Durban ca 1980 – I’ve been sent here by the army; I know very little about this Last Outpost of the British Empire, but my friend, fellow Free Stater Steve Reed, has been here almost a year so he knows everything. And he knows some girls.
The papers announced that some comet was due to approach Earth and – we extrapolated – threaten our way of life, our partying, our poison of choice – and perhaps even kill us. Or annoy us anyway.
We determined to protect ourselves and our favourite planet from this unwelcome alien intruder. Steve hired a beach cottage at Blythedale Beach on the Natal north coast and, as I know a lot more about warding off comets than I do about girls, I was happy to tag along with Stefaans and a bunch of his female friends and admirers. Supplied with adequate stocks of various powerful potions and elixirs to be taken internally we sallied forth. We also bought tinfoil.
In the self-catering kitchen we found plenty with which to arm and armour ourselves: Colanders, coriander, and pots and pans made good headgear. Braai forks, spatulas, braai tongs and wooden spoons made anti-galactic weapons. We warmed up our IQ’s by imbibing aplenty and so started a rip-roaring single-handed – the other hand was holding cheap and blithe spirits – Defend the Planet Party; which same ended successfully in the wee hours on the beach when a mysterious pale light appeared on the eastern horizon, over the sparkling Indian Ocean.
Was it perhaps Comet Aarseth-Brewington? Well, if it was, we made it saweth its arseth by our brewing and distillington.
Actually, it was more likely Comet Tuttle. There it is, below! It came back in 2007 but it knew better than to approach too close:
Only after recovering from my hangover did I realise another of the planned missions had once again been a complete failure: Snaring any girls. As so often, the booze had won and I’d dipped out. And they were kif . .
We were in second year and had just moved out of downtown Joburg and Eloff Street to the salubrious semi-suburban delightful area of Doornfontein which was once Joburg’s premier suburb where all the gold mining magnates and Randlords lived and built their mansions.
So some final year students asked us to help them in their research for their – whatever.
They needed volunteers to see if blood alcohol levels affected your esotropia. We gave it a moment’s thought and thought that sounded like a HELLUVA good idea as it involved free drink and would provide valuable data and it involved free drink. We volunteered. None of asked ‘what’s esotropia?’
It was very formal. We had to – No, you can’t have a drink yet; Hey! Step away from the drinks table, we need baseline levels before you . . you have? Well, how many? SO many? Well, quick, come, let’s measure you before – Hey! Not another one . .
Well, give them their due, they tried their best and we did our best and it was a WONDERFUL evening filled with laughter and witty repartee and I don’t know if they got any data but we did get the promised drinks and they didn’t need to return any unopened bottles to the grog shop.
Quite a lot was learned, too. Like if you give a person who has had one too many even a little bit of vertical prism he will push the phoropter away and make barfing noises and run out of the clinic. That might come in handy to future researchers, and I give it here free for anyone to use.
I was reading about Andrew Geddes Bain, geologist, road engineer, palaeontologist and explorer in the Cape up to 1864, and his son Thomas Charles Bain, road engineer in the Cape up to 1888, when it suddenly struck me!
First, let’s see what these two very capable men achieved: Andrew Geddes Bain built eight mountain passes, including the famous Bain’s Kloof Pass, which opened up the route to the interior from Cape Town. And he had thirteen children. His son Thomas Charles Bain built nineteen passes! His crowning glory was the Swartberg Pass that connects Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo with Prince Albert beyond the Swartberg mountains in the open plains of the Great Karoo. And he had thirteen children.
And I suddenly knew exactly what happened when my Great-Grandfather Stewart Bain and his brother James Bain got off the ship in Durban in 1880. They were fishermen from the tiny fishing village of Wick, in the far north-eastern corner of Scotland, used to being ‘knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse.’
People in Durban asked them: ‘Bain? Are you the famous Bain road builders? We need road builders here. Can you build bridges too?’
And I know just what the brothers Bain said. ‘Roads? Och aye, we can build roads. And bridges? We can build them with one hand tied behind our back.’ The old ‘funny you should mention that! I happen to very good at it . . . ‘
And so they built the railway bridges between Ladysmith and Harrismith, learning as they went, ‘upskilling’, thus helping the railroad reach that wonderful picturesque town in the shadow of Platberg. This made them enough money to buy or build a hotel each, marry, have children – only seven and eight apiece, though – and become leading citizens of ve dorp.
Then one of the seven had two children; and one of those had me! And here I am.
edit: I wrote nine kids in the pic, but I think it was worse – only seven.
Think I’m being unkind to Wick, village of my ancestors? Read what Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about it to his mother when he stayed there in 1868:
‘Certainly Wick in itself possesses no beauty: bare, grey shores, grim grey houses, grim grey sea; not even the gleam of red tiles; not even the greenness of a tree. The southerly heights, when I came here, were black with people, fishers waiting on wind and night. Now all the boats have beaten out of the bay, and the Wick men stay indoors or wrangle on the quays with dissatisfied fish-curers, knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse. The day when the boats put out to go home to the Hebrides, the girl here told me there was ‘a black wind’; and on going out, I found the epithet as justifiable as it was picturesque. A cold, BLACK southerly wind, with occasional rising showers of rain; it was a fine sight to see the boats beat out a-teeth of it. In Wick I have never heard any one greet his neighbour with the usual ‘Fine day’ or ‘Good morning.’ Both come shaking their heads, and both say, ‘Breezy, breezy!’ And such is the atrocious quality of the climate, that the remark is almost invariably justified by the fact. The streets are full of the Highland fishers, lubberly, stupid, inconceivably lazy and heavy to move. You bruise against them, tumble over them, elbow them against the wall — all to no purpose; they will not budge; and you are forced to leave the pavement every step.’
Now read a sterling and spirited defence of our ancestral dorp by Janis Paterson – also a descendant of the Bains of Wick who read my post and reached for her quill (I have paraphrased somewhat):
Ya boo sucks to RLS! Robert Louis Stevenson, was a sickly child. His father and his uncles were engineers who built lighthouses all over Scotland. Robert was sent to Wick, likely to get involved in building a breakwater there with his Uncle. But he was more interested in writing stories and was just not cut out for this sort of work. I believe he was also ill while in Wick. The first attempt at building the breakwater was washed away during a storm and also the second attempt. The work was then abandoned. I therefore propose that Robert just didn’t want to be in Wick, was ill, fed up with the weather and just wanted to get away to concentrate on his writing. The Stevenson family must have been excellent engineers, as all the lighthouses are still standing. Did Robert also feel that he was a failure as an apprentice engineer?
Stick it to him, Janis! How dare he call Wick fishy? Or smelly!? Or breezy!?
Janis adds ‘Read this book review:’ ‘ . . .fourteen lighthouses dotting the Scottish coast were all built by the same Stevenson family that produced Robert Louis Stevenson, Scotland’s most famous novelist. Who, unlike the rest of his strong-willed, determined family, was certainly not up to the astonishing rigours of lighthouse building.’Janis was right! 😉 All HE could do was scribble – like me . .
Talking about the magic photo of the Soap Box Derby on 42nd Hill with Fluffy’s Dad Charlie in it, we got into an extended email conversation:
Fluff: Amazing the dress code!!!
Me: Yes, from kaalvoet kid to full jacket & tie. And three ‘hoeds’. And a cop. Even the most casual of the ‘racing drivers’ has long pants on. I see your Dad clearly, is that Michael Hastings next to him crouched over the reins with his chin between his knees?
Fluff: Yep, Michael Hastings; I sent the photo to Mom to see if she can identify any others on it. My Dad crashed his kart and came a whopper, apparently had no skin left. He was the moer in when we had our races on the old road, because of the accident he was in. He still owes me a hiding with the kweper lat (quince switch). I bet he is waiting for me in Heaven! But we will just chat about it!!
Me: By the time we raced down that hill the trees were tall next to the road, and it had become the ‘old road’, a new one having been built above it. Traffic volumes had increased and we could no longer just stop the N3 and all the Jo’burg – Durban traffic!
= = = = = Canoe trip from Swinburne = = = = =
Me: So we did the full Swinburne to Harrismith in a day? I remember being picked up at the bridge – I think the same bridge you once caught a huge barbel under – correct? You may remember I went again a few years later with Claudio Bellato. The river was up and we both lost our glasses, spent a wet night sharing one sleeping bag, which was only half wet, the other one was sopping; then wrecked the canoe, which I had borrowed from the Voortrekkers, on a tree block in a rapid on Walton farm. Charlie Ryder fetched us and we got the wrecked boat out 2 weeks later. Claudio lives in Durban and I see him from time to time. He still introduces me as “Meet my friend Peter. I slept with him”.
Fluff: Your Dad picked us up in Town, but we did not sleep over en route. The river was terribly low and we did a lot of foot work crossing or bypassing the rapids. We made the trip in one day. I can remember the trip you had with Claudio, jeez terrible to sleep wet, and that with a man. You fixed up the canoe in the backyard if I can recall. That fish: It was a huge barbel from the bridge and that with a split rod, Dad used for bass!! Haha early one morning standing on the bridge, it was still too dark to go down to the river.
= = = = = The Voortrekker Camp = = = = =
Me: I joined up briefly, thanks to you. Or to your description of the upcoming camp on Bok or Boy Venter’s farm! I remember the camp in the wattles, a campfire, not much else.
Fluff: I remember the Voortrekkers and I think our membership lasted until after the camp. A huge bonfire, that night; Boy Venter. That was about it.
= = = = = The 1969 South West Africa Trip . . That Kestell Trip = = = = =
Fluff: We have good memories of the SWA Trek and I still have some photo’s as well.
not of the group or individuals!! I will scan at some stage and put
them in mail.
The welwitchia plant; Namutoni in Etosha; the Finger of God; the ‘bottomless’ lake Otjikoto with schools of small fish – apparently the Germans dumped their weaponry in these lakes, close to Tsumeb. Did we go to a disco in Tsumeb?
The visit to the karakul farm, the meerkats!! Eish the price of that lovely freshly baked brown bread near Twee Rivieren….17 cents OMW – the price of brown bead was about 6 cents back home!!!
Lovely memories; Braam Venter was the guy from Kestell…and who were the brothers who played cowboy and crooks with .303 rifles on horseback!?
I can recall yourself, Pierre, Tuffy, myself who else was in the party from Harrismith?
Swakopmund’s Dune 7 with that huge Chevy bonnet that did not work!!
Me: Was the hiding “on the cards” when he died? Heart attack, was it? How old was he? That was such a damned shame. I can actually still feel (feel, not remember) how I felt standing in the kitchen at 95 Stuart Street when I first heard uncle Charlie had died. And here’s my old man turned 91 after 60 yrs of smoking and all that dop in the Club and Moth Hall!! Each old toppie I see – and my work consists of seeing old toppies! – has a theory of why he has lived so long but I can tell you right now there’s one main factor: LUCK. For every “formula” they have for their longevity I know someone who did just that but died young. About the dop my old man used to say, “Ah, but remember he drank cane and WATER. It was the mixers other ous drank that stuffed them up (!!)”. That was his theory and you can say what you like, he’s sticking to it!
I’d love to see the SWA photos. I didn’t take any. I still have the ossewawiel (axle centre – what’s it called?) that I got there. It had everyone’s names on it, but they’ve faded now as it has spent a few decades outside propping up my offroad trailer’s disselboom.
From HY I can only add Pikkie Loots and Marble Hall’s names. From Kestell I remember ‘Aasvoel’ and ‘Kleine Aischenvogel’. And my name was Steve McQueen thanks to you suggesting it then not using it at the last minute!
I don’t remember a disco but I do recall the beers at Karasburg and the oke storming in to ask Waddefokgaanieraan? Wie’s Julle? Waar’s Julle Onderwyser? Also the springbokke caught in the fence and the shout Ek Debs Die Balsak! from a savvy farm kid. I’d never heard of turning a balsak into an ashtray till that day! And the huge bonfire in the riverbed and sleeping out in the open and shifting closer to the embers as the fire died down. COLD nights! Also slept on the ground outside Etosha gates.
I’ll have to cc Pierre & Tuffy on this one!
I don’t recall cowboys & crooks and 303’s.
Here’s our GP Dr. Frank Reitz’s car OHS 71 on the banks of the Tugela River on The Bend, his farm outside Bergville.
Fluffy Crawley and I probably met at the Methodist Church Sunday School as toddlers, making us fellow-Methylated Spirits. We definitely both went to Kathy Putterill’s pre-school and then from Sub A to matric together. A fine human being.
kaalvoet – barefoot
hoeds – hats
the moer in – not happy
Voortrekkers – youth group for volk and fatherland – somewhat like Scouts
A visit to Tuffy, then stationed on the Bluff in Durban with Recce Battalion was a happy reunion. There he was in uniform and me with long hair, his student mate from Harrismith. He introduced me to his sergeant ‘Vingers’ Kruger and all his comrades and announced we’d be partying tonight.
We started off at the famous / notorious Smugglers Inn off Point Road and had a good few there, warming up to a fun night on the tiles. On our way out, en route to a nice place one of the guys knew where ladies would remove their tops with sufficient encouragement, we heard shouting – screaming really – in the alley next to the entrance to Smuggies: ‘You’re married to my sister and here I catch you fucking a man!’ We didn’t wait to hear the fellow’s explanation for his errant behaviour – the other side of the story, y’know, in fairness – but there were some smacking sounds.
Later outside another nightclub a few insults thrown around started a fight between some of the short-haired soldiers and a group of longer-haired ‘civvies’. In the interests of transparency, one of our boys had started it. It soon developed into a brawl and the cops were there in a flash. They took no nonsense and a number of prisoners, throwing anyone near the fighting indiscriminately into the back of the black maria. Which was grey, not black. I tried to explain how very innocent I was, having hung back and danced around the edges of the fight, but was told to fokkin keep quiet and shoved into the van.
As we huddled uncomfortably and with foreboding with some of the okes who minutes before had been throwing punches at us – OK, for me, potentially anyway – I saw through the mesh window Sersant Vingers having a quiet word with the cop in charge. Probably something about fellows-in-uniform, our obvious innocence, how little we’d had to drink, how the blackguards had attacked us, look at their hairstyles and other good, if biased, points. The cop in charge nodded and approached the door of our van. As Vingers pointed out his men – we all looked the same in civilian clothes – the cop brusquely shouted ‘You, you and you! OUT!’ Thankfully Vingers included me among ‘his’ men. Any friend of Tuffy’s was a friend of Vingers’.
Once Vingers had counted his men he trooped us back into the club with a grin for a victory drink, with lots of congratulatory slaps raining down on his back. ‘Justice’ had been served.
When I got back to Harrismith in December 1973, we were moving house. The ole man had sold the old house . .
. . and built a new one in Piet Uys street uptown.
I filled the blue kombi with stuff – small furniture, paintings and odds – and drove it the kilometre or so down Stuart Street to Piet Uys street; then back, again and again. Load after load. I loved it, I had driven very little in the USA.
We had LOTS of stuff to go. Including Jock, the brindle staffie terrier.
Finally when I’d moved all the stuff I went for my drivers licence. Overdue. I had turned eighteen eight months prior. I drove myself there. After a short drive the traffic cop turned to me and said “You’ve driven before”. I said Um, Ja and he told me to turn round, go back and he signed on the dotted line.
As I was leaving he asked “Who drove you here?” Um, Me I said. He just grinned.
The new preacherman at the Christian Church of Apache Oklahoma, looked me up after he’d been in town a while and invited me over to his place. Turns out he was interested in becoming a mission-nary to Africa and wanted to meet one of the real-deal Africans he’d heard and read so much about. Maybe suss out just how much we needed saving?
A HUGE man, six feet and nine inches tall, Ron Elrick wore a string tie, a ‘ten gallon’ stetson and cowboy boots, making him damn near eight feet tall fully dressed as he stooped through doors and bent down to shake people’s hands. I met his tiny little wife who was seemingly half his height, and two lil daughters at their house, the church ‘manse’ or ‘vicarage’.
Ron was an ex-Canadian Mountie and a picture on his mantelpiece showed him towering over John Wayne, when Wayne was in Canada to film a movie.
Soon he invited me to join him on a men’s retreat to “God’s Forty Acres” in NE Oklahoma (the yanks are way ahead of Angus Buchan in this “get away from the wife, go camping on a farm, and when you get back tell her you’re the boss, the head of the house, the patriarch – the ‘prophet'” shit. I mean, this was 1973!). I had made it known from my arrival in Apache that I would join anybody and go anywhere to see the state and get out of school – I mean hey! I’d already DONE matric!
So we hopped into his muddy pink wagon with ‘wood’ panelling down the sides – it looked a bit like these in the pictures. We roared off from Caddo county heading north-east, bypassing Oklahoma City and Tulsa to somewhere near Broken Arrow or Cherokee county – towards the Arkansas border, anyway. Me n Ron driving along with the wind in our hair like Thelma and Louise.
Non-stop monologue on the way. He didn’t need any answers, I just had to nod him yes and he could talk non-stop for hours on end. At the retreat there were hundreds of men and boys just like him, no women. Unless you count them in the background who made and served the food. The men were all fired up for the Lawrd, bellowing the Retreat Song at the drop of a hat:
♫“In Gahd’s Fordy Yacres . . !!”♫
We musta sang it 400 times in that weekend. If I was God I’d have done some smiting.
We left at last and headed back, wafting along like on a mattress in that long slap wagon, when Ron suddenly needed an answer: Had I ever seen a porno movie? WHAT? I hadn’t? Amazing! Well, jeez, I mean goodness, he felt it as sort of like a DUTY to enlighten me and reveal to me just how evil and degraded these movies could be. So we detoured into Tulsa. Maybe he regarded it as practice for the mission-nary work he was wanting to do among us Africans?
We sat through a skin flick in a seedy movie house. It was the most skin ‘n pubic hair ‘n pelvis ‘n pulsating organs this eighteen year old boykie from the Vrystaat had seen to date so it was, after all, educational. Thin plot, though.
I suppose you could say I got saved and damned all on one weekend.
Ron did get to Africa as a mission-nary. He was posted to Jo-hannesburg. Lotsa ‘sinners’ in Jo-hannesburg, I suppose. I’m just not sure they need ‘saving’ by a Canadian Mountie.