‘We think it’s him, but we haven’t been able to catch him. He must distribute the leaflets in the absolute dead of night, probly just pre-dawn. They’re scurrilous. Well, we’ll see if they end when you move in.’
Owners in the shareblock building were gossiping about the mystery vendetta that had been waged for a long time in the block. Someone pecked away on an old typewriter, telling tales (and truths?) about other residents and criticising what the managing committee did and didn’t do for the building. They suspected their mystery person was the owner I had just bought from, and they were looking forward to his leaving to stay far away in the little dorp of Richmond out in the sticks.
My first own home! A spacious, high-ceilinged one (‘and a half’) bedroom flat in a good-looking ‘Art Deco’ building in Marriot Road one block up from Cowey Road.
On the day I moved in I was ambushed by a gang of Kingfisher Canoe Club mates who had spread the word ‘Party at Swanie’s New Place Tonight!’ The electricity wasn’t yet connected, but no problem to these hooligans: They dangled an extension cord out the window and politely asked the elderly couple below me to please plug it in. Bless ’em they did, and hats off to them they withstood the temptation to switch off as the noise lasted long into the night! There was some excess (did I mention they were canoeists!?) and tales – exaggerated surely? – were told of vomit streaming down the steps.
Once I settled in and my fellow occupants realised I was obviously the innocent party in the opening night cacophony (ahem!), I was told more about the strange old geezer I’d bought from. And I was told of a mysterious campaign of leaflets surreptitiously distributed, pointing out people’s faults and complaining of things not done, etc. in harsh language. They suspected it was him, but were never able to prove it. Soon I was able to solve the mystery: A secret compartment in the lounge cupboard revealed copies of his printed leaflets – the vendetta stash!
I bought ca.1984 for R45 000. Sold ca.1992 for R90 000. I saw it offered for sale recently (2021) for R967 000. That’s where I found these pics – someone has opened up the small kitchen so now the lounge and kitchen are all one big room. It looks great.
We drove off the dirt road and onto a green hill, stopped the light blue Holden station wagon and walked up to the top of the low hill which ended in a steep cliff overlooking Natal down below. About 30m below us (I’d guess) was a nest, just as Robbie Sharratt had told Dad there would be, and on the nest was an eagle chick.
The main reason the ole man had taken his dearly beloved son on an outing was his new Canon FT QL SLR camera with a 200mm telephoto lens. It needed a subject, and there was the Black Eagle chick right there in the hot sun. Aquila verreauxii, now called Verreaux’s Eagle.
The way I recall it, we got pics of the nest and the chick, and a parent landed on or near the nest while we waited, but I could be imagining that part. Wonder where those pics are? I’d guess this was ca.1965 when I was ten years old.
After a long gap from paddling I decided to relaunch my river paddling career, striking fear into the heart of all contenders.
I would need a boat. Being a cheapskate I searched far and wide, high and low and I found one far and low. In PMB dorp. A certain gentleman in fibreglass, Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw had one for sale at a bargain price. His glowing description of the craft made me know this was the boat with which to relaunch – OK, launch – my competitive career in river paddling.
At Hugh’s place he showed me the boat and it did indeed look pristine. I went to pick it up and load it on my kombi’s roofrack, but Hugh held me back with a firm, ‘NO. Let me have that done for you!’ Customer service, I thought. User-friendly. So I watched as he got his two biggest workers to load the boat for me, which they did with ease. Big, strapping lads.
On the way back to Durban the kombi seemed to be struggling. I had to gear down on the hills, never had that before. Strong headwind, I thought.
The boat stayed there till Thursday, the big day. The first day of my relaunched paddling life. The dice on the Umgeni river outside my Club, Kingfisher. And then I understood. Getting the boat down off my roofrack took a Herculean effort. When I plopped it into the water the Umgeni rose two inches.
I can say this: Rands-per-Kg – pound-for-pound – I got the best bargain from Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw of that century.
While I was contemplating thus, and thinking I’m loving being back on the water, what kept me away so long, Ernie yelled at me through his megaphone and the water exploded around me. What the hell!? All these fools around me suddenly went berserk, water was flying everywhere. It took a few minutes before calm returned and I was sitting bobbing on the disturbed surface. This tranquility was again ruined by Ernie yelling through that same damned megaphone: ‘Swanie what are you waiting for!?’
Jeesh! I headed off after the flotilla disappearing in the distance and after twenty or thirty strokes it suddenly came to back to me in a blinding flash of realisation: I knew why I had stopped paddling. It’s damned hard work.
Here’s a re-post – I’m running out of things to say as the era of this blog recedes ever-further into the mists of time – and the misseds of my time. This blog’s era ends around about when I met Aitch – 1985-eish. Post-aitch, marriage, kids and other catastrophes, and current stuff are over at bewilderbeast.org
In 1969 a bunch of us were taken to Durban to watch a rugby test match – Springboks against the Australian Wallabies. “Our” Tommy Bedford was captain of the ‘Boks. We didn’t know it, but it was to be one of his last games.
Schoolboy “seats” were flat on your bum on the grass in front of the main stand at Kings Park. Looking around we spotted old Ella Bedford – “Mis Betfit” as her pupils called her – Harrismith’s English-as-second-language teacher. Also: Springbok captain’s Mom! Hence our feeling like special guests! She was up in the stands directly behind us. Sitting next to her was a really spunky blonde so we whistled and hooted and waved until she returned the wave.
Back at school the next week ‘Mis Betfit’ told us how her daughter-in-law had turned to her and said: “Ooh look, those boys are waving at me!” And she replied (and some of you will hear her tone of voice in your mind’s ear): “No they’re not! They’re my boys. They’re waving at me!”
We just smiled, thinking ‘So, Mis Betfit isn’t always right’. Here’s Jane. We did NOT mistake her for Mis Betfit.
“corrections of corrections of corrections”
Mrs Bedford taught English to people not exactly enamoured of the language. Apparently anything you got wrong had to be fixed below your work under the heading “corrections”. Anything you got wrong in your corrections had to be fixed under the heading “corrections of corrections”. Mistakes in those would be “corrections of corrections of corrections”. And so on, ad infinitum! She never gave up. You WOULD get it all right eventually!
Stop Press! Today I saw an actual bona-fide example of this! Schoolmate Gerda van Schalkwyk has kept this for nigh-on fifty years!
Tommy’s last game for the Boks came in 1971 against the French – again in Durban.
Two or three years later:
In matric the rugby season started and I suddenly thought: Why’m I playing rugby? I’m playing because people think I have to play rugby! I don’t.
So I didn’t.
It caused a mild little stir, especially for ou Vis, mnr Alberts in the primary school. He came up from the laerskool specially to politely voice his dismay. Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! he protested. That was optimistic. I had played some good rugby when I shot up and became the tallest in the team, not because of any real talent for the game – as I went on to prove.
ou Vis – nickname meaning old fish – dunno why
Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! – Don’t give up rugby. You should become our ‘second Tommy Bedford’ – Not.
Meantime Jane Bedford has become famous in her own right in the African art world and Durban colonial circles, and sister Sheila and Jane have become good friends.
Also meanwhile, our sterling Mrs Bedford’s very famous brother – one of twelve siblings – Lourens vd Post, turned out to be a real cad a fraud, an adulterer and a downright liar. Fooled Prince Charlie, but then, that’s hardly a difficult achievement. The vegetables he talks to probably tell him fibs.
I didn’t ever meet the famous old sub-species bird man*, but for a while he lived next door to me in Marriott Road. I was in Whittington Court, he was in Eden Gardens; I found this out when I spotted a nightjar at my window one night and got very excited; I listened every night and finally heard it – it was the freckled; Now more excited – a Freckled Nightjar in the city! – I was about to announce my discovery when I read Dr Clancey knew all about it – it roosted on his roof next door! The Eden Gardens had a flat roof and it was covered in stones or gravel. Good spot for a Freckled to conceal itself by day.
So after I found info on the bird; and after Aitch and I had prowled around the gardens of his hotel at night and found our first Bush Squeaker frog one rainy night (Arthroleptis wahlbergi), I went looking for info on the man (usual warning here: This is me, approximate and amateur historian, giving my version of things – look at the references if you need accuracy).
Clancey was director of the Durban Museum and Art Gallery for thirty years until his retirement in 1982. He then continued as a research associate until his death in 2001, aged 83. He was a confirmed bachelor and the most ruthlessly dedicated and hardworking of ornithologists. He wrote a number of books of which The Birds of Natal and Zululand (1964), The Game Birds of South Africa (1967) and The Rare Birds of Southern Africa (1985) are now valuable Africana. Yeah, I hope so! I have two of them. So far my “investment” in bird books has been a damp squib.
As a young man ca.1949 he was a field assistant to the famous British military and ornithological fraud, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, a dodgy, lying, philandering Englishman who faked much of his life and got away with murdering his wife. They once nearly shot each other in a heated disagreement over bustards in Namibia. Guns were drawn before the hired skinner stepped between the protagonists. Sanity prevailed and tempers cooled. On another occasion Clancey fell ill in a remote spot and was abandoned to his fate by Meinertzhagen. Clancey was not given his due by Meinertzhagen in his writings – those who knew Meinertzhagen were not surprised.
In 1950 Clancey moved to South Africa, to Durban as curator of the museum.
Years later, Clancey had a famous professional rivalry with Colonel John Vincent, one time head of the Natal Parks Board and himself an ornithologist of note. One one occasion Vincent had him arrested for collecting without a permit. His shotgun was confiscated. Undeterred, Clancey bought it back at a subsequent auction.
He must have rubbed people up the wrong way! Vincent Parker prominent atlasser and bird survey guru, in his 1999 The Atlas of the Birds of Sul do Save, southern Mozambique, also didn’t give Clancey his due, ignoring many of his records and relegating others to an appendix (‘subject to confirmation’), which ‘in most cases was quite unjustified’ (see the obituary in Ibis by Dowsett, Allan, and McGowan).
Clancey never had much regard for unnecessary luxury, and retired to a small room in a residential hotel – right next door to my Marriott road flat – in Durban. He continued to write papers, named 328 African bird taxa (more than any other contemporary scientist). The majority of his holotypes are in Durban Museum or the National Museum of Zimbabwe. R J Dowsett wrote: ‘I know of over 550 publications on African birds by Phillip Clancey, for most of which he was sole author (and not counting the sub-divisions of his miscellaneous taxonomic notes series).’ Later he increasingly devoted himself to his painting. His style was unmistakable, rich colours, attention to detail, and always the correct ecological background.
Any birder who has spent time in Natal will have seen these birds in just that habitat! Eminently recognisable.
Clancey donated his collection of some 5,500 mainly Western Palaearctic bird-skins to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. He donated his collection over 32,000 bird-skins – a collection considered the finest in Africa – to the Durban Museum and Art Gallery.
And also – unbeknown to him – he was my neighbour.
Look for the honest biography on that fraud Meinertzhagen – there are bulldust hagiographies out there: “The Meinertzhagen Mystery: The Life and Legend of a Colossal Fraud” by Brian Garfield
* sub-species bird man? I think Clancey was that dreaded sub-species of ornithologists called a splitter! He keenly added sub-species to existing species if he felt they were different enough. He found many many birds in new localities, expanded the known range of many, and did find good sub-species. Plus, he found one new full species, the Lemon-Breasted Canary Crithagra citrinipectus in the Maputaland coastal grasslands.
I canoed the Vrystaat Vlaktes thanks to Charles Ryder, who arrived in Harrismith in about 1968 or ’69 I’d guess, to start his electrical business, a rooinek from Natal. He roared into town in a light green Volvo 122S with a long white fibreglass thing on top of it like this:
I asked: What’s that? It’s a canoe What’s a canoe? You do the Dusi in it What’s the Dusi?
Well, Charlie now knew he was deep behind the boerewors curtain! He patiently made me wiser and got me going and I got really excited the more I learned. I decided I just HAD TO do the Dusi. What could be more exciting than paddling your own canoe 120km over three days from Pietermaritzburg to the sparkling blue Indian Ocean at the Blue Lagoon in Durban? Charlie made it sound like the best, most adventurous thing you could possibly think of. He showed me how to paddle (how was I to know at the time he was making me a ‘Left Feather’?) and was so generous with his time. Both in paddling and with Harrismith’s first Boy Scouts troop, which he helped establish.
I started running in the mornings with a gang of friends. Tuffy Joubert, Louis Wessels, Fluffy Crawley, Leon Blignaut, who else? We called ourselves the mossies as we got up at sparrow’s fart. Then I would cycle about two miles to the park in the afternoons and paddle on the flat water of the mighty Vulgar River in Charles’ Limfjorden, or Limfy, canoe, which he had kindly lent me/given to me. It was the fittest I’ve ever been, before or since.
Overnight I would leave it on the bank tethered to a weeping willow down there. One day around Christmas time with only a couple of weeks to go before Dusi I got there and it was missing. I searched high and low, to no avail. So I missed doing the Dusi. Not that I had done anything but train for it – I hadn’t entered, didn’t know where to, didn’t belong to a club, didn’t have a lift to the race, no seconds, nothing!
Still enthused, though, I persuaded my mate Jean Roux to join me in hitch-hiking to the race. We were going to do the Duzi! All except the part where you used a boat.
We got to Pietermaritzburg, and early the next morning to the start in Alexander Park. Milling around among the competitors and their helpers, we watched the start and as the last boats paddled off downstream Alxendra Park started emptying, everyone seemed in a big hurry to leave. We asked Wassup? and someone said, We’re Following Our Paddler! so we bummed a lift with some paddler’s seconds to the overnight stop at Dusi Bridge. We slept under the stars and cadged supper from all those friendly people. They let us continue with them the next day to the second overnight stop at Dip Tank and on the third and last day to the sea, the estuary at Blue Lagoon, following the race along the way.
I continued the search for my missing Limfy after we got back from watching the Dusi and eventually found a bottle floating in the Kakspruit, a little tributary that flows down from Platberg and enters the river downstream of the weir. It had a string attached to it. I pulled that up and slowly raised the boat – now painted black and blue, but clearly identifiable as I had completely rebuilt it after breaking it in half in a rapid in the valley between Swinburne and Harrismith. Come to remember, that’s why Charles gave it to me! I knew every inch of that boat: the kink in the repaired hull, the repaired cockpit, the wooden gunwales, brass screws, shaped wooden cross members, long wooden stringer, shaped wooden uprights from the cross members vertically up to the stringer, the white nylon deck, genkem glue to stick the deck onto the hull before screwing on the gunwales, the brass carrying handles, aluminium rudder and mechanism, steel cables, the lot. In great detail.
Except! I recently (2020) cleared out my garage under lockdown and discovered this: My notes preparing for the Duzi! I was less disorganised than I remember. I may not have DONE, but at least I did do a bit of planning! Check “Phone Mr Pearce” and “Buy canoe?” – uh, maybe not so very well organised!
1976 Duzi – In 1976 I dusted off my old repaired Limfy and entered the race, ready to finally ‘Do the Dusi.’
(BTW: ‘The Duzi’ or ‘Dusi’ is the Duzi Canoe Marathon, a 120km downstream river race from Pietermaritzburg to the sea in Durban, in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Next year should see the 70th annual running of this crazy biathlon, COVID-permitting).
Like I had asked Charlie Ryder about six years earlier, Louis van Reenen, a fellow student in Doornfontein, asked me, ‘What’s that?’ when I said I was going to ‘Do the Dusi,’ so he was ripe for convincing. Or brainwashing? He decided to join me. I was happy, as he had a car! I headed off to Harrismith for the December holidays, leaving him with wise counsel: Buy a boat and paddle in it a bit.’
A month later in January, he arrived in Harrismith in his light blue VW Beetle with a new roofrack and a brand new boat – a red Hai white-water boat with a ‘closed’ (smaller) cockpit. He had bought it from Neville Truran at his Kensington shop, and had paddled it once or twice on Emmerentia Dam. In those days that could sort-of qualify you for Dusi!
We now had to tackle the dilemma we had left unspoken: Two of us, two boats and one car. Who would paddle, who would drive as the ‘second’ or supporter, taking food and kit to the overnight stops? So we tossed a coin. I lost. DAMN!
We headed for Alexandra Park in PMB with the red Hai on the roofrack. A great pity for me, as I had done a lot of canoeing, also in flood-level rivers, and had broken two boats in half and repaired one. But – a coin toss is a coin toss. And it was his car!
For Louis, the coin toss won him a first-ever trip down a river. And what a river! Here’s how two-times Duzi winner Charles Mason described it. I have paraphrased excerpts from his memoirs Bakgat:
Charles: The 1976 Duzi was arguably the fullest level ever. The record 420 starters on the first day on the uMsunduzi River were greeted with a very full river, resulting in many casualties.
I helped Louis get onto the water at Alexandra Park and he was relaxed. Although it was moving, the water looked similar to Emmerentia dam as it was flat, so he should be fine, right?
That night at the first overnight stop at Dusi Bridge, Louis’ eyes were a lot bigger. He told of big water, scary rapids and numerous swims. I had pitched my little orange puptent and made him supper. He slept with his rear end out of the tent, ready to sprint off yet again – the dreaded ‘Dusi Guts’ diarrhoea had got him!
Charles again: That night the Kingfisher marquee was abuzz with speculation regarding the river conditions for the next two days on the much larger Umgeni.Our first day’s paddle on the much smaller and narrower Duzi River had been enjoyable and exhilarating. I remember being told many years before that the word ‘uMsunduzi’ is isiZulu for ‘the one that pushes and travels very fast when in flood.’ It had really been pushing that day.I was relaxing in a corner of the Kingfisher marquee, listening to the excited banter and anxious anticipation of the largely novice competitors in the tent, regarding the prospects for the next day’s paddle. Few of them had experienced such conditions previously.
Blissfully unaware, utter novices Louis and I were in my little orange pup tent nearby.
Charles: Around 9pm race organiser and ‘Duzi Boss’ Ernie Pearce came to see me:- Ernie said: “I have just had a visit from the engineer at Nagle Dam. He came to warn us that they have opened all the sluices of the dam to reduce water levels in preparation for a massive plug of flood water making it’s way down the Umgeni. The river will be in full flood below the dam by tomorrow morning!” Very early the next morning, I went to inspect the river downstream for Ernie and then reported back to anxiously-waiting paddlers and officials: “The Umgeni is pumping – it’s bloody big – and I am wearing a life jacket!” Life jackets were optional in those days and in any event, very few paddlers possessed them. I overheard one paddler remarking, “That’s enough for me.” He left to tie his boat onto his car. A few others followed suit. The second and third days were big and exciting.
Louis van Reenen, Duzi novice, first time ever on a river, carried on bravely. Paddling some, swimming some, and portaging – a lot! A lot of portaging was done by a lot of paddlers to avoid the big water.
New watercourses and new islands opened up:
The weather cleared up enough for the welcome newspaper drop by Frank Smith in his light plane at the second overnight stop at diptank:
Us seconds and supporters were kept busy rescuing cars stuck in the mud, including our own Volksie. We’d all be stopped in a long line; We’d get out, walk to the front, push the front car, push the next car, and so on.
Never-Say-Die Louis got to Durban, to the Blue Lagoon, to the salty water of a high-tide Indian Ocean. Hours before him Graeme Pope-Ellis had equalled the best, winning his fifth Duzi, paddling with Pete Peacock.
That night we slept right there at Blue Lagoon, at the finish. Here’s a satisfied and relieved Louis with his Hai and his paddle, and me at the driver’s door of the pale blue Volksie:
Seven years later I FINALLY got round to doing my first Duzi. Sitting in my boat at Alexandra Park in Pietermaritzburg waiting for the starter’s gun, I thought I saw a familiar face and paddled over. Louis! It IS you! He had come back seven years later to do his second Duzi! Never-say-Die!
That 1983 Duzi was the opposite of his first. A low river, lots of portaging because of NO water, not because of high water!
So I retired from golf. Hung up my plus fours, put my spectacles back on. They’re minus four. Optometrists will understand. The reason I retired was I had reached a pinnacle. I had tired of listening to golfers’ bulldust, cos although I was a golfer, I wasn’t one of the boring tedious kind who play every week and sometimes more often. No, I would play occasionally and then very well. Usually with borrowed clubs and the shoes I was wearing. None of this changing shoes n shit. My forte was the so-called halfway house and the pub afterwards.
After listening for years and decades and it seems centuries to the blah blah from one Brauer about scratch something and then a pearler and it faded, bounced once and rolled onto the green and blah blah I decided something had to be done. He had to be silenced.
I challenged him to a showdown. Winner takes all. Sudden death. Strict rules (listed below for evidence). Being generous and not wanting any arguments or excuses I decided we’d play on his home ground, a course he’d played hundreds, if not thousands of times and knew like the back of his head. San Lameer, aka Dutchman’s Paradise. Often spoken of as a ‘challenging course.’ I used to yawn when they said that, but I’d cover my mouth politely with the back of my hand, which I knew well.
So the day dawns, the first tee looms and the first hole ends. Brauer shot 3 or 4 and I got about fifteen. The second hole Brauer shot 3 or 4 and I carded an improved fourteen. On the third hole Brauer shot 3 or 4 (see what I mean about blah blah boring, right?) and I loomed ominously with a massively sharper eleven. I will confess that we’re not counting the moooligans I got from the hoooligan, and there might have been a few ladies tees, but read the rules.
Come the fourth hole. A short hole. Not really my kind of hole as my vast improvement so far had come about cos of my technique, which was to hit the ball harder, followed by much harder. So I chose one of the skewer implements and wound up, warming up while Brauer very boringly hit a somnolent gentle shot which landed on the smooth area near the flag. He grinned. Fatal mistake. I decided to tee the ball up much higher than usual and take a running attack approach. Unfortunately my foot slipped and I smashed the heavy end of the implement into the ground, knocking out some lawn which hit the ball and sent it off at 45 degrees, but fast. I picked myself off the ground in time to see it hit a tree and head for the same smooth area where Brauer’s ball was smugly and boringly lurking. It crept onto the smooth and stopped. He was very lucky. He almost lost there and then – read the rules.
So we’re both there for one. Legitimately. No free tee shot, no moooligans. Dead square, as though I was a scratch golfer, which I always felt like. Brauer asked me to smash my ball first, making out like he was being a gentleman, but it was my right. It was my turn. Read the other rules. I chose a smaller klap this time with a flatter heavy end and strode determinedly to where my ball was cowering, grinning at me from ear to ear, rubber bands showing. I was on a roll! It is true that I rolled, losing my footing and mishitting my planned shot which ended up in the ball going down the hole at the bottom of the flag pole.
Brauer’s grin faded. His cocky demeanour melted. His windgat attitude shone up. His shoulders drooped. His tension rose. His moustache bristled. Picking myself up and dusting myself off, I grinned. Ha!
Talk about pressure! He started acting like a typical golfer, lining up the ball, walking to the flag, walking to the far opposite side, squatting, standing, all that kak, you know how they are. Finally he stepped up to the ball only to step away again and repeat the 5km walk and pantomime. Then he took a deep breath, stepped up to his ball, bent over looking like an old toppie and paused. Then stepped away again and walked round and round, brushing away imaginary specks of grass, eyeing with one eye, eyeing the another eye. I wondered if he was going to use a third eye when he finally, FINALLY, committed and poked at that ball like a wimp.
So whatta you think? Of course he missed the bladdy hole. He took so long the bladdy ball had probably forgotten how to roll.
Ever the gentleman, I keep my whooping and hollering and Nyah! Nyahs!! to an acceptable level and repaired the divots I made with my pole and shoes and hands when I did flik-flaks and put the flag back with which I had done a loud victory lap shouting Ha HA!! Ha HA!!
I walked straight back to the clubhouse. I had won! He wanted to play on! What for!? End of tournament. Read the rules.
So I retired from golf.
Rules for the Great Face-Off:
Handicaps count. Mine is 36, yours is scratch, I’m being ellen the generous.
If my drive fails to reach the ladies tee, I can have a free repeat, this time from the ladies tee.
Obviously ‘fresh airs’ don’t count! How do you know what I was thinking?
If I win anything, anything at all, I have won the day. If I win longest drive (no matter in which direction), I have won. Closest to the pin (regardless of how I got there), I have won. Ens. Never mind winning an actual hole! Then obviously I have won, I said beforehand. Presciently.
No correspondence will be entered into. No whinging unless I lose.
These rules may be amended on the course if needs be.
Postscript: I could never understand how they could write books on something as simple as golf, which can be described in one sentence; but I am thinking of writing a book on this little joust. I feel it will serve a good purpose in helping people retire from golf.
Donald Coleman was my good mate and older mentor and side-kick in Harrismith up to around 1964. He died in a car crash, alone in the car, around 1975. I have no detail of what exactly happened.
In around 2011 or 2012 I found a letter on the floor of my garage at 10 Elston Place.
It was from “your mate Donald” and consisted of one page. Probably page 2 of a 2-page letter, plus a scrap of envelope addressed to: poel rrismith e Free State
A franked 2½c stamp in good condition is still on the scrap of envelope, but the date part of the franking was missing.
I was gobsmacked! HOW did it get here? I have lived a year in Harrismith after it was written, a year in America, four years in Jo’burg, a year in Potchefstroom, years ‘in the wild’ in Durban as a bachelor, then my first own home for fifteen years and NOW, after being in my second home for six years, a letter falls out onto my very untidy garage floor!
I’d love to know how it happened! I suspected it fell out of the old Cape Colony post office stinkwood desk Dad gave me, as I had moved it to give it back to him before it fell to pieces.
The letter, in neat, flowing cursive writing in blue ink, said (I have copied the line breaks as they were on his page):
This is slightly exaggerated but between points
0 and 1 it is 50 miles and between 1 and 2 it is 13 miles and between
3 and 4 it is 14 miles. Even if you go at 10 m.p.h all the
way you will make it in a day. Well don’t take
too much equipment etc because you’ll shit yourselves
coming. Don’t forget to take hats and plenty of patching
equipment. If something goes wrong and you reach
Bergville or Winterton after dark just ‘phone us our
number is Winterton 2412. Well I hope I’ve got everything down here, any-
way I still hope to run the Mountain Race
with you. I’m going to try harder this year. It’s a pity I won’t be seeing you fellows
because I’ve got some jokes to tell you. From your mate Donald
Not a single correction or spelling mistake (oh, one tiny one changing your to you).
So it seems he had sent a map as well as the (presumed) 1st page of the letter. Obviously we were planning to ride our bikes to Winterton!
I gave the page and the half-envelope to Donald’s mother Jean.
I must ask Dad about the old stinkwood desk. Was it a Harrismith find? From when? That could explain how the letter got in there, I spose. A sudden suspicion: Did my folks open it and not pass it on!? Very unlikely.
UPDATE: I searched the old desk again and found the rest of the envelope! It was franked on 30 March 1971. I was in Std 9, and Donald would have completed his time at Estcourt High School.
I asked the old man. He said he had bought the desk at Cannon and Finlay auctioneers in PMB some time well AFTER 1971. So I suppose the letter was put into a ‘new’ desk. Which raises the unlikely ‘they knew about it but chose not to tell me’ possibility again.
So the mystery remains. Well, I am SO glad I found it anyway. And glad I could share it with Donald’s family.
UPDATE 11 July 2020 – Another find! I found ANOTHER 3-page letter from Donald while clearing out old boxes in the garage, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages!
I was gobsmacked. If you’d asked me if I’d ever received a letter from Donald I would said No, I very much doubt it. Here it is:
I immediately started writing to his little boet Eddie, now in Japan, and while writing it the penny dropped: These three pages are from the same letter. This map is the map he refers to in that “one pager” I found eight or nine years ago.
Now I can rest content! I found a treasured memory from my past from a friend who was really really big in my life for the first nine years of my life and I’m glad to find out we kept in touch later on.
If I had ever got their farm, which Donald christened The Craggs, this would have been the view:
Here’s older boet Donald with sister Anne and lil boet Eddie back when they were in Harrismith; and a pic of four of us in Harrismith:
14 July 2020 – And now another letter DOES pop up: Dated 29 November no year, and the envelope franked 30 November 197_ (probly also 1971 – he gives his address as Eastside Hostel again, but says he’ll be going home soon).
Here he says he hasn’t done any running ‘since the mountain race’ – so that means he came to do the Harrismith Mountain race in 1971? I can’t remember that.
I wrote to Sheila Friday, February 01, 2013 Long ago!! What did Jean (Donald’s Mom) say about the letter? Did she recognise Donald’s handwriting?
She replied: Hi Koos
Jean and Anne loved the letter – I could see they wanted the original, so they made me a copy for you and I left the original with them. They recognised the handwriting immediately – said he always had a very neat writing. He died in 1975 and is buried at their Winterton property – I think Ken is buried next to or near him. Love SS