It came as an enormous shock when HeyYouGertrude telephoned early yesterday evening to tell us that she and Lord Patu had been involved in an accident and that His Lordship, having been injured, was in hospital. I suppose it was that sort of incredulous horror which emanates from the realisation that one's hero is, after all, not totally indestructible.
I sat in stunned silence for a moment or two, then, regaining my composure, bent to retrieve the smouldering 'spliff' at my feet and plucked up courage to ask the question.
"Does that mean that he may not be able to come with me to the rugby game between Natal and Queensland on Saturday ?" I asked, timorously (I had already bought the tickets).
"Oh! No, young man !" HeyYou had replied, " ... He will recover. He broke his leg and received a bloody nose and some bruises, but it was mostly his dignity that suffered: the silly old fart! He should be released from hospital tomorrow."
My relief was almost tangible. (The tickets had, after all, cost R 120 each.) Nevertheless, I could not help feeling that she was being a little cavalier in her lack of concern regarding His Lordship's broken leg. He was, after all, no spring chicken, and when even a young, fit and fully equipped man breaks a leg, it should always be regarded as an unfortunate -- and possibly painful -- annoyance, deserving sympathy. It was my further opinion that she should have disregarded the conventional mathematics of the matter, and conceded that when a one-legged old man breaks his leg, then his problems, pain and inconvenience might be expected to multiply upon a scale which is considerably greater than may be suggested by simple schoolroom arithmetic.
But I refrained from voicing this particular reservation regarding her apparent lack of sympathy towards her husband. "Thank Goodness that neither of you was more seriously injured," I replied, earnestly, "but what happened, for heaven's sake? Is there anything that Sandi and I can do ?"
"We had an accident with the bicycle. A most terrible crash ... " HeyYouGertrude went on to relay all the terrifying details of the appalling disaster, and I listened in horror, interrupting her only occasionally to express commiseration or sympathy, or to elicit some particular detail that she had neglected.
When I finally put down the telephone I sat in silence for a moment. Then, slowly, a grin began to tug at the corner of my lips.
Every man likes to be proved correct -- it is less than honest to contend otherwise -- and I had, after all, envisaged (and issued warning of) the possible pitfalls: this being not with the benefit of hindsight, but at the very time when His Lordship had first told me that he was going to begin riding a bicycle.
I do not pretend to be any sort of an engineer or a physicist trained in the complexities of countering forces of energy and gravity, but even to a rather simple accountant, it seemed to me that an one-legged man weighing in excess of 250 pounds might be something less than totally stable upon a two-wheeled machine which appeared -- by its very name -- to require a two-legged conductor.
I recalled my earlier conversation with Lord Patu, when he had first informed me that he had purchased a bicycle, and intended to begin riding it.
"I do not believe it to be a good idea." I had said (in a manner as unequivocal as could be expected when offering even the most gentle criticism concerning the plans of the one-legged giant who sat before me on his riempie chair, wearing only his battered leather hat and a .44 magnum revolver stuck into the belt which supported his wooden leg).
"What ... ?" Lord Patu had enquired, removing his hand from his lap for a moment, in order to cup it behind his ear.
I decided to tone down the observation a little, in order to allay the possibility of it being construed as implied criticism. "What on earth persuaded you to purchase a bicycle ?" I asked.
"The bloody doctor, dear boy ! He says I am a little overweight, and it is putting a strain on my heart. He seems to think that if I do not take a bit more exercise, then I shall be pushing up daisies in the not too distant future !" replied His Lordship, lowering his hand again to a position that might offer less embarrassment to any female hawks which may have been over-flying Patu Manor at the time.
"Mmmmm ... " I ventured: tentatively, "but why a bicycle ?"
"Oh! It's the best way to get fit, Old Boy ! Only yesterday, she and I went out and bought one !"
"I suppose we must take care of ourselves these days," I concurred reluctantly, "we are getting no younger, and spare parts are becoming harder to find for the older models ... " (I actually thought that it had been quite a clever reply, until I noticed that the strap on Lord Patu's false leg was loose.] Fortunately, I was once again spared from embarrassment by his deafness.
"Where is the 'bike ?" I asked.
"It's in the garage. Would you like to see it? I have had it modified to suit my circumstances, and re-sprayed green and white, in the old Rhodesian colours."
"Shall we have another beer on the way through ?" I enquired hopefully.
"Certainly, young man!" Lord Patu seemed excited by His new venture, and was in an expansive mood.
We rose to our feet (three between the two of us) and I was, as usual, amazed that gravity and the earth's spin on its own axis did not, even after two or three of his home-brewed beers, seem to affect Lord Patu's balance in quite the same manner as it did mine.
But again, I digress.
Having stopped briefly at the rude refrigerator in the kitchen, we proceeded to the garage, where he threw open the door triumphantly. The bicycle was truly awesome. It was, in fact, a 'tandem' bicycle and although Lord Patu had told me (on a previous occasion) that generally he did not favour 'front wheel drive' vehicles, I immediately noticed that he had, unselfishly, assigned the front seat for the use of 'Hey You Gertrude'.
It was plain to see how much thought and consideration His Lordship had expended upon the design modifications. I saw that he had had the chain and the rear pedals removed -- to reduce weight, obviously -- and also that the passenger seat -- which, although fairly wide and with a sun umbrella attached to its backrest -- was constructed from very light weight wicker material and had, in addition, three thongs of the wicker material missing in the middle. A very light fibreglass mudguard had been extended over the rear wheel -- to reduce the likelihood of intimate injury, possibly, but also to prevent any mud from being sprayed up over Lord Patu's head and onto HeyYou' s back, as she peddled, on days when the weather was inclement.
Although still vaguely concerned about the prospect of Lord Patu upon a bicycle (of any description), I had been most impressed.
Our examination of the bicycle -- and the conversation which I have related above - had taken place some two weeks previously, and as I sat by the telephone after receiving the telephone call from HeyYou, and was mulling over in my mind the calamity which had befallen them (despite my most specific warnings), my grin slowly became wider.
The vision of Lord Patu and HeyYouGertrude weaving erratically and careering, on their green and white sunshade-festooned tandem bicycle, into a child's perambulator on a pedestrian crossing in rush hour Hillcrest, was an image to be savoured.
And nobody had been seriously injured: fortunately.
After all -- as HeyYou had belatedly informed me on the telephone -- it had only been His Lordship's wooden leg that had snapped when she had kicked Him as He lay, shouting and spluttering in incandescent tantrum, upon that busy Hillcrest pedestrian crossing.
I could still hear the sports discussion programme from the television in the sitting room behind me, and looked forward to Lord Patu's company at the rugby match on Saturday. I hoped that our beloved Natal would beat those bloody Australians.
-- KK Brown
Originally appeared 2007-07-02