There he goes, no lifejacket as was the way those days.
. . another guy might be wearing full lifejacket and helmet but he’d be disqualified: wasn’t wearing his club colours! Such was ‘safety’ back when ships were made of wood and men were made of iron!
I roared in 140th – looks like 152 finishers, but maybe there was another whole page? Can’t tell – the first page is also missing so we can’t see who won. I know Chris Greeff won the singles. I spent a long time training him in the bar till late at night when the GO TO BED!!s built to a crescendo and we politely thanked Jesus, downed a last beer – and did as we were told. This was Jesus Williams, of course, the saintly Umko barman.
The next year 1984 there were 280 finishers. Oh, hang on, the other page was given the wrong year. Here it is: 162 finishers out of 263 starters:
Notables who finished behind me were Pete the Pom Mountford, Richard Finlay and Toekoe Egerton. They should pull finger.
That was my only Umko marathon. For a few years after that I would sweep or pick out flotsam and jetsam at No.1 rapid, staying with Barry and Lyn Porter on their game farm afterwards.
I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).
I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane – in between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.
I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.
‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.
Long before Zimbali became an over-priced gated estate for the rich to hide in, Manfred Bacher, augenoptikermeister from Austria aus, built a yacht in his Umhlanga backyard and called it Zimbali. Or SMS Zimbali, I’d say. He said Zimbali meant ‘forever young,’ which is what he wished for himself and might have been if it wasn’t for the beer and the cigarettes. In isiZulu izimbali means flowers or blossoms, but Manfred always did cruise and sail to the beat of his own drum.
The boat was a beauty. I hope someone has pictures of it. (update: Yes! Steve Reed had these pics). Beautifully finished in carved and highly-polished dark wood. My part in its construction consisted of visiting Umhlanga after work with big buddy Steve Reed, Manfred’s protégé oogkundige. We’d sit in its cabin in the Umhlanga backyard drinking quarts of beer and listen to Manfred wax lyrical. If I remember right, it was built in two locations: it was moved to the Umhlanga new home from somewhere else?
I missed the actual launch day when it was ferried to the harbour and lifted off a trailer and lowered into the salty water, but I then visited it again to sit in the cabin drinking quarts of beer and listen to Manfred wax lyrical while it bobbed up and down and the sheets and cables clanked in the wind. Once after enough beer I climbed right up to the top of the mast and enjoyed the swaying to and fro high above all the other boats in the yacht mole. Wonderful view at night with a million lights reflecting off the oily water. I made it down safely, sanks goodness, as Manfred would have said.
Roomerazzit Zimbali only ever made one trip out of the mouth – never again were the sails hoisted till Manfred sold it. It remained moored as a convenient boys gathering place. Again, some may know better and I’d love to hear.
augenoptikermeister – optician
oogkundige – augenoptikermeister
The kaiserliche und konigliche kriegsmarine, sometimes shortened to k.u.k. kriegsmarine, was the naval force of Austria-Hungary. Ships of the k.u.k. kriegsmarine were designated SMS, for Seiner Majestat Schiff (His Majesty’s Ship).
The Comrades Marathon’s Quadruple Green Number is awarded only to people who are certifiably crazy. The award – and membership of that exclusive club – means you have run the 89km Comrades ultra-marathon at least forty times! Holy shit!!
Wietsche Van Der Westhuizen
– – – – – David Williams – – – – –
Johann Van Eeden
Boysie Van Staden
Dave ‘Jesus’ Williams is a Kingfisher Canoe Club stalwart who has helped run the Umkomaas canoe marathon for about the same number of years he’s been shuffling the Comrades. He’s done it all: Driving trucks, pitching tents, digging toilets, rigging toilets on trucks, buying food, preparing food, serving in the pub, listening to paddlers gaaning aan about how scary THEIR race was; you name it, Jesus has done it. And with aplomb and with a smile. He was there 36ys ago when I did my only Umko and patiently served us rowdy hooligans with beer after beer at the overnight stop until there were only two okes left drinking – me and Chris Greeff. Eventually we got tired of people rudely shouting at us to ‘Shut Up, They Were Trying To Sleep,’ so we staggered off to our sleeping bags on the grass under the big marquee. There was a small difference between me and the man I’d been matching beer for beer till late that night: He was actually leading the race and duly went on to win the singles the next day. I finished in eventually-th place.
I last saw Dave Jesus at the 2016 Umko – he was driving the beer truck and selling beer at the prize-giving. We had a good chat. He had given me good stories for the Umko 50yrs book, but now I mainly wanted to know about the Comrades. About HOW MANY? about WHY!? and about ARE YOU MAD?!
He couldn’t really explain, but all he talked about was beating other ous. So even though his finishing time was stretching out compared to his best days, he always had goals and people to beat. Then his “battle” was against Tilda Tearle (she who actually won the damn thing one year). He beats her, then she beats him; how and when, Dave describes in great detail – “I was leading for 30km and then my knee started to hurt and I heard she was catching up to me” etc etc. He remembers every yard, every pace, every change of fortune, good or bad. In Comrades as well as all the other races he does, he always has some or other bet or goal or competition going on with his comrades in running. That’s what keeps him going. That, and the insanity.
A lovely modest oke. But quite mad – he has also run 100km around a 400m athletics track and has run 100 MILES, too. He also runs a cross country race from Royal Natal National Park up to Witsieshoek, along the road to the car park then up to the foot of the chain ladder, up the ladder onto the Amphitheatre, down the gulley and back to National Park campsite. About 50 rugged cross-country kilometres with a huge altitude gain that makes the Harrismith mountain race look like a short flat stroll.
Harrismith had the biggest influx of people in its history recently. Well, that would be my guess. I don’t think even the Rhino Rally ever brought in THIS amount of people! I mean those rowwe hard-drinking okes fit a maximum of two people on their vehicles . .
. . . whereas I would guess the teetotal Shembes are unlikely to put less than sixty people in a sixty-seater bus? And there were LOTS of those buses in town. The view is the eastern side of town with the mountain behind you.
In a way they were coming home: The founder of the Shembe church, Isaiah Mloyiswa Mdliwamafa Shembe, was born in 1865 at Ntabamhlophe outside Estcourt in the Drakensberg region of Natal. When he was very young his family fled from Shaka during the Mfecane period to the Harrismith district of the Orange Free State, ending up there as tenants on a farm of ‘an Afrikaner family named the Graabes.’
Then the stories start: Like many other people of Harrismith he absorbed the local spirits; and like many ‘prophets’ before him, young Shembe ‘died and was resurrected at the age of three when relatives sacrificed a bull before his body could be interred’; He was ‘visited by God on many occasions’; He was ‘taught how to pray by God himself’;
The call of Isaiah Shembe to his life’s vocation can be traced back to an experience at Ntabazwe Mountain in Harrismith. The mountain is also called Platberg in Afrikaans, meaning ‘Flat Mountain;’ and Thabantsho in seSotho, Black Mountain. Earlier he was on a farm (near) Witzieshoek in the Harrismith district; and then he moved to the land on the outskirts of Harrismith, (near) the mountain of Ntabazwe. Here Shembe experienced several revelations as a young boy, and it was through the means of lightning that he received his call.
When he was told to ‘find a place to pray to God’, he tried the Wesleyan Church that was nearby. However they were not right for him: they didn’t know how to baptise properly. Then came the Boer War and, abandoning his wives, he spent some time on the Rand. He joined a Baptist church there. After he returned to Harrismith the leader of his new church came to his place in 1906 to baptise Shembe. Proper baptism under water, not just a drop of water on your forehead, Methodists!
Shembe went to Natal and started accumulating followers. He would send them ahead to new areas to pronounce him as a ‘Man of Heaven.’ As his success and number of followers grew, so did his power. What you ate, what you thought, what you wore, what you did, how men were to rule over their women, was all prescribed by the great man. A lot of what you had to do happened to make him rich. Hey! Coincidence! The legend grew. Shembe must have been highly intelligent and astute, as he told vivid parables, and showed uncanny insights into people’s thoughts. He also did the dramatic healing trick. He composed music, writing many moving hymns; he had his sermons reduced to writing and they became scripture, and he provided his followers with a rich liturgical tradition based on modified forms of traditional Zulu dancing. In 1913 Shembe visited Nhlangakazi Mountain which became the movement’s holy mountain. At Nhlangakazi he was told by the Holy Spirit to form his own church. This place later became his place of annual pilgrimage every first Sunday of the year.
The Shembe Bible is known as the Book of the Birth of the Prophet Shembe. Their writings say ‘On March 10, 1910 it was the arrival of the Prophet Isaiah Shembe at KwaZulu Natal (Durban) from Ntabazwe (Harrismith), as he was instructed by the Word of God to do so. The Word of God told Shembe that they will meet at KwaZulu (Natal).’
In the 1930s Shembe commissioned his friend and neighbour, the renowned John Dube, to write his biography. The book uShembe, appeared shortly after his death, and contains much of the essential Shembe lore and hagiography, but Dube was an ordained minister and not a Nazarite, so he does not only present Shembe in flattering terms. Shembe’s bona fides as a prophet are questioned, and his undoubted skill at extracting money from his membership is highlighted. Dube alleged that Shembe was overtaxing rentals; that he was conducting baptism for payment – part of his fundraising for the church; that he was extorting money from members as he paid lobola for young girls whom he married; and that he was corrupt and exploitative. – Tch! Just what an ambitious prophet / saviour / manifestation of God doesn’t need: an honest biographer! Shembe’s son and heir, Shembe II, Galilee Shembe forbade his followers to read the book. Hey! You know that book my father asked his friend, uMfundisi Dube to write? Don’t Read It!
A factor of the huge success of African Independent Churches like the amaNazaretha has been their emphasis on ‘Africa for Africans’. Often implicit, but explicitly verbalised by Shembe, this has been the main cause for the break-away from the mainline or mission – or European – churches. They wanted their own identity. However, discontent has continued to plague these church formations, even after self-governance and independence. Money and power corrupts, and they have splintered into many different internal groups and factions. Succession wrangles in the Shembe Nazaretha Baptist Church have given birth to the current seven factions, six of them headed by Shembe family members. Various battles have raged since 1935 when the original Shembe, Isaiah, died. The latest succession struggle started in 2011.
So who decides who is divinely anointed to lead the church? Very modernly, it is not a God . . not a king . . not a council of elders . . nor a new legitimate national democratic government – No! A judge of the courts. They’re like, Step aside, this is not a small matter! I have brought my lawyers! The prize is reportedly worth many millions. As with all human endeavours, greed is always a big factor.
So who went to Harrismith this year? Which faction? I don’t know . . we’d have to ask an insider. I just hope they didn’t ascend the mountain. Fragile Platberg does not need 6000 humans on it.
Durban ca 1980 – I’ve been sent here by the army; I know very little about this Last Outpost of the British Empire, but my friend, fellow Free Stater Steve Reed, has been here almost a year so he knows everything. And he knows some girls.
The papers announced that some comet was due to approach Earth and – we extrapolated – threaten our way of life, our partying, our poison of choice – and perhaps even kill us. Or annoy us anyway.
We determined to protect ourselves and our favourite planet from this unwelcome alien intruder. Steve hired a beach cottage at Blythedale Beach on the Natal north coast and, as I know a lot more about warding off comets than I do about girls, I was happy to tag along with Stefaans and a bunch of his female friends and admirers. Supplied with adequate stocks of various powerful potions and elixirs to be taken internally we sallied forth. We also bought tinfoil.
In the self-catering kitchen we found plenty with which to arm and armour ourselves: Colanders, coriander, and pots and pans made good headgear. Braai forks, spatulas, braai tongs and wooden spoons made anti-galactic weapons. We warmed up our IQ’s by imbibing aplenty and so started a rip-roaring single-handed – the other hand was holding cheap and blithe spirits – Defend the Planet Party; which same ended successfully in the wee hours on the beach when a mysterious pale light appeared on the eastern horizon, over the sparkling Indian Ocean.
Was it perhaps Comet Aarseth-Brewington? Well, if it was, we made it saweth its arseth by our brewing and distillington.
Actually, it was more likely Comet Tuttle. There it is, below! It came back in 2007 but it knew better than to approach too close:
Only after recovering from my hangover did I realise another of the planned missions had once again been a complete failure: Snaring any girls. As so often, the booze had won and I’d dipped out. And they were kif . .
Harrismith is still a lekker dorp thanks to some hard-drinking maniacs that hang out there, bitter-einders clinging to life behind the boerewors curtain.
See this report – reproduced below – of a highly important, highly competitive Boer War re-enactment golf – or moer-en-soek – tournament last year.
of the Boers
Majesty The Queen
dearest and beloved Queen,
the marriage of Prince Harry to Ms Megan Markle, I wish to convey
further good news to you, and to the rest of your Royal family.
your military attaché in Africa, it gives me great pleasure to
advise that the Boers have been conquered at the battle of
Harrismith which took place on the 2nd & 3rd June 2018. The
white flag of surrender was raised by General Hamman, at 13h00 on
this historical day for your universal British Empire.
my lengthy military career I have never witnessed a display of such
loyalty and courage, as shown by your troops in this bloody battle.
Your forces received only a few minor scratches and bruises, while
the Boer field hospital has called for additional nursing staff,
surgeons and even psychiatrists to treat their mentally scarred
soldiers. There were no fatalities.
Majesty will also be most pleased to hear that during the cease-fire
period, as declared by Chief Justice Lord George Galloway, the
British and Boer troops were treated to an elaborate Royal Banquet.
At this very grand occasion, the soldiers from both sides mingled
and socialized well. In some cases, too well! This developing
inter-continental relationship seems to be getting stronger, despite
the humiliating defeat dealt out to the Boers.
a personal note, please pass on my fondest greetings to my old friend
Prince Phillip. I trust he is enjoying his retirement.
await your instructions regarding any further military operations
loyal Military Attaché,
Field Marshall Mark Russell VC
After the 2017 tournament Field Marshall Russell VC’s report to Her Majesty, Mev Queen had been far more tragic . . . and despondent.
lekker – romantic
bitter-einders – to the bitter end; lager, ale, bitters
boerewors – sausage; and like laws, you may not want to know how it’s made – based on a quote by: John Godfrey Saxe American poet
moer-en-soek – golf as prescribed by the Royal and Ancient, which only frowned on women membership for the first 260 years, kindly allowing them in after that cooling-down period
boere musiek – noise emitted by farm implements called ‘constant screamers’ and ‘pull pianos’
volkspele – dance in which you can grip your meisie in a dominee-approved manner
I was reading about Andrew Geddes Bain, geologist, road engineer, palaeontologist and explorer in the Cape up to 1864, and his son Thomas Charles Bain, road engineer in the Cape up to 1888, when it suddenly struck me!
First, let’s see what these two very capable men achieved: Andrew Geddes Bain built eight mountain passes, including the famous Bain’s Kloof Pass, which opened up the route to the interior from Cape Town. And he had thirteen children. His son Thomas Charles Bain built nineteen passes! His crowning glory was the Swartberg Pass that connects Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo with Prince Albert beyond the Swartberg mountains in the open plains of the Great Karoo. And he had thirteen children.
And I suddenly knew exactly what happened when my Great-Grandfather Stewart Bain and his brother James Bain got off the ship in Durban in 1880. They were fishermen from the tiny fishing village of Wick, in the far north-eastern corner of Scotland, used to being ‘knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse.’
People in Durban asked them: ‘Bain? Are you the famous Bain road builders? We need road builders here. Can you build bridges too?’
And I know just what the brothers Bain said. ‘Roads? Och aye, we can build roads. And bridges? We can build them with one hand tied behind our back.’ The old ‘funny you should mention that! I happen to very good at it . . . ‘
And so they built the railway bridges between Ladysmith and Harrismith, learning as they went, ‘upskilling’, – thus goes this theory of mine – and therefore helping the railroad reach that wonderful picturesque town in the shadow of Platberg. This made them enough money to buy or build a hotel each, marry, have children – only seven and eight apiece, though – and become leading citizens of their adopted dorp in Die Oranje Vrijstaat Republiek.
Then: One of the seven had two children; and One of those had me! And here I am.
edit: I wrote nine kids in the pic, but I think it was worse – only seven.
Think I’m being unkind to Wick, village of my ancestors? Read what Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about it to his mother when he stayed there in 1868:
‘Certainly Wick in itself possesses no beauty: bare, grey shores, grim grey houses, grim grey sea; not even the gleam of red tiles; not even the greenness of a tree. The southerly heights, when I came here, were black with people, fishers waiting on wind and night. Now all the boats have beaten out of the bay, and the Wick men stay indoors or wrangle on the quays with dissatisfied fish-curers, knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse. The day when the boats put out to go home to the Hebrides, the girl here told me there was ‘a black wind’; and on going out, I found the epithet as justifiable as it was picturesque. A cold, BLACK southerly wind, with occasional rising showers of rain; it was a fine sight to see the boats beat out a-teeth of it. In Wick I have never heard any one greet his neighbour with the usual ‘Fine day’ or ‘Good morning.’ Both come shaking their heads, and both say, ‘Breezy, breezy!’ And such is the atrocious quality of the climate, that the remark is almost invariably justified by the fact. The streets are full of the Highland fishers, lubberly, stupid, inconceivably lazy and heavy to move. You bruise against them, tumble over them, elbow them against the wall — all to no purpose; they will not budge; and you are forced to leave the pavement every step.’
Now read a sterling and spirited defence of our ancestral dorp by Janis Paterson – a distant cousin, and also a descendant of the Bains of Wick; who read my post and reached for her quill (I have paraphrased somewhat):
Ya boo sucks to RLS! Robert Louis Stevenson, was a sickly child. His father and his uncles were engineers who built lighthouses all over Scotland. Robert was sent to Wick, likely to get involved in building a breakwater there with his Uncle. But he was more interested in writing stories and was just not cut out for this sort of work. I believe he was also ill while in Wick. The first attempt at building the breakwater was washed away during a storm and also the second attempt. The work was then abandoned. I therefore propose that Robert just didn’t want to be in Wick, was ill, fed up with the weather and just wanted to get away to concentrate on his writing. The Stevenson family must have been excellent engineers, as all the lighthouses are still standing. Did Robert also feel that he was a failure as an apprentice engineer?
Stick it to him, Janis! How dare he call Wick fishy? Or smelly!? Or breezy!? Even if it was!
Janis adds ‘Read this book review:’ ‘ . . .fourteen lighthouses dotting the Scottish coast were all built by the same Stevenson family that produced Robert Louis Stevenson, Scotland’s most famous novelist. Who, unlike the rest of his strong-willed, determined family, was certainly not up to the astonishing rigours of lighthouse building.’
Janis was right! 😉 All HE could do was scribble – like me . .
Dad was a Post Office technician. He applied for ___ which was more technical, but was given electrician. He did his apprenticeship ca.1938 and was soon put on telephones for some reason, given a truck and sent off to Ixopo where he was assigned a “line boy.” Actually an adult to do lots of the hard work for you. His line boy’s name in Ixopo was Charlie.
Himeville fell within his area and he got to know the lady in charge of the General Post Office there – Miss Viven Wise. Miss Viven D Wise, actually, which got the young techies snorting as “VD” was rude. She spoke of the Sani Pass up into Basutoland and how beautiful and rugged it was, so when out that way one day Dad decided to see if he could get there. He soon came across a stream he had to ford, so out jumped Charlie to pack stones in the stream so the truck could get across. Soon another stream and the same procedure. After the fourth stream he decided this is going to take too long and turned back.
He also tells of putting in new telephone lines. From one farm to the next the line would go as the crow flies, over hills and through valleys. They’d be allocated long gum poles treated with creosote and they’d take them as close as they could in the truck, but to some places they had to be carried on their shoulders. Heavy and the creosote burning their shoulders, they’d lug them over the veld, dig the holes and plant them.
I’m guessing Charlie did more than his fair share?