Welkom OFS, City of Sin and Laughter

I emigrated from Hillbrow and Parktown to Welkom, Free State. The joke goes “I spent a year in Welkom one weekend”.

In about April 1978 Kurt Eggmann, optometrist in the city centre near the famous horseshoe – the dead-centre of town – asked me to work for him. Yes, please, I said. In Hillbrow Graham Bennetto had said he didn’t have enough work for me – he had “let me go” – so I drove off in my grey-and-grey 1965 Opel Rekord in a south-westerly direction, crossed the Vile river and arrived in Welkom, city of sin and laughter.

Got myself a big ole empty flat – my very first own apartment! The Thornes of Barbour & Thorne, estate agents arranged it all. Father and sons estate agents – who became firm friends.   Andy & Evyn, and Dad Wally. They also helped me buy a double bed, a couch and a fridge, you don’t need anything else.

I had left behind the lovely communal house at 4 Hillside Road in Parktown and a lovely lady SSS the delightful Fotherby. I was all swoon and sigh, but the Pru in her soon sorted me out and made me realise life moves on!

I loved the work – I was much busier than I had been in Hillbrow, doing a far wider range of challenging cases. One of my first patients was a keratoconus patient I fitted with her first rigid contact lenses and she saw beautifully as she hadn’t in years! Another early patient put on his minus fours and said he couldn’t see fokol. I tested him again and he was minus two. I said he should see his doc and he went off in a fury, ranting spittle-flecked that I was just trying to rob him and was obviously in cahoots with the GP. Luckily when he finally went, his GP instructed him to come and thank me for saving his life – he was a sky-high undiagnosed diabetic one Fanta Grape away from death. Once his sugar levels had stabilised he actually did come in and thank me! Halcyon days. Being the Vrystaat, the practice had a back door and a tiny separate test room for Nie Blankes, can you believe it!?

Kurt was a character, ex-Swiss squash champion. He had two mates who were also ex-Swiss champions in various disciplines besides drinking and carousing – cross-country running and skiing, I believe. They would meet annually and preen, drink and carouse. He had an old Mercedes sedan and a beautiful Beechcraft Bonanza India Mike Alpha. He kept a little car at  the airport in JHB so when he flew there he had transport.

Winter solstice in 1978 we had a boys night in Kurt’s sauna with Kurt and Johnny Hardman the lawyer; We sat drinking in the heat till it became unbearable, then plunged into the freezing open air pool. Then back into the sauna . . It’s good for you, they say . .

Kurt once asked me to drive his Merc to Joburg while he flew there. I took a young lady pilot with instrument rating along – she was probably going to fly the Bonanza back at night. The Merc got tired in the metropolis of Parys and we had to spend the night there while the local mechanics got it back on its feet again. A few months earlier the Barclays bank manager in Hillbrow had pressed a credit card on me – a ‘barclaycard’ – over my protestations that I didn’t need it. Well, that night I did – I paid for both hotel rooms and the car repair. So where someone had their first campari in Benoni, I had my first credit card transactions in Parys.

Memories of people: Kurt’s receptionists, Elsabe and La Weez; Kurt’s lovely wife Barbara; The shapely Maria; The shapely pharmacist Frick; Elsie Campher’s shapely blonde varsity friend; McMahon the shapely student at Rhodes University; The mafia tenderpreneur builder / truck transport brothers who wore matching thick Safilo frames and bought matching yellow Lamborghinis; Ralph Guard the other optom.

Swanning around in my grey-and-grey Opel Rekord Concorde the Welkom ladies must have swooned. Surely. Those days men were men and we had good hard steel dashboards, not soft airbags.

Opel Rekord 1965 interior_2.jpg

And this is just the FRONT bench seat. They shoulda seen the back seat!

I was due in the army for national service in July but Kurt spoke to the local Nationalist MP and swung it so I only started in January the next year. Strings. Who said corruption is a new invention?

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Around 1967 – long before my time there – the Welkom manne decided that the Welkom / Johannesburg road was too dangerous to travel on, and learnt to fly. Together with his great friends Wally Thorne and Heinie Heiriss, Kurt bought a Cessna 182 Skylane, ZS – DRL and operated the aeroplane in an association known at “HET – Air” – Heinie, Eggmann & Thorne. I got this off Barbour & Thorne’s website.

Here’s a recent internet pic of India Mike Alpha:

Beechcraft Bonanza - ZS-IMA - Kurt Eggmann

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fokol – less than twenty two hundred; less than six sixty; not much

Nie Blankes – Non Whites; Human beings deemed not to be ‘white’

 

Annie’s Kings and Queens

I joked that my gran Annie thought ‘the queen’ was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk. And I thought ‘You know, Annie was probably alive under Queen Victoria!’

So I thought I’d check.

Well, she certainly was. And what’s more, she actually lived under six British Monarchs!

Victoria; Eddie Seven; Georgie Five; Eddie Eight; Georgie Six; Lizzie Two Second

 

How’s that! Long live the Queen! Long live the King! But longer live our Annie!

Annie in George - when? Dressed like Mrs Queen - and a corgi at her feet!!
Annie, complete with corgi

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I myself have lived through the (distant, irrelevant) reign of Lizzie Two Second and . . oh, only Lizzie. She recently de-throned or defrocked her great-great-granma Victoria as longest reigning Breetish monarch. Poor old Bakoor Charlie has gone straight from unemployment into pensionerhood before ever actually doing anything. He’s sixty nine in the shade, has never worked a day in his life and is still sitting around waiting for a vacancy to arise.

“Royalty” is such BS.

Prince Charles

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breetish – Mugabe-speak for that island to the left of France;

bakoor – wingnut – in ears and ideas;

Home

95 Stuart Street was home from 1961 to 1973. To learn more about Stuart Street you have to go to deoudehuizeyard!

Home

Some stiff poses in the garden in 1970:

Kids at home - fishpond, Jock's kennel, grapevine, tree-tables, big hedge

Inside, in the dining room and the lounge:

 

Twelve years at 95 Stuart Street. Funny how that felt like forever, yet married, we stayed in our first home for around fifteen years, 7 River Drive Westville. From early-1989 to Dec-2003:

Home - River Drive

and have now been in our second home for about twelve years. 10 Elston Place Westville since late 2005:

Home 10 Elston Place

10 Elston Place

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21st on Kenroy

Sheila saw to it I had a party! As so often, Sheila saved the day.

Des Glutz threw open his palatial bachelor home on Kenroy to an invasion of students from JHB and PMB. That’s because as a lonely horny bachelor farmer he had his eye on some of those student teachers from PMB!

“Kindness of his heart” you thought? Ha! Anyway, he owed me for managing his farm brilliantly when he went to Zimbabwe.

Eskom had not yet bedevilled Kenroy so lamps and candles gave light. Music pomped out from car batteries. Noreen, Jo and Ski danced their Broadway routine The Gaslamp Revue with Redge Jelliman holding the silver tray footlight staring in open-mouthed wonder at their skill. And legsnboobs – another lonely horny bachelor farmer, y’know.

There was also Liz and Mops and Jenny and Mandy and Jill, hell, we bachelors were in awe at being outnumbered – a rare event.

Des’ poor personal butler, valet and chef Gilbert bore the brunt of the extra work! He cooked and cooked, including a big leg of lamb which didn’t make the main table, getting scoffed by ravenous would-be teachers under the kitchen table. Pity the poor kids who would have to grow up being taught all the wrong things by this lot in Natal in the eighties.

They were wild n topless:

Koos' 21st.jpg_cr

Tabbo wore a tie so he could make a speech:

Koos' 21st Tabs Koos

After the weekend I roared back to Joburg in a two-tone grey and grey Opel Rekord Concorde deluxe sedan four-door, 1700cc straight-four, three-on-the column chick magnet motorcar. My first!

koos-opel-1976
21st birthday present!! An Opel Concorde DeLuxe 1700 in sophisticated tones of grey and grey. Note my reflection in the gleaming bonnet!

Thanks Mom & Dad! And thanks for the party, Sheils!

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The old man organised the numberplate OHS 5678 for me. The man he asked said “Oom, are you sure you want an easy-to-remember number for your son? Don’t you want one that’s hard to remember?”

 

 

The Bain Family’s Scottish Roots

Katrina (nee Miller) Duncan, from near Oban in Scotland, stumbled across my other blog here and made contact with us. She sounds delightful, but so she would – she’s family!

She has been researching the Bain family tree and she and my sister Sheila have worked out that we share a Great-Great-Great Grandfather, one Donald Bain, born in Wick on the 14th of April 1777. He married Katherine Bremner and they lived in Sarclet, just south of Wick way up in north-east Scotland.

sarclet, scotland.jpg
Sarclet coast
sarclet, scotland_2
Sarclet village

I reckon if you dipped your toe in that Wick water you’d know why some Bains moved to Africa! Also, the castle looks  like it needed a revamp . . .

wick castle scotland
Wick Castle

Stewart Bain was born in 1819 in Caithness, to Donald (42) and Katherine (41). On the 7th of February 1845 Stewart married Christina Watson in his hometown. They had four children during their marriage.

In 1853 Donald’s sons George and Stewart were out fishing when their boat was swamped and Stewart drowned. He died as a young father aged 34 on 19 February 1853, and was buried in Thrumster, Caithness.

Katrina found an 1853 newspaper article about the tragedy.

Stewart Bain drowning 1853.jpg

It seems Stewart’s father Donald also died that year. The next year, 1854, his brother George and wife Annie (nee Watson) had a son. They named him Stewart.

He is the Stewart who came to Harrismith, Orange River Colony in South Africa with his brother James in 18____ and married Janet Burley. They had seven kids: The seven ‘Royal Bains’ of Harrismith, named after their hotel, The Royal Hotel in Station Road. This ‘title’ was to distinguish them from the ‘Central Bains’, not to claim royalty! My grandmother was the fifth of these seven ‘Royal Bains’ – Annie Watson Bain.

 

Stewart and Janet raised their ‘Royal Bain’ family in this cottage adjacent to their hotel in Station Road, down near the railway line:

1990 April Royal Hotel Cottage0003

James Bain, Stewart’s brother and owner of the Central Hotel, called his home ‘Caithness’. It was in Stuart Street near their hotel in the centre of town.

Caithness, Harrismith
Caithness, Harrismith

On Katrina’s ancestry web page “Miller Family Tree” the names Annie, Jessie, Stewart, Katherine, Donald etc have been used for generations.

My gran – one of the seven Royal Bains – was Annie Watson Bain.

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  • Many thanks to katrina duncan for getting in touch!
  • The Scottish Tartan register confirms that there is no ancient Clan Bain tartan. This one ‘The Bains of Caithness’ was designed in 1993 for Robert Bain of Caithness.
  • There are a few coats of arms; I chose two examples.

 

 

 

Being Bland in Africa (one branch . . )

Our distant cousin Hugh Bland has been doing some wonderful work sniffing out the Bland family history.

Today he found the grave of Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland – he was born in 1799 in the UK (well, England, I guess!) and arrived at the Cape in 1825. He settled in Mossel Bay, where he became mayor and the main street is still called Bland Street. He died in 1861. The grave is hidden in thick bush on a farm in the Wydersrivier district near Riversdal. 

The farmer very kindly took Hugh to the gravesite. Hugh says you can still read the inscription on the gravestone – it’s indistinct, but there’s no doubt that it’s JBA’s grave. He says it was “quite a moment” for him – JBA was buried there 156 yrs ago and Hugh wondered when a Bland last stood at that grave.

Hugh put two proteas on the grave; then laid his shadow next to his (and our) great-great-great grandfather and took this pic:

JBA Bland's grave

Harrismith Branch of the Blands –

After Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland came John Francis Adam Bland, born in 1836. He trekked inland to Harrismith in the Orange River Colony with a small baby – John Francis Adam the second – JFA II.

This started “our branch” of the Blands, The Vrystaat Blands.

John Francis Adam Bland II married Mary Caskie, who became the beloved Granny Bland of Harrismith. They had five sons of whom our grandfather Frank was the oldest, called JFA the third;

Hugh found out that JFA the first died on 10 September 1891 aged 55, and is buried in the lost metropolis of Senekal, Vrystaat. In Harrismith Granny Bland buried her husband JFA II and four of her five boys, including JFA III – what a tragic life. She did live long enough to know us, her great grandkids before she died ca 1960. We knew Bunty, the only child who outlived her, very well. He died in 1974 and joined his father JFA II, his mother, and his four brothers in the family grave in Harrismith.

JFA III married Annie Watson Bain – our granny Annie Bland. They farmed racehorses and clean fingernails on the farm Nuwejaarspruit outside Harrismith on the road to Witsieshoek, towards the Drakensberg. He died ca 1943 while my Mom Mary and her sister Pat were still at school. Pat died in 1974. Mom Mary then looked after Annie until she died aged ninety in 1983. Mom Mary is still alive and well. She turned ninety in September 2018.

( I’m hoping sister Sheila will fact-check me here! Also that cousin Hugh will tell us what happened to the misguided Bland branch that didn’t go to the Vrystaat, but got lost and ended up in Zimbabwe).

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Must add:

Pat Bland – married Bill Cowie; daughters Frankie & Gemma; Bill worked in Blyvooruitsig on the gold mine; Wild Coast fishing trips

Mary Bland – married Pieter Swanepoel in 1951

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Bland sounds so bland, but the surname is thought to derive from Old English (ge)bland meaning ‘storm’, or ‘commotion’.

 

Harsh Rejection, Deep Scars

In high school we had an older mate who was in the Free State koor. He was famous in Harrismith for that. His nickname was Spreeu but we called him Sparrow. Everyone knew Sparrow was one of “Die Kanaries – Vrystaatse Jeugkoor“. Fame! Bright lights! Girls threw their broekies at him. OK, maybe not.

One day a buzz went round school that Septimus – apparently he was the seventh child – Smuts, Free State Inspector of Music was there to do auditions for new members for this famous koor.

We were there! Me and Gabba. Neither known for having the faintest interest in warbling before (my membership of the laerskool koor a distant memory). Nor any other form of culture come to think of it, other than rugby. Gabba was a famous – beroemde, kranige – rugby player, having been chosen for Oos Vrystaat Craven Week in Std 8, 9, 9 & 10. Strong as an ox.

People were amazed: “What are YOU ous doing here?” they asked as we waited in the queue. We just smiled. We’d already missed maths, biology and PT.

Septimus was a dapper little rockspider full of confidence. He gave Gabba exactly three seconds and sent him packing. Gave me ten times longer and said “Nice enough, but no range”. So back to class we went, crestfallen look on our dials, mournfully telling our mates and the teacher that we COULD NOT understand how we’d been rejected and there must have been some mistake.

The teacher raised his eyebrows but we stuck to our story: It had been a longtime deep desire of ours and the rejection cut us deep.

It became mine & Gabba‘s standing joke over the years.

Gabba, disappointed songbird:

Rugby HY 1972 Gabba crop.jpg