Writing is like a safari.
You start from where you are, and you meander and explore.
And you learn as you go.
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.
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.
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 nun pictures.’
Pic: Kerkenberg from Kindrochart side - from mapio.net
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.
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 bodywith standard 50mm lens, a close-up lens and a 200mm telephoto lens for R140.
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!’
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?
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.’
A re-post cos Mom told me some news today (see right at the end):
My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. The plot was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!
I lived there from when I was carried home from the maternity home till when I was about five years old, when we moved into town.
I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch and siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1pm sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2pm. I now know the trip was exactly 3km door-to-door, thanks to google maps.
Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Back then they would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis. Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway – four seconds of action – (most likely older sister Barbara waving out the window):
1. Ruins of our house; 2. Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit. None of those houses on the left were there back then.
Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night.
Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.
Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.
Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;
I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask, “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.
Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilcovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave Leo a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.
rondavel – circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;
spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days?
stoep – veranda
donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;
Our Ford Prefect was somewhere between a 1938 and a 1948 – the ‘sit up and beg’ look, before sedans went flat. They were powered by a 4 cylinder engine displacing 1172cc, producing 30 hp. The engine had no water pump or oil filter. Drive was through a 3-speed gearbox, synchromesh in 2nd and 3rd. Top speed nearly 60mph. Maybe with a bit of Downhill Assist?
Today – 25 Sept 2021 – Mom (who turned 93 a week ago today) tells me Kathy Schoeman bought the old Ford Prefect from her and one day they drove to work to see it lying on its roof in the main street outside the town hall! Kathy had rolled it in the most prominent place possible!
Phoned Mom yesterday and she started talking of her old friends.
Joey de Beer (Onderstall), Dossie Farquhar (de Villiers) and Ursula Schultz were big and close friends at school in Harrismith.
The picture was taken at their 45th matric reunion.
Ursula used to get comics, or comic books and I would visit her and her Mom and we’d read them. I felt sorry for Ursula and her mother as their husband and Dad was locked up for World War 2 as a possible German sympathiser.
Sometimes us kids would play cards while the ladies played bridge. Mrs Woodcock, Mrs Schultz and maybe Mrs Rosing would play. Maybe Fanny Glick too. Not my Mom Annie, she was at work, running her Caltex garage.
Joey’s sister was Marie de Beer, who became Marie Lotter of Havengas bookstore.
The conversation wandered on to the lovely stewed fruit Sheila makes for Mom.
Yes, I share it with my tablemate in the diningroom. I call her my ‘stablemate.’
Mom Mary told me about the concert in the Harrismith town hall again and there was more detail, which I add here.
Griet Geyser, who played the violin, suggested a tribute concert to her tutor Professor Bloch. Fellow violinist Helmut Brunzlaff and everyone else thought it was a good idea, especially when they added the piano tutors. So it became a tribute to Professor Bloch, Miss Underwood and Miss Thorburn.
Una Elphick and I decided we were going to play a duet on the grand piano – you know they had a grand piano in their flat? It filled the lounge. Well, we chose a challenging piece: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, you know: da da da dum!
We started practicing separately and then we got together and we just couldn’t synchronise – we just weren’t in time. Una put on her metronome ‘tick tock’ but that didn’t help. The only thing that got us going was Una counting out loud. That worked and we got better and better and played it beautifully if I say so myself.
More of the music they and other Harrismith virtuosos played here. Although, that may have been a different concert as that one was in the kerksaal – church hall.