Polo the beauty amid the bizarre

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in Paarl

A woman with her hair cut like Ziggy Stardust wore a voluminous dress of Chris de Burgh red and was placed just so in a three-metre tall clear plastic sphere near the end of an august corridor at Val de Vie on Saturday.

The sphere seemed to float atop a pedestal formed by a milky glass half-shell and steel rods, and the whole was set beyond a red carpet lain over chequerboard tiles and below arches fashioned from exposed brick.

The woman played what looked like an engineer’s idea of a giant squid, all liquid red and black, but which sounded very much like a cello.

Her role in the unfolding pantomime was to welcome guests to the ISPS Handa Art of Polo 2017 Invitational, and more than an hour before a mallet was swung in elegant anger out on the greensward by members of the Africa Invitational and World Invitational teams she was applying bow to strings with soulful, sexy skill.

Oh, how perfectly perfect.

Cue discord: a drink fell from a tray carried by a white-gloved, black-tied waiter as he glided past an exhibition of two dozen bonsai trees, and the shock of glass on marble froze a squadron of tightly and uniformly dressed, fiercely maned women of indeterminate function in their skyscraper heeled tracks.

Vodka and ice were everywhere. A slice of ruby grapefruit stared up at the world, flaccid and forlorn. The women stared back, painted mouths open, eyes surrounded on all sides by mascara alarm.

It took something as ugly as a mop to restore the high end order, and that duly happened before too many tuxedos and too much taffeta sidled by.

And then, as if to remind all why they were there, a horse appeared. Sorry, pony. It was the colour of a young Elizabeth Taylor’s hair and it didn’t gallop or trot or canter as much as melt into the scene, framed by the greenest grass beneath and the surreal slump of the mountains beyond.

The curves described by its muscles caught the chardonnay afternoon sun at angles that conjured an exquisite shimmer on its flanks and legs. There was a rider atop, but he mattered about as much as the nail from which the Mona Lisa hangs.

The teams mounted and made their way onto the field solemnly to the theme from the “Last of the Mohicans”. Above the scene a drone, well, droned. In the pavilion, the burble continued unabated.

Four chukkas were played, and the first passed in a thundering of hooves – easily the most dramatic sound in sport – a blur of swinging mallets and nary a goal.

But, early in the second chukka, Jabulani Khanyile, a slip of a man from Nottingham Road, flew along the boards from before halfway and whipped a dagger of a shot from a tight angle and 80 yards out.

Yes, yards – this is a sport that takes its traditions seriously enough to ban left-handed play. Actually, that’s for safety reasons.

Khanyile’s effort roared between the posts and the first goal was born. Ten more would be scored before the final bell sounded, and when it did the Africans – all of them South Africans – had won 6-5.

Several goals were the progeny of penalties, but highlights besides Khanyile’s strike were Mike Osborne’s bazooka from 110 yards and Hiro Suzuki’s brilliance in the last chukka – when he had to guide his shot under the neck of his pony.

And so to the charity auctions, fine dining and networking, which reached a bizarre moment when someone tried to sell this reporter a yacht. A reporter … A yacht … Fancy that.

The polo? You were beautiful, darling.

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