5 Vin­cent Bris­tow has a colour­ful en­counter out on the open road

Sunday Times - - Artisan - © Vin­cent Bris­tow

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]­day­ with the word Note­book in the sub­ject line.

Pic­tures: https://wal­ter­bat­

FIG­UR­ING IT OUT A por­trait of artist Wal­ter Bat­tiss.

IMAG­INE ALL THE PEO­PLE A print of Wal­ter Bat­tiss’s Fook Is­land.

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