An older law

Legoland of Hillbrow, burnished in the mirror,

we beat the N3 south through lofty, tumbled veld,

our line of cars on summer flight to old Natal.

Morning mine dumps dipped in gold and

spaghetti roads that feed the emporia of Edgars,

Jack’s Paint, Pick n Pay and wondrous Woolies,

then green lands stretched unending to

a Dragon Mountain grail at heaven’s door.

 

How now: brown cows, shaggy eucalyptus and

pylon soldiers marched through mealie fields

with neck-tether lines like slaves for coastal trade.

John Deere’s green-and-yellow tractors peel back

the soil in dark grooves of corduroy and long-tailed

ballroom wydahs dance their feather-boa flight.

We ford the olive Vaal, splice the muddy Wilge,

cleave through lands of grass and fields of sunflower.

 

There’s grimness, too: in Sanral’s tolling plazas –

a 40 ront here, a 55 there, to the sour ladies in blue;

the veld showing its ugliness in power stations

and grain-silo battery packs that leach the land;

windmills that twirl like fans to cool the crops,

foursquare they stand and mournfully clank

a dusty, waterless refrain.

 

Long-haired willows burred with nests,

single poplars middle-fingering the road

and red-bishop tracers fired from fence poles

along the Hol River, hollow and wholly dry.

Then a 1-Stop Nirvana for man and car alike

with Engen’s liquid victuals for our beasts.

A Wimpy haven offers on a plate

all-day brekky and ham sammidges,

semi-erect chips, psychedelic eggs

and the shaken-milk of chocolate

to fill the tummies of our happy band.

Outside, the jam-packed parking lot presents

a caravanserai of coloured cheer as all Gauteng

pours coastwise to Arcadian Toti, Utopian Margate.

 

West we veer past Harrismith to viridian hills where

civilisation thins and nature thickens on a narrow

road that winds up a creek to the Cavern for a week

of family time in the Berg’s basaltic embrace.

Chalets under duvet thatch with terraces, lawns

for croquet and cricket, badminton and bowls,

the staff all olde-school Zulu of the docile smile,

songs at dinner and ever longsuffering the children.

 

Our meals are communal and punctual, the teas high

on cucumber sandwiches and bottomless Five Roses,

the evenings filled with wine of the cellar,

meals that could be Middle England ’55

with post-prandial games of pool and beetle drive,

frog derby and beat-down-the-door-popular Bingo:

tickety boo, 62, bang on the drum, 71,

knock at the door for a number four,

and ever a sprightly 31, get up and run, run …

 

Run back into the hills each shining day, a line

of lads, all jabber and sticks and boundlessness,

us middlings and pensioners puffing up the rear,

we hike through forests meshed with fern and

trilled by robin-chat, white of eye, mountain wagtail

and, on the thermals gliding, a regal bearded vulture.

Midst flowers of Impatiens and Begonia stand tall

the forest giants of coffee pear, Cape ash and

the biggest cabbage tree you ever did see.

 

Up the grassy slopes decked with protea

where drunk-as-a-skunk sun and sugar fowl

sip nectar from a million sex-crazed blooms and

baboons bark their bossy baritones across a gorge,

proclaiming this rock, that crag, a divine-right home.

Beside a piano tinkling stream lie strewn the carcasses

of crab left-overs from the luncheon excesses

of water mongoose and clued-up, clawless otter.

 

It’s New Year’s Eve – all twenties themed,

with guests dressed to the nines and fine to dine

in flapper dresses, boater hats and bow ties,

the Charleston warbling across a lawn

where Pimms, Buck’s Fizz and ginger punch

go down by prodigious pint as warrior staff

dance high kicks to the white, white host

and honey the humid air with ululating song.

Dinner is served with crackers, paper hats,

Yorkshire pudding and spotted dick;

then dancing in the hall till, at the stroke of 12,

we muster on the glistening grass

to fill the dark with

Auld Lang Syne.

 

We, too, have run about the slopes,

and picked the proteas fine,

and wandered many a weary foot,

since auld lang syne.

And in that hymn to good times past,

the threat of bad to come,

that wipes away an Englishness

that’s hapless in the face

of Brics without mortar,

China without restraint

and leaders drunk on larceny.

 

We hike the sugared loaf all dressed in green

atop a wall of ochre stone laid down

when this blest land was still Gondwana.

Now blue-bruised clouds come sloping in

as lightning jabs the cliffs, cannons rumble

through the kloofs and rain tattoos the ground.

We shelter in a cannibal cave,

where once the starving Zizi ate their own

on the long, long nights

of Shaka’s short spears.

 

We wait, struck dumb by savage noise,

the grisly sound of stone on bone,

the non-negotiable vibration

of sky and berg at odds and ending

in the hiss of rain’s vain leavening.

At last the sun, again, in ether sheets

as if some sepia’d posting card.

But suddenly,

a lifted foot,

a halted heart!

Slick tartan leaf morphs to diamond head,

a thickening adder puffed and poised

to uphold this mountain’s older law,

where colonial dreams and Zulu chiefs,

summer hols and one man’s fears,

are but a beat in time.

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