James Bond, I hate you. How dare you destroy Beetles? Beetles?! The cutest car in the world? Ag nee man. (A literal translation of that Afrikaans phrase would be "oh no man". It's mostly used as an expression of irritation, but it's also an indication of resignation or sympathy.)
I recently saw the movie Skyfall. I'm not a particular James Bond fan – I vaguely recall seeing a Pierce Brosnan movie set in North Korea a few years ago – but I figured a buff Daniel Craig might be a better Christmas Eve option than a metabo Santa Claus. So off I went.
I enjoyed it, decided yet again that London is a great city, marvelled at Scotland's rugged beauty and thanked my lucky stars that I don't have to travel on London's Underground every day. (Are the trains and platforms really that narrow and that crowded? I can't recall.)
However! James Bond kills Beetles! He crushes several Beetles with a backhoe while pursuing a baddie on the roof of a train in Turkey. You can see it in this video if you fast forward to 2:54.
I cringed when I saw that. When I lived in South Africa, I used to have a Volkswagen New Beetle called Hobbit. No, it wasn't just a nickname, it was his official name, as in his registered personalised number plate. I still have it. Here it is:
I first saw a New Beetle in the late 1990s in San Francisco (isn't that the perfect Beetle location?), and it was love at first sight. I had to wait a while before the car was introduced in South Africa, but my name was on a waiting list and I had one of the first New Beetles in Africa. Fact. It was so new in those days that people involuntarily stopped or swung around to look at it, and I received so many spontaneous grins, hallos, waves and "nice car" comments.
My obsession was widely known. I was working at a television company in those years, and our advertising agency decided to surprise me with a birth notice in the classifieds of Jo'burg's biggest English daily when I finally collected my car. He also, in his lifetime, featured as a prop in a few television shows. That – coupled with his number plate and the fame of The Fellowship of the Ring, which was released in 2001 – made him famous.
I had to sell him when I moved to Japan.
When I went to a Volkswagen dealership to drop Hobbit off, my friend Vox (nicknamed after the Latin phrase vox populi) followed me in his own car so that he could drive me home again. I handed Hobbit over, walked to Vox's car, sat down in the passenger seat … and finally lost it, for the first time since my decision to leave home. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was heart-broken and sobbing like a child.
Vox sat next to me, waiting quietly. He's very good with goodbyes. That's why he always gives me a lift to the airport at the end of my South African holidays.
Then he offered me a small pack. "Cigarette?" he wryly asked this ardent, very vocal non-smoker.
That made me laugh, so there I was, a snot-nosed sobbing laughing exhausted wreck.
I miss Hobbit. I miss Vox. I miss …
Here's Hobbit, but unfortunately you can't see his number plates in this photo.
That was my yellow house, which I called Die Piesangpaleis or The Banana Palace for obvious reasons: it was yellow, it was in a banana republic and a banana tree grew next to the front door. I'd already lived in that house for a while when I first learned that Japan's beloved poet Bashō named himself after a banana tree that his students had planted at his house in Fukagawa.
That's yours truly in front of the house. Whenever I see this photo, I start laughing. Look at my pigeon-toed pose! Dear heavens, I was clearly meant for Japan.
I remain hyper-aware of Beetles. I spotted this one at a temple in Nishi-Sugamo a few days ago. Now is this ultra-cool or what? A Beetle, a temple and a tree. Happiness.