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.
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’:
. . 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!
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.
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.
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.
A childhood friend is writing a lovely book on his mountaineering exploits and the journey he has made from climbing the mountain outside our town to climbing bigger and more famous mountains all over the world!!
Flatteringly, he asked me and a Pommy work and climber friend to proofread his latest draft. Being a techno-boff, he soon hooked us up on dropbox where we could read and comment and suggest.
I immediately launched in to making sensible and well-thought out recommendations. But some of them were instantly rejected, side-stepped or ignored, I dunno WHY!!
Like the title I thought could be spiced up. Three African Peaks is all very well. But it’s boring compared to Free A-frickin’ Picks!!! to lend drama and a Seffrican accent to it, right?! I know, you can’t understand some people. !
John, very much under the weight of a monarchy – meaning one has to behave – was more formal:
‘What is it with south africans and the “!”? (which is my major comment on your writing style!)
Well!!! Once we had puffed down and soothed our egos by rubbing some Mrs Balls Chutney on it, the back-n-forth started. I mean started!!
My defensive gambit was: ‘We’re drama queens!!’
My attacking gambit was an accusation: ‘Poms hugely under-use the ! In fact, they neglect it terribly! John was quickly back though, wielding his quill like a rapier:
‘Not true. We use our national quota. We just give almost all of them to teenage girls.’
I was on the back foot. When it came to the cover, the Boer War re-enactment resumed. I mean resumed!! I chose a lovely cover with an African mountain and a lot of greenery on the slopes. The Pom chose an ice wall, no doubt thinking of the London market. Stalemate.
Next thing he’ll be suggesting a stiff upper cover.
A strange thing has happened since John’s critique! I am using less exclamation marks! I have even written sentences without any!! It actually feels quite good. The new, restrained me.
I canoed the Vrystaat Vlaktes thanks to Charles Ryder, who arrived in Harrismith in about 1968 or ’69 I’d guess, to start his electrical business, a rooinek from Natal. He roared into town in a light green Volvo 122S with a long white fibreglass thing on top of it like this:
I asked: What’s that? It’s a canoe What’s a canoe? You do the Dusi in it What’s the Dusi?
Well, Charlie now knew he was deep behind the boerewors curtain! He patiently made me wiser and got me going and I got really excited the more I learned. I decided I just HAD TO do the Dusi. What could be more exciting than paddling your own canoe 120km over three days from Pietermaritzburg to the sparkling blue Indian Ocean at the Blue Lagoon in Durban? Charlie made it sound like the best, most adventurous thing you could possibly think of. He showed me how to paddle (how was I to know at the time he was making me a ‘Left Feather’?) and was so generous with his time. Both in paddling and with Harrismith’s first Boy Scouts troop, which he helped establish.
I started running in the mornings with a gang of friends. Tuffy Joubert, Louis Wessels, Fluffy Crawley, Leon Blignaut, who else? We called ourselves the mossies as we got up at sparrow’s fart. Then I would cycle about two miles to the park in the afternoons and paddle on the flat water of the mighty Vulgar River in Charles’ Limfjorden, or Limfy, canoe, which he had kindly lent me/given to me. It was the fittest I’ve ever been, before or since.
Overnight I would leave it on the bank tethered to a weeping willow down there. One day around Christmas time with only a couple of weeks to go before Dusi I got there and it was missing. I searched high and low, to no avail. So I missed doing the Dusi. Not that I had done anything but train for it – I hadn’t entered, didn’t know where to, didn’t belong to a club, didn’t have a lift to the race, no seconds, nothing!
Still enthused, though, I persuaded my mate Jean Roux to join me in hitch-hiking to the race. We were going to do the Duzi! All except the part where you used a boat.
We got to Pietermaritzburg, and early the next morning to the start in Alexander Park. Milling around among the competitors and their helpers, we watched the start and as the last boats paddled off downstream Alxendra Park started emptying, everyone seemed in a big hurry to leave. We asked Wassup? and someone said, We’re Following Our Paddler! so we bummed a lift with some paddler’s seconds to the overnight stop at Dusi Bridge. We slept under the stars and cadged supper from all those friendly people. They let us continue with them the next day to the second overnight stop at Dip Tank and on the third and last day to the sea, the estuary at Blue Lagoon, following the race along the way.
I continued the search for my missing Limfy after we got back from watching the Dusi and eventually found a bottle floating in the Kakspruit, a little tributary that flows down from Platberg and enters the river downstream of the weir. It had a string attached to it. I pulled that up and slowly raised the boat – now painted black and blue, but clearly identifiable as I had completely rebuilt it after breaking it in half in a rapid in the valley between Swinburne and Harrismith. Come to remember, that’s why Charles gave it to me! I knew every inch of that boat: the kink in the repaired hull, the repaired cockpit, the wooden gunwales, brass screws, shaped wooden cross members, long wooden stringer, shaped wooden uprights from the cross members vertically up to the stringer, the white nylon deck, genkem glue to stick the deck onto the hull before screwing on the gunwales, the brass carrying handles, aluminium rudder and mechanism, steel cables, the lot. In great detail.
Except! I recently (2020) cleared out my garage under lockdown and discovered this: My notes preparing for the Duzi! I was less disorganised than I remember. I may not have DONE, but at least I did do a bit of planning! Check “Phone Mr Pearce” and “Buy canoe?” – uh, maybe not so very well organised!
I saw Mr Thandinkosi Ntshingila for an eye test recently. He was born in 1940. I told him I knew a Mr Max Ntshingila in Harrismith many moons ago, who owned a fleet of buses.
He said “Hayibo! That’s my Dad!!”
He grew up in Harrismith! Strictly speaking Max was his uncle, but his Dad died when he was very young and his uncle Max took him in and raised him as his own in Phomolong.
He told me that besides the buses – remember “Max Express” buses? yellow and green, I seem to remember – Max owned two shops, plus a petrol station in Swaziland.
Max died in 1978 aged 60 (so the news cuttings below are ca.1971). His empire collapsed when he died, as his kids “were spoilt” and “none of them could manage anything”, according to Thandinkosi.
Max sent Thandinkosi to college and he ended up in Durban working for Engen or Sapref or one of those fuel refinery places. Retired now, he plays the horses for fun and I see him at the tote on the roof of our centre occasionally.
I had wondered vaguely all these years about something, and I never expected to get the answer. But Thandinkosi had the answer for me: That cream coloured yank tank Max drove was a 1963 Chev Biscayne.
Thandinkosi still goes to Harrismith regularly to look after the house in Phomolong where he was raised. One of his nieces lives in it.
Leon Strachan sent me some pictures and newspaper cuttings. Note how Dr Frank Mdlalose, who we only got to know of post-1994, when he became KwaZulu Natal’s first Premier, was a house guest of the Ntshingila’s in Harrismith.
Update: Today – 12 December 2019 – I saw Mr Thandinkosi Ntshingila again. I phoned him to come in so I could give him copies of these pictures. He’ll be 80 next year. I hoped he was one of the kids in the photo, but he wasn’t. Not one of the people in the photo are still alive, he tells me. They all died quite young. He’s the only survivor of that household. He was chuffed to receive these mementoes and says he’s going to frame the family photo!
So we were drinking beer on Tabbo’s farm when a younger chap arrived and was introduced to us as the young Frenchman whose parents wanted him to experience agriculture before he started to study it at university. Tabbo had gladly agreed to host a frog for a weekend so he could learn agriculture on a farm in Africa before going back to learn it in France in French at a university. Ours not to reason why . .
I’m Tabbo; I’m Koos we said. Hervé, he said. Ah, hello Hervé! Non non! Hervé.
Ah! Hervé, we said, copying his pronunciation carefully. Non! Hervé. OK, Hervé. Non! Non! Hervé!Hervé!
Um, yes, hello Hervé, welcome to the Vrystaat. Hervé! he muttered.
And that set the tone for the visit of eighteen year old Hervé, le frog, to the Vrystaat vlaktes.
We piled into Tabs’ pickup and drove around the farm, Tabbo pointing out a cow, a sheep and a mielie growing. He showed little interest. The only animation was whenever we mentioned his name. He would immediately say Non. Hervé! So we stopped using his name.
Back to the lovely sandstone homestead at Gailian and lunch, where he refused a beer, muttering something that sounded like muffy arse. We were to hear muffy arse A LOT.
Lunch arrived, a delicious roast something produced by Julia and __ in the large and splendid Gailian kitchen, origin of many a magnificent meal. Non. Muffy arse, came the response after he’d peered at the meat on his plate intently, nose 20mm from it. He ate the potatoes.
I’ve never met such such an impossible eighteen year old! Obnoxious, opinionated, impossible to please.
In the afternoon Tabbo drove him around some more. We – yes, even I was lecturing agriculture! – helpfully pointed out the grass, and the clouds, which would hopefully bring rain and grow that same grass; which animals would eat and convert into delicious roasts so he could mutter muffy arse. We generally gave him a thorough education in agriculture which we were sure would put him ahead of his fellow amphibious classmates when he went back across the pond to study utilisées pour l’agriculture at l’école agricole. And I’m sure le frog would have had a lot to correct there.
That evening we were back into the beer and offered him one. Non. Muffy arse, the response we’d grown used to. We went through all the grog in the Fyvie’s very well stocked pub and at last we got a oui – I forget if it was Ricard or Benedictine or Cointreau, but it was definitely Made In France and I think that was all le frog was interested in. By the look on his face as he took his first sip, he hadn’t actually tasted it before, but we were beyond caring any more. He was impossible to please and we were now just keeping him quiet, happy that a sixpack of beer divided as easily into two as three.
After a while the silly little frog whipped out a tiny little French-English dictionary out of his pocket and pointed to the word méfiance and muttered urgently muffy arse. So THAT was muffy arse! méfiance!
The translation: MISTRUST!
We hosed ourselves, which miffed le frog. He got all miffy arsed.
We were not sad to see him go. Still being polite, we asked him if he thought he’d learnt enough to help him when he went back to study his agriculture? Non, Non. he said indignantly. He was going to l’université to study mathematique!
I was born up Shit Creek without a paddle. Quite literally. OK, my actual birth, per se, was in Duggie Dugmore’s maternity home, less than half a kilometer away on Kings Hill, but mere days after I was born – as soon as I could be wrapped in swaddling clothes – I was taken home to my manger on a plot on the banks of Shit Creek. And it was twelve years or so before I owned my first paddle. So this is a true story.
I paddled my own canoe about twelve years later after we lost the plot. OK, sold the plot, moved into town and bought a red and blue canoe with paddle. The first place we paddled it was in a little inlet off the Wilge river above the Sunnymede weir, some distance upstream of town. Right here:
Before this, I had paddled a home-made canoe made of a folded corrugated zinc roofing sheet, the ends nailed onto a four-by-four and sealed with pitch. Made by good school friend Gerie Hansen and his younger boet Nikolai – or maybe his older boet Hein; or by their carpenter father Jes? We paddled it, wobbling unsteadily, on their tiny little pond in the deep shade of wattle trees above their house up against the northern cliff of Kings Hill.
Good school friend Piet Steyl wrote of the wonderful days he also spent in the company of Gerie Hansen – who died tragically early. He told of fun days spent paddling that zinc canoe, gooi’ing kleilat, shooting the windbuks and smoking tea leaves next to that same little pond. We both remembered Gerie winning a caption contest in Scope magazine and getting reprimanded for suggesting Japanese quality wasn’t good. Irony was, the Hansens actually owned one of the first Japanese bakkies seen in town – a little HINO.
Gerie used to say ‘He No Go So Good’, and Piet says when it finally gave up the ghost he said ‘He No Go No More’!!
Shit Creek – actually the Kak Spruit; a tributary of the Wilge River which originates on Platberg mountain, flows down, past our old plot and westward through the golf course on the northern edge of town, then turns south and flows into the Wilge below the old park weir; Sensitive Harrismith people refer to it as ‘die spruit met die naam;’
die spruit met die naam – ‘the creek with the name’ – too coy! It’s Die Kakspruit; always will be. Shit Creek.
gooi’ing kleilat – lethal weapon; a lump of clay on the end of a whippy stick or lath; spoken about way more than practiced, in my experience; Here’s a kid loading one:
OK, not really; more a reverie on drink – a nostalgic lookback on a bottle store. Platberg Bottle Store / Drankwinkel in Harrismith, the Vrystaat. The Swanepoel family business. We all worked here at times.
We were talking about the trinkets, decor and marketing stuff. Like those big blow-up bottles hanging from the ceiling. Turns out big sister Barbara kept some of them from way back when:
Younger sister Sheila has some whisky jugs; and I had found an old familiar brandy-making figure online:
This is where they were displayed, along with the statues of Johnny Walker whisky, Dewars White Label whisky’s Scottish soldier ‘drum major’, Black & White whisky with their two Scotty dogs, Beefeater Gin’s ‘beefeater’, etc. Spot them below:
The old man bought an 8mm cine film Eumig camera and Eumig projector. Made in Austria. This was ca.1963, I’d guess. It once did a bit of – potentially – famous footage!
Later he bought a Canon SLR camera with a 50mm lens like this, and a 300mm telephoto lens. An FT QL like this one. He used Agfa slide film. Had to be Agfa, not Kodak! Agfa had ‘better greens and blues.’
We went on a trip down Normandien Pass to photograph Black Eagle chicks on their nest. I think Wally and Robbie Sharratt had told of them. Wonder where those pics are?
Once I heard Dad had been present when I won a 100m race at the town’s President Brand Park athletic track. I didn’t know he was there – found out later that he had been taking photos. At the finish, in my lunge for the tape, I fell and somersaulted, skidding on my back. I won or tied for first – not sure which, but one of the two. Never did see a photo of that finish – !?
Once – 1967 – he took a photo of the all-winning U/13 rugby team holding a trophy. We won all our games except one that year – a no-score draw against Bethlehem Voortrekker (we beat them later); and we beat a team from Virginia that had claimed in the Friend newspaper that they were Free State Champs – unbeaten, 140 points for and none against; we beat them 3-0, a De Wet dropkick; we also beat the representative Eastern Free State team 17-0 cos they only chose four of our guys for the team; and then we challenged and beat Bloemfontein’s Grey College U/13 8-3. Our fame had grown and grown throughout the season and the number of spectators grew with every win. Funny, some people will support a team; but many more will make an effort to witness winning! I know not what that trophy De Wet is holding was for? Still, there was one photo a father took of his son’s school sporting career!