Junkyard Blues of Calvinia

Calvinia – where the rust never sleeps…
The minute I meet Dirk van Rensburg and his delightfully hippie-chic wife Sonja, I know there’s going to be a party. And so it comes to pass, as we dwell around another wine papsak at their kitchen table, after having walked through (and I know these are fighting words) the funkiest backyard in the Karoo.

In between Bakes Bakery and the Van Rensburg home is a collection of almost-priceless enamel signs garnered from farms, far-flung chicken runs and dusty township homes. Dirk collects everything in this world: old cards, photographs, road signs, ancient farm implements, all arranged into a colourful display of throwaway art.The more you stroll down the rabbit hole of collectibles with Dirk, the more you realise he’s simply crazy about his wife, his kids, his baking and his junk.

Dirk’s love for baking was born when a woman called Ou Liesie came to work for them and prepared roosterkoek, a typical Kalahari-Karoo special.

All smiles at Bakes Bakery in Calvinia.

A Loaf is not just a Loaf

“Listen, a loaf is not just a loaf. It’s more than that. And pies? Oom Daan’s Pies are the best. Heartburn? What heartburn? As we say over here in the Hantam, if you get heartburn from one of Oom Daan’s pies, I’ll refund you your money.”

Enter Sonja, stage left, bearing plates heaped with Oom Daan’s Pies. We tuck in. Hmm, most tasty. Who is/was Oom Daan? Is/was he of the Colonel Chicken ilk – possibly a mirage man?

“Oh no,” says Dirk. “Oom Daan actually existed. He was a real local character, who made great pies using a secret recipe. We tried in the early days to buy the recipe from Oom Daan, but he would not budge. A year later, Oom Daan came to us and said he was ready to sell. The transaction happened, and we took a photo of Oom Daan to use on the packaging. A couple of months later, Oom Daan passed away.”

The evening grows late, but we will not be budged. That’s all right by the amazingly sober Dirk van Rensburg – he can tell you stories until the sun comes up.

The Van Rensburgs wear their hearts on their sleeves…

Something to Crow About

“Ask him about his crow,” my friend Pieter Naude had urged me earlier in Williston. So I do.

“That was Meraai Die Kraai,” sighs Dirk. “We found her as a tiny thing. Her mother had died, wrapped up in a tree with lucerne baling wire. We raised Meraai and she became a beloved bird here in Calvinia. On sports days, she’d fly over to the schools and shout her support for the home teams.

“Oh, that Meraai. We took her on holiday to our secret coastal spot near Koekenaap – it’s called Blikkiesdorp but don’t bother looking for it on a map. The people loved her, the dogs loved her, the cats loved her – then one day she was killed by Nature Conservation and sent to Kimberley as some kind of sample.” Men came to blows over the crow, there was a court case – but Meraai was long gone…

Oom Daan of Oom Daan’s Pies – guaranteed to not give you heartburn.

Aliens Making Pancakes

There’s a silence around the kitchen table. The suave old gent looks down from the Flag Cigarettes advertising board on the wall, his two blue-eyed girlfriends on the sideboard saying nothing. Jules breaks the gloomy, papsak silence with a story about UFOs:

“In 1961, a Wisconsin chicken farmer saw a UFO land in his yard. Two figures emerged (the farmer testified that they ‘looked like Italians’) and they proceeded to make pancakes. Then they disappeared. The pancakes were sent off for analysis. They contained the usual mix of flour, milk and eggs – but there was proof that the pancakes were slightly burnt.”

More silence. Then we all burst into post-midnight gales of laughter. This scrapyard is fun. The Van Rensburgs think so too. And out here in the Hard Man’s Karoo you speak of UFOs quite openly – they’re part of the furniture.

The beloved Van Rensburgs at AfrikaBurn 2009.

Bound for AfrikaBurn

“Where are you going from here?” they want to know. We tell them about the Afrika Burn Festival down in the Tankwa, a kind of New Age creative get-together. Laptop hippies with matches and incredible design skills. Possibly the finest desert festival in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We’ll see you there,” says Dirk, finishing his last beer and shooing us out…

We leave town, and four days later Dirk and Sonja appear before us at Afrika Burn, like cheerful mirages. I see he’s holding a beer bottle – the alcohol-free kind. And then I realise why his party animal never gets hangovers…

  • To stay at Rustic Art, aka Republic of RusticA, aka the Blikskottel B&B, call Dirk or Sonja on 027 3411 423 or 083 656 8592  or 079 552 1040 or email them on karidecor@kingley.co.za.

3 thoughts on “Junkyard Blues of Calvinia

  1. Pingback: Karoo Routes: Cape Town to Calvinia | Karoo Space

  2. Pingback: Karoo Keepsakes II: Rock ‘n Roll Across the Northern Cape! | Karoo SpaceKaroo Space

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