The Penn 49

So sometime around my 14th birthday, the old man decided he was going to take up fishing again. It was also some time after he broke up with Anne Marie, who was the secretary that he ran away with. Whether this had anything to do with it I don’t know. But he arrived to pick me up for his every second weekend at the house in Fish Hoek, saying to Mom he wanted to get his old fishing gear out of the garage.
“Sure” she said, “help yourself. Can’t say where it will be though.”
“Ja, I’ll bet you can’t” he said. I went with him into the garage.
“Jeez, would you look at the state of this place” he said, looking around. Under his regime there was a tidy place for everything, but Mom would just chuck stuff wherever it landed. Leaving things out in the rain was a big bugbear for him. He pondered the lawnmower which was rusted to hell and gone, shaking his head sadly in that way that I knew could erupt into a rage. But it didn’t come. His rods were still in the rafters.
“Well, how about that” he said, “hallelujah. Well, let me get my shit and let’s get the hell out of here.”
I stepped on the first rung of the ladder while he got up there and untied the rods.
“Here, grab this” he said, passing a shorter rod down. It was the one I used when we used to go fishing at Swartklip.
“You remember that one right? Had a nice galjoen on that rod, if I remember right.”
The next one was his big beach rod, and then there were a couple of short boat rods. He came down the ladder. “Right. Now if I can figure out where the tackle is..”
“I know where it is, Dad” I said. I went over to the far corner and pulled the canvas bag out from under a pile of cardboard that the new TV had come in.
Dad pulled a couple of reels out of the bag. The first was a Penn Jigmaster 500, which was the one I used to use. The other one was his old Penn 49. You really needed big hands for the 49, which most of the Afrikaner fisherman down at Swartklip tended to have. Some of those guys could really swing a lead out to sea. Even though he was not a big oke the old man did ok, on his best he could give a decent cast. I still reckon he’d have done better with a 500, but he persevered with the 49. He gave the arm a twirl, but it hardly moved and made a dry grinding noise.
“Shit, bloody thing’s seized up.” he said, “I’ll have to lube it up when we get there.”

“There” was a wooden weatherboard bungalow in Betty’s Bay. He’d got some money after granddad died and he bought the cottage as a weekend getaway for himself and Anne Marie.
He used to take me out there too. Anne Marie wasn’t that interested in me. I knew she wasn’t going to stick around and she knew I knew, but we’d both play along for dad. As it turned out, they only lasted about 18 months. We didn’t go out there much after that. We’d just go back to Dad’s flat in Diep River and hang out watching TV or playing Playstation. He had a ground floor flat with a bit of a back garden that had Santana’s kennel in. Santana was the brindle Staffie dad got just before he left home. I was bummed out that he took Santana with him, but he seemed to be pretty happy in Diep River and I got to see him there. Sometimes we’d go to one of his mate’s braais, there was always a braai on somewhere.

There was one of his mates called Dave who lived in Pinelands, he used to have these day long events where they would chug Castles all day, talk shit and listen to Cold Fact by Rodriguez. Dave’s sister was the main attraction for my dad though, they had this thing for a while. She was a bit of an ex-joller with a big laugh and big hair, chugged beers along with the guys and burped dramatically. She used to sneak back to dad’s flat and come in when they thought I was sleeping, I could hear them giggling. I don’t know how dumb they thought I was, actually.
But now for some reason he was keen to go back out to the cottage, and I have to say it was kinda nice driving out that way again. Dad had got a roof rack, so the rods didn’t have to poke out a back window like they used to.

We took the N2 out to Gordon’s Bay and then took the coast road round to Betty’s with Santana on the back seat of the Cressida, the cliffs on our right falling away to the blue bay. There are crosses all along there, marking spots where fisherman drowned, but we never went down there. We did once go down to the mouth of the Steenbras river, just because it always looks so blue and enticing in the mouth when you drive over the bridge, but we sat there the whole day and caught one blaasop between the two of us.
“Bad timing” Dad said, “we shoulda been here 200 years ago ha ha..”
He was in a good mood on the drive now, talking about how weird it was that he moved from one confused suburb to another.
“I mean, name wise.” he explained.
“Can’t decide whether they’re English or Afrikaans. Take Fish Hoek…well, the first word is English, so the second word should be spelled hook, not hoek. Then I move to Diep River, where the first word is Afrikaans and so the second word should be spelled rivier, not river. That’s a bit of coincidence. Confused places must attract confused people.”
This last was a reference to the fact that his dad was Afrikaans and his mom was English.
“What’s up with that hey Santana” he shouted to the back. “At least we know what you are, unless that guy I got you from was talking shit” I could hear the dog chomping sleepily in the back by way of reply.

We crossed over the low nek that passes behind the Hangklip mountains between Rooi Els and Betty’s. It’s a bit of a no-mans land, just a fynbos plain that you pass through between one place and another. There’s one homestead on the far side, bang in the middle of nowhere. I always wonder who lives there and what their story is. Rolling into Betty’s we turned off into Karanteen St, the gravel road that goes to the cottage, and about a kilometre down pulled into the drive.
Dad unlocked the door and we carried our bags in. The place wasn’t untidy, but you could tell nobody had been there for a while. Dad opened the fridge to air it.
“Well, I reckon we get set, take Santana for a walk to the beach and then come back and braai.”
“Sounds good dad” I said.
I put my bag in the second bedroom, didn’t have enough stuff to need to unpack really, but I took out my toothbrush in any event. I could hear dad missioning around in the kitchen, I lay on the bed. The bedspread was a cheerful blue colour and had white seagulls on it. The window looked out into a port Jackson tree that Dad kept threatening to cut down, it had grown a whole bunch since I was last there. There was a rainbow dolphin decal sticker thing on the glass. It felt nice being in the familiar room on my own, and I looked at the picture on the wall. It was a photo of a tractor in a huge field somewhere in America. There was a column of dust going up into the air behind the tractor and a bunch of white birds following it. I don’t know who put the photo up or why it was still up….Dad never paid attention to décor much. But I always liked looking at that picture, a place so far away.

Dad seemed to be taking quite long, I came into the kitchen to see what he was doing. He had the Penn 49 out and was taking it apart, laying the pieces out on newspaper.
“Hey champ”, he said, “stick the kettle on”
I made us some Frisco, Dad had oiled the bits of the reel and was trying to put it back together. But he was having a big problem straight away with this little spring that had come out of the gear clutch.
“Jeez” he said, “how the hell does this go back in?”
It needed to be kind of half wound up and held as it was fitted back in, but Dad was having no joy.
“Jissus”, he eventually said, “OK. I officially give up. We’ll just leave it like this and I’ll have another go later. Let’s hit the beach”
We left the kitchen table covered with the reel bits, all laid out in some kind of order. Dad put the meat for the braai out on the sink sideboard to defrost, grabbed a beer and we headed out.

Dad’s cottage was not far back, but far enough that you couldn’t see the sea. But that was no worries, it was a nice walk down past the other houses…there was no pavement or anything, just the red gravel road cut through the dune fynbos and the houses on small plots. People had wire fences, if they had anything, and quite a few folks had small boats parked in the driveway. They were pretty much all holiday houses, weekend getaway places for Cape Town folks, but a few retired people too. We knew one old couple who’d been there for years, three houses down from us. The biggest and fanciest house, at the end of the road where it bent round at the beach, belonged to some people from Joburg. Funny though, they were there the least. They just came once a year, over Xmas. A whole bunch of them, partying and playing their music loud til all hours which would drive dad crazy. The volume was not the main issue, it was the general terribleness of their music.
“Songs for people who don’t like music,” dad would say, “bloody Joburgers”.
But being winter their place was all shuttered up, we headed onto the sandy path that led down to the beach between the beds of sour figs. It was low tide, Santana went haring off down the wet sand after some seagulls that were parking off at the water’s edge. They could see him coming, but they waited until he was almost there before leisurely lifting off and gliding down the beach a ways, with Santana in hot pursuit.
“Would you look at that idiot” said dad, laughing. Santana gave up and ran back to us, his goofy joy not dampened by the eternal failure to catch a seagull.
“Hey boy” said dad “one of these days you’ll actually catch one, and then what will you do?”
We went to the end of the beach, to where the rocks started that went around to the next bay, and sat there for a bit while dad finished his beer.

Dad asked me about school a bit, we’d do this thing where we both pretended to give a shit about my schooling. There were little perfect knee high waves peeling off in the corner. The wind was a very light offshore, just enough to blow a little spray back off the glassy waves as they broke. The tide was turning and as we sat there a few bigger waves came in.
Dad finished his beer and we walked back, the bats were starting to come out and swoop around in the red light. We got to the cottage and went in, and all hell broke loose. Santana went completely apeshit and charged straight at the kitchen sink. There was an animal on the sideboard, getting stuck into the braai meat. Or at least that’s what it had been doing, now it was snarling and giving Santana a good run for his money as they rolled like a tornado all around the kitchen trying to tear each other to pieces. The noise was incredible. I couldn’t figure out what it was, neither could Dad…he was looking for something to use to help Santana, he grabbed the broom but they were moving so fast it was impossible to get a jab in. The tornado rolled into the living room.
“Fucking otter!” shouted Dad. And that’s what it was. Most people think about an otter, they think of the sleek furry European model. This thing was huge. Later on we discovered that it was a Cape clawless otter, the local coloured folks call them fish-foxes. It was about the size of a Labrador with sawn off legs, with a thick tail and a lot of teeth, and it wasn’t scared of Santana. At one point in the proceedings it jumped onto the tv, a leap of like 12 feet right through the air like a monkey. We couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t trying to get away either, just getting in a better position to stick it to Santana who was trying to get a throathold. But the otter was like a slippery fish, Sanatana couldn’t get a grip and was also taking a lot of bites on the head from this kind of darting bite that the otter had. As the broom clearly wasn’t much use dad finally decided on the garden hose, bringing it in and turning it full bore on them.
While it didn’t stop them, it definitely seemed to be a distraction so dad kept pointing it as best he could at the otter’s head. It started shaking his head to clear his eyes which gave Santana a bit of a gap and he got a hold for a second…the first he’d got so far. The otter got out of it, but clearly took on board that the tide of battle was beginning to turn against him. He made a last assault on Santana to drive him back, and then made another spectacular leap up onto the lounge windowsill which was where he got in. He turned around, snapped at Santana who jumping up at him, and jumped out the window. Gone.

Dad managed to kick the front door shut in time to stop Santana from dashing out, but he still hurled himself against door barking in full battle mode. It took a while for him to calm down, we didn’t even want to touch him he was that beside himself.
“Ok boy, ok boy,” Dad kept saying to him. Eventually he calmed down. The oke was stuffed. He had like five or six deep tears on his cheeks and on the top of his head that were bleeding all over the place, and one ear was just about off.
“Shit dude, look at you” said dad. We sat down on the floor next to him, he was just chilling now and panting. I sat down with him on the floor and stroked him while dad brought the first aid stuff that he kept in a Tupperware in the kitchen. Santana didn’t seem too traumatized actually and he licked Dad’s hand us as he tended him. After a bit the dog fell asleep on the blanket we laid out for him.
“OK” said dad, “let’s clean up the place and then think about supper.”
We got stuck into clearing up the mess. The braai meat was all chewed up, but we didn’t feel much like a braai now anyway. Dad had brought some frozen pizzas, he took a couple out the deep freeze, bunged them in the oven and cracked another beer.
The reel parts that dad had oiled and carefully arranged on the kitchen table were scattered to the four winds…all over the kitchen, basically. Dad considered the mess for a moment. He seemed to be making some deep decision about something.
“Should be able to get it together again dad” I said. “ We can just pick them all up.” Dad looked at me. Some kind of peace descended on him.
“No ”, he said. “I’ve got a better plan. Won’t you please get me the broom?”
I went to fetch it and handed it to him. He swept the whole lot into the middle of the floor, this a little pile of metal and bakelite . Then he swept them into the pan that I held for him and checked the whole lot in the bin.

The pizzas were ready and we ate them on our laps in the lounge. Dad had the TV on, not too loud, and watched the news. There was an Israeli politician on, he was being grilled about something Israel had just done.
“Sorry buddy” said Dad to the TV, “it’s you okes in the hot seat now.”
He swigged his beer and turned to me.
“We’ll need to get Santana to a vet tomorrow morning” he said. “Won’t you bring over the yellow pages?”
I sat next to dad while he looked through. I could see he was tired, not just from the day. The crows feet around his eyes had got a whole lot more wrinkled, I hadn’t really noticed. There was a vet in Gordon’s Bay, and another in Somerset West.
“We’ll take him there” he said, jabbing at the Somerset West one. Gordon’s Bay was closer, but I didn’t ask him why we weren’t going to go there.
“I’m tired dad” I said. “I’m going to bed.”
“OK champ” he said. “sleep tight”
I went to my room and got into bed. The flickering light from the TV was reflecting on the back of my door, I didn’t like to close it, and I watched it til I fell asleep.

The next morning we had coffee, got Santana into the car and headed off for Somerset West. We found the vet’s office easily, it was just off the main drag. They weren’t busy, there was just one lady with a cat before us. The vet checked out Santana, who was not at all depressed about his condition and had been in a cheerful mood all morning.
“An otter hey” he said. “Ja, one of those things will give most dogs a good go. He’s alright, we’ll give him a jab and sew him up. Nearly lost your ear hey buddy. You’re going to have to leave him here overnight. You can get him tomorrow around 10… bring your wallet…it’s gonna cost a bit”
“Ja, ok. See you later buddy” We both patted Santana who looked at us with sad eyes as we left. We got back into the car.
“I’m starving dad” I said.”Can we go the Wimpy?”
“Sounds like a plan” dad said.

We went to the big mall on the edge of town, parked and went in. There was a promotion for watersports going on in the middle of the mall. Big gleaming jetski’s and suchlike, black people were standing and looking at these things like they were freshly landed spaceships.
“Jeez, look at this”, said dad, “ 80 grand for a big toy. We’ll have two. Pity our joburgers aren’t here, they’d buy the lot. Leave them in the garage the whole year to rust to shit ha ha.”
We went into the Wimpy, I had the hashbrown splashdown and dad had the special with boerewors. The Wimpy was pretty busy, dad read the paper for a little while.
“OK, let’s make tracks” he said. We paid and left, but we took a right instead of heading out. The mystery of where we were going was cleared up as dad turned into the sports superstore and headed straight for the fishing section. There were a bunch of reels laid out in a cabinet. None of them looked like the reels we had, not even the Penns.
“Woah” said dad, “things have changed a bit in the reel market.
A young guy came up to us.
“I’m looking for a beach reel” dad said to him.
“Can I have a look at one of these new brands….I don’t know, what are people buying these days?”
“Well, the most popular brand these days is the Policansky. That’s this one here. “
“OK, let me have a look at it. Actually, no…wait a bit. Tell you what, pass me that Abu Garcia there.”
The shop assistant got the reel out and gave it to dad. He held it in his hand, feeling the weight.
“Feels good” he said. He gave the handle a spin. The reel spun effortlessly, it made a fine purring noise. Dad turned, holding out the reel out to me. He was smiling, the reel just kept on spinning.
“Well how do you like that” he said to me.
He turned back to the shop assistant.
“I’ll take it” he said.