Reassuring Words – and Famous Patients

In 1980 the army relieved me of my post as adjutant for the Natal Medical Corps and sent me to work for the provincial ophthalmology department in Durban run by the Nelson R Mandela school of medicine based at King Edward Hospital. This meant I worked at the three racially-segregated hospitals.

King Edward VIII in Umbilo (for the healthily pigmented):

RK Khan Hospital  in Chatsworth (medium pigmentally blessed):

Addington on the beachfront (pale, pigmentally deficient):

At KE VIII we had our own building, at RK Khan and Addington we shared. Addington OPDB (Out Patients Department B) was for legs and eyes. My mate Bob Ilsley in orthopaedics would say “I’ll get them to walk straight, you get them to see straight”.

Resident ophthalmologist Pat Bean was a character. Surfer dude at heart. And heart of gold. “You got cat tracks, mummy”, he’d say at RK Khan. “Cat tracks. Terrible things those cat tracks. Must give you ‘PRATION. Not sore ‘pration. Over one time, you go home next day no pain see nicely” he would reassure.

(‘cataracts’ – ‘operation’)

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The nurse in charge of the clinic most days at KE VIII was Staff Nurse Anita Lekalakala, another character of note. One day she picked up a card for me, glanced at the name, grinned and called out loudly to the packed waiting room:

Miss Grace Kelly! Calling Princess Grace Kelly!

And in shuffled old Mrs Grace Cele, leaning on her walking stick.

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(36yrs later Anita still comes to me for her glasses)

Twaalf Eiers

Alf Beyers, son of the Hoof of the Hoerskool in Petrus Steyn OFS, struck enormous good fortune on leaving the village and striking out for the big smoke of lower Doornfontein, Johannesburg, city of sin and laughter. It was akin to winning the lottery.

He was allocated me as his room-mate.

Dropping our suitcases on the sticky deep purple linoleum floor we immediately headed off to Nirvana, a place we had heard about for years. A place our mothers warned against with such dire foreboding that we knew we had to find it.

Hillbrow.

We heard they sold liquor in Hillbrow and we had fresh pocket money, so off we went with the gang of new students in the Doories res of the Wits Tech for Advanced Technical Education on our first night in Joeys, 1974, in search of pubs and nightclubs. Vague names waft around in my head now: Summit? Idols? Sands Hotel?

Most of us returned late that night, but there was no sign of Alf. He had landed up in the Johannesburg General Hospital, a victim of alcohol poisoning. The docs assured him it wasn’t bad liquor, it was simply too much good liquor.

The ill-effects wore off quickly and the potential for fun endured. On another occasion when we’d had a skinful Alf indulged in a bit of streaking under the Harrow Road flyover, appearing completely kaalgat to the amusement of rush-hour motorists. Someone called the cops and Alf roared up the stairs and hid in the smallish free-standing cupboard in our room, which actually overlooked the spot where he’d been parading!

When the hullabaloo died down he appeared with a huge grin on his face, still buck naked and inquired innocently “Looking for me?”.

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twaalf eiers – a dozen eggs; rhymes with Alf Beyers;

hoerskool – school of ill repute;

kaalgat – naked as the day he was born;

 

 

 

House (mistress) Trained

Willie the housemaster of the Doornfontein residence of the Witwatersrand College for Advanced Technical Education was a good ou. In the fickle lottery of life he drew the short straw when we moved in to the room adjacent to the housemasters conjugal apartment that he shared with his long-suffering wife. Willie tried his best. We ignored him.

You couldn’t really ignore the real boss of the res, Sarie Oelofse though. She was fearsome. When we checked in to res on day one she made it very clear that she vatniekaknie.

Let us pause briefly right here to think about what sort of doos would christen a place a “College for Advanced Technical Education”. Fuck me! Catchy title, china! One can imagine flocks of proud alumni saying “I went to the College for Advanced Technical Education”.

But about Sarie: She was tall, had been through some husbands, and was crowned by a snow white mop on top. No one would dare give her kak, we thought. Then we met Slabber. Sarie marched into our room one day in our first week as inmates in first year and asked in her strident voice “Vuddafokgaanhieraan?” We were drinking against the rules and making a happy, ribald commotion against those same rules.

We were ready to capitulate and come with all sorts of “jammer mevrous” and “ons sal dit nooit weer doen nies” and kak like that when Slabber – an old hand in his third year in res stepped forward and said “Ag kak, Sarie, hier: Hier’s vir jou ‘n dop” and poured her a large brandy.

Sarie melted like a marshmallow on a stick roasting over an open fire. She sat down, smiled coyly and lost all her authority in one gulp. It was wonderful. From then on, we wagged the dog. We continued to show her huge respect while doing whatever the hell we wanted to. We helped her, and she turned a blind eye. The formula Chris Slabber had worked out worked like a charm. It needed regular dop provision, of course, but that was no PT: Whatever we were drinking we would just pour Sarie some and she would remain completely reasonable and amenable.

It was what you could call win-win.

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vatniekaknie – intolerant of rambustious student behaviour

doos – person lacking your clear insight

kak – uphill

Vuddafokgaanhieraan? – What gives, gentlemen?

jammer mevrous – apologies

ons sal dit nooit weer doen nies – perish the thought

Ag kak, Sarie, hier: Hier’s vir jou ‘n dop – Have a seat, ma’am

dop – libation. Actually no, any alcoholic drink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annie’s Kings and Queens

I joked that my gran Annie thought ‘the queen’ was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk. And I thought ‘You know, Annie was probably alive under Queen Victoria!’

So I thought I’d check.

Well, she certainly was. And what’s more, she actually lived under six British Monarchs!

Victoria; Eddie Seven; Georgie Five; Eddie Eight; Georgie Six; Lizzie Two Second

 

How’s that! Long live the Queen! Long live the King! But longer live our Annie!

Annie in George - when? Dressed like Mrs Queen - and a corgi at her feet!!
Annie, complete with corgi

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I myself have lived through the (distant, irrelevant) reign of Lizzie Two Second and . . oh, only Lizzie. She recently de-throned or defrocked her great-great-granma Victoria as longest reigning Breetish monarch. Poor old Bakoor Charlie has gone straight from unemployment into pensionerhood before ever actually doing anything. He’s sixty nine in the shade, has never worked a day in his life and is still sitting around waiting for a vacancy to arise.

“Royalty” is such BS.

Prince Charles

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breetish – Mugabe-speak for that island to the left of France;

bakoor – wingnut (both in ears and ideas);

Borrowing Cars Genetic?

We used to borrow our parents cars on the without-permission system and drive around at night with the ultimate destination being the Royal Natal National Park Hotel down Oliviershoek Pass. That was a triumphant destination I only achieved once, other times we went to Little Switzerland, halfway down the pass. Or Kestell.

Once Steph de Witt decided to raise the bar and we headed off to Durban with the goal of putting our toes in the warm surf of the Indian Ocean and getting back to Harrismith before sunrise but we ‘changed our minds’ soon after Ladysmith and turned back.

I knew this habit could not be genetic as Mom would never have done such things, but recently I found out something which may throw new light on the possible causes of such fun behaviour.

Mom’s older sister Pat matriculated at Girls High in Pietermaritzburg while Mom matriculated at Harrismith se Hoer. I suddenly wondered why, so I asked.

Oh, she was getting into boys so Dad sent her off to boarding school, said Mom. She must have been in standard eight and about fifteen or sixteen years old.

Apparently some boys had borrowed a car from Kemp’s Garage in Warden Street and headed off to Royal Natal National Park Hotel back before it was Royal. It only became Royal after the Breetish Royal visit in 1947 and this must have been about 1941. Mom thinks Pat’s fellow felons may have included Michael Hastings and Donald Taylor. Pat, being the fun-loving person she always was, was right there! FOMO (fear of missing out) was a thing then too, even if it didn’t yet have an acronym! I know I had it big as a teenager.

The hotel looks like this now, but not because of us, swear!

Royal Natal National Park Hotel - Heritage Portal - June 2014 - 1

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Potted history of the Royal Natal National Park area:

In 1836, while exploring Basutoland, two French missionaries, Mons. Arbrousset and Daumas first discovered Mont-Aux-Sources, the source of three rivers. In 1908 the idea of establishing a National Park in this area was conceived, and the territory was explored by Senator Frank Churchill, General Wylie, Colonel Dick and Mr. W.O. Coventry. Recommendations were put forward, but it was not until 1916 that the Secretary of Lands authorised the reservation of five farms, and certain Crown Lands totalling approximately 8160 acres and entrusted it to the Executive Committee of the Natal Province.

On the 16 September 1916 the National Park came into being. An advisory committee was appointed to control the Park. Shortly afterwards the Natal Provincial Administration purchased the farm ‘Goodoo’, upon which a hostel for hikers had already been opened in 1913 by W.O.Coventry, and incorporated a small portion of the Upper Tugela Native Trust Land, thus swelling the National Park to its present 20 000 acres. The Advisory Committee was abolished in January 1942, and the Park was administered by the Provincial Council until the formation of the Natal Parks, Game and Fish Preservation Board on the 22 December 1947.

Mr. F. O. Williams held the first hostel lease rights on the farm Goodoo which he obtained from Mr. W.O. Coventry, the original owner. Mr. Coventry became Lessee of the whole park in 1919, and took over the post of Park Superintendent in August 1924 at the grand salary of five pounds per month. In 1926 he was succeeded by Otto and Walter Zunkel, who each added their share of buildings and improvements. Mr. Alan Short was the next Superintendent.

Short was in charge when the Royal Family visited the Park in May 1947. Prime Minister Jan Smuts wanted King George VI, the Queen and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to take a break from their two-month tour of southern Africa and see the splendour of the Drakensberg. It was Elizabeth’s first overseas trip and she celebrated her coming-of-age there, drafting her first important speech at the hotel.

The Royal family were so impressed with their stay that they insisted that the hotel and national park be granted the “Royal” designation.

Today, the Royal Natal National Park is managed by KZN Wildlife, the provincial conservation body of KwaZulu-Natal.

Here’s why everyone loves the area:Amphitheatre Pierre (1)

Picture taken by Pierre du Plessis while he was working down there.

Harrismithian Sayings

Collected by Sheila Swanepoel:

Louis Schoeman, (Farnie and Little Louis’ father) when he heard that a whole Portuguese family was living behind the Fruit & Veg shop in Warden Street, remarked: “Hmph – that’ll ripen the bananas.”

Maybe the same family, when they arrived in Harrismith, decided to join the Anglican Church. On the first day, the church warden politely inquired of the head of this large, obviously foreign family: “Are you Greek Orthodox?” “No”, came the reply, “Portuguese Fruit & Veg.”

Elsa du Plessis at Aberfeldy Primary School in the 1960s – the teacher asked for a translation into Afrikaans of “horseshoe”. Elsa came back quick as a flash – “drankwinkel”. Old Harrismith people will remember the Scott’s Horseshoe Bottle Store just up the road from Mary and Pieter Swanepoel’s Platberg Bottle Store, both in Warden Street.

When Annie Bland used to ask her old mate, Dr Nel (Petronella) van Heerden, how she was, the stock phrase was “Oh, fair to bloody!”

The Lotsoff Flats in Stuart Street were owned by Basil Lotsoff, who was enormously fat. Inevitably, he was called Lots of Basil.

Jaap van Reenen (Rina’s grandfather) had a very loud voice and you could hear him coming long before you saw him, so he was called Jaap Aeroplane.

Roy Kool was a traveling salesman, selling fertiliser to farmers. The first time he called on Mr Blom, the farmer stuck his hand out and in the time-honoured brusque manner of old Free State farmers, said “Blom”. Roy said “Kool” (Afrikaans pronunciation) and the story was Blom thought he was taking the mickey! (‘Blomkool’ means cauliflower).

Roy Cartwright, who owned the Tattersalls, called Barney and Louis Green, brothers who owned a little shop in Warden Street where we used to buy our school shoes, Barmy and Looney.

The Green brothers’ stock was always coming in on “Vensday Veek”. Whatever you were after, they didn’t have it, but it would be there by “Vensday Veek”.

Roy also christened Martha McDonald and Carrie Friday, as they cruised around in a beautiful bottle-green Buick “Martha and My Man Friday”.

Michael Hastings to Mary Swanepoel as they were leaving Harrismith in 1964: “There’s been a Hastings in Harrismith since 1066 and now we’re leaving.”

Dr Hoenigsburger, great friend of my great grandfather, Stewart Bain was the family GP as well as the Harrismith government doctor (district surgeon?). Annie always called him Dr ‘Henningsberg’.

One day, driving back to town from the prison, he missed the bridge and his car landed in the spruit. Only his pride was injured. In the meantime, back in town, the hostess of the bridge evening was getting a bit perturbed as Dr H hadn’t arrived yet and they couldn’t start playing bridge without him. She ‘phoned the Hoenigsburger home and was told by Dr H’s young son Max: “No, I don’t think my father will be coming tonight. He’s had enough bridge for one day.”

Aunty Hester Schreiber was a much loved friend of our family and had a wonderful sense of humour. She was walking along the pavement one day outside their home opposite the big Dutch Reformed Church right in the middle of town. Suddenly she felt faint and sank to the ground. But help was at hand. Gerrie Coetzee, Harrismith’s own Maurice Chevalier, happened along. Always impeccably attired, in tweed coat, deerstalker and kierie – with beautiful manners to match, he gallantly bent down and tried to help Aunt Hessie up. Her response? “Nee los Gerrie, los. Netnou lê ons altwee innie gutter. Wat sal die dominee dan sê?”

The same Aunt Hessie walked into her lounge one say, slipped on the “springbok velletjie” rug and slid right under the narrow coffee table. And there she lay, completely trapped by the legs of the table and screaming with laughter. Oh, how we loved her and her sense of humour.

So many of Mum and Dad’s stories are about good times they had with Steve & Hester Schreiber, Joe and Griet Geyser, Bert & Margie Badenhorst, Jannie & Joan du Plessis, Frank & Harriet van der Merwe, Cappie & Joyce Joubert, Manie & Mary Wessels, Hector & Stella Fyvie, Geoff & Billy Leslie, Dick & Barbara Venning.

The last time Mary saw Jannie du Plessis, he said to her: “I’ve got to take so many pills I can never remember if I have to take two at 10 o’clock or ten at 2 o’clock.”

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Mosleyisms

Stan Mosley worked for the Woollen Mills in Harrismith back in the ‘fifties. Born in England, he had a colourful turn of phrase. Mom used to tell us of things he said over the years, but I forget them, so I’ve been trying to get her to remember them.

Here are some Mom remembers and one Pierre du Plessis recalled:

  • A journey in a pickup along a rough road “We rattled along like a tin of sardines”;
  • Harsh justice: “The judge sentenced him to be hanged by the neck until death us do part”;
  • On the golf course: “The ball was rolling towards the pin, gathering memorandum”;

HS Golf course

  • The lights went out at the factory, so Stan phoned up Ben Priest in the municipality: “Mr Priest! Is there any lights?” To which Mr Priest answered “No, there isn’t none at present now”;
  • On Platberg: “On the mountain the only living thing we saw was a dead baboon”;

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Lovely old pic of the golf course (so clear!) from deoudehuizeyard blog.

“Nee los Gerrie, los. Netnou lê ons altwee innie gutter. Wat sal die dominee dan sê?” – Abandon me to my fate, gallant knight! We can’t afford to be seen together in the gutter by the local guardian of the dorp‘s morals!

dorp – village;

Umko Trip Mpendle to Lundys Hill

I remember a lovely day, spectacular scenery, an easy river level, quite gentle, good company, lots of laughs, but very little else till near the end when we came to the only rapid we decided not to go ‘down the middle’!

Among us were (as I recall) Doug Retief, Martin Lowenstein, Marlene Boshoff, Pete Zietsman and Bernie Garcin. Around 1983 or 1984 I guess? I wonder who drove our vehicles?

The rapid had a deep slot with the water dropping vertically over a ledge on three sides, a bit like a weir. Did someone call it The Coffin? We decided to take a sneak around it on the right and as I was on river left I started to ferry-glide across but lost my angle and decided ‘Too late, I’ll have to go for it’

I paddled hard and shot down into the slot, shuddered to a halt but then managed to pull away. All turned out alright, but I berated myself for a sloppy ferry-glide! Focus!

Don’t remember much else except a nice cold drink at the trading store on top of the hill. I wonder if anyone took a camera?

Impendle - Lundys Hill MapLundys Hill umkomaas river

Map from paddler celliers kruger; photos from mapio.net – thanks!