Hitch-hikers

1979 Army “basics” and my buddy Graham and I are hitch-hiking from Potch to Harrismith. At last, in the darkness of that Friday night a clapped-out bakkie stopped. Jump on, says the weirdo who looks three sheets to the wind, while handing us a quart of beer to share.
We jumped;
We drank;
Screaming along the road near Villiers glancing nervously through the back window into the cab and over the driver’s shoulder, we glance at each other, trying to be casual. The speedo needle was quivering at 135kmh!
Suddenly a loud schlap schlap schlap schlap sound and the bakkie lurches. Burst tyre!
We start skidding sideways with the white line coming at us from the left;
Then skidding with the white line coming at us from the right;
Then going backwards staring at the white line racing under the back of the bakkie towards us as we sit facing what should have been backwards;
Then spinning round to see the white line receding away from us – as it should;
Coming to a halt still upright and facing forward – and on the correct side of the road;
RELIEF!

COME! I barked at Graham. Grabbing our balsaks we hopped off and walked back where we’d come from into the night without a backward glance or even a single word to the driver. I did not want to engage with him in any way at all. We walked till completely out of sight and earshot in the dark night.

Where we hitched a ride with another stranger.

Prohibition lifted, re-instated

The rumour on the Kestell bus was that in South West Africa the laws pertaining to grog did not actually, y’know, pertain. Specifically, the drinking age laws. You could order a beer in a pub in South West Africa even if you were only fourteen or fifteen, as we were. In fact, so the rumour went, it wasn’t a rumour, it was a fact.

We were on tour in the little Kestell bus. Kestell had been unable to fill it so they extended the invite to Harrismith se Hoer School: Who wants to join us on an adventure? R25 for 15 days! Pierre, Pikkie, Tuffy, Fluffy and I jumped at the chance, our folks said yes and we were off on a historic adventure which included a World-First in Kimberley on the way: The world’s first streak, Pierre and Tuffy giving their thighs a slapping as they raced kaalgat from the showers to our campsite in Kimberley’s Big Hole (or their caravan park anyway). Some historians think streaking started in California in 1973. Well, they weren’t in Kimberley in 1969, were they?

We crossed into Nirvana at the Onseepkans border post armed with our newfound legal knowledge and confidently entered the first licenced premise we found: The Karasburg Hotel. It was hot, the beer was cold and we were cool. We sat in the lounge and supped as though we had done this for YEARS.

We decided to order a refill while that friendly man who hadn’t batted an eyelid when we ordered our first round was still around. He had confirmed the now well-known fact that South West Africa was a bastion of good sense and sound liberal values. I got up to press the buzzer which would bring him back.

Unfortunately, the buzzer stuck and it buzzed too long, which must have annoyed the owner, as he came stomping into the lounge to see vuddafokgaanhieraan.

He looked at our short stature, our short pants and our tall beers in astonishment and demanded Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? and other seemingly pointless questions which were disrupting our peaceful ambience. He dispatched me to go and fetch our onderwyser forthwith and instructed the others to sit, stay.

But as he turned his back the rest of our gang disappeared after me, taking their beers with them. And like the good mates they were, they brought mine along too!

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kaalgat – no clothing; ‘as the day they were born’

vuddafokgaanhieraan – What’s up, gentlemen?

Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? – Time, gentlemen, please!

onderwyser – teacher

 

 

Running from the Law

The first time I ran from the cops was about 1969 in the wee hours of a Harrismith Vrystaat morning. We were lurking, having climbed out of our bedroom windows to rendezvous on the dark streets of the silent metropolis as unaccompanied minors.

Near Greg’s cafe we spotted one of The SAP’s Finest, drunk behind the wheel of his grey cop van. Remember them? Ford F150’s with that metal mesh over the windows.

Being upstanding citizens we phoned the pulley stasie from a tickey box to report him. Next minute we heard a squeal of tyres and we were being chased in the dead of night by the drunk himself – his buddies had obviously radioed him. Or maybe his stukkie was on desk duty.

No ways he could catch us fleet-footed schoolboys in his weaving van. We ducked and eventually dived under the foundations of Alet de Witt’s new block of flats and watched him careen past us. We emerged boldly and walked home, knowing we would hear him LONG before he could spot us. Anyway, we didn’t want to be late for school.

No doubt he took another sluk of brandy and went looking for someone dark to beat up.

1969Harrismith FabFive (1)
Chips! The gendarmes are coming!

That was also the last time I ran from the law, come to think of it.

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pulley stasie – police station

tickey box – public phone booth

stukkie – connection

sluk – swallow

 

Eat your heart out Chuck Norris!

The finish at the Groen Pawiljoen grounds

Camping on the slopes of Platberg below Khyber Pass Pierre, Tuffy and I had made a fort of ouhout branches and cleared a big spot to make a fire. Sitting around talking shit when we heard a rustle and a shout and who appeared before us but Guillaume. He was excited that we were overnighting and asked to join us. Sure! we said. With pleasure!

He first had to head back to town, though, to go to movies. He had recently left school and had a date with one of the onnies. The one with the micro miniskirt! The one we had lustful thoughts about. That little blonde one.

Well after midnight another rustle and Guillaume squeezed back through our hedge with a blanket over his shoulder and a plastic packet in his hand. He sat on the blanket, took a bloody ox heart out of the packet, stuck it on a stick and roasted it over the coals.

Look: We knew he was the nephew of the famous Deneys Reitz of Boer War Commando fame, but MAN, were we impressed! I mean Action Man had walked up a mountain in the dark, carried the lightest provisions (when we looked at the size of our rucksacks and sleeping bags), roasted an ox heart – and pomped a teacher. All in one night!

Eat your heart out, Chuck Norris!

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ouhout – leucosidea sericea, lovely aromatic scrub bushes and trees found in stream beds on Drakensberg and surrounding foothills;

The Night We Hijacked the Orange Express

Trudi Wessels won Miss Personality at Maritzburg Varsity. We could have told them that beforehand if they’d asked. Her prize a trip to Rio de Janeiro! Steph de Witt arranged a farewell party at Shady Pines on the night of her departure, after which we would deliver her safe and pickled to the Harrismith stasie. You didn’t know trips to Rio de Janeiro start at Harrismith Railway Station?! Ha! It goes to show . . .

At the station we bid her farewell in moviestar style, Trudi hanging out the window, fans crowded on the platform, much hubbub (just like in any good romantic movie). Here we are, hubbubbing:

Is this when the first train choofed in? Who was there?

Here’s Trudi with her hatbox:

train-station

Except some ringleaders are missing. Where could John and Nick be? At the very far end of the platform talking to the train driver. I get there just in time to hear: “Nooit, meneer, this are not a melktrein, this are ve Orange Express! No stops before Beflehem”.

He reminds me that they say you can’t find three wise men in the Vrystaat. But he does turn out to be wise after some Venning-Leslie persuasion, as he partially relents: “OK, ve bess I can do for yous is I’ll slow down when I pass Rivierdraaistasie“.

Right!

We hop on and soon the train pulls off. John the agile Venning has a case of beer under his one arm and a wicked grin under his one moustache. We make our way to Trudi’s cabin. “What on earth are you guys doing here?” We repeat a very hasty goodbye because already the train is FLYING! I myself am now rather nervous and if it wasn’t for the medicinal value of beer I might have said something sensible. We each take position at a door and watch as the poles whizz past us in a blur. Past the crossing to Swiss Valley where Nick (whose leg was in plaster so he was chosen to drive the getaway car – just like in any good gangster movie) was going to meet us. The railway crossing whizzes past and it feels like we’re accelerating!

Suddenly a decrease in speed and, peering forward, some lights in the dark. Get ready to jump. Arse over kettle each one of us hits the ground and tumbles. I almost stayed on my feet but then had to duck for the big sign RIVIERDRAAISTASIE one word. But one man didn’t fall: He who held the case of beers kept it together! We ran back up the track into the dark as a man came stumbling out of the stasie kantoor, lantern held aloft (just like in any good Orient Express movie).

When we gathered, a sober head prevailed. “Boys, we can’t go! We can’t ‘drop’ the train driver. The stasiemeester will have to put in a report and our man will get into trouble. We have to go and talk to the stasiemeester”.

 

So a delegation is sent back to the stasie and some of us sit in the veld awaiting their return. And we wait and await.

 

Eventually – just when we think maybe they’ve gone to jail – they return, much merrier and cleverer than when they left. Apparently as they started to say Naand Meneer the oke said: “That’s the BEST thing that’s happened to me in all my years at Rivierdraai Stasie!” and insisted they sit and join him for a dop, pulling a bottle of brandy from his desk drawer (just like in any good cowboy movie).

 

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Playing in the Snow

1973, on my way back from the States, I fly to New York on a Monday in December and ask for a flight to Johannesburg via London.

‘Sorry you can’t. Your ticket is non-transferable, and the next SAA flight is via Rio on Friday’. The old man had paid for my ticket on his shiny new Barclaycard and had put it over 12 months, so one last payment was still outstanding.

Ooh shit, four days in NY with no money. Well, about $25. I got $25 a month ‘allowance’ in Apache from the Rotary club. Seventeen South African Diederiks Ront it was back then. And sixty cents. (R1 = $1.42)

I put my suitcase in a locker, put a quarter in the slot and take the key. Hop on a bus to Grand Central Station in Manhattan to look for the SAA offices. ‘That’ll be $2’.

‘Sorry, can’t help’. Hey asseblief man! ‘OK, we’ll try’.
Back to JFK airport and sleep on the floor. The damn benches spitefully have armrests for each seat so you can’t lie down on them. Fitful sleep broken by a huge sit-on vacuum and polish machine that roars up to me at 3am. ‘Move along there’, says the cleaner driving the vengeful beast.

Tuesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA office run, but now I’m rather peckish so I stroll around Manhattan looking for something cheap to eat. I find a burger for $3. Not cheap in ’73, but that includes as much beer as you can drink, so I think OK. Big glasses, though, so I could only drink two. Then I wander the Manhattan streets with a nice beer buzz going.

Wednesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA-hamburger-with-beers run but this time when I go into SAA at the end of the day they tell me ‘Good News, you’re free to go!’ To celebrate I book into the YMCA without my suitcase so I can have a shower. ‘That’ll be $11’ for the smallest room I have ever slept in.

Thursday I’m squeaky clean on the bus back to JFK and I take the first plane to London: Air India. I grab a discarded newspaper lying on a bench on my way to board.

Air India 1973.jpg

Settling into my seat I read: “Air India has just been voted ‘Worst Airline in the World’. Again”. Their cabin crew is on strike so admin staff are ‘standing in for them’ – by doing nothing. A much older lass I meet on the plane – she was probably all of thirty – feels sorry for me so buys me a Pommy cold pork pie on the way out of Heathrow. Tastiest pie ever.

I’m on my way to meet a connection Don Inglis who once lived in Harrismith and is now in London for a year, so he knows the place. Turns out he has a rugby match playing for some Saffer team against the London Irish, so we scurry around Buck House circle and somewhere else where someone lived or died or married someone, and head off to Wimbledon for the game.

Five rugby okes are squeezed into his little Austin something. At the ground the players huddle in a cold shed to change and notice they’re a couple of boerkies short can I play? Sure, I say, but only half the first half, then I have to catch a tube to Heathrow. Thank goodness (it’s sleeting outside) Don says rather don’t risk missing your flight. So they run out onto the mud with one blade of grass every ten yards without me and start puffing out steam and shoving some fat Irish blokes around.

Rugby in London_2

Between scrums Don shouts out which tubes and buses I should catch and I leave before the halftime whistle to head South after a year in foreign climes. I’m very much looking forward to getting home now.

Once in the air the SAA koffie poppie gives me lip when I order a third beer so I’m feeling at home while still thousands of kays away.

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Diederiks Ront – SA currency; Our finance minister’s name was Diederiks

asseblief – please!

Saffer – South African

boerkies – South Africans

koffie poppie – SAA air hostess

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The old man’s Barclaycard was brand new. Maybe he was persuaded to get one by a glass of sherry and a blonde?

barclaycard_launch

Dottie Moffett, 1955-2006

RedRiver NewMexico 1973 Dottie
Dottie Moffett, Red River, New Mexico 1973

I went looking for Dottie, wondering where she was and what she was doing. And found an obituary on the internet!

Dottie Moffett Butler died unexpectedly at her home in San Diego, California on Wednesday 5 July 2006. Dottie was born 8 July 1955 in Daytona Beach Florida. At the age of seven her family moved to Chickasha Oklahoma and then, several years later, moved to Ardmore Oklahoma. Dottie graduated from Ardmore High School where she was active in several student organizations, including the women’s tennis team.

During her junior year she was a Rotary Exchange student to South Africa.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and then went on to earn her master’s degree in psychology from East Central University in Ada Oklahoma. As a psychologist, Dottie was a compassionate and caring counselor whose gift for helping others through difficult times will long be remembered. Dottie is survived by her husband, Dr. Harrison Butler, in San Diego; her mother, Dorothy Moffett McCall, in Durham North Carolina; her sister, Dale Moffett, in Cary North Carolina; two brothers, David Moffett and his wife Mary, Minneapolis Minnesota, and Denny Moffett and his wife Mary, Tulsa Oklahoma, as well as several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her father Dr. J. Denny Moffett Jr.

Condolences to the family may be sent in care of Dorothy McCall (her mother), Durham, NC (since deceased – in 2014, aged 88)

Her family suggests contributions in Dottie’s memory be made to The Wilson House, East Dorest Vermont. A remembrance service for Dottie was held July 15, in San Diego. A second service will be held on Saturday, 4 September 2006 on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, where Dottie and others in her family have enjoyed the serenity and peacefulness of Long Pond.

Information provided by Haigh-Black Funeral Home and Cremation Service.

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Devastated. Too soon! Dottie was a special lady. I knew her only for a couple years, in Oklahoma and in Cape Town, but she was unforgettable – her big heart, her hearty laugh, and much else . . .

Here’s Dottie with Jim Patterson of Apache OK in the Sangre de Christo mountains of New Mexico in 1973.

RedRiver NewMexico 1973 (10).JPG

Dottie in Montreal in 1973

Dottie in Montreal (I think - Ottawa?)