While staying at 4 Hillside Road Parktown we prepared for the holidays. I was taking the delightful Cheryl Forsdick down to Port Shepstone in Natal where she was meeting her folks, the redoubtable Ginger, fierce platinum-haired mine manager of renown, and Mrs F.
It was the grey and grey Opel Concorde OHS 5678’s longest trip and at the last minute I started to worry about the brakes. They weren’t the best. So I toddled off to the spare parts place and bought what they said would fix them.
The day before we were to leave I stripped the drums and put in the new shoes. Does that sound right? It was a fiddly job and took ages to get right, the springs kept springing. Testing them entailed many trips up and down Hillside Road under the closed arch of the big old London Plane trees. Luckily it’s a cul-de-sac. Jamming on brakes I would go screeching into the left gutter, then I’d go home and adjust the whatevers and then go slewing into the right gutter. Then beertime came and it had to be good enough.
A raucous year-end party ensued and unfortunately Brauer had invited himself. So even more beer than normal was swallowed and cleverer and cleverer.
In the wee hours he spotted the grey and grey Opel Concorde sitting sleekly in the driveway, poised for its long journey to that last outpost of the British Empire. His drink-addled brain (brain?) had recently been thinking (thinking?) about the Mercedes “pagoda roof” sports car classic and he decided my car needed a conversion, so he danced on the roof in his old blue suede shoes (think I’m kidding? I’ll show you a photo). And the more us sensible people told him to stop the more he danced. You know how he is.
He thought he was doing this – and in fact had the cheek to suggest I should pay him for enhancing the Opel:
But in fact he did this (actual footage):
I had to lie on my back on the seat and push up the roof with my feet the next morning so we could sit in the thing for our southward safari. I was careful to use the brakes as little as possible all the way through the Vrystaat vlaktes, down van Reenen’s Pass and on to the sparkling Indian Ocean where the sharks (but not yet the Sharks) were awaiting their annual dose of Vaalie flesh.
As students 1974-1977 we would frequent the Casa Blanca roadhouse at the foot of Nugget Hill below Hillbrow when the pocket money arrived from home. Squeezed into Joz Simpson’s lime-green VW Beetle or Steve Reed’s beige Apache or Bobby Friderich’s white Mini Cooper S or Glen Barker’s green Toyota, we’d ask the old Elvis-looking guy with a cap, flip-up sunglasses and whispy whiskers for a burger n chips plus a coke; Or a cheeseburger chips n coke 70c, or – as Steve reminded me – “if we were flush, the Dagwood with everything including the runny fried egg. Sheer luxury. Messy, but worth it!”
I don’t have a pic, but here’s the Doll House in Highlands North so long:
Every so often you’d be asked “Move forward” and you’d inch forward to make room for new arrivals behind you, till you reached the “finishing line” where you handed back the tray Elvis had clipped to your half-rolled-up window and drove off under the big sign on the wall: QUIET. HOSPITAL.
Many years later (OK, twenty six years later!) work took me back to Jozi and I had time to kill in my hired car so I drove around Doories and Yeoville and Hillbrow. Lunchtime I pulled in to the Casa Blanca and I SWEAR there was the exact same oke who had served us twenty six years earlier, with his SAME cap, his SAME flip-up shades and his SAME whispy whiskers! Astonishing!
I told him cheeseburger chips n coke and how long have you been here?
“Thirty six years” he said “but I’m just filling in now”.
Charged me 70c. Plus twenty six years-worth of inflation.
I used to sing beautifully. The teacher who trained the boys choir in Harrismith Laerskool said so. Well, she might have. She was Mej Cronje I think, and was half the reason ous would volunteer for the choir. To look at her, gorgeous redhead she was. I was a soprano and we looked down on the altos who, though necessary as backup, weren’t in the same league as us squeakers. One directly behind me used to bellow in my ear: ‘Dek jou hol met bouse off hollie! FaLaLaLa La LaLaLaLa.’ One day this delectable and discerning talent spotter, the red-headed Juffrou Ethel Cronje chose me to sing a solo in the next konsert. Me, soloist!
Fame loomed. It was 1965 and even then the image of a golden buzzer appeared to me in a vision.
Then tragedy struck!
My balls dropped.
They handled it very diplomatically. By ignoring it and cancelling practice. The konsert didn’t materialise. Co-incidence? Surely they didn’t cancel a concert just because one boy suffered testicular descent? And by the time the next konsert came around I hadn’t been banished – just discreetly consigned to the back and asked to turn it down.
* * *
Just in case there are people who think Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor was a Mickey Mouse outfit, lemme tellya: WE TOURED ZULULAND. The Vienna Boys Sausages were probably nervous.
We got onto the light blue school bus and drove for hours and hours and reached Empangeni where the school hall was stampvol of people who, starved of culture in deepest Zoolooland, listened in raptures as we warbled Whistle While You Work, High on your Heels is a Lonely Goat Turd, PaRumPaPumPum, Edelweiss, Dominique and some volksliedjies which always raised a little ripple of applause as the gehoor thought “Dankie tog, we know vis one“.
If memory serves (and it does, it does, seldom am I the villain or the scapegoat in my recollections) there was a flood and the road to the coastal village of ReetShits Bye was cut off, sparing them the price of a ticket – though those were probably gratis?
Can’t remember driving back, but we must have.
After that epic tour, warbling faded in importance and rugby took over.
Harrismith Laerskool – the village school
Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor – Like the Vienna Boys Sausages
ous – us men
‘Dek Jou Hol Met Bouse Off Hollie! FaLaLaLa LA LaLaLaLa’
seunskoor – boys choir
stampvol – sold out, overflowing
volksliedjies – folk songs
gehoor – audience, fans, click ‘like’ or ‘follow’
dankie tog – fanks heavens, sigh of relief
ReetShits Bye – Richards Bay, then still a small harbour town on the warm Indian Ocean
We grew up next door to Gould Dominy on a plot outside town. Our plot was Birdhaven, theirs was Glen Khyber. We knew him as Uncle Gould and would watch fascinated as he drank tea out of the biggest teacup you ever saw. Size of a salad bowl. A flock of small dogs would be running around his ankles as he drank, seated on their wide enclosed and sun-filled stoep.
Then he disappeared and re-appeared years later at the hoerskool as religious instruction (RI) teacher. Seems he had been teaching music at some naff school in Bloemfontein all those years. St Andrews or St Somebody.
He had been very fond of me as a boy but he was re-meeting me as a teenager and that was about to change. Or would have had he not been such an amazingly tolerant and loving gentleman.
His classroom was at the back of the school in the row of asbestos prefabs. For the cold Harries winters it had a cast-iron stove in one corner.
We were terrible. We would saunter in while he caught a quick smoke outside, grab his sarmies and scoff them, move the bookmark a hundred pages forward in his copy of The Robe* (that he was considerately reading to us as our “RI” in lieu of bible-punching) and pull up our chairs around the black stove and sit with our backs to him.
Dear old Mr Dominy would come in and start reading while tickling the inner canthus of his eye with a sharp pencil till he couldn’t stand it any longer, would then “gril” and rub his eyes vigorously, flabby cheeks wobbling, and then carry on reading. Every so often he’d mutter “I’m sure we hadn’t got this far?” proving he was the only one listening to the story. Not even the girls, sitting in the normal school benches, would comment on the fact that we read ten pages a day but moved on a hundred pages at a time.
‘Tex’ Grobbelaar, meantime, would also have swiped one of his cigarettes. Rolling up a sheet of paper, he would set light to it in the stove, light the fag and smoke it right there, furtively holding it in the palm of his cupped hand in that ‘ducktail’ way and blowing the smoke into the stove opening.
What a lovely man. Gould. Not Tex. Nor the rest of us.
Here’s Ann Euthemiou combing Mr Dominy’s hair on a trip to Kruger Park back in 1968.
*The Robe – a historical novel about the crucifixion of Jesus written by Lloyd C Douglas. The 1942 book reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. The 1953 film adaptation featured Richard Burton in an early role. (wikipedia)
hoerskool – house of ill repute; or place of learning if you add an umlaut;
Marching in the cadets was a ballache. Once a week we would arrive at school not clad in grey shirts, grey shorts and grey socks, but in khaki shirts, khaki shorts and khaki socks. It was ‘kadet dag’ or something. Softening us up and brainwashing us in the glory of fighting for the vaderland.
This had to stop, so Lloyd and I decided to try out for the orkes. Still the kadet orkes and you still had to wear khaki but we thought it might be less onerous. I was assigned a drum and drumsticks. Zunckel was give a bright brass trompet, slightly battered.
What was lekker was instead of marching up and down like drones in the school grounds with some kop-toe ou shouting LI-INKS . . . . OM!! we headed off out the gates towards town. Freedom! There we were, Vrystaters going on A Long Walk To Freedom! Often there wasn’t even an onnie with us, and nobody shouting. We marched to the beat of the huge bass drum. Boom Boom Boom. Left Right and all that. We would march right into town, once going as far as the post office.
Bonus was you also got to keep an eye on the pomp troppies – seen here on an official outing – we dudes in the marching band in the background.
It couldn’t last. Some parade was coming up and it was time for quality control. Kadet uber-offisier von muziek Eben Louw lined us up, got us started on some military propaganda lied and walked slowly from one to the other, listening intently as we parum-parum-pummed away. He watched as I bliksem‘d the drum more or less in time, nodded and walked on.
Then he got to Zunckel. He leaned closer, then put his ear right near Lloyd’s trompet. “Blaas, jong!” he muttered. Niks. Not a peep. The Zunck had been faking it, pretending to blow with his right pinky raised impressively. Never had learned how to make that thing squawk.
Back to barracks he went. ‘RTU’ the parabats would say.
Oh no! This post was a dredged-up memory from 45yrs ago. I sent it to his big mate Steve Reed in Aussie, who forwarded it to Lloyd’s sister Filly in Zimbabwe where I thought Lloyd would have a chuckle reading it.
blaas boetie, blaas jong – prove you actually know how to blow a trumpet and you’re not just fakin’ it; You’re faking it aren’t you?
kadet dag – toy soldiers day;
vaderland – fake concept designed to get you to do things without asking embarrassing questions;
orkes – brass band with drums n stuff;
kop-toe ou – brainwashed individual;
LI-INKS . . . . OM!! – Military command to get a bunch of people all dressed alike to go somewhere. Instead of saying to sixty people, ‘Listen chaps, please get your arses over to the mess hall. See you there in three minutes’, you line them up in twenty rows of three and start shouting blue murder and generally getting really irritated with each other. Forty minutes later you arrive quite near the mess hall in a cloud of dust and blue air all hot and bothered, the only thing you learnt being one new way to cuss your mother-in-law; Massively inefficient;
For more, read Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn, who has revealed the very ugly, savage treatment of the indigenous Americans in his book The Barbarous Years.
European and U.S. settler colonial projects unleashed massively destructive forces on Native peoples and communities. These include violence resulting directly from settler expansion, intertribal violence (frequently aggravated by colonial intrusions), enslavement, disease, alcohol, loss of land and resources, forced removals, and assaults on tribal religion, culture, and language. http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com
Here Melvin Mithlo readies Joe Pedrano for an event.
Museum stuff at Fort Sill north of Lawton, south of Apache. Apache chief Geronimo died here, 23 years after being taken captive. His Apaches were the last tribe to be defeated.
Earliest Period – 1830 The tribes usually described as indigenous to Oklahoma at the time of European contact include the Wichitas, Caddos, Plains Apaches* (currently the Apache Tribe), and the Quapaws. Following European arrival in America and consequent cultural changes, Osages, Pawnees, Kiowas and Comanches migrated into Oklahoma, displacing most of the earlier peoples. Anglo-American pressures in the Trans Apalachian West forced native peoples across the Mississippi River; many including Delawares, Shawnees and Kickapoos-found refuge or economic opportunities in present Oklahoma before 1830. However, some of those tribes split in the process.
*Naisha-traditional reference to the Plains Apache
1830 – 1862 The Indian Removal Act of 1830 culminated federal policy aimed at forcing all Eastern Indians west of the Mississippi River. The Choctaws, Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws and Seminoles–the “Five Civilized Tribes”– purchased present Oklahoma in fee simple from the federal government, while other immigrant tribes were resettled on reservations in the unorganized territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 precipitated further Anglo-American settlement of these territories, setting off a second wave of removals into present Oklahoma, which became known as “Indian Territory.” In 1859, with the state of Texas threatening genocide toward Indians, several tribes found refuge in the Leased District in western Indian Territory.
1865 – 1892 The Civil War (1861-1865) temporarily curtailed frontier settlement and removals, but postwar railroad building across the Great Plains renewed Anglo-American homesteading of Kansas and Nebraska. To protect the newcomers and provide safe passage to the developing West, the federal government in 1867 once again removed the Eastern immigrant Indians form Kansas and Nebraska reservations and relocated them on Indian Territory lands recently ceded by the Five Civilized Tribes. The same year, the Medicine Lodge Council attempted to gather the Plains tribes onto western Indian Territory reservations. Resistance among some resulted in periodic warfare until 1874. Meanwhile, the last of the Kansas and Nebraska tribes were resettled peacefully in present Oklahoma. Geronimo’s Apache followers, the last to be defeated, were established near Ft. Sill as prisoners of war.
Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft above sea level! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because it’s there, see.
I had often run the short cross-country course and twice the longer course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.
Here’s some 8mm cine camera footage taken by Dad Pieter Swanepoel of Platberg Bottle Store of the start and finish in front of the Post Office – 1960’s I guess:
The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!
Then some fools decided that wasn’t long enough! Apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”, so they added three kilometres of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb.
It gets steeper, then at times its hands and knees
Top of One Man’s Pass looking back down on the City of Sin and Laughter
The best part: On top, heading for Zig-Zag pass
Run to A then to B and back (who added three km of tar road!?)
Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.
Some history from friend Etienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:
The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (More about a wonderful day with Wally).
It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.
The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare.
During a later visit to the town, Major Belcher (now a schoolteacher in Dundee, Natal) found out that his record still stood so he took it upon himself to donate a trophy to the Harrismith Club to be awarded to the first club member to break his record to the top. In 1929 the Club management, as the organizers of the race, decided to open the race up to the residents of Harrismith and a Mr Swanepoel won the race to the top of the mountain in 32 minutes. (The last record time I have is 22 minutes and 9 seconds).
The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.
Our friends Steph and JP de Witt’s Mom, Alet de Witt became the first lady to complete the race. She ran in the year her husband, Koos de Witt died tragically suddenly in January 1967. She then donated a trophy for the winner of the newly allowed (!) women’s category, which was awarded for the first time only in 1986.
Later the apartheid ‘whites-only’ ruling was dropped and as soon as McDermott* stopped winning, the race was won by black athletes, including Harrismith locals; starting with Michael Miya who holds the record for the newer, longer 15km course at 1hr 03mins 08secs.
Then Hikes: Like down Normandien Pass from Robbie Sharratt’s farm. Down the pass and along the railway line, through the rail tunnels to van Reenen.
Then Bicycle Rides: Like day trips to Swallow Bridge over the Wilge River on the map below. And out to Oliviershoek Pass in mid-winter, sleeping the night on Jack Shannon’s farm Kindrochart.
Then Airplane Trips: The first aged seventeen on a Boeing 707 ‘passenger jet’ to New York. Then the furthest west to Orcas island on the US-Canada border in Washington state. The longest east to Lombok island in Indonesia, east of the famous “Wallace line”.
The Kleinspan schooltime ended around twelve noon or one o’ clock I guess and we lived less than a mile east along Stuart Street and so one bleak and chilly winter day Donald Coleman and I set off for home in our grey shirts, grey shorts and grey socks – and grey jerseys.
We had lots to talk about and so we walked along on the pavement under the big old plain trees, mostly bereft of leaves, many of which were lying in the deep sandstone gutters.
It was really cold and Donald had a box of matches in his pocket and a plan. We raked together a pile of the dry leaves with our chilly hands and started a nice fire and sat down to warm our hands and shins as the fire crackled away.
It soon burnt out and we meandered on and a block or two later made another blazing but short-lived fire to sit and chat and warm up by.
Then we reached Hector Street and Donald turned down toward his home and I turned up to mine. Mine on the corner and his a block or two closer to the mountain.
“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN!?” greeted me. The tone of the question surprised me and ruined the quiet, gentle ambience of our leisurely journey home. At his home Donald was being asked the same unreasonable question. We’d been to school. Everyone knew that, why were they asking?
“IT’S FIVE O’ CLOCK! SCHOOL ENDED OVER FOUR HOURS AGO!” We weren’t arguing. We didn’t say it didn’t. What was their point? “WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?” Uh, we were talking . . .
We were told off and left to ponder the mysteries of the adult world. They obviously marched to a different drum. We sauntered to ours.
They didn’t know that Donald was an archeologist, paleontologist, cosmologist, naturalist and we had LOTS to think about and consider. They just assumed we were buggering around.
And anyway, whose stress levels were highest? I arse you that.
Huge thanks to Sandra of Harrismith’s best blog DeDoudeHuizeYard for the pictures – exactly right! That is the SAME gutter we sat in. You can even see a few of the plane leaves, great-great-great descendants of the ones we burned, um, (surely it can’t be!) fifty six years ago.
Helios gave his son Phaeton permission to drive the Sun chariot around the Earth. Helios was the Sun God, and a son of almighty Zeus.
Talk about “Don’t Spare the Horses”! Typical youth, the lad Phaeton took some sporting chicks along for the ride, lost control of those horses and the chariot ran amok. The world was at risk of being incinerated!
Grandfather Zeus was thus forced to kill him. Zap! He killed his grandson! Zeus could gooi a mean lightning bolt if you pissed him off.
I’m glad the punishment became a bit milder in our day.
Come to think of it, we never did get punished*. Never got caught, though I can’t imagine our folks didn’t have a shrewd idea of what was happening – at least an inkling. In the early days of illicit driving I used to drive the old blue VW Kombi OHS 153 around our large garden at 95 Stuart Street.
Round the circular driveway, out into Hector Street and back in again. Back near the garages was the washing line and the Kombi just fit under it. Except I’d forgotten about the airvent on the roof. It caught the wires and pulled down the washing line poles. Some feverish spadework got them more or less vertical again and the old blue Kombi was parked back in its exact spot outside the garage.
Another time I reversed into the tap at the horse trough, the pipe broke and water sprayed out in a long arc. It was evening and the folks were out. Parking the Kombi I hastened to the tap and straightened the downpipe, getting drenched in the freezing water – it was mid-winter. That caused less water to gush but there was still a very visible spout. Rushing down to the front gate I found the stopcock that turned off the main water supply. That fixed it and I went to bed before the folks got home. The next morning I rose very early and turned the stopcock back on. “Hmm, the pipe must have frozen and burst last night” was the consensus at breakfast.
My butt was saved by Harrismith’s frigid winter weather!
*Farnie Schoeman hastened to inform me not all parents were as tolerant as mine here.
‘Son borrows Dad’s car’ predictably caused South Africa’s first serious automobile accident – 1903:
On 1st October 1903, Mr Charles Garlick driving his father’s new 24hp Darracq with his friend Harry Markham and chaffeur Snellgrove as passengers, entered the Maitland level crossing from an open gate, only to find the opposite gate closed. Before they could open the gate or reverse out of the crossing, they were hit by the Johannesburg Express traveling at full speed.
Snellgrove was thrown clear, Garlick suffered minor injuries and Markham, with his arm already in splints from a previous engine-cranking mishap, had a badly broken thigh.
It was announced that the Garlick workshop would undertake repairs to the Darracq. A new chassis was obtained from Paris and the final result testified to the efficiency of Cape Town’s first motor repairers.
From ‘Early Motoring in South Africa’ by R.H. Johnston