Crisis Averted

The Church of England, Vrystaat Outpost of the British Empire Division, in its small sandstone building in Harrismith – off the beaten track, not even in the shadow of the tall, imposing Kerk of the Chosen People in the square which sat smack in the middle of Warden Street, interrupting the flow, forcing ox-wagons and later automobiles to go AROUND it – had a big problem:

Dwindling membership and a severe shortage of people able to serve the Queen and the Home Country – oh, and the Lord – as deacons.

Anglican Church
Not a new problem, this shortage had occupied the minds of these good Colonialists even before the darned Nationalists had taken over Colonial Rule in 1948 and the death of dear  King George in 1952. Long gone were the days when the mayor or a few councillors might occupy these pews (and speak English at town meetings!). Everyone who was anyone now sat in the Kerk pews of a Sunday and listened to thundering donder n bliksem sermons of power and guilt (and what one could quite legitimately do to the sons of Ham) up the road.

Part of the problem was those families who might cough up good English deacons sent their sons away. Hilton, Michaelhouse, St Andrews, Treverton. You know, good Church schools (yes, some of them might be Methodist, but one has to make do out here in the Colonies). These good schools cured them of any desire to spend more Sundays on cold, hard wooden benches. So what to do?

A thought: What about young Clive Oswald? An approving murmur started up among the little group of Church elders, a quiet buzz . . . He had recently returned to the district to join his father and mother on the farm. Young, good-looking, polite, capable, why it was like manna sent from . . .

“Has his shadow ever darkened the door of this church!?” boomed a voice.
Belonging to Joan Simpson. Dairy farmer. Long-serving deacon. Anglophile. Known for sleeping on her bed on the open porch of the farmhouse she shared with her sister Vera. Year-round, even in Harrismith’s freezing winter. And for delivering milk in big metal cans on the back of her grey Morris Minor pickup – made in England, what. And for wearing khaki trousers at all times.

Well, that settled that question. Tabs Fyvie was safe. England expects every Church of England to do its duty and die quietly, fizzling away with dignity.

River Trip Swinburne – Walton

Down the Mighty Vulgar River (Wilge really) in a borrowed canoe ca 1970. An Accord double kayak borrowed from the ‘Voortrekkers’ thanks to Ou Lip’s kindness. He had a good heart, Ou Lip Snyman, and I’m sure he thought he looked dashing in his Voortrekkerleier uniform. I’m with my mate Claudio Bellato. We embark in Swinburne.

The water’s high, it flows up in the willow branches making some sections very tricky. A branch whips off Claudio’s specs – down into the swirling muddy waters go his 5D cyls (optometrists will know that’s no mean amount of astigmatism). He wants to go after them, knowing that Dad Luigi will take a dim view of the loss. I say “Are you mad!? You’ll drown!”

Later I lose my specs after an unscheduled swim and I go out on a precarious willow limb sticking out over the current looking ‘just in case’. “Oh!” says Claudio, “I’m mad to think of looking for mine, but its OK for you to look for yours?!” Well, mine are 4D spheres I mumble, illogically.

We paddle on in the blur, the myopic leading the astigmatic. I’m wearing my PlusFours. We decide we should camp while there’s still daylight. That night we share one damp sleeping bag (mine’s sopping wet) – little knowing that for decades ever after Claudio would introduce me: “Meet my mate Peter. I’ve slept with him”.

The next day we sally forth, the river forks to go round an island, there’s a treeblock, we wrap the boat around the semi-submerged treetrunk. This is new to Claudio, but it’s the second time I’ve now wrapped a borrowed boat on a flooded Wilge River. Fording the rushing current, I only just make the bank and signal above the roaring water for Claudio to SIT! STAY! on the island and run off to the beautiful old sandstone house under the oaks of Mrs and the Misses Jakobs’ farm Walton to phone Charlie Ryder.

He comes roaring out in his pale green Volvo 122S with a long rope. We pull Claudio off the island, but we only rescue the Voortrekker’s boat two weeks later when the water has subsided.

The Voortrekkers take a dim view of my treatment of their flatwater craft and rush me R50 – keep the wreckage.

I’m hooked on kayaking! I can do this! I think . . .

Jock with the Swanie/Bellato Vulgar River Expedition Voortrekkers’ canoe
Back home, Jock shuns the broken boat

River Trip Swinburne – Harrismith

Fluffy Crawley and I were dropped off in Swinburne on the banks of the Mighty Vulgar in the grounds of the Montrose Motel with our open red and blue fibreglass canoe. We were aiming to head off downstream, camp overnight and finish in Harrismith the next day.

But we bumped into Ian Grant who persuaded us to spend the night at Montrose. Jock & Brenda agreed to let us sleep in one of the rondawels. As evening fell Ian was up to mischief as always, and soon after dark one of the petrol attendants snuck up and slipped us a litre bottle of brandy. Ian organised a bottle of cream soda and we were set for nonsense. After a couple of quick shots I suggested we hang around and let the alcohol take effect and let the laughing begin, but as I was in the bathroom taking a leak I overheard Ian mutter “Fuck him, I’m drinking the lot!” so I  came out and said “Pour!”

Well Ian was first and I stuck a bucket under his chin as his technicolor yawn started. Just then I heard HURGH! from Fluffy so I grabbed the little wastepaper bin from the bathroom and stuck it under his chin. It was a lumpy laughter duet.

Early the next morning I woke Fluffy and said “Come!” and we carried the boat to the river and launched it onto the muddy waters. Well, actually “launched” it because it touched bottom. The river was so low we didn’t even get our shoelaces wet! A long spell of carrying the boat on our shoulders, stopping for a hurl, carrying a while till another stop for a chunder ensued till we found deeper water and a settled stomach and could paddle home.

Fluffy remembers: “The river was terribly low and we did a lot of foot work crossing or by-passing the rapids. We made it in one day, no overnight stop. Your Dad picked us up in town.”

railway bridge wilge river

 

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Dave Walker tells of a Tugela trip or race with Clive Curson when they broke and had to carry their boat for miles. They christened their trip Walkin’ an Cursin’.

Mine with Fluffy Crawley would be Walkin’ and Crawlin’.

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Ladies of Stone

Way back in high school we spent a night in an old sparsely furnished Drakensberg farmhouse with no ceilings and a tin roof.

We accompanied Klein Kerneels Retief to his Dad’s winter grazing farm below Oliviershoek Pass and were left on our own overnight. Adventure! The skies were overcast and soon there were deep rumblings and flashes of lightning. A heavy rain started falling followed by hailstones. The storm built up until it was a roar and we couldn’t hear each other at all – not even shouting into your ear from an inch away was audible above the tinroof fandango. We jumped a foot high when a massive crack of thunder clapped half an inch above the roof. The loudest bang I’d ever heard.

The next day we explored the ouhout thickets above the house and came across a well-endowed woman lying naked on a huge stone in the woods. She sported huge shapely boobs and was a wonder for the eyes of lustful teenagers. She was gorgeous! OK, she was made of stone, but hey, what else did we have?

I have often thought of her over the years and started thinking I may have imagined her but then I read of the stone carvings of the Drakensberg and determined to go and find her.

I took the kids and we stayed at The Cavern, lovely old-style ‘Berg hotel.

The Cavern-001

Beautiful things in the grounds. And some flowers.

Asking around, one of their hiking guides said he knew where my statue was and he’d take me there. I packed a rucksack, he packed lunch and off we went for the day, leaving the kids behind. They could not WAIT for me to GO! DAD! as they had discovered an amazing secret: If you gave any hotel employee your room number he or she would give you anything you wanted under the sun. They had discovered the key to endless riches.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One movie – Dad will pay. Room 15

When my guide and I got to the little valley in the foothills where he said the statue was it didn’t look right. It didn’t feel like the place I remembered from – uh, 40yrs ago. But there she was: A maiden with luscious boobs carved in stone.
*Cavern upright Statue (small)
But this lady was standing up, not lying down on a rock in a seductive pose. There is another statue, I told him. This is not the statue I saw. Its beautiful, and thank you, but she is not the lady of my dreams. Ah! He knew where the other one was. It was on private property and he couldn’t take me there. Back at the hotel I asked around and they showed me a picture.

And there she was, exactly as I remembered her:
Cavern reclining Statue (small)
Well, almost exactly. Um, I must confess I did NOT notice that she had wings back then, nor that she had clothing. I was remembering naked bunnytail more than dressed wings. Hey, Testosterone! Vrystaat! 1970! No internet! Very few Playboy magazines! Cut me some slack here!

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The story was told of a reclusive sculptor who fell in love with a trader’s daughter and sculpted these rocks in homage to her. She was a Coventry. We had Coventry twins Glenda & Glynis in Harrismith who came from a Drakensberg trading family. And I think I see a resemblance . . .

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I found this by Rowan Philp: Rediscovering South Africa: A Wayward Guide.
“There are two boulders hidden deep in a Drakensberg forest which tell a near-Shakespearean tale of obsession, genius, and revenge. Completely unsign-posted, they feature magnificent, life-size sculptures of the same nude, full-breasted woman, painstakingly carved by her lover 50 years ago. The story begins when Willie Chalmers, a wandering artist with a wildly unkempt beard, came to the area from the Kalahari in the 1930’s to learn more about Bushman paintings from a farmer’s daughter, Doreen Coventry. He fell in love with her and spent 14 months carving her likeness into a flat sandstone rock on her farm, adding a halo and the face of a child alongside. He called it Spirit of the Woods.

But some of his younger in-laws saw him as a con man and a parasite at the family homestead, and at the height of the row, Coventry’s nephew hiked up to the sculpture in a rage and smashed off the nose. So, some say, Chalmers began a second Spirit of the Woods, this time in a secret location almost completely enclosed by other boulders, sometimes working for weeks without a break.”

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ouhout – literally ‘old wood’ Leucosidea sericea

Harsh Rejection, Deep Scars

In high school we had an older mate who was in the Free State koor. He was famous in Harrismith for that. His nickname was Spreeu but we called him Sparrow. Everyone knew Sparrow was one of “Die Kanaries – Vrystaatse Jeugkoor“. Fame! Bright lights! Girls threw their broekies at him. OK, maybe not.

One day a buzz went round school that Septimus – apparently he was the seventh child – Smuts, Free State Inspector of Music was there to do auditions for new members for this famous koor.

We were there! Me and Gabba. Neither known for having the faintest interest in warbling before (my membership of the laerskool koor a distant memory). Nor any other form of culture come to think of it, other than rugby. Gabba was a famous – beroemde, kranige – rugby player, having been chosen for Oos Vrystaat Craven Week in Std 8, 9, 9 & 10. Strong as an ox.

People were amazed: “What are YOU ous doing here?” they asked as we waited in the queue. We just smiled. We’d already missed maths, biology and PT.

Septimus was a dapper little rockspider full of confidence. He gave Gabba exactly three seconds and sent him packing. Gave me ten times longer and said “Nice enough, but no range”. So back to class we went, crestfallen look on our dials, mournfully telling our mates and the teacher that we COULD NOT understand how we’d been rejected and there must have been some mistake.

The teacher raised his eyebrows but we stuck to our story: It had been a longtime deep desire of ours and the rejection cut us deep.

It became mine & Gabba‘s standing joke over the years.

Gabba, disappointed songbird:

Rugby HY 1972 Gabba crop.jpg

 

My Life as a Shepherd

I’ve been farming all day so I’m an old hand already. We have to go count the sheep now, and when Hector Fyvie says “You know the difference between a ram and a ewe, right?” I almost scoff, but I’m polite. I say “Sure, Uncle Hec”.
So hundreds of sheep are herded past us in an orderly fashion, not too fast, not too slow. Obviously I have been given the easier job – counting the rams – as there are only a few sheep with horns compared to the many, many ewes.
“How many did you get?” asks Hec, deadpan. “Seventy nine”, I say confidently. “Oh”, he says, looking a bit worried, “There shouldn’t be that many”. Tabs is having a much harder time concealing his mirth and I realise I’ve been had!!

You’re meant to look between their legs! Not on their heads.

These are not ewes these are not ewes
sheep ram ’tis not the horns maketh the man

Oh, the shame! Exposed as a townie-poephol! Got to hand it to Uncle Hec, the master of quiet, understated humour. I still blush when I think of it, but of course he was very gentle on me and gave me a whisky that evening, as always. Just not as stiff a tot as he poured Aunt Stell.

A Farm in Eloff Street

Freezing on top of Platberg, wet and an icy wind. We huddle and chomp some snacks.

I brought matches, I’ll light a fire, I announce. But it ain’t easy, dry kindling is hard to come by, but I persevere. Pierre and Tuffy are skeptical: If you get that going I’ll buy you a farm in Eloff Street, says one.
But I do! Not a roaring blaze, but we warm our hands at least.

This must’ve been ca. 1969. Eloff Street was Johannesburg’s main street and priciest real estate at the time. No longer, as businesses fled the CBD and relocated to Sandton and other nodes outside ‘Old Joburg’.
If I had got my farm I wonder if I’d have sold it before the bust?

We were somewhere below that red flag:

Mountain-Race site - Crop

Found this lovely pic on a Harrismith Mountain Race blog site – thanks!!