Thanks for the memories, it’s time the Chiel takes a permanent ‘chill’

There's a time to come and a time to go and sadly I feel that the one for going has finally arrived. It’s been a wonderful 32 years working on this column and I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together.

More than 7000 columns were written in that time, up to six a week which were reduced at retirement to three, then two and now one.

Stories and comment came easily in the beginning with much assistance from readers who had their own stories to tell, but those have mostly dried up with the electronic media dominating the airwaves.

I was fortunate to inherit all the old Chiel files from 1985 to 2006 that were beginning to clutter the Daily Dispatch library and which ended up in a cupboard at home. Files were then replaced by flash disks which made recording far easier.

I’ve been reading through them and they have given many happy memories. There was the time in 1992 when Concorde, the supersonic airliner, came to South Africa on a promotional tour, and was nabbed by BMW to fly members of the motoring press and car dealers to Cape Town for the launch of a new 3-Series model. We took off from Jo’burg, flew subsonic directly above Durban and when out over the sea full power was introduced and soon we were flying at 54000 feet and at twice the speed of sound, around 2150km/h.

The trip along the coast and about 40km out to sea was over in a flash – East London to Port Elizabeth took just seven minutes. We slowed down before reaching False Bay by climbing to 64 000ft and gazing out the window at Cape Point was like looking from an orbiting space craft.

What a magnificent journey, it was in an amazing aircraft!

Sport was covered often in the column, especially quirky happenings like sportsmen behaving badly. Tiger Woods was given stick when caught with his pants down; Geoff Boycott too for various idiosyncrasies and Naas Botha on and off the rugby field too.

It was all good clean fun ... well, on the whole it was!

Strange fishing stories flowed thick and fast. A friend and I were in a rubber duck, out to sea off East London, looking for the sardines which had been seen. Suddenly, opposite the Hood Point lighthouse, our fish finder registered a depth of just 2m. “We must be over a sand bank,” one of us said. “No, couldn’t be,” the other replied. It turned out we were above a shoal of sardines so thick the fish finder “ping” couldn’t penetrate its mass. Later we tested the fish finder in a swimming pool to see if it was working okay. There it picked up a Barracuda, would you believe it, but seemed to miss the Kreepy Kraulies!

And then there’s the great outdoors, travelling in our 4x4, camping and living for weeks at a time with nothing between us and wild animals and birds that abound up north.

We’ve “done” Botswana by road three, or is it four, times in 10 years, Zambia once and Zimbabwe twice.

Every time it’s an adventure, never knowing when an elephant might wander into camp; they’re very chilled and certainly never even suggest they want to pick a fight.

Just get up slowly from whatever you might be doing and move out of their way.

Hyenas come around after dark hoping to pick up scraps from the braai and although one should be wary of them, they tend to be on the nervous, cowardly side.

Just tell them to voetsek and they usually move off.

Lions have to be treated with respect – they are, after all, the king of the beasts – and we would climb into our tent or vehicle when they were around. They sometimes hung about longer than we wanted them there, and their mighty roars and huffing and puffing sent tingles down our backs.

We are not averse to visiting South African game parks and although we enjoy them immensely, there is the feeling of doing it all at arm’s length and sometimes having to share it all with hordes of other visitors. Up north it’s more personal.

Anyway, we have a month-long trip planned for April next year including Central Kalahari and northern Namibia. Can’t wait.

Thanks for your positive comments over the years. Hopefully my Dispatch editorial friends will allow me to submit stories again from time to time. For now however, I need a rest from the pressure of deadlines ... the mind is no longer what it used to be! —

The Chiel will be sadly missed and the Dispatch will always have space for Robin Ross-Thompson. We will be starting a new bi-monthly Friday column in two weeks. — The Editor

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