Arthur Kennedy

Arthur Kennedy arrived in Harrismith like a dwarrelwind. Why we were so lucky as to get Arthur to our town I don’t know, but I think his wife Zita had family here. I think she was related to the Kerkenberg mountain van der Bosch’s? Someone who knows must help me here.

He opened a motel on the N3 on the south-east end of town – at the Jo’burg-Durban-Bloemfontein junction – or the Warden-Swinburne-Kestell junction you could say if you weren’t going to drive far.

The motel – Kennedy Motel – was going to have a restaurant suspended over the road so diners could watch the road as they munched their mixed grills. All the Durban-Joburg traffic – the busiest rural freeway in South Africa by far – would have to drive underneath them. But meantime the motel and petrol station had to be built, plus all the rooms – the chalets. A cable car to the top of Platberg was also in the pipeline, according to Arthur. Big plans!

The Kennedy family stayed right on-site in novel half-round semi-portable wooden bungalows above the building site and below the track that was an extension of Vowe Street, below the SE end of Hector Street. Arthur was very hands-on and was deeply involved in everything. He made the cardinal apartheid error of starting to pay his workers more than the “known” Harrismith wage which, according to Steph de Witt, got 5ft 6 inch Arthur a visit from 6ft 4 inch Koos de Witt, Steph’s Dad. Steph says Koos found Arthur in a foundation ditch. He jumped in next to him and “explained” to him in international language how he was not to bend the “local rules” of wage exploitation.

Later he built a triangular house of wood above Vowe Street – a huge novelty for the town. It was next door to the du Plessis home, and Pierre and I hopped the fence and inspected it while under construction. The bathroom had a novelty in it which we hadn’t seen before. We didn’t know it was called a bidet, but we spotted right away what it was for. HaHaHa! Our schoolboy humour kicked in. Arthur’s initials were AW (were they? or did we invent that?) and we proceeded to call him Arse Washer after that bathroom furniture that so tickled our crude funny bones. We weren’t always Methodist-polite, ’tis true.

He even became a town councillor, this foreign rooinek in the vrystaat! If America could have a President Kennedy at that time, why couldn’t we have a possible future mayor Kennedy? Quite a guy was our Arthur!

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The Cupboard Snake

For a while the Kennedys lived in the middle of town – in or near the house where Nick Duursema lived, near the circle in Warden street, just down from Arthur Grey’s corner store. That’s where the puff adder landed on top of the bedroom wardrobe.

The first and last puff adder I saw ‘in the wild’ was in Hector Street outside our house in about 1965 when – ware vrystater that she was – Mother Mary ran over the poor thing in the blue VW OHS 155. Doelbewus! Swear! The old man was called out from the pub. He came home, caught it and put it in a box which he gave to Zita Kennedy to give to Tommy van den Bosch. Maybe he’d first stunned it with a blast of cane spirits breath.

Tommy lived against the slopes of Kerkenberg and wore a cowboy hat and played the guitar. He’d sing you a mournful – or toe-tapping if that was your poison – cowboy song at the drop of a hat. His cowboy stetson hat. He collected snakes and took them to the Durban snake park who paid him by the foot. They estimated this puffy at five foot, though of course that length may have grown over time! SSSSS – Snake Stories Seldom Suffer Shrinkage.

That night in bed just before lights out Arthur Kennedy asked Zita “What’s that box up on the cupboard?” She hadn’t finished telling him and he was already out in Bester Street opposite the ou groot kerk near the traffic circle in his tiny pie-jarm shorts shouting “Get that thing out of there ! I am NEVER going into that house again until that thing is gone!” and other earnest entreaties.

Strange fear, as he was fearless in other ways: Who can forget Arthur Kennedy dressed only in a white Tarzan loincloth – which looked a bit like a nappy – swinging right across the hele stadsaal on a trapeze above the gob-smacked and ge-be-indrukte Harrismith mense? And outdoors upside-down high on a thin pole above the skougronde? Fearless aerobatics and acrobatics.

But a snake on his cupboard? That was too much for him!

For a while he made Harrismith seem part of the wider world! A bit like this:

Trapeze.jpg

On the big day celebrating South Africa’s freedom from the tyranny of Mrs British Queen, Arthur gave a stunning performance on his own equipment down at the President Brand Park in front of a full pawiljoen of ge-be-indrukte Harrismith mense! Dad filmed it:

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Arthur ran the mountain race and, further proving his commitment to Harrismith he married again – a second local girl – much, much younger than him.

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dwarrelwind – whirlwind, tornado, breath of fresh air

Doelbewus – on purpose; Swear! ‘Strue’s God! Gentle Mary did that. In those days you did. The only thing that made you think maybe you wouldn’t drive over it was the story that it would wind itself around your axle and then climb up into your engine, then under your dashboard and THEN pik you on the foot! Swear!

ware vrystater – genuine free stater; born and bred in the free state, as was her mother before her (who would not have been celebrating the 1961 demotion of QEII from monarch to foreign tannie)

tannie – auntie

ou groot kerk – the old Dutch Reformed Church, the Moederkerk

hele stadsaal – the full length of the town hall

ge-be-indrukte – highly impressed, awe-struck, yes, gob-smacked

mense – people, citizens; pale, of course

skougronde – agricultural show grounds

pawiljoen – pavilion; stadium, place of worship

rooinek – English-speaking; andersgesinde

freedom from the tyranny of Mrs British Queen – Republic Day 31 May 1961

The Bend – Earlier Daze

Before we learnt to drink beer on the banks of the mighty Tugela, we drank oros and water while observing our elders drinking beer on those rocks on the same bend in the river. Here’s an old 8mm movie taken back in the early 1960’s – before we followed suit in the seventies.

Note Kai and Gee in the motorboat and Barbara and Bess paddling in the shallows. Check out Doc Reitz’s old Chev OHS 71.

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Sheila kept all Dad’s old 8mm movies and has now had them digitised, saved on a memory stick! I’m slicing and dicing and joining them and saving them ‘to the cloud.’ Here’s the clip of Gretel, Joyce, Mary and Isabel walking along that stunning driveway along the (amIright here?) Grecian columns to the old double-rondawel thatched homestead:

Two Grand Pianos

Mom Mary Bland learnt to play the piano on her Granny Mary Bland’s upright Otto Bach at 13 Stuart Street. Her sister Pat didn’t play, but when Granny died the piano had to go to the older granddaughter. But how to get it there?

Jack Shannon had a bakkie and he volunteered to schlep it to Blyvooruitzicht, or as the Cowies called it, ‘Blayfore’. It got dropped at some stage in the loading or offloading and had to be repaired when it got there. All was well.

Years later Pat died and Bill decided it should go to Barbara as she played, and his daughters Frankie and Gemma did not. So another farmer with a bakkie was roped in to schlep it back from Blayfore – this time long-suffering husband Jeff Tarr carted it to PMB or Howick or Greytown (must ask Barbara). Barbara still has the piano – now in Linda’s home on their farm Umvoti Villa.

Meantime Mom had bought another: an upright Bentley. Marie Bain had bought her daughter Lynn the Bentley hoping she’d learn to play ‘like Mary’. Well, Lynn never took to playing, so Mom bought it from Marie for the same £100 she had paid for it years before. This was the piano we were so privileged to grow up with at 95 Stuart Street, listening to Mom playing Hymns, Classical and Popular music. Who could forget the late night drinking songs when the Goor Koor gang would gather round her and bellow out their alcohol fumes, cigarette ash and varying levels of talent with gay abandon.

Mom still has the Bentley in PMB and still plays it beautifully. They’re upright pianos, not ‘grand’ pianos, but they certainly have been a grand part of our lives from about 1920-something – Mary was born in 1928 – to 2019. And more to come.

Here Mary at 90 plays someone else’s piano. Her classical pieces she always played with the music score in front of her. She can no longer see well enough to read it, so mainly plays her popular pieces by memory now.

We grew up to these sounds in the background. How lucky can you get!? These next few classical pieces are played by some wonderful pianists who are almost as good as Mom in her prime!

also this:

I remember a few times getting so overcome by the music – melancholy or something? – I’d run down the passage and get Mom to stop playing! weird.

Annie’s Kitchen

Steve Reed visited SA from Aussie. He’s a Vrystaat boykie, mainly Bethlehem and was the mayor of Clarens – the first son actually – so was on a visit home. He wrote:

When visiting my bro in Johannesburg we had plenty of jams and preserves all from “Annies Kitchen” in Harrismith. Wouldn’t be the famous Ann Euthemiou from Harries, would it?

Me:

No, not the gorgeous young Annie the Greek, another Annie from Harrismith, a contemporary of my gran – who was also Annie.

Leon Strachan was one year ahead of me at Harrismith se Hoerskool. Lived on a farm, but his gran lived next door to us in town. He hopped over the fence one day to come and moer me for my insults. He was giving me a good and well-deserved whipping when Sheila came to my rescue, jumping on his back and beating him wif a bamboo, putting him to flight.

Good oke, he’s written a few books about Harrismith. I have one, Sheila has loaned me four more. He farms black nightshade (nastergal) and makes that mauve jam with black berries we called masawba – more correctly umsobo or sobosobo – of it. Also other jams.
They branded it ‘Annies’ after his rooinek gran. Like me he had a Dutch side Strachan and an Engelse side Davie. ‘Twas his rockspider gran what lived next door.

This info from the defunct harrismith.co website:

Op Nesshurst met sy allemintige dam groei en besproei Leon en Elsa Strachan nastergal wat hulle in die plaasfabriek inmaak om die wyd-bekende Annie’s konfyte met die veelkleurige etiket met twee tarentalete op te maak. Jare lank reeds sien ‘n mens nou oral in die land die bekende flessies met nastergal en tot soveel as twintig ander soorte konfyt. Die beroemde Annie’s konfyte van Nesshurst.

Nastergal (Solanum nigrum) dra bossies klein, ronde bessies wat donkerpers is wanneer hulle ryp is.

Translation: Leon and Elsa Strachan make lovely jam (American: jelly) on their farm Nesshurst near the Free State / KwaZuluNatal border. They use Solanum nigrum berries, European black nightshade. Although parts of this plant can be toxic, the real deadly nightshade is a different plant. This one’s berries are a dull, powdery, dark purple in bunches, the deadly one has single glossy black berries.

strachan nesshurst museum
The museum on Nesshurst. Young Leon in the hat

Steve:

Well it was blerrie lekker konfyt. And he obviously did not moer any significant amount of sense into you from what I have been able to observe.

My eldest brother Doug (68) looks after his health, having had a couple of stents a few years ago. He cycles furiously (the Argus, the 96.4 or whatever long races are going) and golfs twice a week. His one weakness is for the blue cheese, crackers and Annies preserves, accompanied by bottomless refills of post-prandial brandy, port or whatever other alcohol comes to hand. I spent seven nights with them and woke up with a headache on all seven mornings. He woke me up fresh as a daisy with heart-stopping strength coffee every day. Most mornings I was in an arrhythmic state as a result. He couldn’t understand what the hell was wrong with me.

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Harrismith se Hoerskool – Harrismith High School

moer – thump; when Steve said it: educate

Rooinek – English-speaking; Pommy

Engelse – English, but usually not from England; more “not Afrikaans”; Like when any new product or gadget impresses, someone might say admiringly “Dis wonderlik wat die Engelse kan doen” even if the gadget was made in Sweden

blerrie lekker konfyt – bloody nice jam

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The pics of the museum on Nesshurst are from Harrismith’s best blog deoudehuizeyard.

Brrr! Vrystaat Winters

Remember those stuffed ‘sausages’ in front of the doors as doorstops to keep the winter chill out? Some doors had huge gaps under them; some of those doorstops even had sausage dog heads, with ears, eyes, a tail and a red tongue.

sausage dog

The ceilings had no insulation and the windows were wooden sash or steel windows, often with gaps that let in the chill;

The black coal stove in the kitchen was lit through the whole of winter, thank goodness; A cruel boyhood confession: I murdered a few flies at this stove in our kitchen! Tore off their wings and turned them into ‘walks’ then tossed them into the stove to die! Yikes!
Here’s an old one, no longer installed, no longer black:

coal stove

In other rooms our bar heater was moved to wherever we were sitting; The glowing red bars would heat the air up to about one metre away. Further than that was arctic like everywhere else. If you sat close your shins could start frying while your back froze. Ours had three bars.
winter bar heater

Rolls of thin ‘Dunlop’ nylon carpets  glued to the floorboards in the passage and other rooms; the concrete floor in the kitchen and breakfast room had linoleum covering;

On the beds lots of blankets, no duvets; If you were lucky your Mom would cut the tassles off the Standard Woollen Mills blankets and sew on a strip of smooth silk-like tape that didn’t tickle your nose! I remember some of our old pillows weighing ‘a ton’. Probably a quarter ton of feathers, a quarter ton of live mites, a quarter ton of dead mites and a quarter ton of sweat and snot! A warmth luxury was having  ‘flannel’ ‘winter sheets’ rather than those smooth thin cold ordinary cotton sheets.

We were lucky we had an electric geyser warming up our bath water. You would wallow in warmth, then start dreading having to get out; Soon, though, the decision would be easy as the water cooled rapidly in those old iron baths with their ball-and-claw feet. Long winter jarmies were such a treat. Cosy. Some of ours were hand-made – machine-sewn by Mom.

Leaving for school in the mornings was jersey on, socks pulled up high, gloves on and then off you go! on your bike; Sometimes even a grey woollen balaclava. Riding down Stuart Street your eyes would water and your nose would run, so gloves and sleeves had to do snot duty; When you got to jail – um, school – you’d slide your hands off the handle-bar grips as they didn’t want to ‘uncurl’! Your bare knees would be frozen yet somehow you didn’t feel them as much as you felt your toes in your socks and shoes! Funny that.

Always coldest when the east wind blew and put a ‘blanket’ or ‘table cloth’ on the mountain like this:

The weather - see the blanket and the east wind

I remember it like this:

bicycle in snow

OK, to be honest that’s Europe and maybe their winters are worse!

We had a horse trough in the backyard about 2m long, 40cm wide and 40cm deep. It was concrete grey but later on it got painted Caltex green. A lot of our stuff got painted Caltex green. The water in it would freeze solid. That ice would thaw a bit by day and freeze again every night. It was OK, though. We didn’t have horses.

In summer the horse trough was good for breeding mosquitoes. I was fascinated by the larvae and had farms of them in ice trays where I could watch them develop and hatch. I was a battery-farmer of mozzies. Free-range hadn’t been invented.

95 Stuart Street back yard with my room and Jock's luxury carpeted kennel
There’s the horseless horse trough
mozzie larvae
mozzie larva (long) and pupa (round). OK, that took this winter post into summer

Long-winded and Langdradig

Corrie Roodt was the Barclays bank manager and Mom say he and his wife Lettie were great friends to her and Dad. But ‘Boy, could she talk! She could talk up a storm!’

Mom had a real good laugh as she remembered the story: Lettie was apparently famous for her lo-ong stories.

Once they went overseas and when they got back Theunis van Wyk said to Mom:

“Mary, I just hope I don’t bump into her until she’s over it.”

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landradig – long-winded; tedious; um, can you get to the point already?

 

Harrismith & District Gymkhanas

Dad remembers the gymkhanas he took part in and so enjoyed in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

They were held in Harrismith, Eeram, Verkykerskop, Mont Pelaan and Aberfeldy; and on the farms Appin near Swinburne, Primrose near van Reenen, and Maraishoek.

The entry fee was one pound per event – and prize money was less than the entry fee!

Events included Tent pegging; Sword and ring; Sword; Lance & ring; Potato & bucket.

Races were the bending race, we’ll need to ask him what that was; and the owners race, where the owner him or herself had to ride, no hiring a jockey!

Regular participants he recalls are Manie Parkhurst Wessels; Bertie van Niekerk; Kerneels Retief; Richard Goble; John Goble; Kehlaan Odendaal; his son Adriaan and his daughter Laura; Laurie Campher; Hans Spies and his kids Hansie, Pieter and Anna.

Dad says he was the only non-farmer riding! Kerneels was usually his partner.

gymkhana-tent-peg

**  internet pics  ** If anyone has some real Harrismith district gymkhana pics I’d sure love to display them – with full acknowledgment of course.

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Here’s footage from a gymkhana in Cape Town in 1940. With hilarious Pommy-ish commentary.

Platberg Shellhole

We always called it The Moth Hall, and for a while it was where Dad was probably drinking. But it was more correctly called Platberg Shellhole of the M.O.T.Hs – The Memorable Order of Tin Hats. And there was an older shellhole before that one – an older ‘Moth Hall’. It was down opposite the Royal Hotel; down near the railway line.

This was where old servicemen would lie to each other and themselves in song:

“Old Soldiers Never Die;

Never Die, Never Die;

Old Soldiers Never Die;

They Just Fade Away.”

Back then they were all survivors of WW1 and WW2. Only later did they take in ever-more members from ever-more wars. And there’s an endless supply of those; the armaments industry sees to that.

The things I remember about the old shellhole was playing in the dark next to and behind the building – big adventure; And seeing 16mm movies, with big reels whirring in the dark; some were sponsored by Caltex and other companies; I remember Hatari! about yanks in darkest Africa, catching animals for zoos; It starred John Wayne, but who was he to us, back then?

Hatari_(movie_poster)

and Northern Safari, about a 4X4 safari in the Australian outback with a very annoying theme song “We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari! We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari! We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari!” ad nauseum. We loved it!

Northern Safari movie poster

What the folks would remember, if the truth be told, would be booze and sing-alongs and booze and skits and booze and plays; these were the order of the day. * click on the pic * if you want to read some names.

MOTHs names-001

Seated on the left next to Mary Swanepoel and Trudi Else in full voice, is Harold Taylor, veteran of WW1. Under those voluminous trousers is one wooden leg. The other is buried at Delville Wood. He would take his turn standing next to the piano singing:

Etienne Joubert remembers:

The old MOTH hall was not opposite the Royal Hotel but in the vicinity. In fact it was next to Llewellyn & Eugene Georgiou’s home. It was near the railway line below the G’s house.

I remember Ray Taylor who had some shrapnel in his head, not Harold with a wooden leg; also Uncle Jack Hunt; Arthur Gray & of course your folks. I also remember playing in the dark outside. I remember my first sip of beer which I did not like; but I overcame this in years to come to absolutely love it!

I remember the song A Long Way To Tipperary; The piano was very rickety, as was the wooden floor, which squeaked with the slightest step. On the walls were very big portraits of Winston Churchill & Jan Smuts; Dan Pienaar was also there, but smaller; and a pin-up of Jayne Mansfield. This pin up made it to the “new” Moth Hall.

One thing I did not like was helping my Old Man clean the Shellhole on a Saturday morning; the smell of stale beer & cigarette smoke remains very vivid in my memory.

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Still nostalgic?

and here’s Vera Lynn, 101 yrs old and still going (Nov 2018). In 2009, at the age of 92, Lynn became the oldest living artist to make it to number 1 in the British album chart.

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