A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island left of France was also the queen of South Africa.

To balance that, there’s this side of the family.

I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a  Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane, in between Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980. Stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!!

These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. If I haven’t offended anyone – yet – it’s not for lack of trying . .

Add your memories in the comments if you were there!

Granny Bland

Part of the stone wall which surrounded Granny Bland’s home in Stuart Street, Harrismith; and the oak tree her grand-daughter Pat Bland planted.

– Granny Bland’s garden wall –
– The oak that Pat planted –

Our great-grandmother ‘Granny Bland’ was a Caskie who married a Bland who begat Frank (JFA) Bland who married Annie Watson Bain. Bain Sisters Annie Bland and Jessie Bell lived there with Granny Bland after their husbands died. Her granddaughter – Annie’s daughter – Mary and great-granddaughter Barbara also lived there for a while, some sixty five years ago.

The old home now has an artist family living in it and has been beautifully restored.

Granny Bland’s house Stuart Street – renovated again

Post Office Linesman

Dad was a Post Office technician. He applied for ___ which was more technical, but was given electrician. He did his apprenticeship ca.1938 and was soon put on telephones for some reason, given a truck and sent off to Ixopo where he was assigned a “line boy.” Actually an adult to do lots of the hard work for you. His line boy’s name in Ixopo was Charlie.

telephone linesman from pinterest
– testing, testing –

Himeville fell within his area and he got to know the lady in charge of the General Post Office there – Miss Viven Wise. Miss Viven D Wise, actually, which got the young techies snorting as “VD” was rude. She spoke of the Sani Pass up into Basutoland and how beautiful and rugged it was, so when out that way one day Dad decided to see if he could get there. He soon came across a stream he had to ford, so out jumped Charlie to pack stones in the stream so the truck could get across. Soon another stream and the same procedure. After the fourth stream he decided this is going to take too long and turned back.

He also tells of putting in new telephone lines. From one farm to the next the line would go as the crow flies, over hills and through valleys. They’d be allocated long gum poles treated with creosote and they’d take them as close as they could in the truck, but to some places they had to be carried on their shoulders. Heavy and the creosote burning their shoulders, they’d lug them over the veld, dig the holes and plant them.

I’m guessing Charlie did more than his fair share?

telephone linesman handsets
– linesman handsets –

Up the Creek

I can’t really say I was born ‘up Shit Creek without a paddle,‘ but I can say that mere days after I was born I was taken home to our house on a plot on the banks of Shit Creek. And that it would be ten years or so before I owned my first paddle.

The first time ‘I paddled my own canoe’ was years later after we had lost the plot. OK, sold the plot, moved into town and bought a blue and red canoe. As far as I remember the first place we paddled it was in a little inlet off the Wilge river above the Sunnymede weir, some distance upstream of town. Right here:

Sunnymede on the Wilge River upstream from Harrismith FS ca1965

Before this, I had paddled a home-made canoe made of a folded zinc roof sheet, the ends nailed onto a four-by-four and sealed with pitch. Made by Gerrie Hansen and his younger boet Nikolai – or maybe by their carpenter father Jes? We paddled it, wobbling unsteadily, on their tiny little pond in the deep shade of wattle trees above their house up against the northern cliff of Kings Hill.

Then Charlie Ryder came to town, and one thing led to another . . .

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Good school friend Piet Steyl wrote of the wonderful days he also spent in the company of Gerrie Hansen – who died tragically early. He told of fun days spent paddling, gooi’ing kleilat, shooting the windbuks and smoking tea leaves next that same little pond. He also remembered Gerrie winning a caption contest in Scope magazine and getting reprimanded for suggesting Japanese quality wasn’t good. Irony was, they had one of the first Japanese bakkies seen in town – a HINO.

Gerrie used to say ‘He No Go So Good’, and Piet says when it finally gave up the ghost he said ‘He No Go No More’!!

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Shit Creek – actually the Kak Spruit; a tributary of the Wilge River which originated on Platberg mountain, flowed down, past our plot and westward through the golf course on the north edge of town, then turned south and flowed into the Wilge below the park weir;

gooi’ing kleilat – lethal weapon; a lump of clay on the end of a whippy stick or lath; spoken about way more than practiced, in my experience; Here’s a kid loading one:

windbuks – airgun, pellet gun,

Victor Simmonds, Artist

Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.

“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”

– maybe a self portrait? –
– nude with amphora? –
– semi-nude with two amphorae? –
– maybe the Kak Spruit at Glen Khyber? – possibly –

So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad:

Victor Simmonds’ work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $126 to $256, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2012 the record price for this artist at auction is $256 for South African landscape with two women carrying wood, sold at Bonhams Oxford in 2012.

– South African Landscape With Two Women Carrying Wood –
– shrubs beside a cascading stream –

I knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking and at lovecamping.co.za I found this:

– spot on!! – an image locked in my brain for maybe thirty years! –
– sunset, poplar trees, a river – the Wilge near Walton farm? –

A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.

Sgt Culling on Kings Hill

One of Annie’s workers at the Central Service Station on the corner of Warden street and Southey street – the ‘Caltex garage’ as we knew it – was called Johannes. Because he looked so different from the other petrol attendants, we learnt his surname. He was Johannes Culling.

Today I found out a bit more:

The Boer War started in 1899 and ended in 1902, but a lot of British soldiers stayed on in Harrismith until 1913. One of these was Sergeant Culling, stationed on Kings Hill. He, in fact stayed on even longer, as he married a local lady and went to live with her in the ‘location’ called ‘Skoonplaas’ outside town, probably when it was south of Queens Hill on the far (left) bank of the Wilge river.

Dad knows of three children: Johannes, Henry and a daughter. They could not have had an easy life in the Free State of yore and Dad tells of problems: ‘run-ins with the police due to drinking and fighting.’

That’s all I know . . .

Jean-Prieur du Plessis, Texan

I contacted JP du Plessis wanting to know wassup!? Catch me up on your USA sojourn!

He wrote:

Good to hear from you. We’re living in Austin, Texas – since January 2016.

We spent sixteen years in Mandeville, Lousiana – near New Orleans. We raised our kids there, and still have the house there.

Prior stints in Chicago, Illinois, Las Vegas, Nevada and Los Angeles, California. Can’t believe we’ve been here 30 years.

I fondly (jealously!) followed your past road trips through the States on vrystaatconfessions.com – Sorry you had to experience Shreveport!? I get to travel quite a bit for work. I have extensively traveled the Gulf States by road and other places by air.

Hopefully you made your way on I-20 through to Vicksburg and saw the mighty Mississippi River on your way up from Shreveport to New York with Larry Wingert?

I still think that is why I came here: because of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer as well as the fascinating origins of American music in the Mississippi Delta.

We had a great time living in New Orleans. Our daughter still lives there. We’re going there for a few days on Wednesday for a bit of Mardi Gras and work.

Our other kids live in Brooklyn, New York City, Chicago and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Funny….I thought so much of you yesterday listening to a “rubriek” on the New Yorker Radio Hour podcast about this guy who traveled all over the States on his canoe. For two decades! Saying: Hey I’m not lost and I’m not homeless…..I’m just paddling on the water seeing some fantastic geography and meeting very nice people on the way, (paraphrased). He wrote three books (not published). I will try to find the link for you.

I think that may have been Dick Conant:

We have built a new home:

Take an online walk-through JP’s home here.

….now, after a lot of bloed, sweet en trane, we will take Sweet Melissa the Airstream on the road again – to the loud music of The Allman Brothers!

Sweet Melissa

See, learning from you, I have now almost written my first blog!

Cheers brother. Keep in touch…..even better…come visit and take the Melissa the “karavaan” on a road trip. – J-P

Local Knowledge

Another of Dad’s tales:

Koos Mof van Wyk was a bachelor who lived with his Ma out on the Kestell road. One evening he drove home and a Joburg driver drove right up his bum as he slowed suddenly on the main road in order to turn in at his gate.

The Joburg oke was angry, ‘Waddefok maak jy dat jy sommer so skielik stilhou innie mirrel vannie pad!?’

Koos Mof was astounded. Waddefok maak JY!? he yelled. Almal weet dis my hek hierie en ek draai altyd hier in. Ek is Koos Mof en ek BLY HIER!

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Joburg driver: How can you just stop in the middle of the highway!?

Koos Mof: What do you mean!? Everyone knows this is my gate and I always turn in here! I LIVE HERE!