New Year’s day, 1968, having somehow avoided a hangover, I was up early, and because nobody else in the household was, I took myself off to explore the forests around the village of Duiwelskloof where I was a guest of a friend from work, also my room-mate at the YMCA where I lived in Pretoria, Eric Kirsten. Having been the barman at the Letaba District Country Club party the previous night and, staying to the bitter end, he was still asleep.
I had driven up through the Lowveld, taking a couple of days to do it and enjoy the awesome scenery. The route wanders up and down passes on the beautiful escarpment from Lydenburg and the Long Tom Pass, named after an historical cannon, Pilgrims Rest, the old pioneer gold rush village, Bourke’s Luck, Potholes, a water-carved rock feature, the breathtaking Blyde River Canyon, the Strydom Tunnel and the Abel Erasmus Pass.
It is mostly country clad in pine forests, has silver waterfalls and sheer cliffs. I did the trip in my first ever motor car; a fifteen year-old Austin A30. Saving for months, I finally came up with the funds to buy it. My latest ambition was to get my Commercial Pilot’s Licence. To be sure that I was fit enough, I went through the required medical exam and passed it. The next step was to save enough money to take the instruction to get the Private Pilot’s Licence and the forty hours of flying needed. Because that would be at Wonderboom Airfield to the north of Pretoria, I needed a vehicle to get there, thus the Austin. My dad suggested that I join the S. A. Airforce, to that end, but I didn’t want to be tied down. I had turned twenty-one a few weeks before, so could decide for myself.
On Westphalia Timber Estates, a car came rocketing out of a side road. I saw a flash vision of a family; that I would hit their rear door into a child, so I swerved for the front fender, caromed off that and off the road, up an embankment into a fence pole that smashed my radiator. No brakes, now, so ran back off the bank to hit their, now stationary, vehicle a glancing blow on the other side.
Nobody got hurt.
But the bastard claimed it was my fault. I was sure that a picture of the scene would convince anyone that I had had right-of-way, but I was determined not to go to court yet again, so agreed to pay for 75% of their car’s damages.
Bang went my dream to become a pilot. Eric’s father had a garage in Duiwelskloof, so he did the repairs. The Austin was a write-off. When my debt to him was paid off, I left Pretoria for South West Africa, intending to work on the fishing boats in Walvis Bay to save enough money to go to the UK and Europe.