Can’t Have That!

Phoned Mother Mary today. 5:15pm and she’s already tucked up in bed in her room in frailcare. As always, she’s positive. She says, ‘I’m warm and comfy, I’ve had my eyedrops, and I’m ready to sleep. They’ll give me my sleeping tablet soon.’

Then a story or two. Tonight it’s remembering her Granny Bland’s brother in Australia. ‘He went missing, you know. Wandered into the Outback and was never seen again. Alec Caskie.’ I remember my great granma Bland. I can see her lying in a high bed in her lovely big home in Stuart Street. I was about five when she died.

And a concern: ‘I’ve got such phlegm in my throat and when I hawk it up it sounds so unladylike!’ I sympathise with her.

‘Night mom. Lotsa love. ‘Send my love to Jessie and Tommy.’ Will do.

My Face in a Book

There was a knock at our front door. A stranger. No-one who was anyone went to our front door at 95 Stuart Street. I walked the long trek down our long dark passage and opened up. There stood a little poephol with a hat and a camera. Are you Peterrr Swaaanepoel? he asked. Yep. Oh, I’m from ve Volksblad and I’m here to take your picture. That gave me a huge grin. What for!? I asked, genuinely curious. For the best student award after the matric results come out, he explained. Ah, you’ve come to the wrong place. Someone has sadly misled you, I said, starting to shut the door.

He was ready, he had his foot in the door, brave little poephol doing a good journalistic job. No, Mnr Steyl said you might resist, but I’m not wrong, I do want a picture of you please.

He said please.

OK, shoot, I said. No, please, will you put a tie on, and can I come inside and get a good shot? He said please. Into the lounge we went. I went off to fetch my multi-coloured school tie, demurely coloured in dark blue, orangy-yellow and green. I stood at the mantelpiece, tie loosely attached. Next to me grinned the illegal stolen skull of the San Bushman from South West Africa. Can you do up your tie, please?

A bridge too far. No, this is as good as you’re going to get. Shoot now or forever hold onto your piece, I said, peering over the top of my specs. If he wanted perfesser, I’d give him perfesser. He shot. He left.

Wragtig that thing was published some time later! There I was, 2cm by 1cm in black and white, looking for all the world like a scruffy schoolboy in poorly-fitting spectacles who couldn’t tie a decent tie knot. Apparently among the dwindling few rooineks in the province I was one of the very few who knew how to skryf an eksamen. Bugger me. A bit like early facebook, I spose.


{In this school annual pic taken earlier that year – 1972 – I had also tried to peer over my specs for a professorial look}

The Student Ball

Blast from the past. Memories can linger now – all hard copies have been discarded in overdue house-cleaning.

Menu Carlton Hotel Johannesburg 1977
– menu Carlton Hotel Johannesburg 1977 –

Rob Allen and Steve Reed’s lovely cartoon drawings.


Harrismith’s New Park

(I’ve done a similar post! on the park in more recent days – ‘Our era,’ the 1960s. Enjoy both, and take both with a pincha cerebos).


Harrismith’s young town council, established only in 1875, though the town had been going for much longer, decided in 1877 to lay out a large park for its citizens to enjoy on the banks of the Wilge River on the south-west edge of the new dorpie.

Over the following years – and mainly thanks to the efforts of the Landdrost Warden who came to Harrismith in 1884, and Harrismith’s first Town Clerk A. Milne, the area was laid out with winding roads, walking paths, a “lovers lane of poplar trees” and up to 38 species of other foreign trees, in what was then highveld grassland. Or, as described by park praise-singers: “a bare, crude piece of ground!”

Here we see the Wilge River banks and surrounds just upstream of the park site – near where the ysterbrug, or Hamilton Goold bridge was later built:

– the troops stationed in the town around the time of the Anglo-Boer War erected this suspension bridge –

Tree planting commences. Platberg the backdrop.

The typical Free State river was narrow and shallow, so an attractive little lake with a central island was built on the right bank (town side) and used for boating. Swans were introduced from London ‘for beauty.’ As for trees, so all local life **sniff** was regarded as inferior to things imported from “home”! Home being a small island to the NW of France. The swans did quite well, settled in and bred, the cygnets being sold for £15 a pair, but not long after, they met their end at the hand of ‘some unidentified vandal with a .22 gun.’ Probably an early indigenous wildlife fan, I’d like to suggest?

As the trees grew, so more and more birds roosted in them, large heronries eventually being established. Predictably people complained and as predictably, the council “did something about it,” shooting the local birds while pontificating against the shooting of the foreign birds! The birds’ carcasses dropped into and frotted in the lake, causing a big stink! In the 60s there were still many cattle egrets in the trees and I recall lots of white poo and some dead babies on the ground beneath their nests.

In 1897 the lake was named Victoria Lake in honour of the silver jubilee of the Queen – that’s the queen of England, that little island to the NW of France – along with thousands of other things named “Victoria” that year around the world – much genuflection was expected of the colonies. Also they were probably trying to ease her pain over the royal pasting (or snotklap) we had given her at Majuba.

– they named the lake “Victoria” to arse-creep the queen . . of England – didn’t amuse her, though – never once came to ghoef in it –
– more recently – sans swans – we shot them all –

More & more trees would be planted over the years by schoolkids and enthusiasts. Gotta get this place looking more like England, dammit!

– lovers walk – I remember the poplar trees leaning ominously – were they trying to tell me something about my lovelife? –

The park was officially opened in 1906 by Sir Hamilton Goold Adams, at “a colourful ceremony with troops on parade and a military band in attendance.” Now they were gloating, having given us a revenge pasting in the 1899-1902 Tweede Vryheids Oorlog (Anglo-Boer War).

In 1907 the river was dammed by a weir just downstream of the park, thus creating a wider and deeper river for the full length of the park.

This greatly added to the river’s charm and utility, allowing for swimming, drowning, more boating and bigger boats – even the first motorboat in 1918, owned by Mr E.H Friday. Later a boat house and a landing stage were erected by the Boating Syndicate who advertised ‘Boats for 2 and boats for 4 and boats for all’ in 1922. The Syndicate graduated to a motor launch capable of taking 14 passengers slowly along the river, including full-moon evenings where people would sing the songs of the day, accompanied by “the plaintive sounds of the ukelele”.

On the edge of the park nearest town sportsfields were laid out, starting with a cricket oval and an athletic track, then rugby, soccer, softball and hockey fields; and jukskei lanes. No croquet?

The park was extended across the river and a new suspension bridge about 300 yards downstream replaced the one the military had erected (the thrifty town council using some of the metal from the original in the replacement). In time a caravan park was started, but this was soon moved to the town side of the park.

An impressive entrance – wrought iron gates between sandstone pillars – was erected and named the Warden-Milne gate in honour of those
who had done so much to get the park established. Well done, chaps! We enjoyed the fruits of your labour in our youth in the 1960s! OK, not really labour, organisational abilities, nê?


It’s only thanks to the preservation efforts of Biebie de Vos that we can see these old pics. Thanks, Biebie! Also thanks to SA Watt’s military history articles here and here.


Gotta love marketing! In a brochure extolling the virtues of our lovely dorp, the blurb says – where we would have said Dammit, it’s FREEZING! – “the town enjoys a bracing climate.”


Wilge river – Willow river; Interesting name, as the willows are from the northern hemisphere, and were planted later; only after a while would they have become such a feature of this river (and many other South African rivers); Wonder if our river had another name when the town was first settled?

dorpie – village

ysterbrug – iron bridge; for horsedrawn carriages and those newfangled automobiles / motorcars

snotklap – a tight slap that – if timed right – whips the snot out of the klap-ee’s nose and leaves it wrapped round his face ear-to-ear

nê? – amiright?

Model United Nations

In high school in 1973 in Oklahoma, I was asked to go to the Model UN to represent another country. I asked to represent SA. Why, I don’t know. I could have learned more by representing a new country I’m sure. The organisers said ‘Sure.’

I think it was in Norman at OU but pinch of salt: Fifty years ago next year! ( Ah, it was, I see. )

We had fun and I did learn a lot. But I have embarrassing recollections of passionately defending 1973 SA when the motion against us was tabled – all the Nats points came bubbling up. Parallel development, Separate but equal, blah blah. Sheeeesh!! The old wanting to win was fierce in my young days. I must have sounded like blerrie Pik Botha!! I think we lost and were defeated. I hope they declared apartheid a crime against humanity – or did that only come later? ( Oh, soon after: November 1973 I see. )

It was very formal and procedural. I remember younger kids called ‘pages’ running up and down the hall passing notes between delegates. One addressed to me said: Good speech. Are you Australian?

They’re still going. Hopefully strong. Being Oklahoma, I bet they catch a fair amount of flak.


Riding Shotgun

Another re-cycled post to save ink, pixels and perspiration. I tried to reason with these ous, but would they lissen to me?


My lift from JHB dropped me off at home. The dorp was empty. The city of sin and laughter was somnolent. Soporific even. Where WAS everyone?

I phoned 2630 pring pring pring. Or was it 2603 priiiiing priiiing priiiing? I forget. Can you fetch me? No, get yourself here quick, we’re going to Warden to scare some guineafowls. Now.

What could I do? The imported white Ford Econoline 302 cu. inch V8 van was in the garage, I knew where the keys were, and the folks were away. And after all, I’d only be using it to get to Gilliann then hop into T’s bakkie and away we’d go. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, and I’d better borrow Dad’s cheap Russian 12-gauge shotgun, too. And take a few beers.

As I drew up next to the prefab on Gilliann a cry of Perfect! A real shooting brake! went up and six pre-lubricated gentlemen holding shotguns and beers piled in, calling Tommy the German Pointer in with them. No, guys, hang on, I said feebly . .

The day at Roest was a blur but the drive back came into sharp focus. We ‘had to’ pull in to the village pub. The dorpskroeg. I, of course, had suggested we go straight home, but that went down like a lead balloon. A vote wasn’t taken and I lost, blithely ignored. Overruled. In the pub the barman took one look at us and refused to serve us. Someone who shall remain nameless but whose surname maybe started with a Gee and ended with a Zee, fetched his shotgun and casually aimed it at the expensive bottles of hooch above the barman’s head whereupon said barman suddenly remembered our order and delivered seven beers pronto. When we decided we’d like to play snooker, same thing: It was a No until a The Simpsons-like character aimed a shotgun at the white ball and the cues were produced with alacrity. And chalk.

When to my huge relief, we finally got going, the G-man, who was riding shotgun on my right (the van was Left-Hand-Drive), sat on the windowsill and three of Warden’s four streetlamps went ‘pop’. There he is, in the window, next to the weapon in question. Tommy’s wondering What.The.Hell!? The guinea is mortally wounded, deceased and bleeding on the van carpet.

– riding shotgun –

Now I KNEW I was going to jail forever. Putting my head down and roaring for home I wasn’t stopping again for NOBODY. Except the gentle tickle of a shotgun against my ear persuaded me otherwise and I stopped as instructed with my headlights shining on Eeram. A firing squad lined up, three kneeling in front and four standing behind them. This is for Ram, guys, he’s getting married in Bergville next weekend! BLAM!! The ‘Ee’ disappeared, and there was just ‘ram’. In honour of Ram’s wedding. Nor do I believe it. Maybe it was a dream?

I finally got rid of the miscreants, got home and looked at the van. Holy cow! Dog hair, guineafowl feathers and the mud and the blood and the beer all over the carpets and upholstery of Dad’s white Ford Econoline V8 camper van! 302 cu. inches. I set to work cleaning it. And cleaning it. And scrubbing it. Still it stank of that mixture. In desperation, I took a jerrycan and spread petrol liberally on the carpet and scrubbed again.

When the folks got home I made a full – OK, partial – confession: Dad, I spilled some petrol in your van, but I’ve cleaned it all up. Sorry about that!


  • the mud and the blood and the beer – Johnny Cash –


Eye Clinics – An Unfulfilled Dream

As an optometry student in Joburg I loved our clinic work. Especially the outlying clinics in Alexandra and Riverlea. I have never forgotten the man who ran Riverlea clinic, a jovial man who introduced himself with a huge smile as, “Gerald Durrell! You know, like the author who wrote My Family and Other Animals?” That was ca.1975. After I qualified the army sent me to work at Addington hospital in 1980, and I loved working under ophthalmology Prof Anne Peters, who sent us to all three of her outpatient clinics: Addington on the Durban beachfront (strictly white people only), King Edward in industrial Umbilo (less strictly black people only) and RK Khan in suburban Chatsworth (less strictly Indian people only).

I enjoyed the work, so stayed on for years as a volunteer at nearby Addington even after I entered private practice.

At Natal SAOA meetings I met a wonderful man Abdul Motala, who was quietly running a clinic in Umlazi, south of Durban – as well as doing some pro deo work in his practice in town. I joined his efforts and with my propensity to nod instead of shaking my head, got involved in running it and encouraging others to join us. ‘The more of us do it, the less often we’ll have to do it,’ was my recruitment schtick. We got a number of volunteers and that helped a lot. We could see more people. The main reasons for people dropping out were 1. Some were not happy using unfamiliar (and usually inferior to their own practice’s) equipment; and 2. Some were uneasy with driving to Umlazi.

We tried a number of approaches and after a few years of running Abdul’s clinic in Umlazi, we settled on one: Centralisation. Instead of trying to establish a clinic in each township, we moved the Umlazi clinic to near the main transport hub in the city centre. That way 1. People from all the townships had a better chance of getting to us; 2. Our volunteer optoms were closer to it, greatly reducing their traveling time; 3. We solved the problem of some colleagues feeling they could not drive into the townships for security reasons, so we got more volunteers; 4. We could hire permanent staff at the clinic; 5. We could buy better equipment as we were actually making money and only needed one set of equipment; 6. Our volunteers could see more people as our trained staff did pre-screening for them on the automated equipment;

At its smoothest the Durban clinic ran like a well-oiled machine with minimal input from us. The two ladies Marian Glenn and Margaret Radebe managed it really well. We would arrive and be handed a card, introduced to our first patient and we’d get going with a record card that already had on it: 1. The patient’s main reason for visiting the clinic (translated from isiZulu where necessary by Margaret); 2. An autorefraction result; 3. Non-contact tonometry pressures; 4. Half-PDs measured. All we had to was examine, refract and suggest a course of action. All post-examination work – referral, frame selection, dispensing, paying, ordering, etc was done by Marian and Margaret.

At the end of the session our optometrists were handed the exact cash to pay for their secure parking, so that was not a hassle or an expense. Marian even arranged with volunteers how many people they were comfortable seeing. Some optoms saw painfully few, but at least we knew beforehand to book them less people so we didn’t turn people away after they had waited and expected to be seen. Our peak volunteer numbers were when we managed to get Continued Professional Development CPD points allocated for indigent clinical volunteer work. That ended when people wanting to make money out of CPD got the HPCSA to end it, even though we allocated a meagre ONE point for a morning session helping the poor, for goodness’ sake! Over the years our HPCSA has been pretty consistent in doing the wrong thing. We had a drop in volunteers then, but kept going.

Later, as President of SAOA I was keen to expand the clinic work done in Durban to the rest of the country. I thought our model could work all over. Progress was slow, but we did open a number of “clinics.” Some though, were just in-practice, which our experience showed were not at all productive. No paying patient was going to be kept waiting for an indigent person, and they were often kept waiting way too long. I felt we had to do it properly, not “as a favour when we felt like it.” I was told a few times, ‘You don’t understand, our people are not like Natal people.’ (meaning no volunteers)!

– most are no more –

Later came a new president – of a wannabe medical bent – derisive of refraction: “I could teach my dog to refract.” He was putting drops in people’s eyes and that excited him. Putting specs on their noses didn’t, even though it paid his bills. Later, when I asked him his views in front of other colleagues who I wanted to assess his approach, he dismissively said, “I could teach my wife to refract.” Interesting little fella. I can confidently say his years in practice did way less good than Abdul Motala’s! Over time our clinics dwindled. Some were usurped in seedy for-profit takeovers. Theft, really. Volunteer efforts need a champion to keep up momentum. Allan Marais’ Pinetown clinic sure had one, and he and Lily continued running it up to COVID, when I declined to go for the first time.

We received our fair share of criticism over the years for the way we did our clinic work. Eg: My guideline was let’s do what we can do to help TODAY. ‘Let us try to NOT say, “Go away; Try somewhere else.” So sometimes we gave a person with cataracts a pair of glasses and caught flack for doing so. We did the right thing. If a person had no specs and couldn’t see well and we could improve their vision TODAY, we did it in addition to referring them for a hospital consultation. The criticism that those specs would be useless after the op assumed that the op would actually take place. We did not assume that. Getting to the hospital for the initial consultation was a challenge, having money for transport was a challenge, long waiting times was a challenge, getting back to the hospital for the actual op was a challenge. Even if the op took place within six months after our appointment those specs could be a life-changing help in the meantime. Poverty has many MANY challenges. We tried to understand them and help directly wherever we could. ‘Sorry, go away’ is an easy and convenient response, but to see the disappointment and resignation in people’s faces . . . We would sometimes see people again a year after we had referred them to a hospital, still wanting help having NOT got to the hospital. It amused me (OK, pissed me off) that the people making criticisms were sometimes people who would not do a cataract operation for under R10 000 and WE were “making money” on our cheap specs! Humans! Greed! Cognitive bias! Tell me about it! And anyway, for those who thought we unpaid volunteers were greedily after our five bucks profit (which went to the clinic anyway!), all who did have an op soon after and returned to us would get a free post-op lens change to their frame, fgdsake!


One of my memorable days at a hospital clinic (there were many!) was in 1984 after I had returned from a month-long canoeing trip to the USA. As I walked in to Addington OPDB Anne Peters took one look at me and walked me down to her car in the basement parking garage and whisked me off to ENT Mike du Toit’s rooms at St Augustine Hospital. He whisked me straight into surgery (much whisking) and drained my frontal sinuses of ‘gallons’ of brown Colorado River water. After the op I remember a nurse pulling ‘miles’ of snotty brown bandage out of my nostrils. Mike’s re-alignment of my sinus drainage was so successful I have not had a day’s sinus block or hassle since! Not many surgeons can give a forty year warranty!

While still in the army Neville Welsh was the ophthalmology professor. He insisted we do his ward rounds on Saturday mornings which was cruel and unusual punishment to inflict on hungover soldiers. But we loved the rounds and always learnt something. One fine Saturday we stared in wonder at a worm in a patient’s anterior chamber. Fascinating to watch how the worm would peep his head out from behind the iris and when you switched on the slitlamp would jerk back as if to hide behind a curtain!

At King Edward hospital staff nurse Anita Lekalakala ran ‘her patients’ and ‘her doctors’ like a sergeant major. Full of confidence, was ‘Sr Lekalakala.’ I watched her march out of her office into the crowded waiting room carrying the next record card one day. She glanced down and a small smile appeared. Looking up she announced in her usual authoritative tone, ‘Grace Kelly! Would Grace Kelly come through, please.’ An old gogo struggled to her feet off the wooden bench, picked up her kierie and shuffled to the exam room. She was Mrs Grace Cele.


gogo – granma

kierie – walking stick

But . . I’m Planning to Write

Writing is like a safari. 
You start from where you are, and you meander and explore. 
And you learn as you go.
- Koos
adapted from a quote by E. L. Doctorow, American novelist

He also said:

“If you do it right, you’re coming up out of yourself in a way that’s not entirely governable by your intellect. That’s why the most important lesson I’ve learned is that planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”

Maybe now I’ll write. Except he was talking about writing fiction, and I can’t do that. That’s why I changed his quote for autobiographical writing: ‘You Start From Where You Are,’ I think. Not ‘From Nothing,’ as he said.


Tragic Testicular Descent

If you’re writing an olden days blog you run out of material. Only so much happened from when I was born till I met Aitch, which is the timeline of this blog. My ** Born, Bachelorhood and Beer ** blog. So there’s recycling. Here’s a post I wrote in 2016, slightly updated:

I used to sing beautifully. The teacher who trained the boys choir in Harrismith Laerskool said so. Well, she might have. She was Mej Cronje, and was half the reason ous would volunteer for the choir. To look at her, gorgeous redhead she was.

I was a sopraan ou and we looked down on the alt ous who, though necessary as backup, weren’t in the same league as us squeakers. One directly behind me used to bellow in my ear: ‘Dek jou hol met bouse off hollie! FaLaLaLa  La LaLaLaLa.’

One day this delectable and discerning talent spotter, the red-headed Juffrou Ethel Cronje, chose me to sing a solo in the next konsert. Me, the soloist! Move over, Wessel Zietsman! You too, Mario Lanza.

Fame loomed. It was 1965 and even then, the image of a golden buzzer appeared to me in a vision. This thought crossed my mind: Harrismith’s Got Talent!

Then tragedy struck!

My balls dropped.

They handled it very diplomatically. By ignoring it and cancelling practice. The konsert didn’t materialise. Co-incidence? Surely they didn’t cancel a concert just because one boy suffered testicular descent? And by the time the next konsert came around I hadn’t been banished – just discreetly consigned to the back and asked to turn it down.

* * *

Just in case there are people who think Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor was a Mickey Mouse outfit, lemme tellya:
WE TOURED ZULULAND. The Vienna Boys Sausages were probably nervous.

We got into the light blue school bus and drove for hours and hours and reached Empangeni far away, where the school hall was stampvol of people who, starved of culture in deepest Zoolooland, listened in raptures as we warbled Whistle While You Work, High on your Heels is a Lonely Goat Turd, PaRumPaPumPum, Edelweiss, Dominique, Dek jou hol, and some volksliedjies which always raised a little ripple of applause as the gehoor thought “Dankie tog, we know vis one“.

If memory serves (and it does, it does, seldom am I the villain or the scapegoat in my recollections) there was a flood and the road to the coastal village of ReetShits Bye was cut off, sparing them the price of a ticket – though those were probably gratis?

Can’t remember driving back, but we must have.

After that epic and ground-breaking (sod-breaking?) tour, warbling faded in importance and rugby took over.

Later, there was one brief but intense attempt at reviving my career as a singer.


Mej ; Juffrou – Miss; not yet married to Kiewiet Uys; ladies had to be tagged as ‘available,’ guys not

Harrismith Laerskool – the village school

Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor – very much like the famous Vienna Boys Sausages

sopraan ous – high range warblers; not castrati, but can sound like them

alt ous – the other ous

ous – us men

‘Dek Jou Hol’ – literally, cover your ass; listen to the sopraan-ous, they’re the ones. The highballs are on them.

highballs – slang for alcoholic drink in USA; ‘giraffe walked into a bar, said, ‘The Highballs Are On Me’

seunskoor – boys choir

stampvol – sold out, packed, overflowing; like – viral!

volksliedjies – folk songs; songs of ve Chosen People

gehoor – audience, fans, followers; (yes, it was 1965, but we could hear them clicking ‘like’ and ‘follow’)

dankie tog – fanks heavens, sigh of relief

ReetShits Bye – Richards Bay, then still a small fishing village on the warm Indian Ocean, the bay still a natural estuary, not yet dug out for coal ships

Pa rum pum pum pum – listen to the sopraan-ous, they’re the ones


Cunene River Pioneers

While clearing out my stuff I found a 1965 African Wildlife magazine we used to subscribe to. It contained Willem van Riet‘s tale of his and Gordie Rowe’s trip down the Cunene river – blind (unscouted) trip down the Cunene! Shades of Powell’s first trip down the Colorado! I took photos to quickly save it here. Small difference between the two rivers: No Crocs in the Colorado!