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3_USA 8_Nostalgia Family school sport travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

Letters from America

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!

– gateway to the west –

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!

– Granma Merrill’s Cottage outside Red River –

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.

– Dottie and Jim –

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’

– Ouray, Colorado –

On to Arches National Monument, Utah

Bryce Canyon, Utah (passing a turnoff to ‘Koosharem’!):

Zion National Park, where we hiked and swam:

– the LTD in Clorado – with Dottie Moffett, Katie and Jim Patterson –

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!

– Dr Denny Moffett –

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.

– the Apache Indian Society presented me with a special hand-made shirt – Debbie Pahdapony Grey did the honours –

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.

– Dayne & Kent Swanda, brave Helen Worswick the fearful, Jenny Carter, Jonathan Kneebone, Evelyn Woodhouse, Robbie Swanda at Wichita Mountains Preserve –
– Wichita mountains with Pattersons –

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.’

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 5_Army days 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family sport

Buckle the Blacksmith

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:

– Spirit level – Wilson Lovatt & sons Wolverhampton –

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family sport

Random Ancestors – #1 Ginger Bain

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.

  • – – – to be enhanced – – –
Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family sport

Cappy Joubert

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.

– Cappy Joubert’s Zephyrs –

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I wrote to his eldest son Etienne one fine morning, soon after Uncle Cappy had died peacefully in his sleep on his ninetieth birthday:

Et

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Koos,

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.

Etienne

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

Feature pic: Deon, Cappy, Joyce & Tuffy – just Etienne missing

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 9_KwaZuluNatal sport Wildlife, Game Reserves

My Umko Marathon

There he goes, no lifejacket, as was the way those days.

1983Umko

. . another guy might be wearing full lifejacket and helmet but he’d be disqualified: wasn’t wearing his club colours! Such was ‘safety’ and ‘decorum’ back when ships were made of wood and men were made of iron!

map 4

I roared in 140th – looks like 152 finishers, but maybe there was another whole page? Can’t tell – the first page is also missing so we can’t see who won. I know Chris Greeff won the singles. I spent a long time training him in the bar till late at night when the GO TO BED!!s built to a crescendo and we politely thanked Jesus, downed a last beer – and did as we were told. This was Jesus, or Dave Williams, of course, the saintly Umko barman.

– 1983 Umko results with pics of Jesus – when he shaved they started calling him John Cleese –

Hang on, the other page was given the wrong year. Here it is: 1983 results: 162 finishers out of 263 starters. Pope won with Tim Cornish. Chris was 6th and first single.

1983

Notables who finished behind me were Pete the Pom Mountford, Richard Finlay and Toekoe Egerton. They should pull finger.

That was my only Umko marathon. For a few years after that I would sweep or pick out human flotsam and fiberglass jetsam at No.1 rapid, staying with Barry and Lyn Porter on their game farm afterwards.

– 1987 – the swimming gala below No.1 –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia sport travel

Caveman Spies in Engels

Four Spies brothers lived in the Harrismith and Kestell district. These broers had very different personalities; it was said Andries fought for the Spies clan, Hans cursed for them, Frikkie drank for them and Martiens prayed for them all. Harrismith’s historian Leon Strachan has kept this lovely tale of an amazing Eastern Free State character alive.

Andries was known locally as Thor, as his strength was legendary. People soon knew not to mess with him. Somewhere around 1920 a young Andries Spies went hunting jackals on Freek de Jager’s farm. The jackal escaped down an aardvark hole and the dogs could not get it out. Andries shucked off all his clothes and went into the hole butt-naked, head-first, taking a riem and a pocket knife. After fifteen minutes of noise and dust down the hole he came into view again, reversing out feet first. Covered in dust and blood he handed the riem over and said “pull’ – and out came the jackal. One of many instances told of where he did unusual things and performed unusual feats of strength and bravery – and foolhardiness? This story was to have an uncanny follow-up a century later.

He was a boxer, wrestler and strongman, and he was also a very wily showman and self-promoter. Legend has it he would hop on his bicycle, pedal to Bloemfontein – that was over 200 rough miles back in the 1920’s – enter a boxing tournament at Ramblers Club, win it and cycle home with the prize money!

One day in 1929 his neighbour came to him with devastating news: his fiancee had upped and offed with another man. Hugely upset, Andries packed a suitcase and left the farm without a backward glance. It would be ten years before he returned. In those years he was mainly a boxer. He fought in Joburg and Durban. One fight at the Seaman’s Institute in Point Road in Durban so stunned an English preacherman – Andries’ style consisted of a non-stop flurry of furious blows from the opening bell with no thought of any defensive tactics – that he christened him ‘Caveman.’ And the name stuck.

His next port of call was England. He left on a below-decks ticket with just £10 in his pocket and one extra set of khaki clothes. In London in his first fight he KO’d his opponent with his first blow. He could still get opponents after that as his build was not impressive – he looked average and he used that to his advantage, as he was often underestimated. Soon his reputation started preceding him and it grew harder to find men who would fight him, so he crossed the Channel.

A typical story was a fight in Stockholm where the ref tried to stop him as his opponent Anders Anderson was ‘out on his feet.’ But Caveman wanted him out off his feet! So he KO’d the ref! Spectators stormed the ring in fury – so he KO’d a few of them too!

The same pattern happened in Holland, Belgium and Germany: He would knock out a number of opponents, then run out of people to fight and move on. When this happened in Germany, he issued a challenge to Max Schmeling, heavyweight champion of the world: Fight me for 500 marks! Apparently this was all Andries had in his money belt. Eventually Schmeling gave in to his persistence and agreed to fight this Caveman character from South Africa.

UNITED STATES – MAY 31: The American Boxer Joe Louis Fighting The German Boxer Max Schmeling During The Heavyweight Championship In New York In June 1938. At The Close Of The Match, Joe Louis Preserved His Title Of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion By Beating Max Schmeling By K.O. In The 1St Round In New York. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Well, this was a horse of an entirely different kettle of tea! In his own words he approached Max in his usual crouched stance and received a mighty short right hook to the head and after that ‘I don’t remember much at all! Except a minute or two of gloves raining on me and then merciful oblivion! The biggest hiding I ever received, but well worth it, as I met the great Max Schmeling. He was a good sport – and after the fight he sent me back to my hotel full of beer and Rhine wine, plus an amazing 1000 marks! Schmeling gave me his 500 marks too!’

In Spain he knocked out ‘The Basque Wrestler’ Antoine Germatte in the first round – drying up any chance of further fights, so he thought he’d try bullfighting. One look at the bull, though and he decided ‘this is out of my league!’

His French opponent Leon Cartout was disqualified for biting the Caveman. After eighteen fights on the Continent, he returned to England, where a raft of better fighters were keen to challenge him as his fame was now such that they wanted to be seen in the ring with him. Things were looking up.

Caveman Spies
– Caveman Spies’ record as a pro boxer – 9 wins, 8 by knockout – 9 losses, 3 by knockout – 3 draws –

Then he caught a bad bout of flu and ended up becoming asthmatic. He got so bad in the English winter he decided it was home time. Back in South Africa he won a few good fights then ran up against the experienced Tommy Holdstock. He lost so badly that he decided to switch to all-in wrestling which had become very popular and was paying well. The showmanship also suited his extrovert and mischievous personality and his remarkable strength.

In a typical rabble-rousing traveling series he fought a Russian named Boganski, who became a great friend. They toured the land. The legend of Caveman cycling to Bloemfontein was well-known, so at each scheduled fight venue he would stop their car outside the town and get onto his bicycle; timing his arrival at the ring just in time for the fight, covered in sweat having ‘just got there all the way from Harrismith!’ This put all the locals on his side like – our poor man now has to fight this blerrie Russian when he’s so tired, having cycled so far!

The showman promoter in him loved public wagers. On the wrestling tour in Grahamstown he bet the local auctioneer, a Mr King, that he could carry a 200lb bag of mealie meal across the town square in front of the cathedral in his teeth without stopping. He did it, donated the bag to child welfare and publicity from the stunt filled the hall for the fight that night!

In Chodos furniture store in Harrismith’s main street the guys were ragging him as they often did about his strength: You can’t really punch a hole through a meal bag! ‘Bring it,’ he said, and walked away with £10, leaving Woolf Chodos and his staff to clean up the flour all over the counter and the floor. He couldn’t resist a challenge or a dare. In 1936 someone said he’d never walk from Harrismith to Cape town in less than ninety days. He did it in seventy three, averaging twenty eight miles a day. This one earned him £75.

Whenever the circus came to town Caveman would be there, ready to shine. Owner and strongman William Pagel‘s feats of strength and his control of the big cats soon made him a household name in South Africa, particularly in the countryside. Small towns loved the circus!

Pagel had a wild mule and offered £50 to anyone who could ride it. Many tried, including Moolman the policeman. Very soon there was Moolman, soaring through the air back into the stalls in an ungraceful arc. Caveman stepped up, jumped on and the mule went wild, bucking, backing up, scraping his legs against the railing, but Cavemans’ legs were firmly hooked under its ‘armpits’ and he rode every move. In the end the mule lay down, exhausted, Caveman still astride it. Get off, said Old Pagel, ‘No, first give me my £50,’ said Caveman. Get off first, said Pagel. He then refused to pay on the grounds that Caveman ‘wasn’t allowed’ to hook his legs under the mule! Caveman threatened ‘Pay me or I shut down the show. Honour your bet!’ Two Alpha males at bay, both famous! Caveman got his due.

Stanley Boswell also had challenges meant to draw the crowds which drew Caveman like a magnet. He had a strongman lifting weights on a wooden platform. ‘Any non-professional weightlifter who can match (exotic strongman name – maaybe Otto Acron?) will win a prize!’ he boasted. The Harrismith crown bayed for their hero, ‘Show him Caveman! Wys hom! Show him!’

– Otto Acron – World’s Strongest Man – he thought – till he got to Harrismith! –

Caveman stepped up, nonchalantly lifted the main man’s maximum weight and looked at Boswell. Boswell, knowing Spies’ reputation, said, ‘ No, you’re professional,’ ducking out of his responsibility. Caveman looked at him, looked at the crowd and slammed the weights down, wrecking the stage as the crowd roared their approval.

Stories grow. Seldom will a re-teller tell a milder story than the original! And so Caveman’s legend grew. Not only did he ride a bicycle to Cape Town; when he got there he boarded a ship to America; the ship sank and he had to swim more than halfway across the Atlantic; arriving in America just in time (covered in sweat?) for a fight against Joe Louis! Of course, he bliksem’d Joe, caught a ship back to Cape Town, where he got on his bicycle and pedal’d back to Harrismith to calmly tend to his flock of sheep! Of course . .

In our time in Harrismith – fifties to seventies – Hansie and Pieter Spies were legends in their own right. Nephews of Caveman, they would apparently tell stories of this special and unusual extrovert uncle. In his old age his right hand started shaking – probably the beginnings of Parkinson’s disease. Challenged, he would blurt, ‘Ag, it’s my hand! Leave it alone if it wants to shake! Or I’ll donner you!’

~~~oo0oo~~~

A Century Later

Truth is stranger than fiction! In 2020, just about one hundred years after Andries went down an aardvark hole to drag out a jackal this video appeared on youtube:

It went viral and I saw it on two of my whatsapp groups. Soon after, Leon Strachan messaged me: Hi Pete, Do you remember how Caveman crawled down a hole to drag out a jackal? Pure madness! Well, believe it or not, the people in this video are my neighbours and the man down the hole is a great grandson of Hans Spies – Caveman Spies’ brother!

The strain of eccentricity lives on! Mind you, getting diluted. Notice how he kept his clothes on?

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family sport

Polo in Harrismith

The first recorded polo game in South Africa took place in October 1874 at the King Williams Town Parade Ground between the Gordon Highlanders and the Cape Mounted Rifles.

The Military Ninth Division played during the 1880s at Harrismith, Orange Free State.

Polo was played in Cape Town in 1885 at a club formed by army officers, and in Natal by the officers stationed at Fort Napier, in Pietermaritzburg; a year later, they formed the Garrison Polo Club.

Play in Transvaal began in Johannesburg in 1894, when the owner of the Goldfields Hotel founded a polo club. The game was dominated by the military, but civilian clubs sprouted in several places.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Someone must have the history of Harrismith polo. I hope. The first polo field I remember was in the sixties on the far side of the railway tracks; you drove under the subway to get there. Across the road was the sportsfields: a hockey field and then the cricket oval. Legend has it that Jimmy Horsley once hit a famous six across the hockey field, across the road and onto the polo clubhouse roof!

During a recent visit to Harrismith I spotted this on good friend Bess Reitz’s passage wall: Her Dad and Ginger Bain in the winning team!

SA Polo has a website with some history.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 3_USA 4_Optometry Johannesburg 5_Army days 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family school sport travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).

– annie watson – mary frances – peter frank –

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 between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.

I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Note: I go back to my posts to add / amend as I remember things and as people mention things, so the posts evolve. I know (and respect) that some bloggers don’t change once they’ve posted, or add a clear note when they do. That’s good, but as this is a personal blog with the aim of one day editing them all into a hazy memoir, this way works for me. So go’n re-look at some posts you’ve enjoyed before and see how I’ve improved over time (!). It’s just as my friend Greg says: ‘The older we get, the better we were.’

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia school sport

High School

– aerial view at dawn – thanks Arie Bouwer –
– and here’s why they marched – the pomptroppies! –
Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia school sport

Kleinspanskool

This building used to be something else, I think – not sure – but in our time it was the junior primary school. Occupying a full block between Stuart and Warden Streets near the centre of the metropolis, our Sub A to Std 1 classes were here. Except if your Std 1, 2 and 3 was all together in one room with one teacher (‘die Engelse klas’). Then you went down to the next school in Std 1. So I had Sub A and Sub B in this old sandstone building. I entered age five and departed age seven. With a blue bicycle.

My greatest achievement in this time was probably winning a high-pissing contest in the sandstone boys room and having big mate Fanie Schoeman report the feat to Mrs Van Reenen. Miss! Miss! Peter pee’d on my head, he said. Brief fame, diplomatically handled. The urinal was open to the sky and we’d been trying to see who could leave his wet mark highest up on the sandstone wall above the trough. Wee on sandstone leaves a very satisfactory, undeniable mark which cannot be disputed, in contests like these. It lasts long enough for judges to judge and disputes to be resolved.

Here’s a view of our classroom taken from the boys toilets. In fact this photographer’s head is very near where Fanie’s head was back then. Chips!

– second door from right was our classroom – Far right was girls toilet –

Another clear memory of that class was admiring the beautifully accurate Noddy car Lincoln Michell made of yellow and red plasticine.

– Lincoln’s Noddy car looked just like this –

That sums up my first year of formal education. Luckily it didn’t cost a lot.

– this was there, but I don’t remember ever using it –

One of the joys of being in this kleinspanskool was it was a junior part of the bigger primary school down the road and quite regularly something would need to be schlepped down there. To be chosen to pull the wooden trailer or trolley, with its rubber wheels from one school to the other was a much sought-after diversion from classtime. You’d be FREE! FREE AT LAST! and wandering the shady tree-lined streets in school time on a Long Walk To Freedom! Bliss!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Behind that long building was a rugby field where Giel du Toit despaired of my ever learning one end of a rugby ball from the other – or one end of the rugby field, for that matter. His coaching methods consisted of patting me on the head and muttering ‘There, there; Moenie worrie nie!’ Everyone was very kind to me in my young days. Occasionally onse Giel would get a faraway look in his eyes and talk about walking behind the ploughshare and picking up a clod of freshly-turned earth, smelling it and saying something about nothing in the world could ever smell better. The dorpsjapie in me thought ‘huh?’ Years later I speculate he was angling to marry a farmer’s daughter and was practicing his pitch to Pa. He actually did just that, I learned.

I played for the under 11 B team, and the only reason for that was there was no C team. Although we were now down the road at the bigger school, rugby practice was at the old kleinspan school, as the bigger school didn’t have a field.

The end of the season arrived – near the end of winter – and the last game loomed. The traditional big derby day against the Olde Enemy, Vrede, played home and away each year. This year the final game was away, in that far-off dusty city of sin and ribaldry. OK, dusty dorp. Now famous for not having a dairy, back then it was famous for losing at a range of sports to Harrismith.

For some unfathomable reason, Giel decided I would captain the under 11 B’s on that auspicious occasion. It was 1966, so maybe England had won the soccer world cup and he was thinking ‘Miracles Can Happen’ – ?? Anyway, as the lowest of the most junior teams, we would be playing the first game early in the cold Vrede winter morning, long before most spectators arrived, only dedicated Ma’s and Pa’s on the rickety stand. Our job was to break through the frost on the dead grass on the rock-hard ground for the more important games to follow. With our bare feet.

Which is how I came to have the leather odd-shaped ball in my hand that morning. This was a novel experience. Usually I was only vaguely aware that there WAS even a ball involved in this mysterious game that onse Giel was despairing that I’d ever get the hang of.

My orange-clad barefoot underlings, now fully under my command, dutifully formed a line behind me as I ran onto the field and skopped the leather ball to start the game. I remember only four things about that game, but they are indelibly etched in my newly rugby-focused tactical brain:

1. We were awarded a penalty quite late in the game with the score still on 0 – 0;

2. I made a show of going down on my haunches, and staring at the posts, then tapped the ball and hared straight for the line and dotted the ball down. TRY!!

3. The ref awarded the try. We were 3 – 0 up!

4. There was a muttering from the tiny partisan home crowd of early-morning Ma’s and Pa’s, and the ref seemed agitated. At the next lineout I asked him ‘That was a try, nê?’ and he growled ‘Play on!’ So we won the game, I think.

The next year – or the year after? 1967 – I was suddenly a rugby player and in the A team. I’d like to say it was because of this revelation, revival, awakening and discovery of deep latent talent, plus a realisation of my brilliance thanks to Giel’s inspired and kind gesture, but it was mainly cos my balls dropped, and I shot up four inches and became the tallest oke among the under 13’s! Size counts in a shoving and huffing and puffing game. When guys have to look up to you they often give way to you.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Kleinspanskool – small persons school; junior primary school

‘die Engelse klas’ – the English patient

Moenie worrie nie! ‘ – Dinnae Fash Yersel’; Don’ Wurry

dorpsjapie – townie; urban chap; not rural; the finer points of ploughing escape him

dorp – village; hamlet; one-horse town

skopped – kicked with pinpoint accuracy