Didn’t steal much as a kid. But I did slug down a bottle of Monis red grapejuice on the quiet in the back storeroom of the Platberg Bottle Store / Drankwinkel working for Mom & Dad one Saturday morning. You can see the door to the storeroom in the pic. Warm, straight out of one of those cardboard boxes all the bottles were packed in.
That afternoon we went for a long drive out Witsieshoek way in the beige 1956 Morris Isis (no, not Islamic State of Iraq & Syria, just Isis, after the river in England that most call the Thames).
After a while the car door had to be flung open for me to have a hearty grapey chunder out onto the gravel road in the veld. It would have looked like blood, so I imagine a confession then also would have had to take place. Can’t remember.
I haven’t liked red grape juice since. Communion in the teetotal Methodist church had me being possibly the only sinner rudely reminded of theft and puke every time the shed for you came round. Divine retribution? Communion? Confession? He does seem to move in mysterious ways!
Here’s the cave on the Witsieshoek road:
As an aside –
The Morris Isis was named after the River Isis – which is actually just the Thames in Oxford. The Morris Isis was “designed for work in the Dominions, Colonies and Protectorates” . . . “the factory’s output . . . is entirely for export. Great attention was given to providing a low appearance without sacrifice of ground clearance. The all-metal 5-seater saloon body is stated to be practically indestructible and climate-proof.”
The 1956 version had the fascinatingly bizarre feature that both the gear lever and the handbrake were on the floor to the right of the driver, wedged in the narrow space between the seat and the driver’s door. When changing gear it looked like you were fiddling for something you’d dropped between your right thigh and the door.
The Morris Isis Series II was based on the Morris Oxford Series III. The engine power increased to 90 bhp. The manual version had a four-speed box operated by a short gearstick located on the right-hand side of the front bench seat. The handbrake lever was located just behind the gearstick.
Sales remained weak, and the line ended in 1958. It had a top speed of 90 mph and could accelerate from 0-60 mph in 17.6 seconds. Fuel consumption of 26.2 miles per imperial gallon (10.8 litres/100 km) was recorded. The test car cost UK£1025 including taxes.
Greg came to Harrismith from Ohio in 1972. We lost touch, then thanks to Sheila, picked up as though no time had passed! Greg was helping Sheila research ancient family history and was also sending lovely pics of his schooldays in Harrismith. We were so looking forward to seeing more of them.
He planned to visit once when his brother Jeff came to do some work for General motors. He didn’t, so Jeff and I went to Hluhluwe without him!
He was planning to come and visit and, among other places, go back to the de Witt’s game farm near Tshipise – near the Tropic of Capricorn – with Steph.
Then Steph died.
Now Greg’s gone, suddenly, out of the blue.
R.I.P Greg! Dammit!! What a blow! What a loss!
Wonderful memories of walking down Normandien pass in the Drakensberg with Greg, just me and him along lonely dirt roads and railway tracks, through these tunnels and ending up near Van Reenen – at Moorddraai where we were fetched – I think by Father Sam van Muschenbroek? I had to keep telling Greg to slow down! He was a fast walker and I was in no hurry!
The top pic is one Greg took in our physics class back in 1972.
Greg’s last message on 28 April 2016:
On Apr 28, 2016, Sheila had written:
Gregor! Where the hell have you been? Are you okay?
You just dried up and went away! A bit like our money is doing right now! All’s well here – am having fun putting old pics on FB – am loving the responses. I hope you’re okay.
Lots of love, Sheila
Greg replied same day:
I'm doing just fine. Been a bit of work finishing up the estates of mom and dad. Was quite ready for mom to go, but dad went kinda suddenly.
Such is life. What brought about this great burst of picture activity?
I'll have to get back to posting more of mine again.
My brother is probably going back to Port Elizabeth later this year.
I might try to come with him this time since my last trip got all messed up.
Glad you are doing well!
Sent from my iPad
So Greg's poor kids lost their Grandma, their Granpa and their Dad in quick succession!
Greg's brother Jeff did come to SA in 2014. I took him to Hluhluwe game reserve. Greg did not accompany him. He should have. He never did make it back to SA to visit. Damn!
. . to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking
Maybe Steph was thinking of Masefield’s poem when he suggested we’d done enough short jaunts with our parents’ cars late at night while the dorp was sleeping and good kids were in bed dreaming of homework well done.
Been to Kestell? Tick;
Been to Swinburne? Tick;
Been to Queen’s Hill? Tick;
Had a head-on collision with a hill on Queen’s Hill? Tick;
Drifting laps around the atletiekbaan in Pres Brand Park? Tick;
Donuts on the high school netball courts? Tick;
What was there left to do? Maybe this was the first sign of his lifelong love of the sea – in time to come he would sail a huge ocean-going catamaran and go deep-sea fishing on his skiboat off Sordwana. In those far-off days of our youth, all that was yet to come.
Whatever – (let’s face it, more likely Steph was just thinking ADVENTURE! REBELLION! ADRENALIN!) – he started us plotting a biggie. It was certainly him who came up with the bold idea: I know. Have we been to the sea? Does the Vrystaat even have a sea? NO!! Let’s go to Durbs, dip our toes in the Indian Ocean and bring back a bottle of sea water, and – as always – be back before sonop.
We must plan: – We need the white Corsair, not the black Saab; It’s faster.Here’s what it looked like except Gerrie’s was white. And four-door. Otherwise like this.
– We must leave much earlier. We can’t wait for our parents to fall asleep; We need longer.
But not too much planning:
– I don’t remember discussing fuel or mileage or consumption. Those weren’t really fashionable topics in those days.
So Steph strolls into his Mom Alet’s bedroom, the one nearest the long getaway driveway, to talk to her as she lies reading in bed in their lovely sandstone home The Pines. At a given signal we start wheeling the Corsair out of the open garage and down the long driveway to Stuart Street. The driveway is downhill – that helps – and made of two long concrete strips – that doesn’t help: the wheels fall off the edge GghgGghgGghg! SHHH! shhh!
And they’re off! There’s no beer this trip. This is more serious. It’s a journey, not a jaunt. We have a mission.
We roar past Swinburne; We roar past van Reenen; We leave the Orange Free State; We enter Natal; We zoom down van Reenen’s Pass; Past Ladysmith and on into unknown territory.
Suddenly: Flashing Blue Lights! Oh Shit! They’re after us. We slow down a little bit. Just to the speed limit. We sit straight in the car, no slouching. We practice ‘innocent face.’ We rehearse our story: Ja Meneer, Nee Meneer. The flashing blue light fills the car – then overtakes us and whizzes past and shrinks into the distance.
We slow down. We think. We reconsider. Wordlessly, we make a U-turn and head back to the big HY, City of Sin and Laughter.
Oh well, it was a good idea while it lasted. And anyway, that story about the bottled sea water is just a myth.
I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life, To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over
R.I.P Steph – Our histories are forever entwined. You are part of who I am. My sense of self would be poorer without those short-lived mad crazy daze!
Your long trick’s over and I have no doubt there’s a quiet sleep and a sweet dream for you. Whattalife. MANY a merry yarn we got from you, our laughing fellow-rover!
I can’t believe it. Steph. Died in a car accident today. Near Frankfort.
I’ll write later.
Here’s how we’ll always remember you, Steph. Us who knew you in the 60’s and 1970 – your matric year.
His more recent friends and family remember him like this: Mad keen fisherman, yachtsman, can-do builder, taker-on of major projects. Big-hearted friend, builder of schools for underprivileged people, generous to a fault, though he would dispute the ‘fault’ part.
Later: JP, his boet, his family, his workers and his colleagues put on an amazing memorial service and wake for Steph at The Pines this Saturday. Entertained and feted us royally. His daughter tells me he has seen to it that each of them are set up with something to do to keep going. ‘Kom ons organise dit,’ was his saying. There were grandkids running around and the day was just as if he had organised it himself. It typified Steph de Witt, as it was Generous and Inclusive. The family did him proud.
We were a gang of five that came of age together. Really fun days. Beer, wit, song, wisdom, ‘borrowed’ cars, adventures and escapades * and um, extra homework (some of these things may be disputed by some) . . . Pierre du Plessis and Steph and Larry Wingert, our American Rotary exchange student, were 1970 matrics, me and Tuffy Joubert were 1972 matrics. I phoned Larry in Ohio to let him know the sad news last night.
One of the things I am most grateful for (I’m in awe, really) and I try hard to apply some of it in a balanced way to my Jess & Tom, is just how tolerant and patient our 1960’s and ’70’s Vrystaat parents were! I’m sure Steph’s Mom Alet and my Mom Mary, Pierre’s Mom Joan, Tuffy’s Mom Joyce often knew we were out and about but they would just check we were OK in the morning. ** Larry’s Mom would have been blissfully unaware of her son’s shenanigans in Africa!
Steph’s Dad the legendary Koos de Witt died when Steph was in Std 6. He was a prominent builder: Built many Much Deformed churches all over SA. Steph did civil engineering at varsity then started building. Made and lost fortunes. Owned a huge ocean-going catamaran, house in Cape Town, ‘cottage’ in Kommetjie, game farm in Limpopo. Then he was back – bought the biggest stone house in Kestell while he had big contracts to build roads and a shopping centre in Qwa Qwa. I looked him up there on our way to Lesotho once. He was driving a huge imported Ford F250 pickup truck. When I told him which road we were taking into Lesotho in my kombi he said “You can’t go that way, Koos! I built the road to the border and that’s fine, but after that you’ll never make it!” Well, we did, but Aitch veto’d that route thereafter.
He always kept The Pines – or Shady Pines – their big old house in Harrismith and ran it as a B&B. He wanted to start a museum and had bought and restored his Dad’s big old Dodge and his Mom’s old Karmann Ghia.
Next month Steph was going to take another exchange student from my year who they hosted to his game farm – Greg Seibert’s first visit back to SA since 1972. We’ll have to fill in that part of his itinerary.
His year had their 45th matric reunion last week. Older sister Barbara was in his class and was involved in organising it. But Steph didn’t go. Getting together with the hele klas wasn’t his style. A few beers with the boys would have done it. Although: For their 40th reunion he and Pierre organised, hosted and paid for the whole thing. Wouldn’t take any money from the rest of the class! Generous people. His funeral was organised by his brother JP, his kids and his wife and ex-wife just as he’d have wanted it. All his workers invited, all his friends and more. LOTS of food and drink and lasting the whole day. At The Pines.
Now he’s gone. Well, none of us would have predicted Steph dying of old age in bed, that’s for sure. But this soon? No, no, no!
Our last reunion was in 1996 when Larry visited from Ohio:
*I told you how we stood innocently in assembly while the headmaster promised threateningly that he would catch the blighters who had left tyre-mark donuts on the netball courts – “Ons sal hulle vang!” – and we thought, “No you won’t”.
** The other day I was about to growl “Turn down that noise!” to Tom when I thought to myself I don’t remember my folks ever doing that to my full-blast Jethro Tull or Led Zeppelin! Amazing!
Pierre at Steph’s funeral:
I pulled over to catch this moonrise over Bobbejaanskop, Platberg as I left Harrismith that sad and joyful day:
“The great pleasure in a schoolboy’s life is doing what people say he cannot – may not – do.”
paraphrasing Walter Bagehot, British journalist, businessman, and essayist
“Education is the sum of what students teach each other between lectures and seminars.” ― Stephen Fry
The farm Appen is the most picturesque place. At the foot of Rensburg’s Kop just above Swinburne it’s a lovely rustic old farmstead. Wessel Campher is now the proud custodian and has done a beautiful job of converting the buildings into comfortable rustic accommodation and a meeting venue. It has become a popular venue for reunions and other functions.
Story: Apparently the Bland family inhabited the farm years ago. And apparently one of the ladies in the Bland clan dropped ‘er aitches and would say ‘ere, ‘Arrismith and ‘not ‘arf bad’ or some such. She would speak about the family farm which caused the more correct and well-spoken ladies of greater Harrismith to mistakenly refer to the farm as ‘Happen.’
This story more-or-less as told to Mother Mary by Grandmother Annie Bland.
Where from the name? Who knows?! – In Yorkshire, appen doesn’t mean happen, but perhaps. – Appen is a municipality in the district of Pinneberg, in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, 20km northwest of Hamburg.
The black Saab is packed to capacity as we roar off in the dead of night to Kestell, that mecca of silence and stillness and, uh peace, I guess. Or was that Vrede? We aimed to fix that in our 1961 black two-door Saab 93. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing! – that’s the two-stroke engine you can hear.
Steph, Larry, Pierre, Tuffy and Me. Warmly dressed against the Harrismith winter chill, we’re packed shoulder-to-shoulder, hardly able to lift our elbows to down the 455ml can of beer we each have. The sixth one of the carry-pack we’ll share. Tuffy’s empty can goes clanking along the tarmac before Steph has even hit third gear. Glugged.
When the Saab goes quiet we stop briefly to tap the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for that purpose and we’re off again. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing!
After cavorting on the gravel main street of Kestell and losing a tyre off the rim on one of our laps drifting – did I mention we invented drifting? – around the biggest thing in Kestell, the Groot Klip Kerk, we pick up the car to change the wheel as there’s no jack. Come to think of it, the word ‘domkrag’ might have been invented that night!
The guys at Jakes Grove’s garage kindly fix things for us and we’re away, heading for Jan van Wyk’s place on the way home.
Jan’s farm is a turn-off to the left on the way back home. He’s the sitting hoofseun at Harrismith se Hoer, 1970 edition. It’s 3am and there’s something we need to tell him.
Tuffy tackles an ox en-route.
Driving down the farm road with its middel-mannetjie the passenger-side door suddenly flies open as we drive past a few cattle blinded by our headlights. Next thing we know there’s a dust cloud and some concerned moo-ing. Tuffy has launched himself into a flying tackle of one of the cows / bulls / oxen. We stop and Tuffy gets back into the car dusting off his khaki grootjas with a smug look of “that’ll teach them” on his dial. Long toms always went straight to the clever-witty-and-brave lobe of his brain, especially when he downed them in seconds flat.
Arriving at the homestead all is in darkness. The dogs sniff us as we tiptoe into Jan’s room and wake him. Maybe we aren’t quite as stealthy as we think, as a voice comes from down the passage ‘Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee.’ His Ma. Ma’s. They always know what’s going on.
As we leave we spy pa Hertzog’s big Chev Commando parked in the open garage with a few big sacks next to it. Mielies, probably. Takes a bit of effort but we manage to raise it and push the sacks under it, leaving the rear wheels just off the ground. The beer is obviously still circulating, making us innovative, witty and irresistible.
Larry left for home – Cobleskill, New York – soon after, missing the school photo session. We sent him this:
Groot Klip Kerk – see the action picture of us drifting; It’s the building in the background;
middel-mannetjie – hump between the tracks in a rustic road to tickle the undercarriage;
domkrag – car jack; literally ‘stupid strength’; Us;
hoofseun – head boy;
Harrismith se Hoerskool – Place of learning; but without an umlaut: place of ill repute; place where you could learn some tricks;
grootjas – greatcoat issued by the army or bought 2nd-hand from army surplus stores;
‘Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee’ – Give these drunks something to sober them up, would you? Moms always know what’s happening
Mielies – maize, corn;
drifting – right foot flat; steering wheel turned full lock; hold till you cannot see a thing from all the dust; turn the steering wheel to opposite lock; rinse and repeat; any passengers present should be yelling advice at the driver, telling him they should be driving;
R.I.P – Jan van Wyk died in a car accident ca.2010
At the Harrismith se Hoerskool, we were taught “sang” by Eben, well-known HNP lid of the Harrismith Tak who we thought fancied himself as a singer and ladies man.
He tried his best, but we were not an easy task. The RIGHT way was very clear in ou Eben’s mind: Die Volk, Afrikaans, Die Voortrekkers, Die FAK Sangbundel, no “anglisismes” and no Engels. And modern music was the work of the devil. This much was not in doubt. This meant, of course, that the RIGHT way in our minds was – well, something other than that.
He announced one day in the asbestos pre-fab sangklas that we would now sing “Heb je al gehoord van den silveren vloot”, which wasn’t actually Afrikaans, being Hoog Hollands, but that was kosher in his world; followed by the pure Afrikaans “Wie is die dapper generaal? DE WET!” which made us all think we were singing a song of praise for our flyhalf, De Wet Ras.
At this, Skottie Meyer sighed audibly: “O, jis, sing ons al weer vir Fokken Faderland?”
Well! Despite Skottie’s protestations that he had said “Volk en Vaderland”, he was despatched by a puce-faced Eben to the headmaster’s office, forthwith! Inderdaad! But he must have forgotten to go all the way because he appeared at the window behind Eben a minute later and proceeded to have us stifling grins the rest of the session.
I will confess we did sometimes sing words other than those strictly written down in the sangbundel.
Skottie has since shuffled off this mortal coil. Actually, they both have.
It was the Eastern Free State athletics championships, and we were three kranige athletes, in our prime. Well, so far . . we would get better at some things as time went on.
Here’s the line-up!!
In the triple jump we had Steph de Witt, matric. Long legs, big springs. In with a chance of a medal. The driesprong.
In the pole vault we had Richter Hoender Kok, Std 9. Feisty competitor, but probably not a contender as his short aluminium pole looks ancient next to the long, whippy fibreglass poles the boys from Bethlehem Voortrekker school are sporting. Fullback for the rugby team, he was nicknamed “HO Ender” after HO de Villiers, the Springbok fullback (hoender, geddit?). The paalspring.
In the javelin we had Me, Std 8. New to javelin, just discovered it that year and loved it. Unknown factor, only frown wif a spear once before – at the recent Harrismith Hoerskool Atletiekbyeenkoms, where I had won the Victor Ludorum very unexpectedly. The spiesgooi.
The school bus was naturally available for us to get to the metropolis of Senekal. That was the usual and expected way, so we naturally declined, Steph organising that we drove ourselves to Senekal in Gerrie Pretorius’ white Ford Corsair. Actually we weren’t licenced – to drink OR drive – so one of the guys who worked for his Mom Alet at JN de Witt Hardware drove us.
Accompanying us was Larry Wingert, Rotary exchange student from Cobleskill New York and keen athletic spectator. That day.
The white Ford Corsair’s engine roared off in the pre-dawn heading west, the rising sun behind us, to Senekal, city of song and laughter – and horror.Tiekiedraai songs, probly. As we pulled in to the dusty dorp Steph had us pull over outside likely the only cafe in town, where he asked the Greek owner, who became his mate in two seconds flat – Steph is like that – if he’d please keep our beers. ‘MY FRIEN’! Of course I keep your beers cold for you!’ Stuck them under the eskimo pies, he did.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention: Steph’s gardener had procured a sixpack of Black Label Mansize cans for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales, Mom & Dad losing the sale at Platberg bottle store because of their unreasonable “No under 18’s” policy. Also known as “the law.”
Now at this juncture, please don’t come with any stimulant or performance-enhancing accusations. Let it be noted that we did not partake in our stimulants until AFTER the athletic meeting was over. During the competition we were clean, nê? And anyway those mansize cans were only conversation stimulants and personality enhancers.
Let the games begin!
Steph’s event was first and we watched, moedig’d him aan and coached him. He won the driesprong! We had a gold medal in the Corsair! The beer was legitimised: It was celebratory! True it was only a paper certificate, but it said Eerste Plek and to us that = Gold Medal.
A long gap followed before my event after lunch. It didn’t look too good and I was languishing, but then I didn’t have any expectations. My last throw came and the whole thing is etched in my memory. I can still today feel the quickening run, the cross-step, the full-strength launch, the perfect flight of me – and of the javelin – and my landing, right spiked foot digging in one inch behind the wavy, hand-drawn white-wash line on the grass and having to push back to not lurch over it and get disqualified. I just knew it was perfection and it flew on and on, second stage booster firing halfway, soaring past all the markers of the langgatte from Voortrekker in Bethlehem and pegging perfectly. Another gold medal for the Corsair! Spiesgooi. This one out of the blue, even though the skies were grey (which significant fact would come into play later that day).
Hoender’s event was last and we went to cheer. It didn’t look good. One short stiff aluminium pole vs a bunch of long whippy fibreglass poles seemed unfair. He was offered the use of a newfangled pole but he declined. They take some getting used to.
Then it started to drizzle. The grey sky got wet. Suddenly everything changed! The langgatte with the whippy poles started floundering and slipping. Hoender soldiered on. It made no difference to him what the weather was like. On the last height there were two competitors left. Whippy pole slipped and gly’d and got nowhere. Hoender went over to a roar of applause from all four of us. He’d won! Our third gold medal! Paalspring. A clean sweep! The trifecta!
The music from Chariots of Fire swelled over the once dusty, now damp, dorp, rising to a crescendo. Sure, the movie was 1981 and this was 1970, but WE HEARD IT.
We hastened straight to the white Corsair, parked in the drizzle under the nearby bluegum trees, skipping the official podium pomp for Hoender.
We had our own unofficial celebration waiting. Off to the cafe to rescue the beer from under the eskimo pies and away we went “with the windshield wipers slappin’ time, n Larry clappin’ hands”! We roared off in the twilight, heading east, the setting sun behind us, slightly pickled after glugging the 450ml of contraband nectar, conversations stimulated and personalities enhanced.
AND: We got our name up in lights and our handprints pressed in to concrete next to a big star on the pavement.
Well, the Harrismith Hoerskool equivalent: On the Monday morning we were mentioned in dispatches by Johan Steyl at assembly in the skoolsaal. He sounded rather amazed.
kranige – excellent; and handsome
hoender – his nickname; he looked a bit like a scrawny old rooster, I guess?
Harrismith Hoerskool Atletiekbyeenkoms – renowned school athletics meet, widely known in the district, like famous
tiekiedraai – Like, lame dancing that adults approve of; you were allowed to tiekiedraai, so who would want to
nê? – y’unnerstand?
moedig’d him aan – told him ‘C’mon, Move Your Arse! JUMP!’ Also coached him by saying the same thing
driesprong – triple jump; hop, skip, n jump
langgatte – long arses, tall chaps
spiesgooi – spear chuck, javelin; Seems all that practice frowing fings wif a stone of our youth translated well into frowing wif a spear.
gly’d – slipped
paalspring – pole vault; see how we pole-vaulted in the tough old days, with stiff poles and the ground ploughed over and a sprinkling of wood shavings and sawdust to act as a “soft” landing;
skoolsaal – hall where you assembled
Years later a nocturnal visit to Senekal involving beer would not be as much fun; more dark hillbilly horror than daylight athletic fun!
I canoed the Vrystaat Vlaktes thanks to Charles Ryder, who arrived with Jenny in Harrismith – 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:
What’s that? It’s a canoe
What’s a canoe? You do the Dusi in it
What’s the Dusi?
Well, Charles 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? Charles made it sound like the best, most adventurous thing you could possibly think of. He showed me how to paddle 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, 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!
1972 Duzi – Still enthused, though, I persuaded my mate Jean Roux to join me in hitch-hiking to the race. We got to Pietermaritzburg and the next morning to the start in Alexander Park in PMB, 1972 Dusi. 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 seemd 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.
1976 Duzi – In 1976 I entered the race and convinced a friend at College Louis van Reenen to join me. He had asked ‘What’s that?’ when he saw my Limfy on my grey and grey 1965 Opel Concorde in Doornfontein, and ‘What’s that?’ when I said ‘The Dusi,’ so he was ripe for convincing. Later in the holidays he bought a red Hai white-water boat with a closed cockpit from Neville Truran and paddled it once or twice on Emmerentia Dam. In those days that sort-of qualified you for Dusi! Then he loaded it up on his light blue VW Beetle and drove down from Jo’burg to meet me in Harrismith. Only one of us could paddle, the other had to drive as the ‘second’ taking food and kit to the overnight stops. So we tossed a coin. I lost, and so we headed for Alexandra Park in PMB with the red Hai on the roofrack. A great pity for me, as I had done a lot of canoeing, also in flood-level rivers, and had broken two boats in half and repaired one, getting it going again in time for the 1972 Dusi as related above. But – a coin toss is a coin toss. For Louis, the coin toss won him first-ever trip down a river. And what a river!
In that 1976 flood-level high water Louis swam his first Dusi!
He swam and he swam and he drank half the water, lowering the level somewhat, but not enough, as it continued raining and filled up faster than he could drink it down. Evenings he had to hang his bum out the tent door, wracked with ‘Dusi Guts’, but he rinsed and repeated the performance three days in a row and finished the marathon. He was a tough character, Louis!
I drove that pale blue VW in the thick mud of the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Us seconds took turns getting stuck and helping each other out. In places there was a queue of dozens of cars, but one-by-one we’d give each car a shove and we all got through.
Here’s Louis at Blue Lagoon finishing that epic Duzi!
Here’s my orange pup tent and Louis’ red Hai and blue VW at Blue Lagoon after the race, wind howling:
1983 Duzi – It was only in 1982 that I eventually got round to paddling again – and then in 1983 I finally did my first Dusi. On a low river:
and the Lowveld Croc:
All in quick succession, and all at my not-furious pace, staring at the scenery, which was good practice for kayaking the Colorado through the Grand Canyon in 1984.
When I got back from America I thought I must get hold of Charles and tell him what his enthusiasm had led to.
But I didn’t do it then – procrastination – and then I was too late. His heart had attacked him, he was no more. Thank you Charlie Ryder. You changed my life. Enhanced it. Wish I had told you.
Some freezing nights I recall. Funny thing is, most hold such good memories!
– At home some nights at 95 Stuart Street, getting in between cold sheets in a cold room; Harrismith Free State in winter! In the ’60’s
– On the Wilge riverbank with Claudio – sharing a wet sleeping bag after one swim too many on an overnight canoe voyage from Swinburne to Harrismith; ca.1970
– Above Oliviershoek Pass, under some wattle trees on a stream bank – sleeping bags on the ground, no tent – on Jack Shannon’s farm Kindrochart with Pierre and his cousin Kevin, fresh from Durban. In mid-winter in the July holidays. We rode there on our bicycles – about 19 miles. Kevin thought he was gonna freeze-die; To be fair, Durban is sub-tropical and Kevin’s thighs were not made for long bike rides! We woke up to find the top of our sleeping bags frozen – the dew had turned to ice. ca.1968
– With Tuffy and Fluffy in Bloem in an empty school hostel (Jim Fouche se Hoer Skool?); No bedding, huddled under our school blazers. ca.1970. Apparently Daan Smuts had forgotten to arrange accommodation. But who cared! He had NOT forgotten to arrange a coupla beers for us first – which made us late for whatever accommodation may have been arranged by other, more boring, teachers. That’s how I remember it anyway!
– On the Berg River Canoe Marathon in the Cape. July, mid-winter in a winter rainfall area! Rain sweeping in horizontally on the freezing cold gale-force wind. The night before the race we were given a shed to sleep in and reminded to bring mattresses. I managed to burst my new blow-up mattress and so had a freezing night on cold concrete. That second day, the shortest of four, was the longest day of my life; and the coldest I have ever been. EVER! The first fatality ever in a canoe race in SA happened that day. Novice Berg paddler Gerrie Rossouw died. The third and fourth days warmed up, thank goodness; ca.1983
With Aitch in the kombi in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. Like sleeping in a refrigerator. The lions knew to wait till the sun was up before getting it on; ca.1996
With Aitch on Sheila’s expedition up Mt aux Sources. Sheila insisted we camp right in the open, exposed to a freezing gale with our tents leaning at 45º and rolling away if they weren’t weighted down. Pegs didn’t help. The reason Sheila wanted us just there became clear at sunrise; ca.1996
Another cold night on Mt aux Sources with Larry Pierre and Tuffy ca.1970, where we were joined in the hut after dark by two guys who had got a bit ratty with each other on the walk in the dark. They argued about the beef stroganoff and whether the wine was being ‘frozen instead of chilled’ where it was outside in a bank of snow; that set us off into gales of laughter and mocking. When they eventually shut up and settled down for the night Larry started off with 100 bottles of beer on the wall and we sang that very annoyingly for way too long. Hopefully they were more cross with us than with each other in the end?
With Aitch on Nyika Plateau in Malawi 10 000ft asl – but then we dragged our mattress to the lounge and got a roaring log fire going using felled timber from the pine plantation that was being cleared! So that night only counts before the fire got going; ca.1993