Camping on the slopes of Platberg below Khyber Pass Pierre, Tuffy and I had made a fort of ouhout branches and cleared a big spot to make a fire. Sitting around talking shit when we heard a rustle and a shout and who appeared before us but Guillaume. He was excited that we were overnighting and asked to join us. Sure! we said. With pleasure!
He first had to head back to town, though, to go to movies. He had recently left school and had a date with one of the onnies. The one with the micro miniskirts! The one we had lustful thoughts about. That little blonde one with the pageboy hairstyle. That one!
Well after midnight there was another rustle, another shout, and Guillaume squeezed back through our hedge with a blanket over his shoulder and a plastic packet in his hand. He sat on the blanket, took a bloody ox heart out of the packet, stuck it on a stick and roasted it over the coals.
Look: We knew he was the nephew of the famous Deneys Reitz of Boer War Commando fame; and the son of legendary Dr Frank Reitz – but MAN, were we impressed! I mean Action Man had walked up a mountain in the dark, carried the lightest provisions (when we looked at the size of our rucksacks and sleeping bags), roasted and ate an ox heart – and pomped a teacher. All in one night!
Eat your heart out, Chuck Norris!
ouhout – Leucosidea sericea, lovely aromatic scrub bushes and trees found in stream beds in the Drakensberg our inselbergs, and surrounding foothills
onnies – teachers; from onderwyser
pomped – made love; who we kidding? had sex; shunted; or so we surmised
Trudi Wessels won Miss Personality at Maritzburg Varsity. We could have told them that beforehand if they’d asked. Her prize: A trip to Rio de Janeiro! Steph de Witt arranged a farewell party at Shady Pines on the night of her departure, after which we would deliver her safe and pickled to the Harrismith stasie. You didn’t know trips to Rio de Janeiro start at Harrismith Railway Station?! Ha! It goes to show . . .
At the station we bid her farewell in moviestar style, Trudi hanging out the window, fans crowded on the platform, much hubbub (just like in any good romantic movie). Here we are, hubbubbing:
Here’s Trudi with her hatbox:
Except some ringleaders are missing. Where could John and Nick be? At the very far end of the platform talking to the train driver. I get there just in time to hear: “Nooit, meneer, this are not a melktrein, this are ve Orange Express! No stops before Beflehem.”
He reminds me that they say you can’t find three wise men in the Vrystaat. But he does turn out to be wise after some Venning-Leslie persuasion, as he partially relents: “OK, ve bess I can do for yous is I’ll slow down when I pass Rivierdraaistasie.”
We hop on, and soon the train pulls off. John the agile Venning has a case of beer under his one arm and a wicked grin under his one moustache. We make our way to Trudi’s cabin. “What on earth are you guys doing here?” We repeat a very hasty goodbye because already the train is FLYING! I myself am now rather nervous and if it wasn’t for the medicinal value of beer I might have said something sensible. We each take position at a door and watch as the poles whizz past us in a blur. Past the crossing to Swiss Valley where Nick (whose leg was in plaster so he was chosen to drive the getaway car – just like in any good gangster movie) was going to meet us. The railway crossing whizzes past and it feels like we’re accelerating!
Suddenly a decrease in speed and, peering forward, some lights in the dark. Get ready to jump. Arse over kettle each one of us hits the ground and tumbles. I almost stayed on my feet but then had to duck for the big sign RIVIERDRAAISTASIE one word. But one man didn’t fall: He who held the case of beers kept it together! We ran back up the track into the dark as a man came stumbling out of the stasie kantoor, lantern held aloft (just like in any good Orient Express movie).
When we gathered, a sober head prevailed. “Boys, we can’t go! We can’t ‘drop’ the train driver. The stasiemeester will have to put in a report and our man will get into trouble. We have to go and talk to the stasiemeester.”
So a delegation is sent back to the stasie and some of us sit in the veld awaiting their return, supping thoughtfully on John’s case of ales. And we wait and await.
Eventually – just when we think maybe they’ve gone to jail – they return, much merrier and cleverer than when they left. Apparently as they started to say Naand Meneer the oke said: “That’s the BEST thing that’s happened to me in all my years at Rivierdraai Stasie!” and insisted they sit and join him for a dop, pulling a bottle of brandy from his desk drawer (just like in any good cowboy movie).
A sequel: Is nothing a secret in a small dorp?: I get home before sunrise, and later that same morning my Mom peeps her head into my bedroom in my garden cottage, The Country Mansion: “Were you on that train?” asks Mary Methodist in her woe-unto-us voice. And “I’m so glad you’re home safely,” what a special Mom. At about nineteen years old, though, I couldn’t understand why she was fussing.
1973, on my way back from the States, I fly to New York on a Monday in December and ask for a flight to Johannesburg via London.
‘Sorry you can’t. Your ticket is non-transferable, and the next SAA flight is via Rio on Friday’. The old man had paid for my ticket on his shiny new Barclaycard and had put it over 12 months, so one last payment was still outstanding.
Ooh shit, four days in NY with no money. Well, about $25. I got $25 a month ‘allowance’ in Apache from the Rotary club. Seventeen South African Diederiks Ront it was back then. And sixty cents. (R1 = $1.42)
I put my suitcase – see pic below – in a locker, put a quarter in the slot and take the key.
Hop on a bus to Grand Central Station in Manhattan to look for the SAA office / kantoor. ‘That’ll be $2’.
At the SAA office / kantoor I get, ‘Sorry, can’t help’. Hey asseblief man! ‘OK, we’ll try’.
Back to JFK airport and sleep on the floor. The damn benches spitefully have armrests for each seat so you can’t lie down on them. Fitful sleep on the hard floor broken by a huge sit-on vacuum and polish machine that roars up to me at 3am. ‘Move along there’, says the cleaner driving the vengeful beast.
Tuesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA office run, but now I’m rather peckish so I stroll around Manhattan looking for something cheap to eat. I find a burger for $3. Not cheap in ’73, but that includes as much beer as you can drink, so I think OK. Big glasses, though, so I could only drink two. Then I wander the Manhattan streets with a nice beer buzz going. Going up the Empire State building was an amazing experience.
Wednesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA-hamburger-with-beers run but this time when I go into SAA at the end of the day they tell me ‘Good News, you’re free to go!’ To celebrate I book into the YMCA without my suitcase so I can have a shower. ‘That’ll be $11’ for the smallest room I have ever slept in: Just barely bigger than a small single bed.
Thursday I’m squeaky clean on the bus back to JFK. My ticket is now ‘transferable’ and I take the first plane to London: Air India. I grab a discarded newspaper lying on a bench on my way to board. It’s a jumbo jet – my first!
Settling into my seat I read: “Air India has just been voted ‘Worst Airline in the World’. Again”. Their cabin crew is on strike so admin staff are ‘standing in for them’ – by doing nothing. A delightful Irish lass is sitting next to me. Much older – she was probably all of thirty – she feels sorry for me so buys me a Pommy cold pork pie on the way out of Heathrow. Tastiest pie ever.
I’m on my way to meet a connection Don Inglis who once lived in Harrismith and is now in London for a year, so he knows the place. Turns out he has a rugby match playing for some Saffer team against the London Irish, so we scurry around Buck House circle and somewhere else where someone lived or died or married someone, and head off to Wimbledon for the game.
Five rugby okes are squeezed into his little Austin something. At the ground the players huddle in a cold shed to change and notice they’re a couple of boerkies short can I play? Sure, I say, but only half the first half, then I have to catch a tube to Heathrow. Thank goodness (it’s sleeting outside) Don says rather don’t risk missing your flight. So they run out onto the mud with one blade of grass every ten yards without me and start puffing out steam and shoving some fat Irish blokes around.
Between scrums Don shouts out which tubes and buses I should catch and I leave before the halftime whistle to head south after a year in foreign climes. I’m very much looking forward to getting home now.
Once in the air the SAA koffie poppie gives me lip when I order a third beer so I’m feeling at home while still thousands of kays away.
Diederiks Ront – SA currency; Our finance minister’s name was Diederiks
office / kantoor – office / office
asseblief – puh-leez!
Saffer – South African
boerkies – South Africans
koffie poppie – SAA air hostess
The old man’s Barclaycard was brand new. Maybe he was persuaded to get one by a glass of sherry and a blonde?
I recently (2019) packed some clothes for my 90yr-old Mom as she was going to stay in a home for the aged for a while. Get my suitcase down from on top of my cupboard, she said. It was the suitcase I had parked in the JFK locker 46 years ago!
1971: Rugby in Bloemfontein, first test Springboks vs the Frogs, the French. We drove over in Tabs’ car to watch. Apparently:
. . . this test is remembered for a famous tackle by Bourgarel on a charging Frik du Preez. If I remember correctly Frik was charging all cylinders firing down the touchline; on his way to what look like certain try. Bourgarel, however, had other plans the French wing came from the side fly tackling Frik; dumping him unceremoniously over the touchline to the disgust of the crowd, who even came-up with a chant for Bourgarel as a consequence. I won’t repeat the chant here but it rhymed with his name.
After the game, Tabs, Des, Raz, Stervis and I are driving back when the kroeg – no way you could call it a pub – in Senekal beckoned.
By the time the barman threw us out Des had bonded deeply with one of Senekal’s left-behinds and when we suggested we leave for home rather than go home with Deliverance for a braai, Des told us in no uncertain terms that WE could go but HE was not leaving his lifelong mate, of three hours, in the lurch.
ONE fing we must NOT do, we were told, also in no uncertain terms, when we got to the small house on the wrong side of Senekal, is wake his wife. Lemme tell you carefully, you must not, no marrer whut you do, wake my wahf, you hear?
Wooden floors, five drunk ous stumbling around, I started to think this goon doesn’t actually have a wife. Conan meanwhile, is scratching around in the chest deep freeze. He hauls out what looks like a roundish, rock-hard lump of blood in a plastic checkers packet, and suddenly I get a clear image: He DOES have a wife and she IS in the house! In that deep freeze! In fact, he’s offering us a piece of her for a braai!
Des, I urge, we should go, this is going to take forever. But it’s like Des told us: WE can go, but HE’s not leaving his lifelong mate.
It’s midnight in June in Senekal, Vrystaat. It’s not hot. Eventually a fire gets going – sort of – and the icy red lump piece of deceased wife sits on it, refusing to melt. An alternative hazy recollection is the oven was turned on and the lump placed in there. Exact facts are in dispute among us hostages decades later.
Meantime, Jack Nicholson has found some dop and we have to drink, and luckily this puts him to sleep and mellows the Glutz so we’re able to persuade him to make a bolt for it, hitting the Senekal dirt roads till we find the tar to Harrismith. Stervis has a better hazy recollection of the Wildman pulling out a gun and taking potshots at us as the getaway car spins madly down the driveway. Luckily the resulting dust plume obscures us from view and saves our lives.
To this day I can experience that weird, out-of-body sensation of “WTF are we DOING here? Am I in a bad movie or in a bad dream?!
Rotary had a few strict rules for exchange students. I can remember one: Definitely No Driving. So I didn’t. Except when really drunk.
Off we went one night into the sticks for beer and loud music. After a few hours we needed more beer to be fetched from town and I shouted “I’ll Drive!”
Amazingly (also a beer effect?) Jay said OK!
His beautiful, prize Camaro looked a lot like this one.
So off we went with this foreigner driving on the wrong (left) side of the car and the wrong (right) side of the road. Driving perfectly and safely until we got to a right turn on the country dirt road. Most bends around Apache are right-angle bends – the roads mostly run north-south or east-west.
And then the wheels came off. Quite literally. Jay’s prize 15-inch back slicks on his beautiful hot dark green ’69 Camaro popped off the rims as I blacked out momentarily and gunned too fast around the bend, off the left-hand side into a ditch.
Jay crapped all over me but – friend he was – let me off amazingly lightly. This poor – guilty – foreigner was allowed to get away with it.
I went looking for Dottie, wondering where she was and what she was doing. And found an obituary on the internet!
Dottie Moffett Butler died unexpectedly at her home in San Diego, California on Wednesday 5 July 2006. Dottie was born 8 July 1955 in Daytona Beach Florida. At the age of seven her family moved to Chickasha Oklahoma and then, several years later, moved to Ardmore Oklahoma. Dottie graduated from Ardmore High School where she was active in several student organizations, including the women’s tennis team.
During her junior year she was a Rotary Exchange student to South Africa.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and then went on to earn her master’s degree in psychology from East Central University in Ada Oklahoma. As a psychologist, Dottie was a compassionate and caring counselor whose gift for helping others through difficult times will long be remembered. Dottie is survived by her husband, Dr. Harrison Butler, in San Diego; her mother, Dorothy Moffett McCall, in Durham North Carolina; her sister, Dale Moffett, in Cary North Carolina; two brothers, David Moffett and his wife Mary, Minneapolis Minnesota, and Denny Moffett and his wife Mary, Tulsa Oklahoma, as well as several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her father Dr. J. Denny Moffett Jr.
Condolences to the family may be sent in care of Dorothy McCall (her mother), Durham, NC (note: since deceased – in 2014, aged 88).
Her family suggests contributions in Dottie’s memory be made to The Wilson House, East Dorest Vermont. A remembrance service for Dottie was held July 15, in San Diego. A second service will be held on Saturday, 4 September 2006 on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, where Dottie and others in her family have enjoyed the serenity and peacefulness of Long Pond.
Information provided by Haigh-Black Funeral Home and Cremation Service.
Devastated. Too soon! Dottie was a special lady. I knew her only for a couple years, in Oklahoma and in Cape Town, but she was unforgettable – her big heart, her hearty laugh, and much else – just a special person . . . darn!
Here’s Dottie with Jim Patterson of Apache OK in the Sangre de Christo mountains of New Mexico in 1973.
Mary and Manie Wessels Rietvlei joined the folks Mary and Pieter Swanepoel for Xmas 1979 at 37 Piet Uys street. Barbara and Jeff, Koos and Sheila and Annie were there, too. As was poor Selina! Hopefully she got time off for being on duty on Xmas day!
Looks like colour film hadn’t been invented yet . .