This is actually older sister Barbara’s story. It’s her story because she was the brave one, and because she was about 50% older than me at the time, seeing I was four. She threatens to write it one day. In fact, she says she has written it down somewhere.
Here’s the way I remember it – probably modified by being told it over the years:
We lived on ‘the plot’ Birdhaven east of town on the forestry or sawmill road in Platberg’s morning shadow. One evening towards sunset we were playing in the back yard outside the kitchen door when Barbara needed to go inside to fetch something. Water to mix up some mud most probably? Near the door she came across a snake and took a flying leap over it (she would probably add ‘athletically’ or ‘gracefully’, but I bet there was a shriek involved about then).
I jumped up and ran closer to see a snake reared up and looking concerned. This caused me to show even more concern. Obviously it now posed a much greater threat, right? so I sensibly ran away, around the house and in at the front door. You know: Discretion? Valour?
After that I vaguely remember the black bakelite phone attached to the wall, the one you wound the handle energetically before picking up the modern one-piece ear-and-mouthpiece to give the live person on the other end the number you were looking for. I dunno who was phoning, wasn’t me.
Here’s one of those phones in a museum
Then I remember the old man in the kitchen moving the stove with a stick in his hand and a box to guide the snake into.
I remember being told the rinkhals – for it was identified as such: Hemachatus haemachatus if you’re looking it up – had “crawled into the back of the stove”.
And I remember being told that it was given to Tommy vd Bosch who would take it to the Durban Snake Park, poor thing – although I only thought “poor thing” years later now that I know it would have been better to release it where it belonged.
The Rinkhals is endemic to Southern Africa. Though it resembles a cobra, spreads a hood and spits venom, it is not a true cobra and gives birth to live young. A grassland and wetland inhabitant, it feeds on frogs mainly, but also takes mammals and reptiles. When threatened it is very quick to disappear down a hole, but if cornered it will stand its ground, form a hood and spit, throwing the head forward when doing so, as it has a primitive spitting mechanism. The Rinkhals will also sham death very realistically, with its body turned upside down and mouth hanging open. Its venom is largely cytotoxic causing pain, swelling and potentially tissue damage. Bites are extremely rare and fatalities unheard of.
Koos de la Rey was the son of Adrianus Johannes Gijsbertus, so like me he was lucky he wasn’t given his father’s names. I could have been Gerhardus.
He was Brave
He is generally* regarded as the bravest of the Boer generals during the Boere Oorlog and as one of the leading figures of Boer independence. As a guerilla his tactics proved extremely successful. He ran the Brits ragged in the Western Transvaal.
*well, by us, his descendants anyway . . .
He was Pragmatic
Before hostilities, De la Rey opposed the war until the last, but once he started fighting he fought to the Bitter Einde. Once he was accused of cowardice during a Volksraad session by President Paul Kruger. He replied that if the time for war came, he would be fighting long after Paul Kruger had given up and fled for safety. This prediction proved to be exactly accurate. Once the war was lost, he spent a lot of energy getting his people to accept the Treaty of Vereeniging, even traveling to Ceylon to encourage Boer prisoners of war to come home.
He was Chivalrous
De la Rey was noted for chivalrous behaviour towards his enemies. At Tweebosch on 7 March 1902 he captured Lieutenant General Lord Methuen (whose arse he had kicked earlier at Magersfontein) along with several hundred of his troops. The troops were sent back to their lines because de la Rey had no means to support them, and Methuen was also released since he had broken his leg when his own horse had fallen on him. De la Rey provided his personal cart to take Methuen to hospital in Klerksdorp.
– arse kicked, life saved
His Earlier Life
As a child De la Rey received very little formal education, and as a young man he worked as a transport rider on the routes serving the diamond diggings at Kimberley (so he probably visited Harrismith?). He and wife Nonnie had twelve children and they looked after another six children who lost their parents.
Oh, and Generaal Koos de la Rey had a sister; She had a great great grandson also called Koos.
thanks, wikipedia for the war history, and sister Sheila for the family history
I had skipped rugby in matric, then played seven games of high school American football in Oklahoma. When I got to Johannesburg I was ready to play rugby again, but as there was little sport at the Wits Tech, friend Glen Barker joined Wanderers club. He had a car, so I joined him and off we would go in the green 1969-ish Toyota Corona 1600 he inherited from his gran to the field in Corlett Drive for practice.
I doubt there were 30 players among the under-21’s so we made the B side – probably by default; Opposition teams I remember were Oostelikes; Strathvaal; Diggers; Pirates; Rugged bliksems all.
At Strathvaal in the Wes Transvaal we played and lost and I was removing my boots at the side of the field when a senior coach asked me to please fill in for the senior 3rds – they were short. Their game had already started so I laced up and waited on the sideline for a gap. I ran on as a scrum formed and they got the ball. Moving up from inside centre I went to tackle my man and – BOOM! was carried off on a stretcher.
Who knows what happened, but at about ten seconds it was the shortest game of any kind I’ve ever played! Those miners were built like brick shit houses and seemed to enjoy them some explosive contact!
Veld & Vlei at Greystones on the banks of Wagendrift Dam in the July holidays of 1972, my matric – or ‘senior’ – year of high school. It was a ‘Leadership School’ – ‘a physical and mental challenge,’ they said. Sheila’s diary tells me I was taken there on Friday 30 June 1972 by family friend Dr Dick Venning.
Memories of a busy first week: The tough obstacle course – carry that 44-gal drum over the wall without letting it touch the wall! Other obstacles, including tight underground tunnels. And HURRY!
Chilly winter nights in these old canvas bell tents – we slept like logs. Cross-country runs; PT by military instructors. What’s with this love for things military? Brief naked immersion swims in the frigid water of the dam every morning after a 2,5km run; The lazy bliss of sailing an ‘Enterprise’ dinghy out of reach of anything strenuous!
Then the second week: Being chosen as patrol leader of Uys Patrol; A preparatory two-day hike in the area. One of our patrol was a chubby, whiny lad, so we spent some effort nursing him home. He was worth it: good sense of humour! Poor bugger’s thighs rubbed red and sore on the walk!
I had no camera, no photos, the only record I still have of the course is my vivid memories – and the blue felt badge they gave us on completion.
But then I found a website – http://www.hofland.co.uk – by someone who had been on the same 1972 winter course as me – Willem Hofland from the Natal South Coast. He had these black & white pics which I am very grateful to be able to use! He also has his course report and certificate. I wonder what they said on them, as our course was cut short. His images are very blurry but you can read the word PASS – so they must have decided we’d done enough to get certificates? I now only have the felt badge.
Then the climax, the big challenge: The course-ending six-day hike! We drove by bus to the magic Giants Castle region in the Drakensberg.
We set off with our laden rucksacks down the valley, up the other side towards the snow-topped peaks, heading for Langalabilele Pass and the High ‘Berg. We had walked about 5km when a faint shout sounded and continued non-stop until we stopped and searched for the source.
It was an instructor chasing after us and telling us to “Turn around, abort the hike, return to Greystones! Walk SLOWLY!” Someone had come down with meningitis and the whole course was ending early! Sheila’s diary records my folks were phoned on 12 July and asked to fetch me. We were given big white pills to swallow and sent home with strict instructions to take it easy: No physical exercise.
But our rucksacks were packed . . . . and our wanderlust aroused, so I’m afraid I headed straight off to Mt aux Sources soon after getting home. Up the chain ladder onto the escarpment and on to the lip of the Tugela Falls, sleeping outside the mountain hut. Greg Seibert may have accompanied me. I forget who else.
That’s what I remembered. Today, however, 48yrs later, Sheila has given me the letters I wrote home, so I also know this: So much for vivid memories!
My first letter was two days into the course and the main concern was ‘PLEEZ send my rucksack! The rucksack I have been issued with is absolutely messed up!’ (see at the end – Mom did send it). I was fit, as shown by my maximums. I had done 63 step-ups with weights. The camp record was 64. ‘The assault course instructor is a sadist.’ Please send the rucksack! They have arranged for parcel deliveries. Mom’s letter back said she had sent the rucksack – and ‘look inside.’ Moms are great!
The next letter was Monday 3rd July 1972 – Early morning run and naked dip in the dam; sailing and canoeing. Our patrol won both canoe races (‘natch!’ I wrote, being very keen on canoeing at the time) and we won Best Patrol of the Day. ‘Today Monday was much tougher: The assault course consists of eleven obstacles and we only completed five! Only one of the six patrols completed the course. They took one hour and seventeen minutes. The course record is twelve minutes and fifty seconds! PT was based on maximums. My first round took 10 mins 42 seconds, then a run. I did the second round in 10 mins dead. Dead’s the word! I met Stephen Middlemost. A good chap.’
The last letter was on day 9: Our first free morning. On day 7 they had given us twenty minutes to get ready and leave on a two day expedition. Find your way by map to various waypoints. There was ‘not much discipline’ in our patrol. ‘Leaders had been chosen who were not leaders’ (according to yours truly!) and not much hard hiking was done. I saw we were way behind schedule so ‘I tried to push them, but they just got mad and rested often and long.’ I did all the map and compass work and ‘they would argue like mad as to our direction without ever looking at the map!’ By nightfall we were about halfway to our intended destination. We camped and ‘the boys just wanted to turn around and go back. I refused and eventually they agreed to try and finish the course.! In the morning we only set off at 9am! I worked out shortcuts for them while one of the guys and I walked to the beacons and took bearings; we would then catch up to them again. We walked along to ‘a chorus of moaning and swearing, mainly at me for ‘rushing them. Anyway, eventually we crossed the Bushmans River in the dark and arrived back at camp at 7.30pm. At least we did finish the course! And luckily there was a good supper waiting.’
On the evening of that ninth day we chose patrol leaders; seventy two boys, six patrols; I was chosen to lead Uys Patrol. ‘My deputy is Reg Wilkins, a very good chap: funny, determined, stubborn, etc. but we’ll go great. Our quartermaster is Neville Slade, also a great guy, very conscientious.’
Our full patrol is Eric Cohen, Arthur Lees-Rolfe, John Peterson, Nev Slade, Clyde Nunn, Reg Wilkins, Rusty du Plessis, Bud Marouchos, and me. We lost Rob Hohls abseiling when a big rock fell on his head.
In a letter home: I lost or mislaid my boots; I should find them. Cuthberts made a lousy job of fixing them. R3!! On the first hike I lost half of both heels; on the two-day expedition the other halves came off and the whole sole is coming off, starting at the toe.’
I was so looking forward to the high ‘Berg hike. That was MY territory! None of these city slickers and beach bums knew the high ‘Berg and I did. But it was not to be . .
More odds and sods I found, scanned and tossed. Warning: Boring!! – only for those who were there:
July 2020 – Found a diary I kept on the course.
Later that year I got a hilarious raunchy letter from my cool-dude side-kick Nev Slade:
Excerpts: He moans about swotting for matric; He says ‘now listen you Free State Fuckup’ (‘that’s the best I have thought up for a long time’) and invites me to a post-matric party – a good thrash! He reports getting as ‘canned as a coot’ at a disco; he says he’ll set me up with a sexy partner; threatens, if I don’t pitch at his thrash, to come to the Free State and castrate me! Signs himself off: ‘Great Poet and man who survived Veld & Vlei’ – Nev Slade, Bridgewood, Dargle Rail
Ah, a mystery solved: We did NOT get completion certificates.
So Hofland could not have been on the July 1972 course, I guess. Still, thanks for the photos!
I gave a talk to Harrismith Rotary club afterwards, telling them all about it, expressing my disappointment on not doing the high Berg hike; and thanking them for sponsoring me on lovely adventure.
Another postscript: I now know, from another hilarious and rude letter from Nev Slade, something about our hike up Mt aux Sources. Nev had been to a polocrosse tournament in Greytown where he almost broke his arm due to rough treatment from Transvalers who were “the dirtiest, wildest pigs you’ve ever come across,” – in fact they were “just like Freestaters in the wild Swanepoel tradition.” He couldn’t think of a worse insult! What a lekker oke! Anyway, obviously replying to my letter he says “Wow, you’re lucky to have seen a lammergeier so close up! Lend me some of your luck sometime won’t you?”
A letter! Sheila found a letter written to me by Mom while I was on camp. She filled me in on happenings in the metropolis of Harrismith in my absence: 1. Two heart attacks – Jonathan McCloy’s Dad and Ds Ras. Lulu was at home with her Dad, but De Wet was away playing Craven Week rugby. He hastened home; Ds in hospital under heavy sedation. 2. When Eastern Free State won a game at Craven Week, Rudolph Gabba Coetzee had to speak on the radio! Big news for one who did not do much public speaking! 3. I had an interview straight after my course in Estcourt to apply for a Rotary Exchange Student posting. It was right near Veld in Vlei in Estcourt, so Mom said I should stay with my cousin Marlene – ‘and try and get a haircut in Estcourt before the interview’ – Yeah, like that was going to happen!! 4. They had stayed at a caravan park with Sheila. It was lousy, no lights, no hot water and a long list of other things wrong. And lastly, when she was about to send me the rucksack I had requested, Harriet vdMerwe saw her and said, No Mary! You can’t send it empty! Put some goodies in it! So she had included sweets and dried fruit.
It was quite a year. I had shot up, my balls had dropped, and I became the tallest blonde in the team. Coenie Meyer was the only other one, but he was a stocky centre and I was a lanky lock in the serious half of the team, the half that did the hard work and won the ball – only for the frivolous half to donate it to the opposition, starting the whole process all over again! Us bum-sniffers suffered while the pretty-boy backs got all the glory. Before this hormonal reshuffling, rugby had not been I.
But truth be told, our real strength lay in an outstanding flyhalf called De Wet Ras; and in great teamwork, determined tackling and a fierce desire to do well by ‘Sir’ – as we called Bruce Humphries, our tennis-playing coach.
We were coached by a bespectacled tennis champ called Bruce who inspired us to give our all. His sidekick Ben backed him up and supported us – a kind soul was Ben Marais. We beat all-comers and moved on to play against bigger teams. We drew one game against Bethlehem Voortrekker 0-0, our ‘winning’ De Wet Ras drop kick sailing high directly above the right upright, so the ref did not award it. We beat them 8-3 in a re-match.
We were the Harrismith under thirteen team of 1967, playing in bright orange, looking for all the world like mangoes complete with little green leaves on top and some black spots below!
At the end of the season we were unbeaten and happy.
But then we read in the newspaper, the Engelse koerant, The Friend of Bloemfontein:
Free State u/13 Champs: 140 points for and 0 against!
And they weren’t talking about us – it was an u/13 team from Virginia. We thought: Free State Champs? Like Hell! We also thought: Where the hell is Virginia? That doesn’t sound like an egte Free State dorp.
Bruce Humphries phoned them and challenged them to come and play us. ‘No, we’re Free State Champs,’ they said, ‘Can’t you read? You’ll have to come to us!’
Off we went to Virginia in Bruce’s new 1966 white Ford Cortina and Giel du Toit’s tweede-hands black Mercedes 190 – about 1959, and Ben Marais’ blue VW Beetle, undetermined vintage.
There we watched their second team play Saaiplaas, a little mining village team with an egte Free State dorp name. We cheered Saaiplaas on and exhorted them to victory! I can still hear our hooker Skottie Meyer shouting mockingly – he was full of nonsense like that, onse Skottie – “Thlaaiplaath!! Thlaiplaath!!” They beat the Virginia seconds 3-0, handing them their first defeat of the season.
Our turn next, and the Saaiplaas boys did their best to be heard above the din of the enthusiastic local Virginia supporters. It was a tight match but we had the edge, our left wing Krugertjie being stopped inches from the left corner flag and our right wing Krugertjie pulled down inches from the right corner flag. Yep, identical twins, find them in the pic. The difference at the final whistle was a De Wet Ras drop goal from near the halfway line. 3-0 to us to complete a bad day for ex-Free State Champs Virginia. Which they pronounced Fuh-Jean-Yah.
What’s Next? Now Bruce Humphries had the Free State’s biggest fish in his sights: Grey College Bloemfontein. No, they didn’t really think they’d want to play us, thank you; and anyway they were off on a tour to Natal that week, thank you. ‘Well’, said Bruce ‘You can’t get back from Natal without passing through Harrismith, and you wouldn’t really sneak past us with your tails between your legs, would you?’
So the game was on! That day the pawiljoen at the park was packed with our enthusiastic supporters and cars ringed the field. Our followers’ numbers had grown as the season progressed and excitement at our unbeaten tag increased. No Grey College team had ever played in this little outpost of the British Empire (yes, we were that, once!) before.
Another tough game ensued, but a try just left of the posts by the tallest blonde in our team was the difference: We beat them 8-3, all the other points being scored by our points machine and tactical general De Wet! Die Dapper Generaal De Wet!
Beating the Rest When it came to selecting an Eastern Free State team, the other schools introduced a twist: Not only did you have to be under thirteen, you also had to be in primary school! This excluded a few of our boys, who were in Std 6 (Grade 8). Only four of our team were chosen. So we challenged them to a game. Bruce told them it would do them good to have a warm-up game against the rest of us before they went to the capital of the province, Bloemfontein, to play in a tournament. Having been chosen as reserve, I was lucky: I could still play for ‘us’! Plus we ‘innocently’ added Gabba Coetzee to boost our depleted team – with their knowledge and permission. He was in Std 6 and just too old to actually be under thirteen. He was a legendary machine of an eighth man! An Iron Man, actually. His shot put record stands to this day, nearly fifty years later.
Ho Hum! 17-0
On the LEFT: Bruce Humphries (coach); On the RIGHT: Ben Marais (assistant coach)
All Heads Left to Right: Dana Moore, Attie Labuschagne, Leon Fluffy Crawley, De Wet Ras, Redge Jelliman, Skottie Meyer, Hendrik Conradie, Hansie Jooste, Irené Tuffy Joubert, Coenie Meyer, Peter Koos Swanepoel, Kruger, Kobus Odendaal, Kruger, Max Wessels
– I wonder what that trophy is that De Wet is holding? I cannot remember what that trophy might have been for. ‘Handsome Vrystaters Floating-on-Air’ Trophy maybe?
We got word that Bruce Humphries passed away in about 2011.
Go Well Sir! We'll never forget that 1967 rugby season. We soared high and grew our self-esteem that year. Thank you!
It was 1981 and we were new in Durban. We decided to watch the Comrades Marathon, an 89km exercise in insanity being run “up” from the coast at Durban to the heights of Sleepy Hollow that year. Those days it was easy to follow the race: You just got in the way, parked wherever and got out whenever you felt like shouting encouragement to the possessed. Early in the morning we stood near 45th cutting and soon the runners arrived. Near to us was a short old bald whispy-haired fella shouting enthusiastic encouragement and giving two-thumbs-up to virtually every runner, some of whom – quite a number – seemed to recognise him.
Once the last stragglers had passed we started to head off to Dave’s green VW Beetle, but noticed the old bullet seemed lost. Can we help you? we asked. Do you know the way to the finish? he asked. Sure, and we’re going there, we said, wanna come along? I’d love that, he said gratefully, and that’s how two complete Comrades ignoramuses ended up driving Wally Hayward in the back of a Beetle to the finish of the 1981 Comrades – a race he had run five times AND WON FIVE TIMES!
Well, you couldn’t spend a morning with Wally without hearing a whole bunch of tales and we milked him for more and fell under the spell of this warm and unassuming bundle of energy. At the finish we sat on the grass and heard an announcement that some old bullet who won the race decades ago was there and was going to do a lap of honour. The wonderful brave soul – I think Phil Masterson-Smith, the 1931 winner – shuffled slowly around the track to tremendous applause, none louder than that coming from Wally who watched intently, quivering like a bird-dog with a huge grin and a wistful look in his eyes. I winked at Dave and snuck off to the announcer’s tower and told them we had the 1930 winner Wally Hayward with us, and could they make a fuss of him, too?
They could indeed! And so, 51yrs after first winning the race Wally hit the track, totally surprised – but also totally chuffed – and ran that 400m with a smile like a truck radiator and his knees flying past his ears looking for all the world like an escaped ostrich! I bet his 400m time would have been way up there among the quickest ever for a 73yr-old!
Yes, Wally had won in 1930, then again in 1950, ’51, ’53 and 1954! He had run this crazy ultra-marathon only five times in all and won it every time he entered, the last time at the age of 45, a record which still stood in 1981. It was only broken much later – in 2004.
It took us a while to find him after his lap of honour, celebrity that he now was, but yes, he still wanted a lift back to Durban please.
I s’pose he didn’t know the way!
Six years after we enjoyed this magic day, Wally ran Comrades again, thirty three years after his last run and shortly before his 80th birthday. He ran a magnificent race, beating half the field and beating the winner Bruce Fordyce on an age-handicapped calculation. Bruce himself mentioned and emphasised this after the race.
Wally’s memoirs were published in time for the 1999 Comrades by a wonderful friend of mine, fellow Comrades runner and Dusi paddler Bill Jamieson. He titled the book: “JUST CALL ME WALLY”.
89km in 9hrs 44mins just before his 80th birthday.
Dave Simpson wrote to me on seeing this post: Hi Pete, Well this does bring back memories – 33 years ago at that! Actually, we originally only planned to go as far as Fields Hill. When Bruce Fordyce past us outside the Westridge Park Tennis Stadium, with his bunch of early race ‘klingons’ and yelled out ‘Walleeeee’ as he strode past the great man – we knew we were dealing with someone special. The rest you’ve said. Great story. Hood
Me: I’d forgotten that! It was Fordyce’s first win that year. The first of nine. In the back of my mind I thought we did know there was something special about him, but we weren’t sure who he was. When he asked for a lift, did we already know who he was?
Dave again: No, we did not know who he was. When he asked for a lift, he told us that he was there with his mate, who wanted to follow his son who was a plodder at the back of the field. Dear Wally just assumed that we, like him wanted to watch the front runners. As it turned out, Wally was wrong – we just wanted to be with Wally!
Among many other running achievements, Wally had also won the Harrismith Mountain Race. After the race, in typical generous Wally style, he called ‘The toughest race in the world!’ – just what we Harrismithians wanted to hear!
The Wally Hayward medal
Wally Hayward died in May 2006 at the age of 97. In November, the Comrades Marathon Association announced that a new medal, the Wally Hayward medal, would be presented to runners for the first time in 2007. These special medals are awarded to those runners who fail to earn Comrades gold medals – awarded to the first 10 men and women finishers – but still come in under the six-hour barrier first broken by Hayward in 1953.
Wally Hayward was one of the greatest ever Comrades runners, with five wins in five starts over twenty four years, then two more finishes, up to fifty eight years after his first run. Comrades Association chairman Dave Dixon said in announcing the new medal, ‘He had a remarkable Comrades career, and is still the oldest person ever to finish the race.’
thanks to brandsouthafrica for some of the info here – read how Wally was branded a professional and barred from winning more Comrades; thanks also to Bill Jamieson’s book ‘Just Call Me Wally.’ Bill was a great character, Comrades runner and fellow Kingfisher Canoe Club member. In his later years we would meet and he’d regale me with his stories and his worries. A lovely man.
Years later, Dave Simpson met another SA sporting icon:
Uncle Jack Kemp had a big dilemma. He loved a party and there were two parties on, one at our house and the other at Ronnie from Threeburgh’s place. To get from the one brandy bottle to the other he had to walk down our front steps, down our little-used front path and out the gate onto Stuart Street. He then had to cross the road and walk northwest to the other corner where Ronnie and Martie were whooping it up – and they could whoop it up!
Then he had to retrace his steps in case there was something more exciting going on where he had just come from.
After a few such sorties he went missing and Isabel Necessary asked her Koosie (pr: coosie) to Go And Look For Him Please My Love, throwing back her head to let out a peal of loud cackling laughter, drink in one hand and ciggie in the other.
I found him under the willow, flat on his back with the unspilt brandy glass balanced on his big boep. Hello Cock, he rasped. ‘Hello Cock’ he’d say to everyone. Saved him remembering names.
Uncle Jack was fine, he had just run out of steam and vertical-ness and was thinking about his next move. What lovely people were Jack and Isabel Kemp!
In the map the four dots mark our yard. Just above the top dot is the van Tubbergh home, showing the short route Uncle Jack had to negotiate. In the picture of the front of our house, there’s a willow tree on the left. Just out of picture on the right is the willow tree under which dear Uncle Jack came unstuck, where schoolboy me found and ‘rescued’ him.
When modern man decided to pinch water from the Tugela river and pump it uphill to satisfy the Vaalies’ thirst, our area around Harrismith and Bergville saw a flurry of activity and an influx of new people. A bus arrived at school and a flock of new kids tumbled out. They were cruelly christened Die Dam Paddas by us parochials.
New things started appearing in the distrik: Sterkfontein dam; TuVa township (Tu Va – Tugela/Vaalies, geddit?); a vertical tunnel in the Drakensberg for the hydro-electric turbines; canals and smaller dams. All had to be built.
One of the latter was Driel Barrage on the Tugela river on Kai Reitz’s farm The Bend, so once we’d had sufficient beer one fine day we drove down on the back of Kai’s big Chevy pickup to look at the construction and to say some insightful engineering things about it.
A very high wall had been built starting out from dry land until its highest point in the middle of the river. Very interesting, but we don’t have to . . . . Oh, we do?
So we climbed up it and inched our way on our bums along the 30cm wide wall to its highest point. Some walked, but they were just being foolish, right? OK, so we’ve seen it, can we go now?
The muddy brown water way below us was completely opaque, no way you could see even one centimetre into it. It could have been knee deep or ten metres deep, who knows, so we definitely won’t be . . . . Mandy! ARE YOU MA-AA-aa-aD?!
She’s jumped! Holy shee-yit!! Ah neely dahd, she took forever to plummet as I watched in slow motion, and then she entered with a big splash and disappeared, which I s’pose was better than if she hadn’t.
Eventually she surfaced with a huge grin on her face and now I knew I was stuffed. I’d have to jump. Unless the others chickened out, but no, there went Sheila and so before long I had to stand up, act casual and plummet meself.
Unbelievable what a fierce hold brave women have over us cowardly um, circumspect men . . .
We would meet on The Bend, Kai’s paradise on the Tugela outside Bergville. The guys from Doories in Johannesburg studying to be optometrists and engineers at the Wits Tech and the gals from NTC in Pietermaritzburg, studying to be teachers of the future fine upstanding youth of SA. We would meet specifically to practice setting a good example.
We’d sing and dance, play loud music, down many beers, fall in love, salute General Armstrong the whisky bottle, dance, laugh, swim in the river, jump off the dam wall, have a ball, dance, laugh, recover and start all over again. In hunting season some of us might shoot a few guineafowl.
Sundays we’d load up and go back to school like responsible students. Speronsible, as Lloyd Zunckel would say.
On this occasion Lettuce Leaf loaded up the off-yellow Clittering Goach to head SE back to PMB and Spatch loaded up the beige Apache and Scratchmo loaded the green VeeDub to head NW back to Joeys. We decided to help Lettuce pack out of the kindness of our hearts, slipping a dead guineafowl in amongst the girls’ suitcases. Ha ha! That’ll give them a surprise when they get back!
Here Scratchmo chunes the Clittering Goach’s under-bonnet-ular bits, pretending he knows what’s going on to impress Lettuce:
Back in Johannesburg later that Sunday night, we couldn’t wait to phone them from the nearest ‘tickey box’ or public phone.
How was your trip? Fine.
How were your suitcases? Fine.
How was Lettuce’s boot? Fine.
Oh! Um, was there anything unusual in the boot? No. Why?
DAMN! We suspected Scratchmo Hood Simpson, and interrogated him accusingly: Are you so in love that you removed the fowl to spare the girls the smell? No, it wasn’t him. But, but . . someone must have removed it. Damn!
Oh, well, it was a great idea for a prank! Pity it failed . . . .
A week later we got a parcel slip:
A parcel from PMB awaits your collection at the General Post Office in Jeppe Street.
It was big and quite heavy and read: Contents: Musical Instrument.
Unwrapping layer after layer of paper and one plastic bag after another we unveiled: THAT GUINEAFOWL! The girls had suckered us! We had been (in 21st century-language) SERVED!
Hummed? It honked! It ponged! – that was obviously their “musical instrument” clue! Heave! Vomit! Yuk!
So what to do with it? Holding it at arms length we carried it out. It was 5pm rush hour. Traffic backed up under the Harrow Road flyover. Innocent hard-working people on their way home. A little plumber’s bakkie looked easy, so as the light turned green we deposited the offending deceased foul fowl discreetly on his loadbed. He’d have an interesting mystery when he got home!
We then made our way to the nearest tickey box. We had a concession phone call to make to PMB.
There were two reasons we ‘borrowed’ Gerrie’s 1961 black Saab 93 late one night: (1). If you don’t give a car a run the battery can go flat, and (2). We had Larry the American Rotary Exchange student with us, who might have heard that the Free State can be a very boring place with “nothing to do”. Especially at night. And also (3). A moving car is a safe place to drink beer in. These are facts.
Quietly wheeling it down the driveway we held our breath until we’d pushed it far enough, then quickly started it and we were OFF! Freedom! Beer! Speed! Steph was multi-tasking, driving and handing out the ‘longtom’ cans of Black Label beer his family’s obliging gardener had bought for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales. My folks lost the sale because of their silly and pedantic “over-18’s” policy.
Tuffy always finished his before we hit third gear . . .
A quick routine stop to tap the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for just that purpose, and we headed for new terrain.
We had already done the town athletic track and the school netball fields on other occasions, leaving our trademark donuts and figure-of-eights in the gravel.* This time our destination was the National Botanic Gardens on top of Queen’s Hill, stopping only once more to tap the fuel pump with the half-brick kept under the bonnet for just that purpose.
In the dark we met Kolhaas Lindstrom in his car. He was legit: He’d already left school and was a licenced driver. “Dice?” he challenged, and the game was on! Whizzing through the veld Rring-ding-ding-ding-RRriiing! It’s a two-stroke, remember?
Don’t believe the Minister of Transport, speed doesn’t kill you. Speed exhilarates. It’s the sudden stops that kill you. And the sudden stop and loud bang came as a surprise to us. Dead silence reigned until in an awed American upstate New York accent Larry exclaimed from the back seat, “We’ve had a head-on collision with a hill!” .
That broke the ice. The hill, meantime, had probably broken the suspension.
But no. A committee undercarriage inspection revealed all four wheels suspended in mid-air. Trying to gun it out left the front wheels whizzing around uselessly. Well, that is why there were five of us, so we man-handled it over the ditch and away we went, cleverer than before.
Forty five years later I flew in to inspect the scene of the mystery. Which was still unsolved and now a very cold case. The mystery was this: How could it be that such great and experienced drivers crashed? I mean some of us had been driving for . . well, months! And in not too many years’ time, we’d be licenced drivers.
I flew in via google earth. And there it was: A fault!! It was Queen’s Hill’s fault, not ours!
A great big fault – or ditch? – runs North-South across the whole hill. THAT was what caught us by surprise in the long grass.
I have little doubt that if one were to measure its width you’ll find it just a bit greater than the wheelbase of a 1961 Saab93!
* Next time you’re wondering who made those ‘crop circles’? Think a) Homo sapiens; b) Homo sapiens subspecies pranksterii; c) Alcohol; These are facts.