Stories from the Class of 71

Like all friends, we should swop stories from our libraries of our lives – the funny, the surreal as well as the sublime. What use are books in a library unless we on occasion dust them off and page through the long forgotten episodes of our lives. Many hoped that by enlightening us with their Life Stories that their obligations to their class mates, would be fulfilled. Instead to kickstart the process, I have tapped a number of the class of 71 to contribute their stories.

The [True] Legend of Alano, the Flaming Fondue!

Note – Certain names have been changed of people who should have known better!

Many years ago, when my younger son was in his early teens, he began to question issues of faith. To this end he embarked on a journey of self discovery, by attending services across a diversity of faiths/religions: from Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism etc. He finally decided that joining the youth group at our local Presbyterian Church was a good “fit”.

As part of the activities of the group, each member was required to host an evening in their respective homes and provide some sort of entertainment/activity/theme to share and enjoy. My son, being non-sporting [like his father], decided that table tennis or a games evening was out of the question. He finally arrived at what he considered to be a unique idea, and one which would require a lot of input from his parents, rather than himself.

 He would host a fondue evening!

Fondues, as we are all aware, go though phases of being incredibly popular forms of home entertainment, to something that many have either forgotten about, or have chosen to forget about, for a number of reasons. The period around which the proposed fondue evening was suggested, was certainly during the latter. Thus, there was much scrambling through the back of kitchen cupboards and opening boxes high on shelves in the garage that finally uncovered the necessary, slightly sad looking, fondue paraphernalia.

 Once dusted off and washed, a “test run” had to be held.  After ensuring that all was fully operational, a date was confirmed. Then it was the visits to the stores to buy all the necessary bits and bobs – and even more bits and bobs- to ensure that no-one would leave our home needing to pop by the local KFC , due to lack of food.   

Note- Isn’t it amazing how young people seem to manage to have the most amazingly original ideas, yet seem quite oblivious to the strain it puts onto their parents and, more especially, their parents’ credit cards. 

Finally the day arrived!

 It was a Friday evening and, in the build up to it, my son had been tempted to send invites for the group to attend to a “Good Friday “event -but we advised him against the idea.

Once everyone had arrived, I felt that perhaps it might be a good idea to explain the basics of the process that makes up a successful fondue. Needless to say that at least half of the young group had never heard the term – just as well I didn’t ask them to spell it – and the rest inferred that they were aware of it being some strange food ritual that ”old people” did !

After about thirty seconds of my explaining, the group decided that, being the smart teenagers that they were, there was no need for further instruction. And so, with a certain amount of trepidation, my wife and I adjourned to our TV room, whilst still keeping within earshot of the activities below. Not that we expected the evening to collapse into some fierce orgy of sex, drugs and Rock ‘n Roll; these were, after all, a church youth group.

All seemed to be going smoothly  until [ as I was later told ]  Peter, one of the young men in the group,  decided that rather that wait for each and every small strip of meat to be individually cooked, he would just cook everything at once ! It was also later suggested that he was perhaps tying to impress one of the young ladies in the group as to his advanced knowledge of the art of the fondue. This point was never confirmed.

Naturally, he managed to fill the fondue pot beyond its capacity, the result of which pushed the hot oil over the rim and onto the burner.

 And, voila, we had a fire!

It was only at this stage that my wife and I became aware of a change of tone emanating from the lounge. Either something was wrong, or there was a new song called “Fire, fire” that they were all singing.  Deciding that I should investigate, I quickly ran downstairs, to be greeted by a scene not dissimilar to the final act of a French farce.

The group had erupted into various forms of chaos; from running around the table shrieking, running for the doorways and shrieking or just standing in one spot pulling at their hair and shrieking.

Did I mention that there was a lot of shrieking?

 Through some of the more intelligible shrieking, my attention was drawn the fact that:

  1. The coffee table was on fire, and
  2. Peter was on fire!

Now,  I had never done a first aid or emergency safety course,  but I had been a Sea Scout when I was twelve and had seen a lot of episodes of MacGyver, so I [ fairly ] promptly began my rescue strategy.

I ran to the guest bathroom, which is close to the lounge, and grabbed a number of towels which I soaked under the shower. On my return, I covered the now merrily burning coffee table and was relieved to see that the flames were quickly smothered.  In the same breath, or close to it, I wrapped another towel around Peter’s smoldering waist and half dragged, half carried him to the guest bathroom. Yes I can hear you asking why he was attended to second but I really loved that coffee table.

 My son assisted as we covered Peter’s flaming Levis in wet towels and were thrilled to see it almost instantaneously extinguished his burning jeans.  Fortunately the flames had not reached his skin, so all that was hurting was his pride. After ensuring that he was fine we returned to the lounge, to check on the dazed but slightly less panicked, survivors of the ordeal.

Oh yes, there was a lot less shrieking, for a moment….

Then suddenly, the room burst into a new, even more frantic bout of shrieking, but this time there was pointing as well. And the pointing was in my direction.

 Through the cacophony of shrieks, my frazzled brain managed to decipher words that seemed to suggest that I was now on fire!

Looking over my shoulder I could see smoke and the occasional flame attached to my shirt.  Managing not  to shriek , I ran back in to the bathroom and jumped straight into the shower where,  after dousing myself as fast as possible ,  I rapidly stripped off my shirt and trousers:  all of this being witnessed by the entire youth group,  who had managed to squeeze their way into the not very large bathroom.

Eventually, after ensuring that I too had managed to avoid more than the slightest singes to my skin, the group decided to allow me to re-establish my sense of decorum, as I grabbed a robe from behind the door [it was my wife’s and apart from not really fitting very well, the demure pink was not really complimenting my skin tone]. I then retreated upstairs to replace my damaged clothing and then we returned to the scene of the crime/disaster/ farce…

Eventually, various running repairs were done and,   with the close attendance of the “old people”, the fondue was finally completed and everyone eventually headed home- many describing it as the best fun they had had in ages!

The caveat to this episode happened on the following Monday. My elder son, on arriving at work, gave a full account of what had occurred. The story was greeted with much mirth and amusement. His associates, being a bunch of creatives, decided that my actions had elevated me from being just Alan or Dad and that henceforth I should be addressed as “Alano, the Flaming Fondue”.

To this day the “Flaming Fondue” element has been dropped but most of them still greet me as Alano!

Memories of 11 Sept 2001 by Margie Rudman

On 10 Sept 2001 my husband Rob and I  flew into New York as managers of  the SA Mountain biking Team due to compete in the World Mountain Bike Championship in Vale, Colorado. We had a team of 12 elite and junior athletes with their bicycles.

We flew into Vale (what a beaut!!) minus two bicycles as one has been reversed over by a forklift in NY and the other has not been loaded in London (we flew via London). The senior athletes shared a condo, We were stationed with the juniors (mostly 16 years old). They switched on the TV in the morning and Sept 11 attacks are being shown – no one knows what is happening at that stage – terrorists, war, whatever? We really didn’t know!

We were told that all air travel in and out of America is cancelled as well as communication like phone and fax lines will be limited.  My family at home were frantic as they had no communication with us and know we were in NY the day before. We had no means to let the athlete’s family know the updates. We were on the run 24/7 !! Athletes still needed meals cooked and to be on the track and slopes training.

The response of the junior athletes will forever stay with me: “Oh cool, now we get to stay here longer to ride our bikes” So I say things like: “how are we going to pay for the extra stay, who will pay for your food etc etc” These young folk live, eat, and work on their bikes all day long! So we had the challenge of begging around town for bikes and the logistics of a world champs. Each athlete is very attached to their machine and it is customized to their needs so our hearts went out to those not on their own bikes.

The opening ceremony was cancelled, instead flags were issued to all competitors and the national anthem was played. We found the Americans to be very patriotic at this time. They stood respectfully still (as it should be but not really instilled in the younger generation any more) with their hands on their chests. The Championships went ahead without any fanfare.

Arrival day of flying home arrived and the decision is that those who missed their flights fill up as any seat vacancies arise but if you’re booked you fly BUT were we checked inside out and upside down! Shame, there were many haggard looking travellers who had been waiting for flights as air travel only opened up 3 or 4 days later. Everyone’s bags got unpacked, No pens, first time everyone had nail clippers confiscated before boarding a flight, no razors, a whole new level of security!  The funniest was the bike boxes! When they opened those up, the athletes had used their dirty washing to pack around their bikes so they didn’t get damaged – quite embarrassing seeing dirty under garments on the floor at the airport!

My Day with Oscar by Alan Milne

It seems almost surreal to believe now but, exactly one week before he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, I spent the day with Oscar Pistorius.

.I was the director for a lifestyle television programme and our crew had been booked to spend a day with the man who, at the time, was regarded as the pin-up boy for Paralympics athletes: in fact for non-physically challenged athletes as well.

We were to get together and do some “guy things”, have a meal and find out more about him. As it would turn out, it would become the interview that would never see the light of day.

Our first stop was to meet at an exclusive car showroom in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg. It was known that Oscar had a passion for speed and had ordered a custom-fitted supercar for which he was awaiting delivery. In keeping with his image and lifestyle, we had arranged a few different supercars for our shoot and thus had agreed to meet at the showroom where he would show us around some of the million -dollar boy toys which so appealed to him.

She’s a “Keeper”

On arrival we were asked to wait awhile, as Oscar was busy signing documents on an offer to purchase a luxury townhouse in Johannesburg – he already had the home in Pretoria. We were shown pictures of the property and, without being completely OTT; it matched the style of the man very much as portrayed in the media. I was slightly frustrated by this delay as we had a fairly hectic schedule and I was concerned that he was using his status to control the day, according to his needs rather than ours.

When he did arrive, however, my fears were allayed.

He was humble in his apology and immediately began asking about our plans for the day, so that he could get an idea of what we were trying to achieve and suggest how he could assist in making the shoot run more smoothly. He greeted all the crew and introduced us to the friends who he was bringing along for the day. He was easy to approach and appeared to have an appealing manner and keen sense of humour which immediately put our crew at ease.  Within a short space of time, he had become “one of the guys”.

I was surprised by his demeanour: quiet, pleasant and in no way artificial, far removed from the edgy, forceful character that had been portrayed by the media on many occasions.

My presenter introduced the topic of Reeva, reminding Oscar of a previous interview they had, when he had another lady at his side. Oscar’s reply will stay forever in my mind. “Forget about that one” he said,” this lady  is for keeps!”  

Oscar in full flight

Almost as if on cue Reeva arrived with a friend and was introduced to the crew. What immediately struck all of us, apart from her obvious vivaciousness, was her easy, friendly demeanour and her open approach to us all, treating us as if we had known one another for a while. She had arrived with a packed container of “breakfast goodies” for Oscar, as she had been concerned that he had left home too early to eat. The brief interaction between them was very relaxed and natural and was without some of the “staginess” that some couples present, when with the media.

After a brief chat, Reeva and her friend took their leave of us, wishing us a fun day “to do boy’s stuff!”

It was then time to hit the road.

For the ride to the lunch venue, our presenter rode with Oscar in the same model sports car which he had ordered, whilst we followed in a more sedate but no less glamorous four-seater.  Again, taking the role of courteous host, Oscar offered the driving seat to my presenter and they drove along, discussing the fast life, fast cars, horsepower, acceleration and all the petrol-head passions which they both shared.

We eventually arrived at the exclusive venue which had been chosen for the lunch stop. Oscar moved through the restaurant with the relaxed, confident air of someone who has arrived.  He appeared un-fazed by the stares and whispers of the other guests, as they recognised the famous personality in their midst.  This was now the opportunity to enjoy a good meal and get to know the man better.

Throughout lunch, Oscar maintained his easy-going, approachable demeanour: never trying to lead the conversation, cracking jokes and sharing some of his observations about life in general whilst opening up a bit about how he pursued his goals. Again I struggled to align myself from the person opposite me at the lunch table, to the media icon that had so often been portrayed as brusque and uncooperative. I had also expected him to be a bit more “laddish”, but apart from one or two risqué jokes, he remained an amiable guest who was happy to answer what was asked, and to participate in the activities we required for the shoot.

As the director, I was in a position to be an observer to the interactions between Oscar and my presenter during the interviews and it is only now, in hindsight, that I see the edgier side of the man!

When discussing how he sought to overcome the challenges and obstacles put to him by his physical disabilities and his determination to succeed, a harder, steely edge began to emerge.

Most of us accept and acknowledge that, in order to be the best of the best, one needs not only talent but a dogged determination and an arrogant belief that they WILL be the best and that No-one will hold them back. Gradually, as the interview proceeded, these aspects of his persona began to emerge. The signs were subtle, a few words that indicated that a certain subject was no longer going to be discussed and a stare from eyes that said more than many words could: that pushing him on a point was NOT a good idea. On the surface all was fine but under that veil was a layer of stony resistance to anyone who might overstep his boundaries.

The interviews over, it was time to take to the road again: this time with Oscar at the wheel. 

Here again, the veil was lifted and the edge to take on all-comers re-emerged.  

As he lowered himself behind the wheel, his physique seemed to change in front of us. Suddenly he was more alert, adapting physically to almost become an extension of the machine, as well as fixing an expression that would scatter any obstacles before him.

He engaged gear and was gone.

The fact that we were filming from a larger yet no less powerful macho-machine, assisted by a driver with performance driving skills, did nothing to keep us up with Oscar on the road. Without driving dangerously or recklessly, he pushed that supercar to its extremities and guided it along the road with such confidence and single-mindedness that had you believed he must have thought he was competing in a race. He roared along the straights, took the tightest angles through the curves and slipped past other vehicles as if they were stationary.  And when we did finally stop to have a wrap up interview, the look of the fierce, take no prisoners competitor was still there….And then he smiled, again becoming the charming host that we had first encountered hours earlier.

So, what do I think, having spent some time one-on one with Oscar? Pistorious?

I think that here is a person with multiple layers to his personality. Firstly, the easy- going, courteous super -athlete, comfortable in his world and confident of his status in life.

Then there is the other layer:  that of the super–competitive, totally driven individual, who has not and will not back down when confronted by an obstacle, no matter what that obstacle might be. And, when confronted, he engages that top gear

It is then that Oscar Pistorious was in danger of going off the road!

A White Christmas by Dean McCleland

On +- 20th, December 1978 we flew into Mpuchu in the eastern Caprivi to commence 3 months on the border. Being part of Regiment Uitenhage, I was only one of 3 troepies who had passed matric & at that stage I had a BComm, CTA, CA. Apart from that only 3 were English speaking & it was the 3 who had not only passed matric but had been to university. And then they placed the 3 of us in different platoons. So I was like a fish out of water with my fellow troepies in their early 20s already having 3 children & speaking only Afrikaans. Mostly they worked on the spoorwee.

Anyway. Such is life.

Xmas day dawned and we were given the morning off to have a Christmas lunch at 10am. At that stage we were based in the bush outside the airbase undergoing heropleiding. In case terrs attacked us, we were issued with 5 rounds of ammunition and we had to dig foxholes to sleep in & presumably fight in if attacked. The toilets were the bushes in front of the fox holes. 

Suddenly at 11am after Xmas lunch, an Eland 90mm armoured car sped along a dirt road adjacent to luxurious quarters & pulled into our encampment. Standing out of the turret was a clearly inebriated lieutenant with a beer in one hand.

He started screaming out fire instructions. Af met 20 grade!  Draai links.

Our Sergeant Major dashed out, shouting at the officer in the turret: Wat de vok doen jy leutenant?

After taking another swig of beer, he caustically shouted back: Moenie worry nie. Watch net.

Then he screamed even louder: VUUR!!!!!!

Before the gun loader / operator could press the firing button, we all dived into our fox holes which we have previously cursed as being useless on the border

The gun erupted.

The armoured car swayed backwards and forwards.

The sergeant lay on the ground with hands covering his bush hat.

With a crash of gears, the armoured car reversed and was off.

Only after the noise of the engine was inaudible, did we peer over the lip of our holes.

The bush all around us was covered in bits of white material

What could it be?

Upon cautious inspection, it was revealed to be toilet paper

Obviously, they had filled the barrel with this precious commodity and then placed a charge in the barrel


It was Christmas with white everywhere 

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