Telecommunicating, Clarens-style

TV, harbinger of kommunisme, arrived in South Africa in 1976. This in spite of the Nationalist Party’s Posts and Telecommunications Minister Albert Hertzog’s determination not to telecommunicate.

Hertzog had vowed that television would come to South Africa over his dead body, denouncing it as ‘a miniature bioscope over which parents would have no control’. He also argued that “imported fillums showing race mixing and advertising would make non-white Africans (or ‘plurals’) dissatisfied with their lot.” The new medium was the “devil’s own box, for disseminating communism and immorality.” The influential Dutch Reformed Church (the National Party at prayer) saw the new medium as ‘degenerate and immoral’. No doubt they had to send a few dominees oorsee to check and make sure it was as bad as vey fought. Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was also full of wisdom, comparing television to atomic bombs and poison gas – “they are modern things, but that does not mean they are desirable. The goverrinmint has to watch for any dangers to the people, both spiritual and physical.”

Very prescient of them all: I mean do we have free speech and human rights now? See! They TOLD you so! Not to even mention the scourge of ree-hality TV.

But TV came to South Africa irregardless, only not to Clarens. Citizens of Clarens had to listen enviously to Bethlehem se mense when they spoke of staring at the test pattern or watching The World At War.

Then came The Dingleys and The Villagers, as well as comedy series Biltong and Potroast’s SA vs British comedians shootout, and variety program The Knicky Knacky Knoo Show. Also The Sweeney in Afrikaans (called Blitspatrollie). Things were now getting Crucial in Clarens! The frustrasie mounted.

Then: A breakthrough! Someone discovered there was TV reception on the top of Mount Horeb which looms above the dorp! Mount Horeb, where Moses got the Ten Commandments, was about to beam down much breaking of the seventh and tenth commandments – the ones about adultery and coveting your neighbour’s wife’s ass. Yes, Mount Horeb is near Clarens, as is Bethlehem and the River Jordan. They wrote a book about it.

What was needed was a ‘repeater’. A what? A repeater. You get an aerial to catch the signal, then a repeater, then another aerial aimed down at the dorp and voila (or ‘daar’s hy’): you have TV.

Steve writes of the “many trips up Mount Horeb: “At one stage we enlisted the TV expert from the Bethlehem TV shop – Haas Das. Two-way radios were used to speak to the manne down in the dorp, hunched over the test TV set:

“Hoe lyk die picture nou? Over”

“Nee man dis net sneeu – Over”

“En nou? Over”

“Dis nog steeds net sneeu. Over”

Ens ens…”

So that was done and TV arrived in Clarens to groot vreugde and great joy. The mense didn’t know it, but they had embarked on learning to speak Engels.

tv.jpg

And then it died. Wat de hel gaan aan? The battery’s flat. What battery? Ja, it has a battery to drive the repeater. O bliksem, so a roster had to be drawn up for all the townsfolk to take turns driving up Mount Horeb to change the battery and bring the flat one down to charge it. Daily. Every day. (Moses se Moses, he only went up Mount Horeb once).

Porters Hella Hella (6)
Different home-made repeater aerial; Same battery-changing chore

Then there was peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. Except if men forgot their roster slot. Then there was hell to pay. Later a wind charger was installed so they didn’t have to change batteries every day.

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kommunisme – communism

fillums – motion pictures

box – doos

dominees oorsee – they sent preachers overseas to patriotically watch porn

vey fought – they thought

goverrinmint – guvmint (Pik Botha discovered the ‘R’ in guvmint, his only achievement as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was better at local affairs, taking gewillige meisies to farms for frolics around the braai)

gewillige meisies – willing lasses

Bethelehem se mense – Bethlehem’s people

frustrasie – frustration, impotence, FOMO

dorp – village

daar’s hy – there it is, Suzelle, voila

manne – the boys

“Hoe lyk die picture nou? Over” – What’s the picture look like? Over

“Nee man dis net sneeu – Over” – No man, its just snow – Over

“En nou? Over” – And now? Over

Ens ens... – etc etc

groot vreugde – great joy

Wat de hel gaan aan? – What gives? Whatsa happening?

O bliksem – Oh shit

se Moses – like . . . “that was nothing!”

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I wanted to know more about how they did this, so asked

The South African Radio League
The National Association for Amateur Radio in South Africa
Proudly serving Amateur Radio since 1925

and got a reply from Jaap:

Yes this is no secret, in fact we at the SABC/ Sentech, encouraged the use of TV repeaters for the smaller communities, and at one stage there were more privately owned “self- help” TV stations than those we ran for the SABC.

The right way to do this was to purchase a transposer, a combined TV receiver and transmitter that will receive a TV signal on one channel, then re-broadcast the signal on another channel. This could be UHF-UHF or VHF-VHF or VHF-UHF. Then you need a receive antenna and transmit antenna. Install on a high structure, such as a grain silo or mountain top. This transposers was in the order of 1-10 Watts output. This then would receive the distant TV signal from the TX station through a front-end amplifier on one channel before feeding into the transposer, and transmitting it on another channel.

The cheap and dirty, crude way was to get hold of a VCR with AV out, a TV tuner with a AV output, or even a modified TV set. The AV output would then be taken to a TV modulator, which you can buy off the shelf, and then tune it to a suitable channel, and then put the RF into a amplifier that could be home-built or even a commercial distribution (set-back amplifier ) connect it to the antenna and away you go. Equipment could be bought from your local TV spares/ equipment dealer, Ellies Electronics, Space TV, or even your local co-op store. Drawback was that only one channel, normally TV3 (SABC3) could be re-broadcasted like this, any other additional channels would have to have identical set-ups.

According to the law, such self-help stations had to be licensed by the SABC, but many of them did not bother to do so. Obviously the home-brewed equipment was very prone to causing interference as the amplifiers they used was not channelized, with no filtering whatsoever.

In all instances the equipment had to be placed so that the clearest possible signal could be received and the maintenance of such repeaters was obviously the responsibility of that community.

Voila.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Communicating, Clarens-style

Stephen Charles Reed was the laat lammetjie son of Vincent and Doreen Reed. Vin and Dor. Butch was the big black Labrador in residence.

Vincent was the Mayor of Clarens so although Stevie was by a long shot not their first son he WAS the First Son of Clarens.

In the holidays I would ring up Oom Lappies Labuschagne at the Harrismith sentrale. He would say ‘seker‘ and patch me through to the Clarens telephone exchange – their ‘sentrale‘. The operator lady would answer with a chirpy “Clarr-RINSE”!

Three Four Please. Seemed somehow wrong that their number was 34. I mean, Vincent was the Mayor. Surely it should have been One Please?

Anyway, Three Four Please.

“No, Stevie’s not there, he’s at the Goldblatts, I’ll put you through”.

Old Clarens, before the rush. Here’s the Reed’s store.

clarens2.jpg

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seker – sure

sentrale – telephone exchange

 

 

 

Charlie Crawley’s Chevy Truck

Behind the Crawley’s house in Warden street was an amazing garden. Huge trees and a fascinating big wooden shed, filled with all sorts of interesting stuff. And a fascinating big old green truck with a flat wooden bed parked under one tree.

Everything was big – industrial size. I remember long planks and pipes in shelves with pots and tins and everything. Everything. A robin nested in one of the pots on one of the shelves. I don’t know why I think it was a robin, but I’m sure I saw a bird’s nest there anyway. Leon confirms this memory.

The old Chevy truck was quite unlike any other in town. You couldn’t mistake it. I checked with the old man. He says it said ‘Hastings & Crawley Builders’ and it was a Chev – “1934 or 1935 judging by the grille”.

I remember it looking something like these:

 

Close. But not quite right, the one on the right is a Studebaker.

Dad also says he thinks Charlie’s first car was a 1939 2-door Chev he bought from the mayor Sepp de Beer, whose numberplate was OI 1 (we were Oh Eye before we were OHS). That’s all I got from him on the phone. His hearing is a bit ‘Whut?’.

Chev 1939 2-door.jpg

 

 

Abe Sparks

I thought of Abe Sparks as the “Lord Mayor of Swinburne”.

Ever since he went to Texas he wore a stetson, cowboy boots and a string tie with a polished stone clasp. He was a larger than life character, colourful. He and Lulu were always very friendly to me. He drove an old Rolls Royce which he’d converted into a pickup truck. It looked something like the one in this pic.

I have a clear childhood memory of it parked in Stuart Street near the corner of Retief Street, opposite the Post Office.

He and Lulu would throw big parties and the story goes – yes, the old story goes – that one night they decided to cook the mushrooms they had gathered in the veld that day. To be safe they fed some to the dog and asked the kitchen staff to keep an eye on it for the next hour or so. They continued partying up a storm with the grog flowing and then ate supper and carried on until one of the staff came in to say “Baas die hond is dood” (Sir the dog has died).

Panic ensued as they all bundled into cars and rushed off to the Harrismith Hospital twelve miles away, had their stomachs pumped out and returned much later to the farm looking chastened, wan and sober.

Next morning they asked to see the dog and were shown where it lay dead and mangled. It had been run over by a passing car.

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This guy reminded me of Uncle Abe:

Abe Sparks Tailor

 

The Grand Old Man of Harrismith

Janet & Stewart Bain – Royal Hotel Harrismith
  • Stewart Bain came to Harrismith in 18__
  • Became Mayor of the town and ‘reigned’ for years, becoming known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Harrismith’
  • Pushed for the building of a very smart town hall. Some thought it was way too fancy – and too expensive – and called it “Bain’s Folly” (shades of our Moses Mabida stadium in Durban for 2010 – “Do we need such a fancy stadium!?”).

He died in 1939 and the town pulled out the stops for his funeral:

Stewart Bain 1939.jpg

I thought I remembered that, despite the fact that every dorp has a Royal Hotel, the Harrismith Royal Hotel was one of only two that could officially call itself ‘Royal’. Sheila has confirmed that I have a flawless memory (well, something along those lines):

Royal Hotel article

Here you have Platberg mountain & Town Hall seen from the Royal Hotel:

Oupa's bible and Grandpa Bain's funeral
Oupa Bain’s funeral from the Royal Hotel balcony

‘Bain of Harrismith’

My granny Annie had an older brother Ginger. He was the oldest of the seven ‘Royal Bains’ and a great sportsman. They owned the Royal Hotel and were not to be confused with the ‘Central Bains’, who owned the Central Hotel!

This old report was reprinted in the 1997 Hilton vs Michaelhouse sports day brochure: 

Hilton Ginger Bain_2

Drop goals were four points and tries were three in those distant days. I like that the one side was “smarter with their feet” . . and that that beat “pretty passing”.

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Ginger Bain’s father Stewart died in 1939:

Stewart Bain 1939.jpg

Sister Sheila says he was known as “The Grand Old Man of Harrismith” and his clan was called ‘The Royal Bains’ after his hotel!

I thought I remembered that, despite the fact that every dorp has a Royal Hotel, the Harrismith Royal Hotel was one of only two that could officially call itself ‘Royal’. Sheila has confirmed that I have a flawless memory (well, something along those lines):

Royal Hotel article

This post on my other blog got a reply from a distant relative in Scotland.

The Bain Family’s Scottish Roots

Katrina (nee Miller) Duncan, from near Oban in Scotland, stumbled across my other blog here and made contact with us. She sounds delightful, but so she would – she’s family!

bain-crest
Clan Bain Crest

She has been researching the Bain family tree and she and my sister Sheila have worked out that we share a Great-Great-Great Grandfather, one Donald Bain (born in Wick 14 April 1777 – died 1853). He married Katherine Bremner and they lived in Sarclet, just south of Wick way up in north-east Scotland.

Donald’s son George was out fishing with his brother Stewart in 1853 when their boat was swamped and Stewart drowned. Katrina found an 1853 newspaper article about the tragedy.

Stewart Bain drowning 1853.jpg

When Stewart Bain was born in 1819 in Caithness, his father, Donald, was 42 and his mother, Katherine, was 41. On 7 February 1845 Stewart married Christina Watson  in his hometown. They had four children during their marriage. He died as a young father on 19 February 1853 in Thrumster, Caithness, at the age of 34, and was buried there.

The next year, 1854, his brother George and his wife Annie (nee Watson) had a son. They named him Stewart.

He is the Stewart who came to Harrismith, Orange River Colony in South Africa in 18____ and married Janet Burley. They had seven kids: The seven ‘Royal Bains’ of Harrismith, named after their hotel, The Royal Hotel in Station Road. This ‘title’ was to distinguish them from ‘The Central Bains’, not to claim royalty!

On Katrina’s ancestry web page “Miller Family Tree” the names Annie, Jessie, Stewart, Katherine, Donald etc have been used for generations.  My gran – one of the seven Royal Bains – was Annie Watson Bain.

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Many thanks to  katrina duncan for getting in touch!

The Scottish Tartan register confirms that there is no ancient Clan Bain tartan. This one ‘The Bains of Caithness’ was designed in 1993 for Robert Bain of Caithness.