Skip to content

An ode to Pavlov, my former *skorokoro

September 18, 2012

Skorokoro – township slang for an old, rattletrap car

On Monday, as I was hauling my bag of recycling out the front door, the recyclers’ vehicle stopped outside my house. The driver of said vehicle is a very nice gent called Patrick.

“Hey howzit Patrick, how are you?”

“Fine thanks!”

I am almost too scared to ask. But then he broaches the subject.

“I am still driving that car.”

“That car” is a 31 year-old, rusting Datsun Pulsar by the name of Pavlov, who was a very important part of part of my life from 1981 to 2009. One car. Twenty-eight years. Quite a feat.

Those who know me well will know that I have my strong points and my weak ones. And that one of the weakest on the list is my relationship with cars. No matter how hard I try, my car karma – let’s call it my carma – has always sucked the barnacles off the bottom of an oil tanker. Which doesn’t mean that I haven’t been mobile. My mobility has simply never been…a pretty sight.

When I found my way into this world, on 20 January 1965, I was the late-born child of two bundu lovers, who had recently given up their bundu bashing. All they had left, except for the photographs and the camp fire tales, was an enormous old blue Land Rover . I remember my mom taking me to nursery school in this huge box on wheels, after tanking up for the week with 50 cents’ worth of petrol.

But the Landy went while I was still in nursery school, to be replaced by an old Volkswagen. Volksie number one made space for Volksie number two, a strange goldish-yellow shade and my mom’s first bought-out-of-the-box car.  It survived a bad accident in the Karoo, when a cross wind picked it up and flung it into the veld, with my mom, my sister and my eight-year-old self inside. We were miraculously unhurt, and after extensive repairs, the Beetle gave us years and years’ worth of service after that.

The Barnard Scrap Yard

Let’s return to the property of the Barnards, in Schoeman Street, apartheid-era Pretoria. With my dad the worst hoarder in history, and my brother a mechanic obsessed with old cars, our back yard was not a pretty sight, emanating the occasional Triomf moment as engines, bodies and chassis were added to the men of the family’s collection. In desperation, my mom once made a large cardboard sign and stuck it on our front gate. It read: Solly Apple’s Scrap Yard.

Enter Pavlov, the hero of my story. My mom bought him for a whopping R5 000 in 1981. I was in Grade 11. My mom continued driving him for years after that, eventually doing a swop with my dad when he bought her a second-hand Renault. My dad’s worker, Hendrik, having learnt to drive and running errands for my dad, transformed Pavlov into a taxi for large-ladies-with-large-behinds, giving everybody along the road a lift whenever he had the opportunity. The seats got shredded, and Pavlov started leaning, ever so slightly, to the left…

While I was doing my postgraduate studies, the little silver car found its way back into my life. My brother fixed it up and I was finally a student with a car. A year or two later, my dad bought me another car, which I sold a few years later in order to buy a round-the-world plane ticket. Believe it or not, re-enter Pavlov, even more shredded, but still chugging along like a good working mule.

Working girl, crappy car

As a young working woman in Cape Town, my little skorokoro got me everywhere I needed to be. He wasn’t pretty, but he did the job. In a world where so many people tend to judge you according to the car you drive, he wasn’t too good for my image. I once met a cute accountant for a drink in Camps Bay. After a glass of wine or two, and possibly interested in seeing me again, he gallantly walked me to my car. I opened the door, and revealed a driver’s seat so damaged that I had stuffed an entire pink cushion into the resultant hole. Let’s just say I never heard from the cute accountant again.

A few years later, I was driving my sister to the airport when Pavlov failed me for the first and only time. Chug-chug-chug-chug-swallow. Fart. Stop. I have to clarify that it was entirely my fault that my faithful old hound had taken ill – he had had a leaky radiator for some time and I simply kept topping him up with water and that radiator sealant goo. Until the poor boy overheated once too often and blew a gasket. There I was, in tight jeans and high heels, in the days before cell phones, staggering along the N2 towards an emergency phone. To this day, I will never forget the people who stopped to try and help me. Not the fancy pants folks in their shiny sedans, mind you, but other people with skorokoros like mine. They had been there. They knew.

Going, going…

A few years into the millennium, Pavlov was starting to leak badly and was rusty enough to pass for a Jan van der Merwe artwork. I once visited my friend Mimi, and afterwards her husband Keith walked me to my car, which at this stage I had to enter from the passenger’s side as the driver’s door was jammed. It was winter and it was very, very wet. When Keith noticed the sprightly mushroom growing in Pavlov’s carpet, he had to be picked up from the pavement he was laughing so hard.

I had always boasted that, in a country where almost everyone has a car theft tale to tell, nobody could possibly want to steal my car. But, in spite of my dying silver bullet’s ghastly state, there were two attempts to steal him. Because of his immobilizer, we got him back twice. We found him in Bo-Kaap the first time, and just round the corner from our house the second time, brights loyally flashing to alert people that he was in trouble. (*pause to wipe a tear*) At this stage, he was so badly damaged that my insurance people wrote him off.

Shortly after this, Patrick stopped in front of my house to pick up my recycling, and fell madly in love with my car. For a week or two, he kept begging me to sell it to him, until I finally gave in. At this stage, it was only sentiment keeping my car and myself on the same property. So I decided to let him go. Let’s just say that the word “voetstoots” appeared in the sales contract.

When Patrick drove off in the humble rattletrap that had taken me so many places for a whole 28 years, I was bawling my eyes out. Yes, I have wept for a car!

…but not gone!

And so, on Monday I hear that this never-say-die car is still going. Patrick assured me he was fine – I know he had had sorted the rust a few years ago and given Pavlov a funky black racing stripe from nose to tail – and that he wasn’t belching smoke anymore like he used to in my days as he had obviously had the rings sorted out.

Then he told me that he was driving him to the Eastern Cape for the December holidays.

I shit you not. The little man is still going. After 31 years. I felt like a mom who had just been told that her child had passed his exams with flying colours.

And today? Ah, I now drive another rattletrap, which belongs to The Boyf. And, like a real Barnard, I own a vintage car, which I badly want to restore when I have money one day, but which is currently parked in a garage in Cape Town on deflated tyres and with a broken water pump. Solly Apple’s Scrap Yard is alive, it’s  just spread out over a larger area.


A girl can still dream!

But I have decided that, just once, before I shuffle off this mortal coil, I will drive a really nice, totally functional car. To quote Abba – don’t know where, don’t know when. My friend Emile has convinced me to test drive my dream wheels – a Mini Cooper – within the next year. I’m still so freaked out by the concept of a brand-new car that I haven’t been able to scrape together the courage. And I have no idea how I’ll scrape together the money. But I’ll get there, I’ll get there…

In the interim, I am chugging along in our little Nissan Sentra. So old that my sexy hipster friend Charl recently described it as “retro”. It has a leaky pipe somewhere near the radiator, a hole in the exhaust, you could start it with a nail file and the driver’s door is about to fling itself into the road.

But, know what? It goes. And it forces me to walk a lot, which is good for my butt and for the environment.

So there.


From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: