Stories and Traveltips

ID #5402

Ag Stick your Bloody Jack, Man! Schoemanskloof, Mpumalanga, South Africa.

There is a beautiful road up the Escarpment called the Schoemanskloof. It starts at Montrose Falls and winds past Old Joe’s Kaia, Old Joe himself, over the Sterkloop up to the Bambi Motel and then across the Elandshoogte to its intersection with the N4 at the Total Garage east of Machadodorp. It is one of the most beautiful roads you will ever see -- particularly in the early morning and late afternoon. But it is not well maintained and one must be careful to avoid hitting potholes and the ragged edge of the tar on the side of the road.  

To avoid traffic returning to the Highveld after a long weekend, a man set off up the Schoemanskloof early one winter’s morning in the dark, bitter cold. Shortly after crossing the Sterkloop, there was a loud bang and the car lurched to the side of the road. He stopped the car and climbed out to inspect the damage. The left-hand rear tyre was as flat as a pancake -- the car had drifted onto the verge and the tyre had been shredded by the ragged edge. He opened the boot and removed the spare tyre -- fortunately he had remembered to inflate it prior to setting off. However, he soon discovered that the jack was missing. What to do? After trying to recall when last he had seen the jack in the boot and cursing whoever might have removed it, it dawned on him that he was well and truly stuck.

The road was deserted and it seemed unlikely that anyone would pass by for several hours. Remembering the garage at the Bambi Motel, he locked the car and started walking up the incline – all thoughts of beating the traffic later that morning having left his mind. It was going to take him several hours to reach his destination. I should have come better prepared he thought – the light woollen jersey he was wearing was unable to keep out the biting cold and he was shivering and his teeth started to chatter. Fortunately there is not much wind or I would be in real trouble he thought to himself.

After walking for a few kilometers he noticed a light in a farmhouse up against the mountain on the right-hand side of and several hundred meters from the road.  It occurred to him that the farmer would almost certainly own a jack so he turned off the road and started walking towards the farmhouse, stumbling over the rough road in the dark. Apart from the occasional yelping of a jackal further down the valley, the silence was deafening.

It was a moonless night but he could make out the road ahead in the gloom. Walking past cypress trees standing like ghostly sentries next to the road, he realized that they were planted around the family graveyard.  This family must have farmed here for generations he thought -- probably since before the Boer War. He wondered whether or not the farmer, like many others, harboured any animosity towards Englishmen like himself. Not that he blamed them – he too would have harboured resentment towards the English if his family had been similarly treated. But that was a long time ago – perhaps time had since healed the wounds? Surely the farmer would appreciate that he could not be held responsible for the “scorched earth” policy of those imperialists in London?

Alone with his thoughts, he wondered what he would think if he were the farmer. How would I feel if woken up in the freezing cold and pitch dark by a complete stranger? “I would be very reluctant to get out of my warm bed” he thought.

The Schoemanskloof is potentially dangerous – anyone might be approaching the house and the no-nonsense farmers are renowned for their reputation for shooting first and asking questions afterwards. Perhaps the farmer had heard him stumbling along the road, grabbed his rifle and was about to start shooting. The thought stopped him in his tracks but the bitter cold persuaded him to continue.

Several dogs started barking as he approached the farmhouse, which remained in darkness apart from the light in one of the windows. By now the farmer’s wife had probably given him a jab in the midriff with her elbow and told him to wake up because there was someone outside the house. Still half asleep, the farmer had probably climbed out of bed and was putting on his clothes to come out and investigate. Then it occurred to him that there was a good chance that, even if he had a jack, he might refuse to lend it to him. Which was perfectly understandable if you came from a family of “bittereinders” who refused to forgive and forget.

He heard a dog growling savagely inside as he approached the house. With some trepidation he knocked on the front door and saw a light go on inside. Someone said “Bly stil Bliksem” and the growling and barking stopped. The farmer was obviously up and about – he could hear him stumbling around. Suddenly the outside lights, which shone away from the house, went on, blinding him. However he was still unable to see anyone inside the house, which remained in darkness.

By now he was having second thoughts about his plan. Perhaps he should have stayed at the car – surely someone would have passed by now? What if the farmer opened the door and set the dog on him? Or if he were from a family of bittereinders and came out shooting? All the farmer would have to do would be to drag his body into the house, say that he was attacked when he opened the front door and claim he had acted in self defense. Why was he willing to take such risks for the sake of a few extra hours on the road? Realizing his mistake, he threw up his arms in frustration, angrily exclaimed: “Ag stick your bloody jack, man!”, turned on his heel and stormed up the road back to his car.

Story courtesy of my good friend Amor Jordaan with a liberal sprinkling of poetic license from me.

Alan McIver, Dubai, January 2013

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Last update: 2014-05-14 14:16
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.20

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