Riding Shotgun

Another re-cycled post to save ink, pixels and perspiration. I tried to reason with these ous, but would they lissen to me?

~~oo0oo~~

My lift from JHB dropped me off at home. The dorp was empty. The city of sin and laughter was somnolent. Soporific even. Where WAS everyone?

I phoned 2630 pring pring pring. Or was it 2603 priiiiing priiiing priiiing? I forget. Can you fetch me? No, get yourself here quick, we’re going to Warden to scare some guineafowls. Now.

What could I do? The imported white Ford Econoline 302 cu. inch V8 van was in the garage, I knew where the keys were, and the folks were away. And after all, I’d only be using it to get to Gilliann then hop into T’s bakkie and away we’d go. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, and I’d better borrow Dad’s cheap Russian 12-gauge shotgun, too. And take a few beers.

As I drew up next to the prefab on Gilliann a cry of Perfect! A real shooting brake! went up and six pre-lubricated gentlemen holding shotguns and beers piled in, calling Tommy the German Pointer in with them. No, guys, hang on, I said feebly . .

The day at Roest was a blur but the drive back came into sharp focus. We ‘had to’ pull in to the village pub. The dorpskroeg. I, of course, had suggested we go straight home, but that went down like a lead balloon. A vote wasn’t taken and I lost, blithely ignored. Overruled. In the pub the barman took one look at us and refused to serve us. Someone who shall remain nameless but whose surname maybe started with a Gee and ended with a Zee, fetched his shotgun and casually aimed it at the expensive bottles of hooch above the barman’s head whereupon said barman suddenly remembered our order and delivered seven beers pronto. When we decided we’d like to play snooker, same thing: It was a No until a The Simpsons-like character aimed a shotgun at the white ball and the cues were produced with alacrity. And chalk.

When to my huge relief, we finally got going, the G-man, who was riding shotgun on my right (the van was Left-Hand-Drive), sat on the windowsill and three of Warden’s four streetlamps went ‘pop’. There he is, in the window, next to the weapon in question. Tommy’s wondering What.The.Hell!? The guinea is mortally wounded, deceased and bleeding on the van carpet.

– riding shotgun –

Now I KNEW I was going to jail forever. Putting my head down and roaring for home I wasn’t stopping again for NOBODY. Except the gentle tickle of a shotgun against my ear persuaded me otherwise and I stopped as instructed with my headlights shining on Eeram. A firing squad lined up, three kneeling in front and four standing behind them. This is for Ram, guys, he’s getting married in Bergville next weekend! BLAM!! The ‘Ee’ disappeared, and there was just ‘ram’. In honour of Ram’s wedding. Nor do I believe it. Maybe it was a dream?

I finally got rid of the miscreants, got home and looked at the van. Holy cow! Dog hair, guineafowl feathers and the mud and the blood and the beer all over the carpets and upholstery of Dad’s white Ford Econoline V8 camper van! 302 cu. inches. I set to work cleaning it. And cleaning it. And scrubbing it. Still it stank of that mixture. In desperation, I took a jerrycan and spread petrol liberally on the carpet and scrubbed again.

When the folks got home I made a full – OK, partial – confession: Dad, I spilled some petrol in your van, but I’ve cleaned it all up. Sorry about that!

~~~oo0oo~~~

  • the mud and the blood and the beer – Johnny Cash –

~~~oo0oo~~~

But . . I’m Planning to Write

Writing is like a safari. 
You start from where you are, and you meander and explore. 
And you learn as you go.
- Koos
~~oo0oo~~
adapted from a quote by E. L. Doctorow, American novelist

He also said:

“If you do it right, you’re coming up out of yourself in a way that’s not entirely governable by your intellect. That’s why the most important lesson I’ve learned is that planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”

Maybe now I’ll write. Except he was talking about writing fiction, and I can’t do that. That’s why I changed his quote for autobiographical writing: ‘You Start From Where You Are,’ I think. Not ‘From Nothing,’ as he said.

~~oo0oo~~

Tragic Testicular Descent

If you’re writing an olden days blog you run out of material. Only so much happened from when I was born till I met Aitch, which is the timeline of this blog. My ** Born, Bachelorhood and Beer ** blog. So there’s recycling. Here’s a post I wrote in 2016, slightly updated:

I used to sing beautifully. The teacher who trained the boys choir in Harrismith Laerskool said so. Well, she might have. She was Mej Cronje, and was half the reason ous would volunteer for the choir. To look at her, gorgeous redhead she was.

I was a soprano and we looked down on the altos who, though necessary as backup, weren’t in the same league as us squeakers. One directly behind me used to bellow in my ear: ‘Dek jou hol met bouse off hollie! FaLaLaLa  La LaLaLaLa.’

One day this delectable and discerning talent spotter, the red-headed Juffrou Ethel Cronje, chose me to sing a solo in the next konsert. Me, the soloist! Move over, Wessel Zietsman!

Fame loomed. It was 1965 and even then, the image of a golden buzzer appeared to me in a vision. This thought crossed my mind: Harrismith’s Got Talent!

Then tragedy struck!

My balls dropped.

They handled it very diplomatically. By ignoring it and cancelling practice. The konsert didn’t materialise. Co-incidence? Surely they didn’t cancel a concert just because one boy suffered testicular descent? And by the time the next konsert came around I hadn’t been banished – just discreetly consigned to the back and asked to turn it down.

* * *

Just in case there are people who think Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor was a Mickey Mouse outfit, lemme tellya:
WE TOURED ZULULAND. The Vienna Boys Sausages were probably nervous.

We got into the light blue school bus and drove for hours and hours and reached Empangeni far away, where the school hall was stampvol of people who, starved of culture in deepest Zoolooland, listened in raptures as we warbled Whistle While You Work, High on your Heels is a Lonely Goat Turd, PaRumPaPumPum, Edelweiss, Dominique, Dek jou hol, and some volksliedjies which always raised a little ripple of applause as the gehoor thought “Dankie tog, we know vis one“.

If memory serves (and it does, it does, seldom am I the villain or the scapegoat in my recollections) there was a flood and the road to the coastal village of ReetShits Bye was cut off, sparing them the price of a ticket – though those were probably gratis?

Can’t remember driving back, but we must have.

After that epic and ground-breaking (sod-breaking?) tour, warbling faded in importance and rugby took over.

Later, there was one brief but intense attempt at reviving my career as a singer.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mej ; Juffrou – Miss; not yet married to Kiewiet Uys; ladies had to be tagged as ‘available,’ guys not

Harrismith Laerskool – the village school

Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor – very much like the famous Vienna Boys Sausages

sopraan-ous – high range warblers; not castrati, but can sing like them

ous – us men

‘Dek Jou Hol’ – literally, cover your ass; listen to the sopraan-ous, they’re the ones. The highballs are on them.

highballs – slang for alcoholic drink in USA; ‘giraffe walked into a bar, said The Highballs Are On Me’

seunskoor – boys choir

stampvol – sold out, packed, overflowing; like – viral!

volksliedjies – folk songs; songs of ve Chosen People

gehoor – audience, fans; (yes, it was 1965, but we could hear them clicking ‘like’ and ‘follow’)

dankie tog – fanks heavens, sigh of relief

ReetShits Bye – Richards Bay, then still a small fishing village on the warm Indian Ocean, the bay still a natural estuary, not yet dug out for coal ships

Pa rum pum pum pum – listen to the sopraan-ous, they’re the ones

~~~oo0oo~~~

Sinner Mary

Jessie’s second pre-school was ‘Sinner Lizabeth.’ I think it’s Anglican, but I don’t know, cos I wasn’t interested. Only interested in the fact that Aitch had chosen it, so I knew they’d look after my Jessie. And they did: Rose and two Pennys treated her good the two years she was there.

But today I found out about Sinner Mary. This was news to me. I gasped.

Gasp!

Right through school Mary, now universally know as Mary Methodist after playing the organ in the Harrismith Methylated Spirits church for something like a hundred years, was churchless!

Her Mom Annie, my gran, was blissfully unimpressed and uninvolved and probably played golf on Sundays. I’m guessing she would use as an excuse, if pushed by the pious, that Harrismith didn’t have a Presbyterian church (it had folded). I’m not going to say that proves God is Methodist, but you can see right here how the thought did cross my mind.

So Mary tells me her teacher Mr Moll – who taught singing, woodwork and religion – never gave her very good marks probly cos he knew she didn’t go to church! She’s joking of course, and her bad marks were probably 80%, but anyway, Tommy Moll was very involved in the Methodists.

So when Mary got married they ‘made a plan’ and the wedding made the newspapers. ‘Four denominations at one wedding’ or something. Not ‘and a funeral.’ The bride ‘was Presbyterian’ they said (but we now know she was actually a ‘none’); the groom was Dutch Reformed (‘another faith’ they said, but he too was really a ‘none’); the Methodist minister was on leave, so the Apostolic Faith Mission man tied the knot.

Later, when she returned to Harrismith, having lived in Pietermaritzburg for a while, she decided to get church. She chose the Methodists as a lot of her friends were Methodists. She forgets she told Sheila the Methodist boys were nicer than the Anglican boys, so she tells me something about not liking the Anglicans’ ‘high church’ aspect. So this twenty five year old mother leaves her baby Barbara with Annie and Dad at Granny Bland’s home in Stuart street, where they have the room with the big brass double bed, and goes off to confirmation classes with a group of schoolkids. She aces the class, gets confirmed in the Lord, sanctified, and starts her epic Methodistian journey, which continues today, sixty seven years later, her only sin on the way being an occasional single ginger brandy with ginger ale while everyone else was drinking bucket loads. When she plays the piano of a Sunday in the frail care dining room in Maritzburg these days, those are Methodist hymns she’s thumping out joyfully, I’m sure.

I sort of feel like I have an excuse for being churchless now if I need one. ‘I’m just taking my twenty five years off now,’ I’ll tell Ma if she asks.

(BTW: In the pic, Mary is the bridesmaid, back left. The bride is her dear friend and cousin Sylvia Bain who married John Taylor)

~~~oo0oo~~~

– Jess in Livingstone uniform with her Mad Hatter Tea Party hat – 2008 –

After ‘Sinner Lizabeth’ pre-school, Jess went to a remedial primary school whose school song, which they sang with gusto, went:

Live in Sin, Live in Sin, Progress Voorspoed, Live in Sin

Eat cake, Eat soap, Eat porridge too.*

Believe in yourself Live in Sin

Can’t say we didn’t give our JessWess a good grounding.

~~~oo0oo~~~

*Have faith, have hope, have courage too. Tom loved telling us ‘the real words, Dad!’ which according to him were the ones above, not these.

What’s Wrong Swanie?

This was the problem: Most of the guys and gals I would do river trips with had a serious deficiency: a lack of some specific paddling strokes one should use on a river trip. Most of them especially couldn’t execute my favourite stroke: Paddle on your lap, arms folded, gaze around in awesome wonder, and allow the boat to gently rotate in the current. The Swanie 360° River Revolution, or Swannee River for short.

They were racing snakes. They’d say ‘Let’s Go,’ and then they would actually do that! Weird. Then they’d look back, wait till I eventually caught up and ask, ‘What’s Wrong Swanie?’ I was of course much too polite to reply, ‘Nothing. What’s The Hurry?’ I’m polite that way. What I meant was, ‘I don’t want this day to end.’

And so we would gently bumble downriver. Every few hundred metres they’d wait, or one of them would paddle upstream (more weirdness) back to me and ask ‘What’s Wrong Swanie?’

Weird. Although I must admit, you wouldn’t want me in charge of timing or logistics on a trip!

When the current was swift enough my speed could match theirs. It was the flat water that was tricky. In their defence, they were actually going slowly and enjoying the scenery in awesome wonder. It’s just that their slowly and mine was out of sync!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Watch Luca Sestak (then 14yrs-old) show us how to do the Swannee River:

Bloody Marys

Mary Bland and Sylvia Bain, cousins, decided there was NO WAY they were going to miss the dance in the Harrismith Town Hall. This is quite possibly Mary’s single biggest act of defiance or wilful disobedience in her whole life. See, they were meant to be in Durban then, to start their midwifery course at Addington Childrens Hospital.

But to the dance in the dorp they went. Mary with Pieter, who she later married; and Sylvia with John, who she later married.

The next day they left (by train?) and in Durban they got their new quarters and their new uniform, which they loved: ‘It had a long fishtail headdress down the back almost to our waists. It looked beautiful.’

Also, their new matron was Mary Hawkins and they knew her sisters in Harrismith and in fact, Mary’s Mom Annie had dated her brother ‘Hawks’ Hawkins for quite a long while.

When they were summonsed to Matron Hawkins’ office they waltzed in merrily feeling glam and looking forward to a warm Harrismith welcome; only to be met with a frosty blast and a good dressing-down from Bloody Bill, as Mary Hawkins was known by those who knew her! Or sometimes Bloody Mary. She had been the Matron of all SA nurses in the war, and this was shortly after the war, and she was in no mood for nonsense. They were LATE starting their course and she’d not cut them any slack just cos they were from her home town!

– Mary left and Sylvia, new in Durban – ca.1949 – day off –

Somewhere there’s a newspaper photo of Mary and Sylvia with a New Year crop of fresh Durban babies. Must find it.

– here it is – Sheila had it –

~~~oo0oo~~~

The feature pic shows Mary and Pieter also in 1949, also outside the Town Hall, but another occasion.

~~~oo0oo~~~

pics from skyscrapercity.com; and kznpr.co.za – thank you. kznpr is Hugh Bland’s site; Here’s the cover of Hugh’s book on the Addington Childrens Hospital:

Hugh Bland and Mary Bland are related if you go way back to Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland and John Francis Adam Bland, so they have both played a part in the Addington Childrens Hospital. Hugh didn’t deliver any babies, though.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Shoot Me

We should have been more biblical. Us Swanie kids should have listened in Sunday School and been a lot more faithfully Biblical.

Doesn’t the Bible say quite clearly and unambiguously, ‘Obey Your Father’!? And Pieter Gerhardus said quite clearly and unambiguously, ‘Shoot Me When I Turn Sixty!’

We shoulda been obedient children.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Luckily for him (now aged 98) the Bible might also say ‘Obey Your Mother.’ Does it? Lemme check.

Yep. Ephesians 6 v1 – Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.

~~~oo0oo~~~

On the other hand, our disobedience (or mine, as a son) could have led to this:

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, . . . that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother (Ah, Mom woulda saved me) lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place . . . And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die . . . (Blimey! But God Loves ya! Eish!) – Deuteronomy Chapter 21 v18

~~~oo0oo~~~

Again, thank goodness for Mother Mary!

Whittington Court

‘We think it’s him, but we haven’t been able to catch him. He must distribute the leaflets in the absolute dead of night, probly just pre-dawn. They’re scurrilous. Well, we’ll see if they end when you move in.’

Owners in the shareblock building were gossiping about the mystery vendetta that had been waged for a long time in the block. Someone pecked away on an old typewriter, telling tales (and truths?) about other residents and criticising what the managing committee did and didn’t do for the building. They suspected their mystery person was the owner I had just bought from, and they were looking forward to his leaving to stay far away in the little dorp of Richmond out in the sticks.

My first own home! A spacious, high-ceilinged one (‘and a half’) bedroom flat in a good-looking ‘Art Deco’ building in Marriot Road one block up from Cowey Road.

– the stairs to my door – which cascaded as Vomit Waterfall one night, rumour had it – or Chunder Cataract – or Ralph Rapids –

On the day I moved in I was ambushed by a gang of Kingfisher Canoe Club mates who had spread the word ‘Party at Swanie’s New Place Tonight!’ The electricity wasn’t yet connected, but no problem to these hooligans: They dangled an extension cord out the window and politely asked the elderly couple below me to please plug it in. Bless ’em they did, and hats off to them they withstood the temptation to switch off as the noise lasted long into the night! There was some excess (did I mention they were canoeists!?) and tales – exaggerated surely? – were told of vomit streaming down the steps.

Once I settled in and my fellow occupants realised I was obviously the innocent party in the opening night cacophony (ahem!), I was told more about the strange old geezer I’d bought from. And I was told of a mysterious campaign of leaflets surreptitiously distributed, pointing out people’s faults and complaining of things not done, etc. in harsh language. They suspected it was him, but were never able to prove it. Soon I was able to solve the mystery: A secret compartment in the lounge cupboard revealed copies of his printed leaflets – the vendetta stash!

~~~oo0oo~~~

I bought ca.1984 for R45 000. Sold ca.1992 for R90 000. I saw it offered for sale recently (2021) for R967 000. That’s where I found these pics – someone has opened up the small kitchen so now the lounge and kitchen are all one big room. It looks great.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Harsh Rejection, Deep Scars

If you’re writing an olden days blog you run out of material. Only so much happened from when I was born till I met Aitch, which is the timeline of this blog. My Born, Bachelorhood and Beer blog. So there’s recycling. Here’s a post I wrote in 2014, slightly updated:

~~~oo0oo~~~

In high school we had an older mate who was in the Free State koor. He was famous in Harrismith for that. You could say he enjoyed Harrismith-Wide fame. His nickname was Spreeu but we called him Sparrow. Everyone knew Sparrow – Chris Bester – was one of ‘Die Kanaries – Die Vrystaatse Jeugkoor.’ Fame! Travel! Bright lights! Girls threw their broekies at the kanaries! 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 – here! in Harrismith, city of song and laughter – 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 the fine art of rugby. Gabba was a famous – beroemde, kranige – rugby player, having been chosen for Oos Vrystaat Craven Week in Std 8, Std 9, Std 9 & Std 10. Strong as an ox, great sense of humour, good heart.

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 kind of mistake. Tender-rigging, maybe? Maybe our voices were taken out of context?

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

It became mine & Gabba’s standing joke over the decades that followed. Every time we met we’d have a laugh and then he’d update me on our athletics records: his for shotput and mine for the 100m sprint. Mine was eventually beaten. Gabba said ‘hier’t n nuwe oukie gekom wat soos die wind gehol het.’ His shotput record probably still stands, as far as I know. It was a mighty heave.

Rugby HY 1972 Gabba crop.jpg
Gabba, disappointed songbird –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Decades later research has uncovered what Septimus was looking for. If only we had known! Here’s the criteria they were looking for in aspiring choristers in the late 60’s:

We may have scored E’s and F’s on most, but on 7.2.1.8 Intelligence and Dedication we surely got an A? Also if we’d known that Septimus the choirmaster had ‘n besondere liefde vir die gedrae polifonie van Palestrina se koorkompetisies,’ we’d have practiced that shit.

~~~oo0oo~~~

spreeu – starling, but mistranslated as sparrow

Die Kanaries – the canaries

Vrystaatse Jeugkoor – Free State Youth Choir; it must be confessed we would mock it as the Yech Choir

broekies – panties; maybe bloomers

beroemde, kranige – famous, outstanding

Oos Vrystaat – Eastern Free State; our neck of the woods

hier’t n nuwe oukie gekom wat soos die wind gehol het – a new guy arrived who ran like the wind

‘n besondere liefde vir die gedrae polifonie van Palestrina se koorkompetisies – fuck knows

~~~oo0oo~~~