May you have a blessed Jewish New Year 5782!
"On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets
[Yom Teruah]." (Numbers 29:1)
The High Holy Days have once again arrived, and Rosh HaShanah (traditional Jewish New Year) begins tonight!
In the Bible, Rosh HaShanah is called Yom Teruah, the day of sounding the shofar. (Leviticus 23:24)
Steve De Witt
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THE CRAZY MAN FROM THE SAS
Having worn Browns long ago, we connect easily with soldiers from other armies. Across the world I’ve met men who fought in WW2, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. Some of them are real characters and make a deep impression on you.
One such man was re-packing a garage in London. Walking past, I saw him struggling to manoeuvre a ski-sled on the pavement. Instinctively I helped him push it. Tall and aristocratic with narrow eyes, he was about 20 years older than me.
“Jolly good, thank-you.”
“I’ve never seen a ski-sled,” I said. “We don’t have them where I come from.”
“And where’s that?”
“Ah,” he said, “I know Cape Town. Were you in the South African army?”
“Yeah, I was. Did you also serve?”
“I served in the SAS but was dishonourably discharged. Dreadful business.”
“You went AWOL?” I laughed.
“Not quite. I blew up a dam wall I didn’t like. Didn’t go down well. I’m Ran by the way.” He offered a handshake then flicked on the kettle at his workbench. “Cuppa tea?”
Strange guy, I thought. Never met someone who blew up a dam wall. Especially one he didn’t like. We sat outside on plastic chairs, watching the world go by.
“What was wrong with the dam wall?” I asked.
“It was ugly," he said.
Bizarre. I drank some tea. Time to change the topic.
“Were you ever deployed with the SAS?” I asked.
“Deployed? Well yes. Shot a few Irishmen in Belfast, jolly good sport. Then went off to fight in Oman. Dreadful business.”
“There was a war in Oman?”
“Oh yes. The Sultan called me up and said ‘Now look, Ran, the Communists have taken over 40% of my kingdom. Can you sort them out?’ So I did that for a bit…”
Okay, I thought. Far-fetched but I’ll humour him.
“Did you sort them out?”
He stroked his chin. “Well I was there for two years. Reported back to the Sultan and said ‘Sir, the Communists now run 80% of your kingdom.’”
He sipped his tea thoughtfully.
“So I lost that job,” he said. “Dreadful business.”
“Well,” I said, “I know the feeling. We lost 100% of Namibia in the end…”
He roared with laughter.
“Ah well, good to meet another loser.”
“But we won the war,” I tried to explain. “Never mind, it’s complicated. Did you lose any other wars after Oman?”
“Ah well, I needed a break from war, you know. Went searching for the Lost City of Persia instead. Found it eventually. Took me a few years. Lots of digging.”
This guy was either mad or the world’s greatest bullshitter, or both. Yet there was something magnetic about him, his imperious stare and absolute self-confidence.
“Well I was rather tired by then, as you can imagine. Thought I’d go canoeing.”
“Good idea,” I said. “I’ve done some canoeing myself…”
“Yes,” he interrupted me, lost in thought. “I paddled from Egypt to the source of the Nile. Right through the Sudan, you know. Dreadful place. More tea?”
And so he continued waffling, me struggling to process his outlandish tales.
“And what’s with the sled,” I asked eventually.
“Ah,” he said dismissively. “Old and broken. Need to sell it. You looking for one?”
“Not really,” I laughed. “How many miles has it done?”
“About 5,000,” he said. “I rode it across Antarctica. And Greenland.”
His claims were getting too wild now. Did he think I was an idiot, believing all this nonsense? Time to go, I reckoned.
“Well good meeting you,” I said, standing up.
Just then a neighbour walked by with his dog.
“Morning, Ran,” he greeted.
“Ah, Jim,” he answered. “Cuppa tea? Sit down, meet my friend from Africa. He lost Namibia to the Communists.”
The old man shook my hand.
“You lost Namibia to the Communists? My God, you’re as crazy as Ran.” He pulled up a chair and sat down, scanning the polar equipment in the garage. “Still going to walk across Antarctica, Ran?”
“Oh yes,” said Ran. “Tired of walking around shopping. A man needs more adventure.”
The old man nudged me in the ribs.
“He’s quite bonkers, you know,” he confided. “First man to circumnavigate the world, north to south.”
My jaw fell open as I finally recognized him. The legend himself - Sir Ranulph Fiennes - the world’s greatest explorer. So says the Guinness Book of Records.
He poured a cuppa for Jim and sat down again.
“You don’t a have a garage in Cape Town, do you?” Ran asked me suddenly, his eyes lighting up. “I need somewhere to store my stuff before sailing to Antarctica.”
* * *
Fast-forward a year or so and I’m in the pub in Cape Town with a mate. He’s just in from Argentina, having climbed a mountain near Ushuaia. His cheeks and nose are red with frostbite.
“Looks like it was pretty cold down there,” I say.
“You don’t say. Ushuaia’s the closest town to Antarctica. Small place, fucken freezing. You won’t believe it, I met a mate of yours down there.”
“Exactly. Crazy fucker. You think I’ve got frostbite? You should see him. He’s just walked across Antarctica.”
“I heard he made it. Incredible. First man to do so.”
“You’ve no idea,” said Charles. “Pulling a sled in minus 20 degrees for 4,000 km. That’s wider than the USA. No road, just crevices. Nearly killed himself out there. The oke’s a madman.”
“Oh, he’ll be in Cape Town next week. Says he wants his stuff from the garage. Expect a call.”
* * *
And call he did, a week later.
“Where are you, Ran?” I asked.
“In a hotel. Dreadful place. Just leaving to give a talk at the university,” he shouted down the phone.
“Awesome - I’d like to hear that.”
“Well come along then! See you there in an hour. Beattie Building.”
I quickly phoned my friend Sarah, Ran’s greatest fan. She’s read every book he’s written and hangs on every word about him. Have I got a treat for you, I said. I’ll fetch you in 20 minutes.
Into the parking lot at UCT we pulled, late for the lecture. Seems we weren’t the only ones. Wandering around lost was a skinny man – he must’ve lost 30kg - with large black blisters covering his face and hands.
“Ran?” I called.
“Ah, thank God you’ve appeared,” he said, striding over. “I’m late. Dreadful campus, don’t know where the hell I’m going.”
Sarah and I stared at him in shock; he was in seriously bad shape.
“Do you know the way?” he asked hopefully.
“The Beattie’s down that road. Fourth building on the right.”
“Jolly good, see you there,” he said and ran off.
Sarah had said nothing so far but looked at me in wonder.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re such a guru,” she said. “The world’s greatest explorer asked YOU the way.”
© Steve de Wit