My Face in a Book

There was a knock at our front door. A stranger. No-one who was anyone went to our front door at 95 Stuart Street. I walked the long trek down our long dark passage and opened up. There stood a little poephol with a hat and a camera. Are you Peterrr Swaaanepoel? he asked. Yep. Oh, I’m from ve Volksblad and I’m here to take your picture. That gave me a huge grin. What for!? I asked, genuinely curious. For the best student award after the matric results come out, he explained. Ah, you’ve come to the wrong place. Someone has sadly misled you, I said, starting to shut the door.

He was ready, he had his foot in the door, brave little poephol doing a good journalistic job. No, Mnr Steyl said you might resist, but I’m not wrong, I do want a picture of you please.

He said please.

OK, shoot, I said. No, please, will you put a tie on, and can I come inside and get a good shot? He said please. Into the lounge we went. I went off to fetch my multi-coloured school tie, demurely coloured in dark blue, orangy-yellow and green. I stood at the mantelpiece, tie loosely attached. Next to me grinned the illegal stolen skull of the San Bushman from South West Africa. Can you do up your tie, please?

A bridge too far. No, this is as good as you’re going to get. Shoot now or forever hold onto your piece, I said, peering over the top of my specs. If he wanted perfesser, I’d give him perfesser. He shot. He left.

Wragtig that thing was published some time later! There I was, 2cm by 1cm in black and white, looking for all the world like a scruffy schoolboy in poorly-fitting spectacles who couldn’t tie a decent tie knot. Apparently among the dwindling few rooineks in the province I was one of the very few who knew how to skryf an eksamen. Bugger me. A bit like early facebook, I spose.

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{In this school annual pic taken earlier that year – 1972 – I had also tried to peer over my specs for a professorial look}

The Student Ball

Blast from the past. Memories can linger now – all hard copies have been discarded in overdue house-cleaning.

Menu Carlton Hotel Johannesburg 1977
– menu Carlton Hotel Johannesburg 1977 –

Rob Allen and Steve Reed’s lovely cartoon drawings.

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Harrismith’s New Park

(I’ve done a similar post! on the park in more recent days – ‘Our era,’ the 1960s. Enjoy both, and take both with a pincha cerebos).

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Harrismith’s young town council, established only in 1875, though the town had been going for much longer, decided in 1877 to lay out a large park for its citizens to enjoy on the banks of the Wilge River on the south-west edge of the new dorpie.

Over the following years – and mainly thanks to the efforts of the Landdrost Warden who came to Harrismith in 1884, and Harrismith’s first Town Clerk A. Milne, the area was laid out with winding roads, walking paths, a “lovers lane of poplar trees” and up to 38 species of other foreign trees, in what was then highveld grassland. Or, as described by park praise-singers: “a bare, crude piece of ground!”

Here we see the Wilge River banks and surrounds just upstream of the park site – near where the ysterbrug, or Hamilton Goold bridge was later built:

– the troops stationed in the town around the time of the Anglo-Boer War erected this suspension bridge –

Tree planting commences. Platberg the backdrop.

The typical Free State river was narrow and shallow, so an attractive little lake with a central island was built on the right bank (town side) and used for boating. Swans were introduced from London ‘for beauty.’ As for trees, so all local life **sniff** was regarded as inferior to things imported from “home”! Home being a small island to the NW of France. The swans did quite well, settled in and bred, the cygnets being sold for £15 a pair, but not long after, they met their end at the hand of ‘some unidentified vandal with a .22 gun.’ Probably an early indigenous wildlife fan, I’d like to suggest?

As the trees grew, so more and more birds roosted in them, large heronries eventually being established. Predictably people complained and as predictably, the council “did something about it,” shooting the local birds while pontificating against the shooting of the foreign birds! The birds’ carcasses dropped into and frotted in the lake, causing a big stink! In the 60s there were still many cattle egrets in the trees and I recall lots of white poo and some dead babies on the ground beneath their nests.

In 1897 the lake was named Victoria Lake in honour of the silver jubilee of the Queen – that’s the queen of England, that little island to the NW of France – along with thousands of other things named “Victoria” that year around the world – much genuflection was expected of the colonies. Also they were probably trying to ease her pain over the royal pasting (or snotklap) we had given her at Majuba.

– they named the lake “Victoria” to arse-creep the queen . . of England – didn’t amuse her, though – never once came to ghoef in it –
– more recently – sans swans – we shot them all –

More & more trees would be planted over the years by schoolkids and enthusiasts. Gotta get this place looking more like England, dammit!

– lovers walk – I remember the poplar trees leaning ominously – were they trying to tell me something about my lovelife? –

The park was officially opened in 1906 by Sir Hamilton Goold Adams, at “a colourful ceremony with troops on parade and a military band in attendance.” Now they were gloating, having given us a revenge pasting in the 1899-1902 Tweede Vryheids Oorlog (Anglo-Boer War).

In 1907 the river was dammed by a weir just downstream of the park, thus creating a wider and deeper river for the full length of the park.

This greatly added to the river’s charm and utility, allowing for swimming, drowning, more boating and bigger boats – even the first motorboat in 1918, owned by Mr E.H Friday. Later a boat house and a landing stage were erected by the Boating Syndicate who advertised ‘Boats for 2 and boats for 4 and boats for all’ in 1922. The Syndicate graduated to a motor launch capable of taking 14 passengers slowly along the river, including full-moon evenings where people would sing the songs of the day, accompanied by “the plaintive sounds of the ukelele”.


On the edge of the park nearest town sportsfields were laid out, starting with a cricket oval and an athletic track, then rugby, soccer, softball and hockey fields; and jukskei lanes. No croquet?

The park was extended across the river and a new suspension bridge about 300 yards downstream replaced the one the military had erected (the thrifty town council using some of the metal from the original in the replacement). In time a caravan park was started, but this was soon moved to the town side of the park.

An impressive entrance – wrought iron gates between sandstone pillars – was erected and named the Warden-Milne gate in honour of those
who had done so much to get the park established. Well done, chaps! We enjoyed the fruits of your labour in our youth in the 1960s! OK, not really labour, organisational abilities, nê?

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It’s only thanks to the preservation efforts of Biebie de Vos that we can see these old pics. Thanks, Biebie! Also thanks to SA Watt’s military history articles here and here.

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Gotta love marketing! In a brochure extolling the virtues of our lovely dorp, the blurb says – where we would have said Dammit, it’s FREEZING! – “the town enjoys a bracing climate.”

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Wilge river – Willow river; Interesting name, as the willows are from the northern hemisphere, and were planted later; only after a while would they have become such a feature of this river (and many other South African rivers); Wonder if our river had another name when the town was first settled?

dorpie – village

ysterbrug – iron bridge; for horsedrawn carriages and those newfangled automobiles / motorcars

snotklap – a tight slap that – if timed right – whips the snot out of the klap-ee’s nose and leaves it wrapped round his face ear-to-ear

nê? – amiright?

Model United Nations

In high school in 1973 in Oklahoma, I was asked to go to the Model UN to represent another country. I asked to represent SA. Why, I don’t know. I could have learned more by representing a new country I’m sure. The organisers said ‘Sure.’

I think it was in Norman at OU but pinch of salt: Fifty years ago next year! ( Ah, it was, I see. )

We had fun and I did learn a lot. But I have embarrassing recollections of passionately defending 1973 SA when the motion against us was tabled – all the Nats points came bubbling up. Parallel development, Separate but equal, blah blah. Sheeeesh!! The old wanting to win was fierce in my young days. I must have sounded like blerrie Pik Botha!! I think we lost and were defeated. I hope they declared apartheid a crime against humanity – or did that only come later? ( Oh, soon after: November 1973 I see. )

It was very formal and procedural. I remember younger kids called ‘pages’ running up and down the hall passing notes between delegates. One addressed to me said: Good speech. Are you Australian?

They’re still going. Hopefully strong. Being Oklahoma, I bet they catch a fair amount of flak.

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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
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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.

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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

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None Pictures

Mom tells me that after I had me tonsils out at about age three, she took me to Kindrochart for recovery for the poor little tender chap. I clung to her skirts and wouldn’t go to anyone, but once when lovely friendly Betty Stephens – a huge fan of us kids – offered to carry me up a hill after I’d run out of poof, I condescended.

Mom also tells that I told on Ma Shannon! She had appeared on the stoep in her nightie and I hastened to tell Mom, ‘Ma! Shannon’s got none clothes on!’ Apparently Ma Shannon tried hard to get me to call her Nana, but I’d not call her anything but ‘Shannon.’

On the way back to the big smoke, driving on the gravel road towards Platberg, Mom was telling Betty about a book she’d enjoyed reading about a Belgian nun – The Nun’s Story – I had the book in my hands on the back seat and it seems I was disappointed in it. So I piped up, ‘. . and it’s got none pictures.’

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Pic: Kerkenberg - the old Binghamsberg - from Kindrochart side - from mapio.net

Prices Back Then

Dad: I bought a Russian 12-gauge shotgun, a Baikal. I paid R139. I got it from Musgrave in Bloemfontein.

Internet comments are mostly very complimentary about Baikal down-to-earthness, ruggedness and value: The first Baikal shotguns years ago were side-by-sides; They were not very sophisticated; They are more reliable than their price would suggest; You can depend on them; If you’re on a modest budget then a Baikal is a good first buy; etc.

– I used to occasionally use this implement to miss guineafowl ca.1977 –
– guineafowl shoot on Rust outside Warden ca.1977 – I’m 2nd left – none of those birds were harmed by me in the shooting of this movie –

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Dad: When Harry Mandy went to Japan I asked him to get me a Canon camera and telephoto lens. He got me a FT QL camera body with standard 50mm lens, a close-up lens and a 200mm telephoto lens for R140.

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Mist or Smoke?

Mom says they loved swimming. All the boys were at the baths – the Harrismith Municipal Swimming Baths about a kilometre away up the hill past the Town Hall.

Some days they’d get ready to go – cozzies and towels over their arms, but Granny Bland would be standing on the back stoep with her hand on her hip, looking at the mist on the eastern end of Platberg and announce firmly, ‘No, you can NOT go swimming. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it!’

Culinary Tales 1922 – 2021

Ole man phones at 19.28pm

Listen, if you want to make it to supper you must come quickly but you’ll have to bring lots of money.

His nephew Jack who’s a helluva clever bugger, he’s on a lot of boards and chairman of this, chairman of that. Wonderful bugger, Jack. He still weighs 78kg same as he weighed when he was a fighter jet pilot (Jack must be 78yrs old in the shade).

He brought me some smoked snoek and chips, KILOGRAMS OF IT!

..

He’s on to food – a favourite subject.

..

Oupa worked on the railways.

Working men took a scoff box to work

Guys would take sarmies, meat, tea, etc.

Oupa had a billy can. A blue billy can, the lid was your cup. You know what he used to take in to work for his lunch?

No. What, Dad?

Sugar water

At night he’d drink a big mug of milk and eat bread.

..

Ouma would cook in the kitchen and dish up in the kitchen.

Six plates. Her and Oupa and four big kids.

You got your plate of food. Don’t ask for more, there was no more. But we didn’t need more, it was a great big plate; we never went hungry. We had to do without some stuff, like new clothes or shoes, but we never went hungry.

..

Oupa and Ouma in PMB

Chickens and muscovy ducks in the backyard.

Ouma made a little pond in the ‘sump,’ the lowest point in the yard in the far corner. She would fill it up with water, about one brick deep, then throw mielies in the water. The ducks like feeding underwater. They bred prolifically and there were always plenty. A big fat roast duck was a huge treat. Only trouble is there was duck shit all over the yard.

Chickens they had to slag. The kids. One would hold the beak and feet, stretch it and one would chop off the head with an axe.

A big game was to then stand it up and let it go and watch it run around, headless.

‘One day Oupa caught us doing it and beat the shit out of us.’

~~~oo0oo~~~