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A Slice of Vrystaat

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) 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 are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! But also: Pinch of salt.

Botswana Trip with Larry

Hey, let’s go on a safari!

Great friend Larry Wingert is out from the USA and we hop on a flight to Maun in Botswana. It’s 1985 and we’re bachelors on the loose with time and money!

From Maun we fly into the Delta (Xaxaba camp) in a Cessna 206. After many beers and wines a resident auntie eventually starts looking enticing at around midnight but the moment passes.

Xaxaba Island 2
The camp on Xaxaba Island is now way fancier! Called Eagle-something

The next morning a pair of tropical boubou fly into the open-air pub under a tree right above where we’re sitting and belt out a startling loud duet. Stunning! That’s a lifer!

After a short mokoro ride it’s back to the plane and a fifteen minute flip back to Maun where we all squeeze into an old Land Rover and head off for Moremi, stopping just outside Maun to buy some meat hanging from a thorn tree. Supper.

Goat meat

We’re a motley crew. We get to know two Aussie ladies, a Kiwi lady, a Pom fella – 6 foot 7 inches of Ralph – and the gorgeous Zimbabwean Angel Breasts (Engelbrecht her actual surname)! Unfortunately, she’s the Long Pom’s girlfriend (*sigh*).

Our long-haired Hippy Saffer guide at the wheel is super-cool, a great guide. So eight of us in a Series 2 Landie – “The Tightest-Squeeze-Four-By-Four-By-Far”.

Long Legs in a Landie

Anyone who has driven in a Landie will know there’s lots of room inside – except for your shoulders and your knees. Besides that – roomy. Land Rover’s theory is that three people can fit on the front seat, three on the middle seat and two on those postage stamp seats in back. Right!

Landie 3

Unable to endure the cramped space on the middle seat, the lengthy Pom gets out at the very first stop and sits on the spare wheel on the roofrack. I sit with my thigh firmly against Angel Breasts’ thigh (*sigh*).

He stays up there for the rest of the week – whenever we’re driving, he sits on the roofrack! When we stop he has to pick the insects out of his teeth. I’m in seventh heaven. Mine and Angel Breasts’ thighs were made for each other. She was like . . .

Savuti Landie

Birding: Problem Solved!

I’m mad keen on birding but I don’t know how these guys feel about it. What if they get pissed off? What if they only want to stop for large furry creatures? The first time we get stuck in the deep sand, a little white-browed scrub robin comes to the rescue!! He hops out onto the road in full view, cocks his tail and charms them. From then on I have six spotters who don’t let anything feathered flit past without exclaiming “What’s that? What’s that? And that one?”

Scrub robin

True Love

At Kwai River camp a splendid, enchanted evening vision befalls me – my best wild life sighting of the whole trip: I’m walking in the early evening to supper and bump into Angel Breasts outside her bungalow – she’s in her bra n panties in the moonlight. Bachelor dreams. Oops, she says and runs inside. Don’t worry, I’ve averted my eyes, I lie (*sigh*).

At Savuti camp the eles have wrecked the water tank.

Savuti camp2
more recent pic in Savuti camp – not mine

At Nogatsaa camp a truck stops outside the ranger’s hut, a dead buffalo on the back. The ranger’s wife comes to the truck and is given a hindquarter. Meat rations. They also drop the skin there and advise us to carry a torch if we shower at night as lions are sure to come when they smell the skin.

Nogatsaa pan2
more recent pic of Nogatsaa – not mine

A Lifer!

Later I head for a shower while its still light. A sudden cacophony makes me look out of the broken window: The lady-in-residence is chasing an ele away from her hut by banging her pots & pans together! We travel thousands of k’s to see elephant and she says Footsack Wena! Tsamaya! While looking I spot what I think could be a honeyguide in a tree, so I have to rush back to our puptent wrapped in a towel with one eye on the ele to fetch my binocs. It is a greater honeyguide, and that’s another lifer for me! Moral of the story: Always carry your binocs no matter where you go!

That night the elephants graze quietly right next to the tent, tummies rumbling. Peeping out of the puptent door I look at their tree stump legs, can’t even see up high enough to see their heads. Gentle giants.

Chobe

As we approached the Chobe river the landscape looked like Hiroshima! Elephant damage of the trees was quite unbelievable. That did NOT look like good reserve management! Botswana doesn’t believe in culling, but it sure looked like they should!

The Chobe river, however,  was unbelievable despite the devastation on its banks – especially after the dry country we’d been in. What a river! What wildlife sightings!

On to Zimbabwe, the mighty Zambesi river and Victoria Falls. We stayed at AZambezi Lodge. Here we bid a sad goodbye to our perfect safari companions. Me still deeply in love. Angel Breasts holding the Long Pom’s hand, totally unaware of my devotion (*sigh*).

Compliment

At the end our guide gave me and Larry a letter. We read it on the flight out of Vic Falls. It said “it’s unusual for a guide to thank his guests like this, but you guys really made the trip”. As I said, he was a cool, perceptive fella!

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Saffer – Suffefrickin; South African

lifer – first time you’ve seen that bird ever

Footsack Wena! Tsamaya! – Go away! Be off with you! Eff Oh!

Note: I’ve asked Larry (hello Larry) in Ohio to scratch around for his colour slides in his attic or his secret wall storage space – he had a camera there, I didn’t. He will one day. As a dedicated procrastinator he is bent on never putting off till tomorrow what you can put off till next year. Meantime, thanks to Rob & Jane Wilkinson of wilkinsonsworld.com and others on the interwebses for these borrowed pics!

Football Turnaround – So Glad You Could Leave!

I played football in Apache Oklahoma in 1973 for the Apache Warriors.

Apache Football Team 1973 – I was No. 47 – and surplus to requirements

The coaches did their best to bring this African up to speed on the rules and objectives of gridiron. We played two pre-season warm-up games followed by five league games. And lost all seven encounters!

Myself I was kinda lost on the field, what without me specs! So here’s me: Myopically peering between the bars of the unfamiliar helmet at the glare of the night-time spotlights! Hello-o! Occasionally forgetting that I could be tackled even if the ball was way on the other side of the field!

At that point I thought: Five more weeks in America, five more games in the season, football practice four days a week, game nights on Fridays. I wanted out! There was so much I still wanted to do in Oklahoma and in preparing for the trip home. I went up to Coach with trepidation and told him I wanted to quit football. Well, he wasn’t pleased, but he was gracious.

We were a small team and he needed every available man, how would they manage without me?

By winning every single one of the last remaining five games, that’s how!!

Our coach Rick Hulett won the Most Improved Coach Award and the team ended up with one of their best seasons for years!

I like to think the turnaround was in some small way helped by the way I cheered my former team-mates on from the sideline at the remaining Friday night games! But I suspect it was the fire in the belly of my teammates determined to succeed without me!

This after me:

Apache Football

Tshwane

Tshwane – Famous for the protection of its inebriates;

  • Home of the self-guided car
Few people know that Pretoria Boys High, Audi and Elon Musk were secretly piloting a new self-driving car in Tshwane when their test pilot pulled out of the program for reasons unknown, although rumour has it his wife gave him a thick ear one evening after golf. Details are sketchy, as is the test pilot, a Pretoria Boys High old boy. A PHB from PBH you could say. Some of the project’s left-over funds were spent re-building a school wall.
So that didn’t really work out.
  • Home of the amphibious canoe
OK, that didn’t work so well either, but at least there was no ongeluk thanks to the presence of two more responsible parties and the same long-suffering wife who took over the wheel of a high-powered vehicle at a crucial point when the inebriated one on the roofrack thought paddling the Dusi was as easy as running Comrades.
kayak roofrack
  • Home of the original toilet bowl airbag
This field project took place outside Tshwane city limits in rural Yeoville. It also didn’t really work so well as the protective airbag  failed to deploy until after the teeth had already chipped the porcelain. Work is continuing on developing a more robust alcohol fume sensor that triggers the bag. It seems the original sensor was simply overwhelmed by the overload and went phhht.t.t. and instead of inflating the bag it caused deflation in more areas than one.

 

  • Home of Gullible Stromberg Suckers

Although handicapped by the absence of any alcohol consumption, this project went surprisingly well, when the sucker in question paid a premium price for a piece of inert plastic to attach to his car’s sparkplug cable. The resulting marginal improvement in performance from sat to so-so was enough to impress another Tshwane deskundige into believing the scam. Both were so taken in they gave the old pale blue Cortina its first service and wax.Cortina stromberg

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Interesting place, Tshwane, ancestral home of the australopithecine Tshwanepoels.

australopithecines

The Lowveld Croc

Never mind crocs, watch out for hippos!

There’s a Crocodile River in Gauteng, so the river near Nelspruit that flows east into Mocambique and forms the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park has to be called the “Lowveld Croc”.

A wonderful canoe (kayak really) race is held annually on this river. The presence of hippopotamuses in the river adds a risk and a thrill to the two-day race. Race organisers engage with local farmers and wildlife people and trip the river in the weeks before the race in order to identify possible hippo hotspots which are then compulsory portages on race days. Sometimes a helicopter is used to do a scouting flight on race day morning, and volunteer paddlers also scout the route by starting ahead of the competing racers.

The year I did the race (1983 or 1984) I remember the route as from above Montrose falls to Mbombela town (formerly Nelspruit). We portaged around the falls.

montrose-falls 3

The hippo were in the last pool before the finish in Nelspruit, so the race was ended a few km short at the last accessible spot before the hippo pool. I see they now start higher up and end the race above Montrose falls.

John Weston, Aviation and Motorhome Pioneer

This magic post is from deoudehuize.blogspot.co.za/ – do go and look, they are doing wonderful heritage conservation things in Harrismith! And they have a cool old car!

Maximilian John Ludwick Weston was a South African aeronautical engineer, pioneer aviator, farmer and soldier. He was probably born on 17 June 1873 in an ox wagon at Fort Marshall south of Vryheid in British Natal. He married Elizabeth Maria Jacoba ‘Lily’ Weston (nee Roux) a direct descendant of Adam Tas. The couple had three children, Anna, Kathleen and Max.

250px-John_Weston_family

Weston began the construction of his own aeroplane in 1907 at Brandfort in the Free State. This was the first South African-built aeroplane. He lacked an engine with enough power so he dismantled the aircraft and shipped it to France. In France he fitted a Gnome rotary engine (50hp) and flew it successfully in 1910. On 16 June 1911 John made the first flight in Kimberley establishing a South African non-stop flight record of eight-and-a-half minutes in his Weston-Farman biplane.

first-sa-plane

At the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918) Weston was appointed ground officer in charge of landing grounds in South West Africa and prepared an airfield with hangars and workshops at Walvis Bay.

For services rendered to the Greek Ministry of Marine he was made an Honorary Vice-Admiral in the Royal Hellenic Navy. Thus he was often glorified by the title of Admiral. Isn’t that delicious? The land-locked Free State had an Admiral!

In 1918, John Weston took his family on an amazing adventure in this motorhome, a converted Commer truck. From about 1920 for twelve years, he and his family traveled the world.

DSC_0464

The ‘Weston Caravan’, as it was called, was an extraordinary example of his tenacity and ingenuity. It doesn’t look like much from the outside and if the truth be told, the interior is enough to give anyone claustrophobia, yet this neat and compact arrangement of luggage and folding bed served them well. It could be removed from the chassis proper in a mere 10 minutes.

Remarkably, this ingenious ‘seven-by-fourteen-foot mansion’ ferried the pioneering Weston family on the kinds of far-flung adventures many of us can only dream about.

The purpose of Weston’s project was not simply to satisfy his lust for travel but was also an expression of his idealism. “To travel from land to land, to mix with the people of all nations…, to speak to them and hear their views, to study their institutions and their customs, that is his aim”. It was also a bold experiment in the education of his children: he wanted them to see the world, to be freed from the narrowness and prejudices of those who grow up among never-changing surroundings, who know nothing of life beyond the pale of their dorp or city, the beauties and the grandeur of the earth, or of the nations and races who people it, and adorn (or mar) it with their works. He is preparing them to be citizens of Planet Earth”

Their journeys included a fifteen month Trans-African trip from Cape Town to London, an odyssey fraught with challenges and tribulations. They had run-ins with elephants, occasionally had to float their vehicle across rivers on logs, and on occasions ‘entire villages of more than a hundred natives’ had to dig them out of mud and thick sand and pull them up river banks. Weston said “It can be stated without reservation that the indigenous people encountered on the African continent were all friendly and helpful“. There were no fuel stations dotted along the route and no easy access to fuel, water or spares shops. Even the girls became handy mechanics. In the Southern Sudan they suffered misfortune when the rains broke later than usual. Weston broke a bone in his foot and the two daughters were also laid up with injuries.

On their trips Weston used to fly the South African blue ensign from a long bamboo pole on “Suid-Afrika” as he called the truck. On the side was painted a disc with the inscription ROUND THE WORLD circling the following inscription:

Our mansion: seven by fourteen feet

Our field: the whole world

Our family: mankind

Today it can be found in the museum of the picturesque little town of Winterton, KwaZulu-Natal.

On his return to South Africa in 1933, Weston bought a farm near the present Sterkfontein dam in the Harrismith district and called it “Admiralty Estate”. One Friday night 21 July 1950 Weston and his wife were in the dining-room when they were attacked by three masked men. Mrs Weston regained conscious three days later in the Harrismith hospital, but John went on his last mission at the age of 78 on 24 July. It was his wish that his funeral should be quiet and simple. His body was cremated and no last word spoken. Lily recovered from the attack although certain permanent injuries persisted. She passed away on 14th April 1967 at the age of 91.

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Read a fuller story of this amazing man’s astonishing life here.

 

Telecommunicating, Clarens-style

TV, harbinger of kommunisme, arrived in South Africa in 1976. This in spite of the Nationalist Party’s Posts and Telecommunications Minister Albert Hertzog’s determination not to telecommunicate.

Hertzog had vowed that television would come to South Africa over his dead body, denouncing it as ‘a miniature bioscope over which parents would have no control’. He also argued that “imported fillums showing race mixing and advertising would make non-white Africans (or ‘plurals’) dissatisfied with their lot.” The new medium was the “devil’s own box, for disseminating communism and immorality.” The influential Dutch Reformed Church (the National Party at prayer) saw the new medium as ‘degenerate and immoral’. No doubt they had to send a few dominees oorsee to check and make sure it was as bad as vey fought. Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was also full of wisdom, comparing television to atomic bombs and poison gas – “they are modern things, but that does not mean they are desirable. The goverrinmint has to watch for any dangers to the people, both spiritual and physical.”

Very prescient of them all: I mean do we have free speech and human rights now? See! They TOLD you so! Not to even mention the scourge of ree-hality TV.

But TV came to South Africa irregardless, only not to Clarens. Citizens of Clarens had to listen enviously to Bethlehem se mense when they spoke of staring at the test pattern or watching The World At War.

Then came The Dingleys and The Villagers, as well as comedy series Biltong and Potroast’s SA vs British comedians shootout, and variety program The Knicky Knacky Knoo Show. Also The Sweeney in Afrikaans (called Blitspatrollie). Things were now getting Crucial in Clarens! The frustrasie mounted.

Then: A breakthrough! Someone discovered there was TV reception on the top of Mount Horeb which looms above the dorp! Mount Horeb, where Moses got the Ten Commandments, was about to beam down much breaking of the seventh and tenth commandments – the ones about adultery and coveting your neighbour’s wife’s ass. Yes, Mount Horeb is near Clarens, as is Bethlehem and the River Jordan. They wrote a book about it.

What was needed was a ‘repeater’. A what? A repeater. You get an aerial to catch the signal, then a repeater, then another aerial aimed down at the dorp and voila (or ‘daar’s hy’): you have TV.

Steve writes of the “many trips up Mount Horeb: “At one stage we enlisted the TV expert from the Bethlehem TV shop – Haas Das. Two-way radios were used to speak to the manne down in the dorp, hunched over the test TV set:

“Hoe lyk die picture nou? Over”

“Nee man dis net sneeu – Over”

“En nou? Over”

“Dis nog steeds net sneeu. Over”

Ens ens…”

So that was done and TV arrived in Clarens to groot vreugde and great joy. The mense didn’t know it, but they had embarked on learning to speak Engels.

tv.jpg

And then it died. Wat de hel gaan aan? The battery’s flat. What battery? Ja, it has a battery to drive the repeater. O bliksem, so a roster had to be drawn up for all the townsfolk to take turns driving up Mount Horeb to change the battery and bring the flat one down to charge it. Daily. Every day. (Moses se Moses, he only went up Mount Horeb once).

Porters Hella Hella (6)
Different home-made repeater aerial; Same battery-changing chore

Then there was peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. Except if men forgot their roster slot. Then there was hell to pay. Later a wind charger was installed so they didn’t have to change batteries every day.

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kommunisme – communism

fillums – motion pictures

box – doos

dominees oorsee – they sent preachers overseas to patriotically watch porn

vey fought – they thought

goverrinmint – guvmint (Pik Botha discovered the ‘R’ in guvmint, his only achievement as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was better at local affairs, taking gewillige meisies to farms for frolics around the braai)

gewillige meisies – willing lasses

Bethelehem se mense – Bethlehem’s people

frustrasie – frustration, impotence, FOMO

dorp – village

daar’s hy – there it is, Suzelle, voila

manne – the boys

“Hoe lyk die picture nou? Over” – What’s the picture look like? Over

“Nee man dis net sneeu – Over” – No man, its just snow – Over

“En nou? Over” – And now? Over

Ens ens... – etc etc

groot vreugde – great joy

Wat de hel gaan aan? – What gives? Whatsa happening?

O bliksem – Oh shit

se Moses – like . . . “that was nothing!”

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I wanted to know more about how they did this, so asked

The South African Radio League
The National Association for Amateur Radio in South Africa
Proudly serving Amateur Radio since 1925

and got a reply from Jaap:

Yes this is no secret, in fact we at the SABC/ Sentech, encouraged the use of TV repeaters for the smaller communities, and at one stage there were more privately owned “self- help” TV stations than those we ran for the SABC.

The right way to do this was to purchase a transposer, a combined TV receiver and transmitter that will receive a TV signal on one channel, then re-broadcast the signal on another channel. This could be UHF-UHF or VHF-VHF or VHF-UHF. Then you need a receive antenna and transmit antenna. Install on a high structure, such as a grain silo or mountain top. This transposers was in the order of 1-10 Watts output. This then would receive the distant TV signal from the TX station through a front-end amplifier on one channel before feeding into the transposer, and transmitting it on another channel.

The cheap and dirty, crude way was to get hold of a VCR with AV out, a TV tuner with a AV output, or even a modified TV set. The AV output would then be taken to a TV modulator, which you can buy off the shelf, and then tune it to a suitable channel, and then put the RF into a amplifier that could be home-built or even a commercial distribution (set-back amplifier ) connect it to the antenna and away you go. Equipment could be bought from your local TV spares/ equipment dealer, Ellies Electronics, Space TV, or even your local co-op store. Drawback was that only one channel, normally TV3 (SABC3) could be re-broadcasted like this, any other additional channels would have to have identical set-ups.

According to the law, such self-help stations had to be licensed by the SABC, but many of them did not bother to do so. Obviously the home-brewed equipment was very prone to causing interference as the amplifiers they used was not channelized, with no filtering whatsoever.

In all instances the equipment had to be placed so that the clearest possible signal could be received and the maintenance of such repeaters was obviously the responsibility of that community.

Voila.