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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!

Long-winded and Langdradig

Corrie Roodt was the Barclays bank manager and Mom say he and his wife Lettie were great friends to her and Dad. But ‘Boy, could she talk! She could talk up a storm!’

Mom had a real good laugh as she remembered the story: Lettie was apparently famous for her lo-ong stories.

Once they went overseas and when they got back Theunis van Wyk said to Mom:

“Mary, I just hope I don’t bump into her until she’s over it.”

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landradig – long-winded; tedious; um, can you get to the point already?

 

Harrismith & District Gymkhanas

Dad remembers the gymkhanas he took part in and so enjoyed in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

They were held in Harrismith, Eeram, Verkykerskop, Mont Pelaan and Aberfeldy; and on the farms Appin near Swinburne, Primrose near van Reenen, and Maraishoek.

The entry fee was one pound per event – and prize money was less than the entry fee!

Events included Tent pegging; Sword and ring; Sword; Lance & ring; Potato & bucket.

Races were the bending race, we’ll need to ask him what that was; and the owners race, where the owner him or herself had to ride, no hiring a jockey!

Regular participants he recalls are Manie Parkhurst Wessels; Bertie van Niekerk; Kerneels Retief; Richard Goble; John Goble; Kehlaan Odendaal; his son Adriaan and his daughter Laura; Laurie Campher; Hans Spies and his kids Hansie, Pieter and Anna.

Dad says he was the only non-farmer riding! Kerneels was usually his partner.

gymkhana-tent-peg

**  internet pics  ** If anyone has some real Harrismith district gymkhana pics I’d sure love to display them – with full acknowledgment of course.

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Here’s footage from a gymkhana in Cape Town in 1940. With hilarious Pommy-ish commentary.

Platberg Shellhole

We always called it The Moth Hall, and for a while it was where Dad was probably drinking. But it was more correctly called Platberg Shellhole of the M.O.T.Hs – The Memorable Order of Tin Hats. And there was an older shellhole before that one – an older ‘Moth Hall’. It was down opposite the Royal Hotel; down near the railway line.

This was where old servicemen would lie to each other and themselves in song:

“Old Soldiers Never Die;

Never Die, Never Die;

Old Soldiers Never Die;

They Just Fade Away.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back then they were all survivors of WW1 and WW2. Only later did they take in ever-more members from ever-more wars. And there’s an endless supply of those; the armaments industry sees to that.

The things I remember about the old shellhole was playing in the dark next to and behind the building – big adventure; And seeing 16mm movies, with big reels whirring in the dark; some were sponsored by Caltex and other companies; I remember Hatari! about yanks in darkest Africa, catching animals for zoos; It starred John Wayne, but who was he to us, back then?

Hatari_(movie_poster)

and Northern Safari, about a 4X4 safari in the Australian outback with a very annoying theme song “We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari! We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari! We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari!” ad nauseum. We loved it!

Northern Safari movie poster

What the folks would remember, if the truth be told, would be booze and sing-alongs and booze and skits and booze and plays; these were the order of the day. * click on the pic * if you want to read some names.

MOTHs names-001

Seated on the left here next to Mary Swanepoel and Trudi Else in full voice, is Harold Taylor, veteran of WW1. Under those voluminous trousers is one wooden leg. The other is buried at Delville Wood. He would take his turn standing next to the piano singing:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Etienne Joubert remembers:

The old MOTH hall was not opposite the Royal Hotel but in the vicinity. In fact it was next to Llewellyn & Eugene Georgiou’s home. It was near the railway line below the G’s house.

I remember Ray Taylor who had some shrapnel in his head, not Harold with a wooden leg; also Uncle Jack Hunt; Arthur Gray & of course your folks. I also remember playing in the dark outside. I remember my first sip of beer which I did not like; but I overcame this in years to come to absolutely love it!

I remember the song A Long Way To Tipperary; The piano was very rickety, as was the wooden floor, which squeaked with the slightest step. On the walls were very big portraits of Winston Churchill & Jan Smuts; Dan Pienaar was also there, but smaller; and a pin-up of Jayne Mansfield. This pin up made it to the “new” Moth Hall.

One thing I did not like was helping my Old Man clean the Shellhole on a Saturday morning; the smell of stale beer & cigarette smoke remains very vivid in my memory.

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Still nostalgic?

 

 

 

and here’s Vera Lynn, 101 yrs old and still going (Nov 2018). In 2009, at the age of 92, Lynn became the oldest living artist to make it to number 1 in the British album chart.

 

 

Bains in Zululand

The Bains in South Africa that descended from Stewart and James Bain of Sarclet and Wick, Scotland, who built railway bridges from Ladysmith in the British colony of Natal to Harrismith in the British Orange River Colony, then settled in Harrismith and built and ran hotels, now only have four male Bains left, despite having had seven and nine children respectively. These four are the sons of Peter Bain, son of Dudley Bain, son of Ginger Bain, son of Stewart Bain of the Royal Hotel . . . I think. I may have my facts slightly muddled.

In the year 2000, after two years of adventure in the UK, Chadd Bain returned to Mevamhlope in Kwa Zulu Natal. In 2001 he became involved with an orphanage called ‘Nkosinathi’, building, providing beds and blankets, organising food donations, and teaching the residents to grow vegetables.

Bains Zululand

 

In late 2002 Chadd met Kate, and they married in September 2004.

The first Orphan Christmas party was held in 2002 for 80 kids. The next year they had 150 children. The next year they decided to do more and started with educating 17 of the kids.

In 2009 Chadd was tragically killed in a motorbike accident in the sugarcane fields. He was only __ years old.

Kate and Chadd’s Mum Shelley and their team have carried on and continued to grow Izulu Orphan Project (IOP) ever since. Do go and have a look at the sterling work they’re doing.

Read a bit about Chadd’s grandad Dudley here

And about his first-to SA ancestors here

And about his Scottish roots here

 

Possible Lost Opportunity

In the shadow of old Platberg this weekend I sat down to lunch with an array of superb swimmers at my table. On my right was Sonja du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer; and on my right was Lyn du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer; and on my right was Pierre du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer. And that got me thinking of the days I’d line up next to the pool and on my right there’d be nobody. Nobody.

That’s because I’d fought (and easily won, you’ll see why) for the right-most lane in the shallowest part of the pool at swimming lessons. On my left was Francois vd Merwe, coming up to my navel; and on my left was Deon Joubert, coming up to my navel; and then some even shorter girls; That blerrie whistle would shriek, they’d dive in and I’d jump in – bravely; I’d sink to the bottom – very bravely – then kick powerfully in the direction of the distant other side of the pool. We were swimming breadths. The older kids – some of them as old as my younger sister Sheila and the even-younger Sonja – would swim lengths.  A few kicks off the bottom and much spluttering and gasping later I’d finally get to the blessed sanctuary of the other side of the pool just short of an asthmatic panic attack, sometimes even earning a podium place – well, if there were absentees due to coughs and colds and Harrismith’s notorious cold weather.

At about the same time I was also not a rugby player. I was in the u/11 second team it’s true, but that’s because there were 29 players and number 29 clearly deserves his place in the second fifteen-man team, nê? So although you could honestly say I was there on merit, there are also lots of other things you could say and I caused poor Giel du Toit much sadness and despair. But at the end of the season, a long season in which he had given me much encouragement and sympathetic ‘moenie worries nie’, he did an amazing thing. He did not say ‘Luister volgende week is netbal proewe, nê?’ No. What he actually did, I swear, this is Giel’s gospel and it is amazing. He had a rush of something to somewhere and he made me captain of the u/11B team for the last game of the season.

So there I was two days later, in Vrede, barefoot in orange, holding the ball and running onto the field at the head of an orange line of fourteen laaities doing something I almost never got to do: Holding the ball.

The rest is history: I scored the winning try against the olde enemy; I grew five inches that summer; the next winter I was the tallest oke in the u/13 team; and I scored the winning try against Grey College in the last game of that amazing season. So although Giel may have fluked it and definitely didn’t have anything to do with my growth spurt; and although he may have thought that was going to anyway be my last rugby game ever, he nevertheless changed something in my brain that day. It didn’t last long, but was fun while it did.

And thinking about this long-forgotten little tale, sparked off by sitting amongst those swimmers which, let’s be honest, may have sparked off a Caster Semenya-like debate had DNA testing been available – I mean did they have mermaid genes? dolphin genes? – made me think something else: Why didn’t Joan and Joyce think of something that could have sparked me off Mark Spitz-like? I dunno: Maybe choose me to hand out the oranges at half time at a gala or something equally inspirational?

Makes you think. Joan and Joyce may have missed a big one here.

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nê? – just nod; except, not about the netbal

‘moenie worries nie’ – tut tuts

‘Luister volgende week is netbal proewe, nê?’ – Look, you don’t have a talent for rugby, OK? maybe you can sing?

laaities – athletes of note

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Sheils & Bess.jpg
Two Length Swimmers at the scene of the torture

 

What a Lovely Reunion!

Pierre & Erika, Jacquie, Pikkie and me. Joined by the much younger Bonita who is seeking a single, life-long, male partner and who got much invaluable advice from us wiser, more experienced – OK, old – toppies. Mainly: “Don’t”.

We had gathered in the old home town to run the annual Harrismith Mountain Race, and some us even did just that. In fact, we even won one of the trophies on offer!

Harrismith Mtn Race 2018 (46)

Pierre and I? Well, we gave much invaluable advice as wiser, more experienced – OK, old – ex-participants on that subject, too. Mainly: “Don’t”.

We were joined in the advice department by Lyn & Sonja du Plessis, Ina van Reenen and James Bell – all in the giving afdeling, none of us in advice-receiving.

Harrismith Trip

We had to wait in the post-race chill for prize-giving to receive our trophy:

Harrismith Mtn Race 2018 (1).jpg

OK, its true that Jacquie Wessels du Toit did all the actual winning per se, but still, it felt like a team trophy.

The weekend started off chilly, a full table-cloth blanketing the mountain and a fresh east wind-in-the-willows, as seen in this picture, but it ended off perfect, as per the top picture, taken on Sunday from the top of Kings Hill. The robots changed when we drove thru, the clouds dissolved and the sky turned blue . . . . and everybody loves me baby, what’s the matter with you?

Harrismith Mtn Race 2018 (6).jpg

Saturday night at Chez Doep was delicious fresh home-made mushroom soup and bread ala Erika with light smatterings of alcohol and layers of sage advice (yep, more of the same), all of which was ignored. Bonita still seeks Prince Charming and Pikkie and Jacquie are going to run again.

Hulle wil nie luister nie.

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Hulle wil nie luister nie – invaluable advice spurned

invaluable – Of great value; costly; precious; priceless; very useful; beyond calculable or appraisable value; of inestimable worth; See?

Quinquireme of Nineveh

I remember one poem from high school. One.

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rail, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

Cargoes – by John Masefield

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quinquereme – ancient Roman galley with five banks of oars on each side;

quinquereme roman

Nineveh – ancient city located on the outskirts of Mosul in modern-day northern Iraq, on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. Nineveh was the largest city in the world for some fifty years until the year 612 BC;

 

Spanish galleon –

Galleon Spanish

British coaster –

coaster robin, british

Another poem by Masefield became a favourite and I mentioned it in a tribute here.

I like his wishes for after his death. He wrote:

Let no religious rite be done or read
In any place for me when I am dead,
But burn my body into ash, and scatter
The ash in secret into running water,
Or on the windy down, and let none see;
And then thank God that there’s an end of me.

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We also did Shakespeare in the Vrystaat. I remember one line from Antony & Cleopatra:

‘He ploughed her and she cropped’

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and remember:

‘It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.’