Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft above sea level! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because it’s there, see.
I had often run the short cross-country course and twice the longer course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.
Here’s some 8mm cine camera footage taken by Dad Pieter Swanepoel of Platberg Bottle Store of the start and finish in front of the Post Office – 1960’s I guess:
The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!
I recently found some old papers which told me I once ran the race in 79 mins and in 85 minutes another year.
We also walked the race for fun a couple times:
The 12km distance was enough. But no, some fools decided that wasn’t long enough! Apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”, so they added three kilometres of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb when I ran with Jon and Dizzi Taylor one year.
Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.
Some history from friend Ettienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:
The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (I once spent a wonderful day with Wally).
It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.
The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare.
During a later visit to the town, Major Belcher (now a schoolteacher in Dundee, Natal) found out that his record still stood so he took it upon himself to donate a trophy to the Harrismith Club to be awarded to the first club member to break his record to the top. In 1929 the Club management, as the organizers of the race, decided to open the race up to the residents of Harrismith and a Mr Swanepoel won the race to the top of the mountain in 32 minutes. (The last record time I have is 22 minutes and 9 seconds – from town to the top of the mountain! Amazingly quick).
The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.
Our friends Steph and JP de Witt’s Mom, Alet de Witt became the first lady to complete the race. She ran in the year her husband, JN ‘Koos’ de Witt died tragically suddenly in January 1967. She then donated a trophy for the winner of the newly allowed (!) women’s category, which was awarded for the first time only in 1986.
Later the apartheid ‘whites-only’ ruling was dropped and as soon as McDermott* stopped winning, the race was won by black athletes, including Harrismith locals; starting with Michael Miya who holds the record for the newer, longer 15km course at 1hr 03mins 08secs.
Sometimes Umzinto would get kinda desperate, and after casting around far and wide would eventually consult telephonically: ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Fraid so. ‘OK, well then if there really is no-one else, ask your mate Swanepoel.’
So Glen Barker would say ‘Pete, can you play for us again this Sunday?’ And I’d always say Sure thing! cos . . LUNCH! The ladies of Umzinto and district and the staff of the Umzinto country club knew how to make lunch, and for a bachelor with buggerall to do that Sunday anyway, whattapleasure.
So I’d borrow white trousers, wear a white work shirt and drive south down the notorious South Coast, full of rokers, weed smokers, fishermen, retired Vaalies and dodgy farmers; and do sterling service for the 100yr-old august olde Umzinto Cricket Club. The usual: I’d get a duck in the morning, drop a few catches in the afternoon and enjoy a very good lunch with a few beers in-between. It was Win-Win-Win all round. Everybody was a winner: Me, the Umzinto team, and the opposition.
FINALLY clearing out some more boxes from the garage. It’s nine years since Trish died, fifteen years since we moved here, and some of the boxes haven’t been opened since even before that.
And I was to find out some haven’t even been opened since LONG before that! Like this one:
This was a bachelor box! That typed letter was the school newsletter – no, the school newspaper! – from 1971. A previous school newspaper ‘Die Kanêrie’ had existed. In our time was it edited by Francois Rope Marais. It died, like all good canaries. In matric Jean Roux, Fluffy Crawley and I – and a few others – decided to revive it, but we wanted a new name. We were in a big Beatles phase, so its new name was Let It Be.
Racy scandal, very much tongue-in-cheek, we were determined to be irreverent. The mielie cob was our emblem, the paper was a member of the ‘mielie groep,’ and although this issue of 19 February 1971 was the first and probably the only issue, we made sure to put “Established 1971” in the banner to give it an air of gravitas. You never knew, maybe it would start a publishing empire? I mean, it would have been celebrating the 50th year of its existence next year had it gone on a few issues.
Memories of the ‘roneo machine’ – you typed on blue wax paper, then you drew your pictures or wrote your headings in freehand with a metal stylus; then you carefully put your precious waxpaper koerant into the roneo machine. The ink ran into all depressions in the wax – hammered by the typewriters and tikmasjiene in Ou Rot se klas, or scratched by hand. We used typewriters for the Engelse stories and tikmasjiene for the Afrikaans stories. Then you turned something manually, and out came copies of what you’d done – reproduced by the magic machine. Any mistakes were permanent. And there were a number! Jean wrote the Pop Music Column ‘On The Knob With Roux.’ He was from a metropolis much larger than Herriesmif – Bloemfindyn, I think? – so more up-to-date with his music.
Someone wrote to the paper – an anonymous Letter To The Editor! It was a whinge. Someone had been applauding too enthusiastically at a debate contest! Gasp! They were applauding and stamping their feet! Instead of only giving contestants ‘their rightful applause!’ There was some question as to the character of someone who would let themselves go like that! Like Victoria, Nik and Nak were not amused. Well! There you go.
One article confidently announced we’d soon go international (it didn’t say that all that meant was we had asked the previous year’s USA exchange student to write to us).
We – the Std 9’s were also announcing a ‘Ritmiese Ete’ at the country club where one would get a full supper and music by the vdLinde Trio – at R2 a head – to raise funds for the Matric Farewell.
Military news of past-pupils was: Sparrow was in the lugmagkoor – and was even chosen as a ‘solios‘ – or so we said. Pierre was off to Bloem as a parabat. Steph was off to Walvis Bay.
A ‘kringleierskamp’ was held on Clawervlei, Casper Badenhorst’s farm, led by ds Venter, ds Smit, Eben Louw and Giel du Toit. ‘Besprekings’ of about an hour were held morning, afternoon and evening. The weekend ended on Sunday with a church service and a group photo.
Evidence of the rooinekkery of this koerant was a report on the dorp’s new Boy Scout troop: We had done swimming badges under the watchful eye of Cyril Nocton at Ralph Morton’s pool. Also a report on the Methodist Guild, who held a braai in which ‘all the members’ arrived dressed as tramps.
Some blerrie Eland – signing himself Phomolong – wrote the athletic day report and crowed about the Kudus winning, them second and us, the Impalas coming our usual third out of three – to which he said foei! Blurry hell! He would eat his words one year later when we, the Impalas, swept the boards! De Wet Ras broke the twenty-year-old pole vault record. At least he was an Impala.
A long report on a debate – the ontgroeningsdebat – is a bit faint to follow easily. Seems the debate decided history should not be a compulsory school subject. Ha! ‘Jammer Mnr Stander,’ said the reporter to the history teacher!
Costa Georgiou and Erika du Plessis were chosen as Mr and Miss Standard Six.
Fluffy Crawley wrote an article on Town Cricket, asking for players to join him in strengthening a sport which had been waning and was now being rebuilt. Forthcoming matches were against Old Scholars (Bethlehem?) and Frankfort. He also gave a report on a drawn match against Bethlehem Defence in which they scored 95; We managed to drag out our innings for two hours, forcing a draw; De Wet scored 25, Fluffy scored 14 and Dave Davies hung in to score 5 and achieve the draw. Our best bowler was De Wet, 6 for 25! Fluffy never gave up on cricket – he remained involved with Free State cricket for decades!
Tuffy Joubert was the swimming reporter, announcing the team going to Mazelspoort. Boys: Leon Blignaut, J Nel, Steve de Villiers and himself; Girls: Sonja du Plessis, Sheila Swanepoel, Jenny de Villiers, Marita Badenhorst, R vd Merwe (? Ilse?), J Eksteen and L Ros(?Lulu Ras?). Sonja duP was chosen for the OFS team and went on to win bronze in the 100m freestyle girls under fourteen at a national gala.
Under the commercial section there was one advertisement: A 15ft fibreglass canoe for sale by one P. Swanepoel. It would have been blue with a red deck.
mielie groep – maize or corn future publishing empire; ‘jou mielie’ was a popular insult at the time; it had . . connotations; hey! sixteen year old testosterone
on the knob – DJ’s twiddled knobs, and . . connotations
koerant – newspaper
tikmasjien – typewriter
Ou Rot se klas – the typing teacher’s nickname was Rat; pointy nose, bristly moustache, dodgy reputation with the ladies
Ritmiese Ete – rhythmic dinner – grub and dance fundraiser
lugmagkoor – airforce choir
kringleierskamp – ringleaders camp
besprekings – discussions
foei! – shame! or ag shame!
ontgroeningsdebat – initiation debate for Std Sixes, just entering high school
Careful readers would have seen a promise for this promising newspaper to go INTERNATIONAL! Well, I’m not sure we even made a second edition, but we DID receive the promised input from afar: from New York. Larry was late, though. Nothing new there. His letter of 22 April would have reached us on 29 April soonest by which time Let It Be might have run out of oxygen. Note the formal address: Die Redakteur, Laat Dit Wees / Let It Be!! I don’t know why he put our name in inverted commas, though? Would he have written “New York Times” – ? I must speak to him!
Once chosen as a Rotary Exchange Student in 1972, I had to get to Durban to get my passport done and – I think – some other paperwork; My big mate Leon Fluffy Crawley hitch-hiked down with me. On the way down – or on the way back – we called in at big sister Barbara where she was staying in the Pietermaritzburg YWCA. We met her friend Lyn there.
That’s about all I remember! Luckily, Fluffy remembers it too!
Other hitch hiking at school was to Witsieshoek with Claudio and Carlos.
The picture is the group of Rotary exchange students chosen in 1972 for 1973. It may have been taken at the airport, about to leave. If so, it was students from all over South Africa, leaving for all over the world. Kneeling next to me is the guy who went jolling with me in New York; Seated next to him is Eve Woodhouse from Durban, who ended up in a village Fort Cobb near mine – Apache – in Oklahoma; Right behind me is Lynn Wade from Vryheid.
This is a rambling post cos it started with an email thread that began with gardens and then moved on to sport – swimming and athletics, and lots of old school pals’ names. The gardens were Mariette van Wyk Greyling’s Cape garden with a pin-tailed whydah at her garden feeder; and mine with KwaZulu Natal meadows rather then lawns.
Subject: Sundry garden pictures – Here’s one showing the bit of lawn and the more of meadow. Plus your pintail added in.
Mariette wrote: Green with envy. My type of garden. You have a stunning pool. And you don’t even swim!
Swim? So The Talk Turned To Sport – and Injury!
Me: I swim like a corobrik. In the warmest weather I dive in, swim to the far end, halfway back, and walk up the steps. Swimming training over. At all times I am able to touch the bottom.
Pierre, Tuffy, Sheila, Ilse, Lulu (and maybe you?) used to go to Mazelspoort outside Bloemfontein for the big Free State gala. Me I was still swimming breadths, not lengths and even then in the shallow end! That’s why I took up canoeing: When there’s water about, I need a boat.
Mariette: Yip I went to Mazels. Second team though. The others were all in the elite team. I always aspired to follow in Sheila’s footsteps. Didn’t get there.
Well, now I’m in hospital – probably for the next week. Shattered my ankle walking the dog. Just want to get out. Gave me the wrong meds last night. My drip came undone and spilled over the bed. The op is only on Friday – provided the horrendous swelling is down.
Me: I just re-read: What? “Op on Friday”!? Ouch! Hope all goes well. As a dedicated coward I will cross fingers and hope you’re well and that I never land up there. Note to self: Walk slower. Especially near bridges or mud.
“Aspired” – that’s so good. I can’t think I ever aspired to anything. It’s so weird. I have always suffered from complete complacent contentment. Weird. A non-planner. At the atletiekdag in Std nine I won something and De Wet Ras came up to me and said “Hey jy! Jy moet ophou wen. Ek wil die beste seunsatleet wen hierdie jaar!”, digging me in the ribs. We laughed and I thought, ‘He’s actually aiming to win it!’ That struck me as unusual. I didn’t think you set out to win things. You just went your hardest and it just either happened or it didn’t. Ridiculous in retrospect. I had won it the year before ‘out of the blue,’ that’s why De Wet was saying ‘hold back!’ And he did, in fact, win it that Std 9 year – 1971.
Mariette: That’s quite something beating De Wet at something sport-related. What was it? Think hard!! Strange that you weren’t competitive. You were good at a few things. Mind you, I wasn’t competitive in sport either. Academically yes. Just wanted to do my own thing sport-wise. But I did want to join Sheila and them in first team swimming. Not for competitive reasons. They simply were a fun crowd.
Even though I was in the first team tennis, there was never much FUN among us lot. Actually got bored with tennis. The car accident gave me a reason to stop without being seen as a drip. Team members I remember were De Wet, Fluffy, you, Scottie or was it Blikkies? Elsie, Ina, I think, me and Noeline? Can’t remember a single fun thing, even when we took bus trips to all those mal rock n rollin’ places. Ha ha. Maybe getting some free koeksisters 🙂
Me: I didn’t beat De Wet – he was an age group older. I just won something and he was kidding that I should stop winning as he was going for the victor ludorum (beste senior seunsatleet) that I had won the previous year in Std 8. Here’s old Ella Bedford handing me that beker that year – 1970. Ann Euthimiou took the picture. When the announcement was made it didn’t register with me. De Wet, sitting next to me, dug his elbow in my ribs: ‘Hey! Dis jy, jong!’ That’s when I mosey’d down for my Ella Fitz-Bedford handshake.
In the inter-regional athletics byeenkoms that year – 1970 – in Senekal we had a blast.
So DeWet won it in 1971. The next year – 1972, our matric – things were different: I just couldn’t lose! I won the 100m, 200m, 400m, 3000m, long jump, high jump (edit: WRONG: Fluffy Crawley won the high jump – I see he also won the paalspring), the discus, the javelin, the U/17 4X100 relay and the U/19 relay. It was ridiculous. I felt like the wind was under my wings and I could always run faster, throw harder, jump further. An amazing feeling. I was really fit, fittest I have ever been. I’d been training to do the Dusi canoe marathon, but that didn’t happen till eleven years later. Sheila found the cutting from the Chronicle that Mom had sent to her mother Annie down in George.
But not quite ‘couldn’t lose’ – in the 800m I thought, ‘better take this one easy, lots of events still to go,’ so when Klein Uiltjie Earle ran off I let him go thinking Ek Sal Jou Vang but he just gaan’d aan and aan and I ended up coming third. Well done Klein Uiltjie! I think Stefan Ferreira came second (edit: WRONG: Stefan passed him; Uiltjie got second). Stefan also got second in high jump and he won the 1500m easily.
In the paalspring – pole vault – teacher Ben Marais said “Ons begin op 2m” and I said Nooit Meneer! Ek kon in die hoogspring net 1,56m spring, hoe gaan ek hoer spring met n paal in my hand? I had never paalspring’d in my life. So I ran at the 2m bar, ducked under it and gave up. Went and rested on the pawiljoen – and tended to blisters on my heels.
That year Gabba Coetzee broke the U/19 shot put record and I broke the U/17 100m record. Mine stood for over 20yrs and I think Gabba’s still stands! I used to see him in Harrismith from time to time and he’d always update me: ‘Die rekords staan nog steeds.’ Then one year he told me ‘Yours was beaten. A new boy came to town who ran like the wind.’ His was still standing.
Tennis – You’re right, that was definitely Scottie Meyer in tennis. I lost most of my singles matches, but Fluffy and I won a few doubles games. Years later I was sent to Addington hospital in Durban by the army and there was Petrie de Villiers from Warden who was a tennis foe and also a team mate when we went to Bloemfontein to play at the Vrystaat whatevers. I got knocked out in the first round by a Symington who went on to win, I think. Petrie would usually beat Fluffy and his twin brother Jossie would always beat me, but Fluffy and I would usually beat the broers in the doubles. Our tennis role models were Ray Moore and Frew MacMillan – especially Ray with his Afro frizz hairstyle. I drew his cartoon image everywhere, even on a white T-shirt!
Interesting times. We drove to Bloem in Bruce Humphries’ little brand-new white Ford Cortina. Dunno where we stayed. In a school koshuis, maybe.
Fluffy tells of another year we went to Bloem to play rugby against Sentraal or JBM Hertzog. Daan Smuts took us in his old VW. The night before the match he took us to a party. Beer! Late at night he dropped us off at an empty skool koshuis to spend the night. There were beds but no bedclothes. We lay shivering in our clothes on the mattresses. Daan was our kinda guy: Lotsa fun, zero organisation! Laid back. Rules = optional.
The swimmers were a fun crowd. They were probly – definitely – the coolest bunch at school over the years. And, of course, also the coldest in those Harrismith temperatures.
Mariette: Jis, you were hot in so many things. I knew you were good at all sorts of stuff, but forgot about your athletics achievements. At that stage athletics didn’t interest me much – probably because I wasn’t good at anything. Tried ‘em all: From shotput (whoever the teacher in charge was said to me ‘nee man, gaan sit op die bank’), ditto with discus and javelin, high jump (too short) and whatever else was going. Fourth or maybe it was fifth in the 100m at some stage was my big achievement. I just enjoyed shouting for the Kudus and listening to Jan van Wyk’s mal quips. Oh, and being a hot drum majorette J.
Ja, old Gabba. What a rock. And what a sad end.
I remember Petrie well. Quite smaaked him, but Elsie won his favour – I didn’t stand a chance. Saw him years later again at varsity – same mischievous face. Strange that the girls all fancied him so much and his twin brother never got a second glance.
Never ones for orthodox, disciplined, organised affairs – or maybe: having grown out of enjoying organised affairs, a small group of us started running in the early mornings. We’d meet and run the short course above the hostel, past the jail and back. We called ourselves Mossies cos we got up at sparrows-fart to run. Tuffy Joubert, Louis Wessels, Fluffy Crawley, myself – who else? We were in Std 9. 1971. It was summer; daylight came early.
We chose a bird name as the organised runners were being coached by a teacher called ou Makou, so they were the Makoue. Muscovy ducks. Their star was Stefan Ferreira.
After a while, a match-up was arranged; a challenge. We were determined to win this showdown: Us vs The Establishment! At the last minute a third team was entered by Dana Moore; he said they hadn’t trained, so were calling themselves the Pikkewyne. Penguins.
The course chosen was new to all: Up, around and down Queens Hill. Only about 3,5km google earth tells me. That was probably a standard distance for school cross-country, as Oosie was in charge. Oosie always made sure things were done right. The maths teacher! White coat, black glasses . . something like this. Oh no, wait, that’s not Oosie: That’s a science lab, so that’s Oscar Boehmer, our science teacher.
The Pikkewyne were given a good head start, and good thing too, as we soon caught them while still on the climb. They were huffing and puffing! The pace seemed way slow so I soon moved to the front and started pushing harder. On the way down I saw Kevin Crawley watching. He must have come back to town on leave as he had finished school. He said, ‘Good going, you’re lying second!’ and that surprised me. I thought I was well ahead. ‘Only Dana’s beating you,’ said Kevin. Ah! Of course! How could I have thought Dana was among the huffers n puffers!? His ‘unfit’ was always better than most people’s fit! I pushed harder down the hill. The finish was now visible ahead. As I got within a few hundred metres another surprise: I caught a glimpse of Stefan Ferreira just behind me over my right shoulder! He stayed a metre back as I pushed again, even harder, nearing the finish. A number of cars had been parked on both sides of the road and the straightest line to the finish was hard against the cars on the right, but that would mean ‘scraping’ Stefan off against them. Dilemma. I moved left to make room for him to also run past them. Well, longish story short: he pipped me at the post! I came second. Damn! Consolation prize was: WE came first. The Mossies won the team competition.
Our next big X-Country day was an inter-school event on the slopes of Platberg. A far more serious course – about ten km and a lot more climbing. It was the route of the famous annual mountain race except for y’know, that actual ‘mountain’ section.
The start and finish was on the tar road outside the high school and the girls hostel.
As we got to the first steep section, where the yellow arrow points, the pace slowed right down. Once again I was impatient. I didn’t want to go ahead, but this was too slow! I went ahead. Soon after we turned down I noticed there was one guy near me, the rest had dropped back. At a barbed wire fence I glanced back as I hopped through and noticed he was barefoot. Ah! I thought, I have a plan for that! I pushed hard and aimed for the donga where the blue arrow points; I knew it well, it was very rocky and uneven. I planned to make a getaway there. I was wearing my asics tigers. I loved those shoes with their thin hard soles and super light tops. When I hit the donga I pinned my ears back and ‘put foot,’ leaping from rock to rock and flying down, leaving my pursuer in my dust.
Or so I hoped. As I emerged from the donga onto the flat veld leading to the country club road he was half a metre behind me. Uh oh! I knew I had a problem. I had run those 800-odd metres as fast as I could go, and – barefoot – he had absorbed the surge. Respect! He stayed just behind me on the gravel road and drew level with me as we turned left onto the tar road. We ran shoulder to shoulder up the gentle incline.
When we first appeared in sight of the finish I heard a disappointed groan from the crowd. They were hoping to see one of our distinctive orange vests. They thus thought the two leaders were not from Harrismith. They didn’t know my rebellious nature had me wearing my own favourite white vest that I’d sewed a Scout badge onto and painted a peace sign on. Then they started recognising me and an encouraging shout went up. ‘Dis Peterrr!’ Once again there was ear pinning and I let rip with everything that I had.
And got left in the barefoot fella’s dust. Second again. To make it worse, he was from Vrede, our main rival dorpie! When I got my breath back I went looking for him to congratulate him. I joked ‘Oy! Couldnt you see I wanted to win in front of my mense?!’ He grunted and scowled and turned away. Oh well. Vrede humour is probably different to this rooinek’s!
Leon Fluffy Crawley wrote: Yep great memories… Lovely piece on your blog.. Confessions… I was part of the early morning run… I was staying in the hostel after Mom Pollie moved down to Ladysmith.. Std 9….that’s where we met at the hostel.. early morning and did a stint before school…. I did not do the races…. You were the athlete… Great athlete… I must have bailed out at some stage… Great to see Kevin’s name there as well. We had a great youth period in Harrismith… I pity not going back there more often after school as Pollie stayed in Ladysmith – which then became my “home town.” I missed a lot of that period of my life in Harrismith!!!! Well keep safe… At least the keys are in the lock waiting for stage 3 – Fluffy
Sister Sheila returned to me letters I had written to her and to Mom and Dad back in 1973:
4 July 1973 – Aerogram to Sheila with apologies for being late for her seventeenth birthday. We had been out in the sticks camping in Canada, north of Lake Superior on her day 26 June, next to ‘one of the most beautiful white-water streams I’ve ever seen.’ Then we had canoe’d and camped in Quetico Park, west of Thunder Bay – caught in pouring rain. Then to the Lake of the Woods, ‘absolutely fantastic, unbelievable.’ Five in a VW Bug, three Oklahoman lasses, an Aussie and I. I rave in the letter about what perfect traveling companions they were and hint – shh – that Dottie is ‘sort of the girlfriend’ – adroit with the lasses as always! Sigh!
The blue aerogram – postage 15c – was written from Dubuque, Iowa, where the Okie lasses and Kneebone the Aussie had dropped me off with my last host family Don and Jackie Lehnertz, who would ferry me back to Apache. ‘Fraid I mostly slept in their car, after the excitement of drinking, camping and jolling with that great first-class team of friends. We did go up the stainless steel arch in St Louis, I remember that. Cramped up in a little cocoon and then a narrow view from 630 feet above the Mississippi. Cost a dollar and I wouldn’t pay a dollar to do it again. ‘Course I was way too polite to say that then.
29 July 1973 – Nine-page letter to whole family. 21c postage. Written in Durango, Colorado where Jim and Katie Patterson had taken me and Dottie Moffett after two weeks in New Mexico. One week with the Manars in a lodge in Red River, The Ponderosa; and then a week in Granma Merrill’s cabin in Pine Valley outside town. The rest of the Apache ‘Bunch’ then arrived en masse – so now we were five couples with five 4X4 jeeps and lots of kids! The Paynes, Hrbaceks and Mindemanns joining to make a party of twenty nine, of which nineteen festively crowded into Granma’s double-story cabin!
We jeeped up steep, rough switchbacks, stopping for beers and bloody marys in the hebcoolers tied to the tailgates, full of ice; we hiked up the Sangre de Christo mountains to 12 682 feet, still the highest I have ever climbed above sea level.
Saw mule deer, a badger, a weasel, squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, rabbits, groundhogs; also many hummingbirds, blue jay, stellar jay, cardinals, western tanagers. Dottie and I played tennis at a Taos ski resort. She was a really good tennis player, ranked as high as No.2 in Oklahoma; she toyed with me, but I recorded the score; I got one set off her! (yes, she probly let me!); 4-6 8-6 6-3 and 6-2 she whipped me.
We visited a hippie commune in Arroyo Hondo. We visited Taos pueblo where some famous characters would hang out and bail out of the rat race. Crazy actor Dennis Hopper – 1969’s Easy Rider – was one, around about that time.
Off to Colorado – Durango to Silverton on a steam train – spectacular
Ouray – ‘Switzerland of America’
On to Arches National Monument, Utah
Bryce Canyon, Utah (passing a turnoff to ‘Koosharem’!):
Zion National Park, where we hiked and swam:
Las Vegas. We all gambled till 5am, Dottie and I continued to 9am. I immediately lost $11, then recovered till I was $12 up, continued, refusing to go to bed till I’d ‘paid my dues.’ When I was down a dollar or two we quit. Meantime I also had $5 from Odie Mindemann which I increased to $11, tipped the dealer a dollar and when I got back to Apache I gave her $10. She immediately gave me $2.50 – ‘commission’!! The second and last night Dottie and I gambled till 7:30am.
On to Hoover Dam where we took the tour down into the depths of the wall. Then overnight at the Visitor Centre at South Rim, Grand Canyon, Rose early to see sunrise on the edge. Dottie and I decided to walk the eight miles to the Colorado river at the bottom along the Bright Angel Trail. After 4.5 miles we got to an oasis, ‘big trees, birds, squirrels and chipmunks; and a drinking fountain.’ 3.5 miles later we were looking down at the river flowing ‘clear and swift and strong over great rapids – I’d love to canoe it’ I wrote. Seven and a quarter hours later we were back – and I had forgotten to take a picture of the river!
Drove to Albuquerque to overnight with Jim’s sister Pat; and the next day back to Apache. The day after was the Rotary meeting and I ‘gave the program,’ whatever that means – spoke to the good people of my sponsoring club, I guess. (Which was better than I did fifteen years later on honeymoon! Trish and I were out birding and clean forgot about the weekly meeting! Really REALLY embarrassed about that unforgivable slip!).
Soon Dottie had to go home to Ardmore near the Texas border; Good ole Katie – she who had organised that we had this amazing three weeks together – drove us there.
A while later Jim took me to Dallas to watch the Dallas cowboys beat the St Louis Cardinals.
29 August 1973 – Letter home. Moaning about the heat in Apache – practicing football in two layers of clothing, knee, thigh, hip, bum and shoulder pads; helmet with chinstrap and teethguard. ‘I’m playing fullback on offense and safety on defense and still don’t know much about either!’ At school I’m taking typing (‘my wrists ache’ – !?) Annual Staff, producing the school yearbook, Ag Shop, learning to weld, Oklahoman history and P.E! Then I’ll be helping the science teacher with one of his younger classes. School is from 8:30am to 2:20pm and then football starts and continues to 6:15pm, so I don’t have time to get much done, I moaned! Lots of moaning!
Went to Ardmore to visit Dottie; met her folks and her twin sister Dale. Her Dad, Dr Denny Moffett, gave me a lovely book, which, the more I’ve read it, the more I think Dottie’s Dad was telling me ‘The history you were taught is not the true history of how things went down.’
I had broken my tennis racquet strings in Cobleskill, New York on our trip up north and Dottie had it restrung for me in Ardmore free-of-charge! In Ardmore she entered me in a tennis tournament. Lost in the 2nd round to the eventual winner. Dottie had sent a Las Vegas photo of me to Mom Mary (I said Good! It cost me $7) and Mom – thinking maybe a daughter-in-law was in the making? wrote back to Dottie. Katie picked me up and took me home to Apache after a visit to her folks down in Shreveport. The next time I saw Dottie was at UCT in Cape Town, two or three years later.
Back to Dallas with Bob and Carol Crews. Watched the Texas Rangers beat the New York Yankees at baseball; saw the grassy knoll where John Kennedy got shot; spent the rest of the day at Six Flags over Texas amusement park. ‘Breathtaking and hair-raising rides.’ Two hours in the queue for the biggest ride!
After that back in Apache, football season was starting, we had practice matches or ‘scrimmages’ against Cache, and Temple, then our first game against Snyder. Lost. Lost. Lost.
19 September 1973 – Short letter to family at home. Mom had written saying Jock was going to be given away. I pleaded for him to be kept.
23 October 1973 – Letter to family at home. Busy – four Rotary talks in four days: Lawton’s Lions Club; Apache Rotary Ladies night; Boone school; Anadarko Women’s Club with Eve Woodhouse from Durban and Helen Worswick from Marandellas, lovely and popular fellow exchange students. Someone would have driven me south to Lawton, west to Boone and north to Andarko – they were all so kind to me! In Lawton an elderly man came up to me, greeted me in Afrikaans and sang My Sarie Marais at the top of his voice! His mother had moved to Oklahoma in 1909 and taught him those few words and that one song all those years ago!
Played golf in Fort Cobb, Eve’s town, with Andy Claborn, then went to Cameron College with Andy, Robbie Swanda and Jay Wood. Then to Norman with Junior school principal Jim Stanton to watch Oklahoma University beat Colorado University 34-7 at college football. Katie fetched me in Norman and we drove down to Dallas again to meet her folks, Mama and Papa Hays. Went to the Texas State Fair; then Papa and lil Jimmy and I went to another Dallas Cowboys game, where the Cowboys beat the New York Giants 45-28.
Back in Apache I resumed my rivalry with Robbie Swanda in international darts and pool. We were pretty evenly matched. This is where I learned that ‘closies don’t count, ‘cept in handgrenades and horseshoes’ which I changed to handgrenades and jukskei. Then out to Jim Patterson’s farm where he was planting wheat, as the rain had finally stopped, enabling him to get into his fields. We’d decided I would bunk school and help him, but Danny Swanda put his foot down – exchange students shall not drive tractors! He was right. So I only did some harrowing – on the quiet, though. Two laps of Jim’s 180 acre field took me an hour on the tractor.
Challenged the football coach to table tennis – so we were still on good terms, despite my abandoning football! A great weekend lay ahead: The Swandas invited all the SA, Zim, Kiwi and Aussie exchange students for the weekend! Eight exchange students!
31 October 1973 – Letter to family at home. Jock must have got a reprieve, as I asked them to ‘remember his birthday, he’s getting middle-aged.’ I had made his birthday on Larry Wingert’s birthday 4 November. Went to Fort Cobb again to speak to Rotary. Stayed with Eve Woodhouse’s family and ‘helped them harvest peanuts’ – actually watched the Mexican hired hands doing the work. Was planning on joining Jim and Jimmy Patterson at the OU – Nebraska college football game in Norman soon. At school the Indian Club had a big dance, got me to join in and then presented me with a beautiful shirt, bead necklace and choker.
Went to Carnegie to speak to their Rotary club; hosted by Helen Worswick; beat her at tennis 6-4 6-4 6-4. Spoke to Stony Point Rod & Gun club.
The gang of exchange students had been. We had played table tennis, darts, horseshoes, pool and tennis (in which Jim Patterson’s uncle from California beat me 6-4 6-2). Watched football the Friday night. Apache beat Mountain View, where Jenny Carter from Bromley in Zimbabwe was the exchange student. To rub it in we put the Saturday news report on her breakfast table place on Sunday! Then we headed out to the beautiful Wichita mountains south of town. Tall, good-looking, pommy-accented Helen Worswick from Marandellas in Zimbabwe, Africa, saw a tiny little snake cross the path, shrieked, turned round and ran over everyone behind her like skittles, proving to the Americans in the party how rugged and bush-wise (they’d have thought jungle-wise) we Africans are.
Rotary clubs used to get Helen to talk to them ‘just to hear the King’s English!’ She’d probly been to some posh private school infested with Pom teachers straight outa Blighty, pale skin and necks burnt red by the hot African sun?
The next week I saddled up and went ‘real cowboyin’ with host Dad Jim and host Grandad Buck Patterson. We had hats, boots, horses, cattle and dust, as we rounded up the cattle, coralled them and then separated Jim’s from Buck’s, then separated the calves from their mothers. They’d been in the wheatfields so they had the runs and we got it – some even in my hair. Half an hour after getting home I was due to give a talk. Made it. Wished I’d taken my camera on the roundup!
A real character was Buck Patterson. You had to call him Buck. Thassall. Buck. His grandkids Mary-Kate 9 and Jimmy 7 called him Buck. Only Buck. Just like my granny made us all call her Annie. Only Annie. As his new grandkid, aged 17, I decided I’d call him Granpa Buck and everyone was amazed he let me. He’d even boast about it: ‘He’s my grandkid from Africa. He calls me Granpa Buck.’
Here’s a letter from the year before. I was still in matric and my good mate Steph de Witt was Harrismith’s Rotary exchange student in Ohio.
After Maritzburg College, Dad joined the General Post Office as an apprentice electrician. Around 1st April 1938. Here’s a spirit level he was issued that day:
While he was still apprenticing, he tried to enlist to join the WW2 war effort, but was sent back. He was transferred to Harrismith, from where he again made his way to Durban and was sent home again, finally being allowed to join after Oupa gave his reluctant blessing. He left for ‘up north’ in 1941.
While in Harrismith ca.1940, he met old Mr Buckle the Blacksmith down in McKechnie street, near the railway station. He was from England.
He ended up with a few tools from old man Buckle: a back saw and a set square with a beautiful brass inlay and brass leading edge.
Dad stayed on a plot outside town – townlands – and bought horses, schooled them and sold them for a profit. I assumed he’d had them shod by Buckle but he corrected me. Buckle was a blacksmith, upholsterer and wagon-maker. He didn’t shoe horses. That was up to Charlie Rustov, Harrismith’s only farrier.
From his plot out west of town he would ride out to Boschetto Agricultural College for Ladies on the slopes of Platberg, the mountain that dominates the town. Boschetto was where the girls were. The first time he went he met the formidable Miss Norah Miller, the founder and principal. Luckily for him she needed something done, he was able to help and so became a firm favourite of hers from the outset.
While he was telling the story Mom remembered a story about Norah: She knocked on someone’s door. Whoever answered went back and was asked ‘Who was there?’
They said, I don’t know, but she’s got one eye, one leg and a hell of a cough! Norah had one lens of her glasses frosted out, she wore a leg brace (probably childhood polio?) and smoked like a chimney. When her leg brace buckled, Dr Frank Reitz made her a new one. A better one. He would have loved that challenge. He was a hands-on fixer.
Harrismith author Leon Strachan found some fascinating info on Norah Miller’s leg – it was not polio. His source, Isobel Kemp (Dr Frank Reitz’s receptionist for thirty years): It was probably osteoporosis resulting in a hip fracture in 1928, only six years after she established her college. Usually this would have resulted in incapacity and excruciating pain, but Norah was in luck: she was in the right place at the right time, and knew just the right man, bold innovator and pioneering surgeon Frank Reitz.
He operated and joined the femur using an ordinary screw to hold the femur ends together! This trick would only become common decades later, in the fifties. Thirty years later she was still walking – with difficulty, but still mobile, and in charge of her college. When Cedara took over Boschetto she moved there, where she died in 1959, aged 79.
I know little about my ancestors, so when a friendly Essex wideboy who is into genealogy liked one of my posts and spoke about an ancestor’s challenge, I thought I’d attempt a more modest challenge: Learn about family whose names are very familiar to me, yet I know very little about them.
Another prompt came from Texas, when old mate Free State Texan JP du Plessis asked, ‘Is GS Bain your great uncle?’ when he spotted him in a polo team with Dr Frank W Reitz.
Yes indeed, I said and so I’ll start with Ginger Bain, who I have written a little bit about before – about how his rugby genes were passed on to his great-great-grand-nephew. I notice he rode ‘Da Gama,’ captained the side and, the tournament being in Harrismith, Free State, they naturally won the ‘Duke of Westminster Cup.’ Right. Who’s the Duke of Westminster?
And did they use only one horse in those days? By the time I watched polo in Harrismith thirty years later, I thought each player had four horses at his disposal? Ah, I see the rules say at least two, up to four – ‘or even more.’ A lot of polo rules seem to be ‘by agreement.’
Ginger Bain was the first-born son of Stewart Bain and Janet Burley, who owned the Royal Hotel in Harrismith. Stewart had come to South Africa from Wick, a tiny fishing village in NE Scotland. Accompanied by his brother James, they ended up building bridges for the new rail line extension from Ladysmith to Harrismith. I speculate how that may have come about here.
Uncle Cappy was a mentor to his three sons and to many others around him. He was a huge influence in my life. He taught me how to play cricket, how to rough-and-tumble, how to BE THERE for your family; how to do the right thing.
As Mobiloil’s representative in the district he had new cars every now and then, which were cause for great excitement. His winged green Zephyr 6 Mark III (made 1962-1966), then his stompgat gold Zephyr 6 Mk IV are the ones I remember best.
His job with Mobil took him all over the countryside, visiting farmers and the depots, so he knew the back roads around Harrismith – and sometimes he’d take us along.
He was always available to help: With sport, with Sunday school, with church, with lifts to sporting events, being Father Christmas, arranging picnics, umpiring cricket, playing cricket, coaching cricket;
I was raised by my Mom and her Mom Annie, so was in danger of being pieperig, as they were gentle, quiet ladies. Thank goodness for frequest visits to the Jouberts, with rugged Uncle Cappy, three tough boys and – the toughest of them all – Aunty Joyce! Cappy would show you exactly how to hold a cricket bat; he would warn the boys and if they didn’t listen, physically wrestle them to the ground and donner them. I remember Etienne wrestling back, squirming, protesting and not giving up, and Cappy holding him in a vice grip on the grass until he conceded! When Etienne went one step too far for Joyce in trading chirps and talkback, Joyce would finally get to the point where she’d lean forward from the waist and jeer, ‘Etienne Joubert met ‘n bek soos ‘n skȇr!’ LIVELY action at the Jouberts!
Typical older brother, Etienne would try and get youngest of us all, Deon to do stuff, pushing the little one into taking the risk for our reward. Once when Deon refused, he said, “Chicken!” and Deon instantly and heatedly responded “I aren’t a blerrie chicken cos I aren’t got fevvers!”
Full of jokes and ‘streke,’ I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Aunty Joyce with her Cape accent – she pronounced the Afrikaans ‘so’ as sue, not sewah as we did – that put Tuffy up to this prank.
I wrote to his eldest son Etienne one fine morning, soon after Uncle Cappy had died peacefully in his sleep on his ninetieth birthday:
I was lying in bed this morning listening to the birds and de-fragmenting the hard drive in my head when this popped up on some old grey cells:
Knyptang innie broeksak
Dinamiet innie gatsak
VOORWAARTS die Ossewa Brandwag!
Also then, of course you have to remember his song on a moonlit night:
O, die maan skyn so helder . . . op my POEPHOL !
He was a huge influence in my life. A very good ‘normalising’ influence to go along with the more conventional, narrow influences!
I’m sure you can remember much more.
Yes, he did rather have many funny little sayings.
Hou die blink kant bo was another favourite.
The “knyptang’ one he’d say aloud in the yard so that Eben Louw could hear.
“C’mon guys, let’s play the game.” That would be when us children were arguing.
He based a lot of his life’s philosophy on Cricket & the fairness & unfairness thereof.
When he drove me to Pretoria to start in the bank he reminded me:
Never over dress or under dress.
Do not drink on your own.
A gentleman leaves the club before seven.
I miss him often in sticky situations.
Have a great day Koos.
Uncle Cappy widened our horizons where school tried to narrow them down. He showed us how you can be thoroughly decent -and also naughty! So many skynheilige people who weren’t a patch on him would NEVER swear in front of us boys, but Cappy did – with a twinkle in his eyes. Now, mind, he never swore in front of us in front of Auntie Joyce! That’s for sure! That mischief was for boys-only gatherings.
As he was Mobil and Annie – my gran – was Caltex, those were the ONLY fuels we would even THINK of using in our cars. Our non-existent cars. We would NEVER use Shell or BP!
So when one day we were in his car at the fuel depot and we saw a Caltex tanker filling up from the BP tank we were MORTIFIED!! What!!?
Cappy calmly set our minds at rest, ‘All fuels are the same basically,’ he said – to our loyal mystification. ‘It’s the additives we add afterwards that make them different,’ he explained.
We were half-mollified.
stompgat – short tail
pieperig – a softie
‘Etienne Joubert met ‘n bek soos ‘n skȇr!’ – ‘Etienne bigmouth’
streke – waggery; jokes; pranks
knyptang, etc – the Ossewa Brandwag was a racist, anti-semitic, anti-British and pro-German organisation in South Africa during World War II. Justifiably angry at what Britain had done to them in the Anglo-Boer war, they over-reacted churlishly. Cappy had volunteered for the war and gone off to battle; on his return his church spurned him for wearing his uniform, so he joined the Methodists – the Methodists’ gain.
O, die maan skyn so helder – romantic: the moon shines so brightly
. . . op my POEPHOL ! – on my arsehole ! The sting in the tail of his mischievous ‘romantic’ song!
Hou die blink kant bo – keep smiling; look on the bright side