Secret songs of windmills

Sue and Max Hoppe with their new book Picture: Salvelio Meyer
Sue and Max Hoppe with their new book Picture: Salvelio Meyer

A pair of Port Elizabeth “fogeys”, as they call themselves, have ventured far off the beaten track to honour the humble “windpomp” – and this time they’ve imagined the songs these iconic machines might be singing when no one’s listening!

Whether it’s to Jordan or Joubertina, Bulgaria or Barkly East, with every trip Sue and Max Hoppe undertake, they make a point of looking beyond the mundane.

In 2014, this couple from Richmond Hill – she’s an artist and he’s involved in business administration – self-published a cheeky photographic book on what windmills might get up to when no one is watching.

The book was such a hit that it has just been reprinted for a third time. And now they’ve followed it up with a second book based on the songs these often battered machines might be singing on the sly.

The Hoppes, who have been married for 40 years, launched their new book and website at a function at Savages in Park Drive last week, where it was a savvy choice for guests eager to send Christmas gifts to South African family abroad.

The soundtrack playing in the background also included some of the songs the pair had chosen to illustrate The Climax Collection 2: The Secret Life of Windmills.

Many of the pictures, and their accompanying titles, have interesting back stories.

“We came across this one (a windmill picture they have titled Power of Love) in the Northern Cape, between Britstown and Richmond, on our way home from Kgalagadi,” Sue said.

“At that stage we were still compulsively photographing windmills, but hadn’t yet decided on the angle the new book would take.

“We were still thinking in terms of naughty captions, like the first book. I have a thing for power lines, they look to me like music in the sky, so initially we stopped so I could go nuts capturing the sweeping curves.

“It was only when I zoomed in that I saw the distant windmill, perfectly positioned.

“We whooped with delight, and thought in terms of ‘a powerful climax’ but, when we decided to do song titles for the new book, it was a no-brainer . . . Jennifer Rush’s Power of Love was a perfect fit!”

Then there’s the picture titled Romeo and Juliet, after the song by Dire Straits: “We were visiting a farm in the Klein Karoo with friends when we found that one of the windmills had collapsed next to the other.

“By this time, we knew we were going to be doing song titles, and we were all having a good laugh, tossing around possibilities for captions, when our friend came up with Romeo and Juliet.”

Their two windmill books are by no means the couple’s only forays into publishing. Much of their wanderings across Southern Africa were undertaken in Koos, Max’s less-than-reliable Hyundai Terracan, whose frequent misdemeanours sparked a book of its own. Travels/Troubles with Koos was released in February, also under the Hoppes’ label, El Gecko Publishing – a clever play on the artist El Greco, whose work Sue admires.

Interestingly, it was their fresh and humorous take on life that sparked their decision to go it alone on the South African publishing scene.

Having done the layout and editing of the first The Climax Collection book themselves, they soon realised, given its slightly naughty premise, that the book was perhaps a little “too edgy and alternative to be picked up by a conventional publisher”.

“So we sold a kidney or two and printed it ourselves,” Sue quipped.

Following this baptism of fire Travels/Troubles with Koos emerged and, just like The Climax Collection 1, is doing well around the countr y.

In addition the couple have added 10 e-books, in PDF format, to their ever-growing stable.

One of these is an Afrikaans version of Travels/Troubles with Koos, translated for the couple by Mignonne van Heerden and available as Padlangs/Probleme met Koos, and a follow-up titled More Travels/Troubles with Koos. Travels Abroad looks at Max and Sue’s journeys further afield, to Turkey, Bulgaria, the Emirates and Jordan, through the lenses of South African travellers, and they have also done four companion books, with black-and-white photos, titled Postcards from Turkey, Postcards from Bulgaria, Postcards from the UAE and Postcards from Jordan.

The print- and e-books are sold from their new site, designed by their daughter, Karen Vollaire, who also lives in Port Elizabeth.

Karen had no previous web design experience, yet has managed to pull off an attractive and user-friendly site that also has a section for other merchandise, such as windmill and Koos gift cards and calendars, as well as the Karoo Poppies – ragdolls hand-made in Graaff-Reinet as part of a community project.

Karen clearly takes after her resourceful and apparently fearless parents who, up until two years ago, had never ventured into publishing.

The bug has sunk its teeth in deep: Max has written a series of children’s books, about African wildlife, which are being illustrated by Bay artist and architect Theresa Hardman, and should be ready for print in a fortnight’s time.

Then the big task of self-marketing the new travel titles begins . . . and no doubt, Koos is relishing the prospect of another sure-to-be-eventful road trip!

It is the Hoppes’ can-do attitude and their always optimistic outlook that draws readers to this pair and their madcap adventures.

“Ever since we met we’ve shared a passion for travel and photography, and we both love to see the world with open eyes and minds,” Sue said.

“The result of all this has been so positive – that one small idea, and some windmill photos, has turned into a growing indie-publishing enterprise and a story with a happy ending!” she said.

The Climax Collection 2: The Secret Life of Windmills is published by El Gecko Publishing and available online at, as well as at Fogarty’s at Walmer Park and other outlets.

The recommended retail price is R220.

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