Categories
5_Army days 8_Nostalgia

War Correspondent

While suffering terribly (NOT) during Basic Training in the weermag in a remote outpost outside Potchefstroom (which is itself remote) called Loopsruit, I had a brief respite from the relentless um, tedium, to pen a hurried note to sister Sheila and friend Joey K Nott. They were being paid to drink beer and lead schoolchildren astray in the gin-soaked hills of Empangeni.

They had sent me a letter and a parcel and how welcome that was, if you’ve ever sat through a whole posparade where every Tom, Dick and Jannie gets a letter and you sit there like kippie and get fokol, then you know the humiliation of the latter and the unbridled joy of the former. Looking down your nose at the poor poeses whose Ma’s haven’t written to them that week cos they’re working and anyway there’s no news and secretly, they don’t actually have a girlfriend even though they’re always talking about a girlfriend, gives one a great sense of superiority and one needs superiority when the whole point of Basic Training is inferiority. Y’unnerstand?

My parcel contained – as I wrote in appreciation – “grub, Scopes, sweets, Time magazines, etc,” Ha!! ‘Scopes’ were poesboekies in the days of nipple-censorship. In 1979 gentlemen were expected to go through a marriage ceremony before seeing their first nipple.

My main news was normal army shit: We’d had 2,5hrs of punishment drill cos we missed a 4.45am deadline to go on a route march. Turned out – this is NOT unusual – the punishment drill for missing the route march was way milder than the actual route march. We were relaxed after 2,5hrs whereas the ous were fucked after the 5hr route march. Don’t look for logic.

According to my letter the only two ‘hard’ days we’d had were a Monday and a Tuesday on which we did ‘leopard crawl’ and ‘rolling down a hill’ in full kit and helmets and ‘carrying our pea-shooters.’ The toughness was relieved by the hilarity of ‘watching the others’ – ‘you just saw helmets, arms, rucksacks, feet and rifles flying.’

Weekend passes had been cancelled, so I would miss Des’ wedding.

‘Lotsa love, Koos’

~~~oo0oo~~~

image found somewhere on the internets years ago

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

Ancient Caskie Connections

In February 2021, out of the blue, Leo Caskie Wade wrote:

Good morning Rob.
I thought the Caskies in SA were something of the past.
I am 81 years old and my Caskie connections were from Harrismith years ago.
Should you feel inclined I would like to hear from you.
Regards - Leo wade

Rob Caskie replied: Good morning, Leo,
Thank you for your email which arrived as a great surprise. Yes, indeed, our family also stems from the Caskie family in Harrismith. Our cousin Sheila Swanepoel knows far more about the family and early Harrismith days than I do.
Neither I nor my brother have children, so this line of the Caskie family unfortunately dies with us. Our father, Alexander Maynard Caskie (Taffy) died on 6 March 1989, aged 61. His brothers and both parents passed on early in our father’s life.

Enter Sheila, she with the family info: Hello Leo, What a delightful surprise to make contact with another Caskie.

Alexander (Alec) Caskie was born in Scotland in 1839. He married Mary Craig, and they came to Harrismith from Pietermaritzburg. He was my great-great grandfather and Rob’s great grandfather.

They had two sons and two daughters: 1. Robert (Bob) married Doreen (Doe) and Rob is his grandson; 2. James (Jim) married Ethel and they had four kids; 3. Mary who is my great grandmother – she married John Francis Adam Bland II. She was my Mum’s beloved Granny Bland, who died in Harrismith in 1959, so she had me as a great-grandkid till I was three; 4. Jessie who married a Mr Tapling and then a Mr Tarling – she had no children.

– Sheila has this old cracked daguerreotype ** of Great-Great Gran Mary Craig Caskie with Great Gran Mary Caskie Bland on her lap – see the many marys

Alec Caskie died in Harrismith on 14 August 1926.

My Mum Mary – grandaughter of young Mary on the lap above – is 92, still alive and well, and now living in Pietermaritzburg. She remembers all the Harrismith Caskies very well.  She and Taffy (Rob’s father) were both born in 1928 and were great mates when they were little.

There are three Caskie homes in HS – all beautifully restored, all in Stuart Street. We grew up in this one from 1960 to 1973. It had been owned by the original Alec Caskie .

– 95 Stuart Street –
– view from that front stoep – or veranda –

It turns out Leo Caskie Wade is the grandson of Janet Caskie, who came to Harrismith from Australia, and Harrismith’s well-known doctor Leo Hoenigsberger, who our gran Annie insisted on calling Dr ‘Henningsberg’. A great friend of her Dad, our great grandfather, Stewart Bain, he was the family GP as well as the Harrismith government doctor, or ‘district surgeon’.

One day, driving back to town from his duties at the prison, he missed the bridge and his car landed in ‘the spruit with the name.’ The Kak Spruit. Only his pride was injured. In the meantime, back in town, the hostess of the weekly bridge evening was getting a bit perturbed as Dr H hadn’t arrived yet and they couldn’t start playing bridge without him. She ‘phoned the Hoenigsberger home and was told by Dr H’s young son Max: “No, I don’t think my father will be coming tonight. He’s had enough bridge for one day.”

After decades of hearing this story from mother Mary, here’s Leo Caskie Wade to add some more detail:

“Leo Hoenigsberger, methodical, careful and pedantic as he was, was rushing in his huge German Sperber motorcar over the narrow bridge that led to the Harrismith Hospital. It was an emergency. He crashed over the side into the river and was admitted to his own hospital.

Now fast forward to the mid-1970’s. I am at university in Durban; I am asked to take an Italian female exchange student to digs where she would stay over the week-end on her way to Rhodes University. I dropped her at the gate to return later to take her out. When I arrived she was not ready yet, and in chatting to the elderly German landlady I discovered she was my grandfather Dr Leo Hoenigsberger’s theatre nurse! She had nursed him after the said crash. She wanted to know all about the Harrismith family etc. What a coincidence!”

~~oo0oo~~~

** The ‘Two Marys’ photo: To make the image, a daguerreotypist would polish a sheet of silver-plated copper to a mirror finish, treat it with fumes that made its surface light sensitive, expose it in a camera for as long as was judged to be necessary, which could be as little as a few seconds for brightly sunlit subjects or much longer with less intense lighting; make the resulting latent image on it visible by fuming it with mercury vapour; remove its sensitivity to light by liquid chemical treatment, rinse and dry it, then seal the easily marred result behind glass in a protective enclosure. (thanks, wikipedia)

~~~oo0oo~~~

– Sheila’s ‘Two Marys’ daguerreotype: As is and ‘digitally doctored’ –

Mary Caskie Bland’s Stuart Street home:

– Granny Bland’s house 13 Stuart Street –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Sheils found this handwritten note – most likely written by Alec Caskie himself – among her gran Annie’s effects. Annie was his granddaughter:

– H.M.S. Vanguard – In 1862 it left Liverpool, reaching Australia on 3 June, probably via SA –

Born at Kilmarnock Dec 1839. Brought up in Stewarton where his father’s folks lived for several centuries. Was sent to the parish school under Mr Sinclair Sincular ?. Graduated in the big college of the worlds.

” survived 4yrs to the (WHOLE LINE MISSING) ” in __ of the large __ __ __ questions involved __ __(HM ??)  Paul to release political prisoners.
” Am a JP for many years.” A freemason for 40 years, passed through the chair three times and am affiliated with several other Lodges. Belong to all the churches and a number of _____. I have served on the village management for 35 years barring 2 years I was out. I have been several times mayor retiring for good in March 1921. I have served on the Hospital board; learning / licensing? board; on the Library committee; the (?Ways – maybe ‘Ways and Means’) Board. The Literary Society. Have (?passed) the (?port) on many occasions. __ under Dr. and I. __. Married Mary Craig daughter of Robb Craig, High Street (?Stewarton__). Sailed on the Vanguard from Glasgow to South Africa – 1862 – 69 days passage. Was (?pro cantor) and organist Rev Campbell _____ Church for Maritzburg, where I have lived for about 10 years. Came to Harrismith in 1873 where I have lived since.
(those of you who can read old bullets’ 19th century spidery inkwell-and-quill handwriting, please click on the pic bottom right below and do some deciphering and add it in the comments!).

~~~oo0oo~~~

. . and a pleasantly flattering bio in Afrikaans (by historian FA Steytler’s Die Geskiedenis van Harrismith, 1932) which I translate here:

Grew up in difficult circumstances; not much schooling; worked on a farm as a boy; then apprenticed to a lumberjack (or timber merchant?); Came to PMB and started as a builder; poor health saw him seek ‘higher altitude’ and move to Harrismith for the climate in 1873; seemed to suit him! He built the landdroskantoor, the hofsaal (magistrates court and offices), and the town gaol; Disaster struck in 1874 when the house he was renting (the Ou Pastorie of Ds Macmillan) burnt down; he lost all he possessed; he then decided to take advantage of the increased traffic between Durban’s harbour and Kimberley’s diamond fields and open a hotel – the Commercial (later called the Grand National), which he ran as hotelier till 1899; He was described as pleasant in company, a keen debater, with many friends; He did an incredible amount for the town. Town Councillor; Mayor 1896 to 1899, 1904, 1910-1911 and 1920. For fifty years he was involved in almost everything the municipality established or started: eg. electric light, water supply, town hall, Victoria Lake in the park, the pine plantation on the slopes of Platberg, etc. A member of the Hospital Board, a director of the Building Society, the School Commission, Library Committee, etc. A prominent Freemason; Active in politics: he stood for the Unionist Party for the Harrismith seat in the Union Parliament, but lost the election to Kommandant Jan Meyer. Died 14 August 1926, aged 86.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Sheila also has an undated newspaper article about the death of one John Caskie in Kilmarnock, Scotland – brother? cousin? He served in the 72nd Highlanders and saw action in the Crimean War (1855) and the Indian Mutiny. John was likely a relative, as Annie Bland kept this article amongst her papers.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Potted Caskie history (like all my history ‘lessons’: pinch o’ salt): The Caskies originated in the Galloway – Dumfries region of Scotland. The name is the anglicization of the pre-10th century Gaelic ‘MacAscaidh’ which derives from the Old Norse personal name ‘Asketill’, and translates as ‘The cauldron of the gods.’ How’s that!? The first recorded spelling of the family name is that of Thom McKasky, 1494, Edinburgh, during the reign of King James IV of Scotland. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation, so no wonder the Scots kept spellin’ them different! Stewarton seems to be known for Ayrshire cattle, body snatching and being a good place to leave, but of course – I may be wrong.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

A New Author!

We have a new book out! ( – get it on takealot.com – )

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.

UPDATE 10 Feb 2021: It’s he-ere! In my hand!

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 . . Goddit now. Here’s the back cover blurb: ( – get it on takealot.com – )

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
8_Nostalgia

Add to Mary stuff

On Wed, Sep 18, 2019 Peter Swanepoel wrote:

Hey JP – I saw Mother Mary Methodist on Sunday (it’s her 91st today) and she told me this: Verster de Witt was the captain of the rugby team and he was her boyfriend! First time I heard that.

She has lots of memory lapses – yesterday things – and then lots of clear flashbacks of olden daze things. Sien vir jou – Koos

..

Jean-Prieur du Plessis replied from Texas:

Aaaawh! Happy Birthday Aunty Mary.  I bet Mona will be able to second/confirm that!  I remember she was really good at who dated who in the past in Harrismith. I asked her once: Ma, hoekom hou jy nie van Tannie Havenga nie (I forgot her first name…from the bookstore**).  She answered: Want sy was jou pa se girlfriend in matriek!  😀

Thanks for always keeping in touch!  Lekker bly. Cheers

** Marie Lotter – was Marie de Beer

Top pic: May and Polly ca.1945 – their matric year

~~~oo0oo~~~

maybe add this to the ‘Harrismith’s automotive designer’ post

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Old Harrismith Cars

A post for you, if you’re A. Ancient; B. A Harrismith, Vrystaat okie; and C. A nerd or a petrolhead.

Who drove What cars When, back in the day. And: WHAT COLOUR were they? Also, for extra points, 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, the Mayor of Swinburne – silver? Rolls Royce pickup conversion (Abe with stetson hat, cowboy boots and string tie with a semi-precious stone clasp; Lulu looking swish next to him)

Beno Sammel – big Packard, according to Dad

– Dr Leo Hoenigsberger

Dr Leo Hoenigsberger drove ‘a big old German Sperber’ according to his grandson Leo Caskie Wade. Sperber means sparrowhawk

Pikkie Loots’ grandad’s ‘lovely old blue Desoto Suburban – probably late 1940s model – OHS 555 (remember the State Express 555 cigarettes)’

Pikkie also added: What about the Herringtons, Charlie and George? They had a few cars between them. At least one Karmann Ghia if I remember. At van Niekerk (Dries’ brother) – a Porsche. Ronnie (Hector) Pienaar’s Alpha Romeo. Abel Caixinha’s uncle’s beige station wagon. Hoender’s (Gerrit – Ritger? – Kock) Volvo B16?

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 1938 Buick Roadster coupe. See the feature pic above

Charlie Crawley & Michael Hasting’s ‘s flatbed truck – dark green, wooden bed Chev (1934 – 35 according to Dad);

JN de Witt – big black (de Soto?)

Alet de Witt – VW Karmann Ghia

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

Hec & Stel Fyvie – a white Pontiac Parisienne and a lang slap off-white Merc 220S that Tabs drove; Tabs’ red Datsun 1600 (was it a SSS?) with the round rear lights that the girls at NTC in PMB called a Ferrari; Then Tabs had a green Datsun 1800 SSS which Geoff Leslie called his ‘Triple Ess Ess Ess’

Patrick Shannon – Chevrolet El Camino pickup (I saw him using it as a pick-up, too!)

Other farmers’ cars: I remember Bertie van Niekerk getting out of a huge car wearing a huge hat, but details are missing. Someone will know; I also have a mental picture of him wearing a huge hat sitting astride a horse and looking down at the admiring throng . . by die skou, I suppose. I remember Chev Kommandos, one driven by an Odendaal, one by Hertzog van Wyk

Ronnie van Tubergh – Ford Ranchero pickup

Piet Steyn – grey Borgward

Gretel Reitz – black VW Karmann Ghia; Dr Frank Reitz – big old black Chev OHS 71

Dad Swanepoel – beige Morris Isis OHS 154 – dark blue VW Kombi OHS 153 – light blue Holden station wagon – white Holden station wagon – white V8 Ford Econoline, all OHS 154

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

Jannie du Plessis – green Datsun 300C

Jess Hansen – Hino pickup, grey, I seem to remember;

Charles Ryder – lime green Volvo 122S

Teachers’ cars: Bruce Humphries – new white Ford Cortina; Giel du Toit – old black Mercedes 190; Ben Marais – blue VW beetle; Ou Rot Malherbe – little green Fiat 500; Ou Eier Meyer – something with wings; Daan Smuts – white VW beetle;

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

Categories
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 – pound-for-pound – 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.

Categories
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 . . .

Categories
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.