Somewhere around 1969 I won the world-famous Harrismith Methodist All-Stars inaugural (and last) Table Tennis Tournament held in the Wesleyan Hall on Warden Street. This was a huge event for us dedicated Harrismith Methylated Spirits. There must have been . . what? half a dozen or more people watching, spellbound. Many of them would also have been among the entrants to this high-level event. Which I won, did I mention that?
My prize: The gold medal and a vinyl LP by The Tremeloes! except for the medal. The LP was real and was my first ever. And maybe my only? I don’t remember owning any other LPs.
How hip was the Harrismith Methodist Church?! I’d love to know who donated this lovely prize.
The feature pic shows our table tennis table on the side veranda at home. Training ground.
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.
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)
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.
*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.
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!
Watch Luca Sestak (then 14yrs-old) show us how to do the Swannee River:
Yay! Science! I just found out what the very first flower I ever drew was/is: A Canary Bird Bush Crotalaria agatiflora.
I suppose for a school project? I collected a few in our garden and drew the flower and the leaf. I was fascinated by the shape of the flower: like a yellow bird, butterfly or ship.
I saw this on iNaturalist.org thanks to prolific iNatter @troos (Troos vdMerwe) and there’s a lovely twist: He photographed it in the favourite gardens of a favourite schoolfriend of my Mother Mary’s!
Joey de Beer became Jo Onderstall and became a founder member of the Lowveld Botanic Society and the Lowveld Botanic Gardens in Nelspruit, now Mbombela. She wrote the book on Lowveld flowering plants.
A lovely full-circle kind of story.
Joey matriculated with Mary in Harrismith in 1945. When she heard Mary was going nursing she expostulated: What A Waste Of A Good Brain! She was right, but Mom decided she needed to do something that earned her a salary and cost her widowed Mom Annie nothing. Typical Mom. Joey went on to study phys ed teaching in Bloem, then married ‘doctor/farmer’ Bill Onderstall. They moved to Nelspruit in 1950. Bill gave Jo a camera for a wedding present and so she herself took a lot of the pictures in the articles and books she wrote. I didn’t know her mother Bessie de Beer had been chair of the Drakensberg and Eastern Free State branch of the Botanical Society, so Jo followed in Bessie’s footsteps. Must tell Mom that. Jo herself seems as self-effacing as Mom. She writes in the introduction that her name on the book ‘is but the visible tip of an iceberg’ and the fact that she took most of the photos is mentioned nowhere. All other photographers are acknowledged, but even the fact that she took the front and back cover pictures is added in the ‘errata’ – like an afterthought! I’m guessing some of her friends insisted.
Yellow bird! Who remembers Johan Pheiffer who came from the city to Harrismith to visit his cousins the du Plessis in the dorp, whipped out his guitar and sang Yellow Bird?
Later: Mom said thanks for this. Sheila read it to her. She didn’t know Bessie had also been involved in things botanical. She did know that Bessie used to take people for the drivers test. ‘You would drive her round the block and she’d say OK, you have your licence. None of this parking into a garage stuff.’ So says Ma.
Her good friends Joey de Beer and Dossie Farquhar said Mom must take science. She found it hard, but enjoyed it. She didn’t like the science teacher, Swart Piet du Toit, though. There was also a teacher called Wit Piet du Toit, who later was called Whitey. Wit Piet married one of the girls he had taught in Std 6. Beautiful girl. Later he married Doris. Old memories flooding back, Ma?
I can’t talk long cos they’re coming to take me from my warm armchair – its falling to pieces, mind you – in front of the heater and wrapped under a blanket, to the piano, where I’ll play a bit before lunch. Lunch is a roast and vegetables and then ice cream cos its Sunday. And Sundays we get egg and bacon for breakfast.
You know Kosie, it’s amazing how an old tune suddenly comes back into my head and I start playing it. Then I keep playing it each day and it gets better every time!
You go, Ma! Remember to eat your vegetables, or you won’t get any ice cream. **Laughs** I eat all my vegetables except pumpkin, and that’s why I haven’t got curly hair. That’s what we were told when I was small.
Oh, Dad says the temperature is going to drop steeply tomorrow, you must wear warm clothes, she tells her 66yr-old son.
So Stewart an’ James ‘ey pits on ‘eir keps an’ ey’re aff owre ‘e links is hard is ‘ey can pin, t’ see fat’s come o’r. ‘Ey pairted at ‘e point ‘e Niss. ‘Ey searched ivry hol an’ corner. ‘Ey cried an’’ey fustled, bit ‘ere’s nee try nor token o’ work. An noo’ is ‘ey cam back t’ far ‘ey pairted, ‘ere ‘e fowg lifts, an’ ‘e shore’s a’ ifore ‘em bit id’s ‘e same teel. ‘Ey thocht at mebbe they’d geen t’ Seeth Efrica for a folly. Manny’s ‘e nicht ‘at ‘ey hed sorned roon’ ‘ir faither’s hoose tryan’t t’ get ‘eir een ipo’r, fan ‘ey wud be at ‘e mill here gettan ‘eir pickles o’ corn vrocht.
And if you believe I know what I’m writing about you’ll believe anything, and I’ll sell you a sandstone bridge across the Vulgar River in Swinburne; but most of the above is actually in Scots – E Silkie Man by David Houston – but it’s not about Stewart and James and Seeth Efrica – I just added that in. What I’m trying to say is Stewart and James decided to leave Wick maybe cos there was no work and no fish, maybe the work there was didn’t suit ’em; and they buggered off to South Africa.
Maybe adventure? or maybe this: Views of the Character of Wick in 1845 from the Old Statistical Account: “Maniacs are very rare. Idiots and fatuous persons are remarkably common.” “Unchastity, both in man and woman, is lamentably frequent, which appears from the records of the kirk session to have been always the case.”
See here for some better sense about how they woulda spoken Scots in ‘Caitnes,’ don’t trust me! The compilers of the Old Statistical Account said in 1791 that the speech in Wick was the ‘common provincial dialect of the north.’
Listen to how Oupa Bain’s sisters and lady friends woulda probably sounded around about the time he left for Durban:
When they got to Durban, I think this is how it went down: They were unemployed fishermen, and . . read the rest here
Bertie van Niekerk was tall and impeccably dressed and rich. He wore a big hat, drove a lang slap American car and rode beautiful horses. One was called Bespoke and the rooineks were too scared to tell Bertie you didn’t pronounce that as though it was haunted.
I remember him in a tall hat – not a tophat, though – and a coat with tails – special riding gear.
Dad remembers him winning one ‘Best Farm Horse’ (beste boerperd?) award at the show: Everyone had to put their horses through their paces. Their mount had to stay put when the reins were tossed over its head and left to dangle; it had to not flinch when its owner cracked a whip next to its ear; and other stuff. After he’d done all he needed to do, Bertie kicked his boots out of the stirrups, got up on the saddle, stood tall and looked around. Then he removed binoculars from his pocket and gazed around serenely, still standing on the saddle, his horse dead still and calm.
The crowd loved it and roared their approval!
I wish I had pictures! The pics above remind me of what I saw at the show all those years ago – horses stepping exaggeratedly with a rider or pulling a cart. Be great to see authentic pics from back then.