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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!

My Wild Days – Stepping Out, Clubbing

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.

Nightclub JHB

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!

doornfontein-003

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.

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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

Me:

Problem is sometimes our carefully stored and index’d memories are filed on exactly the grey cells targeted for destruction by that particular binge.

Of course, sometimes that’s a happy occurrence – don’t always want to remember everything.

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.

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handbriek – handbrake; a car handbrake, not . . . forget it

shuddup – domineering wimmin talk

grey cells being murdered by grogmight not be true!

Boschetto Agricultural College

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.

Plaque for Boschetto’s founder, Anglican church, Harrismith

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.

Sources: Burke’s Landed Gentry Of Ireland, 1976 p1037

Una Monk, New Horizons: A Hundred Years of Women’s Migration (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1963), p. 137 (quoting Lady Aberdeen);

Wolseley, Gardening for Women (cit. n. 1), p. 234 (on the Canadian situation);

Also Harrismith’s best blog deoudehuizeyard.

Cuckoo Comeuppance

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!

Diederik being Donnered

Thanks, Africa Geographic (go and see more pics)

Thanks to rockjumperbirding.com for the Diederik and hbw.com for the African cuckoo photos.

Other birds also parasitise nests. And here’s a fascinating talk if you’re really keen. It’s The Royal Society’s premier annual talk. About an hour on youtube.

pejorative – yeah, I also thought it was perjorative

Annie’s Kitchen

Steve Reed visited SA from Aussie:

When 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?

Me:

No, 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.

This 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.

strachan nesshurst museum
The museum on Nesshurst. Young Leon in the hat

Steve:

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.

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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

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The pics of the museum on Nesshurst are from Harrismith’s best blog deoudehuizeyard.

Wounded Knee, the A.I.M and Me

The Native Americans in Apache welcomed me very hospitably. One concerned Rotarian drew me aside at the time of the 1973 Wounded Knee incident which was very big news in Oklahoma. Oglala Sioux and AIM activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. US Marshals, FBI agents, and other law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area.

Wounded Knee 1973

The activists had chosen the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre for its symbolic value. The military was armed, the protesters were not. The Rotarian told me to be careful; the AIM was restless and could kidnap me to make demands. He certainly meant well, but it sounded far-fetched to me. After 71 days the occupation ended. Two protesters had been shot dead.

I got nothing but inclusive friendliness from the many American Indians, as they called themselves then, at school. At school they were classmates and Apache Warrior teammates in athletics and football. They invited me to a traditional pow wow one evening, and they presented me with gifts at one of their functions. 

. . .

Melvin Mithlo was a year my junior at school. He was a keen member of the American Indian Movement AIM and was fascinated by stories he had heard of the Zulus in South Africa. He would ask me about them and teach me about American Indian history. Given my avoidance of history – I gave it up in high school as soon as I could – and the poor white-wash version of history that we were taught anyway, he taught me way more than I taught him. Not that he learnt his history in school. The real history of the American West was so much more crooked, sad and brutal than the star-spangled bullshit taught by teachers. As in South Africa, they would be following the official white-wash school syllabus.

Melvin taught me about the AIM which, just before I got to Apache, had gathered about 800 members and people from other Indian groups from across the United States for a protest in Washington, D.C. known as the Trail of Broken Treaties.

He also taught me about Wounded Knee the tragic last hurrah of Indian independence in 1890. Briefly, Native Americans were squeezed into ever-smaller areas and every time they were allocated land, promises were reneged on and more and more land was stolen by settlers or government. Any resistance was depicted as hostility and the army – and vigilante bands – were sent in to murder any resisters – or even peaceful people. Many settlers believed the only real solution to the “Indian Problem” was extermination.

In broad strokes, U.S. government policy toward the Indians of the Great Plains and Far West went through four phases in the 19th century:

  • Removal from lands east of the Mississippi;
  • Concentration in a vast “Indian territory” between Oklahoma and North Dakota;
  • Confinement to much smaller “reservations” on part of that land; and
  • Assimilation of the Indians into white American-style farming and culture, through the allotment of even smaller, individual tracts of barren land. More honestly called the termination of the tribes.

The natives lost at every step, they were lied to and cheated at every turn, and their territory and rights shrunk with each new phase. The saying ‘White Man Speak With Forked Tongue’ was simply the plain truth.

Around 1890 a Paiute holy man in Nevada preached a new sort of nonviolent religion. If Indians gave up alcohol, lived simply and traditionally and danced a certain slow dance, the Great Spirit would return them their lands, and white ways and implements would disappear. By the time the belief reached the Northern Plains and the Sioux tribe, it had garnered a slightly more militant message and spread widely among the hopeless and despondent tribe. The “Ghost Dance” terrified whites and Indian agents, and when a band left the main reservation to dance on the Badlands of South Dakota, the U.S. Army sent in the Cavalry. Tribal police were sent to arrest Sitting Bull at his home, and in the violence that followed, Sitting Bull and more than a dozen other men—both policemen and supporters of the chief—were killed.

490 cavalrymen then set out in the winter snow and surrounded the Ghost Dance band along Wounded Knee Creek. The soldiers began disarming the Sioux when a gun went off. A massacre ensued, and the soldiers fired four new big machine guns down into the encampment from all sides.

Wounded Knee machine guns

Virtually all the Indians – one hundred and forty-six of them – were killed, including 62 women and children. It was a massacre. Twenty-five soldiers were killed, most of them probably shot in crossfire from their own forces.

Wounded Knee grave

The U.S. Army – desperate to depict the incident as a “battle”- in a despicable, dishonest aftermath, awarded no fewer than twenty ‘Medals of Honor’ to the troopers at Wounded Knee. They have never been rescinded.

(Shades of the British defence against the Zulus at Rorke’s Drift after their big thrashing at Isandlwana. Eleven Victoria Crosses were dished out there to act as fig leaves and little was said of the equally despicable massacre that followed the defence. I wish I had known that inside story to tell Melvin!)

The Massacre at Wounded Knee was the biggest domestic massacre in U.S. history. One hundred years later both U.S. houses of congress issued a half-baked apology of sorts: only a voice vote was taken, no-one had to stand up and be counted; no reparation was offered; no shameful, undeserved “Massacre Murder Medals of (dis)Honor” were rescinded.

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Brrr! Vrystaat Winters

Remember those stuffed ‘sausages’ in front of the doors as doorstops to keep the winter chill out? Some doors had huge gaps under them; some of those doorstops even had sausage dog heads, with ears, eyes, a tail and a red tongue.

sausage dog

The ceilings had no insulation and the windows were wooden sash or steel windows, often with gaps that let in the chill;

The black coal stove in the kitchen was lit through the whole of winter, thank goodness; A cruel boyhood confession: I murdered a few flies at this stove in our kitchen! Tore off their wings and turned them into ‘walks’ then tossed them into the stove to die! Yikes!
Here’s an old one, no longer installed, no longer black:

coal stove

In other rooms our bar heater was moved to wherever we were sitting; The glowing red bars would heat the air up to about one metre away. Further than that was arctic like everywhere else. If you sat close your shins could start frying while your back froze. Ours had three bars.
winter bar heater

Rolls of thin ‘Dunlop’ nylon carpets  glued to the floorboards in the passage and other rooms; the concrete floor in the kitchen and breakfast room had linoleum covering;

On the beds lots of blankets, no duvets; If you were lucky your Mom would cut the tassles off the Standard Woollen Mills blankets and sew on a strip of smooth silk-like tape that didn’t tickle your nose! I remember some of our old pillows weighing ‘a ton’. Probably a quarter ton of feathers, a quarter ton of live mites, a quarter ton of dead mites and a quarter ton of sweat and snot! A warmth luxury was having  ‘flannel’ ‘winter sheets’ rather than those smooth thin cold ordinary cotton sheets.

We were lucky we had an electric geyser warming up our bath water. You would wallow in warmth, then start dreading having to get out; Soon, though, the decision would be easy as the water cooled rapidly in those old iron baths with their ball-and-claw feet. Long winter jarmies were such a treat. Cosy. Some of ours were hand-made – machine-sewn by Mom.

Leaving for school in the mornings was jersey on, socks pulled up high, gloves on and then off you go! on your bike; Sometimes even a grey woollen balaclava. Riding down Stuart Street your eyes would water and your nose would run, so gloves and sleeves had to do snot duty; When you got to jail – um, school – you’d slide your hands off the handle-bar grips as they didn’t want to ‘uncurl’! Your bare knees would be frozen yet somehow you didn’t feel them as much as you felt your toes in your socks and shoes! Funny that.

Always coldest when the east wind blew and put a ‘blanket’ or ‘table cloth’ on the mountain like this:

The weather - see the blanket and the east wind

I remember it like this:

bicycle in snow

OK, to be honest that’s Europe and maybe their winters are worse!

We had a horse trough in the backyard about 2m long, 40cm wide and 40cm deep. It was concrete grey but later on it got painted Caltex green. A lot of our stuff got painted Caltex green. The water in it would freeze solid. That ice would thaw a bit by day and freeze again every night. It was OK, though. We didn’t have horses.

In summer the horse trough was good for breeding mosquitoes. I was fascinated by the larvae and had farms of them in ice trays where I could watch them develop and hatch. I was a battery-farmer of mozzies. Free-range hadn’t been invented.

95 Stuart Street back yard with my room and Jock's luxury carpeted kennel
There’s the horseless horse trough
mozzie larvae
mozzie larva (long) and pupa (round). OK, that took this winter post into summer

My Canadian Wooden Paddle

. . is a work of art.

Made of Beech, Birch, Cherry and Maple wood, it has a hollow laminated oval shaft, the oval at right angles so each hand has its own correct oval.

The blade is also laminated, then kevlar-clad and teflon-tipped.

Bruce the Moose Clark of Gauteng and Umko paddling fame was waxing lyrical about Struer sprinting paddles and that got me thinking about my Nimbus river paddle from Port Coquitlam in British Columbia. Not a racing paddle, not a flatwater paddle. A wild rivers work of art for slow-boating. See, I have an arrangement with rivers: I bring a boat to keep afloat, a paddle to keep upright. All forward motion must be provided by the current.

I ordered two from our trip leader Cully Erdman before we paddled the Colorado in 1984. Being left feather I didn’t want to risk being stuck up a canyon without a paddle.

Shit Creek

Dave ‘Lang Dawid’ Walker is also left feather so he used the second paddle for the twelve days. The river was running high so I didn’t touch a rock the whole 480km way. The only person I heard did touch a rock was Dave in Crystal and the gentleman he is, he immediately came to me to show me the damage: a slight scratch on the kevlar!

Bernie Garcin is holding my paddle in the top picture.