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Diamonds And Dust: 41 - John F_

…By the time he left to take the flight out on Saturday morning he was not a pretty sight. Both eyes were black, his nose was all bent and he was a sorry sight to see. He did get married, but I never did hear what his wife-to-be thought…

Malcolm Bertoni continues his brilliant account of diamond mining in Namibia.

To read earlier chapters of his story please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/diamonds_and_dust/

To obtain a copy of his book click on http://www.equilibriumbooks.com/diamonds.htm

John F_ was another guy I remember well. He was a good-looking chap and was leaving the mine and going down to Cape Town to get married. That was around 1971, I think.

The Friday before he left we were all playing around in the swimming pool. We had a huge dump truck inner tube and used to climb on and dive off it. We had also found fishermen’s buoys made of hard plastic, about 18 inches in diameter with an eyelet at the one end. We used to throw the things at each other and they hurt like hell, often leaving big red welts.

Well that Friday we were horsing around and throwing the buoys at each other. Someone threw a buoy at John and we watched as the buoy spun though the air in seemingly slow motion and hit him squarely on the nose. Needless to say his nose went crunch and blood started pouring.

By the time he left to take the flight out on Saturday morning he was not a pretty sight. Both eyes were black, his nose was all bent and he was a sorry sight to see. He did get married, but I never did hear what his wife-to-be thought.

There’s another good story about John and another guy called Dorian, who was from Port Elizabeth.

It was a long weekend, and on Saturday we had a braai near the pool. Some guys had some wine and others had a few beers. There would have been at least 15 of us.

We were fooling around the pool area in the evening when suddenly there was a crash and the sound of breaking glass. Dorian, who was drunk out of his skull to put it politely, had fallen through one of the windows in the rec room. I didn’t see how it happened, but suddenly there was blood everywhere. He had cut his wrist very badly. There was a gaping wound running down his arm and it looked serious.

We wrapped his arm in a towel to try and stop the bleeding and thought about what we should do. There were no phone. The radio would work, but then everyone could listen in, especially security, and we didn’t want that. The consensus was that we should take Dorian to the hospital in town, about 120 kms away. But who could go?

I was the only sober person on site as I didn’t drink, so I could drive him to town. But there was a heavy fog and it was tricky driving in those conditions, so it was decided that another vehicle would accompany me into town. That way, if there were any dramas we would have two vehicles. Everyone was drunk, so we tried to think who was the least drunk out of them. In the end, John would be the other driver and Brian (the gambler) would accompany him.

So we set off in the two Land Rovers. Luckily the fog had thinned a bit so we made reasonably good time. I was following John when he radioed me and said he had to fill up with petrol. There were petrol pumps every 30 or 40 kilometres along the road where anyone could stop and fill up. The fuel was free and the bowsers were never locked. This was to ensure that no-one would run out of fuel in the mining area.

John pulled into the next fuelling bay and started filling the Land Rover. The petrol filler is in a strange place on the Land Rover. It is on the driver’s side right near the back of the vehicle, just ahead of the tail light. So John started filling the Land Rover and we all get out to stretch our legs.

Brian lit up a smoke and walked to the driver’s side to check the fuel gauge. The old Land Rovers had notoriously bad electrics and nothing worked as it should, so you had to tap the fuel gauge to see if anything was happening.

John was filling the tank while Brian tapped the gauge. After about a minute John asked: “It must be full by now Brian.”

Brian tapped the gauge. “No. Still less than a quarter.”

Another 30 seconds went by.

John called to me. “How much does this tank take?”

“I’m not sure. It must be full by now, surely.”

Brian: “Nope. Still less than a quarter.”

John: “There must be a hole in the tank.”

I grabbed a torch that was always kept in the vehicle, climbed out and went over to John. I could smell petrol. I shone the torch on John and then on the filler.

In his drunken state John had put the nozzle of the fuel bowser into the tray of the Landrover instead of the fuel filler, and the tray was slowly filling with fuel, which was by now running out under the tailgate and all over the ground. There was fuel everywhere. The tray must have had six inches of fuel in it. And there was Brian nonchalantly having a smoke right next to the Land Rover! How the whole lot didn’t go up in a huge flaming fireball I’ll never know.

I hustled Brian away a safe distance and got John to open the tray. Petrol poured out all over the place. We eventually got the tank full and I told Brian not to even think about having a smoke, not unless he wanted to meet his maker very quickly.

During all this Dorian was snoring contentedly on the front seat of my Land Rover, blood dripping everywhere.

To get to the end of the story, we got to the hospital and Dorian was admitted. He was stitched up, kept overnight and discharged on Sunday afternoon. He was so drunk that when he woke up in the hospital bed, he didn’t know how he had gotten there.

John, Dorian and I still communicate with each other regularly. John now lives in Cape Town, and Dorian has returned to Port Elizabeth. They are both still good friends.

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