Yay! Science! I just found out what the very first flower I ever drew was/is: A Canary Bird Bush Crotalaria agatiflora.
I suppose for a school project? I collected a few in our garden and drew the flower and the leaf. I was fascinated by the shape of the flower: like a yellow bird, butterfly or ship.
I saw this on iNaturalist.org thanks to prolific iNatter troos (Troos vdMerwe) and there’s a lovely twist: He photographed it in the favourite gardens of a favourite schoolfriend of my Mother Mary’s!
Joey de Beer became Jo Onderstall and became a founder member of the Lowveld Botanic Society and the Lowveld Botanic Gardens in Nelspruit, now Mbombela. She wrote the book on Lowveld flowering plants.
A lovely full-circle kind of story.
Joey matriculated with Mary in Harrismith in 1945. When she heard Mary was going nursing she expostulated: What A Waste Of A Good Brain! She was right, but Mom decided she needed to do something that earned her a salary and cost her widowed Mom Annie nothing. Typical Mom. Joey went on to study phys ed teaching in Bloem, then married ‘doctor/farmer’ Bill Onderstall. They moved to Nelspruit in 1950. Bill gave Jo a camera for a wedding present and so she herself took a lot of the pictures in the articles and books she wrote. I didn’t know her mother Bessie de Beer had been chair of the Drakensberg and Eastern Free State branch of the Botanical Society, so Jo followed in Bessie’s footsteps. Must tell Mom that. Jo herself seems as self-effacing as Mom. She writes in the introduction that her name on the book ‘is but the visible tip of an iceberg’ and the fact that she took most of the photos is mentioned nowhere. All other photographers are acknowledged, but even the fact that she took the front and back cover pictures is added in the ‘errata’ – like an afterthought! I’m guessing some of her friends insisted.
Yellow bird! Who remembers Johan Pheiffer who came from the city to Harrismith to visit his cousins the du Plessis in the dorp, whipped out his guitar and sang Yellow Bird?
We drove off the dirt road and onto a green hill, stopped the light blue Holden station wagon and walked up to the top of the low hill which ended in a steep cliff overlooking Natal down below. About 30m below us (I’d guess) was a nest, just as Robbie Sharratt had told Dad there would be, and on the nest was an eagle chick.
The main reason the ole man had taken his dearly beloved son on an outing was his new Canon FT QL SLR camera with a 200mm telephoto lens. It needed a subject, and there was the Black Eagle chick right there in the hot sun. Aquila verreauxii, now called Verreaux’s Eagle.
The way I recall it, we got pics of the nest and the chick, and a parent landed on or near the nest while we waited, but I could be imagining that part. Wonder where those pics are? I’d guess this was ca.1965 when I was ten years old.
Sheila sent me a surprise postcard. So I have re-posted this blogpost from 2015 about a magic 1969 tour, and attached the postcard at the end. Enjoy!
The Kestell bus was like a half-loaf, but still the metropolis of Kestell – which we regarded as a densely-populated Afrikaans suburb of Harrismith – couldn’t roust enough boys to fill it, so we Harrismithians had been invited along. Johan Steyl announced in the hall one assembly that Kestell was inviting Harrismith boys to join their ‘seunstoer’ to South West Africa. It would be for fifteen days in the July holidays, and the cost would be twenty five South African 1969 Ronts. Leon ‘Fluffy’ Crawley, Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots, Pierre du Plessis, Tuffy Joubert and I said YES! and then our parents said yes and forked over the cash, so we were off! (The new postcard tells me Jan van Wyk – who would be 1970 head boy in matric the next year – also went along).
It was boys-only, a seunstoer, but Mnr Braam Venter of Kestell took his daughter along. She was about Std 4 we were Std 7 to 9. She was very popular and soon became like the tour mascot, second only to Wagter the tour dog – who was actually a found holey corobrick with a dog collar through one of its three holes and string for a leash.
The short bus had a longitudinal seating arrangement. Long rows running the length of the bus so you sat facing each other, sideways to your direction of travel.
We all bundled in and set off. After a few hours we had the first roadside stop. Mnr Venter lined us all up outside the bus and said ‘Right, introduce yourselves,’ as the Kestell ous didn’t know us – and we didn’t know them. Down the row came the names, van Tonder, van Wyk, van Niekerk, van Staden, van Aswegen, vanne Merwe, van Dit, van WhatWhat, Aasvoel, Kleine Asenvogel, Marble Hol. Fluffy standing next to me murmured ‘Steve McQueen’ but when his turn came he let out with a clear ‘Leon Crawley’ so I said ‘Steve McQueen’ out loud. Without a blink the naming continued before I could say ‘Uh, just kidding’, so I became ‘Ou Steve‘ for the duration.
Our first stop was Kimberley, where we camped in the caravan park and had some fun; then on to the Augrabies Falls on the Gariep (Orange) River, stopping at the roaring dunes near Hotazel in the Kalahari. On from there to the borderpost at Onseepkans.
When we entered SWA we headed straight for a pub. The first pub we found. Us fourteen to sixteen year-olds. Read about that here.
We went to the Fish River Canyon. Like all canyons, it is billed as the biggest, longest, deepest, whatever in the (insert your province, your country, or ‘world’ here). We stood on the rim and gazed down. Then Pikkie Loots and I couldn’t stand it; so – against orders – we zipped down the pathway, slipping and sliding down as fast as we could. Before we got to the bottom we decided we’d get into big kak if we took too long, so we reluctantly stopped and returned to the top, slowly.
We camped next to the Vingerklip, or Mukorob (or Finger of God) near Karasburg, a sandstone rock formation in the Namib desert, while it still stood (it fell down nineteen years later on 8 December 1988, so its obviously it wasn’t our fault, nê). About 30m high from the vlaktes at the base, the little neck it balanced on was only about 3m by 1,5m, making it rather precarious.
Later we camped near Windhoek where my Dad had arranged that I got fetched by some of his relatives I had never met. Third or fourth cousins, I suppose. In the car on the way to their home they had lots of questions, but before I had finished my second sentence the younger son blurted out “Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” (Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!) and my bubble burst. All of my short life I had laboured under the mistaken and vain impression that I was completely fluent in Afrikaans. Hey! No-one had told me otherwise.
On to the Brandberg, where a long walk would take you to some rock paintings. I chose not to make the walk. Pikkie did, and remembered: ‘the terrain was barren, hot as hell, and rock strewn. The rocks had a rich red-brown colour, and I thought it was amazing that the local indigenous people had painted a white lady, which according to legend was the Queen of Sheba, who they would probably never have seen! Some people wanted to pour water on the paintings but I think Braam stopped them and of course today I realise that he was a hundred per cent right in not letting us do it. If we all poured water on it it would have been washed away by now!’
We got to Etosha National Park after dark so the Okakuejo gate was closed. We didn’t pitch our tents that night to save time, simply bedding down outside ready to drive in first thing the next morning. On spotting us the next morning the game ranger said ‘Net hier het ‘n leeu eergistraand ‘n bok neergetrek.‘
On our way back, we passed Lake Otjikoto, the ‘bottomless lake’:
The Hoba meteorite next. Weighing about 60 tons, made of iron and nickel, it is still the largest single intact meteorite known, and also the most massive naturally-occurring piece of ferronickel known on Earth’s surface. Estimated to have fallen 80 000 years ago, it was discovered around 1920.
On the way out of SWA we reached the South East corner of the country, heading for the border with the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, when we spotted something tangled up in the roadside fences. Turned out to be a few springbok, some dead, some still alive but badly injured. As we spotted them one of the farm boys yelled out ‘Ek debs die balsak!‘ He cut off the scrotum, pulled it over the base of a glass cooldrink bottle. What? we asked. When it had dried he would break the glass and he’d have an ashtray, he explained. Oh.
The alive ones were dispatched and all were taken to the nearby farmer who gave us one for our trouble. It seems some hunters are indiscriminate and less than accurate and the buck panic before the onslaught and run into the fences.
That night we made a huge bonfire on the dry bed of the Nossob river or one of its tributaries and braai’d the springbok meat. It was freezing in July so we placed our sleeping bags around the fire and moved closer to the bed of coals all night long. Every time we woke we inched closer.
A wonderful star-filled night sky above us.
edit: Updated since Fluffy found his 1969 pictures of SWA. Taken with Ma Polly’s Kodak camera. So now our story has real pics, not just internet pics. – Pikkie says: Even reading it a second time brings back great memories! Fluffy asks: Can you guys remember the freshly baked brown bread we bought from a plaas winkel… Twee Rivieren… On our way back… Pretty expensive if I remember well – 17 cents . .
That was truly an unforgettable fifteen days! We’re so lucky to have enjoyed such an adventure. We still talk about it. Pikkie tried to get us to go again in 2019 – fifty years later! Inertia, work, family and all the usual shit put paid to that great idea. No longer could we just say, “Ag pleez Daddy!” and go without a backward glance, as we did in 1969!
seunstoer – boys tour;
Wagter – Rover; in America, Fido
nê – y’understand?
“Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” – Your Afrikaans Are Atrocious; or Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!
Ek debs die balsak! – ‘Dibs on the ballbag!’ or ‘I lay claim to the antelope scrotum’;
Net hier het ‘n leeu eergistraand ‘n bok neergetrek – Right here where you’re camping a lion killed an antelope the night before last; ‘be nervous’ was the message;
April 2021 and a surprise from Sheila: A postcard I wrote to them on 7 July 1969 while on tour:
Can’t say I remember ‘Sorris Sorris’ at all, but I see it’s just north of the Brandberg, so maybe we camped there?
I notice I put an olden-day post about a fascinating old rooinek Swanepoel in my Bewilderbeast Droppings blog. It actually belongs here, so here it is.
Swanepoel, David Abraham (1912–1990). Swanepoel began collecting in 1925. Pennington’s Butterflies of southern Africa (Pringle et al. 1994) describes Swanepoel as follows: ‘Probably no other person has spent as much time and effort in the pursuit of butterflies in the field as this great collector, who had the tremendous gift of being able to excite others about butterflies. His immaculate collection is in the Transvaal Museum. He discovered many new species and subspecies and published many descriptions of new taxa.’
His list of publications includes the book Butterflies of South Africa: where, when and how they fly, published in 1953 in Holland at his own cost. At the time, it was the most valuable reference guide to South African butterflies, citing his many collection localities across the length and breadth of South Africa. He collaborated closely with both Georges van Son and Ken Pennington. Popular names for many of South Africa’s butterflies were proposed by him. (SANBI Biodiversity Series 16 (2010)6 ).
Swanepoel ended his book with these words: ‘In laying down my pen at the end of what has been to me a pleasurable task, I take occasion to dedicate this book to all naturalists and friends, without whose kindness and ungrudging aid it must inevitable have left much to be desired; and to those naturalists who may one day wander over the numerous paths that have afforded me so many happy, unforgettable hours – these would hardly have been possible without the grace of the Creator of all the beautiful forms described in this book. As mentioned in the introduction, this work is by no means complete, and if one day it is revised by some future observer, may he fulfil my dearest wish by building a great entomological castle upon this small foundation stone.’ (Epilogue of D.A. Swanepoel’s book, page 316).
Read more about David A Swanepoel and other pioneering flutterby enthusiasts here. And read some of what he wrote here.
steve reed wrote: When we lived in Clarens we had an annual visitation by what must have been the self-same Swanepoel. Khaki clad solitary figure, fleet-footing round the village with his net like something out of Peter Pan. Regarded by the locals with great interest (and a good level of suspicion) . . .
We have a new book out! ( – get it on takealot.com – )
OK, the author has a new book out, his first. School friend Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots is Harrismith’s latest published author, following in the footsteps of FA Steytler, EB Hawkins, Anita van Wyk Henning, Petronella van Heerden and Leon Strachan. There must be more?
So far he has it as an eBook – you can get it now already.
Real paper hard copies to follow. I had the privilege and fun as one of his proof-readers, of reading it as he wrote and re-wrote.
UPDATE 10 Feb 2021: It’s he-ere! In my hand!
Now you gotta realise, Pikkie is a mountaineer and trekker. These are phlegmatic buggers; unflappable; understated. So when he says ‘we walked and then crossed some ice and then we got here’:
. . with lovely pictures and fascinating stories along the way . . you must know what he doesn’t show you. And this is only the third highest peak he climbs in Africa! There’s more!
Those of us who climbed Mt aux Sources should also remember how we drove to within an hour or two’s walk from the chain ladder. To get to these higher mountains there’s days of trekking before you reach the point in the picture. And way less oxygen!
I can’t wait to hold a copy in my hand . . Goddit now. Here’s the back cover blurb: ( – get it on takealot.com – )
I didn’t ever meet the famous old sub-species bird man*, but for a while he lived next door to me in Marriott Road. I was in Whittington Court, he was in Eden Gardens; I found this out when I spotted a nightjar at my window one night and got very excited; I listened every night and finally heard it – it was the freckled; Now more excited – a Freckled Nightjar in the city! – I was about to announce my discovery when I read Dr Clancey knew all about it – it roosted on his roof next door! The Eden Gardens had a flat roof and it was covered in stones or gravel. Good spot for a Freckled to conceal itself by day.
So after I found info on the bird; and after Aitch and I had prowled around the gardens of his hotel at night and found our first Bush Squeaker frog one rainy night (Arthroleptis wahlbergi), I went looking for info on the man (usual warning here: This is me, approximate and amateur historian, giving my version of things – look at the references if you need accuracy).
Clancey was director of the Durban Museum and Art Gallery for thirty years until his retirement in 1982. He then continued as a research associate until his death in 2001, aged 83. He was a confirmed bachelor and the most ruthlessly dedicated and hardworking of ornithologists. He wrote a number of books of which The Birds of Natal and Zululand (1964), The Game Birds of South Africa (1967) and The Rare Birds of Southern Africa (1985) are now valuable Africana. Yeah, I hope so! I have two of them. So far my “investment” in bird books has been a damp squib.
As a young man ca.1949 he was a field assistant to the famous British military and ornithological fraud, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, a dodgy, lying, philandering Englishman who faked much of his life and got away with murdering his wife. They once nearly shot each other in a heated disagreement over bustards in Namibia. Guns were drawn before the hired skinner stepped between the protagonists. Sanity prevailed and tempers cooled. On another occasion Clancey fell ill in a remote spot and was abandoned to his fate by Meinertzhagen. Clancey was not given his due by Meinertzhagen in his writings – those who knew Meinertzhagen were not surprised.
In 1950 Clancey moved to South Africa, to Durban as curator of the museum.
Years later, Clancey had a famous professional rivalry with Colonel John Vincent, one time head of the Natal Parks Board and himself an ornithologist of note. One one occasion Vincent had him arrested for collecting without a permit. His shotgun was confiscated. Undeterred, Clancey bought it back at a subsequent auction.
He must have rubbed people up the wrong way! Vincent Parker prominent atlasser and bird survey guru, in his 1999 The Atlas of the Birds of Sul do Save, southern Mozambique, also didn’t give Clancey his due, ignoring many of his records and relegating others to an appendix (‘subject to confirmation’), which ‘in most cases was quite unjustified’ (see the obituary in Ibis by Dowsett, Allan, and McGowan).
Clancey never had much regard for unnecessary luxury, and retired to a small room in a residential hotel – right next door to my Marriott road flat – in Durban. He continued to write papers, named 328 African bird taxa (more than any other contemporary scientist). The majority of his holotypes are in Durban Museum or the National Museum of Zimbabwe. R J Dowsett wrote: ‘I know of over 550 publications on African birds by Phillip Clancey, for most of which he was sole author (and not counting the sub-divisions of his miscellaneous taxonomic notes series).’ Later he increasingly devoted himself to his painting. His style was unmistakable, rich colours, attention to detail, and always the correct ecological background.
Any birder who has spent time in Natal will have seen these birds in just that habitat! Eminently recognisable.
Clancey donated his collection of some 5,500 mainly Western Palaearctic bird-skins to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. He donated his collection over 32,000 bird-skins – a collection considered the finest in Africa – to the Durban Museum and Art Gallery.
And also – unbeknown to him – he was my neighbour.
Look for the honest biography on that fraud Meinertzhagen – there are bulldust hagiographies out there: “The Meinertzhagen Mystery: The Life and Legend of a Colossal Fraud” by Brian Garfield
* sub-species bird man? I think Clancey was that dreaded sub-species of ornithologists called a splitter! He keenly added sub-species to existing species if he felt they were different enough. He found many many birds in new localities, expanded the known range of many, and did find good sub-species. Plus, he found one new full species, the Lemon-Breasted Canary Crithagra citrinipectus in the Maputaland coastal grasslands.
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.
5 April 2020 – Today exactly fifty years ago was also a Sunday. I know this cos sister Sheila kept a diary in high school and every now and then she pops out with an entry that brings back a flood of memories. Even everyday entries like ‘had lunch at (place) with (people)’ can trigger memories and start some lovely reminiscing.
On the 5th April 1970 she wrote:
Climbed Mt aux Sources, had lunch at the waterfall and climbed down again.
“My descriptive writing was still under development” she now says! She was thirteen years and ten months at the time. I had just turned fifteen. Mother Mary was forty one.
Leading us were Mother Mary, Uncle Cappy and Auntie Joyce Joubert. Making up the party were two older boys, Etienne Joubert and Whitey Fourie; then myself, Sheila and Deon Joubert, in descending age order.
Mom always knew all the peak names – from the Sentinel to Giants Castle.
The feature pic of the chain ladder is more recent – to show the surroundings – the second chain ladder on the right in that pic was added long after 1970. For wimps. Like airbags in cars, we didn’t have spare ladders back in our day (!!!). Here’s a pic of how I first remember it – one ladder, with wooden beams to keep the rungs away from the rockface.
Around April 1970:
Rhodesia under Ian Smith had just become a Republic, severing their last ties with Britain;
Apollo 13 was in space, having gone to the moon but not landed, after an oxygen tank had malfunctioned; The first moon landing had been eight months earlier;
We were singing 1969 and 1970 hits like – All Kinds Of Everything; Mama Told Me Not To Come; Build Me Up Buttercup; Crimson and Clover; Proud Mary; Come Together; and many MANY more! In the Summertime; A Boy Named Sue; My Baby Loves Lovin’; Ma Belle Amie; Yellow River; Beatles hits; Elvis hits; Creedence hits – a long list, seared into our memories, never to be forgotten.
I’ve never forgotten “kickin’ and a-gougin’ in the mud and the blood and the beer . . “
There he goes, no lifejacket, as was the way those days.
. . 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.’