I arrived back in town for the weekend from JHB – 1976 or 1977 – in my shiny new grey and grey 1965 Opel Rekord I’d got from Mom and Dad for my 21st.
Saturday morning I phoned Tabbo. What’s happening in the City of Sin and Laughter? The usual. Nothing. Come on out to the farm. Gailian.
I roared out of Piet Uys street into Stuart street, up Bester street into Warden street on a sunny Saturday morning, heading west with the sun behind me. I pass Annie’s Caltex garage, I pass Stewart Bain’s Town Hall, I pass the beautiful Badenhorst gebou on my left (it’s on the right in the picture). One of our metropolis’ three traffic lights is green so I proceed. I notice a fellow on my left who seems a bit under the weather. He walks forward as if to cross against the red. I move out wide but he then stumbles into a run and I hit the brakes but I also hit him! Shit! I’ve hit a pedestrian! Right in front of the Methodist Church nogal!
I’ve screeched to a halt, horrified, and I hop out. He’s lying about 5m in front of me in the middle of the oncoming lane. His hat is on my bonnet, his carton of sorgum beer is 2m in front of the bonnet, his shoes are 5m past where he’s lying!
Before I can even think where to phone from, Joseph Bronn is there. He saw the whole thing and has already phoned the cops and an ambulance, thank goodness. They’re there in no time and the fellow is taken off to hospital. The cops take names and statements and let us go.
From Gailian I phoned the hospital. Already they know who he is and where he works – on a farm, he’s in town shopping but it seems he decided to do a bit of celebrating too. He seems fine but he’s very drunk so they’re keeping him overnight for observation. The next morning I phone again – he has left already. Don’t worry, he was OK.
Phew! That slow-motion tableau will never be erased. I can see him looking up at me at the last second and hear the thump even today. The car: A small smooth dent in the bonnet, which I never repaired. It would get other dents in time.
Today Mother Mary took a break from playing the piano. She suddenly remembered a time Mona du Plessis came to her after a ‘do’ at the town hall. These memories come and go so she must tell them as she thinks of them.
Mona said to me – says Mary – “While we were at the town hall Kosie took the kombi, loaded up the de Villiers kids and drove to Joan and Jannie’s where our kids were. Then they all got in – Mignon, Jean-Prieur, Sheila, everybody and they drove up and down Hector Street!”
Of course I remember doing stuff like this – I loved “borrowing” the kombi – but I don’t really recall any specific accomplices! I spose it looked a bit like this:
You give some old bullets the internets, and what happens? – A bunch of unlikely and involuntary ‘soldiers’ turn to reminiscing . .
One fine day in October 2018 I walked into work and my practice manager Raksha said, ‘A lady wants you to phone her. She says she thinks you were in the army with her brother Derek Downey.’
That must be Avril! I said.
Well, that brought back a flood of memories and led to this garbled line of correspondence from a whole bunch of ancient friends who I’m very worried about. I think they’re all going senile. Seems I’m about the last sane one amongst us!
I wrote: Do you guys remember the Durban boys on the offisiers kursus back in ’79? – Derek Downey, Rheinie Fritsch and Paul (‘no KIDDING!?‘) Goupille? They all begged to be sent to Durban-On-Sea after the officers course, citing important sport events, tragic family happenings, weeping needy girlfriends, Springbok surfing training, etc. I, on the other hand, asked to go to the Angolan border in South West Africa. ‘Die Grens’.
Well, all three of them were sent to Die Grens and I went to Durbs. To Natal Command, the famous ‘Hotel Command’ headquarters right on the beach on Marine Parade with the waves of the warm blue Indian Ocean lapping gently at the feet of the soldier on guard at the front gate. Who saluted me when I arrived! I was so astonished I missed the salute back. I forgot I was now a Loo-Attendant, no longer a Kakhuis Offisier (KO).
Inside, I was shown to my quarters and told to put my shoes outside the door – of my own private room! No more bunking with you smelly lot.
I thought the shoes thing must be some sort of ritual or tradition, or maybe a hygiene thing; But the next morning the blerrie things were brightly polished! ‘Twas like a miracle! I had a batman!
I also reported to this motley crew of kakhuis offisiers that our friend private* Graham Lewis – he who belonged to the wrong company at Loopspruit and then joined us – promotion – and promptly proceeded to fuck up our pristine floor in a misguided effort with dribrite polish and a rotary floor polisher – was alive and irrepressible.
brought them up to speed on the Private’s Progress:
He’s done some amazing things post-war that you will not believe and you will think I’m talking kak but I’m TELLING YOU. Our Private Graham Lewis:
married; Can you believe that? But more: To a lovely and very
good-looking lady! Who tolerates his foibles. It’s astonishing!
– got rich; Swear! And not from smousing spectacles. He became a landlord after being skopped out of a shopping centre; it’s a wonderful tale of success and couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. When I phone there now I ask for the Wicked Landlord and they put me straight through to him;
– started running; his mates used to run the 89km Comrades Marathon while he drank beer and they made the mistake of mocking him, so he pulled on an old pair of tennis tackies – unlaced – and entered the Comrades unbeknown to them and beat the lot of them!
– did the 120km Dusi Canoe Marathon; He got into a canoe and fell out; then got in again and fell out again, then entered a race and didn’t finish. So I said to him, come, Lewis! Lemme show you. I took him on a race on the Tugela near Colenso. We finished last, but we finished; Then he entered Dusi and finished and he did it quite a few times after that.
– decided running on KwaZulu Natal hills was too easy so he ran from the bottom of the Drakensberg to the top of Mt aux Sources up the chain ladder and then down the Gulley on a rugged track for about 55km on a balmy day; And the next year he did it again. Barmy day. He’s gone a bit mashugana I’m afraid.
* private? were we privates or riflemen? I can’t remember. If we were riflemen, can we become cannons one day, like dominees can?
Lunch Corporal (equal to a Texas General) Dhhhavid Cooper wrote:Luitenant – I’ve been meaning to reply for a while.
Firstly, luitenant Swaneveer – you’re a damn good writer and your blogs are hilarious. Why have you been hiding your talents under a bosvark?
Secondly, Makeerdiepas Les kept us smiling and “always looking on the bright side of life” with his voluminous aka “audible” mirth. **
Thirdly, I was most impressed with KO Lewis’ resurrection as a first rate floor officer to an even finer specimen of an officer in the running, so to speak. We should all be so lucky.
royalties, meagre as they were, were all blown in one night of wine,
women and song – at least I think they were. Maybe the ‘women’ part
is just wishful thinking. Memories at 63 are not what they used to
– I do remember one conversation with you KO Swaneveer that still
makes me pack up laughing when I think about it . . it related to “a
few polite thrusts” . .
I do remember the Durban boys – Les Chrich was filling me in on the ballesbak time you and he had fighting for the homeland at Hotel Command.
times – good memories.
** Les’ laugh led to a corporal once telling him “Hey, jy moet uit, uit, uit lag, nie in, in, in!”
I wrote again: That really cracked me up, Lunch Corporal Cooper! Whattasummary!!
My real talent lay in talking about hiding under bushels rather than
diving under same. Most ladies would watch wide-eyed as I
deteriorated until eventually I’d be on the floor, last drink on my
chest, one finger held high, still trying to make a point but a
Ah well, it was a good contraceptive. I changed my first nappy at age 43. And even then I contracted out the actual pomping to Child Welfare.
You’re quite wrong about Hotel Command. It was rugged. We suffered. I was told to report for duty as adjutant at the medics HQ in the 25-story Metal Industries House, two blocks back from the beachfront. Tenth floor.
The first day was taken up in making sure I had a parking spot for my sleek grey and grey 1965 Opel Concord OHS 5678 and that my office was suitable, window overlooking a park, now the Durban City Lodge. Couldn’t even see the sea. Hardship.
The next day I checked my desk, covered in brown manila files. One said Lt X was to leave Osindisweni Hospital and report to Christ the King Hospital the next day! I phoned him to tell him. “Wow! Thanks!” he said, “Usually we don’t get any notice at all!”. The next said Lt Y was moving in a week, he was bowled over that someone had told him so far in advance. The files had been on the desk for ages; they were covered in stof. The previous adjutant was a PF – a career soldier – and he was damned if he going to spoil those blerrie civvie doctors, who did they think they were!? He was a funny oke dressed in white with a strange title, it’ll come to me now . . Petty Officer. That’s it, Petty Officer! What a weird name compared to me: LIEUTENANT! You could salute a lieutenant. Who’d salute a petty officer? OK, true, I was a 2nd Lt. Only one pip, but that oke at the gate did salute me.
Our OC – that’s Officer Commanding – was a dapper 5ft tall Captain dressed all in white, complete with white cap and white shoes. Hilarious! What koptoe soldier would dream of wearing white shoes at Loopspruit in Potchefstroom!? Just imagine what the Gotchefstroom stof would do to them! He was Captain Mervyn Jordan. Naval Captain, mind you, which – if you’d read your notes on offisiers kursus – was equal to two Commandants in a brown uniform.
Once I cleared my desk, Captain Jordan – a helluva cool oke, by the way – suggested I commandeer a jeep and reconnoitre the hospitals under my command (none of which words he used, I’m just feeling uncharacteristically military here). My battlefield / sphere of influence lay between the blue Indian Ocean in the east and the high Drakensberg and Lesotho in the west; and from the Mocambique border in the north to the old Transkei in the south, which was also another country, remember? Three foreign states and a deep ocean surrounded me. Besides Christ the King and Osindisweni my other hospitals were called Appelsbosch, Emmaus, Hlabisa, Madadeni, Manguzi, Mosvold, St Appolonaris, ens ens.
Luckily I’d read my notes on offisiers kursus unlike you lot, so I filled in a DD99 form for the Jeep and a DD45 form for petrol and a DD78 form for accommodation, and – who’m I kidding? I knew DDbuggerall. Some PF pen-pusher did it all for me.
then disaster struck!
Before I could leave on my grand tour, driving my OWN Landrover all over Natal, peering over the border into three foreign countries including Transkei, an order came through on a DD69 assigning 2nd Lieutenant me and 2nd Lieutenant Les Chrich to Addington Hospital as resident oogkundiges. Instead of driving around visiting the odd nun and some okes in uniform at Zululand hospitals, I was ordered to move into Addington DQ – doctors quarters – across the road from the nurses res.
Did you catch that? Are you paying attention? We soldiers were ordered to live next door to a NURSES RESIDENCE. In which six hundred – that’s 600 – nurses in white skirts, silly little white hats and pantihose waited for us to come and service them under the Definitely Desirable DD69 conditions. Their eyes. Focus, you ous!
What could we do? Orders are orders. It was hell; We served. We suffered. We were barracked right next door to the DQ Pub, The Cock and Bottle. The Cock and Bottle was Mecca and Nirvana and Heaven. Every one of the superb six hundred – that’s 600 – knew The Cock and Bottle. Sure, some knew to avoid it, but others said Meet You There!
It was much like Alfred, Lord Tennyson had predicted:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into The smoke-filled Cock and Bottle
Rode the six hundred.
We were each given our own flat. Not a room, an apartment. Bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and entrance hall. High ceilings; Hot and cold running blondes. Seriaas. Ask Les. I shit you not.
Our first big bash was arranged by a New Zealand couple, two of the twenty-some housemen – these are practicing doctors in the literal sense of ‘practicing’ – they didn’t know WHAT they were doing, so they practiced. These two delightful Kiwi appy-quacks’ surname was actually Houseman, funnily enough. Lovely folk; they organised a raucous Priests and Prostitutes night in the Cock and Bottle.
The fishnet stockings! The see-through tops! The high heels! The micro skirts! I thought I’d died and gone to Mecca Nirvana Heaven! I wore a white dog collar and a blue houndstooth holy Irish jacket made by a tailor in Dublin which I’d inherited from a drunk Irishman one FreeState night, which slayed the ladies. I think. They thought I was a catholic father. Much later that night I was on the floor, last drink on my chest, one finger held high, still trying to make a point but a touch incomprehensible.
But there was a big difference now: Nurses! Kind, nurturing souls moved to take up a caring profession. They didn’t step over you and walk out on you like a Jo’burg or Kimberley or Rustenburg chick at the New Devonshire Hotel or the New Doornfontein Hotel might. No! They would pick you up and sling your one arm over their shoulder and take you to bed, tuck you in saying Tut Tut. Or ‘Shine up, Chicken Legs’ if their name was Peppy. This is true! They were angels. Better than angels, as they had a devilish streak. If they diagnosed the need, they would sometimes even hop into the sickbed with you in order to apply pelvis-to-pelvis resuscitation. Swear! Dedicated! The prize for Best-Torn-Fishnet-Stockings-Of-The-Night went to Viv the Admin Angel and guess who Viv took home that night? Quite a few party-goers. But guess who she sent home LAST? Sure, she’d had a few, but died-and-gone-to-heaven! Swear!
The weermag had actually posted us to fuckin’ heaven, I swear! Probably by mistake, but we were not complaining. Hey! you can ask 2nd Lt. Leslie LadyLover&Charmer Chrich; I shit you not, I’m not exaggerating! Tell them, Les. We did our duty.
This was brought back to mind recently when I was listening to my new favourite band Tuba Skinny. Sure you can listen, but MAINLY watch the fishnet stockings in the background! That’s Viv, and that’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Meantime – decades later – a reunion took place in the Fairest Cape attended by old soldiers Stedall, Chrich, Miller and Cooper.
I wrote: Great, Rod! So at your reunion, were there a few tales of how we won the war? Like: ‘PW Botha: My Part In His Downfall’? You, Cooper, Chrich and Miller must have told a few lies about what a terribly hard time we had? I was a normal person before that 1979 weermag year. Also, what’s the name of that song we sang so well, and why didn’t it go platinum?
Rodney Stedall wrote: I think it was Piano Man
I wrote: That’s right! It was. How could I forget!? Here’s one version. not anything like as good as ours:
Which brings us to the second question, why are we not earning royalties from sales of our version? Who has the Master Tapes? Do you think that cunning corporal c.H.ooper filched the funds? Corruption is rampant and I think we should investigate.
Was there another song? Shouldn’t there be more royalties?
Also, what happened to that young female luitenant in her tight browns that Cooper and I used to eye? The only female on the base under half a ton? Do you think she’s wearing browns a few sizes larger these days? These are important questions and someone should demand answers . .
Dhavid Cooper wrote: Howzit Luitenant Swanefeer homse geweer! Would have been such a hoot to have you with us in the Cape!!
Regarding corruption (see The Early Years – my new upcoming book on corruption by Snyman and Verster) – money had to be made when it could – and the stage had to be set for the future of the country . . apparently we did too good a job . .
However, the most memorable event – besides the shapely looty you alluded to – was the well-serenaded, fine-looking lass who stole our hearts that one summer beer-filled night . . . Irene!! Do you remember . .?
We sang “Irene, Goodnight, Irene Goodnight, Goodnight Irene, Goodnight Irene . . . I’ll see you in my dreams” — and that’s exactly what happened . . we never saw her again except in our dreams!
you’re well pal… be lovely to catch up again sometime….Rod,
maybe a weermag reunion sometime.
Les Miller wrote: Pete – Thank you so much for this. I killed myself laughing while reading it. Brings back forgotten memories. Good ones!
MaakkeerdiePAS! Lick-yak, lick-yak, omkeeeeeer!
I wrote: Hey Les – What a good laugh! Carefree days. Give some testosterone-fueled youths guns, bullets and beers and what could possibly go wrong, huh?
offisiers kursus – learning how to gippo exams; or, officers course; the first of multiple steps leading to the rank of Admirable
Die Grens – the border; usually the border between Angola and South West Africa, where we shouldn’t have been in the first place; In Natal my borders were Mocambican, Transkeian, Lesotho-an – oh, and also Swazi-like, plus there was the boerewors curtain keeping us safe from the Transvaal; Border, by the way, not as in ‘south of the border’ as sung by Cooper which (I suspect, how would I know?) was a panty-line border;
kakhuis offisier – candidate officer; KO or CO; aspirational;
kak – bullshit; crap;
smousing – peddling; which is better, one or two? I’ll take the tortoise shell one;
lunch corporal – half a corporal; one stripe; lance corporal; an onder offisier;
pomping – the brief, active part of conception and procreation, preceding the long slow hatching part and longer, slower raising part; seldom immaculate;
koptoe – delusional;
luitenant – lieutenant; some of us became one-pip lieutenants, a massive promotion from KO; but still, it has to be confessed, only half a lieutenant;
bosvark – biblically, a bushel; otherwise an armoured vehicle; you wouldn’t want to hide under either;
makeerdiepas – mark time; march aimlessly in one spot, raising dust so all your shoe shining was vir fokol; going nowhere; mind you, all marching is aimless and going nowhere;
vir fokol – to no avail;
omkeer – you know where you thought you were going? turn around now and go back;
ballasbak – literally, sunbaking your balls; leaning back comfortably with your groin aimed at the sun and your legs spread; a frequent activity between brief, but recurring, sessions of ‘hurry up and wait’; modern practitioners call it perineum sunning; Hey! Don’t laugh! Crazy delusionists say it ‘strengthens organs, improves ya libido, regulates circadian rhythm, boosts ya mental focus, and increases ya energy! So point ya ring at the sun, man! Ballasbak! It must, for safety, be pointed out that the weermag way of doing it was usually with trousers on!
oogkundiges – uniformed personnel highly skilled in the gentle art of gazing deep into nurses’ eyes;
Found this picture on the ‘net. It says “The Doors Nightclub Johannesburg”. It reminds me very strongly of my impression of an unusual night on the town with young Fotherby, back in the Jurassic.
I was just as boring then as I am now. My idea of a good night out was find a pub, drink a lot, laugh.
Well, Fotherby thought there must be more to life than that – even though she was from Kimberley out – and so she announced one night that we were going to a nightclub.
A what? Of course I’d heard of them, but I didn’t think they allowed FreeStaters in. Shuddup And Let’s Go was the reply and also Don’t You Have Anything Better To Wear Than That?
You can’t believe it! I was wearing what I had worn since shortly after the rinderpest: Boring shirt, plain pants, brown shoes. What else would one wear?
Sighing, she lifted up my collar so at least I would look slightly different, mussed my flowing locks a bit and then ordered me to drive the grey and grey 1965 Opel Concorde to some dingy back street, somewhere near Joubert Park I think. Don’t park near the door, I was told. Even though we were in the grey and grey 1965 Opel Concorde. Amazing!
At the door the bouncers looked us over and because we looked suave and masculine – or maybe as we were with attractive nubile lasses – or maybe cos we paid – let us in. I can’t recall who else was with us – I only had eyes for the delightful Fotherby, of course. I remember an entrance hall and then a huge area filled with people, smoke and noise. Huge. Only later I realised the heavens were the ceiling. The ‘room’ could be as big as it was because we were actually sort of outdoors. Boys danced with boys and girls with girls and some mixed. Getting a drink was a mission. Why the hell would anyone want to go to such a place?, I thought.
I still think that.
Stephen Reed wrote:If I was there, the memory could well have fallen between the sizable cracks between the ears. I do remember one night coming down Smith / Wolmarans street towards the Doories Res, full to the brim with alcohol with you and Fotherby in the car and Forsdick I think. The Austin Apache was purring along nearing it’s rather modest V-max when you decided to pull up the handbriek as we went through the intersection with Steil Street or Gould street … Shrieks of protest from the back seat as the Apache battled to retain its composure . . On reflection, that may have been on the way back from a nightclub, but just as likely from the Dev or maybe Float-Building.
Me: Problem is sometimes our carefully stored and index’d memories are filed on exactly the grey cells targeted for destruction by that particular binge.Of course, sometimes that’s a happy occurrence – don’t always want to remember everything.
As you know, one of my oft-repeated mantras is the trouble with marriage is wimmin have such good memory glands; or – as I prefer to put it – we have much better filters; discretion!
And as I once told you, that particular handbriek trick was a Pierre du Plessis invention. We used to pile into his Mom Joan’s Ford Prefect for a lift home from swimming lessons. As we piled in we’d all say a loud and cheerful HI BEAM! to the light on the dash that said hi beam.
Then he’d wait for just the wrong moment – usually where Joan had to drive around the inconvenient Moeder Kerk – and yank up the handbriek so the car would do a sideways slither to her consternation. Trouble is, she had such a sense of humour and loved ole duP so much she could never actually get cross with him!
So we never learned.
handbriek – handbrake; a car handbrake, not . . . forget it
On 2018/12/18 Stephen Reed wrote: Had a late afternoon chat with Kevin ‘Stanrey Kraarke’ this afternoon . .
that would be a phone call across the Tasman Sea )
I replied: Ah, good to hear the ancient old bullet is still alive!!
Kev!!? ( I have cc’d him here)
I can’t think of Doories without thinking of you, the green TAV 5556 Datsun from the metropolis of Grootfontein, the chocolate Alfa Romeo; and old Krazalski, Wartski, What-ski? – those are wrong – what ‘ski was he, your boss?
I can still see the meticulous care with which you changed the crunchy, notchety gears in the Alfa, and taught me if you open the window you must also wind down the rear window three inches, then the breeze won’t muss your hair.
Often when driving I remember your sage advice: WATCH OUT for an old toppie wearing a hat! Mostly nowadays I see the old toppie wearing a hat in my own rear-view mirror! Gives me a bit of a start every time: Who’s that fuckin old fart? Oh, OK – only me . . . . As for Forever Young! I think we still are! Well, I think we should keep imagining that!
Oh, and we musn’t forget the outbreak of Dobie’s Itch in the Doories Res!! Kev rushed back to work and got going amongst the pots and stills and fires and wooden ladles and other witchcraft paraphenalia he and Wartski used to keep in their secret Doories factory and came back with a double-strength potion stronger than anything Dumbledore could have made, and CURED the dreaded ballache!! He was our hero!!
Stephen Reed wrote: By gosh, we had a few laughs.
one: Sunday morning, Kevin having a sleep in – eyes closed …
you sleeping Kevin?
Kevin: one eye slightly opens, ‘No No … Just coasting . . ‘
I wrote: Ha HA!! I’d forgotten these! Exactly right!!!
PS: We were so lucky Stanley-Clarke decided to stay in Res that extra year while he re-wrote ?pharmacology? I mean, he could have stayed with any one of a dozen beautiful chicks. They all wanted his moustache! And we would never have met him. It turned into a magic, unforgettable year, and he was no small part of that!
Stephen Reed wrote: Bullshit.
HE was lucky to have had US there.
boring time he would have had otherwise . . .
I wrote: Ja!! Too True My Bru!
now here’s the man himself:
Kevin Stanley-Clarke wrote: Kia Ora both of you; What a wonderful surprise hearing from the DOORIE BRO’s in particular the very Articulate Rhodes student Mr Koos Swanepoel himself, from Harrismith; and the attention-to-detail Mr Stevie Reed the boat builder raconteur himself from a little town in the free state that eludes me at this time!
really made my day – thank you both for all the very happy memories
and to think I could have missed that wonderful year if I had passed
Pharmacology first go – and to think it was 45 years ago which has
basically passed in a flash.
My boss in the very clandestine factory in Doories was Mr Pogeralski – so Pete, the grey matter is still intact;
As for that ointment which I prepared it was Whitefields ointment aka “Ung acid benz co.” Had I given that to you today I would be in serious trouble with “Health and safety”, “Quality and risk”, “Public safety”, you name it! But it certainly works.
Yes, and how can we forget the times we all went to the Jeppe Street post office to use their services “pro bono” utilizing your unbelievable skills with ‘the long tickey” to gain access to their phone lines – Hello World.
Also will never forget the rugby test at Ellis Park “pro bono” an absolute blast – thank you both for the wonderful memories that always bring a smile to my face. Which was it? –
And Stevie, can you remember the movie we went to on a Saturday morning at the Cinerama we saw “Papillon” ??
I could go on forever – The Dev ? The Bend ? and many more. May leave that for another day.
care both of you and please keep in touch
Dee Student aka ‘Giscard . . . d’Estaing’ – Kevin Stanley-Clarke
Ellis Park “pro bono” – Less than fully legal entry to the rugby stadium for a test match; ahem . .
The Jeppe Street post office and the Hillbrow “pro bono long tickey” – Less than entirely legal as well, say no more . . . ahem . . There were consequences! I got a phone call in the holidays in Harrismith from the GPO: Are Your Name Swanepoel? Did you phone a number in Oklahoma? I meekly coughed up for sundry long-distance international ‘trunk calls’!
Aside: While shaking a tin collecting money for our eye clinic charities outside the big old Jeppe Street Post Office one year, a pigeon shat on my shoulder. I took that as an omen from above and went and handed in my tin.
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
Cargoes – by John Masefield
quinquereme – ancientRomangalleywithfivebanks of oars on eachside;
Nineveh – ancient city located on the outskirts of Mosul in modern-day northern Iraq, on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. Nineveh was the largest city in the world for some fifty years until the year 612 BC;
Spanish galleon –
British coaster –
Another poem by Masefield became a favourite and I mentioned it in a tribute here.
I like his wishes for after his death. He wrote:
Let no religious rite be done or read
In any place for me when I am dead,
But burn my body into ash, and scatter
The ash in secret into running water,
Or on the windy down, and let none see;
And then thank God that there’s an end of me.
We also did Shakespeare in the Vrystaat. I remember one line from Antony & Cleopatra:
‘He ploughed her and she cropped’
‘It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.’
Me and Sarah. When one of my favourite comedians Sarah Silverman wrote her autobiography she compared herself to Ernest Hemingway and Fyodor Dostoevsky, classing herself as a brilliant and serious writer . . that’s Sarah. Bashful.
And also bashfully, her book’s ‘afterword’ is by God. He – yes, HIM – writes about Silverman in the year 2063, on the occasion of her death at 93, with the epitaph “She loved dogs, New York, television, children, friendship, sex, laughing, heartbreaking songs, marijuana, farts, and cuddling.”
In the book she tells how at age two she would make her father laugh by saying “fuck”; She admits to avidly smoking marijuana; and she tells how she wet the bed until age sixteen. It was an important enough part of her childhood that she titled the book after that fact. That’s what I love most about Sarah: Her honesty.
Well . . I wet my bed until I was eleven or twelve or thirteen, too. So I am glad to find out other good people did as well. I also love the leveling effect: You know the boy who was so clever and in the first rugby team? Teachers’ favourite? You envied him? Well, he wet his bed. My message (and I think Sarah’s)? – You’re OK.
Nocturnal enuresis, also called bedwetting, is involuntary urination while asleep after the age at which bladder control usually occurs. Bedwetting in children and adults can result in emotional stress. Can and did!
Bedwetting is the most common childhood complaint. Most girls achieve bladder control by ages 4–7 and most boys by ages 4–6. By ten years old, 95% of children are dry at night. I was a five-percenter.
Most bedwetting is a developmental delay – not an emotional problem or physical illness, so most treatment plans aim to protect or improve improve self-esteem – and my Mom certainly did that. At first she’d help and reassure, but as I grew older, I would kick almost automatically into a procedure Mom gave me: I would wake up horrified, jump up, roll up the wet sheets, soak them in the bath, wash, put on dry piejams and go back to sleep. The mattress would be protected by the plastic sheet we put under the bottom sheet. Usually only me and Mom would know. Thanks to her, here I am, relatively unscathed!!
Stephen Charles Reed sent a terrible picture of a recovering drunk back in the old days. Around 1980. He found this poor soul asleep on the covered veranda of his top floor flat in 10th Avenue off Clarence Road in Windermere, Durban and cruelly photographed him, him unknowing. Sleeping with his specs on so as not to have blurry dreams.
Later he accompanied the poor soul to the cafe on the corner for something to slake our Sunday morning cotton mouth thirst. En route we came across the Salvation Army on the pavement, gearing up their instruments, blowing the spit out, getting ready to go and blast a bracing dose of Christian ‘look sharp’ into some poor sinners’ ears. And we were convinced they’d marked us as just exactly the right type of sinners they needed.
Neatly – if severely – dressed in their fierce outfits, sensible shoes and soldier-looking hoeds they glared at us, fiddling threateningly with their instruments.
I could feel their accusing stares boring through the back of my head as I minced delicately past them, taking a wide – but not too wide – berth by stepping down into the gutter – where I belonged? – trying not to upset them in any way. Had they sounded the horn and hit the drum we might have capitulated and joined immediately. Thankfully a baleful stare was all we got and we made it past them. We eyed them out from a distance from the cafe door and returned to Stefaans’ flat once they’d parum-pum’d off a goodly distance down the road. Anyway, I’d already been saved a few years before, so there was no need for them to target me. Dunno about Stefaans – he looked like he needed a bit of salvaging.
They were like this menacing-looking mob, except there were more tannies with sensible shoes, like in the top pic:
hoeds – headgear; salute-worthy hats
tannies – aunties
parum pum – guilt-inducing tympanic torture
Ah! This is better! THIS is what they looked like – Beryl Cook captured them perfectly:
I was working with Serge in the UBS building in Field Street.
Bending over someone with my right eye one centimetre from their right eye, I was gazing deep through their pupil with my ophthalmoscope when the building trembled and I heard a loud, dull thud.
WTF? I thought; ‘Hmm’ I said, ‘Sounds like the UBS sign fell off the building!’ I was about to change eyes when my door flew open and Serge darted in “Excuse Me” he panted, flung open my window and hopped out nimble as a cricket, as old and grey as he was. WTF again?
I stuck my head out and there was Serge bending over a man in a grey suit lying face-down on the tarry-stuff covering the roof over the street-level shops below us.
Turns out he was a lawyer. Partner in the firm on the fifth floor, who took to plummeting. We were on the second floor so he only fell three stories and survived. Came back to work a few months later limping with a stick.
I dunno. Haven’t a clue.
pic of downtown durban from thegreengallery.co.za
Serge = Serge de Marigny, longstanding venerable catholic optometrist; venerated the archbishop, who came to us for his multifocals. Brought them back once, “I have to lift my chin to read.” I made him new lenses, a millimetre higher. Brought them back again, “Now I have to lower my chin to drive.” I scurried about, muttering three hail marys and re-made them again, half a millimetre lower. “One low, one high and this one smack in the middle” he announced and swept out triumphant. Very sure of himself was old Denis.
When checking his eyes I had asked him what a sinner like me should call him. “Your Grace” he boomed, thought about it – about me being un-catholic maybe? – and said “or just Archbishop.” I called him neither. Maybe that’s why he wound me up with his new specs!
I see when they made a graven image of him to worship after he’d keeled over, they left off my specs, the buggers. See how he has to peer without them!
Bumbling down from Ngubevu through the legendary Tugela Gorge. Here’s Bernie Garcin (Bernie and the Jets), Doug Retief (Doug the Thief), Dave Walker (Lang Dawid) and me preparing to spend the night at Fig Tree Sandbank campsite, one of the planet’s most beautiful spots.
Three plastic Perception Dancers and one Perception Quest. We tripped in 1984 and 1985. In those early days old-timers would still mock plastic boats, saying ‘tupperware keeps turkeys fresh’ but we knew the joy of not having to nurse the boats, nor having to schlep fibreglass patch kits along and just smiled!
At the time Greg Bennett was sponsoring and competing in a motorised rubber duck race down the Tugela. Sacrilege! In ’84 he had Jerome Truran as crew, in ’85 Rip Kirby was his sidekick. Greg knew how to pick his rapid-readers while he ‘put foot’ in the back of the boat. We used Greg’s bakkie to get to Ngubevu. Then someone must have fetched us at Jamieson’s Bridge at the end.
On one of the trips bare-breasted maidens flashed us! We saw a Landrover parked on a hill on the left bank, then saw some swimmers in the river. As they spotted us they ducked down, but then as we passed two of the girls popped up their lily-white tits to huge approval. They were like this except the water was brown and there were no cozzies and the parts hidden by this cozzie were lily-white – except for the central little bump, which was beautifully darker, and perky. Not that we stared.
The current swept us past them, but the mammaries lingered on.
Four-man Hole was soon after that and I crowded into a Bernie-occupied eddy straight after the drop and punched the nose of my Quest into his ribs. Being Bernie he didn’t wince, but I knew it had hurt.
Overnight at the crowded duck race camp the sponsors Lion Lager thought we were competitors so their beautiful beer hostesses liberally plied us with ale. OK, lager. It was exactly like I imagine heaven is going to be: You walked up to the beer can-shaped trailer, said to the gorgeous lady ‘One Case Please’ and she plonked a tray of 24 cans on the counter, opened every tab pfft pfft pfft pfft – all 24 and off you went. Stagger back to where you were pontificating.
When they ran out I rummaged cleverly in the boats and found wine papsaks we used for flotation and squeezed out the dregs. Karen the gorgeous, voluptuous newspaper reporter – remember the days when they wrote stuff on paper? – was covering the event for The Natal Mercury or Witness or some-such. Went under the byline Karen Bliksem if I remember correctly. She held out her mug and as I dispensed I gave her the patter: “A good wine. Not a great wine, but a good wine, with a delicate bouquet”. She shook her mug impatiently and said endearingly, “I know fuckall about flowers, I’m in it for the alcohol” and I fell deeply in love. My kinda dreamboat lady in shape and attitude. She was like . .
Dave too, was smitten as one of the comely lager hostesses joined him in his laager and treated him to sincere sleeping bag hospitality above and beyond the call of duty, ending the session with a farewell flash of delightful décolletage as she kissed him goodbye in the morning.
She was like . .
As we drifted downstream Walker led the singing. We sang: