What was to have been a week’s foray into the Karoo was truncated when, on a hike up a section of the Bloupunt trail in the Montagu mountains, I injured my knee. We always stay at the Montagu Country Hotel (winter specials), an art deco establishment inside and out, with 1940s furniture, paintings, objets d’art and a wonderful septuagenarian pianist, Kosie Hanekom, who plays during dinner hour every night except Fridays, which is his bridge night out. He told me this time that his bridge partner’s wife had left him for his best friend, and now they celebrate as a threesome.
Kosie models his playing on Charlie Kunz, an old favourite of my father’s, who was himself a pianist. I already had one of Kosie’s CDs, but he insisted I have his latest. “It’s more laid back,” he explained.
The rooms are all high-ceilinged, and ours had a huge bathroom with a jacuzzi. My wife and I couldn’t remember when last we had had so much fun in a bathroom. Fortunately at that stage my left knee was still uncrocked.
Talking of crocks, opposite the hotel is Crocker’s, a second-hand bookshop recently taken over by a married couple who met via the internet. He is from Seattle, and is the deadspit of the film actor Ben Kingsley. No, nobody had remarked on this likeness before.
In spite of the knee, we carried on up Route 62 in the rain to Oudtshoorn and a B&B overlooking the 98-year-old suspension bridge that spans the Grobbelaars River. I hobbled over it, just to say I had done it.
Next day I could barely walk, so we drove back along Route 62 to fetch two books I had inadvertently left at the hotel, one of which I had bought from Ben Kingsley’s lookalike. We gave Ronnie’s Sex Shop a miss in both directions, but we did stop, where we always do for coffee, at the Blue Cow on Barrydale’s “waterfront”, as they call the duckpond it overlooks.
Alas, the Blue Cow was closed. A year ago we had stopped there for coffee and got talking to a couple at the next table. It turned out they were the owners of a local guest house where we had spent a night in 2003. Vaguely I could remember having described our experience with them as something akin to Fawlty Towers, and felt it would be better if they |didn’t recognise me.
But then the wife said: “I remember you. That was when the taps weren’t working, and I left you to take tea in the library (an upstairs landing with two small shelves of Reader’s Digest condensed books), but forgot to bring you the tea.”
“I can’t remember that at all,” I lied.
“No, no dear,” her husband corrected her as he poured himself another glass of red wine, “that was John Scott the journalist.”
In the confusion we made our excuses and left. But when I looked up the column I discovered it was he who had said during breakfast: “Just think of us as Fawlty Towers, with me as Basil and her as Sybil.”
This time we had coffee at “Clarke of the Karoo”. There was a notice in front saying that in two weeks the restaurant would be moving to Barrydale’s hotel, but they would have the same friendly staff, the same excellent service and “the same grumpy owner”. I met Mr Grumpy himself, otherwise known as Mike Clarke, who came to South Africa with the British Lions in 1974.
He said nine of the 17 local restaurants had closed. Business could be better. Thank goodness for the Scotts, who come through every year and help to keep the survivors going.