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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.

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 personal memories are true of course, mostly. But also with one man’s memory – if you know anything about human memory – comes: Pinch of salt.

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Culture, FreeState Style. And Counter-Culture

At the Harrismith se Hoerskool, we were taught “sang” by Eben, well-known HNP lid of the Harrismith Tak who we thought fancied himself as a singer and ladies man.

HARRISMITH HS TEACHERS 1967 Eben

He tried his best, but we were not an easy task. The RIGHT way was very clear in ou Eben’s mind: Die Volk, Afrikaans, Die Voortrekkers, Die FAK Sangbundel, no “anglisismes” and no Engels. And modern music was the work of the devil. This much was not in doubt. This meant, of course, that the RIGHT way in our minds was – well, something other than that.

He announced one day in the asbestos pre-fab sangklas that we would now sing “Heb je al gehoord van den silveren vloot”, which wasn’t actually Afrikaans, being Hoog Hollands, but that was kosher in his world; followed by the pure Afrikaans “Wie is die dapper generaal? DE WET!” which made us all think we were singing a song of praise for our flyhalf, De Wet Ras.

At this, Skottie Meyer sighed audibly: “O, jis, sing ons al weer vir Vokken Vaderland?”

Rugby HY 1972 Skottie

Well! Despite Skottie’s protestations that he had said “Volk en Vaderland”, he was despatched by a puce-faced Eben to the headmaster’s office, forthwith! Inderdaad! But he must have forgotten to go all the way because he appeared at the window behind Eben a minute later and proceeded to have us stifling grins the rest of the session. I will confess we did sometimes sing words other than those strictly written down in the sangbundel.

Skottie has since shuffled off this mortal coil. Actually, they both have.

Welkom OFS

I emigrated from Hillbrow and Parktown to Welkom in about April 1978 to work for Kurt Eggmann, optometrist in the city centre near the famous horseshoe – the dead-centre of town. Drove there in my grey and grey 1965 Opel Rekord. Got myself a flat through the Thornes – father and sons estate agents – who became firm friends. Andy & Evyn, and Dad Wally. I bought a double bed, a couch and a fridge. I left behind the lovely communal house at 4 Hillside Road in Parktown and a lovely lady SSS the beautiful Fotherby. I was all swoon and sigh, but the Pru in her soon sorted me out and made me realise life moves on!

I loved the work – I was much busier than I had been in Hillbrow, doing a far wider range of challenging cases. One of my first patients was a keratoconus patient I fitted with her first rigid contact lenses and she saw beautifully as she hadn’t in years! Kurt was a character, ex-Swiss squash champion. He had two mates who were also Swiss champions in cross-country running and skiing. They would meet annually and preen. He had an old Merc and a beautiful Beechcraft Bonanza India Mike Alpha. He kept a little car at  the airport in JHB so when he flew there he had transport.

Winter solstice in 1978 we had a boys night in Kurt’s sauna with Kurt and Johnny Hardman; We sat drinking in the heat till it became unbearable, then plunged into the freezing open air pool. Then back into the sauna . . . It’s good for you, they say . . .

Kurt once asked me to drive his Merc to Joburg while he flew there. I took a young lady pilot with instrument rating along – she was probably going to fly the Bonanza back at night. The Merc got tired in the metropolis of Parys and we had to spend the night there while the local mechanics got it back on its feet again. A few months earlier the Barclays bank manager in Hillbrow had pressed a credit card on me – a ‘barclaycard’ – over my protestations that I didn’t need it. Well, that night I did – I paid for both hotel rooms and the car repair as my first credit card transactions.

Memories of people: Kurt’s receptionists, Elsabe and La Weez (?); Kurt’s lovely wife Barbara; The shapely Maria; The shapely pharmacist Fick or Frick; Elsie Campher’s shapely blonde varsity friend; Kurt’s friend Johnny Hardman the lawyer; McMahon the shapely lass, a student at Rhodes University; The mafia tenderpreneur builder / truck transport brothers who wore matching thick Safilo frames and bought matching yellow Lamborghinis; Ralph Guard the other optom.

I was due in the army for national service in July but Kurt spoke to the local Nat MP and swung it so I only started in January the next year. Strings.

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Around 1967 the Welkom manne decided that the Welkom / Johannesburg road was too dangerous to travel on and learnt to fly. Together with his great friends Wally Thorne and Heinie Heiriss, Kurt bought a Cessna 182 Skylane, ZS – DRL and operated the aeroplane in an association known at “HET – Air” – Heinie, Eggmann & Thorne. I got this off Barbour & Thorne’s website.

When I was there in 1978 Kurt owned a Beechcraft Bonanza – India Mike Alpha. Here’s a recent internet pic:

Beechcraft Bonanza - ZS-IMA - Kurt Eggmann

 

 

 

Reassuring Words – and Famous Patients

In 1980 the army relieved me of my post as adjutant for the Natal Medical Corps and sent me to work for the provincial ophthalmology department in Durban run by the Nelson R Mandela school of medicine based at King Edward Hospital. This meant I worked at the three racially-segregated hospitals.

King Edward VIII in Umbilo (for the healthily pigmented):

RK Khan Hospital  in Chatsworth (medium pigmentally blessed):

Addington on the beachfront (pale, pigmentally deficient):

At KE VIII we had our own building, at RK Khan and Addington we shared. Addington OPDB (Out Patients Department B) was for legs and eyes. My mate Bob Ilsley in orthopaedics would say “I’ll get them to walk straight, you get them to see straight”.

Resident ophthalmologist Pat Bean was a character. Surfer dude at heart. And heart of gold. “You got cat tracks, mummy”, he’d say at RK Khan. “Cat tracks. Terrible things those cat tracks. Must give you ‘PRATION. Not sore ‘pration. Over one time, you go home next day no pain see nicely” he would reassure.

(‘cataracts’ – ‘operation’)

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The nurse in charge of the clinic most days at KE VIII was Staff Nurse Anita Lekalakala, another character of note. One day she picked up a card for me, glanced at the name, grinned and called out loudly to the packed waiting room:

Miss Grace Kelly! Calling Princess Grace Kelly!

And in shuffled old Mrs Grace Cele, leaning on her walking stick.

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(36yrs later Anita still comes to me for her glasses)

Twaalf Eiers

Alf Beyers, son of the Hoof of the Hoerskool in Petrus Steyn OFS, struck enormous good fortune on leaving the village and striking out for the big smoke of lower Doornfontein, Johannesburg, city of sin and laughter. It was akin to winning the lottery. He was allocated me as his room-mate.

Dropping our suitcases on the sticky deep purple linoleum floor we immediately headed off to Nirvana, a place we had heard about for years. A place our mothers warned against with such dire foreboding that we knew we had to find it.

Hillbrow.

We heard they sold liquor in Hillbrow and we had fresh pocket money, so off we went with the gang of new students in the Doories res of the Wits Tech on our first night in Joeys, in search of pubs and nightclubs. Vague names waft around in my head: Summit? Idols? Sands Hotel?

Most of us returned late that night, but there was no sign of Alf. He had landed up in the Johannesburg General Hospital, a victim of alcohol poisoning. The docs assured him it wasn’t bad liquor, it was simply too much good liquor.

The ill-effects wore off quickly and the potential for fun endured. On another occasion when we’d had a skinful Alf indulged in a bit of streaking under the Harrow Road flyover, appearing completely kaalgat to the amusement of rush-hour motorists. Someone called the cops and Alf roared up the stairs and hid in the smallish free-standing cupboard in our room, which actually overlooked the spot where he’d been parading!

When the hullabaloo died down he appeared with a huge grin on his face, still buck naked and inquired innocently “Looking for me?”.

 

 

House (mistress) Trained

Willie the housemaster of the Doornfontein residence of the Witwatersrand College for Advanced Technical Education was a good ou. In the fickle lottery of life he drew the short straw when we moved in to the room adjacent to the housemasters conjugal apartment that he shared with his long-suffering wife. Willie tried his best. We ignored him.

You couldn’t really ignore the real boss of the res, Sarie Oelofse though. She was fearsome. When we checked in to res on day one she made it very clear that she vatniekaknie.

Let us pause briefly right here to think about what sort of doos would christen a place a “College for Advanced Technical Education”. Fuck me! Catchy title, china! One can imagine flocks of proud alumni saying “I went to the College for Advanced Technical Education”.

But about Sarie: She was tall, had been through some husbands, and was crowned by a snow white mop on top. No one would dare give her kak, we thought. Then we met Slabber. Sarie marched into our room one day in our first week as inmates in first year and asked in her strident voice “Vuddafokgaanhieraan?” We were drinking against the rules and making a happy, ribald commotion against those same rules.

We were ready to capitulate and come with all sorts of “jammer mevrous” and “ons sal dit nooit weer doen nies” and kak like that when Slabber – an old hand in his third year in res stepped forward and said “Ag kak, Sarie, hier: Hier’s vir jou ‘n dop” and poured her a large brandy.

Sarie melted like a marshmallow on a stick roasting over an open fire. She sat down, smiled coyly and lost all her authority in one gulp. It was wonderful. From then on, we wagged the dog. We continued to show her huge respect while doing whatever the hell we wanted to. We helped her, and she turned a blind eye. The formula Chris Slabber had worked out worked like a charm. It needed regular dop provision, of course, but that was no PT: Whatever we were drinking we would just pour Sarie some and she would remain completely reasonable and amenable.

It was what you could call win-win.

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vatniekaknie – intolerant of rambustious student behaviour

doos – person lacking your clear insight

kak – uphill

Vuddafokgaanhieraan? – What gives, gentlemen?

jammer mevrous – apologies

ons sal dit nooit weer doen nies – perish the thought

Ag kak, Sarie, hier: Hier’s vir jou ‘n dop – Have a seat, ma’am

dop – libation. Actually no, any alcoholic drink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Best Man (confessions about . . )

My Best Man, I have always said, is one of the most honest upright people I’ve known. I’ve said this for many years. It isn’t strictly true.

One dark night in Deepest Darkest Doornfontein, shortly after having been crowned The Official Inebriated World Dartsh Championsh of The World, the story of which famous victory has appeared in print elsewhere, we were smuggled out of the bar in secret to avoid a massacre by the vengeful forces that had lost to us in the final.

Behind the bar counter, through the kitchen, past the chest freezers and out the back door into the courtyard of the New Doornfontein. Out into that dark night.

Through the kitchen. Did you get that part? Through the hotel kitchen. Past a number of chest deep freeze cabinets. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the lids lifting, a hand reaching in and a packet being shoved under an old jersey. The jersey was probably part of the uniform of the new Official Inebriated World Dartsh Championsh of The World.

When we got to the safety of our large and lavish room in the plush Doories residence a few blocks away we were highly relieved and thankful to have survived. So we reached into the huge old off-white Westinghouse we had inherited with ‘Fridge Over Troubled Waters’ written on the door in black coki pen and calmed our nerves. Poor old Willie the housemaster came round to ask us to Please turn down the sound, manne, my wife is trying to sleep.

Then an interesting aroma started to fill the room: BACON. Being fried on the two-plate hot plate. By My Best Man.

THAT’s what had been lifted from the chest deep freeze of the New Doornfontein Hotel. Illicitly. And THAT’s who had dunnit. Did I mention he has a small trace of Jewish blood running through his veins, making this not only a crime, but also a sin?

It was delicious.

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As we revved up on another evening after a night’s carousing, we rollicked as poor old Willie the housemaster asked us Please to behave manne, my wife is trying to sleep. Another bright idea took hold: Converting the hostel angle-iron bed into a fold-away stretcher. You can’t bend angle-iron, but he had done a year’s engineering before he started optometry, so through persistence and focused dedication, he did. His skilful panel-beating expertise is depicted in the big pic *.

The sheer force of this exercise bumped the bed against an heirloom 5-gallon glass flagon with two ears. SMASH and tinkle. It must have been tempered glass, as there were millions of tiny pieces!

Gabba Glass Flagon

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Barks sometimes inexplicably went to bed early. Something about a good night’s sleep. One night we got home handsome and clever and Barks had locked his door. Which was his right, except the Fridge Over Troubled Waters was in his room, and the beer was in that fridge. When we failed to rouse him Chris Slabber said “Hold My Beer and Stand back!” and next minute BA-BLAM! he shot off the doorlock! It seems people from Die Perel with CJ numberplates carry small arms with them in case of moeilikheid. I didn’t know that. Access to refreshment obtained. Like the bloody Wild West!

Asseblief manne, said poor housemaster Willie, My wife is trying to sleep. We felt for him.

CJ Paarl numberplate
Number plate like Slabber’s

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You’ll have a positive outlook on this if you remember:

“Education is the sum of what students teach each other between lectures and seminars” – Stephen Fry

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Asseblief manne – stop it, you hooligans!

Die Perel – the city of Paarl in the western cape province; average of eighteen teeth per head

moeilikheid – shit

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This * jumping thing seemingly became a habit.

Annie’s Kings & Queens

I joked that my gran Annie thought ‘the queen’ was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk. And I thought ‘You know, Annie was probably alive under Queen Victoria!’

So I thought I’d check.

Well, she certainly was. And what’s more, she actually lived under six British Monarchs!

Victoria

Eddie Seven

George Five

Eddie Eight

George Six

Lizzie Two Second

How’s that! Long live the Queen! Long live the King! But longer live our Annie!

Annie in George - when? Dressed like Mrs Queen - and a corgi at her feet!!
Annie, complete with corgi

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I myself have lived through the (distant, irrelevant) reign of Lizzie Two Second and . . oh, only Lizzie.

Borrowing Cars Genetic?

We used to borrow our parents cars on the without-permission system and drive around at night with the ultimate destination being the Royal Natal National Park Hotel down Oliviershoek Pass. That was a triumphant destination I only achieved once, other times we went to Little Switzerland, halfway down the pass. Or Kestell.

Once Steph de Witt decided to raise the bar and we headed off to Durban with the goal of putting our toes in the warm surf of the Indian Ocean and getting back to Harrismith before sunrise but we ‘changed our minds’ soon after Ladysmith and turned back.

I knew this habit could not be genetic as Mom would never have done such things, but recently I found out something which may throw new light on the possible causes of such fun behaviour.

Mom’s older sister Pat matriculated at Girls High in Pietermaritzburg while Mom matriculated at Harrismith se Hoer. I suddenly wondered why, so I asked.

Oh, she was getting into boys so Dad sent her off to boarding school, said Mom. She must have been in standard eight and about fifteen or sixteen years old.

Apparently some boys had borrowed a car from Kemp’s Garage in Warden Street and headed off to Royal Natal National Park Hotel back before it was Royal. As far as I know it became Royal after the Royal visit in 1947 and this must have been about 1941. Mom thinks Pat’s fellow felons may have included Michael Hastings and Donald Taylor. Pat, being the fun-loving person she always was, was right there! FOMO (fear of missing out) was a thing then too, even if it didn’t yet have an acronym! I know I had it big as a teenager.

The hotel looks like this now, but not because of us, swear!

Royal Natal National Park Hotel - Heritage Portal - June 2014 - 1

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Potted history of the area:

In 1836, while exploring Basutoland, two French missionaries, Mons. Arbrousset and Daumas first discovered Mont-Aux-Sources, the source of three rivers. In 1908 the idea of establishing a National Park in this area was conceived, and the territory was explored by Senator Frank Churchill, General Wylie, Colonel Dick and Mr. W. O. Coventry. Recommendations were put forward, but it was not until 1916 that the Secretary of Lands authorised the reservation of five farms, and certain Crown Lands totalling approximately 8160 acres and entrusted it to the Executive Committee of the Natal Province.

On the 16 September 1916 the National Park came into being. An advisory committee was appointed to control the Park. Shortly afterwards the Natal Provincial Administration purchased the farm ‘Goodoo’, upon which a hostel for hikers had already been opened in 1913 by W.O.Coventry, and incorporated a small portion of the Upper Tugela Native Trust Land, thus swelling the National Park to its present 20 000 acres. The Advisory Committee was abolished in January 1942, and the Park was administered by the Provincial Council until the formation of the Natal Parks, Game and Fish Preservation Board on the 22 December 1947.

Mr. F. O. Williams held the first hostel lease rights on the farm Goodoo which he obtained from Mr. W. O. Coventry, the original owner. Mr. Coventry became Lessee of the whole park in 1919, and took over the post of Park Superintendent in August 1924 at the grand salary of five pounds per month. In 1926 he was succeeded by Otto and Walter Zunkel, who each added their share of buildings and improvements. Mr. Alan Short was the next Superintendent.

Short was in charge when the Royal Family visited the Park in May 1947. Prime Minister Jan Smuts wanted King George VI, the Queen and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to take a break from their two-month tour of southern Africa and see the splendour of the Drakensberg. It was Elizabeth’s first overseas trip and she celebrated her coming-of-age there, drafting her first important speech at the hotel.

The Royal family were so impressed with their stay that they insisted that the hotel and national park be granted the “Royal” designation.

Today, the Royal Natal National Park is managed by KZN Wildlife, the provincial conservation body of KwaZulu-Natal.