So there we were ensconced on a farm outside Potch among rockspider 17yr olds from all over SA. We heard it had been a reform school for delinquents. “Loopspruit” or “Klipdrif” they called it. Presumably another nearby stream was called Staanspruit? We’d been sent there for “army basics”.

One young dutchman was big as an ox, quiet as a mouse. He sat listening to us 24yr-old oumanne praating Engels in fascination. In many pockets of the old ‘bilingual’ South Africa you could grow up hearing very little Engels.

Suddenly one day our man became famous! He burst into song, singing three lines:
“Are you lonesome tonight? Are your brastrap too tight? That’s why you’re lonesome tonight!

He sounded unlike Elvis:

We hosed ourselves and gave him a new name: Jelly Tots. He didn’t really like it, but his name was Lotzoff, and we would see him and say – “Lots and Lotzoff – JELLY TOTS!” He taught us a new phrase too – When frustrated he didn’t say “fuck’s sake”, he said “fuck’s fakes” so that became our phrase too.

Another was as small as Lotzoff was big. He looked 12yrs old and was a compact, muscular, good looking, perky, cute lil bugger. He had a smattering of  English and preferred to  use it. Some of the others refused to even try! Stoere Boere.
His name? GT Jones! Pointless giving someone with so apt and memorable a name a nickname. We were in the medics and we had to know all about ambulances, which he called “ambuminces”.

So was born a new name for one of the meals in the mess. On ground beef days we would refer to the stuff plopped onto our plates by the bored chefs as ambumince  – which led in turn, naturally, to gruesome speculation on its origin!

Among the older, optometrist inmates:
Graham Lewis – A companion worth his weight in gold. Never fazed, always cheerful. Keenly aware of the hilarity of this fake existence we were leading. He’d been assigned to D Company. We were in A and we were chuffed when he got transferred to our (better) company. We were good company and so was he!

Basics was, uh, basic. Get up in the morning, bugger around with your clothes and other domestic stuff like making your bed; Assemble in straight stripes; March; March; Trudge; Omkeer!; Holy shit . . .

The climax:

Dave Cooper was another worth his weight in gold. Always smiling, always upbeat. Later on our officers’ course he would discuss the weirdness of developing sexual thoughts and desire for daardie luitenant in her tight browns. He was articulating what we all were thinking. Wouldn’t give her a second thought outside this place, he’d say, but sure would give her a second go right now! And a third.

He played the guitar and sang beautifully. His unquenchable optimism led him to get us to join him in song, eventually leading to a KO Konsert where we sang to the appreciative masses in uniform! Yes, they were ordered to be there, but still! Talk about a captive audience! By now we had moved to Roberts Heights; or Thaba Tshwane; or OK, Voortrekkerhoogte as the weermag called it in those temporary days!

Songs we sang:  ” ??? (someone will remember – we were good! Amazing no talent scouts came looking). Ah! Piano Man by Billy Joel. Afterwards Dave went to Texas and became world-famous as Dhhhavid Cooper. He did really well out there!

Les Davies played the piano. Wide smile! And an amazing laugh. He was once instructed by a worried koporaal to “Lag Uit, Uit, Uit, nie In, In, In”.

Les Chrich. Shyer smile. Interested and interesting. Always had a serious girlfriend and was pretty much focused on her. Fell in love and married her after the ‘war ended’ I think. Not for long, though. Joined me in Durban after basics and officers’ course. Fell in love there too. And married her too, I think. Falls in love.

In perverse army style all the Durban guys who had pleaded to the point of irritation to be sent to Durban for a host of desperately ‘good reasons’ had been sent to ‘the border’ – the Namibian/Angolan border, where I had applied to go! Les and I – from up-country – were sent to Durban!


Loopspruit – walking creek; running stream;

Staanspruit – standing creek;

Kilpdrif – stony shallow river crossing;

daardie luitenant – female officer who was neither ancient nor obese – thus highly desirable in our dearth-of-ladies circumstances;

KO Konsert – Concert given by us candidate officers to a captive audience;


Dhave Cooper chimed in from far-away Houston:

However, the most memorable event – besides the looty you eluded to, was the never to be seen again, yet well serenaded to, fine looking lass…. who stole our hearts that one summer beer-filled night….

Irene!! Do you remember..?

We sang “Goodnight Irene, good night……I’ll see you in my dreams” — and that’s exactly what happened…. we never saw her again except in our dreams!!

Hope you’re well pal… be lovely to catch up again sometime….Rod, maybe an weermag reunion sometime.

Published by bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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