15+5 questions for Toast Coetzer


15+5 questions for Toast Coetzer

His real job is a journalist (he is the travel writer at go!), his side-hustle is tour-guiding and his tithe to society is his involvement in the making of Ons Klyntji. Sometimes he plays the fool in his band, The Buckfever Underground. LAUREEN ROSSOUW asks the questions.


1. Describe yourself in a hashtag.


2. What's the album you listen to the most in your car?

It's been Derek Gripper and Guy Buttery's CD Live in Cape Town for months now. Yes, I listen to CDs in my car (it's another story, but I have an aversion to streaming services.) Gripper's One Night On Earth (2012), on which he plays famous kora songs from Mali on guitar, is probably the music I have listened to the most in the last 12 years. It is effortlessly captivating but never superficial. It never gets boring. I can play it over and over again. This is music for thinking and dreaming and working and driving long distances.

I wasn't at Derek and Guy's concert in Cape Town but was able to buy the CD last year at Guy's show in Johannesburg, where he performed with Madala Kunene — another of my favourites (the album he recorded with Syd Kitchen as Bafo Bafo entitled What Kind? is an all-time classic). I was actually on my way to Botswana but realised I would be able to make the show with a slight adjustment of my travel plan.

Since then, the CD has been in my car's cubby hole and is my instant go-to when I feel like listening to music. But on the long road I usually listen to nothing, I just look, and I'm probably thinking about something but it's hard to say what. Sometimes I miss voices and then I listen to the radio for short periods. (The other CD I bought in Johannesburg that night was Sibusile Xaba's otherworldly album Ngiwu Shwabada, which is a direct line to the ancestors.)

What I also listen to more than music in the car are audio books.

3. Do you pick up hitchhikers?

Yes, sometimes, but less so these days than in the past. Mostly older women. I gave someone a lift last week. The woman wanted to go from Stanford (where I live) to Hermanus's OK to withdraw her Sassa money for the month. The good thing about hitchhikers is that they always challenge your preconceived notions and you always learn something. For example, I would guess that most people who read about a woman who has to withdraw her Sassa money will imagine her as black or coloured. This was not the case. Oh yes, and a few weeks ago I gave three car guards a late-afternoon lift from Lambert's Bay to Elands Bay, where they had to attend a very important car guard meeting. If I understood them correctly, the car guards in that area are unionising.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

4. What is the best book you've read this year?

Now That I’m A House-Hold Name by Matthew Freemantle.

5. Your most disastrous trip?

I never have really disastrous trips (touch wood), but in February the author Tom Dreyer and I set off on a short, powerful reading tour up the N1 from Cape Town to Johannesburg. The idea was simple: I was actually on my way to Botswana (again) but had to drive through Gauteng to get there. So I simply started my trip earlier, with Tom in the car. (He would fly back after our last show in Pretoria, I would drive on to Botswana.)

We left the Cape on Tuesday morning and headed for Prince Albert, where we would read poems some way out of town on a dirt road known as the Skapieseindepad (it passes the old slaughterhouse). Locals meet regularly at the white 5km marker along this road for sundowners (I know, I know, so far nothing about this journey is disastrous, but I feel, for completeness...), and thanks to my friend Sam Reinders, who lives in Prince Albert, we had arranged for a small group of people to meet us there with camping chairs and cool boxes.

As the sun set and our shirts fluttered in the wind, Tom and I then read poems and everything was beautiful. Some time after everyone had driven back to town and the sun had completely set, we sat right there in the middle of the road drinking red wine while the stars said tsau! I should probably mention here that Tom felt a little strange. It's not like it was an omen, but it put a certain spin on the first few days of the tour (which actually had a different name, but Tom later famously renamed it the ‘Raw Essence Tour').

The next day we leisurely drove back to the N1 — I realised at one stage that I'd underestimated how far Bloemfontein still was. That's where our next show was, this time in much more formal company and at a much more formal venue, the NALN (National Afrikaans Literary Museum and Research Centre). We just made it. I still had to pick up aunt Alida Lochner from the nursing home, because I promised her I would take her with me. When Tom and aunt Alida and I waltzed into the sandstone building (the imposing former seat of the Free State government), NALN members already filled the hall, from front to back. Tom felt groggy but powered through his set with the willpower of a sevens player trying to manage the effects of a hangover, jet lag and a niggly ligament at the same time.

The evening was a success. Afterwards, I picked up pizzas for us and we went to find the Airbnb. Around 10 o'clock that night, I opened my laptop to make sure there was no work-related stuff that needed my attention. That's when I saw an email from Suzuki's head office.

Although this part of my tour took place in my own vehicle, a 2007 Subaru Forester, I had arranged to pick up a new Suzuki Jimny (the five-door) in Pretoria. It was part of Suzuki SA's promotional fleet at the time and journalists can sometimes borrow a car from a manufacturer by asking nicely. Since I still had almost three work-related weeks ahead of me in Botswana (research for go! Botswana, one of the special editions of our magazine), I was able to organise the Jimny in my capacity as a go! journalist. You then have to send the manufacturer a copy of your passport and your driving licence in advance, so they can issue the cross-border document for the car.

This is where the story takes a slightly disastrous turn, because the email told me that my driver's licence had expired a month earlier. I immediately took out the licence, and sadly it was the holy truth. This was Wednesday evening and I had to be in Johannesburg on Friday morning to cross a few other work-related Ts and dot Is. For example, I arranged through our advertising department to pick up a tent and some other camping products from Tentco (one of go!'s regular advertisers) at its head office in Boksburg — I would then also test these during my trip. I also had to stop at Fujifilm's head office in Sandton to pick up a camera and lens, which I was also borrowing for testing purposes. And without a valid driver's licence, all these arrangements were in jeopardy. I couldn't pick up the Jimny and I couldn't go to Botswana. In fact, Tom would have to take the wheel of the Subaru from tomorrow as I was not legal on the road.

I started making plans in the meantime and came across the NaTIS website, where I saw that you can prebook a slot to renew your licence at certain offices in Gauteng. I would have to try my best to obtain a temporary licence by Friday. I booked a time for Friday morning at the Gautrain station in Midrand, where there is a licensing centre. And I went to sleep.

The next morning, Tom and I presented a further talk and lecture at a guest house in Bloem until midday. Our gig that night was outside Parys at a new farm venue, the Kaalvoet Kafee. Tom was now behind the wheel as we drove north. We had time, so I decided to go to Brandfort to see if I could get help from its traffic department. It was offline. Apparently the machines that take your fingerprints and test your eyes are inextricably linked and they were out of order. We drove to Virginia and tracked down the traffic department there. On a satellite photo, it would look like anywhere in Mosul. It was also offline. Welkom with its big traffic department was close and we drove there. Same story. Maybe tomorrow, sir? Tomorrow would be too late for me. The entire Free State was offline.

We cut our losses and drove leisurely (I must add here that Tom is a fantastic travel companion, full of enormous stories — we laughed and talked all the time, about Namibia and love and bands and good times) through Odendaalsrus, direction Parys. Tom, who is used to driving an automatic Audi, drove my manual Subaru like an F1 racer and I often had to ask him to please put it in fifth so the revs wouldn't keep on nagging.

Suddenly, mid-sentence, the car stuttered. The road was open and the shoulder grassy and wide like the Free State itself on that blue-sky summer day. Tom pulled over. I looked at the instrument panel in front of him — the tank was completely empty.

Fortunately, I am a member of the AA. Half an hour later — during which Tom and I laughed at our stupidity and vowed we would never tell anyone about this — someone, I think his name was Shane, turned up with five litres of petrol. He was in his 20s with safety boots on his feet and he drove a big Ford Ranger or something and must have wondered about these two uncles with their colourful floral print shirts, soft hands and CA registration.

That night we had a great show at the Kaalvoet Kafee, the people were wonderful and the sun set over the offline but simply unsurpassable Free State. We overnighted with people who sponsored our stay in a lodge where wild animals roam outside, next to the Vaal River.

We were up early and arrived an hour before my appointment time at Midrand's Gautrain station. Next to the parking area, the licensing office is in a type of container. A cool young guy in white sneakers and denims asked if he could help. He showed me to a seat. Everything was orderly. Everything worked. Inside the container there was air conditioning, and other cool young people also wearing white sneakers, T-shirts and jeans were busy at each desk. An older man sat in the back of the container and scrutinised the work of his team over the rim of his spectacles. All four test points (the fingerprint and eye test contraptions) worked. It took almost two hours, but by 11 o'clock I was crouching on the tarmac next to the Subaru (where Tom was already weak from hunger), photographing my temporary licence with my cellphone and WhatsApping it to Suzuki's relieved liaison person. And voilà, Botswana was on the cards again!


6. Scariest place you've had a puncture?

I haven't had a bad experience yet — I don't get many flat tyres and fortunately they are usually somewhere far away from people who could harm me. No landscape is terrifying to me.

7. What can't you travel without?

Except for a valid driver's licence … earplugs. Decent earplugs block out a snorer, a busy road, a mosquito, a party three doors down, a buzzing fridge, your own thoughts, everything.

8. Which is the friendliest town in South Africa?

I don't think there are such things as friendly and unfriendly towns. South Africans are, for the most part, welcoming people, wherever you go. It's easier to see in smaller towns and places, such as Groot Marico and Marnitz, or Lambert's Bay and Elands Bay, or Lady Grey and Rhodes. The important thing to remember is that you are part of the town when you land there as a visitor. If you are in a dark, turbulent mood, you will probably find your reflection in the faces of the villagers. But if you get out of your car and you're smiling and the sun is shining, then the kindness of those you meet there is more likely to come naturally.

9. What was it like to travel without a smartphone?

Yeah, it's pretty funny to think that at least the first 10 years of my time at go! (from 2004 to about 2014, I think I got a smartphone in 2015) happened without smartphones, but you're not missing out if you don't even know what you're missing. At least there were mobile phones and internet dongles (big clumsy ones) with which you could pick up internet somewhere along the way to download emails to your laptop.

But yeah, before smartphones you didn't have to worry about collecting enough ‘content' to put on an Insta Story, or make a Reel or whatever — in other words, you probably had more time to take decent photos with your ‘real' camera and see and experience more with your own eyes. I think a lot about a phrase Johann Rossouw wrote years ago — ‘the tyranny of the immediate' — that which entangles us in the excess of our interconnectivity, while doing nothing, sitting on the stoep, staring into the distance is an equally (actually more) meaningful use of perhaps your last moments here on earth.

I'm addicted to my smartphone but recently I've tried to go for a walk somewhere in the mountains completely disconnected for 10 to 14 days every year just to get some scratches and bumps and bruises again.

10. Do you believe in marriage?

It's not that I believe in it or don't believe in it. I have no particular problem with it, but being single at 46, my built-in resistance to it may have started to get the better of me.

11. What do you find sexy?

Smart and funny people, people with nice shoulders, glasses and eyes, long hair or short hair, books, trousers, a look, a walk, a smile.

12. What is your idea of an “it” girl.

Lead singer in the band, poet of the wind. Proficient in Scrabble. Also comfortable with discomfort. A laugh. 

13. Do you have pets? If so, what are their names?

No, my lifestyle doesn't really allow it. I enjoy other people's dogs, like my landlady's dog, Billy Bob. The last time I had my own dog was at school, a dachshund called Blits. A snake bit him on the farm and he lay under the cypress tree all day long and was dead the next day. He was a good dog. There is currently one dachshund left on the farm, Noetzie. (Unfortunately, a puff adder also got Geitjie the other day.)

14. Who inspires you?

Everyone who makes and creates new things. People who, despite all odds, walk through life with their heads held high. Positive people who work hard and don't care what others think of them. Everyone participating in the Paralympic Games.

15. The person who had the biggest influence in your life?

My mother. And Aunt Koba Neuhoff, who paid for my studies and taught me that as you get older and deafer, mosquitoes don't bite you any more (because you don't hear them any more).

Toast photographing albatrosses (trying!) on board the MV Ushuaia on its way to Antarctica, October 2022.
Toast photographing albatrosses (trying!) on board the MV Ushuaia on its way to Antarctica, October 2022.

16. What are you a sucker for?

Three different flavours of Nik Naks mixed together in a bowl. Lemon pie. A stretch of dirt road that winds away in the distance around a hill. Silhouettes. Campfires. Garden birds. Pointless cricket-watching on TV. My mother's curried lamb kebabs. The seafood snack pan from Vasco Da Gama Taverna, a Portuguese eatery in Green Point. Old books with maps in the front. Google Earth. Someone who speaks Damara or Nama. A mokoro cruise. Moonlight over plains. Barking geckos. Kudus. Beer.

17. Your favourite quote(s)?

I don't really have such things, but sometimes random lyrics come to mind, like now for example, ‘I was looking back at you to see you looking back at me to see me looking back at you' from a Massive Attack song, or, ‘Magnolia, you sweet thing, you're driving me mad' by JJ Cale or ‘In this, a place of our own, we heave domestic sighs' by Matthew van der Want.

18. What poem do you wish you had written?

Clinton V du Plessis's ‘Evolusie’. An extract:

Korter krimp ons sinne
tot 140 karakters word die dink ingeperk
koerante word miniatuurskepies in bottels
die skrywers se foto’s en boeke se voorblaaie groei groter
op die middelblad,
die bespreking word tot 800 woorde beperk:
vermaak, vermaak, vermaak.

19. If you could invite any three people to dinner, living or deceased, who would they be?

Drikus Barnard, Andy Lund, Paul Snodgrass.

20. What are you looking forward to?

A type of sleep that never stops. Danie Marais' new poetry collection. Karl Kemp's new book. The next time I touch a baobab tree. Peace everywhere. A life without fear. Friends getting together. Sunset. Bat-eared jackals in the headlights. October.

♦ VWB ♦

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