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Friday, June 14, 2024

tales from a book-crazy city

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From darkish revenge comedies to Gothic psychic pet yarns and tales of renewal and hope, fabulous tales abound in the Northern Cape village of Richmond. Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit dropped in to listen to just a few tales you gained’t essentially learn in any ebook. Even when it’s a book-crazy city.

An armed theft at one in all their upmarket visitor homes in Gauteng and a property advert for an previous resort drove Lionel Millard and Aubrey Williams into the welcoming arms of Richmond.

The fading Masonic Resort was reworked into The Richmond Karoo Small Resort and all was going in keeping with plan when Covid got here alongside and iced tourism, hitting them like a monetary sledgehammer. 

‘But it surely was a blessing,’ mentioned Aubrey. ‘We each had hospitality burnout and there was no cash left anyway. Nonetheless, we had a plan for an additional enterprise.’

Aubrey’s granny had taught him to stitch. He began small, with slightly Empisal stitching machine on a bit of Masonite of their kitchen, their canine Sir Knuckles all the time at his facet on a cushion.

Quickly they discovered a quilting machine, then a home overlocker, and commenced producing an ever-expanding vary of wool duvets from the now-closed resort. Whereas Aubrey and his crew make the duvets with freshly carded Merino wool, Lionel does the dispatching and consumer providers of their blossoming enterprise, aptly known as Karoo Creations. 

Tales like these – upbeat with a novel twist – are rife within the small cities of the Karoo. They usually appear particularly plentiful, particularly twisted, in Richmond, a Northern Cape settlement simply off the N1 freeway, notorious for its rushing fines and identified to a fringe few for its annual BookBedonnerd literary competition.

There’s no finish, both, to the city’s slightly extra twisted tales. Tales infused with a macabre sense of justice, a slight sting within the tail. 

Like those that begin with the acquainted chorus, “There as soon as was a man from Richmond…”.

For instance: There as soon as was a man from Richmond who was owed cash by one other man in close by Hanover. So he merely went up there and welded the Hanover man’s workshop shut.

‘The identical man’s spouse had an affair, so he employed a bulldozer from the municipality and simply drove over their home,’ somebody chimed in, fetching one other bottle of Merlot and turning up the amount of the French café music that was enjoying.

These aren’t remoted incidents, evidently.

Gothic lead within the pencil 

Based on 11 October 1843, Richmond took its identify from the Duke of Richmond, father-in-law of Sir Peregrine Maitland, then-governor of the Cape.

As of late, it’s a typical Karoo city with about 10 000 souls. It providers the native farming group and, due to its proximity to the Nice North Highway, additionally does obligation as a traveller’s oasis.

A type of stopovers is the leafy courtyard of Richmond Café & Rooms.

This venue, a chic and ever-evolving spot on the high finish of Loop Avenue, is the place yarns are spun, and travellers settle in behind a glass of purple wine whereas absorbing a few of the most interesting Karoo tales you’ve ever heard.

On any given night, somebody can be telling a story. Maybe it’ll be café proprietor Nicol Grobler, a gifted raconteur. Or one of many mischievous children of the Dam Duik Mafia, a with-it collective whose members invade native farmers’ dams in the summertime, shuck their clobber and chill for hours at a stretch.

‘Don’t take our photograph!’ one member of the little gang yelled at us, defending their incognito standing. ‘We’ll ship you our brand!’ 

Sigh. Youngsters today. Every thing’s a model.

John Donaldson and his devoted combined grill of a canine with the Queen Anne entrance chassis – the aptly-named Potlood (pencil) – lastly turned up after one other day of renovating one in all his previous Victorian-era homes. Though he’s all the time on about transferring to a flat in Montenegro or someplace equally vampiric, John actually lives within the bloodstream of Richmond.

He might need been late to the occasion, however John – aka Mr Bookshop – arrived with a narrative to inform, and promptly let rip with one in all his extra Gothic yarns.

Some years in the past, he advised us, whereas he and a buddy had been driving down a mud street within the neighborhood of  Nieu-Bethesda, Potlood hopped up from the again seat and nipped him sharply on the left shoulder.

Shocked to his core, John pulled his previous sedan over and stopped. Simply then, a big herd of kudu crossed the street in a rush, proper in entrance of the car.

‘If Potlood hadn’t bitten me, we’d have been completed off by the kudu,’ he mentioned.

They drove on in shocked and sober silence. Not half-hour later, Potlood bit him once more. John stopped the automotive. One other herd of kudu crossed. 

In time, John returned the favour. Someday they went for a ramble round Richmond and ventured right into a pit bull’s territory. The gate was open and Potlood went searching for love in all of the unsuitable locations.

‘I plucked him from the jaws of demise simply in time,’ says John.

He got here to Potlood’s rescue as soon as extra. They had been out within the veld, and Potlood stood on a gin lure usually used for jackals and lynx. John launched the doughty canine earlier than any severe injury might happen.

Merely ‘boek bedonnerd’

Mr Bookshop – so-called as a result of he owns the revered Richmond E book and Prints –  isn’t the one bibliophile on the town. Canadian-born Joburg vet Peter Baker purchased some property within the city in 2002 and went on to arrange the BookBedonnerd Competition with a KZN varsity lecturer named Darryl David. Richmond was then established as a global ebook city.

Through the years, that competition, which rolls out over the higher a part of every week in October, has introduced some nice writers to talk in Richmond. 

On the finish of every competition, the duo swear blindly they are going to by no means do one other one. However in some way it stumbles on, from summer season to summer season. Every year catastrophe looms they usually pull it off and folks find it irresistible.

There’s something extremely interesting about sitting in an previous library, listening to storytellers from far-off. Completely different wordsmiths seem each hour. Writers have interaction a clutch of bibliophiles and spill the beans on how their newest creation got here to be. And all of the sudden, everybody within the room is caught up within the wild magic of constructing a ebook.

There’s one other form of book-making magic taking place in Richmond, too. To search out it, we headed down Loop Avenue to the city’s slick modern gallery, Fashionable Artwork Initiatives South Africa (Mapsa). The primary time we visited, we had been slightly gobsmacked on the stuff on show: collections of nightsoil buckets; elegantly assembled potato luggage; rusty metallic jackets caught on barbed wire; indicators saying “The place the Panorama Begins” and “As Far because the Eye Can Contact’; a critically lengthy buying trolley; draadkarretjies (toy wire vehicles); a giant canine on a wood stand; a headstone; bones and rakes and desolate black and white images; a baby’s mattress with a springbok horn springing out of every spring; and pictures of shattered garden furnishings on the roadside.

The brains and keenness behind this astonishing trendy gallery is Harrie Siertsema, the pancake mogul of Graskop, and Tshwane-born Berlin-based artist and curator Abrie Fourie.

In later years we found an enormous wall of handmade bricks bearing the etchings of lots of of phrases. English? Afrikaans? Right here’s the kicker: they work for each languages. Completely different which means, completely different contexts for a similar phrase.

The title of this piece is Phrase Woes. English: disappointment in phrases. Afrikaans: go (turn into) loopy. It’s the mental property of acclaimed South African artist Willem Boshoff, who used regionally crafted alphabet bricks within the constructing of this distinctive wall, bearing phrases like stout, angel, hoed, burger, loot, telling, brood, prop and velvet. This wall has turn into a little bit of a “selfie spot”, presumably  for Instagrammers passing by means of Richmond.

After which, within the gallery and all about city, etched in brick (and in addition displayed on the windscreen of a basic previous Chevrolet bakkie) had been the phrases: “Werk, Vrek of Trek.” (Work, die or transfer.) The order of the phrases varies, and we might keep on analysing their common which means till the final bottle of purple wine has gone to satisfy its maker.

In an annex of the Mapsa gallery, we discovered Mongezi Ncombo and a crew of girls creating and binding books. Mongezi and three others had been chosen as Nando’s Artistic Change artists of 2021. 

Mongezi was born in Mthatha, the place he was schooled all his life. He’s the son of a motor mechanic within the authorities garages who later turned a fireman on the Mthatha Airport. 

‘My mom and father had been very artistic. They made toys out of wire hangers and pliers. They had been so good, the massive boys stole them.’

It’s the customized of kids in Mthatha to make use of the nice clay discovered within the space to make small collectible figurines. 

‘Folks made clay cattle. I made canine. They simply obtained greater and greater. Then my dad confirmed me mould issues higher. He was a pure artist.’

He has run programs right here, educating lino-cut strategies within the ethereal workshop on the primary street the place we discovered Elizabeth Jonas, Felicity Pieterse, Tiema Williams and Jessica Olifant busy binding books.

These have clean pages however are artistic endeavors in themselves, created utilizing Japanese paper craft strategies and coated in recycled flour, maize and sugar luggage. 

A diamond within the spookhuis

Apart from the anticipated equestrian tack, the Richmond Horse Museum is filled with these pretty mannequins from way back sporting lacy Victorian-era clothes, a full-sized wagon, a preserved Karoo kitchen, a show bed room and a few wood prosthetics that increase the eyebrow. 

They as soon as belonged to a person known as Doel Kok, who was wounded in a skirmish throughout the Anglo-Boer Warfare on a bridge over the Ongers River right here on the town. His proper arm needed to be amputated, and a neighborhood craftsman made him a spiffing hand, full with moveable finger joints.

However Doel Kok should have felt in poor health comfy together with his fancy new appendage as a result of he quickly ditched it and opted for a metallic hook instead. 

The data sheet on the wall provides: “The hook served its function and he was revered by all.”

Curator Johan Tolken is just not a person who scares simply, however don’t ask him to spend an evening within the museum. 

‘There’s a ghost right here, I’m satisfied of it. I as soon as noticed a boy in a pale shirt right here, and he walked proper by means of a wall. One time, he got here up and kicked me within the leg however he doesn’t hassle me anymore.’

Johan has given up straightening the varied mounted photographs on the partitions. One of many demised residents appears to object to any rearranging.

‘As I transfer the image body, one thing all the time pokes me, arduous, within the again.’

Though Johan will fortunately take you on a sundown ghost tour of Richmond, he dreads the nights when the Horse Museum alarm goes off, as he’s the one who has to come back up and reset it.

‘It’s often a spider scuttling throughout one of many sensors, however I need to verify anyway,’ he says. ‘I cost in at high pace, hit the change, swivel round instantly and run straight out the entrance door.’

One door down, in the identical constructing advanced, is Johan’s private museum.

Witness the bizarre stuff that may wash up in a small Karoo city: discarded church pews with decades-old bubblegum nonetheless caught to the undersides; cans of basic celluloid films like Heidi, Nationwide Velvet and Little Girls; a field stuffed with empty bottles from Richmond’s previous Lekker Mineral Cooldrink Firm; an historic switchboard, which he operated for a short time in 2008; LPs in piles of vinyl and a valve-driven radio that may nonetheless catch the Radio Sonder Grense station ‘when the wind blows good’.

There’s a whale vertebra, flensing knife and harpoon on show. What? Johan shakes his head in a “don’t know” gesture. Hypothesis: maybe a retired whaler got here to reside in Richmond a century in the past for the contemporary air and the lamb chops. If there isn’t any again story, simply present your personal.

Caught on the wall is a reducing from Detective Journal on the homicide case that put the city fairly dubiously on the map within the first half of the 20th century.

A scant block or two from right here, a younger man known as Petrus Hauptfleisch killed his mom in 1925. He protested his innocence all the best way to the gallows.

Johan doesn’t sit on his arms in Richmond. Aside from being a neighborhood municipal opposition councillor, a museum curator and a ghost-tour information, he’s additionally a Saturday morning DJ who entertains the higher part of Loop Avenue with nostalgic tunes from his stoep.

‘How about some Neil Diamond?’ he steered.

Karoo story, worldwide flavour

There are extra tales in Richmond’s outlying reaches, too, we found. Karoo Padstal, 18km north of city, is a newish venture of the Groblers – Nicol and Klaradyn – who needed to create an out-of-town farm stall in the identical vein of stylish as their Richmond Café & Rooms.

They’ve achieved simply that and it has turn into a central supply for regional merchandise. For those who make one thing genuine from the Karoo, that is your store window. For those who’re motoring down or up the N1, that is your oasis of espresso, upmarket edibles and all method of Karoo items. 

There’s even a world-class chef within the kitchen.

Chester Graham, an previous hand at whipping up three-course feasts for six 000 visitors, has a CV longer than your arm: Solar Metropolis, the Mount Nelson, varied Marriott lodges and even a stint in Kuwait are however a few of his profession highlights to date.

‘When lockdown arrived, I used to be in company catering and that enterprise simply died,’ he mentioned. ‘By probability, I met the Groblers, was provided a job and right here I’m. I like life in Richmond. The opposite day, I even drove a tractor!’

Journey planner

Do that

Down Loop Avenue, the large Fashionable Artwork Initiatives South Africa (Mapsa) gallery can be the place a crew of Richmond group girls produce artistic endeavors in ebook type, utilizing Japanese paper craft strategies to bind pages into books, coated in recycled flour, maize and sugar luggage. If it appears closed, name George Willemse on 073 436 4413. The Bookbinders are proper subsequent door. map-southafrica.org

Richmond Horse Museum, one in all solely two horse museums on the planet, is open on most days. Donations welcome 

072 629 0742 (curator Johan Tolken), [email protected]

When in a bookish city, purchase a ebook. A number of the finest could be present in John Donaldson’s Richmond Books and Prints

081 270 8827, [email protected]

Vetmuis Plaaskombuis on Loop Avenue is a component restaurant, half residence industries retailer, and half present store. Open weekdays from 8am to 8pm. On Saturdays, it closes at 2pm.

082 380 1196, fb: Vetmuis Plaaskombuis

Len and Pat Rundle have you ever coated for a dop or for those who’re hungry. Have a drink on the Saddle Bar or a meal at Pat’s Kitchen. 053 693 0142 or 073 406 4643

Creator Ian Smit runs Richmond Information alongside an interesting vintage store. 082 797 2018, [email protected] Fb: Richmond Buying and selling Publish

Go to the Karoo Padstal on the N1 between Richmond and Hanover for beautiful Karoo goodies and a terrific meal. Weekdays 8am–5pm, half days on Saturday. 081 219 2860, Fb: Karoo Padstal

The Richmond space boasts a few of the finest Karoo lamb within the nation. Richmond Meats & Deli is simply off the N1. 076 473 9573 or 053 693 0037, Fb: RichmondMeatsDeli.

Order an expensive sheep or alpaca wool cover or see how it’s made at Karoo Creations. 053 012 5011 or  076 886 0262, karoocreations.co.za

Keep right here

Seisoen Karoo Retreat

Filled with proof of a designer’s eye and overflowing with impeccable style, this previous stone home has been immaculately refurbished as a fantastic boutique guesthouse – the form of shock nobody expects to search out in a tiny city in the course of nowhere.

060 381 8753

Fb: Seisoen-Karoo-Retreat 

The Richmond Café and Rooms has three fashionable and personal en suite rooms. The decor is quirky, artistic and inventive with just a few considerate touches thrown in for good measure.

079 755 8285

fb.com: The-Richmond-Cafe-and-Rooms

Karoo Manor is correct subsequent to Pat’s Kitchen and the bar with saddle seating. It has 4 en suite rooms. They’re clear and spacious and the meals is great.

053 693 0142 or 073 406 4643


Bloemhof Karoo Farmstay is a brief drive from Richmond and was the final residence of coronary heart surgeon Dr Chris Barnard. Filled with particular visitor home touches and wealthy farm historical past.

082 449 7700


Three Birds Nation Home presents self-catering family-sized (4) lodging. Not a lot to take a look at from the street, it’s completely unimaginable on the within with giant rooms, snug beds and wonderful loos. 

079 529 5660, threebirdsguesthouse.co.za

A model of this text initially appeared within the October 2022 print concern of Getaway

Phrases and footage by Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit

Observe us on social media for extra journey information, inspiration, and guides. You can too tag us to be featured. 

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