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Here In Africa: The Little Red Car

Barbara Durlacher tells how she and the little red car remained disunited.

I want to tell you story (against myself) which I hope you will find amusing. When I first came to live here there was a tatty little local SPAR which was patronised by everyone in the area. To the horror of all, one day the kindly Greek Manager Peter told us that as the building had been sold the shop was to be closed and he was moving on to fresh fields and pastures new. Then, for over a year we waited until a new and magnificent SPAR was built. It was a H-U-G-E improvement on the earlier one, although as its prices are so much higher, no one actually bought anything. They "only looked".

From the day of their gala opening (at which one of my neighbours had her wallet stolen) this shop has been running a competition to win a new car, and on the infrequent times I popped in to buy a loaf of bread or a newspaper - there was this charming little red car, winking and blinking at me and telling me that soon we would be united and live happily ever after. The only requirement to win the car was to have your till slip on which you had written your name and phone number and which you had "posted" through one of the slightly open windows into the car, picked from the box when the competition ended.

The time and date of this momentous event was 29th January at 3pm.

As I knew I was going to win the car, I duly brushed my hair, carefully made up my face and popped on my glad rags.

Lipstick OK? Check.
Hair looking the best it can? Check.
No soup spots or crumbs decorating my front? Check.

Right - now into the car together with my trusty "Sit-on-stick" early enough to get a front row position. And there I sat from 2:50pm while the crowd grew ever thicker and more and more people, mere plebs you understand, pushed in front of me.

In fact, there was even one black woman with one of the most enormous bottoms I've had the bad luck to be close to for a very long time, who elbowed her way in, trod on my toes and stood, waggling her backside vertically up and down, just like a bird's tail (how on earth do these women do that, I wonder?) for the 45 minutes it took the manager and his staff to go through the run-up. All the 20-30 till slips got consolation prizes of food hampers etc., until at last it came to the GRAND PRIZE.

“MY” little red car was to be drawn.

The requirements to qualify for the prize were (a) to be physically present when your name was called and (b) to have your ID card and cellphone on you when you presented yourself to the manager.

Through the thick crowd I saw the Manager lifting a small girl and telling her to put in her hand and pull out a slip. She did this with aplomb and gave the slip to him. We collectively held our breath...

He read out the name on the slip. Mr P SWANEPOEL.


We looked around. Who - and Where - was Mr P Swanepoel?

Then suddenly Paul, the Elphin Lodge Handyman stepped forward.

"I'm Paul Swanepoel" he said and he won the car!!!

Not to be outdone, I shouldered my way through the crowd, immediately accosted him and said, “Paul, I want to buy your car!” He was far too excited to take much notice and did not reply before he was whisked away by the Manager to pose for a volley of photographs for the local newspapers.

By 8:30 am I was on the phone trying to contact Paul, only to be told he was out. I phoned several times during the day but could not get hold of him until I returned from my school taxi round. Then I found him and his colleague relaxing in their noxious “handyman’s hidy-hole” filled with stinking cigarette stubs, half eaten snacks and bits and pieces of partly-repaired rubbish.

“Now! Come on Paul,” I stated. “I want to buy your car!”

“It’s already sold,” he said with a gleam of satisfaction.

“Whaaaat?” I exploded. “Who bought it?”

“I sold it back to the dealers. I realised I couldn’t afford to run it, what with the insurance, the cost of petrol and annual tax. In any case, I only have my government pension on which to live, so it just would not work for me. Oh! And I forgot to mention, I don’t even have a Driver’s Licence!!

“And what did they give you for it?” I queried, upset that I’d missed such a bargain.

“R74 000 – the same price they buy it from the factory,” he told me reluctantly.

“Well, I think you’ve done the right thing. Put some of the money into the bank on fixed deposit. Then, have a really good holiday with the rest. And Good Luck to you,” I wished him, glad that in the end my Red Beauty and I would not go happily together into the sunset.

It was a manual gear-shift and quite unsuitable for my purposes, so I’m still free to look for a good second-hand, low mileage, late model compact which will suit my requirements better. Got one to offer me?


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