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1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 3_USA 4_Optometry Johannesburg 5_Army days 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family school sport travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

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 (and for much of her life she was right!).

– annie watson – mary frances – peter frank –

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 it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.

I 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. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Old Harrismith Cars

A post for nerds. Who drove What cars When, back in the day. And: WHAT COLOUR were they?

Also, can you recall their number plates?

Vic Crawley bought Sep de Beer’s 2-door Chev 1939 number plate OI 1 (Harrismith was OI before it was OHS – Oh, Aye!)

Abe Sparks – silver? Rolls Royce pickup conversion (stetson hat, cowboy boots and string tie with semi-precious stone clasp)

Beno Sammel – big Packard

Annie Bland – beige Chevrolet Fleetline 1948 OHS 974

Joan & Vera Simpson – grey Morris Minor pickup, milk cans on the back

McDonald & Friday – British racing green Buick Roadster coupe

Charlie Crawley & Michael Hasting’s ‘s flatbed truck – dark green, wooden bed Chev 1934 – 35

JN de Witt – big black

Alet de Witt – VW Karmann Ghia

Max Ntshingila (Max Express bus fleet owner) – cream gold Chev Biscayne

Hec & Stel Fyvie – white Pontiac Parisienne – lang slap Merc 220S

Patrick Shannon – Chevrolet El Camino pickup

Ronnie van Tubergh – Ford Ranchero pickup

Piet Steyn – grey Borgward

Gretel Reitz – black VW Karmann Ghia

Dad Swanepoel – beige Morris Isis OHS 154 – dark blue VW Kombi OHS 153 – light blue Holden station wagon – white Holden station wagon – white Ford Econoline

Mary Swanepoel – green & black Ford Prefect – light blue VW 1200 Beetle OHS 155

Jannie du Plessis – green Datsun 300C

Jess Hansen – Hino pickup

Charles Ryder – lime green Volvo 122S

Bruce Humphries – white Ford Cortina

Giel du Toit – black Mercedes 190

Cappie Joubert – green Ford Zephyr 6; gold ‘stompgat’ Zephyr 6

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1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia sport travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

A New Author!

We have a new book out!

OK, the author has a new book out, his first. School friend Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots is Harrismith’s latest published author, following in the footsteps of FA Steytler, EB Hawkins, Petronella van Heerden and Leon Strachan. There must be more?

So far he has it as an eBook – you can get it now already.

Real paper hard copies to follow. I had the privilege and fun as one of his proof-readers, of reading it as he wrote and re-wrote.

Now you gotta realise, Pikkie is a mountaineer and trekker. These are phlegmatic buggers; unflappable; understated. So when he says ‘we walked and then crossed some ice and then we got here’:

– 5109m above seal level – the Drakensberg’s highest peak is 3482m –

. . with lovely pictures and fascinating stories along the way . . you must know what he doesn’t show you. And this is only the third highest peak he climbs in Africa! There’s more!

.

.

Those of us who climbed Mt aux Sources should also remember how we drove to within an hour or two’s walk from the chain ladder. To get to these higher mountains there’s days of trekking before you reach the point in the picture. And way less oxygen!

I can’t wait to hold a copy in my hand . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

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6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

Launch Aborted

After a long gap from paddling I decided to relaunch my river paddling career, striking fear into the heart of all contenders.

I would need a boat. Being a cheapskate I searched far and wide, high and low and I found one far and low. In PMB dorp. A certain gentleman in fibreglass, Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw had one for sale at a bargain price. His glowing description of the craft made me know this was the boat with which to relaunch – OK, launch – my competitive career in river paddling.

At Hugh’s place he showed me the boat and it did indeed look pristine. I went to pick it up and load it on my kombi’s roofrack, but Hugh held me back with a firm, ‘NO. Let me have that done for you!’ Customer service, I thought. User-friendly. So I watched as he got his two biggest workers to load the boat for me, which they did with ease. Big, strapping lads.

On the way back to Durban the kombi seemed to be struggling. I had to gear down on the hills, never had that before. Strong headwind, I thought.

The boat stayed there till Thursday, the big day. The first day of my relaunched paddling life. The dice on the Umgeni river outside my Club, Kingfisher. And then I understood. Getting the boat down off my roofrack took a Herculean effort. When I plopped it into the water the Umgeni rose two inches.

I can say this: Rands-per-Kg I got the best bargain from Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw of that century.

While I was contemplating thus, and thinking I’m loving being back on the water, what kept me away so long, Ernie yelled at me through his megaphone and the water exploded around me. What the hell!? All these fools around me suddenly went berserk, water was flying everywhere. It took a few minutes before calm returned and I was sitting bobbing on the disturbed surface. This tranquility was again ruined by Ernie yelling through that same damned megaphone: ‘Swanie what are you waiting for!?’

Jeesh! I headed off after the flotilla disappearing in the distance and after twenty or thirty strokes it suddenly came to back to me in a blinding flash of realisation: I knew why I had stopped paddling. It’s damned hard work.

And race days are noisy, chaotic things.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 3_USA 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia Family

Dad’s Van

Larry wrote to me – old-fashioned ink and paper, lick the stamp, seal the envelope and drop it into a postbox – on 4 Nov 1970, his 19th birthday.

He was getting brochures for Dad for a van – Ford, Chev and Dodge. ‘I’m glad your father is really getting interested in the scheme of getting a van. If he is serious about importing me too (to come with the van), I could be ready to leave in June. It seems a bit too good to be true, so I am not counting on it at all.’ It didn’t happen. The van did.

– 1973 Ford Econoline van –

The old man needed a delivery van for the bottle store. Twelve years of Joseph faithfully delivering booze to the needy on his bicycle clearly wasn’t hacking it anymore.

– Joseph’s bicycle stands idle –

People needed their dop on the double; their brannewyn and beer briefly; their cane kona manje; their Paarl Perle pronto; This called for a V8! A five litre V8 – 302 cubic inches of inefficiency was ordered from across the Atlantic. Two pedals, one to GO one to STOP; it was automatic . . . hydromatic, greased lightning!

It was a delivery van, so no windows were needed. These were only cut in the week it arrived. Then it needed to be fitted out to take crates of beer: Two beds, a fridge and a stove were fitted above the new green carpets.

A test run was called for: I drove it to Joburg, loaded it up with fellow students and headed for Hillbrow. At the lights on the uphill section of Quartz or Twist street some unsuspecting sucker pulled up alongside.

I gave him a withering look and revved the V8, which didn’t really growl, the ole man refusing to tweak the exhaust like it could have been tweaked. It sounded OK, but not “like God clearing his throat.”

I changed feet, stomping down hard on the brake with my left and pressing down on the accelerator with my right. A fraction before the light turned green I let go the brake and the bus squealed and roared and bucked as we gunned off up the hill. Dunno if the other bloke even noticed but we were hosing ourselves – we had fun.

The van cost the ole man R1500 and then shipping it across the Atlantic another R1500.

~~~oo0oo~~~

We got up to a few other stunts with the van.

Categories
1_Harrismith 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal school sport

Uh, Correction, Mis Betfit

Here’s a re-post – I’m running out of things to say as the era of this blog recedes ever-further into the mists of time – and the misseds of my time. This blog’s era ends around about when I met Aitch – 1985-eish. Post-aitch, marriage, kids and other catastrophes, and current stuff are over at bewilderbeast.

In 1969 a bunch of us were taken to Durban to watch a rugby test match – Springboks against the Australian Wallabies. “Our” Tommy Bedford was captain of the ‘Boks. We didn’t know it, but it was to be one of his last games.

Schoolboy “seats” were flat on your bum on the grass in front of the main stand at Kings Park. Looking around we spotted old Ella Bedford – “Mis Betfit” as her pupils called her – Harrismith’s English-as-second-language teacher. Also: Springbok captain’s Mom! Hence our feeling like special guests! She was up in the stands directly behind us. Sitting next to her was a really spunky blonde so we whistled and hooted and waved until she returned the wave.

Tommy Bedford Springbok
– This is Ella, a Harrismith teacher’s son –

Back at school the next week ‘Mis Betfit’ told us how her daughter-in-law had turned to her and said: “Ooh look, those boys are waving at me!” And she replied (and some of you will hear her tone of voice in your mind’s ear): “No they’re not! They’re my boys. They’re waving at me!”

We just smiled, thinking ‘So, Mis Betfit isn’t always right’. Here’s Jane. We did NOT mistake her for Mis Betfit.

jane-bedford-portrait

“corrections of corrections of corrections”

Mrs Bedford taught English to people not exactly enamoured of the language. Apparently anything you got wrong had to be fixed below your work under the heading “corrections”. Anything you got wrong in your corrections had to be fixed under the heading “corrections of corrections”. Mistakes in those would be “corrections of corrections of corrections”. And so on, ad infinitum! She never gave up. You WOULD get it all right eventually!

Stop Press! Today I saw an actual bona-fide example of this! Schoolmate Gerda van Schalkwyk has kept this for nigh-on fifty years!

– genuine rare Harrismith Africana ! – or is that Engels-cana? –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Tommy’s last game for the Boks came in 1971 against the French – again in Durban.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Two or three years later:

In matric the rugby season started and I suddenly thought: Why’m I playing rugby? I’m playing because people think I have to play rugby! I don’t.

So I didn’t.

It caused a mild little stir, especially for ou Vis, mnr Alberts in the primary school. He came up from the laerskool specially to politely voice his dismay. Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! he protested. That was optimistic. I had played some good rugby when I shot up and became the tallest in the team, not because of any real talent for the game – as I went on to prove.

~~~oo0oo~~~

ou Vis – nickname meaning old fish – dunno why

Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! – Don’t give up rugby. You should become our ‘second Tommy Bedford’ – Not.

~~oo0oo~~~

Meantime Jane Bedford has become famous in her own right in the African art world and Durban colonial circles, and sister Sheila and Jane have become good friends.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Also meanwhile, our sterling Mrs Bedford’s very famous brother – one of twelve siblings – Lourens vd Post, turned out to be a real cad a fraud, an adulterer and a downright liar. Fooled Prince Charlie, but then, that’s hardly a difficult achievement.

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Uncategorized

Do an Eye Op

Was a time when surgeons would get someone to hold open the pages of a book and do their first-ever eye op, squinting at the pages through their monocle. And they’d get someone else to hold open the lids of the eye!

Often none of these assistants, and often not the surgeon, would wash their hands. What for?

In 1847, a young Hungarian obstetrician noticed the dramatically high maternal mortality following births assisted by doctors and medical students. However, those attended by midwives were relatively safe. Investigating further, he realized that these physicians had often come directly from autopsies. He decided that something was contagious, and that matter from autopsies was implicated. So he made doctors wash their hands with chlorinated lime water before examining pregnant women. He then documented a sudden reduction in the mortality rate in the next year from 18% to 2%.

So they thanked him, right? Never! Semmelweiss and his theories were rejected by most of the contemporary medical establishment. How dare a 29yr-old come up with new evidence when all the eminent old surgeons already KNEW everything!?

Fourteen years later, in 1861, he wrote about his theory and was ridiculed. Eminence triumphed over evidence. What caused those deaths was not cadaverous infection, for goodness sake! It was ‘conception and pregnancy, uremia, pressure exerted on adjacent organs by the shrinking uterus, emotional traumata, mistakes in diet, chilling, and atmospheric epidemic influences.’ Anything BUT what this unpopular man and his evidence suggested! We do NOT have to wash our hands, understand?

Semmelweis got depressed, started drinking and acting weirdly and was eventually tricked into visiting a mental institution where he was held captive. He tried to leave and was severely beaten by several guards, secured in a straitjacket, confined to a darkened cell, doused with cold water and administered laxatives. He died after two weeks, on August 13, 1865, aged 47.

We’re a whole lot luckier 144 years later!

But we still have to keep a wide-awake wary eye out for the ever-present danger of ’eminence over evidence!’

~~~oo0oo~~~

134yrs later it happened again. The so-called Semmelweis reflex—a metaphor for a certain type of human behaviour characterized by reflex-like rejection, ridicule, and rejection by contemporaries of new knowledge because it contradicts entrenched norms, beliefs, or paradigms—is named after Semmelweis. In 1981, in his third year of internal medicine training, Barry Marshal in Perth, Aussie realised bacteria caused ulcers. Well, he was ridiculed. Eminence over evidence again. Us important, established old bullets who haven’t done the research just KNOW you’re wrong. You’re 29yrs old, keep quiet! You’re threatening a $3bn industry! It took till 1993 before he was believed. At least this time, Barry Marshal eventually got recognised while he was still alive: Twenty four years later he got the Nobel Prize!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Yes, we could talk about germ theory denial and hand-washing avoidance in 2020 too . . .

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Uncategorized

COVID and Ordinary People

Trying to stay on top of COVID news? We have no choice but to do so, to best protect ourselves and our loved ones. It’s stressful and draining, but we have to do it.

This post is paraphrased and shortened from an article by Alanna Shaikh, a global public health expert and a TED Fellow, for tips on how to navigate this information overload while staying safe and sane (for full article, see here ).

1. Look for news that you can act on

When you’re trying to figure out what stories to stay on top of, ask yourself: “Will having this information benefit my life or my work? Will it allow me to make better-informed decisions?”

Accumulating masses of information that you can’t use isn’t so helpful.

For most people, the most critical information for you to follow is how the virus is transmitted. Scientists are still learning every day about how people get infected.

2. Turn to trusted sources

If something reaches you on your whatsapp or instagram in Blikkiesdorp, chances are people professionally covering the pandemic heard it before you did.

So go and see what they say about it. COVID-19 has been heavily politicized, and even some major news sources are basing their content more on opinion than on science.

You can generally trust the accuracy of top news sources like Nature, Wired and The New York Times — to name three examples. Why? Cos their reputations are at stake. And they have the kind of budget that lets them hire full-time journalists who will stand by the facts or who rely on fact-checkers to verify their information. Unfortunately, you also have to check your fact-checkers. Use reputable ones like these eight listed here. In Africa we have Africa Check.

3. Check where their information is coming from

No-one actually KNOWS, so be wary of articles or sources that claim to have a definite answer to a complex question. Be especially wary of forwarded stuff on your social media. The way posts go viral is by being controversial or scary, not by being true.

For example, Dr. Anthony Fauci is currently saying that there should be a vaccine for COVID-19 in early 2021;

the Gates Foundation has a longer estimate; and others are warning that we may never have a vaccine for it.

Right now, there is no consensus about a timeline — these people and organizations are simply offering their best guesses. Use fact-checking sites – find one here. Even when a vaccine “arrives” it will be a while before you or I get one; and a while before enough people get one to potentially be effective; and even then, only time will tell the actual outcome. The much-hyped ‘fastest’ vaccines are using RNA for the first time. Proven vaccines actually injected an antigen which your body responded to; RNA vaccines will inject instructions to your body cells to MAKE an antigen, which your body will THEN need to respond to. There’s an extra step. Let’s hope it works, lasts, etc.

4. Look for news that works for you

For ordinary people whose expertise lies outside global health — i.e. most people — look for trusted sources of information that you can read and digest without having to devote your whole day (or brain) to it. Like the Think Global Health website; it’s aimed at passionate non-experts. It’s not dumbed down, but it doesn’t assume you have a PhD.

Johns Hopkins University is publishing some great work on COVID — more technical, but not too technical.

So is Vox; they have some terrific explainers.

5. Be prepared to change your behavior based on new information

No source is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you should disbelieve all sources. Research constantly changes and informs and shapes our ideas.

Remember when wiping down surfaces was the MAIN thing? Now, reputable organizations and scientists basically agree on masks, contact tracing and the existence of transmission of COVID by people who aren’t showing symptoms. If you get sick you will probably never know who ‘gave it to you,’ as they would have felt as healthy as you did the day the virus was transmitted.

Some of this info may change again, but we need to keep going along with best practice AS FAR AS WE KNOW TODAY.

6. Refrain from arguing with people who ignore the facts

Save your breath. Yours and theirs might be contagious!

You WON’T change their minds.

You are not a law enforcer.

Like it or not, this situation isn’t going anywhere. This pandemic is awful and complicated and changing. Finding our way through it won’t be smooth, nor easy, nor emotionally comfortable. It’s a constant, dynamic process of learning new things and adapting as we learn.

~~~oo0oo~~~

That lovely pic is from the cover of Wits Review Oct 2020, magazine for University of the Witwatersrand alumni.

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia sport

The EM Diet

A childhood friend is writing a lovely book on his mountaineering exploits and the journey he has made from climbing the mountain outside our town to climbing bigger and more famous mountains all over the world!!

– Platberg panorama –

Flatteringly, he asked me and a Pommy work and climber friend to proofread his latest draft. Being a techno-boff, he soon hooked us up on dropbox where we could read and comment and suggest.

I immediately launched in to making sensible and well-thought out recommendations. But some of them were instantly rejected, side-stepped or ignored, I dunno WHY!!

Like the title I thought could be spiced up. Three African Peaks is all very well. But it’s boring compared to Free A-frickin’ Picks!!! to lend drama and a Seffrican accent to it, right?! I know, you can’t understand some people. !

John, very much under the weight of a monarchy – meaning one has to behave – was more formal:

‘What is it with south africans and the “!”? (which is my major comment on your writing style!)

Well!!! Once we had puffed down and soothed our egos by rubbing some Mrs Balls Chutney on it, the back-n-forth started. I mean started!!

My defensive gambit was: ‘We’re drama queens!!’

My attacking gambit was an accusation: ‘Poms hugely under-use the ! In fact, they neglect it terribly! John was quickly back though, wielding his quill like a rapier:

‘Not true. We use our national quota. We just give almost all of them to teenage girls.’

Ooof!!!

I was on the back foot. When it came to the cover, the Boer War re-enactment resumed. I mean resumed!! I chose a lovely cover with an African mountain and a lot of greenery on the slopes. The Pom chose an ice wall, no doubt thinking of the London market. Stalemate.

Next thing he’ll be suggesting a stiff upper cover.

~~~oo0oo~~~

A strange thing has happened since John’s critique! I am using less exclamation marks! I have even written sentences without any!! It actually feels quite good. The new, restrained me.

Categories
8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Wildlife, Game Reserves

My Neighbour Dr Clancey

I didn’t ever meet the famous old sub-species bird man*, but for a while he lived next door to me in Marriott Road. I was in Whittington Court, he was in Eden Gardens; I found this out when I spotted a nightjar at my window one night and got very excited; I listened every night and finally heard it – it was the freckled; Now more excited – a Freckled Nightjar in the city! – I was about to announce my discovery when I read Dr Clancey knew all about it – it roosted on his roof next door! The Eden Gardens had a flat roof and it was covered in stones or gravel. Good spot for a Freckled to conceal itself by day.

– Freckled Nightjar – Caprimulgus tristigma

So after I found info on the bird; and after Aitch and I had prowled around the gardens of his hotel at night and found our first Bush Squeaker frog one rainy night (Arthroleptis wahlbergi), I went looking for info on the man (usual warning here: This is me, approximate amateur historian, using my valid poetic licence**, and giving my version of things – look at the references if you need accuracy).

Clancey was director of the Durban Museum and Art Gallery for thirty years until his retirement in 1982. He then continued as a research associate until his death in 2001, aged 83. He was a confirmed bachelor and the most ruthlessly dedicated and hardworking of ornithologists. He wrote a number of books of which The Birds of Natal and Zululand (1964), The Game Birds of South Africa (1967) and The Rare Birds of Southern Africa (1985) are now valuable Africana. Yeah, I hope so! I have two of them. So far my “investment” in bird books has been a damp squib.

– dodgy Pommy fraud Meinertzhagen with bustard –

As a young man ca.1949 he was a field assistant to the famous British military and ornithological fraud, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, a dodgy, lying, philandering Englishman who faked much of his life and got away with murdering his wife. They once nearly shot each other in a heated disagreement over bustards in Namibia. Guns were drawn before the hired skinner stepped between the protagonists. Sanity prevailed and tempers cooled. On another occasion Clancey fell ill in a remote spot and was abandoned to his fate by Meinertzhagen. Clancey was not given his due by Meinertzhagen in his writings – those who knew Meinertzhagen were not surprised.

In 1950 Clancey moved to South Africa, to Durban as curator of the museum.

– Durban Natural Sciences Museum is in the City Hall –

Years later, Clancey had a famous professional rivalry with Colonel John Vincent, one time head of the Natal Parks Board and himself an ornithologist of note. One one occasion Vincent had him arrested for collecting without a permit. His shotgun was confiscated. Undeterred, Clancey bought it back at a subsequent auction.

He must have rubbed people up the wrong way! Vincent Parker prominent atlasser and bird survey guru, in his 1999 The Atlas of the Birds of Sul do Save, southern Mozambique, also didn’t give Clancey his due, ignoring many of his records and relegating others to an appendix (‘subject to confirmation’), which ‘in most cases was quite unjustified’ (see the obituary in Ibis by Dowsett, Allan, and McGowan).

Clancey never had much regard for unnecessary luxury, and retired to a small room in a residential hotel – right next door to my Marriott road flat – in Durban. He continued to write papers, named 328 African bird taxa (more than any other contemporary scientist). The majority of his holotypes are in Durban Museum or the National Museum of Zimbabwe. R J Dowsett wrote: ‘I know of over 550 publications on African birds by Phillip Clancey, for most of which he was sole author (and not counting the sub-divisions of his miscellaneous taxonomic notes series).’ Later he increasingly devoted himself to his painting. His style was unmistakable, rich colours, attention to detail, and always the correct ecological background.

Any birder who has spent time in Natal will have seen these birds in just that habitat! Eminently recognisable.

Clancey donated his collection of some 5,500 mainly Western Palaearctic bird-skins to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. He donated his collection over 32,000 bird-skins – a collection considered the finest in Africa – to the Durban Museum and Art Gallery.

And also – unbeknown to him – he was my neighbour.

~~~oo0oo~~~

References

~~~oo0oo~~~

* sub-species bird man? I think Clancey was that dreaded sub-species of ornithologists called a splitter! He keenly added sub-species to existing species if he felt they were different enough. He found many many birds in new localities, expanded the known range of many, and did find good sub-species. Plus, he did find one new full species, the Lemon-Breasted Canary Crithagra citrinipectus in the Maputaland coastal grasslands.

**

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

Duzi 1972

(another re-post from earlier)

I canoed the Vrystaat Vlaktes thanks to Charles Ryder, who arrived in Harrismith in about 1968 or ’69 I’d guess, to start his electrical business, a rooinek from Natal. He roared into town in a light green Volvo 122S with a long white fibreglass thing on top of it like this:

I asked:
What’s that?
It’s a canoe
What’s a canoe?
You do the Dusi in it
What’s the Dusi?

Well, Charlie now knew he was deep behind the boerewors curtain! He patiently made me wiser and got me going and I got really excited the more I learned. I decided I just HAD TO do the Dusi. What could be more exciting than paddling your own canoe 120km over three days from Pietermaritzburg to the sparkling blue Indian Ocean at the Blue Lagoon in Durban? Charlie made it sound like the best, most adventurous thing you could possibly think of. He showed me how to paddle (how was I to know at the time he was making me a ‘Left Feather’?) and was so generous with his time. Both in paddling and with Harrismith’s first Boy Scouts troop, which he helped establish.

I started running in the mornings with a gang of friends. Tuffy Joubert, Louis Wessels, Fluffy Crawley, Leon Blignaut, who else? We called ourselves the mossies as we got up at sparrow’s fart. Then I would cycle about two miles  to the park in the afternoons and paddle on the flat water of the mighty Vulgar River in Charles’ Limfjorden, or Limfy, canoe, which he had kindly lent me/given to me. It was the fittest I’ve ever been, before or since.

Overnight I would leave it on the bank tethered to a weeping willow down there. One day around Christmas time with only a couple of weeks to go before Dusi I got there and it was missing. I searched high and low, to no avail. So I missed doing the Dusi. Not that I had done anything but train for it – I hadn’t entered, didn’t know where to, didn’t belong to a club, didn’t have a lift to the race, no seconds, nothing!

Still enthused, though, I persuaded my mate Jean Roux to join me in hitch-hiking to the race. We were going to do the Duzi! All except the part where you used a boat.

We got to Pietermaritzburg, and early the next morning to the start in Alexander Park. Milling around among the competitors and their helpers, we watched the start and as the last boats paddled off downstream Alxendra Park started emptying, everyone seemed in a big hurry to leave. We asked Wassup? and someone said, We’re Following Our Paddler! so we bummed a lift with some paddler’s seconds to the overnight stop at Dusi Bridge. We slept under the stars and cadged supper from all those friendly people. They let us continue with them the next day to the second overnight stop at Dip Tank and on the third and last day to the sea, the estuary at Blue Lagoon, following the race along the way.

I continued the search for my missing Limfy after we got back from watching the Dusi and eventually found a bottle floating in the Kakspruit, a little tributary that flows down from Platberg and enters the river downstream of the weir. It had a string attached to it. I pulled that up and slowly raised the boat – now painted black and blue, but clearly identifiable as I had completely rebuilt it after breaking it in half in a rapid in the valley between Swinburne and Harrismith. Come to remember, that’s why Charles gave it to me! I knew every inch of that boat: the kink in the repaired hull, the repaired cockpit, the wooden gunwales, brass screws, shaped wooden cross members, long wooden stringer, shaped wooden uprights from the cross members vertically up to the stringer, the white nylon deck, genkem glue to stick the deck onto the hull before screwing on the gunwales, the brass carrying handles, aluminium rudder and mechanism, steel cables, the lot. In great detail.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Except! I recently (2020) cleared out my garage under lockdown and discovered this: My notes preparing for the Duzi! I was less disorganised than I remember. I may not have DONE, but at least I did do a bit of planning! Check “Phone Mr Pearce” and “Buy canoe?” – uh, maybe not so very well organised!

Graeme Pope-Ellis won his first Duzi that year.