A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955 as was Mom Mary in 1928 and Gran Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk.

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 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: With one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Add your memories in the comments if you were there!

Early Self-Driving Cars

Reminds me of thinking WTF? at the wheel of my puke-green 1974 Peugeot 404 station wagon on the corner of Musgrave Road and St Thomas near the Robert E Lee nightclub of old after hearing a loud thump left rear. What could that be? I asked my companions, but them being drunk they just thought whatever it was it was hilarious. Irresponsible passengers!

Either the pavement had leaned forward and caught the wheel and whipped the tyre off the rim, or the self-driving car had irresponsibly cut the corner. Nothing to do with me, but now I had to try and change that tyre while planet earth was rotating dizzyingly all round me irregardless. Peugeot having not yet perfected the self-changing tyre. My companions were only a handicap, giving raucous and useless advice. They’d been drinking.

And do you think the planet would just cool it for a minute and rotate and revolve less vigorously while I wrestled with the diplopia, the wheel and the swaying? No, in fact I swear it accelerated somewhat. Probably a Chandler wobble happened just then, moving the wheel about 9m from where I was trying to change it. It happens every 433 days.

Being a superb handyman and able to handle my liquor, and by leaning my forehead against the wheel-arch, I got the wheel changed and we staggered into the Robert E Lee and ordered a round, the drunks still telling me what I coulda, shoulda.

In the morning I staggered to the window in Wakefield Court Doctors Quarters in Durban’s Point Road area to look down at the Peugeot parked below in Prince Street. That feeling of relief that it was there and the mystery as to how it got there. Auto-pilot. Who needs Elon Musk?

1974 Peugeot OHS 5688_2
This colour – but a handsome French wagon like the feature pic –        OHS 5688

Of course I no longer do that shit. In fact the last time I acted irremesponsibly was LONG ago in Mocambique after a few mega R&R’s (rum n raspberries). I was much younger. Must be eight, nine years ago. And I wasn’t driving. A drunk driver on the sand roads in the dunes was trying to shake me off the roof of his 4X4.

So why can’t my kids just skip this portion of their lives? I ask. I also ask critics of self-driving cars, ‘You really think cars can do a worse job than some of us drivers?’


My first R&R actually astonished me, true. The barman in Ponta da Oura (you guys will remember his name) filled the 500ml beer tankard with ice then poured cheap rum out of a plastic bottle to 1cm from the top. NO! I laughed, Whoa! Not so much! He looked at me in genuine concerned sadness and said “It is too late. I have already poured it”. I understood then, as I watched him add a splash of Schweppes raspberry. This was how it played in Ponta. I girded my loins. It would have to be done.

Bugged by Bugs in a Red Bug in Canada

north america map

Stage Three – Stage Three – of my Great North American Road Trip started in Cobleskill in upstate New York, where Stage Two had ended.

A red VW Bug swept up the drive and out poured three lovely Okies and an Aussie. Sherry Porter, owner of the Bug and twins Dottie and Dale Moffett. Sherry had been a favourite high school teacher of the girls in Ardmore a few years prior. Jonathan Kneebone was an Aussie, a character, say no more. Liked a beer.

We headed north to the Canadian border. At the border the man leaned in, asked “All American?” and was about to wave us through when Jonathan and I said “Um, no”. “Australian” said Kneebone and the man made to step back again and wave us through when he registered what I had said. “Uh, come with me please sir. I need to check your passport,” he said. An hour later we were off again – to Montreal. That’s where you see Dottie sitting on the grass.

On to Ottawa where we saw Indira Ghandi on a state visit . I’m not sure I’ve seen another head of state ever. Oh well, one’s enough.

Somewhere around here I dinged Sherry’s car! “I’ll drive!” I shouted as we headed for the pub. I promptly reversed and BANG! I got out and saw to my great relief – how horrible was this!? – that I’d hit a huge pickup with a bumper a yard deep; not a scratch on it! Poor Sherry’s prize VW wasn’t so lucky. I wrecked her left rear fender and light and I had no money to pay for the damage. DAMN!! Sherry of course was an absolute star about it, bless her!

Dottie, Dale, Jonathan, me and Sherry in Sherry's Bug: Canada here we come!

Then Toronto, Waterloo and up around Lake Superior, Sudbury, Sault St Marie, Thunder Bay. What a sight Superior was! Biggest stretch of fresh water imaginable. For a Vrystater, awe-inspiring! We camped en route wherever we could squirrel away for free. Here we used a rock for a mattress. We had just woken up but Kneebone was already being Australian!

Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?) in Canada
Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?)

Once we stayed in an old railway station converted to a sort of backpackers, the track ripped up and turned into a trail. Then we needed to go canoeing. When in Canada, canoe! So we hired two boats in Quetico National Park, Lake of the Woods (take all these names with a pinch of salt; these are 45yr-old memories!). Internet pictures of the area:

After one night we turned back and ran, tails between our legs! We had spent the day trying to dodge dark clouds of midges and no-see-ems, or black flies. When you ran your hand through your hair it came out covered in blood. That night we pitched the tents on an island in a cloud of mozzies. We lined up with our kit, zipped open, dived in and zipped up immediately. So fast that we only had fourteen million mosquitoes in the tent, a fraction of what was hovering and zeeeee-ing outside! Ama-azing! Canada sure has bugs!!

But what beautiful country:

Lake Woods 3

As we’d cut our canoe trip short we decided to carry on into Manitoba, but Canada is vast, so we soon cut back and headed south for the US border at International Falls, into Minnesota, across the Mississippi River where its still quite small and headed south for Iowa, where I had to leave the gang.

My host family from Apache Don & Jackie Lehnertz were up there and would be driving me back to Apache via Iowa, Missouri and Kansas on Stage Four. I’m afraid I slept a lot of that trip!

map Road Trip USA Home to Apache 1973



Road Trip Out West

Jim n Katie Patterson, wonderful host family in Apache took girlfriend Dottie Moffett and I on a special trip out west, driving across the Texas panhandle to New Mexico, where Jim’s Mom Merrell had a cottage outside Red River in the Sangre de Christo mountains.

Granma Merrill's Cottage outside Red River
Granma Merrill’s Cottage outside Red River

Here we stayed with the gang – the wonderful group of Apache friends the Pattersons hung out with: Manars, Hrbaceks, Mindemanns and Paynes.

After a terrific stay there, we headed off to Vegas in their Ford LTD via Colorado and Utah

Colorado1973 (4).JPG
The LTD, with Dottie Moffett, Katie and Jim Patterson

In Colorado we rode a historic steam train from Durango north to Silverton.

Then via Utah, where we visited Bryce Canyon and Zion NP.

Bryce Canyon small

In Vegas we stayed at The Stardust on The Strip. I learnt to gamble, I learnt to win. I battled to lose. Dottie was a good luck charm! I kept winning small amounts so kept on and on gambling, determined to lose. Finally as dawn approached we were down by a considerable fortune – $10 – and could go to bed.

We saw Joan Rivers being delightfully rude and Petula Clark warbling away (also Joan warbled a song and Pet told a joke!). I learnt a Vegas rule when saw Jim slip the doorman a cri$p note to get us a good table!

1973 Vegas strip scene

After Vegas we stopped off at The Grand Canyon: We stared down at this awesome sight from the lookout on the south rim. We only had a few hours there, so we’re just look-see tourists. Suddenly I couldn’t stand it! I had to get down there.

I started running down the Bright Angel trail. It’s about 10km to the river. I’ll give myself an hour, I think. The run was easy on a well-maintained track with the only real obstacle being the ‘mule trains’. Only once I had to step off the trail and let a bunch of mules pass. I made sure I was on the upside!

Bright Angel trailhead
Bright Angel Trail seen from the South Rim. Grand Canyon NP, Arizona.

At first it was all open desert trail, but at Indian Gardens I was surprised by the amount of greenery in the canyon. From the rim it looks like all desert, but in the protected gorges there’s green shrubbery and even some tall trees.

Indian Gardens Grand Canyon.jpg

In well under an hour I got to just above the river. I stared in awe at the swiftly-moving blue-green water. I had never seen such a large volume of water flowing clear like that. Our South African rivers mostly run muddy and I wasn’t expecting clear water. Right then I thought I MUST get onto this river! I’d started kayaking a couple of years before, but if I’d been asked I’d probably have said on a raft, little knowing that in eleven years time I would kayak past that very spot, under that same bridge in 1984 on a flood-level river!

bridge grand canyon.jpg
1973 on foot

The hike back out was steep, but hey, I was 18yrs old! Cross-country running had been my favourite obsession the year before, so no (or an acceptable amount of) sweat!

In ’84 I arrived under that bridge in my kayak. Here our supporting rafts heave to:

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (27)
Same bridge eleven years later in a kayak

Then we headed home, by and large following the old historic Route 66 – the new I40. Flagstaff Arizona, Albuquerque New Mexico, Amarillo Texas, and back to Oklahoma. Me to Apache and Dottie on to Ardmore. What a wonderful trip!

I learned later:

  • The name Colorado was for its muddy colour and its clarity is in fact an undesirable artifact because of the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell upstream;
  • The 10km climb down Bright Angel is about 1000m vertically, and every metre you’re going back about 100 000 years in geological time!
  • They tell you Do Not try to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day!
  • Jim has hiked the rim to rim hike through the canyon a number of times since – an annual pilgrimage – the last time he did it he was 70!


***most pics off the ‘net – I’ll add my own when I find them!***

Road Trip with Larry USA

My four-stage 1973 road trip started in Apache Oklahoma. We drove down in the Ford LTD in Stage One to stay with Mama and Papa Hays, Katie Patterson’s folks, in Shreveport Louisiana. There we ‘visited’, played golf and ate superbly. Larry and his sister Ginny joined us, having driven down from Cobleskill NY and we got ready for Stage Two of my Great North American Road Trip: Heading north-east in a grey Volkswagen Bug.

Ginny, Katie, Mama Hays, Jimmy, Papa Hays, Larry, Mary-Kate in Shreveport LA
Ginny, Katie, Mama & Papa Hays, Jimmy, Larry, Mary-Kate – Shreveport LA

One more passenger meant we needed a U-Haul carrier on the roof.

Larry VW Bug Shreveport

I remember surprisingly little about this trip north-east! We left the Red River and crossed the Arkansas River near Little Rock; I remember camping:

Larry VW Bug Camping

I remember crossing the mighty Mississippi River in or near St Louis, where the Missouri joins it;

The only thing I remember clearly is hoping my ID would be checked at the door when we went for my very first legal beer at a TGIF bar in Missouri (it wasn’t).

And I remember getting to Larry’s hometown Cobleskill, a beautiful little town in upstate New York, and meeting his parents.

The Wingert's place in Cobleskill NY

That’s a really vague and sketchy recollection of a magic route! Larry doesn’t remember much more. He’s going to ask his sister Virginia.

The Bedwetters

Me and Sarah. When one of my favourite comedians Sarah Silverman wrote her autobiography she compared herself to Ernest Hemingway and Fyodor Dostoevsky,  classing herself as a brilliant and serious writer . . that’s Sarah. Bashful.

And also bashfully, her book’s ‘afterword’ is by God. He – yes, HIM – writes about Silverman in the year 2063, on the occasion of her death at 93, with the epitaph “She loved dogs, New York, television, children, friendship, sex, laughing, heartbreaking songs, marijuana, farts, and cuddling.”

In the book she tells how at age two she would make her father laugh by saying “fuck”; She admits to avidly smoking marijuana; and she tells how she wet the bed until age sixteen. It was an important enough part of her childhood that she titled the book after that fact. That’s what I love most about Sarah: Her honesty.

Well . . I wet my bed until I was eleven or twelve, too. So I am glad to find out other good people did as well.


Nocturnal enuresis, also called bedwetting, is involuntary urination while asleep after the age at which bladder control usually occurs. Bedwetting in children and adults can result in emotional stress. Can and did!

Bedwetting is the most common childhood complaint. Most girls achieve bladder control by ages 4–7 and most boys by ages 4–6. By ten years old, 95% of children are dry at night. I was a five-percenter.

Most bedwetting is a developmental delay – not an emotional problem or physical illness, so most treatment plans aim to protect or improve improve self-esteem – and my Mom certainly did that. At first she’d help and reassure, but as I grew older, I would kick almost automatically into a procedure Mom gave me: I would wake up horrified, jump up, roll up the wet sheets, soak them in the bath, wash, put on dry piejams and go back to sleep. The mattress would be protected by the plastic sheet we put under the bottom sheet. Usually only me and Mom would know. Thanks to her, here I am, relatively unscathed!!


  • thanks wikipedia


The Good Old Days – That’s Now

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days

than a bad memory – Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960), American columnist & wit


Steven Pinker has data and figures for important things in this world we live in and how these things have changed over the years.

And some people hate him for it! They know the world is worse than it was in the ‘good old days’, but he shows data that shows how some things – a lot of things – have actually improved.

Wars still go on, including the worst war in a generation in Syria, but by and large the trend in war has been downward. A fraction of the number of people are killed in wars today, compared to the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.

In fact, five-sixths of the earth’s surface is free of war. That’s an example of a kind of trend that you can’t really pick up from the news because when a country doesn’t have a war, it’s not news.

Child mortality is down.

Maternal mortality is down.

Illiteracy is down. Ninety percent of the world’s population under the age of 25 can read and write.

We’re even getting smarter: IQ scores have been rising by three points a decade for almost a century. (The Flynn Effect refers to the observed rise in IQ scores over time).

We waste less of our waking hours on housework.

We work fewer hours.

We have wider access to culture.

Many, many more people who would have lost contact with their families can now phone home.

Its much easier for people working far from home to send money home.

All these developments won’t make the news, but give you a bit more confidence in the way the world is heading, says Pinker, to boos from people who seem to dislike – and distrust – good news.

Part of the problem is when pessimists speak they speak in serious, sober tones and people tend to nod gravely. Optimists tend to be more upbeat and human nature looks on that with misgiving – as though the optimist is being (heaven forbid!) frivolous! Years of listening to dominees and politicians have made us think pessimism is serious – and thus true.

If we could go back to the good old days of our youths we would hear our elders seriously complaining about how bad things are!


See this TED talk: Steven Pinker: Is the world getting better or worse?