The life and times……
“I came to Chintsa to settle down”, Fred says as we sit outside Nostalgia Coffee Shop chatting on a crisp winter morning. “By the time I moved here, I had done it all. People don’t realise that about me.”
I remember the first time I was told how old Fred was. I just could not believe that he was in his mid 60’s – that was soon after I first met him, over ten years ago. Now in his 70’s, with less teeth but the same capacity as ever to eat steak, he continues to cut a striking figure in the village as he arrives each morning on his scooter to open up the business. The new one that is – Nostalgia Coffee Shop. How will Chintsa ever be able to disassociate Fred from Chintsa East Store or rather, ‘Fred’s’? I doubt they ever will. That’s just how it is.
After 20 years plus as the face of the business and the voice on the end of the line, answering, “Chintsa”, FRED of FRED’S will remain forever embedded in the annals of Chintsa history. A friendly greeting and a warm smile was always on offer at the shop no matter what kind of day Fred was having and some of those days could be challenging:
“I had to be careful you know”, Fred tells me. “Now ‘The Shop’, that was the information centre. I would listen to Jack in the morning and listen to John in the afternoon each having a good moan about the other. What was I suppose to do? It was tough. Everyone told me everything. Jeff and I heard it all. Jeff was behind that counter with me for 10 years. He is like family. You get to know someone that way. We worked well together. Sometimes when it ‘was on’ we were running around behind there, but we never got in each other’s way. We had some moments! You should ask Jeffrey about ‘the twins’.”
Jeff conveniently arrives at that point, to say good morning and I grab the opportunity to ask him about ‘the twins’. It turns out to be a ‘twin peaks’ kind of tale –well worth hearing, but that is for another day….)
Meanwhile Fred picks up where he left off,
“There was this guy named Frank. Frank Symons. Each Sunday he would call me at the shop to ask me to keep him a copy of Die Rapport Newspaper. But then I didn’t hear from him for a while but I did hear that he had taken ill. Shortly after, his brother comes in, takes one look at me and burst into tears, then leaves. Well what was I suppose to do with that? Clearly Frank must have passed away. So I told people. It was only sometime after a pray service had been held for him at the church that I answered the phone one Sunday to hear his voice on the line, ‘Fred, Frank hier. Hou my Rapport.’ I got such a shock! ‘Frank’, I yelled, looking straight up into the sky, ‘where are you phoning from?’”
“ So yes, I had to be careful. But it was great. I loved every single minute of it behind that counter. The people -they made it. I met people from all over. They were always leaving foreign currency with me to stick up along the top of the counter. A Jap once sent me 1000 yen note after a holiday here, but Marion, she grabbed that one!”
By the time I arrived in Chintsa I only heard rumour of Fred’s gun. Perhaps it was those rumours that safeguarded his business so well. Shortly after their first season someone did manage to break in the shop through the back door late one night. “He never made it out though”, Fred tells me. “First thing he stumbled upon was a case of Paarl Perle and that was him. Tickets. He got too drunk to steal anything else.”
Fred tells how a local farmer welded a security gate for the back door and charged them R700 – quite steep in those days – but he guaranteed that no-one would get in through that entrance again – promising to refund the money if ever they did. That was the first and last break-in.
But that gun….. “Shortly after we arrived I caught a guy stealing a pack of chicken. I followed him out and yelled to him to bring it back. He ignored me and kept walking. By the time he reached the bin outside what is now the bottle store I was ‘the moer in’, so I fired a shot into the ground. Well, he threw that chicken almost right back into the shop and took off like his pants were on fire. Marion made me keep the gun in the safe after that.”
There was another time though when Fred was sorely tempted to use his magnum 357.
“A big ou from out of town arrived to put petrol in his car and my guy was busy with another customer. Becoming impatient, the big guy started yelling and swearing at my petrol assistant. I told him that he couldn’t talk to my staff that way and that he simply would not get any petrol. He stood in front of me yelling some more and telling me what I could and couldn’t do. ‘No my friend’, I explained, ‘ it doesn’t work that way’, my hand itching, but at that very moment a local walked in, took one look at the guy and gave him one to the face – boof. The guy dropped straight to the floor, lights out. We put him back in his car and left him there to recover and think things over. That was how it was. We didn’t put up with nonsense, none of us.”
Fred comes from South African stock that he can trace back the Boer War. He was born in the April of 1939 in Memel in the Free State. His Dad was a banker and his Mom worked for Nelsrus Dairies. As a youngster he attended a Jewish Primary school where he got his English grounding and finished up at Afrikaans Boys High in Pretoria. After school Fred spent some time working for Coke making his way up to PR for the whole Northern Tvl Region. These were when his travelling days began. Sent to the World Fair in Japan, 1970 Fred mingled with the other 52million folk that passed through the gate that year.
“Coke also sent me to Paris. I drank the champagne and watched the Follies – not something us South Africans were used to, you know. But I enjoyed it, tities and all. You get used to that stuff fast!”
Fred has always had a soft spot for kids and animals. He has had six kids of his own during the course of his life. Four are still alive. He lost a daughter from his second marriage at birth and another daughter was tragically killed as a young adult. He considers Jacques (Marion’s son) his own, and both Marion and Fred think of Jeff as yet another son.
When Fred’s second marriage came to an end he spent 10 years alone before he met Marion. These were the years of fast living.
On a school trip to Harry-Smith as a young teenager, Fred had his first encounter with the world of betting. The group stayed over on a farm for the night owned by a well-known South African race horse breeder. The farmer allowed Fred to sit on one of his finer horses and the moment Fred did so the horse moved into racing gear heading straight for a nearby fence.
“The farmer ran after us yelling like crazy, clearly worried about the horse, not me”, says Fred. “At the last moment he managed to distract the horse from the fence but I went flying, landing spread eagle flat out against the wire. So after that incident horses were not really my thing, but casino’s, now that was another story.”
Fred spent quite a bit of time during his wilder years travelling to and from the USA. Close friends with the then Sherriff of L.A., he hung out with Movie Stars, Country -Western Legends and Sports Greats of the time. He even managed a visit to Mexico in the early 80’s, something unheard of for South Africans during the apartheid era. But Fred had the contacts. The Great American Rodeo Supporter, Gene Autry owned a hotel in L.A. and Gerry Cooney, known as ‘The Great White Hope’ because of his unusual status as a white heavy weight boxer, had set up a training camp in this hotel as he prepared for the world title. Roy Rogers was also a part of the gang.
“Good times”, says Fred. “Between L.A. and Vegas with a bit of Monte Carlo thrown in on the side -where I lost my pants the one time – those were good times.”
He talks about arriving home to Jan Smuts after a particularly exciting trip where he had played out every last cent. “Man, I couldn’t even buy a cup of coffee at the airport. I was flat broke. I had maxed out all my cards. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the cops had been waiting for me when I arrived.”
But through all the good times, something beautiful, deep and strong was missing in Fred’s life.
At that stage Fred was alone and running a business in Butterworth. In need of a bit of down time he took a trip to Queenstown to visit a friend. “I had just planned a short visit but I ended up buying another business there with Marion included in the deal. It was the best deal I’ve ever done!”
Marion, the owner of Wilco Take-Aways, recently divorced and with baby Jacques on her hip, was just what Fred needed in his life: a bit of direction and strong loving with someone who understood the trade as well as he did.
“We didn’t make a big deal about it. We had both been married before. Marion played squash with the local magistrate so we asked him around to our flat, got married, took our staff out for a drink at the hotel and the next day it was business as usual.”
Fred and Marion settled into a good life in Queenstown. As a team they ran their businesses, raised Jacques, and took monthly breaks in Chintsa, packing up after close of business on a Saturday and heading to the coast for the night. “There was very little here at that stage”, Fred tells me, “three bungalows at Crawfords where we used to stay, a handful of locals and the shop.”
Sometime in 1990 Marion was in bed reading the Farmers Weekly when she pointed out to Fred that a business was for sale in Chintsa.
“Can’t be”, said Fred.
“Is”, said Marion, “it is the same dialling code we use for Crawfords.”
“Call” said Fred.
“What for?” asked Marion.
“Just call”, said Fred. “I am so tired of these bloody cold winters.”
And that was that. Businesses sold and a new one bought by the coast.
“But we couldn’t sell the house”, Fred tells me. “We had put a lot of work into it and didn’t want to just let it go. Finally I said to Marion, put up the price by R30 000. She looked at me as if I were mad. But she did it, and the next day a chap walked in and paid cash.”
The rest as they say, is history. A history that many of us have been privileged to share, through the Indian Ocean Clothing Company Days, the Indian Ocean Pub and Grub Days (before Sea Breeze and Barefoot), the Laundromat Days, the Jeff Days, the Bakery Days, the Bottle Store Days, the Stray Cat and Dog Days, the Bird Feeding Days, the Early Morning Chat Days, the Hub and Heartbeat of the Village Days ~ The life and times of Fred Janse van Rensburg.