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From the “On the Contrary” column – A toast to friendship and rugby

ALONG with spring, rugby fever is in the air, filling Mzanzi with Springbok jerseys, cheers, laughter and bonhomie. Some long-term friendships have beaten the odds and grown around rugby – as in the time my late colleague Deon Basson and I took the trip to Bloemfontein for the Currie Cup final.

A brief introduction to Deon, there are things you should know: Power did not intimidate him. When the big guys enriched themselves at the expense of the little guys, he went for them with a passion. When charlatans marketed themselves as wizards who would double your money by Christmas, the scalpel of his analysis cut the scams open. 

But above all, Deon was incurably passionate about Free State rugby. He would not be convinced that the Cheetahs could lose – a loyalty I abused by winning many a bet over the years. Although, when Free State started winning the Currie Cup by rote, I also lost a few. Well, maybe more than a few.

So, off we went to Bloemfontein for Cheetahs vs Bulls in an evening final. Another meeting meant we took our places dressed impeccably in suits and ties between supporters with painted faces and flags. That was when I learned that Free Staters are very well-mannered folk. They looked at us, they looked at each other, but they said nothing and they never laughed. Now that’s real decency. 

Free State lost so we went off to celebrate anyway, starting with a toast for every time they had scored. Eventually we made our way to the only accommodation we could find earlier – one suite in the Halevy House hotel. And it was then that the treacherous night manager confessed the suite had only one double bed. 

“Well,” I protested, “I’m sleeping in the car! This is outrageous!” Deon winked at me and told the night manager that if nothing could be done, well, these two burly rugby uncles would share the double bed. But of course, he had to understand that he, as duty manager, was taking full responsibility for the longevity of the bed.

The manager duly reconsidered the weighty problem and conceded: “We’ll have another single bed carried in, Sir.”

Then came the contest to see who would get the double bed, decided by measuring our midriff circumferences with bath towels. I lost and got the single bed, just as well. For hardly had I laid my head down, when all the saw-mills in Mpumalanga started up at the other end of the room. Pillows over my head, cotton-wool in my ears, nothing helped.

So I dragged the mattress into the lounge and a cupboard in front of the door for sound-proofing. Seconds after I finally fell asleep, I was woken again by hammering on the door and confused shouts: “What have we done? Why are we locked in?” So we passed around the Disprins and went for breakfast.

After many wise words about the evils of alcoholic liquor, we eventually headed back to Johannesburg with me steadfastly refusing my turn behind the wheel in order to get some sleep. But hardly had I closed my eyes, or we had to stop for lunch – “wonderful Free State lamb chops,” Deon promised. 

And so it went. The four-hour drive took seven hours. I went straight to bed. 

Rest softly, my friend. Keep the angels awake. As for me, I’ll risk the evils of alcoholic liquor with a toast every time the Bokke score.

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