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News from Parched Mountain   -  Roy Holland
 

 

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News from Parched Mountain: Tales from the Karoo in the New South Africa

              

These  21 stories eloquently portray the life of a small Afrikaner town - with humour and pithy comments on the ills of modern society. Holland's style is a combination of P G du plessis and A C Bosman.       
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$13.95       UK Price: £9.59 
US Price  $13.95  

 

 

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Reproduced in full, here, is one of the 21 tales:

The Skin Game

Jan Klantjies Burger is in trouble again.

When he gets into these spots, he usually comes to talk things over. I don’t know why. He is in his early twenties; I’m fifteen years his senior and so of a different generation. But maybe he feels I am near enough to understand his ideas and feelings, and maybe offer some advice? Anyway, come he does — usually to the office, which can be embarrassing for me: Freek Coetzee doesn’t like employees to socialize during working hours. Notwithstanding, Jan Klantjies sits himself on the straight-backed clients’ chair and says:

“I feel this is going to be an important year for me, Robert.” 

“Oh, you do, do you, Klantjies? Why?” 

“Well, it had better be! I haven’t had one yet. And what with all these conjunctions and things, it’s got to be! There isn’t much time left! I’m already twenty-four!” 

I look at him in silent amazement. He must think I’m decrepit!

“What conjunctions?”  I say, to cover up my feelings.

“These planets! How many are there? Three or four? All in line? Or something,”  he ends vaguely.

I suppose he is referring to the rare line-up of Jupiter, Mars, Venus and a star that has been in radio and television news for the last week. During the early evenings, I sit on my stoep in wonder. They are beautiful. They hang briefly under the moon like a bracelet of luminous pearls before moving away into the immense reaches of space, and then, except for Venus and the moon, disappear from view.

But it isn’t their beauty that has impressed Klantjies.

“I shall be a hundred-and-thirty-four when they come round again, so I can’t wait.” 

“I didn’t know you were interested in astrology, Klantjies!” 

“Anyway, Oupa is breathing fire down my neck!” 

This, I guess, is the real spur to making his mark. I understand his trepidation!

Dries Onreg is a formidable man. By all accounts, he has been an impeccable farmer for years. He is the wonder of many in the area: long before today, before it became necessary to dispense with hired hands because of rising costs and the huge interest rates put upon farmers by the banks, he farmed with the minimum of help, relying on machines rather than men, preferring to labour for himself.

The most astonishing thing to visitors was that all the machinery worked. There was nothing lying broken and rusted on Dries Onreg’s farm. The fences were in good order. The fabric of the dam and the windmills were maintained in tip-top condition. His stock was healthy and fed. The fields were neat and the crops grew. Dried Onreg had worked from dawn to dark all his life, and he expected everybody else to do the same.

He is a raw-boned lanky man, whose mien and bearing speak of austerity. But he is not poor. On the contrary, he has made a pile in his time and, although he has now retired as an active farmer, he still keeps active control by means of a manager, to whom he often betrays his vexation about who he will leave it all to when he is dead. But his spirit is indomitable.

You feel there is something there that could lead him, if driven far enough, to say ‘No’ to the laws of the universe itself. There is something Promethean in Dries Onreg.

So it is very easy for him to say ‘No’ to what is happening around him.

In the last twenty-five years, he has seen the lives of the people radically altered throughout the land. We are turning into an industrial nation: nuclear plants to supply us with electricity have been built and ugly steel pylons have been slung across the beauty of the land; a land which has delighted the eyes of millions and which the hearts of millions have loved for hundreds of years, but which today is saddening the hearts of thousands, and especially people like Dries Onreg.

Steam locomotives have been replaced by diesel and electric, which are themselves being replaced by myriads of motor vehicles; and, according to his rhetoric of outrage, the raucous cries of the millions the automobile brings with it are turning the open spaces of the land into a cacaphony and the cities into a Babel. Radios have invaded every household, of even the poorest black and coloured family — often television as well. And men and women of all groups and peoples have their minds filled with the gobbledygook of the controllers of the national and international news.

The old kind of ignorance and prejudice is fast disappearing, it is true:

“But what new falsities and biases are the minds of the people being filled with?”  his Oupa wants to know.

“Does it bring them any nearer the peace and wisdom of God? Or fill them with nothing but materialist exacerbations of the spirit?” 

“Nowadays, the farmers in their kitchens and the executives in their suits and the artisans in their overalls are brothers — at least, in the head — and they all talk as easily and stupidly about the same half-baked political and social notions that you hear from east to west across the globe.” 

When Dries Onreg was young, and even well into his prime, from the four points of the compasss in the Cape, from the fastnesses of the Orange Free State, across the reaches of the Transvaal, it was not so. Many were poor and worked hard, often too hard, black and white alike, so that they knew little of comforts and nothing of luxuries, and had no time for art or music or reading books.

But there was an order in the world that they believed had come from God and they were content. They all went to church on Sundays to drink in the words of the Lord and they believed implicitly in his power to control their lives for the best.

Now, the Country, indeed the World, was becoming rapidly Godless and putting in His place Money and Power and turning them to gods themselves.

“The times have become terrible and the world a terrible place,”  hoots his Oupa. “What are you doing to help put matters right?” 

Klantjies eyes are filling with tears as he repeats the words to me.

“What can I do about the world?”  asks Klantjies. “New conjunctions are everywhere — on the land, in the Government, in the sky — everywhere, he says, but in my head. He doesn’t know! What does the old bugger expect of me? I’ve got an idea or two!” 

“A good question,”  I say. “How can I help you?” 

“Well,”  says Klantjies at once, “There’s this property at the end of the street and I want to buy it.” 

He sees my look of puzzlement and says testily:

“You know, this skin-and-hide business! Hoppie van Schalkwyk wants to sell! I believe you’re handling it for him?” 

“As a matter of fact, we are. How much are you offering?” 

“As little as possible!” 

In some ways, he is exactly like his Oupa.

And so it comes about that Klantjies Burger becomes the new owner of a bankrupt skins-and-hide business. It had a too small turn-over: the farmers of the Karoo, reeling under the high-interest loans they are forced into, by droughts and the politicians, are going down like flies in a frost. The property has good office buildings and a fair-sized piece of ground and a large barn, where Hoppie used to stack the skins before dispatching them to factories in Johannesburg to be turned into rugs and jackets, or whatever. Outside, on one wall, there is a huge white-painted panel with red scroll borders, announcing:

 

HUIDE EN VELLE
STRENG KONTANT
TEL: 26 HOPPIE VAN SCHALKWYK

 

And that is about all Klantjies has bought for his money. No skins or hides! Little enough, as I see it, even though Hoppie gave him a good price. Moreover, if Hoppie could not run the business at a profit, I do not see how Klantjies, totally inexperienced, has any better chance.

But he is hugely delighted with his purchase, nevertheless.

“What are you going to do with it?”  I ask him.

“I’ve made a plan. You’ll see!” 

“I’m glad to hear it!” 

He is getting to his feet, so I say:

“Before you go, tell me, Klantjies, do you actually believe in all this astrology stuff?” 

“Not much!”  he says, laughing. “But it’s a good camouflage when I need it! It’s good for a laugh, here and there!” 

“Has your Oupa got anything to say about this venture of yours?” 

“Nothing! He can’t! He doesn’t know.” 

As he is leaving the office, he adds darkly:

“I’ve got my own methods of letting him know. Ciaou!” 

Klantjie’s purchase hardly raises an eyebrow in Kareeburg. The general opinion is that:

“He’s a scatterbrain with more money than sense.” 

And:

“A young skelm who spends his time speeding around the town on a motor-bike and travelling across the length and breadth of the country to watch Moto Cross competitions.” 

Gossip dismisses him as one of the ‘lost’ of our town and times. But I know different. I know him to be a sensitive and intelligent young man, who is adrift because there isn’t a mooring for him to tie up to — besides other obstacles, for which he’s not to blame.

His Oupa, Dries Onreg, had had only one child, a daughter, which was a deep disappointment to him. He had wanted a son who would take over from him when it was time. His daughter, Marie, had grown up well enough, and he had loved her as a father should. She was a pretty little thing and could have married well; but she didn’t. Dries Onreg put her misfortune down to the fact that his wife, Esther, had died while Marie was still in her teens. Her mother had not been able to guide Marie to a better husband: he had felt it was not something a father could easily do. And so Dries Onreg had let Marie have her head.

The results had been miserable and painful. Unknown to either at her marriage, the man Marie had chosen was a drinker. Soon after the birth of Klantjies, her first and only child, her husband had died of acute alcoholic poisoning. Marie, being left alone, had been supported by her father, but, having nothing much with which to accupy her time, had spent the years of his childhood spoiling her son.

Klantjies, in his heart, knows that he was spoiled as a child. He fights against it. It is difficult for him; the habits of years die hard.

Dries Onreg has watched his grandson grow up with a great biting pain of disenchantment in his breast. He has never spoken of it directly to daughter or to grandson but, all these years, he has secretly cherished a longing that Klantjies fill the place of the son he was never lucky enough to have. And so, whenever he has an excuse, Oupa’s disappointment falls upon Klantjies’ head in cataracts, cold and bitter.

Klantjies grew up thinking that, except for being the apple of his mother’s eye, he was not good for much else and has often made his escape into bizarre humour and the wildest of pranks. That all made it worse!

Is this going to be another of his pranks, or is he going to be adult and responsible at last?

I catch various rumours running about the town: that Klantjies is going to open a repair shop for motor-bikes; that he’s going to start a furniture-making business; that he’s going to set up a billiard saloon.

Any of which is possible! He will have no problem in finding the money.

People try to pump me, but I say nothing; it’s a matter of professional confidence. However, it secretly pleases me to think that, for once, I am in the know and they are in the dark.

But I am just as surprised as everybody else when the storm breaks.

One afternoon, Dries Onreg comes thundering into my office and accuses me of complicity in a scandal. I look at him blankly. He can see I have no idea what he is talking about.

“Please sit down, Oom Dries, and let us talk about this matter without raising our voices. It isn’t advisable to disturb Freek, is it?” 

He snorts and snuffles through his wide nostrils like a frightened horse, but he can see the wisdom of my offer and consents to take a chair.

Meneer,”  he begins in his gruff voice, “have you seen what he’s done? Have you seen what he’s painted on that wall? It’s upset the whole town.” 

I try to calm him further by offering him a cup of coffee. He doesn’t even bother to reply.

“Whatever he’s painted on the wall, Oom Dries, can it be so terrible that it upsets the town?” 

“Terrible? Terrible?”  he echoes. “Isn’t it enough to bring the wrath of the Lord upon his head?...You know that big white panel?” 

“Yes, I know it.” 

“Well, from one corner to the other, it says in red letters this high — !” 

He indicates a reach of about two feet, and bellows:

“ — GESELSKAPDAMES. STRENG KONTANT. TEL: KLANTJIES BURGER, KAREEBURG 26. Can you believe it?” 

I stare at Oom Dries in amazement for a moment, and then the humour of the situation strikes me.

An Escort Agency! With real girls! In Kareeburg!

The incongruity makes me chortle, but I soon control myself when I see the face of Oom Dries beginning to darken.

“I’m sorry, Oom Dries! Yes, I can see your concern.” 

“It’s caused a rumpus in the Council, I can tell you! They had an emergency meeting this morning. The Mayor is threatening me with action. Me! Then in comes the Dominee van Heerden, and I have to face his wrath. They are holding me responsible for that skelm. My position as an elder of the Church is now impossible. As for him —!” 

He shakes his head in bewilderment. Then, gathering himself, he falls into another jeremiad on ‘the New South Africa’.

I listen for a while and at the first opportunity interrupt him.

“Oom Dries! I think the best thing is to leave it with me. I’ll see what I can sort out with Klantjies.” 

When he has gone, I give Klantjies a bell. He is quite unrepentant.

“Ask Oupa what the hell the difference is! I’m still in the skin game, aren’t I?” 

“Never mind the wisecracks!” 

I hoot indignantly into the mouthpiece:

“You’ve put the town on its backside. You’ve outraged all the ooms en tannies from here to the slopes of the Kareeberg. The Council’s up in arms. The Dominee’s in a tizzy. You just can’t set up that Agency!” 

“I’ve already engaged three beautiful dollies from Cape Town. They are delighted to do the job.” 

“What!”  I say, aghast. “Is that true?” 

“No! Of course it isn’t! But that’s what I’m spreading around the town.” 

I begin to get a glimmer of what is in Klantjies’ mind.

“Look! I’m going to arrange a meeting with you and your Oupa. My office, tomorrow! At nine! We’re going to sort this out. Be there!” 

He agrees like a lamb.

Next morning, they both arrive within a minute or two of each other. I can see that Klantjies is nervous; Oom Dries is full of suppressed fury; and they’re both frigid. I talk around the situation for a time with all the legalistic jargon I can muster, just to thaw the ice.

Oom Dries soon gets impatient.

“Never mind all this rubbish!”  he says. “I just want to find out from Klantjies what he’s bleddywell up to!” 

There is silence in the office. Klantjies puts his elbows on his knees, and cups his chin in his palms. Is he going to refuse to speak?

After a while, he says quietly:

“Oupa, I’m not up to anything.” 

“What!”  says his Oupa belligerently. “What’s all this Agency stuff, then?” 

“That was just a joke!”  says Klantjies, sitting up, opening his eyes wide and turning his palms outward, in a gesture of appeal. “A practical joke! On you! On the whole town! You see —” 

He leans toward his grandfather:

I had to get your attention! You’ve stopped looking in my direction. You’ve stopped listening to me. Your mind is closed upon me. How are we going to talk, Oupa, if you won’t open it?” 

Oom Dries is an emotional man. But he is an intelligent one — perceptive enough to see that Klantjies is speaking from his heart.

For a moment or two, there is a battle going on within him. I have to give him credit for mastering that temper of his! Gradually, I can see the yearning he has kept bottled up for years coming to the fore. Then he asks, all in a hush:

“You mean, you did all that just to get my attention?” 

“Yes, Oupa! It’s time we got together. You are my only grandfather and I am your only grandson. Besides —,”  he says, throwing a hand in the direction of his property, “that place has possibilities! You’ve got the money and the experience, and I’ve got the ideas.” 

Klantjies’ appeal is exactly pitched.

The old man softened as he spoke. He can’t have looked at Klantjies like that since he was a baby. Perhaps I am imagining things, but are those the beginnings of tears in his eyes? I seem to feel the hard scales of the years falling from the old man’s heart as he scrutinizes Klantjies’ face.

Suddenly, he stands and hurries across to Klantjies’ chair. Klantjie jumps up startled, ready to flee. The old man takes Klantjies’ fist and submerges it gently in both of his. Then, he holds his grandson tight against his chest and all he can say is:

My seun, my seun, my seun!”  again and again.

Strange conjunctions, indeed!

I never expected to see Klantjies and his Oupa, arm in arm like that, walking towards that outrageous wall.

Next morning, I find a note on my desk in Klantjies’ hand. It says:

“I couldn’t wait until the year 2101, could I?” 

Well, I suppose not!


Other short story collections by Roy Holland:

                          

Novel in THE JONATHAN THREE trilogy:

THE NOWHERE MAN
by Roy Holland      
UK price: £8.99     US price: $17.95
Publisher: DIADEM BOOKS
Format: Paperback:
Perfect binding , cream interior
Size : 6 x 9 (US trade)
Pages: 262
ISBN: 978-0-9559741-0-6
Published: July-2008
A young man in Birmingham, in the sixties, escapes the humdrum mundanity of life through fantasies, tries to find himself, and finally escapes his dead-end lifestyle by gaining a place at a university.

JOURNEY TOWARDS HIMSELF            
by Roy Holland
UK price: £8.99     US price: $17.95
Publisher: DIADEM BOOKS
Format: Paperback:
Perfect binding , cream interior
Size : 6 x 9 (US trade)
Pages: 262
ISBN: 978-0-9559741-1-3
Published: July-2008

A hilarious evocation of life as a student at Cambridge University in the sixties, shortly after the time of such notable figures as F. R. Leavis, C.S. Lewis and E.M. Forster.


NOW LEAD ME HOME
by Roy Holland        
UK price: £10.99     US price: $21.95
Publisher: DIADEM BOOKS
Format: Paperback:
Perfect binding , cream interior
Size : 6 x 9 (US trade)
Pages: 262
ISBN: 978-0-9559741-2-0
Published: July-2008

In this third book of the ‘Jonathan Three’, the experiences conveyed by the protagonist’s stream-of-consciousness place the reader in the mind of the young man who eventually finds real love and meaning in a fulfilling relationship.


THE WAKING & MAKING OF PAUL GAUGUIN        
A Play for Voices

by Roy Holland
UK price: £6.99     US price: $15.02
Publisher: DIADEM BOOKS
Format: Paperback:
Perfect binding , cream interior
Size : 6 x 9 (US trade)
Pages: 98
ISBN: 978-0-9559741-3-7
Published: July-2008

It was during his illness, in 1887, when Gauguin was 39 years old, that the battle dramatised in this play – a battle imagined in his body, and in his mind, and in his moral nature – could have taken place


ALAN PATON SPEAKING   
The Lintrose Conversations:
Interview with Alan Paton  

by Roy Holland
edited by Charles Muller
UK price: £14.60     US price: $28.95
Publisher: DIADEM BOOKS
Format: Paperback:
Perfect binding , cream interior
Size : 6 x 9 (US trade)
Pages: 114
ISBN: 978-0-9559741-4-4
Published: August-2008

 

This interview with Alan Paton by Roy Holland has never, until now, been published. The interview took place on June 19 and June 20, 1973, when Holland was a guest in Paton’s home, Lintrose, at Bothas Hill, Kloof, Natal. It provides many insights into Paton’s life, his political involvement as the founder of the Liberal party in South Africa, and his writings.


Contact the author by email:  roy@royholland.fsnet.co.uk

Roy Holland