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Neil Sandilands

Camping memories from Hollywood...

It has been a while now that Neil Sandilands is not Bart from the deli in 7de Laan anymore. Nowadays you will see him rubbing shoulders with actors like Tom Hanks, film directors like Michael Bay or in a super hero outfit showing The Flash a thing or two as The Thinker in die TV series with the same name. On a recent visit to South Africa, we asked him for his favourite camping stories. As expected, some ATKV resorts were mentioned. That is no surprise, because is that not part of everyone's camping memories? But let him do the talking ...

Now look, we were caravan people. Camping people. Not that we never, for Mom’s sake and when we could afford, enjoyed the relative comfort of a rondavel, or even better, a chalet. However, I always preferred the caravan, with the tent (later with two extra rooms), at some new place and God willing, under the shade. A power point was not important. Call it voluntary load shedding. I have to add that one of my first presents of choice was a small, green two-man tent, and there in the town of Randfontein I often pitched it for the night right next to the house. The bug has bitten me very early in life. 

Rustenburg Kloof, Dragon’s Peak, Zinkwasi, Rob Ferreira, The Eiland, Badplaas, Goudini Spa, Santos at Mossel Bay, Bloudam between Randfontein and Westonaria we were there. We even collected the name stickers that you could stick to the inside of the caravan window. 

Back then, you were either Jurgens or Sprite people. Maybe an early introduction to the duality that has always been part of the Afrikaans psyche? It didn’t bother me; I was more interested in how people arranged their living areas and how they spent their time. Here I like to differ from our group’s philosophers and poets: “We are exactly like that” instead of “We are not all like that”. Embrace dualism, just saying. 

It is difficult to talk about those memories without presenting them as a comparative analysis, or simply your own sentimental nostalgia. Let us be honest – it was a different time. To start with, the Rand was not in its glory. I am totally amased that my parents could manage to offer us children those adventures at all. I see on Eiland Spa’s website the name ‘toevlugsoord’ (place of refuge). Interesting word choice. It creates the expectation of a destination that offers something between escapism and influx. Maybe everyone is running from something … to something? Should you apply access control? But in the meantime, back to those memories ...

It triggers a lot of not-so-arbitrary thoughts, each a concept on its own: “Baby makes her Blue Jeans talk”, BZN, VanneMerwe corners, ablution facilities, potjie, smooching in the dark, pimples, foefie slides, super tube, Joof en sy maats books, swimming pool games, entertainment programmes, and car cricket. The list continues and everyone’s list would be different; mine is no exception. Organised fun. Although, there was something different; maybe that’s the reason why camping holidays made such an impression on my psyche. The closeness with your family. Primitive. Simple. Intimate. Despite internal politics, the spending of time together was precious. There was enormous pride when the camp was set up properly with Grandpa’s handmade tent pegs. To prepare food together. To put suntan lotion on Mom’s back, to realise Dad has an enormous snore, the day Mervan was stung by a bee and we only then realised that he is allergic, Rae-Dawn who burnt herself with a mosquito coil, me breaking my front tooth on the trampoline frame because of my wild summersaults. Somehow, we kept it together. 

Niel Sandilands

The English looked at us in a derogative way, thinking that we are common, but that was okay, we would in any case smack an Englishman just for being English, until you would meet one with the same size moustache as yourself. Respect. Those days were different. It was a pity that we only became civilised after about three weeks of camping. Today the English and we are sort of friends. Allies in the struggle against decay.

1980. More or less also my first conscious memory of the sea, although I enjoyed the sea since being a baby. With open arms, at full speed, ecstatic, head-on into the waves. One of our last duties at the resort, if it was close to the sea, was filling a bottle with seawater for Mierkas. In the mornings, she used to drink a medicinal measure of the seawater as a purgative. Then it was back to Randfontein for education and mining. Both sectors functional in a dysfunctional society. Or maybe the other way around? Maybe both dysfunctional? Maybe that’s just life?

Only to save for the next holiday.

Can’t you just live life as if you were on holiday? Simple. In Afrikaans we say ‘with’ holiday, but I prefer ‘on’, because that is like a ‘high’.

If these memories are like painting on a canvas and I have to reduce them to a few single moments, three of them I will always remember. The yellow fish paradise that I have discovered in one of the branches of the Vaal River in the area of Christiana. Everything I know about fishing I got from Grandpa and Dad, and the moment was pure magic. Young adventurer, alone, up to my knees in a river in darkest Africa. It smelled like victory. The evening when Frances and I smooched. Life would never be the same. Do yourself a (dis)favour and take the turnoff on that road between Randfontein and Westonaria to Bloudam. That’s no holiday!

With all now said and done, I look back with complete content pleased with every moment. 

Now I am thinking of that photo of the smiling children in the Gaza strip. And I remember Stephen King’s words: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.”