4 Hillside Road Parktown

“4 Hillside” was a lovely big old communal house in Parktown, Johannesburg run by teachers (or former teachers) in the Hillside Road cul-de-sac on the corner of Empire Road. Hillsdie still is a leafy lane completely engulfed by big old Plane or Jacaranda trees, a lovely spot. The house was a lovely old white single story gabled family home with a circular driveway that had seen better days.

The inhabitants were:

Pierre ‘Leibs’ Leibbrandt and the lovely Claire – Alpha Romeo, sort of red, I think. Yellow?

Mike Doyle and Shale – faded blue Land Rover before the word Defender was invented. Or needed.

Granger Grey – always searching  – grey VW beetle. Six-foot-plenty he was shaped like Obelix and towered over all of us. The only time he looked normal-sized was when his younger brother ‘Tiny’ visited and towered over him.

Donald  ‘Coolsie’ Collins – and various, including part-timer the slender ‘Vaalwater’ – VW beetle, I think.

Jos Den___ and the lovely Brenda – Alpha Romeo.

Hangers-on included Norbs – Norbert someone or someone Norbert? I forget. A bearded character who would mimic Charles Fortune the cricket commentator to a T and have the crowd on the grassy knoll at Castle corner in stitches as he chose the most exciting moment (and cricket has few of those) to talk about the birds, the trees and the shadows falling across the ground. I still sing Norbs’ John Denver song “You Philip My Dentures . . Like a Night in the Florist . . .”

The house was run by our Malawian butler, chef and character, the smiling Gerald or ‘Gerrard’, whose ambition was to be a tycoon. He called Coolsie ‘Boss Donut’ (for Donald). Never forgave us for thinking his duties included lawn mowing. Decent people would have hired a gardener and placed him under Gerrard’s command.

You would think teachers would have brains, but no, they allowed an optometry student into their hitherto blissful existence: Clive Nel of Kokstad and the ever-suffering Sandy Norton. Clive was allowed in as he offered to take a run-down tin shed annex and convert it into habitable quarters. And he did just that! Soon the shed was carpeted in fine vintage carpets, Rembrandts and Monets on the corrugated walls and makeshift shelves stocked with fine wines. He was generous with his wine was Nel so soon the teachers were (very) happy to have him! Also Norton was an asset which (almost) balanced Nel’s faults. White Mazda R8 CCW some numbers. I’m not kidding except for the Rembrandts and Monets.

The rot having set in, the next student to sully the joint was the inimitable Glen Barker, non-farming sugar and jersey cow farmer from Umzinto and Dumisa. Green Toyota Corona NX 106, inherited from Gran. They also had NX 101 and 102 and 103 and 104 and 105 – you get the picture: Old money in the Umzinto and Dumisa district. NX was for “Alexandra County”, Glen would remind us, knowing that behind the boerewors curtain we didn’t have counties, we had “distriks”.

Then they let me in – grey and grey Opel Rekord OHS 5678. I was given a shoe cupboard next to the spare bathroom and the second back door. So now it was down to four teachers and three students – a delicate balance.

Leibs was ‘doing up’ an old Jeep Station Wagon in the backyard. Mainly that meant squeezing a V8 engine into it. – (internet pics). This bad habit brought another optom student in as a day visitor. Achim Scholtz who would have been more welcome if he’d brought the fine German dispensing optician Eva along. But she was too wise to get greasy under the Jeep. Achim parked his Jeep next to Leibs’ so they could get greasy and talk ball bearings together.

jeep-wagon-jpg jeep-wagon_2

Others, less talented, also got involved in unorthodox car-restoration at 4 Hillside, but of a very different, alcohol-fuelled nature!

The problem of seven men all wearing boring black socks was ‘solved’ by building a long narrow wooden shelf in the passage where all socks were placed after washing. Sort them out yourself. Some of the holy ones would grow mould on that shelf.

The problem of feeding seven hungry men was solved by Gerrard cooking and placing the food in the oven. First man to crack and start eating had to divide the food onto seven plates and only then was he allowed to eat. This led to lots of circling around and cagey watching while pretending to be unconcerned, hoping someone else would crack first and do the tedious division under intense scrutiny.

On steak nights the potato and veg would be in the oven, the uncooked steaks high up on a shelf. This led to the memorable night when Granger cracked first. He was ravenous, so he divided the veg into seven and cooked his steak and ate it. Then he ate just one more. Then one more and then he finished the seventh and last steak and was overcome by remorse. Jumping into his grey VW TVB beetle (vanderBijlpark) he roared off to Fontana in Highpoint in Hillbrow, bought three roast chickens off their famous rotisserie to make good, and rushed back, flattening only one whole chicken by himself en-route.  This caused him to reflect, so he joined Weight-Watchers and became a regular at the weigh-in report-backs. Getting back from his initial weigh-in he sank down onto the couch in the TV room with a huge sigh. Reaching down to his shoes with difficulty, he removed a thick wad of newspaper from each. He had made himself taller so the nazis at Weight-Watchers would give him a higher target weight!

Dorianne Berry used to read the news and one night she came on in a strapless dress. The camera stayed above the dress line making her look maybe naked! The bachelors got all excited “Hey! Maybe we’re going to see Dorianne’s berries!”. The camera zoomed out and disappointment set in.

We had a student braai next to the pool one night and Granger arrived home pickled and ravenous and came over for a beer. Staring hypnotically at the meat on the fire he started swaying. We formed a wall round the fire, keeping a close eye on the large man as we knew he had needs. His eyes glazed over and we watched in fascination as his swayed in gravity-defying fashion! He swayed forward till you just knew he was going to platz on his face, then slowed, stopped for long seconds. Then swayed back till he passed vertical and leaned backwards where you just knew he going to crack the back of his skull but no, the pendulum slowed, then stopped. A long pause and the cycle repeated. Musta been his big feet. An amazing spectacle was Big Granger!

The old house is gone now – Hannover Reinsurance’s expensive headquarters now fill the space! Bah!

hannover re 17 Empire.jpg

 

Colorado USA

I was going to ski – we would have called it snow ski! – for the first time in my life. Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan mountains in Colorado. We’d be catching a bus from Oklahoma, driving there and staying at the lodge. Jim Patterson was taking me on a host-Dad and Son special treat. In the previous summer (1973) he and Katie had taken us on a steam train ride nearby – the Durango to Silverton narrow gauge railroad.

 

durango_silverton

My pic of the Animas River out the train window:

Between Silverton & Durango in Colorado from the steam train window

That was a glorious summer. But now we were going in winter:

As the day approached we watched the snow reports with bated breath. Nothing. No snow. The day before we were to leave the bad news came: Trip cancelled. True to form Jim looked on the bright side – he always did! – and invited me to join him in drowning our sorrows as he opened up the big heb cooler full of beer he had packed for the trip! Jim always put a good spin on everything!

I would have to wait till 1988 before my first snow skiing – in Austria.

Basket Weaving

When I got to Apache Oklahoma in 1973 I had already finished high school. Not much effort had gone into my matric and I was keen to put minimal effort into this second matric, or ‘senior year’, at Apache High. In my mind I had been sent to America to socialise and be an ambassador, ‘period’.

So I carefully selected my subjects – I had to take American history – I was OK with that. I learnt about George Washington. I had to take English (compulsory for all foreigners). I added typing, ag shop (agricultural workshop – farming, welding, etc making me a member of the FFA – Future Farmers of America), annual staff (making the school annual, acting as a journalist, selling ads in town – a hoot! Actually, they chose me, you couldn’t just elect to do it. I was lucky). I’m sure there was a sixth. Yes, Oklahoman history, I think. My mind wasn’t really on these details.

Here’s me focusing on my typing. I’m with fellow annual staffers Robbie Swanda and David Lodes slave over their hot typewriters. I reached a blistering 19 words a minute with ten mistakes.

 

When I told host Dad Jim Patterson my subjects he grimaced. Then he grinned and said – “Peter, are you sure they didn’t offer basket weavin’!”


Jim was a great teacher. He taught me all about ‘counting fence posts’. He would pack a sixpack of Coors into a coolerbox full of ice and we would drive around the district in his old red Ford F150 pickup along the farm roads with Jim recounting all the tales of who lived where, what they farmed and some history of the area. We were ‘counting fence posts’.

Here’s Jim waking up on the back of that pickup one camping trip:

pete 10001.JPG

Mary Bland Grew Up On A Farm

This was taken on my grandparents’ Frank and Annie Bland’s farm, Nuwejaarsvlei in the Harrismith district. The farm is now under Sterkfontein Dam. Here’s older sis Pat pushing Mother Mary in the pram in the farmyard.

pat-mary-nuwejaarsvlei

The Nuwejaarspruit runs from there down to the Wilge river and then into the Vaal Dam. Sterkfontein dam was built on the spruit and drowned the farm under Tugela river water pumped up from KwaZulu Natal. You would now have to scuba dive in the clear water to see the farmhouse. The feature pic looks across the dam towards where the farm was. This pic is roughly above the farm looking back towards Harrismith’s long Platberg mountain:

sterkfontein-dam

Then they moved into town – the metropolis of Harrismith – to start a petrol station and garage, having lost the farms.

Nearby neighbours on Kindrochart were the Shannons, ___ and ___, with son Jack, a few years older than Pat and Mary.

When he had outgrown his Shetland Pony it was suggested to Jack that he give it to the Bland girls on Nuwejaarsvlei. He looked dubious but his parents encouraged him.

“Will you do that?” they prodded him.

“Yes, but not with pleasure” said Jack.

Recently Sheila found a pic of Jack – probably on that very pony!

1920 Jack Shannon & Peter Bell
Jack and Peter Bell

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1930 Bland group at NJV
Jessie & Annie sitting with Janet & Mary between them – (two guests) – Frank lying with Pat
Annie in old car
Annie in a ___ with canine driver

Here’s Mary in 1990 cruising above her old farm in a boat the ole man built, with her old home somewhere underwater below her:

1990 April Sterkfontein 50003

Loopspruit Army Basics

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

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

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

He sounded unlike Elvis:

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

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

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

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

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

The climax:

Dave Cooper was another worth his weight in gold. Always smiling, always upbeat. Later on our officers’ course he would discuss the weirdness of developing sexual thoughts and desire for daardie luitenant in her tight browns. He was articulating what we all were thinking. Wouldn’t give her a second thought outside this place, he’d say, but sure would give her a second go right now! And a third.

He played the guitar and sang beautifully. His unquenchable optimism led him to get us to join him in song, eventually leading to a KO Konsert where we sang to the appreciative masses in uniform! Yes, they were ordered to be there, but still! Talk about a captive audience! By now we had moved to Roberts Heights; or Thaba Tshwane; or OK, Voortrekkerhoogte as the weermag called it in those temporary days!

Songs we sang:  ” ??? (someone will remember – we were good! Amazing no talent scouts came looking). Ah! Piano Man by Billy Joel. Afterwards Dave went to Texas and became world-famous as Dhhhavid Cooper. He did really well out there!

Les Davies played the piano. Wide smile! And an amazing laugh. He was once instructed by a worried koporaal to “Lag Uit, Uit, Uit, nie In, In, In”.

Les Chrich. Shyer smile. Interested and interesting. Always had a serious girlfriend and was pretty much focused on her. Fell in love and married her after the ‘war ended’ I think. Not for long, though. Joined me in Durban after basics and officers’ course. Fell in love there too. And married her too, I think. Falls in love.

In perverse army style all the Durban guys who had pleaded to the point of irritation to be sent to Durban for a host of desperately ‘good reasons’ had been sent to ‘the border’ – the Namibian/Angolan border, where I had applied to go! Les and I – from up-country – were sent to Durban!

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Loopspruit – walking creek; running stream;

Staanspruit – standing creek;

Kilpdrif – stony shallow river crossing;

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

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

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Dhave Cooper chimed in from far-away Houston:

However, the most memorable event – besides the looty you eluded to, was the never to be seen again, yet well serenaded to, fine looking lass…. who stole our hearts that one summer beer-filled night….

Irene!! Do you remember..?

We sang “Goodnight Irene, good night……I’ll see you in my dreams” — and that’s exactly what happened…. we never saw her again except in our dreams!!

Hope you’re well pal… be lovely to catch up again sometime….Rod, maybe an weermag reunion sometime.

Talk about Chalk and . .

. . double strength gorgonzola!

In 1971 I decided I wanted to do the Dusi. Charlie Ryder (who gave me his boat, a fibreglass Limfy K1 with nylon deck and his left-feather paddle) told me it was tough, I’d better train.

So I did.
Every morning a few of us (Louis Wessels, Tuffy, who else?) got up at 5am, cycled a mile to the jail and then ran the X-country course. About 3,5km up a hill, across, down through a donga/stream bed and back. Probably a 15 minute run.
After school I would cycle to the mighty Vulgar River and paddle Charles’ boat (which I left “hidden” under a willow tree) for about a km or two. The cycle back home was uphill.

I’m not even sure I told anyone I was I was aiming to paddle the Dusi! I must have surely? They knew about the boat anyway.

I have never been as fit in my life, before or since. Running I felt like I could fly. I would run hard, then even harder and still think “I could just carry on like this!”

Today I re-read Graeme Pope-Ellis’ book. The part about his training in 1971.

He ran at 4.30 am for two to two-and-a-half hours; He ran hard.
In the afternoon he paddled for two to two-and-a-half hours; He paddled hard.
Plus he did half an hour of hard, targeted gym work.

My total training was an hour a day and only parts of the running was done hard. The cycling and paddling were leisurely. No pain; No pain!

I didn’t have a clue what “train hard” meant! Talk about chalk and cheese! Quite an eye-opener.

I didn’t do that race in 1972. My boat was stolen. I hitch-hiked to the race and followed it down through the Dusi and Umgeni valleys (with friend Jean Roux), sleeping in the open and bumming rides with paddlers’ seconds. Graeme won the race. His first win. He went on to win it 15 times.

Later I got to know Graeme and many of the guys who dedicated their lives to winning the Dusi. They trained like demons. Some of them did beat Graeme. Occasionally. But usually Graeme did the winning.

Me, I became a tripper! One of the trips was with Graeme and other fast paddlers who geared down and bumbled down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in leisurely fashion. My style!

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In my first Dusi in 1983 I politely waited for the okes in a hurry to move on over the flat water in Alexander Park and when I go to the weir I paused to tie a shoelace. Jerome Truran (world-class whitewater paddler) was spectating that year. He spotted me and said “Hey Swanie, you do realise this is a race, right?”

The Watersmeet Hawkins’

Sheila wrote:

Mrs Hawkins circa 1944 with her horse Pie. Mrs Hawkins was the mother of the five spinster Hawkins sisters who lived at Watersmeet at the bottom end of Harrismith. There were also 2 brothers. Only really old Harrismith people will remember this wonderful family. Blanche wrote the “History of Harrismith”. The other sisters had names like Mab, Mary (known as Bloody Bill who nursed “up north” in the Second World War) Vi and Flo. What wonderful names!

 

mrs-hawkins-ca-1944-tidied

Willow tree in picture, Platberg in the background

 Barbara  wrote:
I always thought there were 6 sisters that spoilt you and I rotten at “Watersmeet”. Those were really the good ‘ol days. I loved aunty Vi and was rather scared of some of them, but they were all fantastic ladies. The horse’s name was Robin Pie and the old lady was Mrs. Eliza Hawkins.
Jill Taylor (grand-daughter of Eliza?) wrote:
Just the 5 aunts – how does Sheila know so much about them?! Flo, Blanche, Mary (Bill), Mab and Vi in age order and then Frank and Len were the two brothers. They were all characters!