This post was over at bewilderbeast.org, but it belongs here, in the Olden Daze blog.
I read Jock of the Bushveld again for the how-manieth time. I enjoy it every time. Percy Fitzpatrick wrote his classic tales of his days with trek oxen and wagons on the lowveld on the highveld: On his farm Buckland Downs in the Harrismith district.
Always gets me thinking of my wonderful dog Jock in high school:
We got Jock from Reg and Jo Jelliman. They farmed very near Buckland Downs out on the Meul river side of town, out Verkykerskop way. He was apparently a registered Staffordshire Bull Terrier, with the formal name Copperdog-Something on his papers.
. . and then in Westville many years later our first dog in our first home was TC – to me she was a mini-Jock:
She lived to a ripe old thirteen years. I buried her at the bottom of that beautiful garden in River Drive, alongside Matt (above) and Bogart who both came after her but died before her.
Mom tells the story of a sister in frail care who used to shout very loudly late at night. Mom kept wishing she wouldn’t, but it happened regularly. It seemed that was just her way.
One night she yelled at someone while standing right outside Mom’s open door and that was it. Mom plucked up the courage and called out to her to ask her to please speak less loudly. She didn’t hear, so Mom called out a bit louder, whereupon the sister stuck her head into Mom’s doorway and said firmly:
“Please speak quieter! I’ll have no shouting here in frail care!”
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:
Mary Bland and Sylvia Bain, cousins, decided there was NO WAY they were going to miss the dance in the Harrismith Town Hall. This is quite possibly Mary’s single biggest act of defiance or wilful disobedience in her whole life. See, they were meant to be in Durban then, to start their midwifery course at Addington Childrens Hospital.
But to the dance in the dorp they went. Mary with Pieter, who she later married; and Sylvia with John, who she later married.
The next day they left (by train?) and in Durban they got their new quarters and their new uniform, which they loved: ‘It had a long fishtail headdress down the back almost to our waists. It looked beautiful.’
Also, their new matron was Mary Hawkins and they knew her sisters in Harrismith and in fact, Mary’s Mom Annie had dated her brother ‘Hawks’ Hawkins for quite a long while.
When they were summonsed to Matron Hawkins’ office they waltzed in merrily feeling glam and looking forward to a warm Harrismith welcome; only to be met with a frosty blast and a good dressing-down from Bloody Bill, as Mary Hawkins was known by those who knew her! Or sometimes Bloody Mary. She had been the Matron of all SA nurses in the war, and this was shortly after the war, and she was in no mood for nonsense. They were LATE starting their course!
Somewhere there’s a newspaper photo of Mary and Sylvia with a New Year crop of fresh Durban babies. Must find it.
The feature pic shows Mary and Pieter also in 1949, also outside the Town Hall, but another occasion.
pics from skyscrapercity.com; and kznpr.co.za – thank you. kznpr is Hugh Bland’s site; Here’s the cover of Hugh’s book on the Addington Childrens Hospital:
The ole man got a visit from his alma mater. Now he’s on the internets at maritzburgcollege.co.za! Their article follows, modified, with spelling and grammar corrected by me (non-College):
A few weeks ago, we popped in for a quick chat with Mr. Pieter Swanepoel. Class of 1939 – so he finished College before World War II started! (I have him as class of ’38, College?)
Mr. Swanepoel gives a lot of credit to his older sister for him getting to College. He says his family were not wealthy, as his Dad had been seriously affected by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Fortunately, he kept his job throughout – but he always felt pressure to get money for his family of six. To help her Dad, Pieter’s older sister Anne, or ‘Lizzie’ as he called her, stopped school at Russell High School early to get a job. Pieter was still at junior school in Havelock Road, just below the railway station where his father worked. Sister Lizzie used to get him to read every night, even though he wasn’t particularly partial to it! She also helped him to apply for College and motivated – successfully – for him to secure a scholarship.
He remembers one of his first classes was a Latin lesson with the headmaster, Mr Pape; he was walking around the class talking with the boys, and Pieter decided he needed to look very serious and studious to keep out of trouble. Pape walked over to him and said, “Why are you frowning at my teaching?” and promptly lashed him a few good whacks there and then. All lessons took place in Clark House which doubled as dormitories and class rooms. His sister encouraged him to knuckle down at school and take the more difficult courses like Latin and Math, to give himself a head start.
He excelled at sport, and athletics was his particular passion. He won the best athlete prize in 4th and 5th form and recalls College doing very well in inter-school meets. See the results from 5th form in 1937 here.
The school itself was a little out of town and there were very few buildings nearby.
Much of the conversation among the boys was about either about Philip Nel, who was then Springbok rugby captain, or the global tensions developing in Europe with Nazism on the rise. (nothing about girls, beers or cars, then). As it was, Pieter didn’t finish 6th Form; he left College in early 1939 (1938 I thought) to take his trade exams at the post office and started working there to earn money for the family. And soon he bought his first car.
He left the post office to join the army once South Africa joined the Union Defense Force. He was part of the 14th South African Armored Brigade as a radio operator and spent most of the war fighting across Italy. The impact of war on him and his friends was rather marked. In an incident in Abyssinia – present day Somalia – seven Old Collegians were killed in action. He wasn’t there, but two of his friends, Hornby and Berlyn, were among those College boys killed (read more about the White Flag Incident here).
Mr. Swanepoel has his class photo still and in the notes below he lists seven of his class of twenty-five that were killed in World War II. Almost a third of his 5th form class! The loss of some of these friends took a long time to come to terms with. He spent time in Egypt and in Italy. Interestingly, his inauspicious start to Latin lessons with Mr. Pape had some good consequences. Once in Italy, he found that he picked up the language very quickly, allowing him to speak to the local citizens. He found this a useful skill and was soon able to converse for the army and on a personal level. He found the Italians to be very friendly and accommodating. After the fighting stopped he was offered a position in Japan before returning home, but he opted to return to SA.
He survived the war and returned to Harrismith where he married, started a family and farmed. He still has a love for horses, and talks with fondness of some of his horses and the excellent ponies he bred from Basotho stock. He remains a passionate Old Boy and is an avid woodworker. He has made a number of wooden articles for the school to use.
Family is very important to him as are his friendships. He remained friendly with his classmates and attends the Veteran’s luncheon and Reunion whenever he can. He has been very disappointed about the current lack of events due to COVID and looks forward to being back on campus. He met our last centenarian Cyril Crompton at the 150th reunion. Cyril passed away a few years back at the age of one hundred. Mr. Swanepoel wishes the current boys well, and encourages them to be diligent and work hard as the opportunity at College is not something afforded to everyone. Saint Pieter.
As he said to the Maritzburg College chap who came round to interview him:He excelled at sport, and athletics was his particular passion. He won the best athlete prize in 4th form 1936 and 5th form 1937. This was the Old Man talking, Pieter Gerhardus Swanepoel, born in 1922. (‘6th form’ is matric, or high school senior year, which he started in 1938, but he left school on 1st April that year to start an apprenticeship at the post office).
He recalls College doing very well in inter-school meets:
So Wendy wakes the Reed and announces it’s time: Stacey the firstborn is on her way and they need to get to the hospital sommer right now. Oka-ay, now where did the Reed put his car keys?
Searching for stuff when you’re not completely calm is fruitless. Rather phone Koos. Who comes roaring around the corner into 10th Avenue, Berea, Durban, KwaZuluNatal, South Africa at three ay emm in the grey and grey 1965 Concorde deluxe four door column shift Opel. Or was it my puke-green 1974 Peugeot 404 station wagon? Memory fades and it could be either. Both had slick column shift gear levers anyway. And anyway, it’s a good thing we have vehicles like this for times like these. Spacious bench seats. Ample boep-room between seats.
I whisk them off to the hospital in no time. Efficiently. The robots change when I go through, the clouds dissolve and the sky turns blue . . thanks, Don Maclean. The Concorde is stable around the corners, swift on the straights.
Wendy was in the ward long before 4am the way I remember things.
Stacey, on the other hand, appeared in that ward only at about 6pm that evening. She’s still laid back.
Decades later we discussed the details.
May 2021, Steve Reed wrote: Was it from there (Whittington Court) that you made your pre-dawn mercy mission to the obstetrics department on 8th June 1983? Possibly not, because you bought that flat in 1984 or were you renting it before then?
Me: Memories dim and they’re very malleable. Mine is of getting into my puke-green Pukealot stasiewa OHS 5688 outside my residential hotel on the Berea – or perhaps the Communal house in Hunt Road.
But not Whittington.
Where did I drive to? I remember Debbin North, but no more detail except I dimly see a flat, not a house? Where were you when Stace was born?
Steve: We were living in 10th Avenue – a little duplex near Greyville a few streets up from Windorah. You visited us there after Stacey was born. I remember your living in a flat not very far away … closer to what was Berea Road. I remember it being pretty spartan – Were you sharing with someone?
I think it may have been your Opel that you came round the corner on two wheels but memory murky. Maybe it was the Pukalot.
I had been spray painting a cot for Stacey’s arrival. Slammed the tip up garage door shut and went to bed with all keys locked inside the garage. Another set of keys had been left at work in Durban North. Somehow I had no key for either of our cars.
Me: Ah! I might have been staying with Dave Thorrington-Smith in his flat near Botanic Gardens.
So you took Stace home to 10th Avenue? Amazing. I was convinced I roared across the mighty Umgeni River. In the stasiewa, I thought, cos I was imagining being an ambumince driver.
Steve: At 5am you took a moer of a lot of waking up… but damn I was happy to see you. Bliksem!