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1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

Veld and Vlei

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.

– Veld & Vlei leadership course July 1972 at Greystone near Estcourt – middle left – Wagendrift dam on the upper middle right –

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!

– cosy comfy luxury tents –

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!

..

– that wall –

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 were on the plateau on the right of this near valley –

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.

– chain ladder –

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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!’ (Mom did send it and thanks to Harriet vdMerwe she put sweets and dried fruit inside!). 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!

– my favourite, long-term frame rucksack – here seen on Sheila’s back –

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.’

– everybody 1972 winter course at Greystones – I’m sitting on the ground third from left – on either side were good mates – I think that’s Nev Slade second from left –

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 . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

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:

– letter from henchman Nev Slade, quartermaster, Uys Patrol! Veld & Vlei, winter 1972 –

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

~~~oo0oo~~~

Ah, a mystery solved: We did NOT get completion certificates.

Veld & Vlei after-letter

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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?”

~~~oo0oo~~~

– meningitis tablets –
– Uys Patrol preparations for hike –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

Just Call Me Wally

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

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”.

Wally Hayward 88

89km in 9hrs 44mins just before his 80th birthday.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.’

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Years later, Dave Simpson met another SA sporting icon:

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

Geronim-Oh-No!!

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 . . .

driel-barrage-close-up
– red: the walk of fear – yellow: the plummet of death –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal travel

A Chrysler Maritzburger Deluxe

I wasn’t there. It really felt like I was there, and I wanted to be there so bad, but I wasn’t. All I know is the Arabs decided to reduce the availability of their oil, thus raising the price of petrol and reducing the speed limit to 80km/h. Petrol stations closed at night and we were forbidden to carry extra fuel. Also that Tabs decided around then to buy a 1947 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe. A maroon one. In a syndicate with his cousin Des.

I also found out that Tabs and Des set off for the sleepy hollow city of Pietermaritzburg with a few jerry cans full of contraband fuel in the capacious boot of their ‘new’ 1947 maroon Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe to attend the Natal Teachers College Ball. Probably at more than 80km/h.

I also know that when the cops pulled them over late one night Des was driving clad only in his underpants – had they been for a swim in the Epworth Girls School pool? – and there were lots of ladies on the capacious sofa-like back seat who suddenly found Des sitting on their laps in those same capacious underpants saying ‘Why,  I doubt I even know how to drive such a vehicle, officer.’ The cops apparently very rudely said he was anyway way too drunk to have driven and threw them all in the back of the Black Maria.

Black Maria

When it was time to drive off they asked whose vehicle the maroon Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe was. Everyone pointed at Des; so he was hauled out and made to drive the big beast to the cop shop.

I also heard that when in the custody of the gendarmes in the back of their police van, those same innocent young ladies let the air out of the cops’ spare wheel.

But as I say, I don’t really know WHAT happened that night . . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

My friend Charlie Mason remembers something his old man told him years ago:

He was too drunk to sing; So we made him drive.’

~~~oo0oo~~~