a hole in broad daylight) and were just gathering momentum towards the mountains when Dad received a call from a pretty woman watercolourist and shameful self-publicist who wanted us to collect prints in Stellenbosch and generally admire her. So we peeled off, got lost amid the peri-urban wine farmery and discount wholesalers. Left after more coffee, missed the highway a few times and then ground through intersections parallel to the Indian seaboard, a place of car forecourts and things – dunes, stalls roadsigns – barely held down against the wind. Up across the long diagonal pass, the Cape had all but disappeared in glare.

Then began the waiting behind trucks, the spotting for farm stalls, the tracing of the Langeberg, the swooping down on bridges, the shrugging off of hitch-hikers, the rattling of a white chassis along Africa’s ancient seabeds. No music this time, just the hot noise of tyre on tarmac. Petrol cities flared when it got dark…mist earned me an admonishment for speeding…cameras clicked me in one of the gorges and the coast swung out and open in the night, unseen.

Road trip into the Klein Karoo

…Sean leaving as many loose ends as the wires that twisted out of the cubbyhole where the radio should have been. To remedy this, Roderick’s other lodger, Sarah, had lent me a pair of portable battery speakers which I balanced on my lap together with a skipping discman. By the time we reached the mountain tunnel I had made a suitable nest out of jerseys and scarves to keep it steady. “I normally have a policy of taking the pass over the top,” said Sean as the Indestructible Beat of Soweto sounded out in the belly of the fold belt. But time was short, wine shops en route soon to close. Soon after we left Worcester, Sarah’s speakers began emitting a horrible, cyclic wave of distortion. It’ll probably get broken, I told her when she offered it.

“Don’t worry, I’m loaded,” she said, sitting at the wobbly kitchen table below Lion’s Head. Scraped lemons in the fruit bowl, back issues of Condé Nast Traveller in the toilet and a stray named Wilberforce prowling across the dusty wooden floor. One of the party girls had loved and then left it; Sarah was the only person who fed it now, under the rain and warping roofs of the winter Cape. Rod’s house was leaking from above and welling up from below. Every time I came down he had removed another rusted component from the overflowing geyser, claiming to have solved the problem. They were arranged artistically in the hearth, between vases of wild flowers.

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Peak Formosa

“Her vast barbaric haunches” visible from the breakfast table…Formosa Peak outlined in the manageable blue glare of my prescription sunglasses, above the seamist that has not yet burnt off, the indented rivermouths, the wave cut platform. From here the long mountain line is an abstract in aluminium window frames of the café where my Dad takes his coffee, above the high street, adjoining the radio studio. But a month ago, Nic, Sean and I set out on a morning dark highway with dried fruit, no camera and a hand drawn map given to us by a trail hardened local who jotted down some helpful tips as well: “Careful of bushfires,” “Slow and steady - no race.”

Dad has asked me to write a guest column on the hike for his field notes in the local paper, no doubt also to be broadcast in installments to the fill up the local FM hours. So here I will set down those things that could never be included there. Like: the music playing as we traced the Tsitsikamma Range for 100 km’s, then bent inland at Kareedouw, echo pedal guitar, where phrases overlap in ways that can never be predicted and in turn give rise to ideas not yet imagined: the long drive into the musical unconscious, and in the background a sad Mancunian voice singing about war and wasted time. Like: the long unstoppable ascent, Nic and I cursing Sean as he traced the three ridges high above, only halting at the summit scramble, where the ocean came to view again and, like that day on the white sand at Robberg we were looking back from somewhere that had only been looked at before, stared at for years, feeling the burn, the credit balance of youth, the invincible summer.

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