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 Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980. 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.
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. If I haven’t offended anyone – yet – it’s not for lack of trying . .
Hastily-scribbled, these posts could do with help. They’re usually based on remembered conversations, not written notes. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.
The Studley Tool Chest: Made out of mahogany, rosewood, walnut, ebony, and mother of pearl.
Henry O. Studley (1838–1925) was a carpenter, organ and piano maker, who worked for the Smith Organ Co. and later for the Poole Piano Company of Quincy, Massachusetts. He is best known for creating the famous Studley Tool Chest, a wall hanging tool chest that cunningly holds 218 tools in a space that takes up about a metre by half a metre of wall space when closed.
I wrote about this in Feb 2014. I got responses:
Steve Reed wrote: In his entire married life, Henry Studley only came inside the house at mealtimes and to sleep. Otherwise he was out in the shed. Must have had a bag of a wife.
Me: Or just his pri-horities right ?
Talking about living in the shed: Did I tell you my ole man bought himself a new lathe? Brand-new wood lathe with a 1m gap between the headstock and the tailstock. The headstock can swivel so he can turn bigger bowls – and turn them sitting down. Says he can’t die now for at least three years to justify the purchase and to finish the chisel handles and tables he has in mind . . . ninety one and counting . . .
Went to visit the other day. Their tenants have left and I found the ole man in the second house on top of a stepladder, muttering that they’d left their curtains up. Bitched good-humouredly when I took over and removed the rest of the curtains: ‘What do you think? I’m too old to climb a stepladder?’ Uh, yes, Dad.
Now he wants to buy a new kombi – with the old lady’s money! Goat . . .
Peter Brauer wrote: I’m with your old man on this one. Want a job done properly… do it yourself
Me: Want a job done properly, procrastinate till it no longer needs doing . . most peaceful*, cost-effective method I’ve found.
*under the new regime. Under the old regime this method was NOT peaceful . .
Brauer: I don’t know what procrastinate means, but stuff it, I’ll find out tomorrow.
Harrismith is still a lekker dorp thanks to some hard-drinking maniacs that hang out there, bitter-einders clinging to life behind the boerewors curtain.
See this report – reproduced below – of a highly important, highly competitive Boer War re-enactment golf – or moer-en-soek – tournament last year.
of the Boers
Majesty The Queen
dearest and beloved Queen,
the marriage of Prince Harry to Ms Megan Markle, I wish to convey
further good news to you, and to the rest of your Royal family.
your military attaché in Africa, it gives me great pleasure to
advise that the Boers have been conquered at the battle of
Harrismith which took place on the 2nd & 3rd June 2018. The
white flag of surrender was raised by General Hamman, at 13h00 on
this historical day for your universal British Empire.
my lengthy military career I have never witnessed a display of such
loyalty and courage, as shown by your troops in this bloody battle.
Your forces received only a few minor scratches and bruises, while
the Boer field hospital has called for additional nursing staff,
surgeons and even psychiatrists to treat their mentally scarred
soldiers. There were no fatalities.
Majesty will also be most pleased to hear that during the cease-fire
period, as declared by Chief Justice Lord George Galloway, the
British and Boer troops were treated to an elaborate Royal Banquet.
At this very grand occasion, the soldiers from both sides mingled
and socialized well. In some cases, too well! This developing
inter-continental relationship seems to be getting stronger, despite
the humiliating defeat dealt out to the Boers.
a personal note, please pass on my fondest greetings to my old friend
Prince Phillip. I trust he is enjoying his retirement.
await your instructions regarding any further military operations
loyal Military Attaché,
Field Marshall Mark Russell VC
After the 2017 tournament Field Marshall Russell VC’s report to Her Majesty, Mev Queen had been far more tragic . . .
War” Defeat – 2017 – Letter to the Queen
Her Majesty The Queen
Buckingham Palace, London, England
5th June, 2017
Our Dearest & Beloved Queen,
It is with deep regret that I inform you that your courageous soldiers have been severely defeated, at the hands of the Boers, at the battle of Harrismith on 3rd & 4th June 2017.
Although there were no fatalities, the Boer Commando, led by General Wessel Hamman, showed immense bravery, superior marksmanship, and deft field skills in the heat of battle. Your loyal soldiers raised the white flag of surrender at 12 noon on this bloody Sunday.
The Royal Medical team of nurses, led by Sister Mandy Pollock on Spionkop, are still very busy treating your loyal and wounded troops. The most severe and common treatments, were for the after effects of the toxic Boer medicine “Mampoer”. All your troops are showing signs of making a full recovery.
I would recommend that our soldiers be shipped back to London, and returned to Her Majesty’s Military Academy, Sandhurst, for further instruction in the skills of warfare.
Apart from this humiliating defeat, I have pleasure in advising Her Majesty, that your troops have been well treated by the Boer Commandos, and have enhanced the tattered relationship that existed between the Boer Republic and the British Empire. Our soldiers and their spouses were treated to a Royal Gala dinner, featuring a clash of British & Boer cuisine, expertly prepared by Afrikaner chefs, Anel Bekker & Lizet Du Plessis. Your troops were further entertained by guest speakers. Nick Leslie spoke eloquently about previous battles, and the bravery of both the Boer and British forces. Dr Braam Joubert, from The Orange Free State, added a good deal of humour to this illustrious occasion. It was a grand banquet indeed!
There was a fly-past, performed by a Royal Airforce squadron of fighter aircraft, led by Flight Commander Sir Gareth Pollock (MBE). The Boers entertained our troops with “Boere Musiek” and “Volkspele” dancers and singers. Our own Captain Venning (OBE), joined in to demonstrate the British version of these Boer dance moves.
In order to commemorate this battle, and to remind future generations to further develop Anglo Boer relationships in Harrismith, Captain Venning (OBE) has donated a perfectly “in-scale” model of an ox-wagon. I wish to appeal to you to consider rewarding Capt. Venning (with some more alphabets?) at Your Majesty’s Birthday Honours ceremony.
Other candidates to receive your Majesty’s recognition at this ceremony should include Major Gert van Tonder, who chose to enlist in Her Majesty’s Army, and then donated the battle dress to all the foot soldiers. There were others who have not only enlisted in your forces, but have made considerable contributions to this historical battle. These include Private George Galloway and the Scottish piper, Dr. Martin Reeve, who certainly stirred up the patriotic emotions of your troops. I respectfully recommend that the following be granted British citizenship with immediate effect, Dries Lategan, Steve Niewoudt, Justin van Tonder, and Quintin König. I was going to request that Kobus Bester should also be granted British citizenship, but on second thoughts, your Empire could do without this rascal.
Many of your troops traveled from the Last Outpost of your Empire (Natal), as well as from the Transvaal Goldfields, in order to fight this battle. They too, should receive your recognition. These include Craig Surmon, Gary Bellars, Andrew Miller, Reggie Jelliman, Richard Butcher, Wayne Warburton, Gavin Scholefield and Chris Smith. I would sincerely appreciate your kind consideration of the above. Mark Bebington also answered your call to take up arms, and should be given Royal recognition.
I am under the impression that your troops are enjoying the warm sun in Africa, and may wish not to return to your United Kingdom. Perhaps Your Majesty could tempt them to return, with the lure of a “danger-pay” bonus, of a few Pounds Sterling.
I await your further instructions.
Your humble military servant,
Field Marshall Mark Russell (VC)
lekker – romantic
bitter-einders – to the bitter end; lager, ale, bitters
boerewors – sausage; and like laws, you may not want to know how it’s made – based on a quote by: John Godfrey Saxe American poet
moer-en-soek – golf as prescribed by the Royal and Ancient, which only frowned on women membership for the first 260 years
boere musiek – noise emitted by farm implements called ‘constant screamers’ and ‘pull pianos’
volkspele – dance in which you can grip your meisie in a dominee-approved manner
It was advice from my chairman and as a new, fairly young member, I trusted him implicitly. You add sherry to your beer, said Allie Peter with a knowing nod. When we got to the bottle store in Cradock he spotted me at the till with a dozen Black Labels and a bottle of Old Brown Sherry.
‘No, Swanie,’ he came with more advice, ‘Get Ship Sherry. You can get TWO bottles for the price of one Old Brown.’ As a new, fairly young member, I trusted my chairman of the Kingfisher Canoe Club implicitly, so I dutifully swopped my bottle for two Ship Sherries. This decision was going to reverberate . .
At Gattie’s house (that’s Malcolm Phillips Esq. to you) we stood around with cans of beer in our hands, topping them up with sherry every so often. It worked a treat and was a marvelous idea. I could see my chairman had been around and knew a thing or two. The mix seemed to enhance my paddling knowledge and experience vastly.
Much later that night I was busy expounding on some finer point of competitive paddling – probably on how one could win the race the next day – when I realised in mid-sentence, with my one finger held high to emphasise that important point I was making, that I was completely alone in Gattie’s lounge. Everyone had buggered off to bed and I had no-one to drink with. I looked around and found a corner, downed the rest of my berry and lay down to sleep. It was carpeted, I think.
Later I remember through a slight haze seeing Gattie asking if his prize bull was being slaughtered, but when he saw me he said ‘Oh’ and went back to bed. I was kneeling and hugging the porcelain and the bowl had amplified my sounds of slight distress, waking him up in his bedroom far down the other end of the house.
It must have been a good clearing out as I felt fine when we left for the Grassridge Dam and the start of the marathon in Bruce Gillmer’s kombi a few hours later. Dave and Michelle were there and I spose some other paddlers and I’m sure my boat was on the roofrack. After a few km’s there was an ominous rumble and I knew I had a little lower intestinal challenge; which would have been fine – and some fun – if there hadn’t been a lady – and a real lady she is, too – in the bus.
I had to warn them. It was soon after a famous nuclear disaster, so I announced ‘We need to stop the bus or there will be a Chernobyl-like disaster on board.’ Bruce was a bit slow so it was only when the waft hit his own personal nostrils that he pulled over smartly and let me release the rest of the vapour at the roadside. Ah, that was better. With the pressure off I was fine again. I did notice I wasn’t talking so much about winning the race though.
The grumbling re-occurred on the dam, making that start the roughest I have ever endured. The wind and the waves on Grassridge Dam were worse than any rapids I have ever paddled. I was very glad to carry my boat down to the Fish River – leaving the dam stone last, I’m sure. The river was plain sailing and the rest of the day a pleasure. That night I sipped daintily at plain beer. I was beginning the long slow process of learning to think carefully when considering advice freely given by sundry Chairmen of Kingfisher Canoe Club.
My dates don’t tally. I thought I did the 1983 Fish, but Chernobyl was in 1986. I must have done the 1986 Fish. All I know is, the rinderpest was still a thing . .
The first race in 1982 attracted 77 paddlers in 52 boats. 37 boats finished the race, as the thick willows and many fences on the upper stretches of the river took their toll. It was won by Sunley Uys from Chris Greeff, the first person to shoot Cradock weir in the race.
In those days, the race was held on a much lower river, 13 cumecs (roughly half of the current level!) and it started with a very long – over 50km – first day. The paddlers left the Grassridge Dam wall and paddled back around the island on the dam before hitting the river, eventually finishing at the Baroda weir, 2,5km below the current overnight stop. The paddlers all camped at Baroda overnight, before racing the shorter 33km second stage into Cradock.
Stanford Slabbert says of the first race “In those days the paddlers had to lift the fences – remember the fences! – and the river mats (fences weighed down by reeds and flotsam and jetsam) took out quite a few paddlers. Getting under (or over) them was quite an art”.
“I recall one double crew”, says Slabbert. “The front paddler bent forward to get under the fence and flicked the fence hoping to get it over his partners head as well. It didn’t. The fence caught his hair and pulled him right out of the boat and they swam!”
Legends were already being born. Herve de Rauville stunned the spectators by pioneering a way to shoot Marlow weir. He managed to reverse his boat into the chute on the extreme left, and took the massive slide back into the river going forward, and made it!
The field doubled in 1983, as the word of this great race spread. 145 paddlers in 110 boats. It was won on debut by Joburg paddler Niels Verkerk, who recalls, “It was a very long first day, especially as the river was not as full as it is now (it was running at 17 cumecs in 1983). Less than half the guys shot Keiths, which was not that bad as the hole at the bottom wasn’t that big. Very few people shot Cradock weir in those days. I won the race without shooting Cradock”, he added.
At a medium level, the lines at Soutpansdrift were also different. The weir above Soutpans was always a problem, as there was no chute, no pipes. At the bottom of the rapid, the only line was extreme left, underneath the willow tree – remember the low-hanging willow trees! – and then a sharp turn at the bottom to avoid hitting the rocks, where the spectators gather in numbers.
A memorial stone. This story started in Pietermaritzburg, grew in Pretoria – and ended up here:
The beautiful delta of the Skagit River in North-West Washington state! Up on the Pacific coast; up near Canada; not too far off the exact opposite side of the world. Here’s where South Africa lies if you could look right through the world from Above the Pacific Ocean:
It happened like this:
My dear cousins: On Sunday August 11 my family and I are holding a memorial for my mother. When she died so unexpectedly in March 1974 I was a long way away. I did not participate in any of the funeral arrangements and I did not attend the funeral.
After Lizzie died I had a “conversation” with Koosie and he asked me where my mother was buried and I realized, to my shame, that I did not know and have not since been able to find out.
So on Sunday, a day before her 109th birthday and 45 years after she died, I am symbolically bringing her home to me and to my family. We have chosen for her headstone a rock we collected from a nearby river and it will pass from me, to my daughter, to my grandson and beyond in ongoing commemoration.
Please send your prayers and loving thoughts our way and join us in recognition of Adriana Wilhelmina Swanepoel Solomon, my beloved mother and your Auntie Janie.
Much love to you all, Shirley
dear Cousins: Thanks and appreciation to all of you for your thoughts
and prayers. We spent a heartfelt couple of hours together talking
about Adriana and the Swanepoels. Warren was not with us as he is
visiting friends in Nebraska. We looked through the old shoebox of
pictures and told the old stories that, by this time, are part of the
family cannon and are probably quite richly embellished. We laughed,
we teared up, we remembered other family members who are no longer
with us. We brought out the big Atlas and checked out where exactly
South Africa is, we took down the pictures that have been on the wall
for years and examined them more closely: the four Swanepoel siblings
taken when Pieter was around two, the montage of the ten cousins that
I cherish, the wedding picture of my parents. All in all, it was a
lovely time, topped off by my reading the kind and thoughtful
messages that you sent us. Our love from our family to yours.
Hi Shirley, What a beautiful gesture. Our thoughts will be with you on Sunday. I can still remember the time that my dad went to Aunt Liz’s funeral and ended up having to bury two sisters. He was so sad at the time. May they all rest in peace. Love from us. Solly
That’s beautiful Shirley. My thoughts are with you and I have put a reminder on my phone. I’ll drink a toast Sunday! ( I did – Jerepigo!). Auntie Janie will enjoy Washington, the Northwest and the river, I’m sure! Love, Koos – P.S. The last time I saw her was 1973 in Apache, Oklahoma and friends took a polaroid picture:
Dear Shirley, You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers today. May your commemoration bring the peace in your heart that you so long sought for. Remember, those we so dearly love, don’t go away, they walk beside us every day. Love you all, Johan
Cousin Shirley, Thank you for sharing the family memorial for your
mother with your cousins. May your family be richly blessed for
placing her at the centre of your lives on this day.
10 200 plus miles separate us, know that we will be with you in heart
and spirit on this memorable occasion. To this end, a proverb, a
prayer, a photo and a couple of fond memories for you.
appropriate Hebrew proverb: Say not in grief ‘she is no more’ but
live in thankfulness that she was.
prayer for the occasion: Lord of all, we praise you for Aunty A who
rests peacefully in your presence. Give all who remember her grace to
follow in her footsteps as she followed the way of your Son. Thank
you for the memory of Aunty A who you unexpectedly gathered to you.
May our memories of her lead our hearts from the things we can see to
the unseen things we trust you for. Lead us too until we enter the
eternal rest you have prepared for us. We ask this in your precious
name Lord. Amen.
A photo of the Swanepoel sisters taken in Camperdown when Aunty A visited. Two ladies who remain dear to me to this day.
couple of fond memories of a lady with class: Aunty A was the only
Aunt I knew – can’t remember meeting any of my Dad’s sisters. Aunty A
was always very kind to me. When given our first pass from the Air
Force Gymnasium in 1964 it was Aunty A who collected me to spend a
delightful Sunday in their home at 54?Prospect Street, Hatfield. It
only occurred to me much later why she and Uncle Solly gave me a
spare box set of King Lear long-player records with the subtle
suggestion that it would improve my English! Clearly Mathematics and
Science was my forte and not languages. After having qualified to
give flying instruction at Central Flying School Dunnottar and trying
to be an officer and a gentleman whilst vigorously courting the East
Rand chicks, it was Aunty A who suggested that taking them to ballet
shows at the Aula Theatre at Pretoria University would impress them
favourably. She accompanied us on occasion but didn’t seem too
impressed with the company I was keeping at that stage. Aunty A
helped me select and purchase a 1968 painting of the artist
Christiaan Saint Peter Nice one Sunday afternoon at the Magnolia
Dell. This artist has since passed on but subsequently became well
known and his paintings continue to grow in value. The painting hangs
in the study serving as a reminder of the good times we spent
together. Aunty A was not just classy but fun-loving too. Travelling
together from Pretoria to Camperdown in my recently acquired MGB GT
(before entering the Free State where the traffic cops always laid in
wait for unsuspecting speedsters) I can’t quite remember whether it
was Aunty A who wanted to know how fast this thing can go or me who
wanted to show her? Other than with my lady companions, Aunty A was
truly impressed with what the MG could do given that it was a
sporting offspring of her Morris Cowley which she used to drive
hell-for-leather down Burnett Street heading for the City. Her memory
remains indelible in my mind.
Here’s wishing you every success and many happy memories of the day! With love, Cousin Jack G
We were in second year and had just moved out of downtown Joburg and Eloff Street to the salubrious semi-suburban delightful area of Doornfontein which was once Joburg’s premier suburb where all the gold mining magnates and Randlords lived and built their mansions.
So some final year students asked us to help them in their research for their – whatever.
They needed volunteers to see if blood alcohol levels affected your esotropia. We gave it a moment’s thought and thought that sounded like a HELLUVA good idea as it involved free drink and would provide valuable data and it involved free drink. We volunteered. None of asked ‘what’s esotropia?’
It was very formal. We had to – No, you can’t have a drink yet; Hey! Step away from the drinks table, we need baseline levels before you . . you have? Well, how many? SO many? Well, quick, come, let’s measure you before – Hey! Not another one . .
Well, give them their due, they tried their best and we did our best and it was a WONDERFUL evening filled with laughter and witty repartee and I don’t know if they got any data but we did get the promised drinks and they didn’t need to return any unopened bottles to the grog shop.
Quite a lot was learned, too. Like if you give a person who has had one too many even a little bit of vertical prism he will push the phoropter away and make barfing noises and run out of the clinic. That might come in handy to future researchers, and I give it here free for anyone to use.
I put my head down, leaned forward and reached for a blade-full of Umgeni water and pulled it back to behind my hip. This was not a characteristic action. I was not used to putting effort into my paddling, but this was serious: I had team-mates, and we were in a race. This was the KCC 12-hour enduro.
When I got back from my blistering lap under the big concrete Athlone bridge pier in the Umgeni river at Blue Lagoon, my team-mates assured me it was the slowest lap in the history of canoeing, a record unlikely ever to be broken and they had all grown a beard, shaved it off and grown another while waiting for me.
Thanks guys. It was nothing.
Roly Bennett took over from me (yes, we were a crack squad) and fell out three times before he got out from under the shadow of the Athlone bridge.
He then stood up in the shallow water and filled the boat halfway with water, reckoning this gave him some stability; being a yachtsman he knew all about lead in your keel. He got back in and paddled off with half a millimetre of freeboard, gunwales awash half the time;
When Roly – eventually – got back :-
– my team-mates assured me my record had been shattered and I was now only the second-most useless member of the crack squad;
* alternative ending (I can’t remember which is true):
– my team-mates told me that despite Roly being handicapped by a pathetic tap-tapping paddling action and a half-sunken ship, my record still stood. Sadly, I think this was the actual story.