I attended the plaaslikeschools 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 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980. Stayed in Durban and got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.
‘Strue!! These random – un-chronological – 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!
Arthur Kennedy arrived in Harrismith like a dwarrelwind. Why we were so lucky as to get Arthur to our town I don’t know, but I think his wife Zita had family here. I think she was related to the Kerkenberg mountain van der Bosch’s? Someone who knows must help me here.
He opened a motel on the N3 on the south-east end of town – at the Jo’burg-Durban-Bloemfontein junction – or the Warden-Swinburne-Kestell junction you could say if you weren’t going to drive far.
The motel – Kennedy Motel – was going to have a restaurant suspended over the road so diners could watch the road as they munched their mixed grills. All the Durban-Joburg traffic – the busiest rural freeway in South Africa by far – would have to drive underneath them. But meantime the motel and petrol station had to be built, plus all the rooms – the chalets. A cable car to the top of Platberg was also in the pipeline, according to Arthur. Big plans!
The Kennedy family stayed right on-site in novel half-round semi-portable wooden bungalows above the building site and below the track that was an extension of Vowe Street, below the SE end of Hector Street. Arthur was very hands-on and was deeply involved in everything. He made the cardinal apartheid error of starting to pay his workers more than the “known” Harrismith wage which, according to Steph de Witt, got 5ft 6 inch Arthur a visit from 6ft 4 inch Koos de Witt, Steph’s Dad. Steph says Koos found Arthur in a foundation ditch. He jumped in next to him and “explained” to him in international language how he was not to bend the “local rules” of wage exploitation.
Later he built a triangular house of wood above Vowe Street – a huge novelty for the town. It was next door to the du Plessis home, and Pierre and I hopped the fence and inspected it while under construction. The bathroom had a novelty in it which we hadn’t seen before. We didn’t know it was called a bidet, but we spotted right away what it was for. HaHaHa! Our schoolboy humour kicked in. Arthur’s initials were AW (were they? or did we invent that?) and we proceeded to call him Arse Washer after that bathroom furniture that so tickled our crude funny bones. We weren’t always Methodist-polite, ’tis true.
He even became a town councillor, this foreign rooinek in the vrystaat! If America could have a President Kennedy at that time, why couldn’t we have a possible future mayor Kennedy? Quite a guy was our Arthur!
The Cupboard Snake
For a while the Kennedys lived in the middle of town – in or near the house where Nick Duursema lived, near the circle in Warden street, just down from Arthur Grey’s corner store. That’s where the puff adder landed on top of the bedroom wardrobe.
The first and last puff adder I saw ‘in the wild’ was in Hector Street outside our house in about 1965 when – ware vrystater that she was – Mother Mary ran over the poor thing in the blue VW OHS 155. Doelbewus! Swear! The old man was called out from the pub. He came home, caught it and put it in a box which he gave to Zita Kennedy to give to Tommy van den Bosch. Maybe he’d first stunned it with a blast of cane spirits breath.
Tommy lived against the slopes of Kerkenberg and wore a cowboy hat and played the guitar. He’d sing you a mournful – or toe-tapping if that was your poison – cowboy song at the drop of a hat. His cowboy stetson hat. He collected snakes and took them to the Durban snake park who paid him by the foot. They estimated this puffy at five foot, though of course that length may have grown over time! SSSSS – Snake Stories Seldom Suffer Shrinkage.
That night in bed just before lights out Arthur Kennedy asked Zita “What’s that box up on the cupboard?” She hadn’t finished telling him and he was already out in Bester Street opposite the ou groot kerk near the traffic circle in his tiny pie-jarm shorts shouting “Get that thing out of there ! I am NEVER going into that house again until that thing is gone!” and other earnest entreaties.
Strange fear, as he was fearless in other ways: Who can forget Arthur Kennedy dressed only in a white Tarzan loincloth – which looked a bit like a nappy – swinging right across the hele stadsaal on a trapeze above the gob-smacked and ge-be-indrukte Harrismith mense? And outdoors upside-down high on a thin pole above the skougronde? Fearless aerobatics and acrobatics.
But a snake on his cupboard? That was too much for him!
For a while he made Harrismith seem part of the wider world! A bit like this:
On the big day celebrating South Africa’s freedom from the tyranny of Mrs British Queen, Arthur gave a stunning performance on his own equipment down at the President Brand Park in front of a full pawiljoen of ge-be-indrukte Harrismith mense! Dad filmed it:
Arthur ran the mountain race and, further proving his commitment to Harrismith he married again – a second local girl – much, much younger than him.
dwarrelwind – whirlwind, tornado, breath of fresh air
Doelbewus – on purpose; Swear! ‘Strue’s God! Gentle Mary did that. In those days you did. The only thing that made you think maybe you wouldn’t drive over it was the story that it would wind itself around your axle and then climb up into your engine, then under your dashboard and THEN pik you on the foot! Swear!
ware vrystater – genuine free stater; born and bred in the free state, as was her mother before her (who would not have been celebrating the 1961 demotion of QEII from monarch to foreign tannie)
tannie – auntie
ou groot kerk – the old Dutch Reformed Church, the Moederkerk
Back around 1962 we joined the du Plessis on a beach and fishing holiday on the Natal north coast – Chaka’s Rock! They were beach regulars, this was one of our two beach holidays that I can remember. It was amazing! The cottage on a hill above the beach, the rocks and seaside cliffs, narrow walkways along the cliffs that the waves would drench at high tide; magic swimming pools set in the rocks. The men were there to fish:
We baljaar’d on the beach and sometimes even ventured into the shallows – just up to safe vrystaat depth. A swimmer I was not and I still vividly remember a near-death experience I had in the rock pool: a metre-high wave knocked me out of Mom’s arms and I was washed away out of her safe grasp! I must have been torn away by up to half a metre from her outstretched hands; little asthmatic me on my own in the vast Indian Ocean for what must have been a long one and a half seconds. Traumatised. To this day I am wary of the big-dam-that-you-can’t-see-the-other-side-of.
Before we learnt to drink beer on the banks of the mighty Tugela, we drank oros and water while observing our elders drinking beer on those rocks on the same bend in the river. Here’s an old 8mm movie taken back in the early 1960’s – before we followed suit in the seventies.
Note Kai and Gee in the motorboat and Barbara and Bess paddling in the shallows. Check out Doc Reitz’s old Chev OHS 71.
Sheila kept all Dad’s old 8mm movies and has now had them digitised, saved on a memory stick! I’m slicing and dicing and joining them and saving them ‘to the cloud.’ Here’s the clip of Gretel, Joyce, Mary and Isabel walking along that stunning driveway along the (amIright here?) Grecian columns to the old double-rondawel thatched homestead:
Mom Mary Bland learnt to play the piano on her Granny Mary Bland’s upright Otto Bach at 13 Stuart Street. Her sister Pat didn’t play, but when Granny died the piano had to go to the older granddaughter. But how to get it there?
Jack Shannon had a bakkie and he volunteered to schlep it to Blyvooruitzicht, or as the Cowies called it, ‘Blayfore’. It got dropped at some stage in the loading or offloading and had to be repaired when it got there. All was well.
Years later Pat died and Bill decided it should go to Barbara as she played, and his daughters Frankie and Gemma did not. So another farmer with a bakkie was roped in to schlep it back from Blayfore – this time long-suffering husband Jeff Tarr carted it to PMB or Howick or Greytown (must ask Barbara). Barbara still has the piano – now in Linda’s home on their farm Umvoti Villa.
Meantime Mom had bought another: an upright Bentley. Marie Bain had bought her daughter Lynn the Bentley hoping she’d learn to play ‘like Mary’. Well, Lynn never took to playing, so Mom bought it from Marie for the same £100 she had paid for it years before. This was the piano we were so privileged to grow up with at 95 Stuart Street, listening to Mom playing Hymns, Classical and Popular music. Who could forget the late night drinking songs when the Goor Koor gang would gather round her and bellow out their alcohol fumes, cigarette ash and varying levels of talent with gay abandon.
Mom still has the Bentley in PMB and still plays it beautifully. They’re upright pianos, not ‘grand’ pianos, but they certainly have been a grand part of our lives from about 1920-something – Mary was born in 1928 – to 2019. And more to come.
Here Mary at 90 plays someone else’s piano. Her classical pieces she always played with the music score in front of her. She can no longer see well enough to read it, so mainly plays her popular pieces by memory now.
We grew up to these sounds in the background. How lucky can you get!? These next few classical pieces are played by some wonderful pianists who are almost as good as Mom in her prime!
I remember a few times getting so overcome by the music – melancholy or something? – I’d run down the passage and get Mom to stop playing! weird.
Found this picture on the ‘net. It says “The Doors Nightclub Johannesburg”. It reminds me very strongly of my impression of an unusual night on the town with young Fotherby, back in the Jurassic.
I was just as boring then as I am now. My idea of a good night out was find a pub, drink a lot, laugh.
Well, Fotherby thought there must be more to life than that – even though she was from Kimberley out – and so she announced one night that we were going to a nightclub.
A what? Of course I’d heard of them, but I didn’t think they allowed FreeStaters in. Shuddup And Let’s Go was the reply and also Don’t You Have Anything Better To Wear Than That?
You can’t believe it! I was wearing what I had worn since shortly after the rinderpest: Boring shirt, plain pants, brown shoes. What else would one wear?
Sighing, she lifted up my collar so at least I would look slightly different, mussed my flowing locks a bit and then ordered me to drive the grey and grey 1965 Opel Concorde to some dingy back street, somewhere near Joubert Park I think. Don’t park near the door, I was told. Even though we were in the grey and grey 1965 Opel Concorde. Amazing!
At the door the bouncers looked us over and because we looked suave and masculine – or maybe as we were with attractive nubile lasses – or maybe cos we paid – let us in. I can’t recall who else was with us – I only had eyes for the delightful Fotherby, of course. I remember an entrance hall and then a huge area filled with people, smoke and noise. Huge. Only later I realised the heavens were the ceiling. The ‘room’ could be as big as it was because we were actually sort of outdoors. Boys danced with boys and girls with girls and some mixed. Getting a drink was a mission. Why the hell would anyone want to go to such a place?, I thought.
I still think that.
Stephen Reed wrote:
If I was there, the memory could well have fallen between the sizable cracks between the ears.
I do remember one night coming down Smith / Wolmarans street towards the Doories Res, full to the brim with alcohol with you and Fotherby in the car and Forsdick I think.
The Austin Apache was purring along nearing it’s rather modest V-max when you decided to pull up the handbriek as we went through the intersection with Steil Street or Gould street …
Shrieks of protest from the back seat as the Apache battled to retain its composure . .
On reflection, that may have been on the way back from a nightclub, but just as likely from the Dev or maybe Float-Building.
Either way, we were well oiled. But not the girls.
We must have at some time visited a nightclub or two. We may need to call in someone with less damage to the hard drive.
I have just had a look on the ‘net and Bella Napoli comes up – Pretoria St Hillbrow – we musta been there surely?
But The Doors nightclub – still has me wracking my brains
Problem is sometimes our carefully stored and index’d memories are filed on exactly the grey cells targeted for destruction by that particular binge.
As you know, one of my oft-repeated mantras is the trouble with marriage is wimmin have such good memory glands; or – as I prefer to put it – we have much better filters; discretion!
And as I once told you, that particular handbriek trick was a Pierre du Plessis invention. We used to pile into his Mom Joan’s Ford Prefect for a lift home from swimming lessons. As we piled in we’d all say a loud and cheerful HI BEAM! to the light on the dash that said hi beam.
Then he’d wait for just the wrong moment – usually where Joan had to drive around the inconvenient Moeder Kerk – and yank up the handbriek so the car would do a sideways slither to her consternation. Trouble is, she had such a sense of humour and loved ole duP so much she could never actually get cross with him!
So we never learned.
handbriek – handbrake; a car handbrake, not . . . forget it
I know very little about Boschetto Agricultural College on the slopes below Platberg and above the town of Harrismith, Free State, so I’m writing this hoping someone who knows more will make sure we preserve the history.
“No successful South African settlement for women’s agricultural or horticultural training appeared until Miss Norah Miller, an émigré from the Edinburgh College of Domestic Service, acquired a farm and began receiving students in 1922, forming the basis for the Boschetto Agricultural College.”
‘Boschetto’ is Italian for a copse or grove.
I found a 1931 video clip on Boschetto showing the students working in the grounds of the college. Platberg can be seen in the background. They’re seen milking a cow, making butter, spraying trees with fertiliser or pesticide, and tending to beehives wearing protective clothing.
Here’s something on a Boschetto graduate:
Gwendaline Bessie Ryan was born on 22 January1917 in Keiskammahoek, Cape, the daughter of Hugh Joseph Ryan and Louise Alvilde Thesen. She was educated at Boschetto Agricultural College in Harrismith. Gwen founded a dairy farm at Charlesford, on the Phantom Pass near Knysna, and was a keen horsewoman – in one article she is called the doyenne of Cape polocrosse – and was a well known horse breeder. Gwen also bred racehorses. She ran a horse livery yard and riding school from the farm and held regular polocrosse events at the Old Drift.
Gwendaline married Col Robert Devenish, Dep Commissioner South African Police, son of Robert Devenish, of Rush Hill, county Roscommon, Ireland, on 29 Nov 1952. Gwendaline died on 8 August 2002, in Knysna, Western Cape, and is buried in Knysna cemetery.
Another Boschetto old girl Rosemary Dyke-Wells was in or near Kruger Park in the 50’s. Mom & Dad Pieter & Mary Bland Swanepoel visited her on their honeymoon.
People often rail against cuckoos and use all sorts of pejorative descriptions about them and their ways. Hey! Cuckoos gotta do what cuckoos gotta do. Nature. Survival of the fittest. Evolution. Life. Bird life.
Consider three things: 1. Cuckoos have no alternative. This is the ONLY way they can breed; 2. Cuckoos eat a whole bunch of caterpillars, even the ones with poisonous hairs and barbs. We need cuckoos. 3. Anthropomorphising animals is never a good idea. Cuckoos aren’t little feathered humans deciding ‘What the hell, I’ll drop the kids off at a neighbour’s house and abandon them there.’
So I’m always disappointed when people use descriptions like ‘nasty cheat’, ‘treacherous’, ‘deceitful’, etc when describing cuckoos. Many birds like hawks and eagles who do bring up their own young catch and kill other birds – including baby birds taken from their nests – to feed to their young. It’s all just nature, people!
In fact the ‘arms race’ between cuckoos trying to lay their eggs in their hosts’ nests and the hosts trying to thwart the cuckoos makes for fascinating natural history. And every now and then one might even get to see it happening! I did once and this story of an African Cuckoo coming to a sticky end after trying to enter an Indian Mynah nest reminded me of it.
My encounter was on the last day of a Dusi Canoe Marathon back in the nineteen eighties. I was drifting along on the Umgeni River just upstream of the big N2 bridge across the river, wishing the current would do a bit more to get me to the finish at Blue Lagoon, when I heard a ruckus and saw a bunch of weavers chasing and mobbing a bird. As I got closer I saw it was a Diederik Cuckoo pulling its best aerial dogfighting maneuvres to try and escape the mob. Even flying upside down much of the time so its claws could fend off the pecking. To no avail. They beat her down into the reedbed and then down the reeds onto the water. Then I was past the scene of this neighbourhood vigilante action. So I didn’t see the end and don’t know if the Diederik was actually killed, as the Mynahs in North West Province killed the African Cuckoo. Fascinating!
Thanks to rockjumperbirding.com for the Diederik and hbw.com for the African cuckoo photos.
Steve Reed visited SA from Aussie. He’s a Vrystaat boykie, mainly Bethlehem and was the mayor of Clarens – the first son actually – so was on a visit home. He wrote:
visiting my bro in Johannesburg we had plenty of jams and preserves
all from “Annies Kitchen” in Harrismith. Wouldn’t be the famous
Ann Euthemiou from Harries, would it?
not the gorgeous young Annie the Greek, another Annie from
Harrismith, a contemporary of my gran – who was also Annie.
Leon Strachan was one year ahead of me at Harrismith se Hoerskool. Lived on a farm, but his gran lived next door to us in town. He hopped over the fence one day to come and moer me for my insults. He was giving me a good and well-deserved whipping when Sheila came to my rescue, jumping on his back and beating him wif a bamboo, putting him to flight.
Good oke, he’s written a few books about Harrismith. I have one, Sheila has loaned me four more. He farms black nightshade (nastergal) and makes that mauve jam with black berries we called masawba – more correctly umsobo or sobosobo – of it. Also other jams. They branded it ‘Annies’ after his rooinek gran. Like me he had a Dutch side Strachan and an Engelse side Davie. ‘Twas his rockspider gran what lived next door.
info from the defunct harrismith.co website:
Op Nesshurst met sy allemintige dam groei en besproei Leon en Elsa Strachan nastergal wat hulle in die plaasfabriek inmaak om die wyd-bekende Annie’s konfyte met die veelkleurige etiket met twee tarentalete op te maak. Jare lank reeds sien ‘n mens nou oral in die land die bekende flessies met nastergal en tot soveel as twintig ander soorte konfyt. Die beroemde Annie’s konfyte van Nesshurst.
Nastergal (Solanum nigrum) dra bossies klein, ronde bessies wat donkerpers is wanneer hulle ryp is.
Translation: Leon and Elsa Strachan make lovely jam (American: jelly) on their farm Nesshurst near the Free State / KwaZuluNatal border. They use Solanum nigrum berries, European black nightshade. Although parts of this plant can be toxic, the real deadly nightshade is a different plant. This one’s berries are a dull, powdery, dark purple in bunches, the deadly one has single glossy black berries.
Well it was blerrie lekker konfyt. And he obviously did not moer any significant amount of sense into you from what I have been able to observe.
My eldest brother Doug (68) looks after his health, having had a couple of stents a few years ago. He cycles furiously (the Argus, the 96.4 or whatever long races are going) and golfs twice a week. His one weakness is for the blue cheese, crackers and Annies preserves, accompanied by bottomless refills of post-prandial brandy, port or whatever other alcohol comes to hand. I spent seven nights with them and woke up with a headache on all seven mornings. He woke me up fresh as a daisy with heart-stopping strength coffee every day. Most mornings I was in an arrhythmic state as a result. He couldn’t understand what the hell was wrong with me.
Harrismith se Hoerskool – Harrismith High School
moer – thump; when Steve said it: educate
Rooinek – English-speaking; Pommy
Engelse – English, but usually not from England; more “not Afrikaans”; Like when any new product or gadget impresses, someone might say admiringly “Dis wonderlik wat die Engelse kan doen” even if the gadget was made in Sweden
blerrie lekker konfyt – bloody nice jam
The pics of the museum on Nesshurst are from Harrismith’s best blog deoudehuizeyard.