Reassuring Words – and Famous Patients

In 1980 the army relieved me of my post as adjutant for the Natal Medical Corps and sent me to work for the provincial ophthalmology department in Durban run by the Nelson R Mandela school of medicine based at King Edward Hospital. This meant I worked at the three racially-segregated hospitals.

King Edward VIII in Umbilo (for the healthily pigmented):

RK Khan Hospital  in Chatsworth (medium pigmentally blessed):

Addington on the beachfront (pale, pigmentally deficient):

At KE VIII we had our own building, at RK Khan and Addington we shared. Addington OPDB (Out Patients Department B) was for legs and eyes. My mate Bob Ilsley in orthopaedics would say “I’ll get them to walk straight, you get them to see straight”.

Resident ophthalmologist Pat Bean was a character. Surfer dude at heart. And heart of gold. “You got cat tracks, mummy”, he’d say at RK Khan. “Cat tracks. Terrible things those cat tracks. Must give you ‘PRATION. Not sore ‘pration. Over one time, you go home next day no pain see nicely” he would reassure.

(‘cataracts’ – ‘operation’)


The nurse in charge of the clinic most days at KE VIII was Staff Nurse Anita Lekalakala, another character of note. One day she picked up a card for me, glanced at the name, grinned and called out loudly to the packed waiting room:

Miss Grace Kelly! Calling Princess Grace Kelly!

And in shuffled old Mrs Grace Cele, leaning on her walking stick.


(36yrs later Anita still comes to me for her glasses)

It Was Like a Military Operation

Bouncing around on the back of a Bedford we would roar to a halt in the veld. Well, really the mixed thornveld woodland somewhere near Pretoria, which should properly be called Tshwane, ancestral home of the Tshwanepoels to which we have land claim rights. But that’s another (important) story.

Seeking the shelter of trees so as not to be too visible to the enemy, we would leap eagerly to the ground, pitch our big tents and carry in the stretchers, placing them in neat rows one left and one right. Then up would go the drip stands, each with a drip hanging down. Sundry balsaks and trommels would be lined up and unpacked and in no time we’d be ready to receive the wounded who had been drilled by the kommuniste nearby, us being an advance field hospital. Like this:

field hospital

Well. In theory.

In reality the only thing that happened with any sense of urgency was the roaring to a halt by the Bedfords in a cloud of dust. After that there would be consultation and various opinions about whether to line the tents up like this (maybe east-west) or like this (maybe west-east). And how could we put it here? Look at this big stump in the ground here. The neat rows would be more haphazard and boiling water for tea would be accomplished before any drip stands were placed. It was like a military operation.

Which is not like this:

Army marching.jpg

It’s way more like this:


The most organised of the troops was Rhynie. From Durban, natch. As the lorry stopped he would step off with his blanket over his shoulder and his paperback in his hand and immediately stroll off till just out of sight but still well within earshot for a ballasbak. As the Bedfords started up again after we had struck camp and packed up he would reappear in time to clamber on, miffed that us workers hadn’t kept him any tea. Everyone loved ole Rhynie so you couldn’t resent and only admired his gippo‘ing.

ballasbak – ball-baking (lying back in the sun, basking with your crotch exposed to the warm rays. The sunglass fella is doing it well. In the barracks you’d usually be leaning against a wall, hidden from the corporal’s sight. On a camp the corporal might be next to you, doing it better than you)

gippo‘ing – wisely dodging what you were meant to be doing. The opposite of volunteering (Likely from the Egypt campaign in WW2?)


High Speed Tug – or Stress in the Army

 1979 and the army. Hurry up and wait. Ballasbak. Zero stress.

Except for this one time:
My 2-tone 1965 Opel Rekord 4-door column-shift sedan (in sophisticated shades of grey: dark grey body, pale grey roof, grey upholstery) got indisposed while parked under the bluegum trees outside the camp at Medics, Roberts Heights (Voortrekkerhoogte, Thaba Tshwane). She wouldn’t start.


This was serious! We had a weekend pass and there was a party on in the City of Sin & Laughter (aka Harrismith).

Not a problem, KO __ (we were all KO’s: candidate officers) offered to tow me to Harrismith behind his V6 Cortina or Datsun bakkie. A short piece of nylon rope was found and we set off.  I immediately thought Uh Oh!! as we hared off, accelerating furiously. Soon we reached what felt like 100 miles an hour. Slow down! I screamed silently. We hadn’t arranged any signals or communication, so I simply gripped the steering wheel and concentrated. (If cellphones had been invented I’d have sms’d him: WTF RU MAD?)

I sat tensely, staring at the rear of the bakkie a mere 6ft from my bonnet (couldn’t even see the towrope!) as we roared along. We’re going East so fast we hasten the setting of the sun.

Then it started to rain! Then twilight fell. Then it got dark, with the rain falling ever heavier as my wipers feebly swished back and forth. With the motor not turning (thus no alternator) the battery got flatter and flatter and the wipers got slower and slower. Blowing the hooter and flashing my lights just made things worse. Upfront in the bakkie the music was so loud and the chit-chat so intense they didn’t even notice us (or pretended not to?). So there was nothing for it but to hang in there for hours. Worst journey of my life. My chin got closer and closer to the windscreen and my knuckles got whiter. Still the KO kept the bakkie floored! He had to get to Durbs where a girlfriend was waiting. My neck was tense and I don’t think I blinked once, staring at the top edge of the bakkie tailgate. My right thigh ached as it poised ready to brake – delicately! – at any moment.

An eternity later we pulled up in Harrismith, unhitched the towrope and off he went, on to Durban. Hey, thanks!, I said. Appreciate it!

Fu-u -uu-uck-uck!!!!!!! I have NEVER felt such relief.

Graham Chrich sent me this video. Reminds me of that trip:


Loopspruit Army Basics

So there we were ensconced on a farm outside Potch among rockspider 17yr olds from all over SA. We heard it had been a reform school for delinquents. “Loopspruit” or “Klipdrif” they called it. Presumably another nearby stream was called Staanspruit? We’d been sent there for “army basics”.

One young dutchman was big as an ox, quiet as a mouse. He sat listening to us 24yr-old oumanne praating Engels in fascination. In many pockets of the old ‘bilingual’ South Africa you could grow up hearing very little Engels.

Suddenly one day our man became famous! He burst into song, singing three lines:
“Are you lonesome tonight? Are your brastrap too tight? That’s why you’re lonesome tonight!

He sounded unlike Elvis:

We hosed ourselves and gave him a new name: Jelly Tots. He didn’t really like it, but his name was Lotzoff, and we would see him and say – “Lots and Lotzoff – JELLY TOTS!” He taught us a new phrase too – When frustrated he didn’t say “fuck’s sake”, he said “fuck’s fakes” so that became our phrase too.

Another was as small as Lotzoff was big. He looked 12yrs old and was a compact, muscular, good looking, perky, cute lil bugger. He had a smattering of  English and preferred to  use it. Some of the others refused to even try! Stoere Boere.
His name? GT Jones! Pointless giving someone with so apt and memorable a name a nickname. We were in the medics and we had to know all about ambulances, which he called “ambuminces”.

So was born a new name for one of the meals in the mess. On ground beef days we would refer to the stuff plopped onto our plates by the bored chefs as ambumince  – which led in turn, naturally, to gruesome speculation on its origin!

Among the older, optometrist inmates:
Graham Lewis – A companion worth his weight in gold. Never fazed, always cheerful. Keenly aware of the hilarity of this fake existence we were leading. He’d been assigned to D Company. We were in A and we were chuffed when he got transferred to our (better) company. We were good company and so was he!

Basics was, uh, basic. Get up in the morning, bugger around with your clothes and other domestic stuff like making your bed; Assemble in straight stripes; March; March; Trudge; Omkeer!;

The climax:

Dave Cooper was another worth his weight in gold. Always smiling, always upbeat. Later on our officers’ course he would discuss the weirdness of developing sexual thoughts and desire for daardie luitenant in her tight browns. He was articulating what we all were thinking. Wouldn’t give her a second thought outside this place, he’d say, but sure would give her a second go right now! And a third. Afterwards Dave went to Texas and became Dhavid Cooper. He played the guitar and sang beautifully. His unquenchable optimism led him to get us to join him in song, eventually leading to a KO Konsert where we sang to the appreciative masses in uniform! Songs we sang:  ” ??? (someone will remember – we were good! Amazing no talent scouts came looking).

Les Davies played the piano. Wide smile!

Les Chrich. Shyer smile. Interested and interesting. Always had a serious girlfriend and was pretty much focussed on her. Married her after the ‘war ended’ I think. Not for long, though. Joined me in Durban after basics and officers’ course. In perverse army style all the Durban guys who had pleaded to the point of irritation to be sent to Durban for a host of desperately ‘good reasons’ had been sent to ‘the border’ – the Namibian/Angolan border, where I had applied to go! Les and I – from up-country – were sent to Durban!


Loopspruit – walking creek; running stream;

Staanspruit – standing creek;

Kilpdrif – stony shallow river crossing;

daardie luitenant – female officer who was neither ancient nor obese – thus highly desirable in our dearth-of-ladies circumstances;

KO Konsert – Concert given by us candidate officers to a captive audience;

A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955 as was Mom Mary in 1928 and Gran Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk.

To balance that, there’s this side of the family.

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 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980. Stayed in Durban and got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! These random personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know: With one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt.

P Addled Brains

That Pretoria restaurant probably spiked our drinks with omega fish oil because when they finally asked us to leave we were brilliant.
We wisely allowed Terry to drive my white Ford Cortina 2-litre deluxe GL while Pierre and Old Pete and I gave directions, instructions, comments, witticisms and dropped pearls of wisdom.
‘Twas a balmy night and the breeze was slight. The canoe on the roofrack seemed to Brauer to be a better bet for catching that breeze, so he nimbly hopped out of the window and sat in the cockpit of my Dusi boat. A white Limfy with red deck it was. I was on an army camp and brought the boat to get some time off as I was “training for Dusi” on Roodeplaat dam.

First Duzi. Dad seconds in my Cortina 2,0l GL

Terry thought ‘Uh! Oh! HKK’* and pressed on the accelerator to get us home quicker, which meant the breeze inside the car was now adequate. With Brauer’s departure the average IQ in the car had also risen appreciably.
Outside meantime, Brauer started undoing the paddle possibly thinking he could speed up matters if he also paddled through the air. My warnings that the rope tying the paddle on was also the rope holding the boat on just spurred him to loosen it more. You know how he is.
Which caused Terry to press harder on the accelerator thinking if I go really fast maybe the cops won’t notice there’s a carbuncle on my roof and now we were FLYING! This was not good . . .
Brauer’s ass was saved by a red light where we managed to haul him down and explain gravity, wind resistance, speed, impact, abrasions, contusions and broken bones to him.

He did seem to understand, as he poured some stiff drinks when we got home to the Gramadoelas in Tshwane (ancestral home of the original Tshwanepoels – to which we have land claim rights, but that’s a story for another barmy evening).

*HKK = Hier Kom Kak = Here Comes Trouble

Army Daze & The Sangoma

When I was called up to the army in 1979 my friend Tabs Fyvie offered to deliver me to the (not so pearly) gates of Voortrekkerhoogte (or as Barks always insisted: Roberts’ Heights. Now thankfully at last it has a non-bullshit name: Thaba Tshwane!!).

Off we went to Pretoria and sought out a pub (kroeg, really – we were on the Central Gevangenis side of downtown Pretoria) for a final drink before disappearing into uniform.
Many drinks later the 5pm deadline was approaching. Walking to the car we passed a sangoma’s emporium with enticing offers and claims written crudely on the window.

Turning in we were met by the great consultant himself. Tabs explained he would like to get rid of his paunch, and the man indicated this was a very minor thing which he could do with one hand tied behind his back. We were not sharp enough at that particular juncture to enquire how come he didn’t use it on himself  (y’know: “Physician, Heal Thyself “).

He reached for a metal rasp, took down a piece of bark from the many shelves behind him piled with bark, skins, leaves, string, dead animals, bottles of various sizes, seeds, skulls and who knows what else and grated off a pile of sawdust onto a newspaper, folded it up and said “Twenty bucks”.

Shit! Twenty Ront! In 1979!! We were both pickled and we hadn’t spent that much on beer! Still, Tabs coughed up and the great man asked me my pleasure.

“I want to get out of going to the army”, I said, “Two years is too long, I’d rather dodge it altogether”. “Not a problem” he said, and “That is easy” he said. He whipped around, reached for the same metal rasp, took down the same piece of bark, grated the same amount into the next page of the same newspaper, folded it up and said – you guessed: “Twenty bucks”.

We paid him quite solemnly, not wanting to damage or weaken the muti with any faint tinges of doubt and repaired to a nearby dive for two more beers to wash down the potion. It was vile, bitter and powder-dry, but we managed, one pinch at a time.

Well, it worked for me: Days later* I emerged from the army a free man – just like the man said.

* OK, 730 days later.

Tabs, I’m sorry to say, on the other hand, still had his little paunch. Maybe the Sangoma had specialised in psychiatry rather than physiology? **

** Decades later Tabbo DID lose his paunch. He credits it to Tim Noakes’ eating plan, but I can’t help wondering . . . .


On 2012/11/04, Peter Brauer wrote:

Clearly he mistakenly gave you the “slow release” version and probly just underestimated the dosage required for Tabs.

I replied: Or maybe it’s because we were “double blind”?


Here’s the gumtree ad that reminded me of it: