THE ART OF HITCH-HIKING
5 Vincent Bristow has a colourful encounter out on the open road
The sooner we could get a lift the better. With every passing minute the chance of one of our teachers arriving to fill up with fuel increased. And then we’d be bust. The only problem was the pickings were unusually slim. The idea was for me and my brother to get a lift to Johannesburg for the long weekend, rather than catch the train. That way, we would be saving the cost of the train fare, plus the fact that we would hopefully get home before sunset, 12 hours before the train, if luck was on our side. Important considerations both, for anyone at boarding school. So we were hanging around the local petrol station, asking for a lift.
I was apprehensive. He was tall, with a shock of long white hair, and goatee beard. Paint smears all over his loose-fitting clothes. One tackie was painted blue, the other red.
“Please can you give us a lift, we are trying to get home to Johannesburg,” I asked, tentatively. “Sure,” he replied.
As his worn Rover chugged up the miles, his breadth and depth of knowledge became more and more apparent. We spoke about the hippy scene in San Francisco, life at boarding school, politics, and much more.
The next and last time I spoke to him was when I was doing my compulsory military duty, based in Pretoria. I was walking down one of the main roads in town when we bumped into each other.
“Let me buy you a cup of coffee,” he offered, in his by now familiar high-pitched voice. I was surprised that he had even remembered me. We spoke about symbolism, current affairs, and more, which I no longer remember, all these years later.
Who was this guy? What was his story? An intellect, clearly. Eccentric, for sure.
And then there he was, in a photograph in the Sunday Times. And an article about two well-known artists. Norman Catherine and the white-haired Walter Battiss. They had just launched their imaginary society, Fook Island. And then it all made sense.
Walter Battiss, professor of fine art, internationally acclaimed artist, and all-round nice guy.
What an honour and privilege it was, having spent a few hours in the company of such a wonderful person, all those years ago.
“The Notebook” is about chance meetings and unforgettable encounters people have had on their travels. Send us your story — no more than 400 words — and, if published, you’ll receive R500. Mail travel[email protected]daytimes.co.za with the word Notebook in the subject line.
FIGURING IT OUT A portrait of artist Walter Battiss.
IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE A print of Walter Battiss’s Fook Island.