Sweet transvestite memories at class reunion

2011-03-03 00:00

FOR those readers who do not realise it, there is only one faculty in South Africa which offers a course in veterinary­ science. Onderstepoort is a faculty of the University of Pretoria (Tukkies), situated just outside the northern suburbs of Pretoria. Here tousle-haired youngsters meet and emerge seven years later as professionals­.

There are, in my opinion, a number of reasons why the friendship bonds created as students at Onderstepoort are long, fast and intractable. It is a long, difficult course in a confined environment­ and we all followed the same goal, which tends to group us as people with similar interests. As students­, too, we were more tolerant, more flexible and we did not have the prejudices that success and materialism develop.

Fast-forward 30 years: the superficial­ wrappings change, the bellies protrude, the hairlines recede (and the pigment deserts what is left, like a captain leaving a sinking ship) and lines and wrinkles appear.

Some people cover their physiques with Dolce & Gabbana, but others prefer Protectowear from the local co-op. Some carry a venneer of success and others are weighted by misfortune or loss. Most have diverged into desperate fields of endeavour and carry with them 30 years of new memories and experiences.

But five minutes into the reunion and these changes are unnotice-able. The essence of the persona does not change with time.

The reunion is not spoilt by the absentees­. In fact, it is enhanced. The memories of those who are no longer with us, those who are overseas (a classmate reckons about a third of the class, but this statement was made late at night in the pub and no one else was showing enough cognitive skills to check his maths) and those locals who could not make the get-together, evoke as much discussion as those who are present.

It also does not matter that time polishes­ the memory so that differences in detail are gradually removed. The more the stories are told, the more the edge is honed, and the more poignant the result. As a result of this, although many of the same stories are told at each successive reunion, their appeal never dies. In fact, they improve as the skill of the teller improves. It also helps that with each successive reunion our spouses become more integrated until they too become part of the history.

Ah, the memories. It would astonish the readers to know, for example, that many well-respected veterinarians were initially appalled at the sight of blood and guts. One big guy actually fainted next to me in our first anatomy practical. Mind you, it was pretty intimidating: a hall filled with a miscellany of mammalian carcasses, from horses to cats, all preserved in formalin, the all-pervasive smell invading not only one’s senses but every pore in one’s body, until the line between specimen and student became blurred. And all this time, our professor, his skin as wrinkled as the brow of the Shar-Pei specimen, would walk around, in his white dust coat and dark tie, poke the stem of his ever-present pipe deep into the carcass and say in his broad Afrikaans brogue, “Bliksem, meneer, don’t you know the difference between an aorta and an oesophagus?” or “If the deep femoral artery was just under the skin it would be called the blerrie superficial femoral artery.”

A story that gets repeated at every meeting concerned an annual rugby derby that was played on the Onderstepoort fields, between us, the hosts, and the Tukkies medical faculty. The story goes that we were getting a thrashing. A change of strategy was needed so at half-time the opposition oranges (remember those days?) were doctored with chloral hydrate, which, in those days, was used as an anaesthetic agent for horses. There was a definite change of fortune in the second half.

Then there was our first big dance or jol the year we arrived. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was the theme. To celebrate this memory we decided to make this the theme of our reunion dinner. And the guys rose to the occasion, although the mists of time had smudged the memories of the movie characters for some. Our colleague from Johannesburg (Brad), in tweed jacket and thick- rimmed glasses, could have walked out of the pages of Horse and Hound. Our boy from Estcourt was a dead ringer for Ozzie Osbourne, the Zululand representative was a superb riff-raff while I (typically, some would say) was a tart. The vet from Namibia looked like a Bavarian beer drinker and our host and hostess resembled a Swiss cheese maker and his chamber maid.

But the star of the show was the sweet transvestite himself who displayed physical attributes that made some of the females in the party green with envy and, as the evening progressed, some of the males entertain less than chivalrous thoughts.

Nothing really changes.

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